Fortified Milkor

The 380 is the largest unmanned UAV built in Africa, and could play a vital role in enhancing operational capability of the SA national defence force.

Model 380 UCAV

Home drone: Milkor's new Model 380 UCAV made its maiden flight in September, 2023. Picture: Milkor

South Africa’s Milkor (Pty) Ltd flew its Model 380 UAV for the first time at Air Force Base Overberg, near Bredasdorp on September 19, though the maiden flight was not immediately confirmed.

Flight trials are set to continue for the rest of 2023 and into the first quarter of 2024 at Overberg, which is home to No.525 squadron and the SAAF’s test flight and development centre.

It has been reported that five aircraft are under construction, for delivery next year, reportedly for service with the South African air force.

Milkor’s group CEO, Phuti Jackson Mampa, recently said that: “There are many applications where the Milkor 380 could play a vital role in enhancing operational capability and the overall success of the SA National Defence Force, Border Management Authority, and South African police service… Having a locally-supported platform that is produced and manufactured in South Africa will increase the operational readiness to support troops during operations. We have been honoured to receive an enormous level of support from the department of defence, South African air force, and Armscor and trust that South Africa will be the ultimate beneficiary of this system.”

The Milkor 380 UAV is  the largest unmanned aircraft built in Africa, with an 18.6 metre wingspan and a maximum take-off weight of 1,300-kg. This, together with the aircraft’s 135-hp, four-stroke, four-cylinder turbocharged Rotax 915iS engine, puts the aircraft in the same category as the US GA-ASI Predator.

The company’s communications director Daniel du Plessis, said that: "It is the largest drone ever produced on the African continent. There are only a few companies in the world that have the capacity to produce and have actually produced a device of this size. It offers the possibility to South Africa and other countries on the continent to use this technology for their defence and security forces.”

The Milkor 380 can fly at a maximum altitude of around 30,000 ft, for up to 35 hours, and is classified as a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV, carrying a payload of up to 210 kilograms.

The Milkor 380 has been described as a UCAV (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) or UCAS (Unmanned Combat Aerial System) and the company’s brochure shows higher payload options, with 400-kg under the fuselage, 150-kg under each inner wing, and 80-kg under each outer wing.

The aircraft has five hardpoints for weapons and reconnaissance payloads and can carry an L3-Harris EO/IR turret, or the Airborne Technologies’ self-contained aerial reconnaissance (SCAR) pod. Other options include SAR/ISAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar/Inverted Synthetic Aperture Radar), Communications Intelligence (COMINT), AIS (Automatic Identification System), communications relay, and communications jammer payloads.

The aircraft will be offered to miltary export customers, but also to parapublic, border control, and conservation/anti- poaching operators. Milkor hopes that the aircraft will become a competitor to Turkey's popular Bayraktar TB-2 and TAI Anka and Akinci drones, which have enjoyed significant sales success – especially to nations who cannot afford, or are blocked from acquiring the latest US UCAVs.

The Milkor 380 follows the smaller, hand-launched MA18 portable UAV, and the smaller, T-tailed MA80 and the confusingly named MA380 UAV, which also has a T-tailed configuration, unlike the new UAV, which has a configuration more reminiscent of the US GA-ASI Predator, with a V-tail (or more accurately a Y-shaped tail with a ventral tailfin augmenting the dihedral tailfins.

Milkor (Pty) Ltd and its Polish group company Milkor Polska Sp.zo.o. have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Germany’s Aerodata AG “in the field of unmanned airborne maritime surveillance,” perhaps indicating that a maritime version is under consideration.

A United Arab Emirates office, MIlkor UAE, was officially launched at IDEX 2021, when what was then known as the Milkor UCAV was launched by Minister of State for Defence Affairs Mohammad Ahmad Al Bowardi.

A mock-up of the aircraft was shown, carrying six HALCON desert sting weapons under its wings. The desert sting is an unpowered glide bomb with an inertial and GNSS navigation system and an optional semi-active laser seeker. The sting series has a range of 16-km and offers a range of different warhead sizes, and weighs between 10 and 50-kg. Other weapons displayed with the MIlkor 380 mock up at defence exhibitions (including IDEX and then the Africa Aerospace and Defence 2022 international arms exhibition at Tshwane) include the Al Tariq X-series PGM, and the Belgian Thales FZ602 laser-guided rocket launcher.

Jon Lake

Jon Lake

Jon is defence editor for both Arabian and African Aerospace magazines.