Boeing boosts Paramount progress
Co-operation between Boeing and South Africa's Paramount Group seems to have revitalized the African company's advanced high-performance reconnaissance light aircraft (AHRLAC) programme. Jon Lake reports.
Boeing and the Paramount Group began looking to work together on specific projects in areas such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), robots and helicopters following the signature of a broad cooperation agreement in September 2014.
Then, in March this year, Boeing announced that it would supply mission systems for the military version of the AHRLAC, which is now known as the Mwari (a name previously applied to a Paramount UAV, which will now be renamed as the Mwewe). The unarmed version of the aircraft is still known as the AHRLAC.
The AHRLAC was designed to be able to conduct a wide range of missions, from environmental protection to border patrol, internal security and other military roles. The aircraft is optimised for African requirements and enjoys a formidable short take-off and landing (STOL) capability, including an ability to operate from austere, semi-prepared strips.
The high-winged pusher configuration was selected to provide excellent visibility for the crew, while provision was made for interchangeable belly pods carrying a variety of weapons and/or sensors.
The aircraft has been optimised to meet local requirements in sub-Saharan Africa, but Paramount hopes to win orders in the MENA region, south east Asia and even eastern Europe, though the lack of a local ‘home market’ customer may be problematic.
In early 2015, the company claimed growing global interest in the aircraft and said that a number of air forces in the Middle East and elsewhere were “evaluating the aircraft”. The partnership with Boeing may really help with marketing and sales.
The AHRLAC prototype made its maiden flight on July 26 2014 and this aircraft, now designated as the AHRLAC XDM, is now fitted with a Paramount-integrated sensor system, including a PAT 420 sensor ball (incorporating a day camera, an infrared camera, an auto tracker and a laser rangefinder), a Thales Avni thermal reconnaissance system, a Sustel MiniRaven radar warning receiver and a Reutech ACR510 radio, which offers both secure voice and data communications capability.
A planned second AHRLAC, known as the advanced demonstrator model (ADM) was to have been built to full production standard, with an oxygen system, retractable landing gear and Martin Baker MB16/17 ejection seats. This aircraft was to have been used as a development platform for AHRLAC’s mission and weapons systems. Originally expected to fly in late 2014, the ADM has yet to be completed.
South African media sources suggest that this aircraft, and the third AHRLAC, known as the production demonstrator model (PDM), will join the original XDM to fly at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition in September.
It is not clear which aircraft will act as the test-bed for the integrated mission system that Boeing will develop for the Mwari to allow it to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and light attack missions.
Paramount first announced that it was preparing for the industrialisation of the AHRLAC in February 2015, including the construction of a factory and a new runway. More recently, in an interview with CNN Marketplace Africa, Ivor Ichikowitz, Paramount Group founder and executive chairman, claimed that the company had “broken ground on what will be the most modern and most advanced aircraft manufacturing facility in South Africa” at Wonderboom Airport outside Pretoria.
It was separately reported that Paramount had taken delivery of machine tools for manufacturing the AHRLAC in August 2015.
The new 15,000sqm production facility is to be capable of building up to 24 AHRLAC aircraft per year from late 2017.
It seems clear that Paramount would need a significant order to launch production but, if successful, the Mwari does promise to be the first new South African manned military aircraft for 25 years.