Joint Standing Committee on Defence gets up close and personal with Milkor 380 UAV

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Since its maiden flight in September, the Milkor 380 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has been attracting significant amounts of interest from all quarters, and this includes South Africa’s Parliament.

The Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD), one of Parliament’s two defence oversight committees, paid a visit to Milkor’s manufacturing facility in Cape Town on 20 November as part of an official investigation of the capabilities of the unmanned system and discussions on future use by relevant state entities.

Milkor said the growing interest in the Milkor 380, the largest UAV to be produced in Africa, comes at a time when the use of such systems is desperately needed among the South African defence and security clusters.

Milkor’s group CEO, Phuti Jackson Mampa, elaborated on the official visit, stating: “We are pleased to see that the government, parliament and cabinet of the Republic of South Africa have shown their support for new developments within the defence sector. There are many applications where the Milkor 380 could play a vital role in enhancing operational capability and increasing the overall success of the various responsibilities that the SA National Defence Force, Border Management Authority, and South African Police Service carry. Milkor remains committed to supporting the South African government and we are honoured to have the Joint Standing Committee on Defence showing interest in the locally developed and supported system.”

The JSCD visit follows shortly after a rare acknowledgement for the South African Defence Industry (SADI) during a post-Cabinet meeting statement delivered on 6 November. Minister in The Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni congratulated Centurion-headquartered Milkor “on their successful launch of the Milkor 380 unmanned aerial vehicle, which places South Africa among the countries that continue to make strides in drone technology”.

The statement further noted the Milkor 380 “is the largest drone built in Africa and it will be used by the defence industry for combat, border control, conservation efforts including to combat poaching”.

Milkor put the large UAV – it has an 18.6 metre wingspan and maximum take-off weight of 1 300 kg – aloft for its maiden flight on 19 September. The Milkor 380 was unveiled some five years ago with successful taxi testing earlier this year. Flight trials are set to continue for the rest of this year at Air Force Base Overberg and into the first quarter of next year.

Specifically designed for long endurance intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations, the Milkor 380 can carry a 210 kg external payload, including weapons and sensors. The UAV has previously been seen at defence exhibitions with Al Tariq X-series precision guided munitions, Halcon Desert Sting DS-16 guided bombs, FZ602 laser-guided rocket launchers, an L3-Harris gimbal, and Airborne Technologies’ self-contained aerial reconnaissance (SCAR) pod.

Keeping the Milkor 380 aloft for up to 35 hours is a 135 horsepower, four-stroke, four-cylinder turbocharged Rotax 915iS engine. The power plant gives an expected service ceiling of just on 10 000 metres, a 250 km/h maximum speed and 150km/h cruising speed.

Five UAVs are in production at the company’s Cape Town manufacturing facility and set for delivery next year, including for service in South Africa.

“Having a locally supported platform that is produced and manufactured in South Africa will increase the operational readiness to support troops during operations,” Mampa said. “We have been honoured to receive an enormous level of support from the Department of Defence, South African Air Force, Armscor and now the parliament and trust that South Africa will be the ultimate beneficiary of this system.”