The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) maintains it is not operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at present.
Over the past four weeks defenceWeb has been informed by two different – and reliable – sources that Denel Dynamics’ manufactured Seeker 400 UAVs have been seen flying from the SA Air Force’s (SAAF) training area at Ditholo, north of Pretoria.
In response to questions asking whether the Seekers are being operated by Denel Dynamics personnel on behalf of either the SANDF or Defence Intelligence, the SANDF response was “there are currently no unmanned aircraft operating from Ditholo. Denel does not operate any equipment on behalf of the SANDF”.
Earlier this year and following the release of Armscor’s annual report for the 2015/15 financial year where it was indicated that a local launch customer for the Seeker 400 was imminent, it was confirmed that Defence Intelligence had taken delivery of at least four of the Seeker 400 systems last year.
In March the SAAF confirmed it was reactivating 10 Squadron, the airborne arm of the SANDF’s former operator of Scour and Seeker UAVs. The squadron was based at Potchefstroom and in January 1986 began operating the Kentron Seeker remotely piloted vehicle (as it was then called) and was stood down in November 1990 with indications that it was disbanded by March 1991.
In March SANDF spokesman Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said the “intention was to reactivate the squadron which closed more than a decade ago”.
He would not be drawn on whether the SANDF, as opposed to Defence Intelligence or the SAAF, was operating the Seeker 400.
“There are plans for discussions between Denel Dynamics and the SAAF on UAV training operations,” he said at the time.
The SANDF apparently considers the use and deployment of UAVs as an operational matter. SANDF’s Directorate Corporate Communications did not respond to a question on possible UAV deployments for border protection and anti-piracy taskings, saying “It did not discuss information regarding operational matters in media”.
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 up to 18 000 ft. At typical operating altitudes of between 4 500 and 9 000 feet, it is not visible from the ground by the human eye 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.