New Iranian unmanned warplane not a SA copy, except, maybe, for the tailplane

10th September 2010 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Engineers at South African missile and unmanned air vehicle (UAV) company Denel Dynamics are convinced that Iran’s recently unveiled new UAV, the Karrar, is based on an old American design, and not on the Denel Dynamics Skua target drone.

At first glance, the Karrar bears a striking resemblance to the Skua, but a closer look reveals very considerable differences, points out Denel Dynamics CEO Jan Wessels. “On the Iranian UAV, the wings are underneath the fuselage and the engine is on top; on the Skua, the wings are above the fusel-age and the engine is underneath.” These are very significant and fundamental design differences.

“To our experts, most of the Iranian machine’s design features look rather as if they come from the Raytheon MQM-107 target drone,” he reports. “The Iranian aircraft shows typical US design features.”

The reason for the initial impression of similarity between the Iranian and South African designs is the tailplane. “The tailplane on the Karrar looks as if it was cut-and-paste from our design,” says Wessels. “We’ve got absolutely no aerospace and defence dealings with Iran, in strict adherence to South African arms export laws. But the Iranians could easily have photographed Skuas at the various international air shows we exhibit at.”

The Karrar – the name means ‘strike’ in the Farsi language – was unveiled on August 22 and appears to be a rather basic armed UAV. Iranian officials stated that it could attack a target 1 000 km away, carrying a 500-lb (roughly 220 kg) bomb.

The MQM-107 was originally developed in the early 1970s by the Beech company, in America, as a subsonic target drone for the US Army (Beech was subsequently taken over by Raytheon). It is launched from a zero-length launcher (as are most target drones) using a solid-fuel rocket booster, and is powered in flight by a small jet engine.

The original version, the MQM-107A, was exported to prerevolutionary Iran during the 1970s. The wings of the MQM-107 are underneath the fuselage, although the engine is also located below the fuselage, not above it. It has a conventional tailplane design, totally different from the Skua and the Karrar, the single fact that has created confusion about the antecedents of the Iranian design. It is believed that the Iranians re-engined their MQM-107As in the 1980s, using French engines.

The MQM-107 remains in service with the US armed forces, in its MQM-107D and MQM-107E versions.

The Skua was originally developed by Denel Dynamics (then known as Kentron) as a reconnaissance drone in the 1980s, but was converted to the role of high-speed target drone in the 1990s. It has since been employed as a target drone by a number of customers, in support of air-to-air and surface-to-air missile firings.

South Africa’s Umkhonto surface-to-air missile (another product of Denel Dynamics) has been qualified by the South African Navy using the Skua. The A-Darter air-to-air missile (being jointly developed by South Africa and Brazil, with Denel Dynamics as the lead South African company) will soon be tested against the Skua. The A-Darters will be launched from South African Air Force Saab Gripen fighters.

There will be two kinds of tests. Direct attack mode will be used to simulate attacks on tightly manoeuvring targets, while in towed-target mode the A-Darter will be fired against targets towed on a cable behind the Skua. After each mission, the Skua is recovered by para-chute.

Denel Dynamics has never considered the Skua – or any other drones in the same category – to be viable as the basis of an effective armed UAV, as they are not stealthy designs and would not be able to penetrate any modern air defence system.