Full scale production of Nigeria’s indigenous Gulma unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is still ongoing and the aircraft has not yet been deployed, according to the Nigerian Air Force.
“The Nigerian Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle ‘Gulma’ is yet to be deployed for operational uses. Meanwhile training of the NAF UAV operators is currently ongoing,” the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) said in a statement on Tuesday.
The NAF was responding to criticism that it did not use UAVs to search for more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants. The NAF’s fleet of Israeli nine Aeronautics Defence Systems Aerostar UAVs, acquired in 2006/7, is not operational due to a lack of maintenance.
NAF spokesman Air Commodore Yusuf Anas said the Gulma was a prototype and that is why it had not been operationally deployed. The Gulma was unveiled in a ceremony on 17 December last year. It was produced by the Nigerian Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) with the help of aerospace engineers from Cranfield University in Britain. Since 2007, the British institution has partnered the AFTI as part of the Nigerian government’s bid to develop an in-house capacity for advanced aviation design, research and development.
Powered by a 17 hp engine, the Gulma is built on a composite aluminium alloy structure, operates via radio control on a Micro Pilot FCS avionics system and weighs 40 kilogrammes.
It has a maximum cruise range of 923 km and a top flight speed of 86 knots. It can cruise at a maximum altitude of 10 000 feet and has an endurance of up to 5.8 hours.
“Besides its diverse military applications, the UAV provides us with a range of benefits in disaster management, power line surveys, law enforcement operations, telecommunications, weather monitoring and aerial imaging/mapping,” President Goodluck Jonathan said at the aircraft’s unveiling. “It is also becoming an important tool in news coverage, environmental safety monitoring, and oil and gas exploration surveys.”
He said that through innovative research and development programmes, the Nigerian Navy, Air Force and Army engineering divisions had in the course of 2013 produced the country’s first indigenous navy combat vessel, armoured personnel carrier (APC) and bomb detection and disposal equipment.
Earlier in 2013 the Nigerian Air Force flew two indigenously developed unmanned aerial vehicles, which were presumed to be versions of the Amebo, which was unveiled at Air Expo 2012 in Kaduna. The Amebo I, II and III UAVs were developed by MSc students from the Air Force Institute of Technology.