Armscor’s Alkantpan test range in Northern Cape undoubtedly qualifies for the title of a Big Sky location making eminent sense to use the site as a test flight area for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Two years ago the State-owned defence and security acquisition agency reported successful UAV tests were conducted at the range for various South African clients. In 2018 DSO, the Singapore national defence research agency, used Alkantpan as a UAV test site.
Reporting to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) recently, an Armscor presentation mentioned an “aerodrome” for UAV testing at Alkantpan.
Elaborating, Armscor told defenceWeb it “purchased a number of assets” when the AngloVaal mine at Copperton, the town nearest the Alkantpan range, closed. This included a gravel airstrip, cement apron, fencing, an ablution facility and a hangar. A wind farm under construction near the disused airfield means it will not for suitable for flying of any type in future.
“This airfield is being relocated and will be surfaced with asphalt in the near future,” Armscor Acting Group Executive: Corporate Support Advocate Ndodomzi Mvambo said.
When finished the runway will be 1 500 metres long and support infrastructure will be added on a modular basis. In terms of supporting UAV test flights Alkantpan can deploy resident mobile radar units.
Making the range more attractive to those wanting to see just how well, far and high their UAVs can go is that there is no operational ceiling height over Alkantpan. Airspace above the range is restricted to civilian and commercial air traffic and relatively flat terrain coupled with readily available meteorological data all add value for UAV operators.
More plusses for remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), as the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) prefers to call UAVs, at Alkantpan are low radio frequency emissions. Additionally a co-operative management agreement is in place making provision for scheduling test events in consultation with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
Alkantpan has hosted more than 30 UAV flight tests to date and Mvambo does not rule out UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) in Northern Cape skies.
“UCAV is an area of interest but will initially be limited to air-to-ground and short range weapons tests,” he said.