Life Time Achiever Awards

Abel van der Merwe (2014)

Abel Jordaan van der Merwe was born in 1952 in the coal mining town of Wankie in what was then known as Rhodesia. Raised on a tobacco farm in the Gatooma district he obtained his GCE A-Level at Guinea Fowl school in Gwelo.

He graduated with a BSc Electrical Engineering from the University of Cape Town in 1975. His academic career was followed up in 1980 with a BSc (Hons) Operations Research (University of South Africa) and in 1984 with an MSc Electronic Engineering (University of Pretoria).

After graduating from UCT he worked at the Atomic Energy Board at Pelidaba until June 1976 when, in search of greater excitement, he sneaked past the CSIR security and knocked on the front door of the National Institute for Defense Research (NIDR) and, amazingly, was allowed in without an appointment to speak with John Cloete under whose mentorship he subsequently became involved with the, then high priority in South Africa, field of Electronic Warfare. A decision he has never regretted as he claims to have never had a dull day in the 38 years since.

He considers himself fortunate that his career overlapped with South Africa’s golden era of engineering and that he has had the honour and privilege of meeting and working with – sometimes in competition – with some truly great engineers and military men.
During his NIDR days he assisted with various EW and radar development projects. In particular, he conducted studies, which included simulation (on a computer with a total memory of only 3k) and tests against a Korean war radar, the inverse conscan, cross-eye and cross-polar deception techniques.

He registered Sysdel CC – an abbreviation for System Development Lab – in 1978. However, the time was not ripe for Sysdel and it was left on ice for a while.

In April 1981, as part of the drive to “industrialise” the EW expertise built up at the NIDR, he joined Barlow Electronic Systems Ltd (later to be renamed ESD Ltd) where he worked as consultant on radar and electronic warfare projects.

In January 1984 he decided that the corporate culture was not for him and resigned, planning to start a furniture manufacturing business. However, some months later he was luckily asked by Alan Holloway, then still at Armscor, to assist with a small EW study. This provided the incentive (and sale of his VW Kombi for the capital) to talk Nick Koukakis, friend, and ex-colleague at NIDR and ESD, into joining Sysdel . In the following year Hendrik du Rand, then Hubert Montgomery and Anton Goedhals joined and Sysdel had the range of expertise and enthusiasm needed to accomplish the dream.

After initially concentrating on the evaluation and upgrade of existing, imported EW systems, Sysdel has gone on to design, develop, manufacture and support 100% homegrown Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), Electronic Support and Electronic (ESM) and Active Countermeasures (ECM) systems in the radar frequency bands for airborne, naval and ground based deployment.

Sysdel’s first production system, the Radix man-portable ESM/ELINT system, has been operational for more than twenty years with almost zero hardware failures and not one software modification. It can safely be said that as a result of the efforts of Sysdel, and other well known local companies, South Africa is completely independent of foreign imports at the system level.

If fact, in common with other local companies, Sysdel has become an international supplier of EW systems of the highest standards – in some cases with features and performance not available anywhere else – to countries across the globe.

The Sysdel formula has been to stay small and compact with the emphasis on teamwork – at all levels from company management through to development and implementation – with each individual being trusted to do what he’s best at. The Sysdel philosophy is it right the first time, deliver on schedule and within budget, and to always strive to exceed the User expectations.

Gerrie Radloff (2014)

Joining the Air Force

Johan Gerhardus (Gerrie) joined the Air Force in 1964, and after his basic military training, he was selected for flying training on Harvard Aircraft. He qualified as an Air Force pilot in the same year and was selected to study a B Mil degree at the Faculty of Military Science of the University of Stellenbosch based at the Military Academy in Saldanha. He obtained his B Mil degree in 1967 and proceeded to become an instructor pilot. After a six-year Instruction tour from 1968 to 1974, on Harvard and Impala Aircraft, Gerrie was selected to go into the fighter aircraft line. He flew Sabres on 1 Squadron from 1974 to 1976 and from 1977 to 1978 he flew the Mirage III on 2 Squadron. He flew the Mirage F1 CZ on 3 Squadron as a part-time pilot during 1980 to 1982 while performing EW staff duties at Air Force Headquarters.

