The aircraft, a global first, addresses a key industry need by performing the combined tasks that previously required four separately configured planes. It integrates designs from attack helicopters, surveillance platforms and reconnaissance aircraft, with ability to carry surveillance, weapons, radar and electronic warfare systems. This has brought advanced operational solutions, historically requiring more costly aircraft or complex unmanned aerial surveillance systems.
Paramount Group Executive Chairperson, Ivor Ichikowitz, says: “AHRLAC is a home-grown, world-class capability that will enable developing countries and advanced nations to strengthen and diversify their security infrastructure. It offers the global industry a new, very cost-effective and multi-role solution that will change the way global air forces procure and structure their air fleets. AHRLAC is a solution shaped for today’s modern threats like insurgencies, piracy, poaching and terrorism.”
AHRLAC is a groundbreaking example of what Africa is capable of producing and will be a key solution to bolster Africa’s capability to deal with its security issues. However, AHRLAC is not only a solution for Africa, but for defence forces around the world, whether from developing countries or from nations with advanced and sophisticated defence capabilities.
Ichikowitz adds: “The emergence of Africa as an increasingly important global economic power brings with it the expectation on the world stage that Africa must itself play a greater role in avoiding and controlling the perpetuation of violence and conflict on the continent. The solution is to build African capabilities to solve these African challenges. What is often not recognised is that the African defence and aerospace industry is more than up to that challenge. Leading-edge defence solutions like AHRLAC presents African states with the opportunity to build up their own intelligence, militaries and national police to combat the continent’s insurgents and extremists.”
The development and production of AHRLAC is expected to provide a significant job and skills boost to the African aerospace industry, as many local subcontractors will be involved in equipping the aircraft with a range of systems. Key local suppliers will include: Paramount Advanced Technologies, CSIR and Denel. Key global suppliers include Pratt and Whitney, Cobham and Zeiss.
AHRLAC has been specifically designed for both civilian and military tasking, and features a variety of configurations thanks to its innovative pod system design. These include patrol and reconnaissance with typical missions encompassing intelligence-gathering and close air support. The aircraft can also be configured for training, cargo and light attack capabilities. This enables the aircraft for multi-role use, which includes disaster management, internal security, border control, maritime patrol and environmental protection. AHRLAC also has the ability to carry a comprehensive weapons suite for specific mission applications.
The aircraft was designed and built by over 60 engineers and technicians. One of the most innovative aspects of the construction phase is that 98% of all 6 000 parts of the aircraft were designed and produced locally by the engineering team. Since the launch of the project in September 2011, the team spent 315 000 labour hours completing detailed designs and manufacturing the first prototype.
Dr Paul Potgieter, CEO AHRLAC Holdings, says: “Every single part of the aircraft was pre-designed on a computer, which allowed it to have a jigless construction. This means that every part fits together, much like a Meccano set, which saves vast amounts of money and time – especially when exporting globally.
“The jigless manufacture was made possible by parts being pre-drilled and machine made, allowing for accuracy, reduced need for hand skills and therefore less time to build. “We have made all the tools for production for all sheet metal pressings and composite parts so it enables us to hit production much quicker than other aircraft,” adds Potgieter. This innovative and groundbreaking project is currently undergoing a rigorous flight testing programme, which will prove flight characteristics and test the aircraft’s performance.
“AHRLAC is creating the next generation of engineers on the continent, and is an excellent reflection of the capabilities of the African engineering fraternity. There are a number of skills challenges in South Africa and beyond our borders, but the incredible progress made by local engineers has put them at the forefront of global aerospace innovation. Their joint expertise has turned them into pathfinders, who are proudly setting new milestones, through continuous innovation that we can export to the world,” concludes Ichikowitz.