The South African Air Force (SAAF) has confirmed that it is reactivating 10 Squadron, which used to operate Scout and Seeker unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), indicating it could ultimately operate the Seeker 400 UAVs that Denel Dynamics is delivering to a “local customer”.
“The SAAF is intending to reactivate 10 Squadron which was closed more than a decade ago,” Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga at Defence Corporate Communications said in response to a defenceWeb enquiry.
However, he denied that the SAAF is currently operating the Seeker 400, which Denel in its last annual report said was in production for “our local customer”.
“The SAAF did not receive nor does it operate the Seeker 400. There are plans for discussions between Denel Dynamic and the SAAF on training UAV operations,” Mabanga said.
It has been speculated by many, such as defence expert Helmoed Romer Heitman, that the local customer is the Defence Intelligence division and that “there is still some indecision whether the Air Force will resume UAV operations on behalf of Defence Intelligence, or whether the latter will choose to establish an operating capability themselves, perhaps contracting Denel Dynamics to actually operate the aircraft.”
Denel Dynamics has been reluctant to comment on who exactly the local client is or how many have been ordered, but the order is most likely for four to six systems.
Armscor in its last annual report, covering the period up to 31 March 2015, said that final acceptance of the Seeker 400 was planned for the second half of 2015. It is believed that Seekers have been delivered to the South African National Defence Force after receiving military certification.
10 Squadron was the only SA Air Force squadron that operated UAVs and was based at Potchefstroom. It was re-activated in 1986 to fly and maintain the Kentron Seeker I. The squadron’s primary task was to provide reconnaissance and weapons delivery guidance. Orders were given for the squadron to cease flying in November 1990 and indications are it disbanded in March the following year. The first Seekers were then handed back to Kentron who operated them on behalf of the SAAF until they were declared excess to requirements.
In addition to the locally produced Seeker platforms, 10 Squadron also operated Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) Scout UAVs. They were deployed across southern Africa from Mozambique to Angola doing surveillance and artillery spotting work over hostile airspace.
The Seeker 400 builds on the successful technology developed by Denel Dynamics for its Seeker II and Seeker 200, which has been operational in the United Arab Emirates. It is a larger aircraft, has a cruising speed of 150 km/h and can carry two payloads weighting a combined 100 kg. The payloads can be interchanged in the field, allowing the Seeker to be tailored for different tactical situations.
The Seeker 400 can be used for a wide range of military and civilian missions, including maritime surveillance and disaster reconnaissance. It has up to 16 hours endurance at altitudes of up to 18 000 ft. At typical operating altitudes of between 4 500 and 9 000 ft, it is not visible to people on the ground and is effectively inaudible.
The UAV’s line-of-sight range is 250 km from its ground station, but this can be doubled by using a forward ground station with deployed forces. This involves the UAV being launched from a convenient airfield and flown to the area of operations, where it is handed-over to the forward ground station to control during the actual mission.
Regarding weapons, the Seeker 400 has been designed to carry four small Impi-S weapon, a derivative of the 10 km range laser-guided Mokopa anti-tank missile. When carrying weapons the Seeker 400 will be known as the Snyper. Even with four missiles it will still be able to carry a 40 payload, typically the Goshawk II HD from Airbus DS Optronics.
The Seeker 400’s forerunner, the Seeker II, has been successfully deployed by international customers in five countries overseas. The Seeker II has being further upgraded by Denel Dynamics, rebranded as the Seeker 200, and offered to clients who want a smaller air vehicle or do not require the greater endurance and dual payload capability offered by the latest Seeker 400 version.