Commanding Officer of a Fighter Squadron

Between 1983 and 1985, Gerrie was the Commanding Officer of 1 Squadron flying the Mirage F1AZ. During this period, he acquired hands-on experience with sophisticated EW systems the F1AZ fleet was being equipped with, as well as threat analysis and the development of counter measure techniques and related flying tactics. He flew many actual combat sorties against some of the most advanced Air Defence Systems in the world. Not a single aircraft was lost due to enemy actions during his entire Commanding Officer tour.

Electronic Warfare Staff Post

Gerrie did two EW Staff Tours at the South African Air Force Headquarters. Between 1979 and 1982, he operated as the Staff Officer Electronic Warfare (SO EW). During this period he managed all operational EW activities in the South African Air Force. This involved running the entire signal intelligence effort and data analysis. He also took part in various EW projects and was the main drive behind modifying and equipping all the SAAF’s fighter and attack aircraft with self-protection EW capabilities. Gerrie had the advantage of actually doing the operational flight and acceptance tests on the Mirage F1AZ for the equipment and systems for which he wrote the requirements. His second tour at South African Air Force Headquarters was that of Senior Staff Officer Electronic Warfare (SSO EW) from 1986 to 1991. This is the most Senior EW post in the Air Force. He managed all EW activities from projects to operations. His dynamic personality, operational experience and intimate knowledge of the EW environment contributed to the establishment and maintenance of the best EW equipped Air Force on the continent and among the best in the world.

Joining the EW Industry

In 1992 Gerrie decided the take his vast operational and EW experience to the South African EW Industry. He joined Grintek Avitronics (now SAAB Grintek Defence) in the marketing division and soon became the Manager for International Marketing and Business Development. Gerrie’s dynamic personality and intimate knowledge of EW was a major contributing factor to put the South African Industry on the International map. He sacrificed home comforts and family life to spend long periods overseas on marketing and commercial related visits. His famous saying of “We don’t sell a product, we sell a capability” became a buzz-fraise that are still used in the marketing environment of the South African EW Industry. After his retirement in 2007, Gerrie’s EW knowledge and experience was not lost. He is still actively involved in the shaping of EW plans and strategies to various organisations as a consultant.

President of the Aardvark Roost

Gerrie was instrumental in the resurrection of the Aardvark Roost in 2008, after being dormant for many years. He was nominated as the chapter’s president in November 2008, and served in this position until February 2013. During his term as president, the chapter grew from strength to strength, receiving numerous awards from the AOC head office in the USA, establishing a local awards program and held various conferences. Gerrie ensured that the Aardvark Roost played a role in promoting the exchange of ideas and information as well as in fostering the dissemination of new knowledge in the field of EW through the conferences we arrange. His EW expertise is unique, his enthusiasm for EW is insatiable and it is nearly impossible to overestimate the contribution he made to EW in South Africa over a period approaching forty years.

Ben Ash (2013)

After qualifying as an Electronic Engineer at Cape Town University in 1976, Ben did his National Service in the Signal Corps. He then joined the South African Air Force (SAAF) in 1978 as Staff Officer Electronic Engineering Projects (SOEEP) in the Electrical Engineering Department at SAAF headquarters.

The SAAF at the time realised that a substantial electronic warfare (EW) capability would be required and Ben played a key role in all the projects that followed. He had the ability to identify the critical technical issues when specifying EW equipment and he understood the operational problems that had to be overcome. He translated this into the capabilities the equipment had to meet to ensure that the required operational functionality was achieved.

He worked exceptionally well in a team and his impeccable integrity, sharp mind and vast knowhow accumulated in a very short time, made people including EW equipment suppliers, respect and accepted him. This proved to be particularly valuable during contract negotiations, design reviews, equipment acceptance tests and field trials.

Ben was the technical responsible officer for all EW projects that included a locally developed Countermeasures Dispensing System, three Radar Warning System (RWS) programs of which one was a local effort, a Self Protection and Escort Radar Jammer program as well as new Signal Intelligence (Sigint) systems.

