This article was contributed to TechCabal by Bonface Orucho via bird story agency.

The Milkor 380, boasting an impressive 18.6-meter wingspan and a maximum takeoff weight of 1300 kg, achieved its inaugural flight on September 19, according to a story published in DefenceWeb on October 10, in what the website called a “giant milestone”.

“This makes South Africa among a handful of countries globally to have successfully developed and flown a UAV of this size,” the DefenceWeb reports.

This first flight “is a significant achievement for Milkor and the South African Defence Industry (SADI),” Daniel du Plessis, the Marketing and Communications Director at Milkor, stated.

The Milkor 380 project, initiated in 2018, has been actively conducting taxi testing throughout this year. This UAV is fully manufactured in South Africa at the Milkor facility in Cape Town, and is equipped with cutting-edge technology that provides unique advantages to the military. 

Specifically designed for long-endurance intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance missions, it can carry an impressive 210 kg of external payload, including various weapons and sensors.

The aircraft is powered by a four-stroke, four-cylinder turbocharged Rotax 915iS engine, giving it a service ceiling of nearly 10,000 meters, a maximum speed of 250 km/h, and a cruising speed of 150 km/h.

The deployment of the Milkor 380 is expected to significantly bolster the capacity and capabilities of law enforcement units, defence teams, and border patrol units in South Africa. 

As the country takes the lead in utilising this technology, there is a growing anticipation of further rollouts.

In Africa, there has been a noticeable rise in the deployment of unmanned drones for surveillance by insurgents, particularly in regions like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province. 

This trend has prompted military strategies to incorporate UAVs into active operations, primarily for surveillance. The African Defence Forum reports that Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Djibouti, the DRC, Mozambique, and South Africa are the largest military deploying countries of this technology.

Nigeria, for instance, recently acquired the Wing Loong II from China, following its two-year operation of the ADCOM Yabhon Flash-20 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made in the United Arab Emirates. Other African nations, including Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan, and Zambia have also integrated mid-sized drones into their military fleets, as indicated by PAX, a research firm.

In 2022, the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee adopted the Delhi Declaration to counter the use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist purposes, including unmanned aerial systems. 

The committee highlighted the importance of “furthering down the supply chain by focusing on players such as retailers and distributors.”

“This will enhance their record-keeping of sales of sensitive goods and multiple application technologies used in the construction of UAS, so that suspicious consignments and sales can be more easily detected,” said Jonah Leff, the Director of Conflict Armament Research.

The launch of the Milkor 380 is expected to elevate South Africa’s UAV industry to new heights, given its remarkable technological advancements and capabilities. Notably, five units of the UAV for domestic use are already in the pipeline.

An increase in African defence budget allocations is facilitating governments to easily deploy these technologies in a bid to revamp their domestic military capabilities.

For example, Nigeria has significantly increased its military budget allocations, with a 56% rise between 2021 and 2022, aiming to counter and potentially eliminate Islamic extremist groups within the country. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute monitoring global peace issues reports that military expenditure in Africa has grown by an average of 2.5% between 2012 and 2021, reaching US$20.1 billion.

Flight trials and sensor integration will continue throughout 2023, with the first public demonstrations of the Milkor 380 anticipated during the African Aerospace and Defense Exhibition, scheduled for September 2024.

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