L-3 brings Spydr surveillance aircraft to South Africa


L-3 Mission Integration and Aerosud displayed their Spydr intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft at the Waterkloof Air Show on Saturday in the aircraft’s first international appearance since debuting in mid-July at the Royal International Air Tattoo in the United Kingdom.

Spydr is being touted as a highly effective solution for South Africa’s maritime surveillance and border control needs. L-3 says it can be deployed operationally in less than a year.

The Spydr South Africa team is led by L-3 Mission Integration and South African prime contractor Aerosud, supported by Zeiss Optronics, Saab, Tellumat, Reutech, and Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE). In addition to being prime contractor for South Africa, Aerosud can also perform aircraft modifications and provide support services.

The Spydr system was displayed aboard a modified Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350ER, but is platform independent. The aircraft features an L-3 Wescam MX-15 electro-optical/infrared sensor payload mounted in a ball turret under the fuselage, a satellite communications fairing, line of sight tactical common data link and self protection suite.
“Team SA SPYDR is pleased to support the urgent multi-mission requirements of South Africa, as well as all of the members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC),” said Mark Johnson, L-3 Mission Integration vice president of next-generation ISR special programs. “L-3’s strategic investment in SPYDR…provides a platform that is flexible and rapidly reconfigurable to quickly adapt to new and emerging mission requirements.”
“It’s a very robust design based on our expertise in fielding small, manned ISR aircraft to various customers around the world. These aircraft have demonstrated unparalleled performance in the last three years: more than 40,000 sorties with 170,000 flight hours, while yielding mission availability rates above 95 percent,” Johnson continued. “L-3 and its South African partners have a committed team and proven track record in providing near-term effective solutions to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).”

L-3 said the Spydr shares commonality with King Airs that have been in the SAAF’s inventory since the 1980s. The platform is able to performance long endurance missions as it is capable of nine hours of flight.
“Today’s sensors and modern mission management systems obviate the need for expensive maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) for today’s ISR missions,” said Hartog Blok, retired South African Air Force colonel and member of Team SA Spydr. “Traditionally, MPA platforms are very expensive not only to acquire, but also to maintain and operate. SPYDR, however, is a very affordable system with most, if not all, of the capability of more traditional MPA platforms.”
“Two Spydrs can be bought and operated for the cost of one MPA, such as the C-295 or ATR-72, and can fulfil 90 percent of all MPA mission requirements,” Blok said. “In this era of reduced budgets and immediate threats to our borders and economic trade routes, we feel SPYDR is a genuinely sensible, sustainable and immediate solution to South Africa’s urgent border protection and maritime needs.”
“Team SA Spydr is introducing the SA Spydr to all of the SADC countries as a low-cost and highly effective solution to their ISR needs. L-3, Aerosud and its partners have also developed leasing models for SA Spydr, which allow countries with limited budgets to obtain Spydr’s capabilities.”
“The Waterkloof Air Show this year is only our first step, and Team SA Spydr hopes to bring Spydr back to Africa in 2012 for a full tour and demonstration to all the SADC countries,” concluded Blok.
“The aircraft is the result of a research and development project by our company for the small ISR aircraft market,” Bob Spivey, L-3 MID’s vice-president, special programmes told Flight International in July. “This is a multi-year investment in multiple technologies.”

L-3 drew on L-3’s experience in modifying 46 King Airs for the US military. “The results have been excellent,” Spivey said. “Now our thought is what’s next, and what could we do internationally.”

L-3 expects to sell around 150 Spydr aircraft and said it had identified several potential buyers in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The system is aimed at both civilian and military customers.

Following the Waterkloof air show, the Spydr was set to return to the United States for further technology to be added and for further demonstration.