Airbus Military is demonstrating its C-295 transport aircraft to the South African Air Force (SAAF) in the hopes of receiving an order to fulfil its transport and maritime patrol requirements.
The C-295 arrived in South Africa to conduct a series of demonstration flights and exercises with the country’s security forces. Yesterday it airdropped paratroopers and this morning 7 Medical Battalion Group was briefed on the aircraft’s capabilities in medical configuration. After a demonstration flight for journalists later in the day, the aircraft was scheduled to demonstrate its cargo-carrying capabilities.
“Airbus Military has a long established partnership with South Africa and the SA Air Force. By bringing the C-295 to South Africa, we are able to demonstrate the aircraft’s capabilities in typical SANDF [South African National Defence Force] mission configurations for tactical transport, medevac, anti-piracy, countersmuggling and Economic Exclusion Zone protection operations,” explained Antonio Rodriguez Barberán, Senior Vice President, Commercial for Airbus Military.
Airbus Military is proposing the C-295 as a single-platform solution to meet South Africa’s requirements for new surveillance aircraft in order to support national and multi-national peace and humanitarian missions in Africa and its surrounding waters.
The C-295 visiting South Africa is configured with standard equipment, a Cargo Handling and Aerial Delivery system (CHADS) and is also equipped to support paratrooping, medical evacuation and humanitarian relief missions. It can carry payloads of up to 9 tonnes, in standard cargo pallets, or 71 soldiers in transport missions. Alternatively, it can accommodate 50 paratroopers.
The C-295MPA/ASW Persuader maritime patrol versions feature the Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS) mission suite, comprising of a search radar, electro-optical/infrared sensor, magnetic anomaly detector, four multifunction consoles, sonobuoy or flare and marker launcher and three hardpoints for torpedoes, anti-submarine munitions or depth charges. Chile and Portugal have ordered the maritime patrol variant.
The SAAF is seeking to acquire new maritime patrol aircraft under Project Saucepan. Although no formal specification or requirement has been issued, the Air Force’s budget is expected to increase in 2013/14 to take Project Saucepan costs into account. As a result, a number of international maritime surveillance and patrol aircraft suppliers are keeping a keen eye on the South African requirement, including Saab with its Saab 340 MSA (Maritime Security Aircraft).
The latter features a Telephonics maritime surveillance radar, retractable Star Safire III Electro Optical Sensor turret, SatCom, Mission Management System and ship Automatic Identification System (AIS). Meanwhile, Raytheon of the USA are keen to sell the Beech King Air 350ER. Smaller, but more expensive than the Saab product, a basic system includes maritime search radar, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors, AIS and onboard mission workstations with options for a datalink and drop hole. With an endurance of up to nine hours, the Beech King Air 350ER is often seen as the market leader.
Martin Sefzig, Director Sales Africa at Airbus Military, said he believed the C-295 fits both transport and maritime patrol roles as required by South Africa. He noted that Airbus’s support of SAAF C-212s and CN-235s means that if the Air Force bought the C-295, it would require very little added infrastructure to operate and maintain the type.
Airbus Military’s relationship with South Africa also extends to local industry, where Denel Aerostructures and Aerosud are both full industrial partners, providing design, engineering and manufacturing of major components for the A400M military transport programme. In addition, Cobham South Africa in Cape Town supplies satellite communications antennae for Airbus Military and Airbus commercial aircraft.
Sefzig said Airbus Military was also in discussion with a number of other nations in Africa regarding the C-295, with interest from West and East Africa. Ghana in August last year bought two C-295s and will be deploying one to Africa Aerospace and Defence at Waterkloof Air Force Base in September. Elsewhere on the continent, Algeria operates seven C-295s and Egypt has three flying and recently ordered another three.
After its demonstration at Waterkloof, the C-295 will fly to Lesotho, where it will be evaluated as a VIP aircraft. It will then fly to Cape Town, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Entebbe and, in June, will arrive in Gabon and possibly Luanda.
The United Nations has also expressed interest in acquiring the C-295 to replace its old, inefficient Russian aircraft. Last year the UN invited Airbus to demonstrate the C-295 in the DRC, which Airbus duly did in July. The United Nations does not own its own aircraft, but operates aircraft leased by contributor nations. Airbus Military, the United Nations and its partner nations are discussing possible procurement of the C-295, with Gabon emerging as a likely customer.
Airbus Military offers the C-295 for a number of missions, including firefighting, airborne early warning and control, oil spill detection, spraying and air-to-air refuelling.
The C-295 has little competition in its market segment, as it and the Alenia C-27J Spartan are the only new Western turboprop medium transports in production today. The C-27J is most likely also competing to fulfil the SAAF’s requirements, and was demonstrated at Africa Aerospace and Defence in 2010. The C-27J trumps the C-295 in terms of speed, payload, climb rate and range, but is far more expensive to buy and operate.