The manufacture of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is an integral part of Denel’s business but the state-owned defence industry conglomerate has flatly denied selling an armed unit to a Middle Eastern country.
Questioned about the apparent sale of an armed Seeker 400, allegedly to Saudi Arabia, Denel chief executive Riaz Salojee said he had “absolutely no clue” where the information came from.
“We have never sold any armed UAV systems to anyone and will also not conduct business with countries or in places not allowed to by either government, the National Conventional Arms Control Committee and any other national or international prescripts,” he said at a media briefing at Denel headquarters in Irene, Centurion, today.
He also pointed out the apparent sale was supposedly of a Seeker 400 which is still in the final stages of development.
“We have and will never put untested products onto the market.”
One area where Denel’s Seeker II is proving its worth locally is as part of the anti-poaching operation underway in the Kruger National Park.
Together with its ground crew of three, a Seeker 2 has been deployed to assist in monitoring movement of suspicious people after dark in the sprawling two million hectare game reserve on South Africa’s eastern boundary since January.
Two Denel Dynamics employees who have spent time in Kruger flying the UAV told defenceWeb that the Seeker 2 was only flown at night.
“Daytime aerial surveillance is done by manned aircraft, both fixed and rotary-winged, and the Seeker with its infrared ability comes into its own during the hours of darkness,” one said.
Because of the sensitive nature of their work, neither was prepared to be named or elaborate on exactly where in Kruger the Seeker had achieved results.
“It works as advertised,” was their only comment.
That the UAV works in showing on-the-ground patrols where to find suspicious people can be seen from statistics collated by the Department of Environmental Affairs.
As of the end of May, 50 suspected poachers were arrested in Kruger. Last year the park’s ranger corps, assisted by police and elements of the SA Army, managed a total of 73 arrests in the 12 month period.
Denel Dynamics’ two new UAVs, the Seeker 400 and Hungwe small UAV, are expected to consolidate the company’s position as Africa’s only supplier of short, medium to long range tactical UAVs. Denel has spent approximately R140 million on the Seeker 400 development programme, with the aircraft set to fly sometime this year.
The Seeker 400 has an endurance of 16 hours and can be armed with two Mokopa air-to-surface missiles. It is able to carry two payloads at the same time, including electro-optical/infrared and radar. Future upgrades will include satellite communications, and sense-and-avoid capability in order to obtain civil aviation certification.
A Seeker 400 system (a system typically comprises three aircraft, three payloads and a ground station) costs approximately R210 million, while a Seeker II system costs R150 million and Denel Dynamics’ latest small UAV, the Hungwe, costs around R5 million.
The Hungwe has a 6-hour endurance and a direct line of sight range of 100 km. The system’s service ceiling is up to 10 000 ft and it will have a 5 kg mission payload (fuel excluded), with a piloted and autonomous flight capability. The Hungwe flew for the first time late last year and is being aimed at both civil and military markets.