ATE doubles UAV offering


The company unveils two new UAVs and says it is on the cusp of signing an SAPS deal.Midrand-based Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE) has doubled its unmanned aerial systems (UAS) offerings.

It unveiled two new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at the Africa Aerospace and Defence show, under way in Cape Town.

The company also says it is on the cusp of signing a deal with an unnamed "security agency" for the Kiwit hand-launched UAV. The police have said they require UAVs for the 2010 Soccer World Cup and were considering acquiring one system per stadium – a total of 10.

However, SAPS spokesman superintendent Vishnu Naidoo yesterday brushed off media reports stating SAPS will acquire UAVs from ATE. Naidoo said the police are still shopping around.

New in the sky

The Roadrunner and Sentinel 500M are the new "flying robots" in the ATE stable. Sentinel builds on the Vulture system, of which a second is now being delivered to the SA Artillery, in addition to one system exported to China.

The Sentinel 500M is the first of a new family of air vehicles and was developed with an eye on the SA Army`s Project Cytoon. It aims to give 1 SA Tactical Intelligence Regiment an enhanced battlefield surveillance capability, based on a mix of UAV, ground surveillance radars and thermal imagers.

The 150kg airplane can carry a 30kg payload 200km, at 110km/h, for up to six hours. The aircraft uses the same vacuum launcher and ground station as the Vulture.

The Sentinel can also be used for a variety of electronic warfare tasks, including signals collection, direction finding and jamming.

The Roadrunner is a 6kg mini UAV capable of lifting 1kg for 45 minutes to an hour. ATE CEO Willie van Biljon sees it as an excellent pursuit vehicle for police, ideal to follow speeding cars from a crime scene. He adds that the plane`s rhomboid wings gives it a "higher strength and reduces the size of the airframe in comparison to larger aircraft with similar lift characteristics".

SA was an early adopter of UAS technology, first flying them in the 1980s. In the 1990s, UAVs were deployed over urban areas to monitor the country`s first non-racial elections, making Denel`s Seeker one of the first unmanned aircraft to fly in airspace normally reserved for manned aircraft and strictly monitored by state air traffic controllers.

Police Kiwit?

Civil UAS manager Andy Mamba says his organisation, ATE and Denel, the CSIR and the SA Air Force are drafting policies and regulations to allow UAVs to routinely fly over urban areas in controlled airspace.

Speaking at the Africa Aerospace and Defence show, in Cape Town, he said all had a vested interest in defining airworthiness standards and certification procedures for robotic planes "to ensure the safety of the public".

The latter`s first experience of UAS may well come in the form of the Kiwit, a 3.5kg UAV that can carry a 1kg load for up to 60 minutes. The little plane is controlled from a ruggedised laptop by a single user and can be readied for flight in five minutes.

Van Biljon would not disclose the cost of the Kiwit, but said "comparable foreign models" are sold for about $50 000 per system. He added the "security agency" would initially take one or two systems to develop capacity and doctrine before acquiring sufficient systems to deploy countrywide.

Naidoo previously confirmed the police were looking for at least 10 UAVs for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Safety and security minister Charles Nqakula last month added that such systems would be acquired to help patrol SA`s porous land borders in order to help stem the tide of illegal immigrants.

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