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PAC Releases Tender for ‘Data Link Items for MALE UAV’

On 10 April 2019, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) issued a tender for the “procurement of data link items” for a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The full contents of the tender are posted on PAC’s official website.

The tender calls for the limited procurement of specific parts, such as a 2.4-4.2 GHz radio-frequency (RF) transceiver module, 24V digital output module, and other components. It appears that the parts will feed towards one assembled hardware unit, potentially for testing.

This tender follows an agreement that PAC signed in May 2018 with the Turkish defence electronics firm Havelsan to collaborate on UAV technology.

Under the memorandum-of-understanding (MoU), the PAC and Havelsan agreed to co-develop mission computers, ground control stations, weapon control computers, and collaborate on sensor integration.

It is unclear if the Havelsan MoU is related to Project Azm, though it would make sense considering the scope and the fact that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) did not opt for a Turkish UAV off-the-shelf. However, at IDEAS 2018, Turkish Aerospace told Quwa that the Pakistan Navy (PN) was interested in the Anka UAV.

In January 2018, PAC also revealed design concepts of UAVs in its videos promoting the ground-breaking event of Air University’s Aerospace and Aviation Campus. The reveals come following the PAF announcing its own MALE UAV project under Project Azm (Urdu for resolve). Then PAF Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshall (ACM) Sohail Aman stated that the MALE UAV was in its “final stages.”

Based on the information thus far, i.e., the design mock-ups, the Havelsan MoU, and this recent tender, it appears that PAC is undertaking some manner of work on MALE UAV technology. It also seems that the PAF has withheld itself on the need to procure MALE UAVs off-the-shelf, despite having options in Turkey and China in the form of the Anka and CH-4 and Wing Loong, respectively.

A report claiming that PAC will co-produce 48 Wing Loong II UAVs remains unverified, though there were satellite photos of Pakistan testing what appeared to be a Wing Loong UAV in 2017.

In any case, it would be unwise to underestimate Pakistan’s UAV plans. Besides pursuing its own project, which indicates an intention to induct a large number of MALE UAVs as well as initiate a development line that could spur larger and longer-range aircraft, Pakistan is also investing in its space assets.

The procurement of a satellite communications (SATCOM) platform would enable Pakistan to operate its drones at beyond-line-of-sight (BLoS) range. Though the standard set by the industry and other operators centers on X-band terminals, the current PakSat-1R can, in theory, support drones via Ku-band (Quwa had discussed this in detail in an earlier article).

Interestingly, Pakistan’s Space Upper Atmosphere and Research Commission (SUPARCO) had hinted that the PakSat-1R could serve a military purpose in its promotional material for IDEAS 2018. It noted that the PakSat-1R could support “aeronautical and maritime links.”

That aside, SUPARCO also noted that it could manufacture X-band transmitters and S/X-band antennae. In its efforts to domestically manufacture many different satellites, it would be surprising if Pakistan omits procuring a SATCOM with X-band terminals to enable its drones.

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