More bright young engineers were appointed – Christo Cloete, Simon Germishuizen, Herman Volker and Harry Schultz being some examples! Ben was their mentor and guided them to become very useful EW experts in their own right.

Many more EW programs followed. It included additional operational equipment like the fully integrated EW suite for the Cheetah program as well as helicopter deployable Sigint and Stand-off Jamming systems. It also involved the establishment of support facilities to test, develop and verify the operational functionality and effectiveness of EW systems. This included the Automated System for the Capture and Analysis of Radar Information (ASCARI), the Multi Emitter Environment Simulator (MEES), the Infrared Mobile Laboratory (IRML), the Open Loop Tracker and the Dynamic Radar Cross Section measurement facility. Each of the different facilities fulfilled important and complimentary roles and Ben played a leading role in ensuring that it became a success i.e. a mobile EW range.

Ben meanwhile achieved his MBA degree through UNISA where he developed the concept of an EW Centre for his thesis. He was the main driver behind the SAAF’s EW Centre and was the first commanding officer in 1983. Ben created the term “technical operational systems support” that became the main function and focus of the EW Centre.

In 1988 Ben joined the newly established Grintek Avitronics that specialised in self protection EW equipment. When the war in Angola ended in 1989 the local demand for EW reduced dramatically but the normalisation of the political situation in South Africa was on the other hand gaining momentum and the Arms Embargo started to ease-up. This allowed opportunities to export EW equipment – just in time because Avitronics was doomed unless export customers could be found.

The challenge was how to be successful as an unknown supplier against the well established big players from the USA, England, France, Italy and Israel? The answer laid in competitive priced EW systems with superior performance. The equipment Avitronics produced at the time was more or less competitive but it did not really possess any performance advantage.

The operational experience gained during the conflict was potentially a major advantage – if it could be exploited properly. The question was how to convert this experience into the design of EW systems to provide superior performance. It was also a race against time – local contracts were running out and without foreign orders, the company could very well go under.

As the company’s technical director, Ben again played a pivoting role in mustering, motivating and guiding the very capable but also some very individualistic design engineers to come-up with the solutions.

The result was the Integrated Defensive Aids Suite (IDAS). It offered radar, laser, missile approach warning as well as countermeasures dispensing sub-systems. Each subsystem offered certain performance advantages but its uniqueness and competitive edge laid in that it was fully integrated versus the competition’s federated systems.

The first export order was signed in 1997 and many subsequently orders followed with customers from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America.

IDAS was of course a team effort but it required a special kind of leadership with the vision, engineering insight and management skills to ensure success. Without Ben fulfilling this function, it is very doubtful whether Avitronics would have succeeded in this endeavour.

Ben became managing director of Avitronics in 1998 and to an even greater extent, turned the company into a truly successful and leading EW manufacturer with a whole range of EW systems for airborne, naval and land based applications.

When the Swedish companies Celsius Tech and later Saab became interested in Avitronics, Ben ensured that the South African developed EW systems were retained and further improved. When Saab acquired the Grintek group in 2005, Ben as part of senior management, was required to move to Sweden and continued to make sure that the local EW expertise and systems were maintained.

In 2010 after playing a truly gigantic role in EW for more than thirty years, Ben had to choose between staying in EW but remain in Sweden indefinitely and his love for South Africa. He chose the latter and returned to South African and joined the Zeiss company.
Ben’s legacy in EW is however far from over. His example, mindset and dedication to EW over such an extended period left a lasting impression on many still involved in EW in South Africa. This will ensure that Ben’s influence in EW will endure and perpetuate for many years to come.

Jan Hendrik (Mossie) Basson (2013)

Mossie gained his wings in the SAAF in 1964 and graduated at the Military Acadamy in 1968. He progressed to the fighter environment in the mid-1970’s, first as an instructor on the staff of 85 Combat flying (Impala Mk 1 & 2).

He flew many combat missions and was involved in numerous operations in Northern Namibia/Southern Angola/South Western Zambia until the end of the conflict in the late 1980’s. This valuable operational experience made him acutely aware of the necessity of EW to overcome the ever increasing density and sophistication of air defences encountered in the operational area.

