It’s about as official as it can be without any official acknowledgement. According to the latest Denel annual report “the Seeker 400 is now in production for our local customer”.
A defenceWeb question to the SA Air Force (SAAF) earlier this year regarding the possible acquisition of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the re-activation of 10 Squadron has not yet been answered. A question on the same topic asked of SAAF Deputy Chief, Major General Jerry Malinga, was deflected with no direct response.
In a section titled “Operational Excellence” Denel’s newest public document states: “The Seeker 400, the latest and most advanced UAV, has completed flight testing and is now in production for our local customer. The Seeker 400 has the ability to carry two different payloads at a time, such as synthetic aperture radar, electro-optical sensors or electronic and communication sensors. The payloads can be interchanged in field allowing the Seeker 400 to be tailored for different tactical situations”.
At the time of publication there was no indication of how many Seeker 400s were being built for the local client or when they will be delivered. It can be assumed the UAVs will go to 10 Squadron which, is currently being reactivated. The unit was originally re-activated in 1986 at the then AFB Potchefstroom to handle the Kentron Seeker I RPV. 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.
Kentron, a forerunner of what is today Denel Dynamics, was then handed the Seekers to operate them on behalf of the SAAF.
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 reportedly has a 16 hour endurance giving it more than 10 hours of loiter time and can also be fitted with hard points to accommodate Impi-S air-to-ground missiles. The version with armament is designated the Snyper to differentiate it from the unarmed Seeker 400.
The statement in the Denel annual report indicates the acquisition of UAVs by the SAAF for the first time in more than 24 years is going to take place sooner rather than later.
An obvious tasking for the UAVs is border protection where a now retired army brigadier general more than four years ago said they would assist materially in providing intelligence on the movement and apprehension of illegal immigrants and smugglers.
This task is currently done by the SA Army through extensive foot and vehicle patrols along the country’s landward borders with support from the SAAF, usually in the form of helicopters.