23 July 2013 by Guy Martin - defenceWeb
Denel Dynamics’ Seeker 400 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) will fly in October this year, but possibly earlier, the company has confirmed.
Jan Wessels, Denel Group Chief Operations Officer, told defenceWeb that ground testing is currently underway and that the first flight is officially planned for October this year, but may occur sooner. It was originally scheduled for last year, but was delayed due to contracting and certification issues.
Denel’s annual report for the 2012/13 financial year also identifies “complexities with the key subsystems” as another reason for “significant variation in the programme schedule, including a delay of the maiden flight test.”
Nevertheless, Denel said that “significant progress” has been made in the Seeker 400 development programme over the last year and that all hardware manufacturing is completed with system integration underway.
In its annual report, Denel said the projects attached to the development of the Seeker 400 accounted for revenue of R89 million during the last financial year, with investment of R60 million in the Seeker 400.
The Seeker 400 was displayed in mock-up form at the 2010 Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition. It has an endurance of 16 hours and can be armed with two Mokopa air-to-surface missiles, with a 10 km range. It is able to carry two payloads at the same time, including electro-optical/infrared and radar as well as laser rangefinder and illuminator for target designation. Denel says an electronic surveillance payload is available for the detection and location of radar emitters. Future upgrades will include satellite communications, and sense-and-avoid capability in order to obtain civil aviation certification.
Currently, the Seeker 400 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 750 km.
Denel Dynamics is executing a production contract for the UAV’s launch customer (which previously operated the Seeker I) and has also attracted strong interest from other potential clients, with most demand expected to come from the Middle East, Southeast Asia and South America. Denel is promoting the Seeker 400 to Seeker II customers, as the new UAV can be flown with Seeker II control stations.
Also on the UAV front, Denel has changed the layout of its Hungwe commercial UAV, which went from a swept wing dart-like layout to a scaled down version of the proven Seeker II. The triangle shaped Hungwe was shown at exhibitions last year, while the new layout first came to light earlier this year. An example of the ‘new’ Hungwe was on display at Denel’s corporate offices yesterday.
This UAV has a wingspan of four metres and a weight of 35 kg. Carrying a 5 kg sensor, it has an endurance of six hours and a direct line of sight range of 100 km. The system’s service ceiling is up to 12 000 ft. The sensor turret accommodates a daylight TV camera and an infrared camera.
Mobility and portability is a prerequisite and the Hungwe’s ground control station will be quick to setup, easy to use, and compact enough to transport in the back of a commercial light utility vehicle. The ground control station comprises a laptop-based two-console unit, with stations for the sensor operator and pilot.
Denel Dynamics believes there is a large market for the Hungwe as it fills a low-cost market niche – demand could be five times that of the Seeker II. Local applications range from anti-poaching, cable theft prevention and police monitoring.
Like the Seeker 400, the Hungwe is also funded by Denel. Wessels said Denel is pushing the UAV as it believes there is a large market for civil UAVs, which are much cheaper than their military counterparts. Denel Dynamics is targeting Hungwe production by April 2014 at the latest.