SA's Paramount announces military aircraft orders

STORY: At a hanger in Pretoria the construction of the Mwari is underway.

It's South Africa's first military aircraft to be designed and built in the country in nearly two decades.

And according to its manufacturer Paramount Aerospace Industries, it's in demand.

The company announced on Wednesday (September 21) that it's received orders for nine of the aircraft.

Chief executive Mike Levy:

"It's an aircraft that is purposely designed for surveillance, reconnaissance and light attack and we’re especially excited because we’re at the phase of production now and the aircraft that you see behind me with all the people working so feverishly is being prepared for delivery late this week."

The defense sector once played a major role in South Africa's economy - a legacy of the Apartheid regime's need to produce locally due to embargoes.

More recently, however, it has suffered from a global squeeze on defense spending and a weak home market.

The Rooivalk, an attack helicopter developed by state-owned Denel in the 1980s, was the last military aircraft designed and manufactured in South Africa.

It never reached large scale production and manufacturing ended in the early 2000s.

Development of the Mwari began in 2010.

Paramount said its orders had come from two customers, who it declined to name.

“...and that effectively gives us work for the next two years and time enough to be able to find the next customers which we’re sure are out there.”

Paramount said it was targeting sales to military clients in developing countries in Africa and Asia.

It markets the Mwari as a relatively inexpensive alternative to pricy, high maintenance military aircraft for surveillance, maritime patrol and counter-insurgency operations.

A base model costs around $10 million, with optional add-ons such as high-tech optical pods, electronic intelligence gathering and night vision.

To date Paramount has invested around 750 million rand, or $42 million, in the aircraft's development.