Wednesday 4 November 2009

Pakistan's little known drone programme

There has been consistent and widespread opposition in Pakistan to the CIA's use of armed drones to kill what are euphemistically known as 'High Value Targets' in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. During US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent visit to Pakistan the subject was raised on many occasions.
Some of the government and military opposition was mitigated earlier this year, according to Jane Meyer writing in the New Yorker magazine, after the Obama administration allowed Pakistani officials to help in target selection.
It comes as something of a surprise, therefore, to learn from Steve Aftergood's Secrecy News that Pakistan itself has an advanced drone industry.
Karachi-based Integrated Dynamics is run by Raja Sabri Khan, who earned his master's degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been in business since 1997 designing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), mostly for Pakistan's armed forces. Khan says the company "has never been asked to develop a drone which has an armed implication", but they are perfectly capable of reconnaisance missions and use as target decoys for anti-aircraft missiles.
Buyers also include the US, Australia, Spain, Italy and France. One major advantage is cost. The Integrated Dynamics drones cost around $20,000 each compared to competitors that cost around ten times as much.
Two of the company's models - Vector and Nishan (illustrated above) - are actually made in the government-run National Development Complex. The company blurb for the Vector says "The VECTOR system offers modularity, ruggedness and accessibility that is second to none in field operations. With payload capabilities in the 40 kg range, and a nominal price tag, the competitive edge is obvious. The VECTOR airframes use bullet-proof Kevlar molded fuselage pans, Kevlar/Graphite reinforced equipment bays and side stress panels and high-tensile steel aramid-reinforced landing gears. A variety of payloads can be supported with the available onboard power supplies."
It adds that the Vector UAV has a range of 160-200km and can be equipped with a variety of stock or modified power plants. All models support real-time video and data modules and flight avionics for at least 200km line of sight range applications.
Pakistan has shown with its nuclear programme that it can solve complex engineering problems. It cannot be long before it has a fully functioning armed UAV programme of its own.

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