The Tecnam MRI maritime surveillance aircraft that was brought to South Africa as a sales and marketing demonstrator has been returned to Spain for upgrades before coming back to the country, where it is expected to be used on operational missions.
The aircraft departed for Spain at the end of January, having been brought to South Africa in August last year and exhibited at the Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition in September. Joseph Martinez, Director at Tecnam Aviation, told defenceWeb that the aircraft was undergoing upgrades to its sensors before returning to South Africa in the coming months. The aircraft will also be used to fly operational missions.
He said that when it returned it would be based in Johannesburg and deployed on demand to service the region. Martinez said South Africa is a very important market for the aircraft and that there is a huge need for and interest in the aircraft in South Africa and the region. For instance, there has been interest from the South African Air Force in the type, as the Air Force looks to acquire maritime surveillance/patrol aircraft to replace its ageing C-47TPs.
The aircraft will be flown in South Africa by local company Aeronautic Solutions, Martinez said. The aircraft was originally brought to South Africa by private security company CSS Tactical in conjunction with Indra and Tecnam, and was to have been operated by Aeronautic Solutions.
CSS Tactical and Aeronautic Solutions had hoped to establish a fleet of five Tecnam P2006T MRI surveillance aircraft in sub-Saharan Africa for contract work such as maritime surveillance, anti-piracy and powerline monitoring. Indra said there was an urgent need for such a system for both terrestrial and maritime surveillance for both civil and military applications.
Brian Croock, owner of CSS Tactical said that he hopes to use the aircraft for neighbourhood security patrols but is still waiting for security clearance from the South African Civil Aviation Authority. He said he ultimately wants to important five aircraft at a time to use for charter work in the region. For example, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) has shown interest in the MRI.
Ivan Pienaar, CEO of Aeronautic Solutions, said the MRI is ideal for anti-poaching and maritime surveillance tasks. One of the MRI’s selling points is that the aircraft incorporates a Seaspray 5000E Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) search radar with a maritime AIS (Automatic Identification System) transponder and Ultra Force 275 forward-looking infrared camera. The aircraft’s multimode radar can identify vehicles on land and targets at sea and targets can then be further scrutinised with the infrared camera. All of the above is enhanced by the Kestril artificial intelligence software package.
All information from the aircraft’s sensors is combined and sent back to a ground control station in real time for analysis – as a result, the system operator does not have to be on board the aircraft, allowing for reduced weight or more fuel to be carried.
The MRI aircraft has been designed for maritime patrol and surveillance. The system can explore areas up to 5 000 square nautical miles at a typical range of 100 nautical miles from the coast with an acquisition cost similar to that of a light helicopter, Indra said.
The MRI system is designed to fulfil maritime safety, search and rescue, fisheries protection, oil field protection, marine environmental protection, drugs interdiction, illegal immigration interdiction and other law enforcement missions.
Tecnam’s airframe was selected due to reliability, economy of operation, maintainability and performance. The Tecnam P2006T is powered by two four cylinder Rotax 912S3 engines delivering 100 hp each. Fully retractable landing gear allows for an uninterrupted view for the sensors. 200 litres of fuel provides six hours of flying time. Cruise speed is 120 knots.
CSS Tactical also displayed some of Indra’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at Africa Aerospace and Defence, but the current lack of UAV regulations in South Africa and the present prohibition of UAV flights is an issue when marketing these products.