His enthusiastic interest in the technical and operational aspects of air defence systems plus his original way of thinking, resulted in the huge contributions Mossie made in finding solutions for the operational problems encountered.

He became the SAAF’s first SOEW in 1976 and working closely with engineers from the Air Force, the CSIR and Armscor, played a key role in establishing various EW development and acquisition programmes. It included a new generation RWR, self-protection and escort radar jammers, chaff and flare dispensing systems and modern state of the art Sigint equipment.

His practical and innovative ideas further resulted in the establishment of some really unique capabilities. Examples included clandestine ground-based helicopter transportable ESM/SIGINT system which was regularly deployed inside enemy territory.

Another example was the high radar cross section helium balloons that could be deployed by own forces in forward areas. During a trial deployment in the operational area, eleven radar guided surface to air missiles were launched at these “helicopter targets”.

His contribution in developing flying tactics to enhance the effectiveness of ECM cannot be overemphasised. This was also true with regard to mission planning – in how to exploit the weaknesses of air defence systems i.e. their minimum reaction times as well as their minimum and maximum engagement height and range limitations.

Mossie further played a major role in the development and presentation of EW courses and in creating EW awareness in the SAAF.

Within Military Intelligence he also contributed substantially with regard to the crucially important aspect of technical intelligence and he played a key role in the exploitation of captured enemy air defence equipment. He was often involved in technical information exchanged encounters with intelligence services of foreign countries where his knowledge, negotiating skills and personality gave him a lot of credibilities.

After his retirement in the early 1990s, he remained fully committed to EW as a consultant and lecturer on EW to the SANDF and the South African EW industry. This includes courses to foreign customers on behalf of the EW industry. His EW expertise is unique, his enthusiasm for EW is insatiable and it is hardly impossible to overestimate the contribution he made to EW in South Africa over a period approaching forty years.

Dr. Dirk Baker (2012)

Dr Dirk Baker was born in Grahamstown in 1945. His full-time tertiary studies started in Grahamstown in 1964 and culminated in 1974 with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the Ohio State University, specialising in field theory and antennas.

During his career, he worked at the National Institute for Defence Research of the CSIR, EMLab, and Grintek, from where he retired at the age of 60 in 2005. He now works as a specialist consultant for SAAB EDS and other organisations both locally and internationally.

Over the past 45 years he has been intimately involved in the design, development and manufacture of a wide class of antennas operating in the 20 MHz to 40 GHz frequency range. From the outset, emphasis was always on innovative designs with particular attention given to manufacturability and qualification to appropriate military and other specifications. These antennas are used in defence and commercial environments. The aim was to achieve world-class performance to ensure an export market for the antenna products, a goal in which he succeeded. Many of the innovative export EW products today would not be possible without some of the innovative antenna solutions developed by Dr. Baker or other engineers trained by him.

Dr Baker designed and built many of the rectangular and tapered anechoic chambers in South Africa with operating frequency ranges typically from 0.5 to 40 GHz as well as the microwave test range of the National Antenna Test Range (NATR) at Paardefontein (north of Pretoria), a 500 m ground reflection antenna test range covering from below 300 kHz to 40 GHz. It is rated as one of the best facilities of its type in the world. Without these facilities, the development and testing of EW antennas and systems would not be possible today.

He has a broad understanding of the operational and environmental requirements of electronic systems for land-based, airborne (fixed wing, helicopters, and UAVs), naval and submarine applications. He also has a thorough knowledge of other technologies used in EW systems. This knowledge and test experience enable him to interpret user requirements and to propose tailored solutions.

Dr. Baker managed business aspects of the antenna business throughout his career, taking responsibility for all aspects from budgeting up to negotiation with overseas clients.

He is also passionate about the training of new engineers and the development of antenna technology in South Africa.

The AOC Aardvark Roost chapter has the privilege of recognizing thanking Dr. Baker for his lifetime contribution to EW in South Africa by bestowing upon him the AOC lifetime Achievement award.