Spreading our wings to bring you news from beyond Europe’s borders we can tell you that Paramount Group, Africa’s largest privately-owned defence and aerospace business, recently announced that production of the Arlan, a variant of its Marauder armoured combat vehicle, had begun in a state-of-the art factory in Kazakhstan.
The South African group, headquartered in Johannesburg and founded in 1994, says the factory is a result of the €62.5m joint venture, Kazakhstan Paramount Engineering (KPE) it formed with Kazakhstan Engineering Distribution last year.
KPE’s brand new armoured vehicle factory in the Kazak capital Astana’s Zhana Kala free trade zone has capacity to produce more than 200 armoured vehicles a year, eventually creating 150 skilled jobs.
KPE is the first armoured vehicle factory in the central Asian republic and the first defence plant with this scale of capability in the region. The Arlan was designed and developed for bitter winter conditions and snow in collaboration with the Kazakhstan military, and its prototypes have undergone rigorous trials to meet the Kazakhstan military’s specific operational requirements.
On 30th November the president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, visited the new factory accompanied by the minister of defence, Imangali Tasmagambetov, Paramount executive chairman, Ivor Ichikowitz, and the chairman of Kazakhstan Engineering, Yerlan Idrissov, to mark the start of production in this 15,000m2 factory.
Idrissov said: “The KPE factory is designed for complete end-to-end fabrication and the local manufacture of finished products. Through this investment we are actively going to create substantial local capability by training young engineers in armoured vehicles manufacturing and other skills.”
The factory currently employs 70 people but intends to expand to 120 over the coming months. “Our intention is for the factory to serve the local and regional markets,” Idrissov said.
South Africa’s defence industry hopes to pull itself out of the doldrums with other such deals. Ichikowitz says one of the biggest challenges the industry faces is the declining number of domestic orders from a government which is shrinking its defence budget, leading to an alarming loss of skills. “It is critically important for both ourselves, Denel and other defence companies to find foreign markets so that we can grow our customer base and increase the number of jobs that we are creating,” he says.
Ichikowitz adds that “projects of this nature are very important to us because if we can get the business, get the orders, it helps the ability to create new jobs…[and] will take South Africa’s defence industry to another level.”