What Is Known About South Africa's UAV Industry That Draws International Interest?
© Photo X / @MILKORSA South African defense firm Milkor's 380 unmanned combat aerial vehicle
© Photo X / @MILKORSA
Earlier this week, South African defense firm Milkor revealed that it was in talks with Saudi Arabia about a potential order for its Milkor 380 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs), which could be fully assembled and manufactured at Milkor's Saudi Arabian subsidiary. The UAE was also reported as another possible customer for the 380 drone.
South Africa has long been establishing itself as a key player in the military drone industry, solidifying its position as a leading African nation in military drone technology and innovation. Major defense firms in South Africa such as Milkor, Denel Dynamics, CSIR, and ATE have been instrumental in developing various military drone prototypes, ranging from small hand-launched drones to larger armed models.
In this article, Sputnik Africa presents a selection of locally designed and manufactured military drones from South Africa.
Milkor (Pty) Ltd's Drones:
1. MILKOR 380: The MA380 drone, currently on display at the World Defense Show in Riyadh, is a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) aircraft that can carry a variety of weapons and sensors for surveillance, reconnaissance and strike missions. The South African drone, which was unveiled in 2018 and make its inaugural flight in September 2023, features a wingspan of about 18.6 meters, a maximum takeoff weight of 1,500 kilograms and an endurance of up to 35 hours. The Milkor 380 drone is the largest drone built in Africa.
To date, Milkor has produced three 380s aircraft at its Cape Town facility, with a fourth and a fifth under construction. The privately-owned South African company is also running a flight test program near a South African Air Force base outside Cape Town, which will continue throughout 2024.
© Photo X / @MILKORSASouth African defense firm Milkor displaying the Milkor 380 at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD2022).
South African defense firm Milkor displaying the Milkor 380 at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD2022).
© Photo X / @MILKORSA
2. MILKOR MA80: Similar in design to the MA380 but smaller, with a wingspan of 6 meters, greater endurance of 24+ hours, and a maximum range of 250 km. It can carry a payload of around 15 kg.
3. MILKOR MA18: A hand-launched drone weighing 3 kg, with an endurance of around 90 minutes and a range of less than 30 km.
Denel Dynamics' Drones:
1. Denel Dynamics Seeker drones: A series of drones that were first deployed by the South African Air Force in the late 1980s during the South African Border War. They were used to gather intelligence on enemy locations, movements, and air defenses, as well as to guide artillery fire.
The Seeker drones have since been retired from the SAAF, but are still operated by Denel Dynamics on behalf of the South African National Defence Force and other organizations. Currently, there are several models of Seeker drones, including the Seeker 1, Seeker 2, and Seeker 400.
2. Denel Dynamics Hungwe drone: A small UAV with a blended wing design that ensures optimum performance. It is equipped with a day or night payload and can communicate in real time up to 100 km from the base.
The UAV is catapult launched and skid landed. It has a wingspan of 4 m, a maximum takeoff weight of 35 kg, an endurance of up to 6 hours, and a service ceiling of 12,000 ft. It can carry up to 5 kg of payload for day and night missions.
3. Denel Dynamics Skua target drone: A high-speed target drone designed to simulate fast-moving attack aircraft during weapons development and training exercises. It is made of composite materials and can carry up to 130 kg of towed targets and signature augmentation equipment.
The Skua has a wingspan of 3.57 m, a length of 6 m, and a maximum speed of Mach 0.86. It can fly up to 200 km from the ground control station and has an endurance of 60 minutes. It is recovered by parachute and landing bags.
4. Denel Dynamics Bateleur drone: A medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV prototype designed and built by Denel Dynamics. It has a primary surveillance role, with a secondary signals intelligence capability. It has a composite, modular airframe with a of 15 m wingspan and 8.5 m length.
Bateleur can carry a variety of payloads up to 200 kg, including electro-optical, infrared, laser, radar, and electronic intelligence sensors. It has a maximum speed of 220 km/h, a range of 750 km, and an endurance of 12 hours. It can take off and land autonomously on paved runways.
The SA Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)'s Drones:
1. CSIR LEMU drone: The LEMU UAV is a twin-engine drone that first flew in 2009,and is an extended-range version of the earlier CSIR Modular UAV research platform. There are two variants; one with an internal combustion engine and one with an electric engine. The maximum take-off weight is 65 kilograms, with a payload capacity of up to 20 kilograms.
2. CSIR Indiza drone: A hand-launched drone weighing 5 kg and carrying a 1 kg payload. It has an endurance of around 2 hours and a range of 50 km. It is used by the South African Army for border safeguarding and peacekeeping missions.
Other South African military drones:
1. Advanced Technology and Engineering (ATE) Vulture drone: A fully automated, high-mobility drone used for coastal surveillance, medium-range ISR, and border patrol. It is used by the South African Army for artillery target acquisition and fire correction purposes. It has a low-drag airframe with a wingspan of 3.6 m and a length of 2.4 m.
The Vulture drone is powered by a 500 cc 2-stroke fuel injected engine and has a cruise speed of 180 km/h. It has an endurance of 4.5 hours and a range of 100 km. It can carry a 13.5 kg payload, including a gyrostabilizer optronic sight.
© Photo X / @securitysplatSouth Africa's Paramount Group launches N-Raven swarming UAV
South Africa's Paramount Group launches N-Raven swarming UAV
© Photo X / @securitysplat
2. Paramount Group's N-Raven drone: A long-range, precision strike and swarming UAV system developed by Paramount Advanced Technologies, a division of the Paramount Group. It is a multi-mission aircraft capable of performing a variety of missions, including day and night real-time surveillance, electronic and communications intelligence, airborne communications relay, target location and laser designation, and maritime and coastal patrol.
The N-Raven has a wingspan of 3.6 m, a maximum takeoff weight of 55 kg, and a payload capacity of 15 kg. It can fly at a maximum speed of 180 km/h, a maximum altitude of 5,000 m, and an endurance of up to 10 hours. It can operate autonomously or in a swarm mode with other N-Raven drones.