41 Squadron gives security forces a World Cup eye-in-the-sky


The South African Air Force’s (SAAF) Cessna C208 Caravan fleet is quietly providing the FIFA Soccer World Cup that commenced on Friday a real-time aerial reconnaissance capability to support Security Forces command-and-control.

A number of Caravans, operated by 41 Squadron, normally based at AFB Waterkloof, Pretoria, were in 2007 fitted with a “tactical intelligence system” and datalink as part of Project Koiler. The Koiler Caravans had their soccer debut at last year’s Confederations Cup when they could be seen circling stadiums to assist in crowd control.

The squadron is currently deployed in detachments around the country for Operation Kgwele, the SA National Defence Force’s support effort for the soccer spectacular. The main role of the Caravans this time is to perform surveillance, reconnaissance, and other observation missions. This is essential to maintain law and order, with thousands of fans are congregating at the ten venues across nine South African cities. The key piece of equipment aboard the Caravan is the Carl Zeiss Optronics Argos 410-Z.

Armscor awarded the then Denel Optronics a contract for the supply of the Argos 410-Z military airborne observation system to the SAAF for its Caravan aircraft in March 2007. The SAAF had lacked a real-time observation capability with the withdrawal of the Seeker I Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in the late 1990’s. 

According to Carl Zeiss Optronics, the Argos 410-Z is a stabilised airborne observation system equipped with the latest generation thermal imager, a 3-CCD daylight TV camera with powerful zoom lens, eye-safe laser rangefinder, autotracker, and mission awareness positioning system (MAPS). The MAPS function provides the operator with GPS coordinates of “objects of interest” by means of a high accuracy integrated inertial measurement unit (IMU). 

Built to military specifications, the Argos 410-Z offers day and night images. The thermal imager offers four fields of view and advanced image processing features, including edge enhancement, local adaptive dynamic compression and electronic zoom. The Caravan is equipped with a removable onboard operator station which is data linked to a ground station, providing the joint operations centre with a real-time imagery.

Under Operation Kgwele, the SAAF has an array of aircraft on duty for the event, including the missile and cannon armed Gripen fighter, cannon-fitted Hawk advanced trainers and gun-toting Rooivalk attack helicopters, supported by the Astra trainer and Oryx and Agusta A109 helicopters.

Pic: A 41 Squadron Cessna C208 Caravan. Note the Argos sight onthe left rear fuselage and the World Cuplogo on the lower forward tail fin.