South African-Built Drone to Fly in 2012

The Seeker 400 prototype, a South African designed and built unmanned arial vehicle (UAV), or drone, is due to make its maiden flight in the first quarter of 2012, South African defence company Denel Dynamics says.

UAVs can be used for national security, crime fighting, disaster management, election monitoring, and search and rescue operations.

According to Denel UAV executive manager Tshepo Monaheng, the company’s decision to invest in the UAV, which is funded from its balance sheet, was based on global requirements for such capability.

Israel and the US dominate in the global market which is estimated at US$14-billion per annum, however there is scope for South Africa to use local skills to create UAVs.

Denel Dynamics is a division within the Denel Group with its core business covering tactical missiles, precision-guided weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Deployable in most conditions

Denel said the Seeker 400, which is deployable in most conditions, is larger and has more capabilities than the previous Seeker II. It is capable of staying in the air for 16 hours and can simultaneously operate two payloads. It has a range of 250km, but with the use of the existing tactical ground station, it can be extended to 750km.

“There is already a launch customer for the Seeker 400, who operated the Seeker I tactical UAV in the early 1990s,” Denel said. “Two other countries, which currently operate the Seeker II, are also interested in the Seeker 400 because the new aircraft can be controlled by simply using their existing Seeker II control stations.”

The Seeker 400 flight test programme will run for most of 2012, with production expected to start by the end of 2012. It is planned that weapons be added to the aircraft with several countries having already expressed interest in an armed version of the UAV.

“Globally, UAVs are becoming ever more important and more widely used,” Denel said. “Although costs are coming down, UAVs are not necessarily cheaper or easier to operate than crewed aircraft – some top-of-the-range UAVs are very expensive.”

But the fact that they have no human on board means they can be sent into high-risk environments and they can be kept aloft much longer than a conventional aircraft, Denel added.