Denel Aerospace Systems is planning development of a new generation medium tactical target drone as a long-term replacement for its existing Skua series, but wants an investment partner to help with programme costs and to broker wider market access.

The new system will incorporate some low-observable features, but will not pursue the sophisticated level of radar cross section shaping previously explored by Denel with its Seraph stealth target concept unveiled in the late 1990s.

The design process is also assessing potential alternative application of the target as the basis of a new high-speed, low-altitude, deep-penetration (LADP) surveillance UAV, modelled on the French DGA’s ‘Carapas’ demonstrator system, which was in turn based on the Galileo Avionica Nibbio target drone.

However, that alternate application will remain secondary to the overall development effort given limited marketplace opportunities for LADP systems. “You need to realise your playing field and focus on that” Denel officials have told Flight Unmanned.

Speaking at last months African Aerospace and Defence exhibition in Cape Town, company officials said that while similar in size to Skua, the new system will involve a “totally new airframe and new engine”.

The new target would support more sophisticated training presentations compared to Skua, with its requirements based on extensive lessons gleaned from operation of that system over the past decade.

Skua is operated by Denel on behalf of the South African Defence Force and has also secured three export customers. Some export customers have also recently taken to offering use of their Skua systems to third nations as the basis of a training services business Denel officials said, given the target’s reliability.

While designed to support an average of 20 recoveries during an individual target’s lifetime, company officials said at least one Skua has now achieved 26 recoveries and “is still going strong”.

The company has also confirmed that it has recently completed an obsolescence upgrade of existing Skua systems, with this including component replacement, software updates and a new ground station. The upgrade effort was launched two years ago and is the third implemented for the type since its release onto the international market in 1995.