New Denel aerial target drone

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Denel Dynamics has for the first time publicly revealed a new aerial target drone, which was displayed at the recent Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2022 exhibition in Pretoria.

Denel Dynamics has for a number of years been developing the low-cost target drone demonstrator for the South African Department of Defence (DoD) under Project Loki.

A mock-up of the high-speed recoverable vehicle on display at Air Force Base Waterkloof in late September revealed the drone weighs 180 kg, has a wingspan of 2.45 metres and length of 3.2 metres.

It has an endurance of 45-70 minutes depending on flight profile and is powered by two TJ40-G1 turbojet engines developing 40 kg of thrust each, giving a top speed of 630 km/h and a maximum altitude of 8 000 metres with 38 kg payload. Its control range is 60 km, but could be increased with the use of a communications relay station.

The drone is designed to simulate high-speed threats, and can be fitted with a couple of infrared emitters on the wings, a Luneburg lens on the nose to enhance its radar cross-section, or strobe light or smoke trail devices. It can be fitted with chaff or flares, a radar or air traffic transponder, or radar altimeter for low flying.

Launch is via a hydro-pneumatic launcher designed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) while recovery is via a parachute.

Denel told defenceWeb the ground control system comprises a laptop computer, UPS power supply, ground communications equipment and a user interface panel. The ground control system can be deployed in an office, control room, ISO container or any other container available.

The drone’s mission can be pre-planned or downloaded before takeoff, with automatic return home in case communication is lost. “The target drone provides a realistic target for a wide array of weapon systems; these can be ground based, airborne or ship based,” Denel said.

Two prototypes are under construction, with a first flight scheduled for March 2023 at the Denel Overberg Test Range, Janes reported.

Denel Dynamics has previously manufactured the Skua target drone for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which has operated it since 1992. The Skua is a high-speed target drone, designed to simulate high-speed attack aircraft during land, sea and air combat training exercises and weapon development. The complete system consists of four to eight target drones, a zero-length launcher, a mobile ground control station (GCS) and ground support equipment.

The Skua has a wingspan of 3.57 metres and length of 6 metres. The drone is further fitted with wing hard-points to carry tow-targets and signature augmentation equipment weighing up to 160 kg. An internal bay can house a payload of up to 70 kg. It has a maximum speed of Mach 0.86 at 10 000 m and has a controllable range of 200 km (line of sight). Endurance is 85 minutes at 10 000 m at Mach 0.75. At the end of a flight, the Skua returns to the ground by parachute and is landed upside down on pneumatic landing bags.

The Skua has been used in the development of the A-Darter, MAA-1 Piranha and Umkhonto missiles, amongst others.

As far back as 2006 Denel was planning the development of a new generation medium tactical target drone as a long-term replacement for its existing Skua series.