South African aviation start-up VliegMasjien is hoping to market a military variant of its C-Wolf amphibious bush aircraft, which is still in the prototype phase.
"The reason why we're looking at the M-Wolf is typically from an African perspective we think the affordability of current military planes puts them out of the range of any African country," says VliegMasjien marketing consultant Andre Labuschagne.
Many African nations have vast coastal waters and long borders, but they do not have the means to adequately patrol those huge expanses. Moreover, the terrain is usually rugged and infrastructure is limited and dispersed.
Developing a military variant of the C-Wolf was an obvious choice, Labuschagne says, as the airframe has inherent traits that make it particularly useful in surveilling sparsely populated areas or coasts.
A military version would have a retractable electro-optical/infrared camera on the bottom of its fuselage. It would also be able to carry light armaments, such as some type of Gatling gun, in its pontoons. But, Labuschagne cautions, the M-Wolf will never be a true combat aircraft, and is primarily intended for "light" military applications.
As an amphibian bush-plane, the aircraft also offers some unique advantages. It could carry a pair of jet-skis on board, which the aircraft could deploy after landing in the water if needed. It could alternatively carry a pair of dirt bikes to help with ground operations in the sparse African bush, Labuschagne says.
But the main advantage of the aircraft over potential rivals, notably the South African Paramount AHRLAC turboprop or the Brazilian Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, is cost. The piston-engined machine will cost less than one-tenth the price of an AHRLAC, Labuschagne claims.
Mozambique, for example, has a huge coastline, but it cannot afford any current airborne surveillance platform. The M-Wolf would only cost $500,000 to around $1 million, depending on the configuration, Labuschagne says. Training costs are also reduced, since a pilot only needs the skills to operate a general aviation aircraft. Maintenance is also simple and the aircraft runs on common motor gas rather than the less common aviation gas.
Maintenance costs and operating costs should also be less by an order of magnitude. "Acquisition cost is a tenth, operational costs are a tenth," Labuschagne says. "Now, if you're Africa and you have a piracy problem, this is a dream come true."