L-3 offering Spydr, Q400 to SAAF

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L-3 Integrated Mission Systems is offering the South African Air Force (SAAF) a range of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, including its King Air 350 ER (Extended Range) Spydr and Bombardier Q400 Maritime Surveillance and Patrol Aircraft (MSA/MPA), to fulfil the country’s maritime surveillance needs.

Both these types are flown extensively in Southern Africa, with South African Express (SAX) flying and support the Q400 from Oliver Tambo International Airport. A Beech King Air 350 ER was on display at the Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition at Air Force Base Waterkloof last month while L-3 brought out the Spydr to the Waterkloof air show in October last year.

The Spydr system is platform independent and features an L-3 Wescam MX-15 electro-optical/infrared sensor payload mounted in a ball turret, a satellite communications fairing, line of sight tactical common data link and self-protection suite.

Hartog Blok from L-3 Integrated Mission Systems noted that maritime patrol aircraft are more expensive than maritime surveillance aircraft as they are usually larger, more complex and are required to carry weapons. “Money is going to dictate the outcome,” he said.
“Today’s sensors and modern mission management systems obviate the need for expensive maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) for today’s ISR missions,” Blok said during the Spydr’s African debut last year. “Traditionally, MPA platforms are very expensive not only to acquire, but also to maintain and operate…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.”

Regarding local participation, Blok said that Denel was keen to work with L-3 on a maritime surveillance/patrol platform. Various local companies would provide components in the event of a SAAF order – Reutech would provide communications, Carl Zeiss would provide electro-optical sensors, Aerosud would carry out structural work and Tellumat could provide identification equipment.

Blok noted that surveillance aircraft ordered by the South African Air Force could also be used for applications other than maritime surveillance, such as border patrol. The latter is an important issue in South Africa, with its porous borderlines.

Several companies are focused on the South African Air Force’s Project Saucepan for a maritime surveillance/patrol aircraft to replace its 70-year-old C-47TP Turbo Dakotas. Former chief of the Air Force, Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano, on his retirement on September 28 said that the Saucepan project team was currently “examining all options” and noted that a decision “won’t happen overnight”.

Some of the companies pursuing Saucepan include Saab (Saab 340 MSA), Ruag (Do 228NG), Raytheon (King Air 350), HAL (Do 228) and Airbus Military (CN235/C295). ATR’s maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft, the ATR 42 MP Surveyor, is in service with Nigeria and also fits the bill.

The SAAF also has a requirement to replace its eight Lockheed C-130BZ Hercules, which are due to retire in 2020 – this date was extended from the original retirement date of 2015. Various manufacturers are promoting aircraft to fill this transport requirement, which could overlap with the maritime patrol/surveillance requirement. However, Blok said the Q400 offered to the SAAF would be for surveillance only.

The Spydr is being promoted to all Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries – L-3 expects to sell around 150 Spydr aircraft and said it had identified several potential buyers in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Regarding L-3’s ISR aircraft prospects elsewhere, Blok said to “watch this space”.