Pioneering South African electronics company C²I² has won a groundbreaking multi-million dollar contract to equip the world's largest and most powerful warships, the US Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.
The contracts will be worth roughly US$4 million this year - but will grow in value exponentially once fullscale production of the carriers is begun. The international breakthrough comes just months after the South African Navy snubbed the effectiveness of C²I²'s electronic warfare products and instead opted for a system produced by Schabir Shaik - the brother of South Africa's then chief of defence procurement Shamin "Chippy" Shaik.
C²I²'s Dr Richard Young accused government of tender irregularities, and effectively blew the lid of the arms deal scandal by embarking on a series of legal challenges both to the deal itself as well as against public watchdogs such as the Auditor-General and Public Protector. The controversy hasn't, however, appeared to have phased the Americans.
The official US Navy website confirms that C²I²'s electronics will form a major component of the next Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, to be named after former US President George Bush snr in honour of his role as the navy's youngest combat pilot in World War II. The USS George Bush, the tenth Nimitz class vessel, will join the US fleet in 2009.
The USS Ronald Reagan, due to be completed this year and also a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, has already been fitted with a host of C2I2's South African products as part of its warfare system.
And, in addition, the oldest of the Nimitz-class carriers, the USS Nimitz, is presently being modernized with a self-defence system that incorporates C2I2's South African electronics products.
All Nimitz-class carriers weigh over 100 000 tons and carry 85 aircraft, but are still capable of speeds matching - or exceeding - that of the SA Navy's fastest strike craft.
According to US Navy website, the USS George Bush will be the most advanced of the Nimitz-class carriers and will represent a bridge between the technology of the Nimitz-class and the next generation of US carriers.
The American carrier fleet, while the largest in the world, is long in the tooth - the Kitty Hawk and Enterprise-class carriers were built in the early 1960s, and even the John F Kennedy-class was built in 1968.
The contract to build the USS George Bush was awarded to US-based Newport News Shipbuilding in 2002 at a cost of more than US$3,5 billion - just for the construction of the vessel.
The ship is being hailed as revolutionary by the US Navy - at least in part because of the electronic warfare systems sourced from Young's company.
C2I2 has meanwhile also, Young adds, already been asked to tender to supply products for the US Navy's latest Amphibious landing ships.
The apparent endorsement by the world's largest and most technologically advanced military superpower is certain to lend credence to Young's claims - presently being made in court - that C²I² failed to win SA Navy contracts due to corruption.
Young's court action is meant to extract damages from the South African government after he failed to win contracts to supply combat suites data networks for the SA Navy's new corvettes. Ironically it is the components that were originally designed for South Africa's relatively puny corvettes that will now protect the mightiest warships afloat.
Public hearings by the Public Protector into the dispute last year confirmed that Young's products were rejected in favour of systems produced by a company owned by Schabir Shaik.
Rear Admiral Jonathan Kamerman testified at the hearings that Young's products were only"technology demonstrators". He added that while products produced by Young's "fine little company" held "significant potential", they had not been used in any warship and therefore represented a risk factor if used in the SA Navy's corvettes.
Young has since won a defamation suit against Kamerman and several other figures involved in the arms deal. Kamerman, who is presently based in Germany, did not defend the case initially and lost. He is currently applying for a rescission of the judgement.
"These [US Navy contracts] prove the comments were a deliberate misrepresentation of facts," said Young this week.
"I have always said that South African technology was of the best. This decision by the US Navy just goes to show there were other forces at work in the procurement process. I consider this to be a huge vote of confidence in our products. It is a great pity we were not able to supply the technology to the South African Navy."
"This is an extremely important contract. It vindicates what I have been saying all along and shows South African products are among the best in the world. We should be proud of what we can produce."
The US Navy components are being manufactured entirely in South Africa and are expected to create up to three dozen highly skilled and many more skilled local jobs, both at C²I² and with their suppliers.
The South African Navy had not responded to the news by the time of going to press.
With acknowledgements to Paul Kirk and African Eye News Service, Durban.