The AHRLAC (Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft) is a budget-minded, light strike solution currently under development by Paramount Group and Aerosud Group of South Africa. Paramount's primary workload has previously revolved around the training and support of active African peacekpeeing forces while Aerosud, founded in 1990 by former engineers of the Denel "Rooivalk" attack helicopter program of the South African Army, has maintained a resume ranging from support of French Dassault Mirage F1 and Russian Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter engines to parts supply for defense powerhouses such as Boeing and BAe Systems. The ARHLAC design was first unveiled to the public during 2011 and represents the first indigenously designed and developed aircraft of South Africa.
The aircraft has been given a two-crew, tandem seat arrangement similar to that as seen in attack helicopters - offering excellent views over and under the main wing element as well as out-of-the-cockpit. The fuselage is of a nacelle form, short length, and houses the cockpits, avionics, fuel and engine installation. Each crew position can be afforded the optional Martin-Baker Mk.16 series ejection seat and is set to utilize a new generation IFR cockpit with full-color Multi-Function Displays (MFDs). The engine is set to the rear of the fuselage nacelle, the nacelle supporting a single, high-mounted mainplane unit which provides strong lifting principles and control while granting the needed clearance for ground personnel and available underwing munitions. The engine is arranged in a "pusher" configuration at the rear of the aircraft, driving a four- or five-bladed propeller assembly (available imagery has shown both forms) and aspirated by small, slit air intakes found along the fuselage sides. Twin booms emerge from the mainplane trailing edges and support a single horizontal tailplane between two vertical tail fins. The wide track undercarriage is of a tricycle arrangement and fully retractable while designed with the rigors of rough field operation in mind. The lower section of the fuselage, aft of the cockpit, is purposely being developed as a modular area, able to accept a variety of premade, multi-mission "pallets" to quickly change the effective battlefield role of the aircraft on-the-fly.
Wingtips are outfitted with anti-missile flare dispensers with a high gain SATCOM antenna is identified along the fuselage spine at the center of the main wing span. In the aft sections of the aircraft are internal antennas, a Laser Warning Receiver (LWR) and Radar Warning Receiver (RWR). The frontal portions of the booms contain FLIR and an Enhanced Vision System (EVS) as well as additional antenna. The nose cone internally mounts another RWR. The dorsal multi-mission pod can showcase FLIRball, ELINT, radar, COMMINT and cameras. Compact sensory equipment is housed in small side sponsons for added situational awareness. Along the portside of the nose assembly is a housing for the optional 20mm or 30mm fuselage cannon. Each wing can support two or three underwing hardpoints for the carrying of rocket pods or guided/homing missiles.
The light strike market is a resurging one with many similar-minded vehicle types being put forth by several manufactures including Boeing, Beechcraft, Embraer and Textron AirLand. The AHRLAC intends to fulfill this same role as a direct competitor though at lower procurement cost. Compared to its contemporaries, the ARHLAC showcases a lighter operating weight and simpler design which, in turn, reduce procurement and operating costs considerably. Its weight, coupled with its design and engine installation, provide the AHRLAC with good maneuverability and strong missions support, allowing flyers to loiter over hot zones with the necessary munitions at hand. Short Take-Off and Landings (STOLs) are an inherent quality of the AHRLAC, broadening its tactical value in-the-field.
Beyond its assumed light strike role, the AHRLAC is also being developed with other roles in mind - namely border control and enforcement, humanitarian relief support, national security, maritime patrol and environmental protection. For this, the modular payload function comes into play, allowing for a quick turn-around when generating a whole new aircraft for a new required mission role. Premade packages include unarmed/armed patrol and reconnaissance, training, cargo transport and, of course, light attack.
Specifications for the AHRLAC currently state a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 3,800 kilograms. Maximum speed will reach the vicinity of 315 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 31,000 feet and ferry range out to 2,300 miles. Power is being served through 1 x Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66B series turboprop engine developing 950 horsepower.
During the span of May 17th to May 19th, the AHRLAC prototype was moved to its new testing location at Wonderboom Airfield north of Johannesburg to begin its initial round of flights. This assumes an operational readiness year of about 2015 or 2016.