Boeing Will Arm South Africa's Weird Plane

AHRLAC and loaded

AHRLAC Plane

AHRLAC Plane

This weird plane will soon get weapons. Probably normal weapons, maybe weird weapons too.Paramount Group

South Africa’s AHRLAC is a weird bird. With a narrow, high body, and stadium seating for the pilot and sensor operator, it looks like a rough draft for an F-4 phantom. A pusher prop and slightly forward-swept wings seem like an aviation mistake from the First World War. Built as a bushwacking scout, able to operate from rough fields without runways, AHRLAC is an odd drone alternative, a peopled plane built to do a drone’s job. Now, thanks to a deal Paramount (AHRLAC's maker) struck with Boeing, it’s going to get weapons.

AHRLAC's top speed is a modest 310 mph, about the same as a Reaper drone and about twice that of a standard Huey helicopter. With an expected endurance of over 7 hours, it's better suited for long patrols than helicopters, maybe even at a lower cost than sophisticated drones. From Defense News:

According to the agreement, Boeing will develop an integrated mission system for the aircraft enabling ISR and light strike missions for the AHRLAC safety & security, and military variants. This militarized version will be known as Mwari, a name taken from South African mythology regarded by some tribes as an omnipotent, all-seeing being. The cost of the aircraft was estimated to be under $10 million by [Paramount Group's Executive Chairman Ivor] Ichikowitz in 2011, however he was not able to state a price of the aircraft with the integrated Boeing systems. "There are some customers which will require simpler systems but there are other markets which will require the sophisticated mission systems provided by Boeing. It is our objective to tackle these markets together, " Ichikowitz said.

Even with sensors and weapons from Boeing, AHRLAC won't be winning any dogfights. Instead, it will do the messy boring work of low-intensity wars and patrols, hunting for insurgents, poachers, and other violent armed nonstate groups big enough to warrant a response but not big enough to carry anti-air weapons. AHRLAC may not replace the A-10 any time soon (or ever), but for the people on the receiving end of their weapons, that won't matter much.