in Defence / Features

Customers eyeing up the all-seeing Mwari

Posted 25 July 2017 · Add Comment

With Paramount Group starting production of its AHRLAC advanced high-performance light reconnaissance aircraft, attention is now switching to the weaponised version, Mwari. Sam Basch reports.

From 30,000 feet and brimming with optical and electronic sensors, as well as precision strike weapons, the Mwari combines the technology and capabilities of reconnaissance aircraft – or even jet trainers – and attack helicopters all in one aircraft.
This philosophy of a ‘smart’ aircraft is gaining traction with customers of South Africa’s Paramount Group, which showcased the Mwari at IDEX 2017 in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. Growing customer demand is one of the drivers that prompted Paramount and its partners to start production of the AHRLAC unarmed base aircraft at a new state-of-the-art 15,000sqm factory north of Pretoria.
The weaponised version called Mwari, with customised mission systems, is slated to be integrated in a separate facility.
The name ‘Mwari’ translates as ‘all-seeing being’ in the African Shona language. For Paramount, this translates into a versatile, low-cost platform with intelligence gathering and precision strike capability.
The company argues that it carries the same surveillance, targeting, defence and attack capabilities normally associated with larger class and significantly more expensive aircraft.
This heightens the Mwari’s attractiveness in the market, especially in regions where the complex threats of terrorism, insurgency, piracy and asymmetric warfare remain pervasive.
Ivor Ichikowitz, founder and executive chairman of Paramount Group said: “With geo-political uncertainty set to continue, and countries needing to control and secure their borders, there has never been a more crucial time for governments to provide affordable security and stability to their countries.”
Small wonder, then, that Paramount is reportedly discussing with some Middle East countries the option of establishing a factory “with the UAE, in particular, in mind as an ideal environment for production collaboration”, the company stated.
“The region is moving away from acquiring equipment from traditional sources and focusing strongly on developing technology,” Ichikowitz explained. “In the face of global political and economic instability, we’re also seeing a transition towards affordable defence solutions as governments hope to provide their citizens with sustainable security.”
He cited the Mwari’s significant advantage of low acquisition and operating costs, claimed to be less than $1,000 per hour, in addition to low maintenance costs. Importantly, during remote operations, the aircraft also requires very little ground support.
Able to operate from improvised airstrips, taking off with full payload in 1,800 feet to a maximum operating ceiling of 31,000 feet, the aircraft is a smart, innovative ‘command centre in the sky’. It integrates some of the world’s most advanced multi-function displays, electro-optical systems, electronic intelligence gathering and compact sensory equipment.
It has a total of 26 hard points for electronic targeting pods, communications, self-protection systems and sophisticated precision strike weapons, including cannon, rockets and Mokopa missiles. This enables Mwari to execute surgical strikes against targets of opportunity, while minimising the risk of collateral damage.
While Paramount is driving its own international traffic in arms regulations (ITAR)-free weaponisation programme, a partnership agreement was announced last year in which Boeing is developing an integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and light strike mission capability system for the Mwari programme.
The aircraft’s real time airborne intelligence capability is further enhanced by its high wing, tandem stepped-seat configuration and fully night-vision-compatible cockpit, with significant all-round and forward visibility. Options include Martin Baker ejection seats.
A Pratt & Whitney PT6-66b 950hp flat rate pusher-prop powers the aircraft to a maximum speed of more than 270 knots. With a seven-hour-plus endurance, the Mwari is the ideal solution for persistent patrolling of large land and sea areas, and, notably, country borders.
The aircraft boasts a highly flexible payload system, including a conformal mission bay beneath the stepped cockpit, to rapidly transform the intelligence-gathering equipment for mission-specific roles.
The company has undertaken the full spectrum of required flight tests since 2014, including night flights and hot weather trials in South Africa’s Northern Cape province and Botswana, where it performed heat soaks and flights at midday in “exceptionally” hot conditions.
For Ichikowitz, the interest in Mwari as experienced at IDEX, was “phenomenal”, which drives his point: “In an era of asymmetrical conflicts, the Mwari is a game changer. We aim to present our customers with the best defence solutions possible and now, with the Mwari as the latest addition to Paramount Group’s products, we can promote an unrivalled portfolio across the defence and aerospace sectors.”
 

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