Denel Dynamics keeping Skua going


Denel Dynamics has been awarded a R2.4 million contract to upgrade, maintain and retain the Skua high speed target drone. The Skua has been operated by Denel Dynamics on behalf of the South African Defence Force (SANDF) since 1992.

Skua is a high-speed target drone, designed to simulate high-speed attack aircraft during land, sea and air combat training exercises and weapon development. The complete system consists of four to eight target drones, a zero-length launcher, a mobile ground control station (GCS) and ground support equipment. The zero-length launcher includes self-loading and engine starting facilities. The mobile GCS houses the control interfaces, telecommand and telemetry equipment required to control the drone. Tracking is done via position feedback from the drone’s navigation system. The GCS can control two drones simultaneously.

The Skua drone boasts an all-composite, low-drag airframe with a wingspan of 3.57m and length of 6m. The drone is further fitted with wing hard-points to carry tow-targets and signature augmentation equipment weighing up to 160kg. An internal bay can house a payload of up to 70kg. It has a maximum speed of Mach 0.86 at 10 000m and has a controllable range of 200km (line of sight). Altitude can vary between 10m and 10 700m. Endurance is 85 minutes at 10 000m at Mach 0.75. At the end of a flight, the Skua returns to the ground by parachute and is landed upside down on pneumatic landing bags.

The R2 470 929 contract, awarded last Thursday seems the first in several years. Three contracts were awarded in 2007. The first in March 2007, for R3 533 000, was to deploy the Skua in support of the SAS Spioenkop, implying the drone was deployed to help qualify its Umkhonto short-range air defence system. In June 2007, the SANDF paid R350 877.19 for the “retention” of the system, and in December it Denel Dynamics was paid R5 650 681 for the supply of one Skua high speed target drone.

Flight Global magazine reported in October 2006 that Denel was planning development of a new generation medium tactical target drone as a long-term replacement for its existing Skua series, but was seeking an investment partner to help with programme costs and to broker wider market access.
“The new system will incorporate some low-observable features, but will not pursue the sophisticated level of radar cross section shaping previously explored by Denel with its Seraph stealth target concept unveiled in the late 1990s,” the journal said.

Speaking at the African Aerospace and Defence exhibition in Cape Town in 2006 company officials said that while similar in size to Skua, the new system will involve a “totally new airframe and new engine”. The new target would support more sophisticated training presentations compared to Skua, with its requirements based on extensive lessons gleaned from operation of that system over the past decade.