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Shout Before You Shoot! By Julian Nettlefold

BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold visited Vitavox, a Division of Secomak Ltd. at their Elstree, Hertfordshire, UK HQ, to meet Secomak CEO John Moore and Vitavox Head of Business Development, David Hebden.

Vitavox has been providing naval and military communications systems, including military-grade loudspeakers, microphones and other sound reproducing equipment to MoD’s across the world for 80 years since its inception in 1930 when its founder, Leonard Young a former merchant seaman established a business to produce explosion proof loudspeaker systems for naval customers. The business took off during World War 2 and Vitavox systems have been on the majority of Royal Navy ships and submarines to the present day. Secomak was established by the Russel brothers in 1930 and the two companies came together under the umbrella of Halma Plc. John Moore, then a Director of Secomak undertook a Management Buyout in 2005. The Company now employs 35 people and has a current turnover of £6.1 million per annum.

“Secomak and Vitavox have diverse technologies, what drew the two companies together and what are the synergies? Secomak makes systems for the food and beverage, gas and construction industries whilst Vitavox makes military loudspeaker and intercom systems.” The Editor asked John Moore.

“There was a tenuous connection that both companies were involved with air, Vitavox through sound and Secomak through its industrial fans; but the real reason for Halma wanting to merge the two companies in Stanmore was location. Good consistent business is all about people, when Vitavox moved from Borehamwood to join Secomak in Stanmore, because of the proximity of the two sites, we were able to keep all of the technical knowledge and customer appreciation by transferring the staff with their massive understanding of the products and the military market.  It works extremely well, Vitavox shares the managerial, accounting and backroom capabilities of Secomak. Secomak operates its factory, complete with testing facility, alongside the Main Office. This allows for cohesive, agile project planning, product development and knowledgeable commissioning and aftercare programmes. Secomak work closely with The University of Hertfordshire to develop both new products and engineering expertise, as students utilise Secomak equipment in their end-of-year projects. This is built into the university’s curriculum, helping young talent to deploy their skills in a real-world environment as well as introducing seasoned professionals to intelligent and enthusiastic academics.”

“What makes your naval loudspeakers systems stand out from the competition?”

“We pride ourselves on our rugged and durable naval loudspeakers, they are watertight, pressure tight and explosion proofed. One good example is the system used on the current Astute class boats and specified for the new Dreadnaught class boats. This is an 18kg Naval Bronze system which can withstand deep water operations and work effectively when the boat surfaces. We are unique in that our systems stays on the bridge whilst the vessel is operating. Another example was the choice of our systems in 1990 by the Australian Navy for their frigates after a rival system disintegrated when the missiles were fired! Alongside our high-tech loudspeakers we have also developed advanced naval Main Broadcast systems, launched in 2017 at DSEI and recently added to our product range a new microphone for use on the Royal Navy’s Astute submarines. We produced the headset from concept to production and won a contract for £1.0 million from BAE Systems and produced the Astute bridge loudspeaker from concept to production in 11 months. We are keen to establish a foothold to sell our products in the U.S. market.” 

“You are known historically for your naval products, but recently you have had considerable success in land systems. Was this a deliberate move into a new market area or prompted by your naval technology being suitable for land systems?”

“A bit of both.  We saw opportunities in the land systems are and to that end we employed David Hebden who had spent many years at Cobham after a long and fruitful career in the British Army. David had all the credentials including speaking German and Arabic.”

“We worked with the Armoured Trials and Development Unit (ATDU) in Bovington to provide an armoured vehicle appropriate rugged Public Address system which we have designated Outacom®. ATDU mounted this on their Panther Range vehicle. That system was seen by a number of key MoD people and crucially GDUK who were in the process of developing their bid for AJAX. Vitavox had been developing the concept of ‘Shout Before You Shoot,’ for some time and we found traction in this concept at Abbey Wood and GDUK following a number of serious incidents in Iraq, with the photos of blazing soldiers in Warrior turrets splashed across the headlines. We were asked to demonstrate the system to DE&S and GDUK and, following competitive tender, Outacom was written into the specification for AJAX. We won the contract for all 589 AJAX platforms, worth over £5 million in 2013. Outacom was officially launched as a fully qualified and tested military product at DSEI last year.” David Hebden said.

