The flawed drones deal

Published: May 4, 2010
The indigenous drones with the Pakistan armed forces are the Uqab with the Pakistan Army and the Bravo with the Pakistan Air Force.

The indigenous drones with the Pakistan armed forces are the Uqab with the Pakistan Army and the Bravo with the Pakistan Air Force.

KARACHI: The Pentagon offer to supply Pakistan with unarmed surveillance drones not only falls short of the requirements of the armed forces, but may also cripple the already fragile state of the country’s industry of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturers.

So say industry insiders, who are furious about the deal. Last January, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates had announced plans to provide Islamabad with three systems of surveillance, comprising 12 Shadow drone aircraft and ground stations at an estimated cost of $20 million by the end of this year.

But industry insiders insist they have the technology to develop similar drones.

“Shadow 200 (military nomenclature RQ-7) is old by today’s standards,” says Dr Haroon Qureshi from Islamabad, who is a pioneer in the field and owns the private company East West Infiniti Private Ltd (EWI). “Several Pakistani programmes are equally potent and approximately 100 aircraft can be ordered from our own industry for the same amount of money,” claims Qureshi.

“The Shadow is a pretty docile UAV which provides video surveillance using the POP200 payload sensor built by an Israeli company Tamam; even its line of sight is within the 60- 120kms range that can identify a target at a distance of between two and four kilometres,” he adds. Raja Sabri Khan, the MITeducated chief executive of Integrated Dynamics, a private company based in Karachi, says:

“Our unarmed tactical drones can definitely match and even exceed the specifications of the Shadow.” Another UAV scientist who wishes to stay anonymous says, “It’s so ironical: the Islamic Republic of Pakistan will end up buying drones from a company whose roots are deeply founded in Israel.” The Shadow programme began as a project between the American AAI Corporation and the Israeli IAI defense companies.

A spokesperson for another private company, Satuma, which has a contract with the Pakistan Airforce, says the money would have been better spent if it had been invested in the domestic industry. Dr Qureshi goes a step further. “Had our military invested the same amount – $ 20 million – in the private sector 10 years ago, we would have had a much more sophisticated drone and perhaps even an armed version today,” he rues. Beggars can’t be choosers A senior Pakistan Army officer says the deal for Shadow and other similar US tactical drones are on, despite the reservations.

“It’s true that we already have our own indigenously produced unarmed drones, which we use for reconnaissance missions in South Waziristan and Bajaur,” he says. “What we basically wanted from the Americans was a drone with a weapons payload system. But they have refused to give us a Predatorlike weapon and now we are basically taking whatever we can get”.

But insiders allege that the only reason the military is going for the Shadow are the kickbacks and foreign trips.

“These range between five and 15 per cent of the purchase price,” reveal these sources. The army officer, however, rubbishes these assertions. “We will be getting the unarmed drones under the US government’s Foreign Military Sales’ provisions for security assistance and aid,” he insists. “If military aid for Pakistan is earmarked at $500 million this year, delivery of drones will be part of this package.”

Made in Pakistan

There are four private enterprises in the country that are currently in the business of making drones, including EWI, Satuma, Integrated Dynamics and Global Industrial Defence Solutions. At least two of these companies have exported their drones to foreign countries such as the US and the Middle East. “Our UAV industry has to go and look for customers in the rest of the world, while the Pakistan military ignores us,” they complain. Some scientists in an individual capacity are also working on drone projects.

An example is a Lahore-based engineer with a degree from NUST currently working on a shoulder-propelled micro drone for shortrange reconnaissance missions. The Air Weapons Complex (AWC) and the National Development Complex (NDC) are two public sector bodies under the National Engineering and Scientific Commission (Nescom) division which are involved in developing UAVs. Previously, Nescom’s Project Management Organisation was also involved in a project to develop drones, but later this body was disbanded.

None of the drones produced by private companies have an armed capability. Nescom, however, has been working an armed version called the Buraq for the last one and a half years, which is expected to make its test flight by next year. Drones in action Pakistan already has a fleet of two foreign-made unarmed drones. The Italian Falco drones were delivered to the Pakistan Airforce in 2008, reportedly at a cost of $40 million. These were were seen flying near Sargodha during the recently concluded Azm-e-Nau military exercises, says an insider.

