Paramount Group sells South Africa’s first new military aircraft since the 1980s.
The last military aircraft produced and sold in South Africa was the Denel SOC Ltd Roovalk attack helicopter. Paramount Group is Africa’s biggest privately-owned defence and aerospace company.
Ivor Ichikowitz, Paramount’s founder, said in a reference to countries combating terrorists or rebels, “We’re targeting any country in the world that has to deal with an asymmetrical threat, that is fighting against an enemy with a $30,000 land Rover using a $150,000 stinger missile.” Paramount believes they can help eliminate that type of threat with the Mwari, a reconnaissance and precision-strike aircraft.
Nine aircraft will be supplied to two air forces, the company said, saying it can’t yet disclose their identity. The first delivery will take place this week after an 11-year development period.
South Africa built up an arms and aerospace industry during the apartheid era, when it was subject to international sanctions and sought to bolster its defences against foreign and internal threats and insurrection.
South Africa developed everything from the tanks, assault weapons and even the Rooivalk attack helicopter. “We had this kind of unusual skill set, which had come about because of the mistake of history that was the apartheid-era aerospace industry.” Ivor Ichikowitz.
Talking about the latest order, and the skills in the armament industry, Ichikowitz said, “We wanted to develop a project that would give us the ability to train the next generation of aerospace engineers.”
Paramount is aiming to sell the Mwari, (a Zimbabwean Shona word that means “all knowing, all-seeing deity”), anywhere that the aircraft can be used for counter-insurgency purposes. The Mwari is also suited for other applications including maritime surveillance and anti-poaching missions.
Sales of the aircraft are primarily aimed at emerging market countries. Governments in Mozambique, Somalia and across the Sahel region of West Africa are fighting Islamist militants. Additionally a number of African countries such as South Africa have lengthy coastlines that need patrolling and southern African nations are trying to halt the poaching of rhinos and elephants by sophisticated syndicates that operate in remote areas of the countries.
“The first sales have had been in Africa to a large extent because that’s where we see the biggest operational need,” Ichikowitz said. “If you look at what’s going on in Africa right now, we have multiple environments where there are asymmetrical threats that that need a low-cost, highly efficient platform.”
The Mwari, excluding add-ons such as advanced avionics systems, is about $10 million, and can be operated for $1,500 an hour of flying time. The two-pilot aircraft can carry as much as a ton of precision-guided arms and with a lighter load has a range of about 960 kilometers (596 miles) and a speed of around 435 kilometres-per-hour (270 miles-per-hour).