ABU DHABI — Africa's largest privately owned defense and aerospace business, The Paramount Group, has received a massive boost after announcing on Monday an agreement with defense giant Boeing at the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi.
Boeing and South African-based Paramount Group will jointly weaponize and integrate Boeing mission systems and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) payloads for the South African-developed advanced, high-performance, reconnaissance, light aircraft (AHRLAC).
The AHRLAC program, which was developed more than five years ago, is a high-wing, two-seat aircraft designed to incorporate advanced ISR capabilities and weapon systems with a single-pusher-engine configuration, using a Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop engine.
Paramount expects the AHRLAC to claim a portion of the helicopter market, according to Paramount Group's Executive Chairman Ivor Ichikowitz.
"I think this thing is going to hit the helicopter industry because there are a lot of roles that this aircraft can fulfill that are fulfilled by helicopters. It runs much quieter, it has a very low loiter speed, it's much cheaper to operate and in some cases it's a much more stable platform than a helicopter,"he said.
Jeffrey Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing for Boeing Military Aircraft, said that Boeing has examined the aircraft extensively and believe they have found an opportunity to expand into a market untouched by their company.
Johnson added that Boeing will actively market the aircraft with Paramount Group in the international market.
"Boeing has a worldwide footprint in parts and field services and logistics that we hope we can utilize too in our portfolio of products from very high-end costly fighters all the way down to very cost effective products. This now helps us with market access to a market that we have never been involved in," Johnson said.
According to the agreement, Boeing will develop an integrated mission system for the aircraft enabling ISR and light strike missions for the AHRLAC safety & security, and military variants. This militarized version will be known as Mwari, a name taken from South African mythology regarded by some tribes as an omnipotent, all-seeing being.
The cost of the aircraft was estimated to be under $10 million by Ichikowitz in 2011, however he was not able to state a price of the aircraft with the integrated Boeing systems.
"There are some customers which will require simpler systems but there are other markets which will require the sophisticated mission systems provided by Boeing. It is our objective to tackle these markets together, " Ichikowitz said.
Numerous factors will make the AHRLAC unique and a success, he said.
"It was designed with our African experience in mind and one of the things is the cost of support infrastructure; this aircraft requires absolutely no ground support to operate.
"[It has] very low operating costs; the aircraft uses a Pratt and Whitney PT6 engine which needs low support and we have seen many examples around the world of customers buying very expensive aircraft but not being able to operate them. Our objective here is to make the aircraft as cost effective as possible so it can make its flight hours without needing much support," he said.
"The third thing is that the maintenance costs [will be] easily managed and there will be a program where the costs will be predetermined and known to the customer," he added.
The main issue, Ichikowitz said, is the multiple configurations of the platform, which is designed with a pod system and sophisticated interface box that allows the virtual plug and play of many different systems.
The aircraft can be used in a light attack role, ISR role and general policing roles, Ichikowitz said.
The aircraft will be going into production over the next 15 months, Ichikowitz said, and the company is close to finalizing a contract with a launch customer.
Ichikowitz did not reveal any details, but said there is high interest from Middle East-based potential clients as well as American and African clients for the aircraft.
“This is a momentous milestone in AHRLAC’s evolution. The multirole aircraft will become a significant player in the global aerospace industry. We believe in the commercial success of the aircraft and its impact on the future of the African aerospace industry by boosting advanced technologies, job creation and skills development,” he said.