The Paramount group has made big strides as a defence and aerospace manufacturer in recent years, and is about to send it’s new Mwari into production for the first time.
When the AHRLAC (ADVANCED HIGH PERFORMANCE RECONNAISSANCE AND LIGHT ATTACK AIRCRAFT) first flew in July 2014, it was a welcome return of the South African defence industry to the World stage, with programs such as Rooivalk and Cheetah fading from memory. It was the fresh start the industry in South Africa needed.
The AHRLAC, originally designed and built by veteran designers of the Rooivalk, was designed to be a true low cost, easily maintainable reconnaissance and light attack platform that could suit the needs of not only African countries, but first world nations such as the USA as well. The aircraft was designed with a stepped, tandem seat configuration with a shoulder mounted wing, providing excellent outside visibility. The glass cockpit is fully IFR capable, making it suitable for all weather operations. The second prototype of the aircraft, which is nearing completion in Pretoria, will feature retractable undercarriage, giving it a maximum cruise speed of 272 knots.
The aircraft is set to go into production at newly constructed facilities at Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria in the first quarter of 2017, and will initially be capable of producing 2 aircraft per month. The facilities that Paramount have built is an indication that the company has strong faith in the project, especially considering that no orders for the type have yet been confirmed publicly. Industry insiders have however indicated that the group could be in advanced talks with an unidentified customer.
Paramount has also reportedly teamed up with Boeing, with whom they will attempt to market the aircraft in larger countries with Boeing presented as the prime contractor, although construction would still take place in South Africa.
Should the AHRLAC program take off, it could aid the recovery of a large skills loss seen in the industry in the post-apartheid era. Many veterans from the days of Atlas Aircraft Corporation have since retired, with a small number of engineers, designers and artisans still active in the industry, some of whom are still at Denel or working with either Paramount or Aerosud.
While Paramount founder Ivor Ichikowitz insists that his company is not in competition with Denel, it could change in the near future. Denel has been focusing mainly on munitions and product maintenance and support, with Paramount focussing largely on newly designed platforms. Denel is however working on a new product that has started out as a research project called SARA (Small African Regional Aircraft), which according to Denel aims to provide a 15-24 passenger regional aircraft designed for Africa. The company produced a large scale mock-up of the aircraft and presented it at the bi-annual Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition in late September 2016. The mock-up however was extremely basic, and was unlikely to have been taken seriously in its current state.
While the Mwari is entering production as a reconnaissance and light attack aircraft, Paramount could very well see additional opportunities on the horizon for the platform closer to home. With the South African Air Force’s fleet of Pilatus PC-7MKII’s ageing rapidly, there is a chance that the AHRLAC could perhaps serve in the basic training role in future. Whether or not the company will pursue such a contract however remains uncertain.