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South Africa’s CSIR Raises Possibility of Wingman Drone Research

Kevin Jamison, a Principal Aeronautical and Systems Engineer at South Africa’s government-owned think-tank, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), proposed studying the concept of air-to-air capable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for use with the South African Air Force (SAAF).

According to Defence Web, Jamison proposed studying the concept so that the SAAF and defence industry could determine the most appropriate concept for the SAAF.

In turn, the industry could start developing the wingman UAV, i.e., create a technology demonstrator, set concept of operations (CONOPS), and decide on subsystems, design, and weapons.

The development of a wingman UAV could coincide with an upcoming mid-life-upgrade (MLU) of South Africa’s JAS-39C/D Gripen multi-role fighters. The ‘drone wingmen’ could join the SAAF’s combat aircraft fleet, but at a much lower cost than manned fighter aircraft, especially next generation platforms.

In any case, the CSIR official believes that South Africa possesses the capacity to develop a system of this nature, though it would require each of the country’s development stakeholders to collaborate together.

Notes & Comments:

The US company Kratos Defence & Security Solutions arguably kicked-off the development of unmanned wingmen in 2017 via the XQ-58A Valkyrie.

Kratos’ main objective was to develop a system that would offer a low-cost attack asset as well as a ‘loyal wingman’ for manned aircraft that would serve as a decoy against enemy missiles.

Kratos’ XQ-58A Valkyrie flew for the first time on 05 May  2019.

Today, companies across Europe, Russia, and China started developing systems of a similar concept.

These UAVs include, among others, the LJ-1 by China’s National Polytechnic University, the Loyal Wingman by Boeing, the Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Air (LANCA) by Boeing Defence UK and Callen-Lenz, and an unknown type under the Franco-German Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program.

It appears that the first generation of these drones will serve as low-observable attack aircraft with deployable air-to-surface munitions, stand-off jamming aircraft, and decoys for enemy air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.

For its part, Kratos is developing the XQ-58A as a low-cost design that the US can produce and induct in large numbers.

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