01 June 2015 by Guy Martin - defenceWeb
B-Cat Military has finished development testing of its one hundred per cent South African designed and built Pathfinder unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), which is being offered to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
The civil version of the B-Cat has been around for a number of years and started out as an unmanned mining vehicle for exploring blasting areas. Roughly two years ago B-Cat Military began development of a version for defence and security applications, which is available for a variety of missions such as anti-poaching, reconnaissance, perimeter surveillance, riot control intelligence gathering, forward deployment etc.
The company’s Pieter le Roux told defenceWeb that development has concluded and the vehicle is ready for production. The Pathfinder recently test-fired its 12.7 mm Rogue remote control weapons cluster supplied by Reutech, and was demonstrated to the SANDF, which has expressed a lot of interest in the type. The SANDF has bought into the remote controlled and unmanned idea, according to le Roux.
Le Roux said the vehicle would initially be marketed locally, targeting entities like the police (which could use it as a non-lethal crowd control tool), security services and the military before moving into the rest of Africa, as the Pathfinder is “an African machine for the African theatre of war.”
B-Cat Military said the Pathfinder is designed to operate in complex urban environments. “The Pathfinder UGV operates in close support to dismounted soldiers to also provide a forward fire suppression platform with an added additional payload carrying capacity. Some of the possible payloads include ammunition, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) detection, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), weapons, supplies, medical equipment etc.”
For base protection duties, the Pathfinder could be used to investigate intruder alarms, function as a mobile remotely operated radar and night vision or thermal imaging platform and could engage intruders with weapons.
In the support role, B-Cat Military said that the Pathfinder can be used by dismounted infantry sections to detect and destroy improvised explosive devices (IEDs), function as an ambush early warning system, gather intelligence, provide missile/small arms fire protection and provide communications support.
The Pathfinder can be fitted with limited mine protection and mine detection technology.
One of the envisioned roles for the Pathfinder is medical evacuation of injured soldiers out of combat zones, the replenishment of medical supplies to forward lines and protection for injured and medical personnel.
The six wheeled Pathfinder can be remotely operated at distances of between 400 metres and seven kilometres, terrain and communications systems dependant. The vehicle weights 800 kg without equipment and can carry a 300 kg payload. It is 1.7 metres long, 1.1 metres wide and .8 metres high. Its battery allows for ten hours of operation, but the battery pack can be switched out for continuous operation.
Le Roux explained to defenceWeb that the Pathfinder can be made bigger or smaller depending on customer requirements and is very flexible in terms of payload, use, size and weight. For instance, it could be used for firefighting or carry stretchers and have customer equipment integrated onto it.
The vehicle was displayed at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition in September last year with a mast-mounted Reutech radar and day sights, but can be fitted with other sights and equipment. Reutech said it is quite unique on the continent and had generated a lot of interest during AAD 2014. Le Roux said the niche market the Pathfinder is serving could be “quite substantial.”
B-Cat Military offers the Pathfinder with a control station and battery packs or can supply it with a transport vehicle, such as a Toyota Land Cruiser or Mercedes Sprinter. This would be fitted with a control station, recharging point and quick offload tray. The Pathfinder can also be aircraft deployed.