The Viking Air Guardian 400, an intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft based on Viking’s Series 400 Twin Otter, has arrived at Lanseria International Airport as part of its World Tour, where it is being offered to South Africa for maritime surveillance, border patrol and other missions.
The aircraft arrived in South Africa on 30 November after brief stops in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nampula, Mozambique. The Guardian 400 demonstrator aircraft’s World Tour has been two years in the making and began at the Dubai Air Show, which was held between 17 and 21 November.
The tour was put together by Canada’s Viking Air Limited and a consortium of partners demonstrating various systems on the aircraft. The Guardian 400 (C-GVKI) will be in South Africa until the first week in January, after which it will head up the West Coast, stopping in Namibia, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal. The Africa leg of the tour will conclude by the end of January in advance of the 2020 Singapore Air Show (where it will be available for viewing on aircraft static display from 11-16 February), but will first be fitted with ferry tanks in Europe for the extended journey. After Singapore the Guardian 400 demonstrator aircraft will tour Australia and other Asia-Pacific nations before (hopefully) taking part in the Farnborough Air Show in mid-2020.
Airborne Technologies is the principal partner for the tour, fitting the aircraft with its wing-mounted Self-Contained Aerial Reconnaissance (S.C.A.R.) Pod, Airborne LINX mission management system and tactical workstation. The S.C.A.R.- pod only requires a hardpoint for installation, and no airframe modifications are required. It can accommodate electro-optical cameras, radar, ViDAR, electronic warfare equipment, searchlight, ELINT/SIGINT/COMINT sensors, satellite communications etc. It has been fitted to PC-9, Gazelle and AT-6 aircraft, amongst others.
Apart from Airborne Technologies, other Guardian 400 World Tour partners include Leonardo, CarteNav Solutions, Hensoldt, Sentient, CNS Systems, ASG, Enterprise Control Systems, Galleon and Alkan. In addition, Ikhana supplies the wing-mounted hardpoints and Thunder Bay Aviation provides stretcher racks.
Viking, with the help of Airborne Technologies and its partners, are offering the Guardian 400 and individual systems to potential customers, including the South African Air Force. Dr Luthando Prinsloo, Director: Business Development Africa for Airborne Technologies, indicated the South African Air Force could especially benefit from the Guardian’s flexible mission configuration by fitting the S.C.A.R. pod to the Force’s C-47TP aircraft for maritime surveillance – (at the moment, the C-47TPs used in this role have no specialised mission equipment).
The Guardian 400 World Tour is targeting militaries, police forces, fisheries patrols, maritime rescue centres etc. and in South Africa, multi-stakeholder interest is being sought, with public private partnerships. One unique solution that is also being offered that would satisfy South African requirements for maritime surveillance, search and rescue, border patrol etc. is a power-by-the-hour leasing programme.
While the African leg of the Guardian 400 World Tour has just started, the team has already seen interest in the aircraft and has proposed the sale of three Guardian 400s to one African country. Should a country express interest, the demonstration aircraft being used on the demonstration tour (which recently rolled off the production line) is available for immediate sale at an approximate cost of around of $7 million, with an additional charge for the sensors at approximately $5 million.
These sensors include an Argos II HD electro-optical gimbal from Hensoldt Optronics and visual radar. The Argos II is mounted in the SCAR pod, which can be fitted onto an aircraft within an hour and the associated mission desk clipped to standard seat rails. The Argos II has a thermal camera, a spotter camera, laser rangefinder and a zoom camera with colour, near infrared, and low light function. The Argos II has numerous modes for different missions: for example, it can overlay thermal and zoom camera imagery for a fused view. The cameras can be programmed to pick up certain colours, such as the orange found on life jackets. Although not designed as such, it can also be used by the pilots to see in bad weather conditions (using the thermal camera) as there is a screen in the cockpit.
Prinsloo said Hensoldt is a preferred partner as it provides African products for African requirements and ITAR-free equipment, with the Argos range manufactured in South Africa.
Australian company Sentient provided the Kestrel moving target indicator (MTI), which is integrated with the Argos II. The gimbal is also linked to a digital map, which can be used to slew the gimbal. It also shows where the gimbal is pointing and can overlay data. CarteNav Solutions supplies the AIMS mission system software that processes and manages imagery and data from the various sensors, with real time, geo-referenced local operating pictures.
Sentient also provided the Guardian 400’s nose-mounted ViDAR (visual radar). This is ideal for search and rescue (SAR) and other missions as it scans a wide area, allowing for fewer tracks to be flown to cover a specific area compared to a thermal camera. It can be used to detect objects or people at ranges of several kilometres whilst flying at up to 7 000 feet. It can detect people in sea states 3-4 and has been successfully used to find sailors in the water after their yacht capsized.
The ViDAR system comprises five cameras in the nose that can either be day cameras or infrared cameras for night operations. The system is regularly used for counter-narcotics missions by the United States and Mexico and is in service with the Royal Australian Navy (on its ScanEagles), US Coast Guard (ScanEagles) and Australian Challenger 604 jets, amongst others.
Integrating all the special mission equipment on the Guardian 400 is the Airborne LINX mission management system from Airborne Technologies. This connects all sensors and communications systems on board and feeds data to large touchscreen displays on a tactical workstation.
The Guardian 400 is based on the Twin Otter Series 400, which received type certification in 2010. It features numerous improvements to the legacy Twin Otter, which was previously manufactured by de Havilland Canada. Since production relaunch, Viking-built Twin Otters have been exported to 33 countries around the world.
Viking Series 400 Twin Otters have a new Honeywell Primus Apex avionics suite, more powerful PT6A-34 engines flat rated to 620 hp and other changes. The Guardian 400 has an endurance of 8.7 hours with standard fuel (1 821 km range) or 10.15 hours (2 100 km range) with extra fuel. Useful load is 2 600 kg and maximum cruise speed of 337 km/h. The Twin Otter is renowned for its short take-off and landing capabilities, and the Guardian 400 can take off in 366 metres and land in 320 metres. Different landing gear, such as floats, skis or intermediate flotation gear (IFG), can be fitted to suit customer operational requirements.
Viking Air presents the Twin Otter as a highly versatile aircraft that can be fitted with an array of different equipment. The aircraft is getting more attention in Africa due to its 66 000 hour service life, robust design, short take-off and landing capabilities, and significantly reduced operating costs than that of a helicopter ($646 per hour direct operating costs).
Prinsloo said there has been great interest in the Guardian 400 so far, and in the last six months, several customers in the Middle East and Asia have ordered special mission Twin Otters from Viking. He added that the advent of private service providers has finally reached Africa through solutions like Viking’s Guardian 400.