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Middle East UCAV capabilities building up

Posted 15 August 2018 · Add Comment

David Oliver takes a look at the Middle East’s combat aerial vehicle capabilities.

Since the Obama administration’s ban on the sale of US-manufactured unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) to Middle East countries, China has focused on filling the gap in this important market.
Not only has it sold highly capable UCAVs to Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, now it is opening a UCAV production facility in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST).
Initially, the facility will produce the Reaper-like CH-4B and assemble the more advanced Wing-Loong II. The Royal Saudi Air Force has an urgent requirement to use the latter in its Operation Restoring Hope battle against the Houthi force in Yemen.
Last May, KACST unveiled the indigenous Saqr 1 medium-range UCAV. Equipped with a satellite communications (SATCOM) system and an autonomous take-off and landing capability, it is made from lightweight carbon and glass fibre materials to reduce its fuel consumption.
Powered by a 113.3hp (84.5kW) Rotax 914 engine, the Saqr 1 has a range of 1,553 miles (2,500km), an endurance of 24 hours, and a ceiling of 22,000ft (6,700m). It can carry a 880lb (400kg) payload, including sensors and laser-guided missiles, such as the Chinese AR-1 ground-attack weapon, and FT-1 precision-guided bombs with a range of up to 6.2miles (10km).
In addition to Chinese design assistance, the KACST can also draw on the expertise of the Prince Sultan Advanced Tech Research Institute (PSATRI), which was founded by King Saud University (KSU) and the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF). It obtained the approval of the Minister of Defense in 2008.
Its Autonomous Vehicles Laboratory was established with the objective of building indigenous capabilities in the field of unmanned autonomous systems (UAS). Current activities span several areas, such as flight-control units, communication systems, ground-control systems and various payloads, such as gyro-stabilised platforms.
PSATRI has designed and built a number of tactical unmanned aerial system (TUAS), including the Skyguard. Powered by an Italian piston engine, the all-composite 24.6ft (7.5m) wingspan Skyguard can carry a 50kg payload, which includes electro/optical infra-red (EO/IR) day/night vision cameras. It has an endurance of eight hours.
The Skyguard system comprises a ground control station (GCS) and a ground data terminal (GDT) equipped with datalink communication and storage. First flown in 2015, six prototypes are undertaking a flight-test programme prior to production in 2018.
Saudi Arabia’s neighbour, the United Arab Emirates, is also taking part in Operation Restoring Hope and is expanding its UAV capability. Although it was the first Middle East country and non-NATO member to be permitted to acquire the unarmed RQ-1E Predator UAV, the UAE is reported to have ordered an undisclosed number of armed Wing-Loong II UCAVS.
At the same time, it is also committed to the purchase of eight Italian Piaggio P.1HH Hammerhead UAV systems.
Established in 2002 by the Government of Abu Dhabi, the Mubadala Investment Company has become the 100% owner of Piaggio Aerospace. It is focussed on developing existing core activities and introducing new programmes to bring the company in line with military requirements.
His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, is chairman of Mubadala.
To answer a requirement of the UAE Armed Forces, the joint Al Sabr programme was launched in 2003 in partnership with the Austrian rotary-wing UAV manufacturer, Schiebel, and Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems Investments (ADASI).
Based on the Camcopter S-100, the Al Sabr system has a fully autonomous vertical take-off and landing platform, providing a live video feed within a mission radius of 124 miles (200km) from the GCS, as well as an ability to remain airborne for up to 10 hours.
Production of major components, final assembly and testing of 40 systems for the UAE Air Force by ADASI began in 2006, and 10 systems have been delivered to the Jordanian Special Operations Command.
 

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