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Denel Has Launch Customer for Seeker 400 UAV

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Seeker 400 On Course

(Source: Denel; dated August 10, 2011 issued August 15, 2011)

The prototype of Denel Dynamics’ latest Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV), the Seeker 400, has been completed and is due to make its maiden flight in the first quarter of 2012. It is a long-endurance tactical UAV.

“The decision by Denel to invest in this new product was mainly based on the global requirements for this capability. Based on the business case, Denel decided to fund the development from its balance sheet,” says Tsepo Monaheng, Executive for Denel UAVS.
Although the USA and Israel dominate the global market, there is scope for South Africa to use local skills to create market-leading UAVS to a broad spectrum of countries - from developing to developed. This market is estimated at US $14bn per annum. The RSA UAV industry aims to capture in excess of 20% of this end of the market.

The aircraft has already been displayed in mock-up form at the Africa Aerospace and Defence Show (AAD) 2010, in Cape Town. There is already a launch customer for the Seeker 400 who operated the Seeker I tactical UAV in the early 1990s. Two other countries which currently operate the Seeker II are also interested in the Seeker 400 because the new aircraft can be controlled by simply using their existing Seeker II control stations.

Though it utilizes the Seeker II architectural design, the Seeker 400 is a totally new aircraft. The Seeker 400 is much larger and much more capable than the Seeker II and provides a variety of operational options. It is deployable in most conditions, including taking off from an unprepared piece of land.

Monaheng describes the Seeker 400 as a “typical entry-level” product towards the long-endurance UAV (MALE). It can stay in the air for 16 hours and can simultaneously operate two payloads. Currently, it has a range of 250 km, because it uses only line-of-sight communications, but it could be upgraded to use satellite communications, which would allow it to operate at much greater ranges. With the use of the existing tactical ground station (TGS), the range may be extended to 750km.

The Seeker 400 flight test programme will run for most of 2012, and production should start by the end of that year.

Denel Dynamics plans, in due course, to add weapons to the Seeker 400. The prototype was recently displayed at the company’s 2011 ‘Show and Tell’ briefing in Centurion with a Mokopa antitank missile (also a Denel Dynamics product) under each wing. A number of countries have already expressed interest in an armed version of the UAV.

The Seeker 400 was originally conceived as an upgrade of the Seeker II but, as the project developed, the company realized that a totally new and larger aircraft would do better in the market. The retention of the name ‘Seeker’ also takes advantage of the Seeker II’s established brand.

The Seeker 400 programme schedule is on track. The medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV project, the Bateleur, has not been abandoned but is currently on hold to allow for a focused development of the Seeker 400.

Globally, UAVS are becoming ever more important and more widely used. Although costs are coming down, UAVS are not necessarily cheaper or easier to operate than crewed aircraft – some top-of- the-range UAVS are very expensive. But the fact that they have no human on board means they can be sent into high-risk environments and they can be kept aloft much longer than a conventional aircraft.

The availability of capable and affordable South African UAVS has obvious benefits for national security as well as crime fighting, disaster management, election monitoring and search and rescue. UAVS are also utilised in the agricultural, mining, health and environmental sectors. Within the next five years UAVS will be used by a diversity of industries-- from policing poachers on land and coastlines or carrying test specimens from remote clinics to laboratories for analysis, to keeping an eye on livestock on farms. This wide range of applications will open up lucrative parallel markets for international UAV players.

Foreign experience in combat zones shows that the key service that UAVS provide to ground force commanders is live video coverage. This provides them with real time surveillance, intelligence and target acquisition as well as much better situational awareness. The French Army has reported that, in Afghanistan, UAVS have saved the lives of its soldiers and some 80% of its UAV missions are to protect its troops. Indeed, it is now known that one of the operators of the Seeker II has deployed these UAVS under UN command in a foreign country.