A state company wants to buy autonomous drones to patrol SA’s borders and shout at people

Business Insider SA
Reaper UAV
An American Reaper "hunter-killer" drone in flight. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
  • State-owned broadcast signal distribution company Sentech is in the market for autonomous drones to patrol South Africa's borders.
  • It envisages a fleet of drones in a meshed network that coordinate with towers on the ground to spot illegal activity and alert operators.
  • Ideally its drones will be capable of other applications, it says – including "Security & Defence" – but it is not looking for weapons platforms.
  • It would like drones capable of shouting at intruders, though.
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State-owned company Sentech, which distributes broadcast signals for radio and television, is in the market for sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to patrol South Africa's borders.

Ultimately, its request to the market shows, Sentech hopes to create fleet of drones that can take off by themselves, figure out the details of their own flight path, communicate with one another and sensor towers on the ground, and alert human operators to anomalies that could mean an attempted illegal crossing or other incursion.

If that were to happen, it also wants the drones to be able to issue warnings automatically, along the lines of "move away from the boundary, you are entering a restricted area".

Meanwhile, back in a control room, operators would have access to live, high-definition video of what is going on, possibly augmented with data from sensors using everything from lasers to radar to create a detailed view of any event.

Some of those sensors will be on fixed towers between 15 metres and 45 metres high "similar to radio towers".

"The system should assist with identifying threats faster and allow operating personnel to instantly spot potential threats with confidence," says Sentech, with tracking of humans, cars, and "other objects".

Ideally, Sentech says, its drones will have a range of capabilities making them useful for applications that include "security & defence", but none of its detailed specifications speak to a weapons platform.

The system it envisages "will enable relevant stakeholders to protect our country against trafficking in goods and people, terrorist-related threats, transnational crime, non-legitimate asylum seekers, and illegal immigration," Sentech says. 

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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