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Firms See Africa as Major Aviation Market

Nov. 20, 2013 - 11:44AM   |  
By OSCAR NKALA   |   Comments
A C-27J Spartan performs at an air show in Hungary. Alenia Aermacchi has sold two C-27J Spartans to the Chadian Air Force. (AFP/Getty Images)
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BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE — Force modernization requirements, maritime piracy and transnational terrorism have forced African countries to spend more on the acquisition of multirole, transport, attack, reconnaissance, surveillance, bomber and training aircraft amid forecasts that demand for military aircraft will maintain a slow but sustained growth on the continent up to 2022.

Aircraft makers Boeing Defense, Airbus Military and Russian Helicopters expect demand for new and upgraded military aircraft and avionics gear in Africa to grow in the next decade.

Some of the major African customers for Boeing Defense include Libya, which is set to acquire 22 Chinook transport helicopters, including 16 CH-47D models and six CH-47Fs, through the US Foreign Military Assistance program.

Morocco, which is actively engaged in the North African arms race, has approached Boeing Defense seeking three more model D Chinooks to expand its fleet to six. As predicted, African countries have started spending heavily on military aircraft to provide enough aerial surveillance to secure maritime and land borders, and to tackle terrorism, among the immediate problems threatening continental security.

Boeing Defense also expects to sell more aircraft to meet Algeria’s growing demand for transport and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, and for helicopters and aerial refueling assets.

Since the beginning of the year, the Algerian Air Force has evaluated Boeing Defense’s C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlifter and the Airbus Military A330 multirole tanker transport. The new planes would replace the country’s aging fleet of Ilyushin II-78 Midas tankers. The Algerian Air Force has already expressed interest in acquiring the Boeing Defense KC-46 tanker, which will only be available for demonstrations in 2018.

“Africa is a new market to us. We’re trying to do it smartly. We are starting to understand the market better. … It takes time. Africa is not going to be a holy grail now, but in the long term, [it] will be an exceptional market,” said Paul Oliver, vice president for Middle East and Africa at Boeing Defense.

In August, the Algerian Air Force took delivery of some of the six King Air 350ER surveillance aircraft fitted with radar and thermal imaging equipment for maritime and ground surveillance. The King Air planes are deployed to the Air Force’s 5th Reconnaissance Squadron, where they monitor national and transnational security threats like drugs, weapons and contraband smugglers, and a growing number of Trans-Sahelian militant groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

In addition to providing maritime surveillance and ground ISR, the King Airs also will be deployed to support missions such as detection and operations against foreign ships that violate Algeria’s maritime boundaries, and they will conduct environmental surveys and search-and-rescue missions. Fitted with a retractable forward-looking Wescam Mx15i infrared camera, a laser illuminator and a Gabbiano 360-degree T-200 air-to-ground radar in a ventral radome, some of the King Airs are believed to be carrying the integrated airborne tactical observation and surveillance system.

The Egyptian Air Force, meanwhile, has ordered six C-295 transport aircraft from Airbus Military. The planes, set to be delivered by the end of this year, will bring the number of C-295s in the Air Force to 12, following a prior delivery of six planes.

“A repeat order from a loyal customer is extremely valued by Airbus Military, and the trust that the Ministry of Defense of Egypt is placing in us confirms that we offer a product that responds to our customer’s needs,” said Antonio Rodríguez Barberán, senior vice president, Airbus Military.

“The C-295 is exactly the kind of workhorse required for current and future airlift missions, and the most cost-efficient complement to heavy transport aircraft.”

Faced with terrorism and maritime security threats, and battling a mixture of terrorist groups linked to AQIM, Tunisia might upgrade its fleet of 12 F-5 Tiger II fighter jets with the installation of new avionics gear by Northrop Grumman in a $60 million deal funded by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

Elsewhere in the Maghreb, Italian aircraft manufacturer Alenia Aermacchi has sold two new C-27J Spartans to Chad’s Air Force. The transport planes, which are set to build the Air Force capacity to fight international terror groups operating in the remote Sahelian and Sahara regions, are undergoing final assembly in Italy and are due for delivery before the end of the year.

In Nigeria, Chief of Air Staff Marshal Alex Badeh said the country’s Air Force has turned to local defense procurement because it lowers costs at a time when the force is struggling to fund modernization and battlefield requirements for more aircraft. Nigeria is fighting an insurgency led by Boko Haram, a Muslim extremist group.

“On assumption of office in October 2012, we were faced with the enormous responsibility of supporting peace operations in conflict environments both internally and externally. These required the use of credible platforms for movements to the theater of operations,” Badeh said. “Meanwhile, the numerous competing demands placed enormous budgetary constraints on the allocations of NAF.”

In southern Africa, the Angolan Air Force has bought 18 ex-Indian Air Force Sukhoi-30K Flanker fighter jets and spares for Mi-17 helicopters from Russian arms manufacturer Rosoboronexport.

Russian newspaper Vedomosti reported recently that the deal forms part of a US $1 billion arms deal signed by the Angolan government and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. Rogozin last month visited Angola, Brazil and Peru to promote the sale of Russian tanks and air defense systems.

Rosoboronexport’s deputy general director, Alexander Mikheyev, said the company is ready to repair, upgrade and deliver more Su-30s to traditional African customers, including Uganda, Angola and Ethiopia.

In Niger, through the US Navy’s Counter Networks and Illicit Trafficking Program, two Diamond DA-42 Twin Star surveillance planes operated by the Air Force will be upgraded with new equipment engineered for ISR roles. The program is part of US assistance in Niger’s fight against Trans-Sahelian terrorism and smuggling.

Niger also has received two new Cessna Caravans for border security and cargo transport under the same program.

Market watchers expect the demand for advanced aircraft and avionics upgrades to continue growing over the next decade, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Indigenous offset programs are fueling the need for localized development, upgrade and maintenance of advanced avionics systems in the Middle East and North Africa region,” said Nauman Arshad, the MENA regional ambassador for the International Council on Systems Engineering.

“As a result, there is an increased need for the promotion of international collaboration in systems engineering practice, education and research.” ■


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