Denel Dynamics, BAE Systems, the global defence and aerospace group, has awarded South Africa's Denel Optronics a production order for optical helmet tracker systems (HTS) for the Eurofighter-Typhoon fighter aircraft. 
This R200 million contract is the latest South African investment by BAE Systems through its Defence Industrial Participation programme arising from South Africa's decision to modernise and right-size its air force with 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainers and 27 Gripen fighters. 
The production order follows a 2003 design and development contract for the system. It will see Denel Optronics manufacture 450 high-technology pilot helmet tracking systems over the next four to five years. These will be installed on the Eurofighter Typhoon, NATO's newest jet fighter. 
“We are particularly pleased with this large contract from BAE Systems, as it confirms Denel Optronics' position as a world leader in helmet tracking systems for pilots,” said Shaun Liebenberg, Group CEO of Denel (Pty) Ltd. 
“Importantly, it sets Denel Optronics on a firm footing within the global defence environment as part of Carl Zeiss Optronics. This is exactly what we'd hoped to achieve with Denel's turnaround strategy and are grateful our partnerships are benefiting all those involved. As design authority of the HTS, Denel Optronics is also playing an important role in supporting the high technology supplier base in South Africa including such strategic suppliers as Parsec and Ansys.” 
German company Carl Zeiss Optronics GmbH signed an agreement with Denel in March 2007 to acquire a majority stake in Denel Optronics as part of the Denel's restructuring process. Final competition authority and PFMA approval of the Zeiss transaction is imminent. 
The unique Denel designed optical HTS continuously monitors the position of the pilot's head and where he is looking. In this manner it is able to aim the aircraft's weapons, reconnaissance and self-protection systems towards 'points of interest' at which the pilot is looking. 
“Eurofighter-Typhoon pilots will appreciate the design ingenuity and reliability of the Denel Optronics head-tracker system. It is a testament to the valuable engineering skills that reside within South Africa's defence and aerospace industry. BAE Systems is delivering US$8,7 billion of benefits to South Africa's economy and we are committed to supporting South Africa in growing its high-technology industry,” explained Mr Jonathan Walton, Executive Vice President, South Africa for BAE Systems.” 
In February this year, BAE Systems placed a US$3.4 million (approximately 
R24 million) order on Denel Optronics to complete the industrialisation of the optical head tracker system. Evaluations have shown the system to be superior to any similar available in the world. 
About the head-tracker system
A pioneer of head-tracker systems, Denel Optronics already designed and produced operational pilot helmet-mounted sighting and tracking systems in the early 1970s. 
It latest generation systems, developed as from 1985, led to the design of a high-speed head-tracker system for Eurofighter-Typhoon. The design comprises of three cockpit sensors – essentially tiny video cameras – that detect a series of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) embedded in the pilot's helmet. A computerised head-tracker processor captures data from these sensors and rapidly calculates the angle and position of the pilot's head. This information is used to correctly position the display of vital symbology on the pilot's helmet-mounted display. 
The helmet-mounted display projects vital flight, instrumentation, navigation and mission data together with weapons and counter-measures status, directly onto the pilot's visor. With this information directly in front of his eyes, the pilot never has to take his eyes “off the road” by glancing down at physical instruments. This is a significant safety enhancement, especially for pilots having to fly high-speed low-level (nap-of-the-earth) missions in the day or at night. The head tracker processor also drives external sensors and missile seekers, keeping them aligned with the pilot's line of sight. 
Denel Optronics developed this unique world-leading optical tracking technology entirely in South Africa. This latest version of the system, for Eurofighter-Typhoon, tracks and processes data three times faster than predecessor versions, making it ideally suited to the latest generation of fighters.  
German company Carl Zeiss Optronics GmbH agreed to acquire a majority stake in Denel Optronics as part of the Denel's restructuring process. In terms of the agreement signed with Denel on 14 March 2007, Carl Zeiss Optronics is taking a 70% holding in Denel Optronics, while Denel retains the remaining 30%. 
The German company is a member of the Carl Zeiss Group, the world's leading manufacturer of high-tech optical and opto-electronic industrial, medical and research solutions and lifestyle products. 
Once all suspensive conditions have been met, notably also competition authority and Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) approval (regulating South African state-owned entities), the new optronics business, to be known as Carl Zeiss Optronics (Pty) Ltd., will compete on international markets for the design, manufacturing and support of optical and opto-electronic systems in the civil security and defence fields.