A debate over the first locally-made unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) in Vietnam has recently emerged after an army unit confirmed that it created the first ones nine years ago, in 2004.
But earlier this month, the Vietnam Space Technology Institute under the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology announced that it created and successfully tested the first three UAV prototypes in Vietnam on May 3, 2013.
Which is the first UAV in Vietnam?
Dr. Pham Ngoc Lang, a scientist at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology and chairman of the project named ‘Studies and manufacture of UAVs for scientific research’, confirmed that his group successfully tested Vietnam’s first UAVs in Hanoi on May 3.
The five vehicles of three prototypes were completely manufactured locally from domestic materials, he added at the testing range.
“Scientists and engineers at the space institute belong to the first group in Vietnam to successfully research and manufacture the UAVs completely with Vietnamese know-how.
“We’d ask leaders, scientists and reporters witnessing the test to ratify that we are the first group in Vietnam to succeed,” said Lang after the tests.
The UAVs, weighing from 4kg to 170kg, are designed to take off on a runway, from the top of a car or a mobile launching platform, or by hand. At the test, the 170kg vehicle flew at 180kph, at an elevation of 3km within a radius of 100km. It can continuously operate for six hours any time of day.
They are equipped with an automated flight system, an advanced camera system, and other devices that can be adapted for civil applications such as firefighting. Two of the tested vehicles can be controlled by guidance satellites or ground control stations.
Vietnam has had research groups who worked on UAV manufacture, but none of their tests were successful, Lang added. Such a test must have a license granted by the Ministry of National Defense and take place under the supervision of the armed service of air defense.
The Vietnam-made UAVs produced by the Vietnam Space Technology Institute and announced on May 3, 2013 (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
The first UAVs created in 2004?
A debate emerged on May 13 when Colonel Vu Hong Quang, head of the Institute for Air Defense Technology under the Armed Service of Air Defense, confirmed that his unit had created and flown the first UAVs nine years ago.
“In 2004, we created the first UAV named M-100CT which could fly at a speed of 150kph.
“In 2005, we developed another vehicle, M-400CT that could fly at a speed of 280kph within a radius of control of 20km. It weighs 56kg and can carry a total load of 90kg,” said Quang.
Dr. Nguyen Duc Cuong, president of the Vietnam Aeronautics and Space Administration (VASA), has expressed his opinion that it was not correct for the space institute to claim that their UAVs which were tested earlier this month were the first ones in Vietnam.
The first ones were created by the Institute for Air Defense Technology, Cuong added.
Dr. Lang argued that he ‘does not want to comment’, but there must be a distinction between ‘the UAVs manufactured by the Vietnam Space Technology Institute’ and ‘the flying targets’ produced by the Institute for Air Defense Technology.
But Lang has yet to elaborate on the exact difference.
“M-100CT and M-400CT really are UAVs as they are aircrafts without a human pilot aboard and their flight is autonomously controlled by a computer program,” said Colonel Quang.
Over the last nine years, the air defense institute has been assigned to manufacture a series of UAVs for army rehearsal, according to the colonel.
The prototypes of UAVs manufactured by the Institute for Air Defense Technology (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
State budget for UAV research
An expert from the air defense institute revealed that his unit has received little investment from the State in the last nine years.
“Our institute created the first UAV nine years ago and many others followed, but we have so far received a total of VND150 million [US$7,200],” said colonel Quang.
“This was the amount for theoretical research on UAVs granted five years ago,” he added.
In the mean time, Dr. Lang told Tuoi Tre that his UAV project was approved an investment worth VND12 billion ($577,000), VND9.8 billion of which came from the State budget.
But the project has actually received just VND600 million ($28,800) so far, according to Lang.
Dr. Nguyen Thien Tong, from Ho Chi Minh City National University, has another view on the issue.
“This is not a race so it is not important who is the first one to manufacture them,” he told Tuoi Tre. “The good news is that many experts in Vietnam can produce the vehicles.”
It is important that research groups coordinate with each other so they can reach their full capability, he stressed.