Africa’s largest privately owned defence and aerospace company, Paramount Group, says the development and production of its advanced high-performance reconnaissance light aircraft (AHRLAC) is expected to signifi- cantly boost jobs and skills in the African aero- space industry.
Several local subcontractors will be involved in equipping the aircraft with a range of systems, says Paramount Group executive chairperson Ivor Ichikowitz.
The AHRLAC is the first military fixed-wing aircraft to be fully designed, tested and developed in Africa, he highlights.
“The AHRLAC is a home-grown, world-class aircraft that will enable developing countries and advanced nations to strengthen and diversify their security infrastructure.”
He adds that the AHRLAC offers the global industry a new, cost- effective and multirole solution that will change the way global air forces procure and structure their air fleets: “It is shaped for today’s modern threats, like insurgencies, piracy, poaching and terrorism.”
The aircraft is a ground-breaking example of what Africa can produce and it will be key in bolstering Africa’s capability to deal with security issues.
However, the AHRLAC is a solution not only for Africa but also for defence forces worldwide, whether it involves developing countries or nations with advanced and sophisticated defence capabilities, says Ichikowitz.
He explains that the emergence of Africa as an increasingly important global economic power creates an expectation on the world stage that Africa must play a greater role in controlling the perpetuation of violence and conflict on the continent.
Ichkowitz says the solution is to build African capabilities to solve these challenges.
“What is often not recognised is that the African defence and aerospace industry is more than up to the challenge. Leading-edge defence solutions like the AHRLAC present African States with the opportunity to build their own intelligence, military and national police to combat the continent’s insurgents and extremists,” he adds.
The AHRLAC has been designed for civilian and military tasking, and features a variety of configurations, owing to its innovative pod system design.
The configurations include patrol and reconnaissance, with typical missions entailing intelligence gathering and air support close to the ground.
The aircraft can also be configured for training, cargo and light-attack capabilities, making it suitable for use in disaster management, homeland security, border control, maritime patrol and environmental protection, Ichikowitz adds.
Further, the AHRLAC can carry a comprehensive weapons suite for specific missions.
A team of 60 engineers and technicians designed and built the aircraft.
“One of the most innovative aspects of the construction phase is that 98% of the 6 000 parts of the aircraft were designed and produced locally by the engineering team,” highlights Ichikowitz.
Since the launch of the project in September 2011, the team spent 315 000 work hours completing detailed designs and manufacturing the first prototype.
AHRLAC Holdings CEO Dr Paul Potgieter says: “Every single part of the aircraft was predesigned on a computer, which enabled it to have a jigless con- struction. This means that every part fits together, much like a Meccano set, which saves vast amounts of money and time – especially when exporting globally.”
The jigless manufacture was possible because parts were predrilled and machine-made, enabling accuracy and reducing the need for hand skills; therefore, requiring less time to build, he adds.
“We have premanufactured all the tools for production for all sheet metal pressings and composite parts, [which] enables us to start production much quicker on this aircraft than on other aircraft,” adds Potgieter.
“The AHRLAC is creating the next generation of engineers on the continent and is an excellent reflection of the capabilities of the African engineering fraternity,” says Ichikowitz.
Although there are several skills challenges in South Africa and on the continent, he says, the incredible progress that local engineers have made puts them at the forefront of global aerospace innovation.
“Their joint expertise has turned them into pathfinders who are proudly setting new milestones through continuous innovations that we can export to the world,” he concludes.