The Mwari light attack and surveillance aircraft will soon be integrated with weapons systems by South African defence company Paramount for the launch customer.
Paramount announced in September that it has sealed deals with multiple unnamed customers for its Mwari turboprop ISR and light attack aircraft, stating that a total of nine customisable Mwaris were currently on order. Last December, Paramount supplied the Mwari aircraft to an unnamed African customer which is also due to take delivery of a second aircraft later this month.
Paramount Group Executive Chairman Ivor Ichikowitz hinted in 2017 that the Mwari was getting high interest from clients in the Middle East, the United States and some African countries. When asked to say which nations had bought the twin-boom aircraft, a company spokesman said at the recent IDEX 2023 exhibition held in Abu Dhabi: “Not right now, but I hope we can announce it fairly shortly.”
Mike Levy, chief executive of Paramount Aerospace Industries, the division responsible for the programme says the launch customer will be operating weaponised aircraft “soon”. The Mwari has been seen operating in the restive Cabo Delgado region in Mozambique, although, there has been no official statement from Paramount regarding the deployment of the unarmed Mwari to the country.
Paramount has been producing the Mwari – originally branded the AHRLAC – since 2021 in a new factory at Wonderboom airport, near Pretoria, and as of now, there are four aircraft on the assembly line and the facility has a capacity for five at any time. With strong sales prospects from at least two other countries, Paramount plans to increase the production rate over the next few years to meet demand.
The Mwari is the result of a partnership between Paramount and Boeing in a deal signed in 2016. It combines Paramount’s advanced, high-performance reconnaissance light aircraft with Boeing’s mission systems and advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads.
In its standard configuration, the Mwari can be fitted with an interchangeable multimission pod system, or IMPS, under a belly-mounted, multi-mission sensor pod, which allows a single plane to perform multiple roles.
Depending on the requirements of a mission, the IMPS can be loaded out with systems for electronic intelligence, signals and communication intelligence; semi-active radar; forward-looking infrared radiometer; and cargo.
The Mwari can be packed with various sensors, with the aircraft able to support sensor systems such as the L3 Technologies MX-25. Paramount Group has reported that the Thales Avni infrared line-scan unit and Hensoldt Argos II electro-optical nose turret have also been integrated into the aircraft.
In the future, Paramount is considering integrating a synthetic aperture radar and an air-conditioned cockpit to counter the heat build-up generated by the large canopy on the ground and in the first minutes of flight.
The Mwari was marketed by US Leidos and Vertex Aerospace as the Bronco II and was selected in May 2020 to participate in the US Special Operations Command’s Armed Overwatch programme that was seeking around 75 aircraft acquiring a low-intensity combat warfare aircraft. Although, the Bronco II failed to win the competition, after being eliminated in the final selection round to the Air Tractor/L3Harris AT-802U Sky Warden, as well as suffering a landing gear incident during a routine preventive maintenance procedure at the time.
The Bronco II originally named the Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (AHRLAC), is a light reconnaissance and counter-insurgency aircraft made by AHRLAC Holdings, a joint venture between the Paramount Group and Aerosud in South Africa.
The Bronco II competed against the Textron Aviation Defence AT-6E Wolverine, L3 AT-802U Sky Warden, MAG Aerospace MC-208 Guardian, and Sierra Nevada Corporation M28/C-145 Wily Coyote.
Levy admits the company “learned a lot” from being considered last year for SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch competition and that “It was exciting and flattering to be considered alongside some of the industry’s biggest names, and important in terms of profile,” says Levy, who admits that with just two prototypes, no operational aircraft and a factory coming on stream, “we weren’t quite ready”.
“The Mwari is a critical programme for the aerospace sector in South Africa and the continent, in terms of providing a substantial manufacturing programme that can sustain jobs, skills, innovation and an industrial base,” says Levy. Paramount has established a “vertically integrated” production process that means it manufactures 90% of the aircraft’s parts in-house. Levy’s business has a workforce of 142, including 20 engineers, the average age of whom is 27. Many veterans who came of age in South Africa’s large Apartheid-era defence sector have moved to work abroad, a brain drain that has meant the company is focusing on nurturing young talent.
“It is a challenge for us, but an opportunity to train a new generation of specialists, who also bring with them aptitudes such as 3D printing,” says Levy. He says the plan is eventually to establish a modular manufacturing network to allow customers to assemble their own versions of the Mwari locally, a concept Paramount has already pioneered in its land vehicle business, with licensed manufacturing in the likes of Kazakhstan, India and the Gulf. Entrepreneur Ivor Ichikowitz established Paramount Group in 1994 and it has expanded to become Africa’s largest independent defence contractor. Its main product line is armoured vehicles.
Ivor Ichikowitz, the founder of parent company Paramount Group, said at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2022 defence exhibition near Pretoria, that Mwari was ‘purposefully designed for the kind of asymmetrical warfare that modern military forces across the world are today being asked to conduct. The aircraft has a critical role to play in the connected battlefield, providing forces on the ground and in the air with a force multiplier competitive advantage’.
“Mwari addresses a key global security requirement from air forces around the world, of any size, for advanced ISR and precision strike capabilities,” the company said in a news release. “It integrates design concepts from helicopters, surveillance platforms and reconnaissance aircraft with the ability to carry multiple systems, such as surveillance radar and electro-optic sensor systems.”
“The development and deployment of Mwari underscore the strategic importance of a world-class, indigenous African aerospace industry, one that can quickly and collaboratively address the increasing security threats, conflicts and insurgencies which Africa presently faces.”
The multi-mission Mwari aerial platform has also recently been equipped with advanced anti-drone technologies, enabling the deployment of the aircraft as an effective hunter and killer of Medium Altitude and Long Endurance Drones (MALEs), says Paramount Group.
The clean-sheet designed Mwari is the next evolution in ‘Find, Fix & Finish’ technologies optimized for the anti-drone defence environment, capable of engaging MALE drones at altitudes of 20,000-30,000 feet, where only highly sophisticated and costly ground-based air defence systems (GBADS) cannot reach, and which would otherwise require the intervention of fighter jets.