Denel Aerospace Systems has been asked by South African government authorities to revise its cost estimates for a new national maritime surveillance system built around the developmental Bateleur medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV.

Armscor, the South African national armaments agency, confirms that Denel has presented proposals for a joint civil-military system, but says the price tag is currently unacceptable.

Speaking to Flight Unmanned at Ysterplaat Air Force Base in Cape Town during the African Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition, Armscor chief executive officer Sipho Thomo said that MALE UAVs were regarded as particularly suitable for the country’s border and maritime economic exclusion zone protection requirements.

“Denel has a package that they have put together which they are trying to sell to the police and the Navy, but they are finding it somewhat unaffordable and are looking to trim certain capabilities out. There is a product available, or a solution available, but what needs to happen is to convince the government authorities for them to use it. The capital outlay obviously is what they are complaining about.”

Thomo says a UAV-based capability is likely to be, “in the long term, very cost effective because then you don’t have to send a ship or a helicopter or whatever. To send a UAV is much cheaper.”

Denel has been working on the Bateleur concept since 2003 with the UAV the primary focus of the company’s efforts to field a successor to its existing Seeker medium tactical series. Early planning proposed having a demonstrator prototype ready for flight trials by late this year, however Denel officials at AAD said construction remains dependent on investment by a firm customer or development partner with a two year lead time to first flight after contract signature.

In its maritime configuration Bateleur would carry a rotating maritime surveillance radar, housed under the fuselage at the wing root position, a Denel Optronics IR-EO turret and a Saab Avitronics electronic support measures suite derived from systems developed for Seeker.

Current Denel Aerospace plans for reductions in Bateleur cost have seen the introduction of a spiral development approach, which may include the interim step of a more capable version of Seeker.

Existing Seeker users are interested in options for improved performance as well as reduced engine noise according to Denel. The current production standard Seeker II uses a two stroke powerplant. Investigations of new larger petrol engine options are pointing to a need for airframe modifications but could result in a 14h+ endurance capability. Diesel options also remain a possibility but petrol solutions are being given priority.

Seeker I has been sold to the South African Air Force, while Seeker II has recorded at least two system sales each to two different international customers. Denel has confirmed to Flight Unmanned that its first export customer was secured in 2001 but declines to confirm customer identities other than the SAAF. Total Seeker production is cited as being in excess of 30 individual air vehicles.

Denel operated the SAAF’s Seeker 1 system and currently operates own Seeker 1 systems on a contracted operations basis with that service retaining ownership of the actual air vehicles. Denel provides the ground control stations and communications systems and says that model may provide an option for future Bateleur customers.

Bateleur spiral development would see a deferral of satellite-based over-the-horizon communications links to later project phases. The initial UAVs would instead re-use the Seeker communications architecture, and be designed to integrate directly into the existing Seeker ground control station.

The approach would allow exploration of MALE capabilities on a progressive basis by existing Seeker users according to Denel. To leverage the endurance benefits of the new UAV, several ground stations would be distributed across a wider area of operations, with this also offering the option of simultaneous operations of both UAV types.

Later introduction of satellite communications capability for Bateleur would potentially be mirrored by the development of a new ground station that would be common to both UAV types and provide expanded image handling capabilities.

Denel also plans to introduce a mobile data terminal capability for Seeker from later this year, and this technology will also be available as part of the Bateleur system.

Bateleur air vehicle design work has largely been completed with wind tunnel testing on a 10% scale model completed during 2005.

The refined design is expected to be capable of lifting a combined payload weight of 200kg, with that target directly influenced by the anticipated radar weight for the maritime surveillance version.

Bateleur is named after a short-tailed eagle common along South Africa’s northern borders.