Thursday, March 8, 2012

Looking South Towards World-Class UAV Capabilities

Denel Dynamics Touts South African UAV Expertise
09:13 GMT, March 7, 2012 South Africa develops and produces some of the most rugged and reliable tactical (unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) surveillance systems in the world. A 20-year head start in designing, developing, manufacturing and deploying advanced UAV technology has given South Africa an enviable edge when comparing it to the many international (including European) countries intending to enter the booming world-wide UAV market. Proudly innovative, Denel Dynamics is a competitive missiles solutions company which forms part of the Denel Group, South Africa’s largest manufacturer of defence equipment.

South Africa’s leading missile and UAV house, Denel Dynamics has claimed the technology high-ground as the only supplier of export-ready medium to long range tactical UAVs on the African continent. Its medium range Seeker II has a reputation as one of the best tactical UAV systems of its class in the world. The entry of a new system is an important debut in 2012 for the eagerly awaited long range Seeker 400; designed to stay in the air continuously for 16 hours while simultaneously operating two payloads.

While the US and Israel dominates the global market, there is scope for South Africa to use local skills to create market-leading UAVs to developing nations. The RSA UAV industry aims to capture in excess of 20% of this end of the market. Denel Dynamics has focused on the business of advanced systems technology for more than 45 years and has gained extensive paramilitary experience over more than two decades in South Africa. It has also gained intensive operational experience internationally in military hot-spots over the past decade. “We are ideally positioned to collaborate with certain developing countries, offering first world expertise in UAV and missile capabilities,” says Tsepo Monaheng, Head of UAVS at Denel Dynamics. The company’s flagship fifth generation A-Darter (air-to-air) missile development programme is a case in point. “Good progress on this bi-national development programme between the South African and Brazilian governments is reported, with much appreciation expressed towards SA for the genuinely inclusive nature of the relationship between the two countries. The knock-on effect is further co-operative work on future projects.”


Denel Dynamics’ Seeker II system has gained a reputation as one of the best medium range tactical UAV systems of its class in the world. It is capable of operating from semi-prepared gravel runways, has a range of >250km with a 10 hour endurance and offers an optional launch and para-foil recovery capability for operation in remote and harsh environments.

Denel Dynamics has invested continuously in evolutionary and revolutionary upgrades to stay competitive with high-tech enhancements. These include:
• a new state-of-the-art aero-engine with long maintenance cycles and associated low life-cycle cost (LCC) as well as very low noise signature and increased performance;
• new multi-sensor optical payloads with integrated day-night capability;
• an LD designator and range finder with excellent scene based auto tracker;
• ATOL capability that will be production ready by the end of this calendar year and,
• several ground station MMI enhancements to reduce the workload on flying crew.


With 16 hours of endurance, and new definition digital communication, the Seeker 400 UAVS is a robust system:
• 30% larger than Seeker II, the dual band data links will facilitate the vehicle to accommodate 100 kg’s of multiple payloads simultaneously.
• Seeker 400 executes electronic intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition (ISTAR) operations both day and night even under the worst climatic conditions.
• The vehicle can also perform border patrol, maritime patrol and target designation missions.
• It is deployable in most conditions, including taking off from an unprepared piece of land. In fact, the development is at a stage where automatic takeoff and landing will be available in the near future.
• Currently, it has a range of 250 km using line-of-sight communications, with the potential for a satellite communications upgrade.

Denel Dynamics believes the market has a growing requirement for an armed Seeker 400. “Carrying precision-guided munitions, it is ideal for asymmetric warfare, peace support, homeland security, combating piracy and strategic national assets protection. There is a constant drive in such operations to limit collateral damage through the use of precision weapons and advanced targeting payloads,” says Monaheng. A number of countries have already expressed interest in an armed version of the UAV.

Future evolution will include day-night and all-weather missions, and sense-and-avoid capability in order to obtain civil aviation certification for this system. This would further enhance Seeker 400’s mission capabilities. “South Africa can offer value for money in terms of total cost of ownership,” says Monaheng. “The Seeker 400 is versatile. A common issue is that customers are often tied to what a manufacturer can give them. This system offers a lot with room to modify,” says Monaheng. Theatre-proven UAV capabilities inform current and future innovations. This enables Denel Dynamics to meet the ISR and combat requirements of different countries.


The A-Darter missile programme highlighted the interplay between missile development and UAV capability when Denel Dynamics modified the payload configuration of its Skua for the project (as pictured above). As a performance driven unmanned target drone, the Skua is suited to high subsonic missile testing (M0.85), advanced air combat weapons training and evaluation with realistic threat simulation. In fact, the South African Air Force used Skua in the run up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup for security preparation of the Gripen fighter aircraft. Denel Dynamics has a pioneering past, with 30 years of high speed target drone experience. One of its advantages is that the system is compact and easy to transport with a dedicated ground station that uses latest generation hardware. Skua is in operation internationally and has been enhanced to accommodate air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles. It was recently used by the Finnish navy as the target in a vertical launch of a Denel Dynamics Umkhonto SAM from a navy vessel. Gripen Fighter Jets used an unmanned Skua target drone in the run up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup security preparation. Other enhancements include IR-guided and radar-guided missiles and low-level to high-altitude scenarios, as well as signature augmentation (infrared and radar), miss-distance indicators, and ECCM evaluation.

The global increase in operational use of UAVs is a direct result of lessons learnt by armed forces deployed in conflict areas to enforce peace and security. Availability of capable and affordable South African UAVs of various sizes will trigger the enhancement of not only national security, but crime fighting, disaster management, election monitoring and search and rescue.


A low cost SUAV, Seeker-S, with a 6 hour endurance and a direct line of sight range of 100km range is currently being developed by the South African missile and UAVS house. The first test flight is scheduled for the end of 2012. The system’s service ceiling is up to 15 000 ft and it will have a 3kg mission payload (fuel excluded), with a piloted and autonomous flight capability. It will have a very strong civilian application. The company believes there is a market for the small UAVS, and are in discussion with an international client re joint development. Locally the police force would benefit, but until now the available UAV systems have been too costly. On the issue of anti-poaching, this SUAV will be particularly relevant to the country’s current fight against rhino poachers which has become a national plight and of international concern. Portability is a prerequisite and the ground control station is going to be quick to setup, easy to use, and compact enough to transport in the back of a commercial light utility vehicle. The aircraft is fitted with a day or night payload, and communications link on board the aircraft enables real-time communication up to 100km from base. The system will consist of two air vehicles, one ground control station, two payloads, a launcher and field support equipment.


When it comes to UAS technology, there is no need for South Africa to stand back; Denel Dynamics has top engineers producing world-class technology. The company has proved itself to be an innovative leader in advanced systems technology. Where its core business covers tactical missiles, precision-guided weapons and UAVs, its passion lies in satisfying its long-term customers. “We are known for our forward thinking approach to providing evolving solutions for our valued clients,” says Monaheng. “Our track record reflects that all our clients who started their journey with us, have chosen to stay with Denel Dynamics as we continue to break new ground to develop, upgrade and integrate world-class products.”

(Denel Dynamics is an exhibitor at Defence and Security Asia 2012, Thailand. On display will be the new Seeker 400 which is scheduled to take its maiden flight this year. Another product is the 5th generation air-to-air missile, A-Darter, due for production in 2013.)


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