SA electronics companies profile: Denel Eloptro

19 April 2006 News

Following Denel’s recent restructuring, Eloptro ( is now part of Denel Optronics, which also includes many activities from the previous Kentron. As in this series we have covered Kentron as an entity under the old structure, this article refers to Eloptro as it was, and its main activities at its Kempton Park site. Eloptro was established in 1974 with funding from Armscor and technical assistance and transfer of key people from the CSIR’s Optical Sciences Division.

The product range offered by Eloptro, a Denel company whose activities were significantly curtailed following the end of the apartheid era; include submarine periscopes, laser rangefinders and laser target designators. Eloptro used to produce second generation image intensifiers together with a full range of night vision products for the then SADF. These products included riflescopes, goggles, observation sights, driverscopes and night vision devices for fire control.

There are only a small group of countries (and companies) where submarine periscopes are produced. These countries include the UK, the USA, France, Germany, Russia and now South Africa. South Africa required such a facility to upgrade the obsolete periscopes on its old Daphne submarines and so a state-of-the-art periscope facility, including a vertical test tower, was constructed at its site.

After the Daphne project was completed, the company found that a large number of other countries (mainly in South America) also required such upgrades, and Eloptro adopted this business and became a submarine upgrade facility, a unique niche as the other manufacturers in the world did not want such business, preferring to sell new periscopes! 'Upgrading' incidentally, includes a complete redesign and improvement of the optical system, integration of a passive rangefinder, television display capability (day and night), attachment of a still camera to the periscope and continued logistic support.

When the major arms purchases came about, Zeiss used the opportunity to form an alliance with Eloptro for the design and manufacture of new periscopes for the U-109 boats. The units for our submarines will be constructed here and Zeiss will pass orders on to Eloptro for other vessels of this class.

Eloptro's 'Nightowl' laser designator is integrated into the Rooivalk attack helicopter. More recently, the company constructed a state-of-the-art manufacturing and assembly facility for laser designators. This facility includes a 250 m² Class 100 cleanroom and a 300 m² Class 100 000 cleanroom with integrated laminar flow design. The reason for this is a project named 'Brightstar' - where Eloptro has a major contract to manufacture laser designators for an overseas company.

Eloptro manufactures both standard and eye-safe laser rangefinders. The standard product is the LM30 which was specifically designed for integration into the gunner and commander sights of armoured vehicles. The LM30 uses the standard Nd:YAG laser rangefinder, powered by the vehicle itself and provides ranging from 300 to 10 000 m.

The equivalent eye-safe product is the LP16 module that has been designed for integration in airborne, naval or land-based optronic systems and it uses a single-pulse erbium-glass laser operating at 1,54 μm. Range is 80 to 20 500 m with a range resolution of 5 m and a standard measuring rate of one measurement every six seconds. For short periods, this can be increased to one measurement every three seconds.

Eloptro also offers a range of handheld eyesafe laser rangefinders, these being the LH 40, LH40C and LH41C. All of these products have a range of 80 to 20 500 m with a resolution of 5 m. The LH40CF and LH41C have built-in digital magnetic compass with an accuracy in azimuth and elevation of ±0,5 and ±0,2° respectively. These two models also have an RS232 interface as compared with the RS422 for the LH40. The 40C and 41C are compatible with GPS with different standards. There are also differences in the tripod interface for the three devices. Sales of these laser rangefinders have been very successful in Europe.

The latest laser device from Eloptro is the Eagle Eye target acquisition binocular. This system has a 7 x 42 binocular with an integrated eyesafe laser with a measurement range of 80 to 20 km. The binocular itself has a built in laser filter to combat 1,06 μm radiation. Integrated with the system are a digital compass, GPS, a digital camera and a voice recorder. The compass has an azimuth and elevation accuracy of 0,6° and 0,2° respectively. The GPS is of SPS type with an integrated receiver antenna. The digital camera offers a 640 x 480 line resolution and a field of view of 1,16° x 0,87°. Video output can be NTSC or PAL. The voice recorder allows 15 seconds of audio to be stored with each photograph. Eloptro hopes that the Eagle Eye will be even more popular in Europe than even its standard range of eyesafe laser rangefinders.

Eloptro offers optical design services and has the capability of producing spherical lenses, prisms and mirrors from visible or IR materials. A fully-equipped precision mechanical workshop is available to produce mounting components or optical system bodies. A wide range of coating plants can produce anti-reflection coatings, beamsplitters, filters and metal-coated mirrors.

Eloptro has now been combined with Kentron's previous Cumulus activity and the group responsible for the wide range of KENIS thermal imagers which operate in the 3 to 5 μm waveband. These cameras incorporate an integrated Stirling cooler and the standard KENIS has a dual field of view of 2,25 μ x 3 μ (narrow) and 13,5 μ x 18 μ (wide).

Today, Denel Optronic Systems (DOS) consists of the activities of the previous Kentron Cumulus, Eloptro and the Kenis thermal imaging cameras activity. The portion previously known as 'Eloptro' is charged with designing and manufacturing optical systems as required by the rest of the group.

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