DN - Defence Notes

Paris Air Show: Kenya close to ‘Longsword’ contract

23rd June 2017 - 02:06 GMT | by Grant Turnbull in Paris

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L3 Technologies expects to receive a contract to supply 12 new AT-802L ‘Longsword’ light-attack aircraft to Kenya later this year, after an FMS case was approved in January.

According to officials speaking to Shephard, the firmed up government-to-government contract will then be followed by weapon release trials supported by the US Air Force for military qualifications.

Joseph Siniscalchi, senior vice president, business development at L3 Aerospace Systems, told Shephard that the company will work with the USAF’s Seek Eagle office to qualify weapons on the platform in line with the first customer contract expected ‘in the fall’.

‘We have some [potential orders] that are pending that we expect will be done soon,’ he said.

Siniscalchi said that there were ‘several’ other potential orders being discussed right now, including in the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and South America.

The aircraft will also take part in the US Air Force’s OA-X trials, which will see the service trial several aircraft that could eventually lead to the acquisition of a fleet of low-cost, light-attack aircraft.

In January it was announced that the US State Department had approved a $418 million FMS deal for 12 AT-802Ls to Kenya, which are planned to supplement the country’s ageing, and increasingly expensive to operate, F-5 fighter fleet.

The sale has proved controversial, however, with at least one US lawmaker calling for an investigation into the FMS case over ‘irregularities’. Unsurprisingly, the lawmaker in question represents the state where the IOMAX Archangel is built, an aircraft sold to the UAE and very similar to the Longsword.

‘The US Air Force and US government did not have any dealings in the selection process, so therefore the statement that we misrepresented the capability really had no basis in fact,’ said Siniscalchi.

The Longsword aircraft is an Air Tractor AT-802 cropduster at heart, but has been heavily-modified to perform ISR and strike missions.

Development of the aircraft has been led by L3’s Aerospace Systems along with Air Tractor for supply of the aircraft. Integration work is carried out by L3’s Platform Integration division in Waco, Texas.

Four aircraft have already been sold and delivered to Jordan in a non-weaponised ISR configuration under a foreign military sales contract.

‘We chose this aircraft for its ease of maintenance and its ability to operate in harsh environment,’ said Jim Wise, business development at L3 Platform Integration. ‘And it’s the largest aircraft in its class…it can carry a lot of stuff.’

The aircraft is 16,000lb and has four weapon hard points per wing, with the aircraft at the Paris Air Show displaying a loadout consisting of Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveways, machine gun pods, 2.75” rocket pods and Mk82 unguided bombs on the centreline.

L3 has already completed drop trials with the GBU-12 Paveway and Mk82 general-purpose bomb last summer.

‘Even with that bomb load, we can get three hours out of the aircraft which is similar to a Super Tucano with a much smaller weapons load,’ Wise explained. ‘As far as that persistence, we’ll still be there as [our competitors] are going home for gas.’

In addition, the aircraft has a MX-15 EO/IR sensor, a comprehensive communications suite, an integrated mission operator station with L3 ForceX Widow mission management system and the Thales-developed Scorpion HMD.

Longsword also comes with stronger wings, self-sealing fuel tanks, armoured cockpit and armoured fuel lines.

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