75 years of radar in SA celebrated by a pioneering company


This year it is 75 years since the first echoes of radar were detected in Johannesburg on 16 December 1939. The history of radar in South Africa has been closely interwoven with that of Reutech Radar Systems (RRS), a division of Reutech Limited, and this involvement is detailed in a new book, titled RRS: 25 years of Innovation being launched this month.

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RRS: 25 years of Innovation book tells the history of the company, its technologies and its people from its inception in 1987 until today. It looks at how the company matured from one concentrating mainly on military radar, to one that is diversified into a variety of markets and products. It also celebrates how the development of this Stellenbosch-based company made important contributions to local technological innovation and skills development in a highly specialised field.

As CEO Carl Kies says: “Our diversification in systems and applications clearly illustrate the old saying that ‘if one can design and build a radar system, one can design and build anything! ‘ Although this should not be taken too literally, we certainly have what it takes to produce highly sophisticated work. We have proven expertise among others in mechanical design, systems engineering, project management, radio frequency (RF) electronic design, signal processing, software design and development, antenna system design, digital electronic design, synthesizer design, power amplifier design and logistics. Add to this the skills we have assembled in terms of support systems.”

Radar development in South Africa started when the British government decided in February 1939 to let members of the Commonwealth in on the secrets of radar, so that they could help with the development and deployment of what was then still called RDF systems. A small team under Sir Basil Schonland, head of the Bernard Price Institute of Geophysical Research at the University of the Witwatersrand, soon developed a system. It was referred to as type JB0 and on 16 December 1939 the first echoes were detected from what they then believed was the Northcliff water tower, but could possibly have been from the whole of Aasvogelskop, on which the tower stood.

Jump ahead to the mid 1970s, and South Africa had built up an impressive pool of radar expertise in the CSIR, the Defence Force and Armscor. But the country fell short of the ability and capacity within the country’s industry to design and produce its own radar systems. What is today Reutech Radar Systems, was founded almost two decades later, in 1987, as ESD-South, a division of the then Reutech company ESD under its pioneering Managing Director Boel Pretorius.

RRS: 25 years of Innovation tells how the company’s radar capabilities have grown significantly during the quarter century of its existence. It has survived corporate shifts and name changes, hard times and technological challenges and has emerged as a local leader in the design of radar products for various industries.

Although the story has many heroes, Carl Kies says:

I should name at least two: Boel Pretorius and PW van der Walt, because it was their joint vision that led to the creation of this company. Prof PW van der Walt is also the main author of the book.

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