Milkor is one of South Africa’s most well-known arms companies, with a specialist product known by armed forces all over the world. As South Africa’s defence needs change, so too have Milkor’s range of products, with more specialist items gaining new attention.
Milkor (Pty) Ltd is one of the South African arms industry’s better-known independent success stories. Debuting in 1981 with the MGL revolver grenade launcher, Milkor has gone on to sell nearly 60,000 weapons and vehicles in 62 countries worldwide, with new models going to clients including the SADF, the Bangladeshi, Brazilian, Colombian, Danish, Indonesian, Indian, Malaysian, Pakistani, South Korean, Swedish and Thai armed forces, as well as a number of private users and police forces. The launchers are also manufactured by Milkor USA, who supply the US Marine Corps, Arsenal AD in Bulgaria and Metallic d.o.o in Croatia, as well as various licensed copies made by several other countries.
Throughout its 35 years of operations Milkor has established a reputation for reliability and toughness thanks to their flagship product’s extremely simple design (the MGL is essentially an overgrown revolver firing bigger, slower projectiles), its use of high-quality materials and precise, stringently quality-controlled manufacturing processes. Milkor makes a point of using military-spec materials and components to ensure that its grenade launchers remain functional no matter the conditions they’re used in.
Founded in 1981, Milkor developed around a launcher prototype designed in the private workshop of one Andries C. Piek. The original design held 12 shells, but the SADF eventually adopted a six-shot version as the MGL, code-naming it the Y2. Since then the weapon has undergone numerous revisions and modifications, gaining the ability to fire non-lethal and less lethal shells with a wide variety of payloads. The company worked closely with Armscor, the procurement wing of the SADF, being nominated for an Armscor award in 1984 and supplying the SADF extensively.
While originally designed to significantly increase the firepower of individual infantry and intended primarily for military purposes, law enforcement and police forces worldwide have also adopted the MGL and other Milkor grenade launchers for their own use. Products like the Milkor 37/38mm Multiple Anti-Riot have been developed to fire the 37/38mm less lethal riot control rounds in use worldwide, with payloads including tear gas, smoke, stun grenades and irritants.
In addition to their famous grenade launchers, Milkor also manufactures armoured vehicles of various kinds, mostly armoured carriers and patrol vehicles, a more recent development following the trend of mine-resistant and armoured patrol vehicles for militaries worldwide following the 21st-century shift to insurgency conflicts.
Many of these designs are evolutions of existing models such as the Casspir, taking advantage of the renewed demand for explosion-resistant vehicles in conflicts worldwide. With improvised explosive devices and suicide attackers becoming increasingly common, several manufacturers including Milkor has seen a niche in the market and begun building APCs, patrol vehicles, anti-riot water cannon trucks and even armoured cash delivery vans, many of which feature heavy off-road suspension to help deliver cash to remote areas. These vehicles are also being marketed and sold all over the world, to both national governments and non-governmental organisations.
Made in South Africa
A true South African manufacturer, Milkor’s two production plants cover a total of 19,000 square metres and employ 200 skilled personnel as well as up to 60 contractors, all ISO 9001 certified. The company also ensures it complies with the South African and international codes of conduct for the distribution of their weapon systems, and even has a BEE Level 3 Contribution Certificate for equal employment in South Africa.
The South African arms industry is unique on the continent. From its origins as procurement for the South African military during the embargoes of the 1980s, the home-grown arms manufacturing industry (echoing South Africa’s defence forces) re-invented itself when South Africa became truly democratic, retaining its focus on high-tech systems and manufacturing while looking outwards to supply both South Africa’s reduced military and international clients. A focus on counter-insurgency operations and peacekeeping informed much of the industry’s more recent developments (This focus can be seen both in Milkor’s shift to less-lethal grenade launchers and its move into armoured car production, peacetime military technologies).
Changes in defence
While the controversial Strategic Defense Package in the 1990s made the defence aerospace sector profitable again, the Denel corporation’s Rooivalk helicopter gunship and deal with Airbus being notable investments, the SADF has been procuring limited quantities of equipment. After all, they aren’t fighting any major wars at present and despite political unrest elsewhere there’s no prospect of a major war on the horizon.
Strict export regulations mean that South African defence contractors sometimes lose international business. As such, a long-term focus on sophisticated niche products (for example, guided missiles, MRAP vehicles and less-lethal weapons) is likely to be more profitable for South Africa as a whole. The industry has changed and continues to change, and Milkor continues to change with it.