Boeing will develop an advanced mission system for the military variant turboprop-powered South African light attack fighter and reconnaissance aircraft.

The agreement announced on 7 March at a press conference in Abu Dhabi illuminates one of the two industrial collaborations that Boeing’s defence business and the Pretoria-based Paramount Group committed to pursue in September 2014

Paramount is continuing to internally develop low-cost mission systems for the advanced, high-performance, reconnaissance, light aircraft (AHRLAC), executive chairman Ivor Ichikowitz tells Flightglobal in an interview.

But some potential customers require a more sophisticated mission system, which Boeing has agreed to develop, he adds. The mission system integrates sensors and weapons with the aircraft’s avionics.

Paramount was founded in 1994 by Ichikowitz in order to sell surplus South African military equipment. The company developed a broader business building ground combat vehicles. In the last five years, however, the company has expanded into the aviation market, acquiring the military business of Aerosud, which was founded by the designers of the Denel Rooivalk attack helicopter.

As partly an effort to pass on aeronautical design knowledge to a younger generation of South Africans, Aerosud’s design group launched the AHRLAC programme with Paramount’s backing. The twin-boomed, single-pilot aircraft driven by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A was rolled out in July 2014.

“The programme has moved from inception to laying the foundation stone of the factory in less than five years. The aircraft will be in the market in the next 14-15 months. We have had a huge amount of interest from the Middle East,” Ichikowitz says.

The AHRLAC has at least one customer, but Ichikowitz declines to reveal the buyer’s identity or whether the deal includes Boeing’s mission system.

“It’s too early to tell, but that is our hope,” Ichikowitz says.

The flight test programme is “nearly complete”, and the “first few” aircraft off the line will be used for mission system testing. The initial production rate will be 10 aircraft per year, but there is the potential to increase this to 20-25 aircraft.

An optionally-piloted version is “not on the horizon”.

Because the aircraft provides a quiet, stable platform, “I think this thing is going to hurt the helicopter industry – we will be eroding some of that market”, Ichikowitz says.

Boeing first announced partnering with Paramount at the Farnborough air show in 2014, with the goal of finding a partner to break into the African and developing world’s security markets. The companies followed up two months later by announcing plans to work on two collaborative projects.

Ichikowitz now confirms the AHRLAC mission system is one of those two projects, but he declines to reveal the second project.

UPDATE: Revisions clarifies that Paramount Group acquired only the military business of Aerosud.