Whilst Boeing airliners are well known and operated in almost every country of the world, Boeing are more selective as to whom they sell their military products. Up to now, the African activities of Boeing Defence, Space & Security have been restricted to North Africa.
This, however, is about to change. Whilst the Middle East and Asia-Pacific are trending, Chris Chadwick, President of Boeing Military Aircraft, has seen an emerging set of needs coming out of Africa, including sub-Sahara countries.
Speaking to defenceWeb at the Maritime and Coastal Security Africa 2013 conference held in Cape Town this week, Chadwick said that they had begun to engage with government and industry leaders to “better understand the fabric” in South Africa and to start establishing relationships here.
Whereas previous Boeing visits have emphasised the C-17 as the solution to the SAAF strategic airlift requirement, this time the Boeing representatives acknowledge that the SAAF is considering acquiring second-hand aircraft, such as the Russian Ilyushin Il-76.
“We want the customer that we deal with to get the right capability for their needs. Sometimes it’s our products, sometimes it’s our competitors’ products,” is the frank answer from Chadwick. “We want to be there for the long-term,” Chadwick continued, “providing (the client) not just with products, but with analysis where we believe we can provide them with good capabilities and if the customer decides to turn in a different direction, by all means that’s their prerogative and we support it. We will be there for the next opportunity.”
Whereas other countries are interested in the C-17 heavy lifter, F/A-18 fighter and Boeing 767 refuelling tanker, Africa is a little different. Products of interest include the ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the AH-6i Light Attack/Reconnaissance helicopter and maritime surveillance aircraft.
Chadwick noted that the ScanEagle was a low-cost, portable long-endurance UAV that can be fitted with a wide variety of sensors, including those developed by the client. The small UAV has been used by a number of countries in the Persian Gulf for anti-piracy and counter-terrorism surveillance missions.
The AH-6i is a light attack/reconnaissance helicopter, derived from the Little Bird platform operated by US Army Special Operations Forces. The helicopter is intended to provide close air support for land-based forces. It can also serve as an attack platform for destroying enemy tanks, armoured vehicles and fortifications. As such, it is the smaller brother of the AH-64 Apache, counterpart to the South African developed Rooivalk. Boeing has just sold an undisclosed number of AH-6is, thought to be 36, to Saudi Arabia.
Of particular interest to the maritime community is Boeing’s recently launched Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA) programme, based on the Bombardier Challenger 605 business jet. Chadwick explained that Boeing took the architecture and capability of its premier P-8 Poseidon multi-mission maritime surveillance aircraft and stripped away the anti-submarine warfare capability. By adding radar, mission systems, electronic support measures (ESM) and an electro-optical camera, the MSA is able to undertake missions such as anti-piracy, coastal and border security, and long-range search and rescue.
This, Chadwick says, coupled with the Challenger system fidelity and reliability, provides a very good, compact, robust capability for a country like South Africa. Even more so, he added, when coupled with the ScanEagle.
The question is that the SAAF has not yet released their requirement for a new maritime surveillance and transport aircraft under Project Saucepan. Indeed, it is possible the SAAF may even cancel Project Saucepan and create a new project specifically for the maritime surveillance component. As a result, representatives for the Challenger MSA are meeting with Armscor this week.
“We are looking at ways to Africanise Boeing products,” said Paul Oliver, Vice President, Middle East & Africa. An example would be an AH-6i with certain systems deleted and integrated with local weapons.
Boeing is also keen to market the tandem rotor CH-47 heavy-lift helicopter, especially for warfighting and humanitarian missions.
Egypt is already a large-scale Boeing military aircraft customer, operating both the CH-47 Chinook and the AH-64 Apache in large numbers. Despite the recent US suspension of some foreign military assistance to Egypt, Boeing is committed to supporting equipment in Egypt.
There are other North African customers that Boeing won’t mention, but Morocco has Boeing weapons integrated onto their F-16s and has ordered additional CH-47s for delivery in 2016.
When questioned about other African countries, Oliver says a number of African countries have enquired about Boeing products, including the CH-47 and Scan Eagle. “We have responded to them,” was his response.
Algeria in particular is interested in acquiring Boeing’s C-17 and evaluated the aircraft earlier this year. The North African country has also expressed interest in transport helicopters and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft.
Boeing is not just sticking to supplying hardware to Africa. Oliver mentioned that customers often asked Boeing if they could offer support for another supplier’s product. “We have a lot of systems and tools we can put in pace to help with sustainability,” he said. Other opportunities include support, technical training, simulation and modelling.