Police can UAV acquisition

The police has scrapped its plans to buy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor the 2010 Fifa World Cup stadiums during the tournament.
The UAVs, which were sidelined for six Robinson R44 Raven II helicopters, worth more than R30 million, would have been purchased as part of the R650 million police procurement drive for the World Cup.
 The procurement drive includes water cannons, body armour, highway patrol vehicles and other equipment.
“As far as I know, the UAVs are the only pieces of equipment which were not bought,” says spokesman Superintendent Vishnu Naidoo. “We believed that the more viable option was to purchase the helicopters. There are no plans to buy any UAVs in the near future.”

The police had initially announced it would purchase 10 UAVs – one per stadium. Three organisations, engaged in UAV manufacturing, were tipped to be eyeing the lucrative UAV contract. These were Advanced Technologies and Engineering, Denel Dynamics and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). However, an official tender was not issued.

Naidoo had stated the police would consider the best options in terms of manufacturers and the models they stocked, and would also take into consideration the need for the technology.

He also said the UAVs, which police were looking at, would have had to have met its requirements, including being able to hover at extremely high and low altitudes, and also being user-friendly. Yet the police decided instead to go with the helicopters and would not say why the UAVs were deemed unviable for the tournament surveillance.

No explanation

When asked why the R44 Raven IIs were found to be better than the unmanned aircrafts, Naidoo noted he did not have to explain the police’s procurement choices.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to say why we bought the Raven II helicopters. We don’t need to explain the reasons why we buy some things and why we don’t buy others.”

In media reports, police deputy chief commissioner Andre Pruis commended the Raven IIs, saying they were cost-efficient and had quick turnaround times. These are the same characteristics Naidoo previously said they were looking for in the UAVs.

Meraka Institute project leader Lloyd Munday says the police cannot purchase UAVs for civilian surveillance purposes, as the Civil Aviation Act would not allow it.

The CSIR, which showcased the first flight of its modular UAV to the public in January, says legislation prevents small aircrafts from being flown in civilian areas for safety reasons.
“Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have been deployed largely in the military domain and, as such, do not comply with the civil airworthiness code as prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Standards and Recommended Practices and the civil aviation legislation in SA,” explains Andy Mamba, the Civil Aviation Authority’s UAS manager. “This, therefore, means UAS may not be legally deployed in civil airspace.”

The South African Civil Aviation Authority established a UAS standards working group last year to address the issue of UAVs in civilian airspace. Mamba says his department is tasked with the safe integration of UAVs into civil airspace, but this “is going to take a long time”.

The police did not say whether it was aware of the legal ramifications of using the UAVs in public spaces, and Naidoo says it is irrelevant to comment on the fact since the purchasing plans were scrapped.

Munday adds that the use of UAVs in public areas presents a danger to citizens because technical faults could cause them to crash into people. The CSIR representative says the council has been developing its fixed-wing modular UAV over the past three years, with more than R45 million in funding from the Department of Science and Technology.

Still hope

The CSIR believes UAVs can still be of use to the police in more remote locations. The council says the police should be able to purchase the unmanned aircrafts for the purposes of monitoring the borders and also coastal regions.
“What we have in mind is the police using UAVs to scout for abalone poachers along the western coast as this has serious repercussions for other illegal activities such as the drug trade.”

Munday also points to the National Health Laboratory Service, which has begun a tender process for micro UAVs to transport sterile specimens in rural and remote areas around the country. The UAVs, which will be deemed legal by the SACAA due to their areas of operation, will service more than 5 000 clinics nationwide.