The Denel Dynamics Bateleur is categorized as a "Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)" and is comparable in scope to the American General Atomics MQ-1 "Predator-A" series of UAVs. It is conventionally powered by a propeller engine and intended for unarmed reconnoiter and surveillance. Origins of the Bateleur UAV program arose in 2003 to which the program was formally given life in 2004 as a private venture by Denel (more specifically Denel Dynamics, formerly Kentron, with Kentron now a division of Denel Ltd - the South African government-owned defense concern). As such, the design scope of the Bateleur was rather broad in its goals for no direct military requirement was handed down by the South African military.
While not armed in any way, UAVs such as the Bateleur fulfill various important battlefield roles as needed that go beyond basic reconnaissance of the enemy. This can, and most likely will, include acting as a communications relay, assistance in search and rescue missions, spotting for artillery support, laser designation of ground targets and basic patrol (including maritime) among others. Of course the targeted partner is the South African military but hopes are also pegged on overseas export sales to interested buyers such as Brazil.
For South Africa, modern UAVs could play a large role in countering growing piracy and smuggling concerns as well as be useful in managing the country's vast coastline. Its mission payload will consist largely of cameras (electro-optical and infrared). A laser rangefinder will be an optional installation in the final product offering and a laser designator will also be worked into the payload mix. Maximum payload weight totals will be in the vicinity of 440lbs. The fuselage will be designed as modular so the system can be broken down in time and transported as multiple components with relative ease. Power is expected to come from a conventional 4-cylinder engine of 115 horsepower.
The Bateleur is designed as a rather conventional UAV by modern standards and characterized by a large nose assembly housing the optics and sensor suites as well as avionics. The fuselage is well contoured and relatively featureless save for a few inlets and access panels. Optics hang from rotating installations under the nose of the aircraft. Wings are straight in their design and mid-mounted along the fuselage sides. The empennage sports horizontal tail planes supporting a pair of vertical tail fins. The engine is fitted to the extreme rear of the fuselage and powers a three-bladed propeller system set between these two vertical tail fins. The undercarriage is of the conventional tricycle arrangement with all single-wheeled legs - a pair of main landing gear legs and a nose leg. The main legs retract into nacelles found under each wing element. The nose leg is situated directly underneath the nose of the aircraft.
The Bateleur will be designed as a completely autonomous UAV meaning that, utilizing GPS-based navigation, the UAV will be able to manage preset in-flight waypoints on its own. The autopilot system will be such that the Bateleur will also be able to take-off and land without human interaction. Its wheeled undercarriage will require use of a prepared runaway unlike other smaller-class catapult/hand-launched, net-recoverable UAVs now in use. This limits the Bateleur in a tactical sense but its size precludes it from being launched/retrieved by any other means.
A full scale mock up of the Bateleur was unveiled at Africa Aerospace and Defense 2004 (AAD2004) at Air Force Base Waterkloof, marking the official "arrival" of the Bateleur UAV program in the process. For a mock up, the system actually looked as though a completed prototype. First flight was expected sometime in 2006 but, as of this writing, the event has yet to take place, meaning large delays in its development are most likely the cause. The South African Air Force does intend on acquiring a medium-class UAV of some sort in the near future but the procurement cost of a single Bateleur might force its hand at acquiring a less-expensive, foreign alternative to the indigenous in-house design.
While still in development, Denel confirms a few performance specifications of their Bateleur UAV and these include a mission endurance time of up to 24 hours with an operational range of approximately 500 kilometers. Its maximum service ceiling is expected to range within 25,000 feet with a cruising speed of 250 kilometers per hour.
Incidentally, the name of "Bateleur" is in reference to the eagle species common to central and southern Africa.