In the margins of my recent foray to the Deep South (Portsmouth, that is, not New Orleans), I took the opportunity to visit two of the smaller companies with close ties to the S&T industry.

The first was Portsmouth-based Novatech, which specialises in computer hardware. Founded more than 25 years ago as an engineering company (the name derives from the fact that the product focus at that time was parts for the Vauxhall Nova), the company subsequently switched to the computing business, and currently employs more than 200 people. Although a large part of the company’s output is home computers and peripherals (I am a proud owner), Novatech also specialises in producing COTS-based solutions for aviation, defence and marine applications, and supplies equipment to such defence prime contractors as Boeing, BAR Systems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Transas. The company has close ties to the UK MoD and, as a Crown Commercial Service (CCS) supplier, can deliver direct to defence and security public sector bodies.

Any visitor to an S&T exhibition such as ITEC or I/ITSEC cannot fail to notice the number of stands using Bohemia Interactive’s VBS2; Novatech is the only VBS2-approved supplier of COTS PCs and laptops. Other applications include Transas marine navigation systems, Close Air Solution’s Ruggedised Deployable Immersive Close Air Support Simulator (RDiCASS), and the MoD’s next-generation helicopter simulators, which use a similar configuration to that previously supplied to the European Defence Agency for their Support Helicopter Tactics Course.

Situated in nearby Fareham is Exsel Dytecna Engineering. One of three facilities - Malvern specialises in the integration of specialist systems in Army vehicles, and Welshpool in software and electronics - Fareham is the home of the company’s Training and Simulation Devices division, which, inter alia, specialises in rear crew training. Indeed, the day of my visit was significant in that the second of three rear fuselage trainers for the RAF’s A400M fleet departed the factory en-route to RAF Brize Norton. This one was for air despatch training, the other two for Defence Air Movements and parachute training respectively.

There are also Exsel Dytecna C-130J trainers at RAF Brize Norton, and at Little Rock and Kirtland AFBs in the US. Although not resembling the real thing from the outside, the interiors are accurate in every detail. Dytecna build the trainers themselves from scratch; the possibility exists to use scrap aircraft fuselages, but the construction of these does not readily lend itself to the ground training role.

Dytecna grew as a company through its ability to react quickly to Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR) emanating from the Iraq and Afghanistan theatres of operations; one example was a four week reaction time to produce a simple trainer to educate and familiarise international coalition forces in ingress, egress and safety drill prior to deployment to operational theatres. Post-Afghanistan, the company is working successfully to establish itself in the steady-state S&T industry, and will shortly supply a Chinook Mk6 rear fuselage trainer for RAF Odiham. Other applications include: an Emergency Exit Part Task Trainer for the UK’s National Police Air Service, which can be adapted to represent EC135, 145 and MD902 aircraft; generic fast-jet maintenance training devices; pressure refuelling and aircraft pressurisation trainers for the RAF’s maintenance school at Cosford; and the Underwater Escape Trainer which provides submersed training for Viking (BvS10) vehicle crews, but can equally be adapted for helicopter training. – Dim Jones