I got some more information from Squadrons of the South African Air Force and their aircraft 1920-2005 by Steven McLean, a book I cannot recommend highly enough.
10 Squadron was re-established in Potchefstroom on 1 November 1986, eight years after the SAAF had begun operating UAVs.
Firstly, the SAAF was an operator of the Israeli IAI Scout UAV, acquired under Project Cobalt
. It's unclear precisely how many of these were acquired, with McLean's book stating five (which tallies with other reports) but the SAAF Museum's site saying five plus a further thirteen in 1987. This will need further investigation to clarify. The Scouts may have been designated the RPV-1C in SAAF service, although they are sometimes referred to as RC-2 UAVs because the first (only?) five were termed the RC-2 Medium Range Battlefield Surveillance System. Dean's site refers to them as the Gharra
system. If more were acquired later or if the original five, minus two lost, survived they may
have seen service with 10 Squadron, especially as Dean's site states that the Gharra
system was used in Angola in 1987/88.
There were four Kentron Champions built though it seems only one eventually made it into 10 Squadron service, serving as a trainer. This may have been serial 019, now preserved at the SAAF Museum.
The SAAF Museum site and McLean's book also differ on the RPV-2 designation, with the SAAF Museum site assigning it to the IAI Scout as RPV-2B and McLean's book assigning it to the Seeker, as the RPV-2B in the case of a Seeker 2B and the RPV-2D in the case of a Seeker 2D or 2E.
Seven Seeker 2s were acquired and delivered to 10 Squadron beginning in August 1987. Note that although the vehicles were called the Seeker 2, the system was still the Seeker I system. Confusing, right? The seven Seekers were P01, P02, P03, P04, P05, P06 and P07. The three sources I've read; the SAAF Museum site, Dean's site and McLean's book all differ on the Seeker variants, with Dean's site stating that the Seeker 2D was in service but both the other sources stating it was the Seeker 2B in service. The SAAF Museum site also states that trials were performed with the upgraded Seeker 2C and 2D in May 1990 but implies they weren't brought on strength, whereas the book states that the final 10 Squadron flight was that of a 2C on 29 November 1990. Given that Dean's site also states that the Seeker 2E was introduced in 1995, I think his referring to the 2D as having entered service in 1985 may be a typo.
There's clearly a big upgrade at some point in the Seeker timeline, from a variant with straight vertical stabilisers and a glass dome underneath to one with slanted-back vertical stabilisers and a large electro-optical turret ball replacing the glass dome. Can anyone confirm whether this was the jump from the 2D to the 2E?
According to McLean's book, four Seeker 2s including P07 were lost, leaving just three in SAAF service by 1990. The SAAF lost four UAVs to enemy fire during the Border War, two IAI Scouts and two Kentron Seekers.
Something else that's interesting but confusing is that McLean's book states that two RPV variants are known to have been operated, the P-model and the D-model, with the latter being a low-speed RPV and presumably the Seeker. Does anyone have any more information on the P and D models?
Finally, to return to topic and describe 10 Squadron UAV operations.
The flight crew consisted of the following personnel:
- External Pilot - Flight control during take-off and landing only
- Internal Pilot - Flight control during entire mission except for take-off and landing.
- Mission Commander - Mission planning, coordination and control and communication and tracking of the RPV during mission.
- Observer/Mission Payload Operator - Payload control, target acquisition, surveillance and data recording
All except the External Pilot were in the command truck for the flight. The External Pilot would stand at the runway's edge and conduct a visual take-off of the Seeker 2 and then hand over control to the Internal Pilot. On landing the External Pilot would again position himself at the runway edge and assume control of the inbound UAV and land it once visual contact had been established. Typical operational ceiling was between 15 000 and 18 000 feet with short-range missions having an endurance of 9-10 hours and long-range missions out to around 200 km (the maximum line-of-sight range from the ground station) having an endurance of 4-5 hours. A ground crew of 4-6 personnel supported each system.
The entire system was designed to be easily deployable by a C-130B Hercules and set up within 4 hours. This included the command truck and control dish which together were the ground station, purpose-built rapid deployment containers for the air vehicles, starter packs and maintenance and flight preparation tents.
10 Squadron saw combat during Operations Modular
in 1987 and Packer
in 1988. The Seekers were known to have been used for both tactical surveillance and artillery spotting missions, operating from Mavinga. One Seeker 2B is memorably said to have survived 16 or 17 SA-8 missiles before finally being shot down during a mission on 21 September 1987 as it overflew a large concentration of Angolan forces.
What's interesting is that 10 Squadron didn't only operate UAVs: In August 1989 it received two Piper Aztecs, ZS-JLU and ZS-JLW, for use on communications flights. These became part of the Defence Flying Club later.
In March 1991 10 Squadron was disbanded. The Seekers remained in service for a few years longer before Kentron took over all responsibility for operating UAVs for the SAAF, but that's not part of this thread's topic.