The last of these 12 Flacos are currently being assembled at the airforce’s Kamra complex. The army has the Germanmade Luna drone which cost between $20 and $30 million. A local drone manufacturer complains that this will be third time when the armed forces will go for a foreign purchase despite knowing that similar high-end technology and cost effective products are available locally.

The indigenous drones with the Pakistan armed forces are the Uqab with the Pakistan Army and the Bravo with the Pakistan Air Force. (The Pakistan Air Force maintains a UAV base called Mureed which lies between Chakwaal and Sargodha.)

Both are copies of the same model which was designed by the private companies EWI and Satuma. The air weapons complex is working on a long range tactical UAV called the Shahpar, which is basically a super version of its Bravo drone.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Qamar, Vienna
    May 4, 2010 - 3:22AM

    its a dilemma Alas..Recommend

  • Zeeshan
    May 4, 2010 - 1:42PM

    I’m surprised to learn there are so many native Pakistani drone manufacturers. It sounds like the Pak military could work with them to develop armed drones and help create local jobs in the process. It’s a real shame they’re not doing so – I imagine it’s because they want to continue to receive their kickbacks in dollars (or shekels!). Recommend

  • aamir
    May 4, 2010 - 11:10PM

    zeeshan, you thought that was the intention of the leaders and the military? Recommend

  • May 5, 2010 - 11:05AM

    very informative article, pleasure reading it. one question though, Chould/Can/Will the Chief Justice take suo moto action against this?Recommend

  • HJQ
    May 7, 2010 - 3:34AM

    Well done salman, very well rounded and accurate coverage of reality. Irrespective whose prespective you see this thru; the conclusion surely is that Shadow200 is a shame. I do not agree with the military officers opinion that this is FREE, even if free you will sign a “thank you received aid work xx,xxx,xxx million dollars of things that dont do anything for us” an the least form of a bribe they will take is xxx weeks of FREE training and friendly indoctrination in foreign trainings. We have to be proactive and speak up about things that are not right: Call Spade a Spade. Thank you for putting this to the readers. Recommend

  • Walter Christie
    May 12, 2010 - 6:45PM

    Why are the Pak UAV manufacturers so sure that their products can surpass the Shadow’s performance? the Shadow has been in production for 9 years, all the bugs have been worked out, and it has more flight hours than any other UAS in the world – half a million or thereabouts. If the Pak military goes with a domestic manufacturer, they start from the beginning, and for several years they will have mishaps, crashes, and inefficiency, just like the US Army did in 2001-2004. At least this way they get a system that immediately works when you take it out of the crate, and there is a precise training program for soldiers to go and learn to use the thing.

    Making a production UAS domestically requires years of effort. The lo-rate production UAVs built in Pakistan so far don’t even come close. It’s one thing to build 4-6 aircraft and use them for several hundred hours, and another to build 200-300, and use them in two middle east wars for 7 years straight.Recommend

  • May 13, 2010 - 9:25AM

    The writer has some knowledge but is unaware of the procedure for the procurement followed in Pakistan Army . It is very simple equation. If the demestic drone industry was capable enough of producing the drone as per the customer reuirement, the customer will never buy a drone from abroad. We have too many people talking about the drones they have made but unfortunately all fall short of the requirements. The price of LUNA has been misquoted. By the Way LUNA far exceeds the user requirements and the user is fully satisfied with its performance, Perhaps Mr Salman does not know that. The performance of demestic drones is no where near LUNA.Recommend

  • SJD
    May 13, 2010 - 7:46PM

    Walter Christie raises very valid points. There is nothing like field proven hardware with an existing support infastructure. Many new manufacturers have no experience with real world performance, reliability & product support. The purchase price is not the only thing to worry about. The training, operating, maintenance and logisitics costs will far exceed the acquisition costs.Recommend

  • faisal
    Jun 3, 2010 - 8:44AM

    I would like to point out two important things here.Project Management Organistion has not been disbanded and is very much in manufacturing UAVs for Pak armed forces.They have moved up from UQAB to UQAB2 now with increased payload and Endurance.Second thing about Luna the capabilities of Luna platform are no where near UQAB1s Capabilities let alone Uqab2.Pmo have also incorporated night capability in their UAVs.Recommend

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