Milkor’s flagship UAV takes flight

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Milkor has flown its Milkor 380 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for the first time, marking a giant milestone in the development of its flagship aircraft – the largest armed UAV designed and built in Africa.

The maiden flight on 19 September put South Africa among a handful of countries globally to have successfully developed and flown a UAV of this size – the aircraft has a wingspan of 18.6 metres and maximum takeoff weight of 1 300 kg.

The Milkor 380 was unveiled in 2018 and began taxi testing earlier this year. Daniel du Plessis, Marketing and Communications Director at Milkor, said the first flight “is a significant achievement for Milkor and the South African Defence Industry (SADI).”

Flight trials and sensor integration will continue throughout 2023. Specifically designed for long endurance Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations, the Milkor 380 will be able to carry 210 kg of external payload, including weapons and sensors – it has already been displayed 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.

Milkor has earmarked the first five units of the UAV for domestic use with the first aircraft produced at its 10 000 square metre manufacturing facility in Cape Town already being tested and evaluated exclusively by South Africa. Milkor, Armscor and the South African Air Force inked the memorandum of understanding during the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) expo in September last year.

“Having a locally developed UAV of this scale greatly enhances opportunities for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), South African Police Service (SAPS) and Border Management Authority (BMA) to increase their operational capabilities, while enjoying embedded support to ensure extended operational readiness,” du Plessis said.

“The only way to secure a long-term service life for South African end users is to share the responsibility for operational readiness with the local industry. Many of the other platforms that were imported have proven that, due to the increased cost of international support, over time operational readiness decreases and these programmes do not survive beyond five years,” he added.

First demonstrations of the Milkor 380 to the public are expected during the African Aerospace and Defence Exhibition in September 2024 – Milkor is the Diamond Sponsor of the event.

In addition to meeting domestic requirements, Milkor is looking towards the international UAV market as there is massively growing interest in procuring such systems across the globe. Milkor is well-positioned to meet global demand, as it now has offices in India, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Poland as well as South Africa.

“Over the past few years, the use of UAVs in active conflicts has shown their intrinsic value and we look forward to engaging with end users and decision makers around the world,” du Plessis said. “In developing this platform, we have also ensured that we are able to provide a turnkey solution by manufacturing all the critical components in-house. We are confident that our system is capable of meeting their requirements and are committed to ensuring that we deliver new technologies in the unmanned aerial vehicle environment.”

With an endurance of up to 35 hours, the Milkor 380 is classified as a medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV. Its 210 kg payload capacity allows for a wide array of weapons and equipment to be carried on five hardpoints, such as synthetic aperture radar, jammers, electro-optical gimbal etc. All avionics, communications and payload integration capabilities of the aircraft have been developed in-house.

The aircraft is powered by a four-stroke, four-cylinder turbocharged Rotax 915iS engine developing 135 hp, which should give it a service ceiling of nearly 10 000 metres, a maximum speed of 250 km/h and cruising speed of 150 km/h.