General Atomics Aeronautical Systems produced the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in 1994. It entered service in time to take a starring role in the so-called War on Terror.
It would spawn a much more powerful successor, and imitators all over the world - imitators that have now given potential US enemies much the same capabilities as our own forces. China's CAIG Wing Loong UAV (shown below) is perhaps the best-known of these.
It's in service with Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as China.
Now comes news that a South African company has taken a European motorized glider and converted it into a Predator-equivalent UAV. What's more, it should be very economical compared to mainstream offerings from major powers.
South African company Ultimate Unmanned has launched its new Viper 1000C unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which is based on a Stemme motor glider.
The company said the idea is to lease the platform and sell air time for missions such as surveillance, border patrol, anti-piracy, pipeline monitoring, counter-terrorism, mapping, anti-smuggling, wildlife monitoring etc. Ultimate Unmanned is targeting the Middle East, amongst other regions, as parent company Ultimate Aviation has an existing footprint across Africa and the Middle East.
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The Viper 1000C ... is based on the Stemme S6, production models will be based on the Stemme S15 (which has been converted to the Patroller UAV by France’s Sagem), with the S6-based Viper to be used for training.
Endurance of the aircraft is 28 hours with external and internal extended endurance tanks. Maximum altitude is 25 000 feet. The 18 metre long, 1 100 kg aircraft has a cruise speed of 113 knots and is powered by a turbocharged Rotax 914 engine delivering 113 hp.
Flight is fully autonomous with automatic takeoff and landing and point to point waypoint navigation. Multiple payload options include high definition cameras, forward looking infrared systems and night vision systems. Two wing mounted hardpoints can carry up to 80 kg of payload, although total payload is up to 350 kg.
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The ground based command and control centre is mounted in a 6 x 2.56 x 2 metre trailer that includes a kitchen, bunks, toilet, shower, weather station, pilot and payload operator stations, generator, water and fuel tanks and satellite communications link.
There's more at the link.
Like the Predator, the Viper 1000C will doubtless be capable of carrying Hellfire-class missiles such as South Africa's Mokopa, or the new, smaller Impi-S.
South African companies aren't the only ones looking to produce Predator-class UAV's. The problem now is that so many countries are buying and fielding these aircraft that any US intervention in other parts of the world is going to become much more hazardous for the forces involved. Until recently, the US had a monopoly on this sort of high technology. That monopoly is now dead. Those who agitate for US intervention in other countries are going to have to wake up to the fact that our forces are likely to suffer much heavier casualties than previously, because the weapons equipping their enemies are going to be much more capable than in the past.
This also means that US arms export restrictions are now so much pointless paperwork. Saudi Arabia has already obtained Predator-equivalent surveillance UAV's from China. The USA has refused to sell it armed UAV's because of human rights considerations, so it's reportedly talking to South Africa about buying armed UAV's from that country. Effectively, any nation can now obtain armed UAV's at the drop of a moneybag, if not from one source, then from another. So much for export restrictions!