Vitavox Outacom™

Vitavox Outacom™ is a vehicle mounted tactical public address system for use on all tracked and wheeled armoured fighting vehicles. Built to rigorous military standards, Outacom™ is robust, powerful and enables direct communication to distances of up to 300m. Crucially, Outacom™ keeps personnel protected inside the AFV and away from possible danger. Outacom™ is deployed on AJAX and its variants, integrating into the British Army’s leading-edge ISTAR platform. Fundamental to the flexibility of AJAX, the Outacom™ PA system works in partnership with other AJAX technologies; enabling warning, instruction and de-escalation of potential risk to civilians, personnel and equipment. Compatible with the Vitavox Vitavic Intercom System, the Outacom™ PA system integrates and switches seamlessly using the Outacom™ Control Unit. This also ensures full communication traffic security. Disperse crowds and clear areas whilst maintaining a full understanding of latent threat. Consisting of two Compact Broadcast Loudspeakers, the Outacom™ Control Unit plus Noise Cancelling Microphone and bracket; the system is blast proof, shockproof and weatherproof, enabling reliable service in critical situations. Direct, command and control your vehicle’s locality, with the Outacom™ Vehicle Mounted Tactical Public Address System.

“The Outacom AJAX win gave Viatvox the basis to develop new systems and customers across the land segment, we see a split in the future of 75% land, 25% naval. We saw a need for a partner to develop new electronics systems and have formed an alliance with Mesit ASD in the Czech Republic.  Mesit has played a key role in a number of our products including our Combat Net Monitor and the Vitavic 407. We now have a full family of Vitavic systems consisting of intercoms, the Vitavic 400 series, headsets, V50 and V50A and the Vitavic 600 Loudhailer. We are pushing for export sales and recently concluded a contract in Oman. The robust VITAVIC 407 Loudspeaker is already standard equipment on Foxhound used for the Boomerang shot detection system. The full solution can be integrated into new vehicles and via a vehicle upgrade programme for existing serving platforms.”

Vitavic 400

A truly Software Defined (SD) system, Vitavic 400 is a fully digital, military specification intercom designed with the end user in mind. Suitable for vehicles with up to 21 crew members and 6 combat net radios, Vitavic 400 is modular and requires only a single Central Communication Unit (CCU) for two crew and two combat net radios. Control and customisation of Vitavic functionality is possible at operator level in the field. The system has been designed to integrate into the field seamlessly, ensuring compatibility with the large majority of current and future headsets and radios. These may be in any configuration and is the optimum operational choice to be deployed where several different types of Combat Net Radios or tactical headsets are already in service.

  • Suitable for vehicles with up to 21 crewmembers and 6 combat

net radios

  • Operate with any encrypted peripherals and signals with no

manufacturer input required

  • Fully upgradeable and easily programmable via a standard laptop

or fill gun, with no down time required

  • Dismounted personnel stay connected via short range soldier radio

or field telephone interface

  • Rebroadcast from two to an expanded capability of six different

combat radios.

  • Full radio access

“Is your new technology focused purely on vehicles?”

“No, far from it, we recently won an order from Msubs, a UK submarine company who have won a US Order for an 8 metre long swimmer to accommodate divers. Vitavox also won an order from UTACS for a bespoke Vitavic 400 solution complete with aviation time stamping and recording function for the radio distribution, control and UAV monitoring system in the ground control station for the new Thales Watchkeeper X Export variant. 

The Future

“What of the future?”

“We are continually developing new products, to that end we are developing a new secure system, SAIS (Secure Audio Integration System) for a customer. SAIS illustrates a ‘step change’ in Vitavox’s tactical audio design capabilities in that we are now involved in the development of a switching system containing routers to handle audio at a ‘secret’ level. This opens the door for Vitavox to become involved in providing audio solutions for more, higher level UK projects.”

“We have a five year plan to move Outacom into a full suite of products and to develop the Vitavic headset and networking products into a full integrated range including intercoms. In short we aim to become a developer of advanced electronic sound and networking systems for naval and land systems.” John Moore said.

As the Editor left he mused that Vitavox certainly has a lot to shout about and should not hide their light under a bushel but ‘turn up the volume!’

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