Despite the end of the border war and the paranoia during Apartheid, South Africa has continued to produce top-class military equipment and technologies. Most recently, three young Denel mechanical engineering graduates have developed a new light-weight machine gun to provide continuous fire support on the modern battle field.
Dakalo Nekhumbe, Phindile Mashaba and Marumo Talane, who work at Denel Land Systems (DLS), introduced the world to the DMG-5 at the recent Africa Aerospace and Defence trade and exhibition. Among the lightest machine guns in the world, it can fire both 7.62mm and 5.56mm calibre ammunition and can be enhanced with optional tactical attachments such as optical sights, night vision equipment, torches or laser pointers. The grip can be adjusted to suit the personal requirements of the operator. The weapon is effective at a range of up to 1 500 metres and has a firing rate of up to 900 rounds per minute.
The three engineers were tasked with a simple yet challenging brief: To modernise the weapon, decrease its weight and retain its reputation as one of the most trusted elements in the infantry's arsenal. The end result is a weapon that weighs 8.3kg compared to the 10.3kg of a standard SS77 gun. The team also included a new barrel design, new cocking handles, new flash hiders, lightweight trigger housing and a co-ax handgrip.
This seemingly small innovation will change the lives of soldiers as much as any of South Africa’s other military innovations. The most famous of these might well be the Rooivalk attack helicopter.
The Rooivalk is unique in its two staggered cockpits and two turbine engines, and was designed to operate largely without support. For that reason, the main and rotor blades can withstand hits from small arms fire.
Similarly, the Cheetah fighter jet was developed out of a need for more advanced aircraft to get an edge over the ever-more sophisticated Soviet aircraft such as the MiG-23 being used against South Africa by Angolan and Cuban forces in the Border War of 1966 to 1989. Three different Cheetah fighter jets were created, and the last line of these planes retired in 2008.
The DMG-5 is therefore the latest in a pedigreed line of military hardware that sets South Africa apart from competitors – and foes. While every country needs to defend itself from potential aggressors, we can be grateful that the need for these weapons has been limited to support for armed forces in countries like the DRC since the militant 1980s.