DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — As the Gulf nations struggle to adjust to an evolving battlefield, Italian defense contractor Alenia Aermacchi is pitching its new MC-27J multi-mission airlifter and gunship as the best way to meet the new threat.

Alenia is in talks with at least two Gulf nations to buy the new aircraft, which is based on the Italian Air Force's C-27J Spartan battlefield airlifter, company spokesman Marco Valerio Bonelli told Defense News on Nov. 12. He would not identify disclose the interested countries.

The company is seeing a lot of interest in the MC-27J from the Middle East, particularly due to the new platform's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, Bonelli said. The multi-role aircraft is the perfect solution for GCC nations increasingly focused on border control and counterterrorism, he said stressed.

For these countries, Alenia's aircraft is more cost-effective and better suited to the environment than expensive fighter jets, according to Bonelli he argued.

"Sending a fighter is crazy" in this type of environment, he said. "You spend a lot of money to drop two bombs and you never know if you get the target or not. With this aircraft, you have the persistence of hours."

The MC-27J utilizes modular mission kits, or "pallets," that operators can easily roll on/roll off the aircraft. The plane is not just a cargo airlifter and gunship, but can be rapidly configured to conduct ISR; intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR); command and control; search and rescue; and electronic warfare.

The palletized mission systems can be loaded onto the aircraft in one hour or less, depending on the desired configuration, Bonelli said.

The aircraft is equipped with advanced electro-optic sensors, Orbital ATK's side-mounted GAU-23 30mm cannon and precision-guided weapon systems to limit collateral damage. The GAU-23 gun can be operated remotely from the front of the aircraft using a sophisticated mission system.

One critical advantage is the plane flies well above 10,000 feet, far out of range from enemy ground fire, and can conduct both day and night operations, Bonelli said explained. Due to the mission system and advanced optical sensors on the aircraft, the gun is extremely precise even at that distance, he said stressed. The aircraft's loiter time is six to eight hours.

The new aircraft was displayed for the first time here at the Dubai Air Show by joint manufacturers Alenia, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, and Orbital ATK.

Alenia and Orbital ATK are the midst of completing a development program for the MC-27J with the Italian Air Force. The company successfully completed the first phase of ground and flight testing of the fully configured aircraft in July 2014. The Italian Air Force has a fleet of 12 standard C-27Js; Alenia is planning to modify three of these aircraft to the multi-mission variant.

Alenia's C-27J Spartan battlefield airlifter is in service with the Italian Air Force, the US Air Force and ten other international customers: Greece, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania, Morocco, Mexico, Australi, Peru, Slovak Republic and an undisclosed African customer. Overall, 80 aircraft have been ordered.


Twitter: @laraseligman

More In Air Warfare