Beechcraft wants to offer anti-submarine warfare capabilities with its Special Mission King Air 350ER. (Hawker Beechcraft)
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DUBAI — Beechcraft is looking to add anti-submarine warfare (ASW) to the lengthy list of capabilities offered by its King Air 350 ER in the special missions market, according to Justin Ladner the company sales vice president.
Ladner said Beechcraft has been approached by several systems integrators for an ASW-lite concept capable of combating the increasing numbers of mini-submarines used by drug smugglers and the military.
The executive, who heads Beechcraft’s special mission aircraft sales worldwide, said ASW is an emerging market and he expected to receive several tenders in the next 12 months that an ASW-capable version of the twin-engined King Air 350ER could address.
Some of those requests would be for customers in the Arabian Gulf region he said.
Mini-submarine numbers are on the rise. United Arab Emirates Navy chief Rear Adm. Ibrahim al Musharrakh recently told the Gulf Naval Commanders Conference that Iranian midget submarines are an imminent threat they were looking to counter.
The growing potential of mini-subs was illustrated at the Defence Security Exhibition International show in London in September when British company James Fisher Defence created considerable interest with a range of small submersibles capable of transporting special forces on covert operations.
Company officials at the show reported heavy interest in the craft on the back of the recapitalization of naval special forces.
Drug smugglers are also known to use mini-subs to transport narcotics in places like Latin America.
The addition of ASW capabilities would add to already strong levels of interest for the King Air in the maritime role. Ladner said Beechcraft was increasing its list of maritime patrol aircraft operators by handing over aircraft to Argentina this week.
The growing interest in maritime surveillance opportunities in the gulf and elsewhere is not limited to Beechcraft. Boeing and Saab both emphasized their interest in the sector at the Dubai show.
Boeing chose to use the show to take the wraps off a tie-up with Bombardier and Field Aviation to offer a Challenger 605 business jet-based maritime surveillance aircraft and Saab turned up with actual hardware in the shape of the smaller, and considerably cheaper, converted 340 turboprop airliner. Neither offer ASW capabilities.
A move into the bottom end of the ASW sector could provide Beechcraft with further opportunities to build a special missions aircraft operation that already accounts for more than a third of the company’s annual business.
It’s a sector that already spans intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, such as the King Air Shadow machines widely used by the British in the Afghanistan conflict, through to the less technically demanding training and air ambulance roles.
Special mission business was constrained last year by Beechcraft undergoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but having emerged from that Ladner said business in the sector was already 2.5 times higher than 2012 with the prospect of further deals to come before the year ends, including at least one in the gulf region.
“The gulf region is one of the fastest growing market sectors for special mission aircraft as customers had the needs and the budgets to acquire aircraft,” said Ladner speaking at the Dubai air show this week.
The Beechcraft executive reported high levels of interest in special mission aircraft at Dubai.
“It’s been one of the busiest shows of the year for us,” he said.