The endorsement given by what is arguably the leading scientific and technology research organisation in Africa to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in counter-poaching operations is no surprise and should spur efforts by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to restart its UAV capability.
After a lengthy evaluation period of UAVs in Kruger and other national parks, the CSIR sees what the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has christened remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) as “a remarkable support tool”. This view is one long espoused by some senior officers in the country’s military.
Drones, to use another name, are force multipliers – and effective ones to boot because their deployment and utilisation makes for more effective and efficient use of other military resources.
An area of military operations which it appears the SANDF is in for the long haul is border protection. Patrolling the thousands of kilometres of land border looks set to remain a military tasking as it appears the hopefully soon to be constituted Border Management Authority (BMA) will be taking responsibility only for the 72 legal points of entry into South Africa and not the long stretches between them.
This leaves the SANDF’s Operation Corona as the sole stopper of illegal immigrants and smugglers along land borders with Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. The by now well-known “funds shortage” has and will continue to hamper efforts to plug the country’s notoriously porous borders.
The employment of UAVs is an eminently sensible method of improving border protection.
Unmanned aircraft are nowhere near as expensive to operate as manned ones, be they fixed- or rotary-wing, and provide data which will allow for better utilisation of ground forces, again a saving.
Another factor in favour of the SA Air Force (SAAF) reactivating 10 Squadron is that UAVs can and should be deployed on as many taskings as can be handled, including for other government departments.
All told, it makes eminent sense for the procurement officers to use the CSIR “stamp of approval” as another bullet in the ongoing battle for funding and equipment.