GDF defends buying drones for $180M

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The Guyana Defence Force has responded to concerns raised about its acquisition of drones for approximately $180M.

See full statement below:

GDF CLARIFIES PARAMETERS FOR DRONE SELECTION

(Georgetown, Guyana. December 4, 2019)

The Guyana Defence Force has noted, with some concern, various analyses in particular sections of the media, as well as commentary on various social media sites on its drone acquisition efforts. This missive is not aimed at responding to particular articles or commentary, but rather to provide further clarity on the operational considerations of the Force, in selecting drones, and the deliberations in arriving at the Force’s selection.

The Guyana Defence Force recognised there was a requirement to acquire a platform which would facilitate, to name a few, the following:

–           Long range, real-time, state of the art, surveillance capability

–           High endurance and long-distance flight

–           Variable whether flight capabilities

–           Easy and quick deployment

–           Easy and quick field refuelling / recharging

–           Easy use by operators

–           A simple maintenance and life cycle plan

–           Quiet and limited detectability while in flight

–           Support for narrowband and broadband repeater equipment

–           Manoeuvrability in confined spaces

In our analyses to derive a suitable platform, the Force recognised to achieve its first and primary aim, older platforms, such as the aeroplanes and helicopters quoted in some sections of the media, would require a significant retrofit and upgrade to support the surveillance equipment required for modern operations. Additionally, they would fail all of the other criteria mentioned above, except for support for narrowband and broadband repeater equipment. The Force also recognised that having a camera operator at a remote site, some distance away from the platform, while the platform performs a pre-programmed or improvised flight plan is a significant advantage. These observations immediately pointed in the direction of drone technologies.

Evaluating drones which met the requirements outlined above required more than a cursory analysis. The first six criteria drove most of the analysis and comparisons. It must be highlighted that there was a need to receive live video feeds at distances well in excess of fifty (50) kilometres, while maintaining flight in excess of two to three hours. Most Commercial-Off-the-Shelf (COTS) drones can only support live video streams up to a few kilometres (less than ten (10) in most cases) and flight for under one (1) hour. Additionally, the platform selected needed to be able to fly in less than optimal weather conditions (rain or sun). These basic requirements eliminated many of the COTS, particularly all of the models advertised by Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI), the largest COTS drone provider in the world. By performing a sensible and unbiased analysis, it is easy to discern that a drone meeting the requirements of the Force was outside the realm of COTS drones.

The Force continued its analyses and recognised it needed to focus its efforts on drones designed for specialised applications. In this category of drones, there are fixed-wing, rotor-wing and hybrid fixed-wing/rotor-wing models. The fixed wing options were easily eliminated due to their complex launch and recovery methods (most required runways or catapults to launch and recovery methods varied from ho0ks, nets, parachutes and runway options). Additionally, due to their lack of hover ability, they were not fully suited for the surveillance missions of the Force.

Comparison between the rotor-wing and hybrid fixed-wing/rotor-wing models was more competitive, with the front runners in this analysis being drones from Skyfront (https://skyfront.com/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAz53vBRCpARIsAPPsz8UGIEqijJGjvu-VKJCXTdJuHnK8ytXkI-6nO5mBuz1ZzsB4lVlDadkaAt1lEALw_wcB ) and drones from Wingcopter (https://wingcopter.com/) both these drones have similar price points at their baseline. However, a simple comparison of specifications revealed the Skyfront Drone has endurance in excess of one (1) hour of the Wingcopter drone.  Particularly as well, even though the Wingcopter drone supports vertical take-off and landing, it is lacking in hover capabilities when compared to the Skyfront Drone.

Of note, the wingcopter drone is a market leader in the delivery of vaccinations to remote areas; a mission it is well suited to perform, and the company was only established as a start-up in 2015 according to its website (https://wingcopter.com/vision/), that is one year after Skyfront. DJI, the market leader for COTS drone, which has not ventured into the development and production of drones of the class under consideration, was only established in 2006 according to Bloomberg (https://www.bloomberg.com/profile/company/1237026D:CH).

To be clear, the Force would like to articulate that its acquisition of drones is comprehensive. The drones come equipped with full surveillance suites (details of which security concerns prevent us from discussing), spares packages for each drone, ground station antennas, computers and accessories, in country training, and eighteen months warranty and support.

The Force, firmly believes that its choice of drone acquisition is in keeping with its mandate, will provide value for investment in the missions it will perform, and that adequate due diligence and analyses were exercised in its selection. We welcome all the feedback which has been provided thus far, but also recognise the need to provide the mission criteria used for analysis in order to steer conversations along sensible contextual paths. We would also like to state, with the support of the Government of Guyana, the Force has already increased its troop lift capability and will continue to do so with modern aerial platforms. For further inquiries, questions and comments can be directed to our Public Affairs Officer who can be reached on the following email address [email protected] We will endeavour to provide prompt responses where possible.

-ENDS-