Jordan is to arm the six IOMAX Border Patrol Aircraft (BPA) Block 1 precision strike turboprop aircraft that were gifted to the country by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2013, a senior company official has confirmed to IHS Jane's .
This new capability will allow the BPA aircraft to carry six GBU-58 250 lb precision-guided bombs and/or six AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. Additionally, precision strike weapons training will begin immediately for the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF). The intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)/weapons training and weapons integration will be completed with operational employment of the platforms to occur by the end of the third quarter of 2014.
When the Block I IOMAX aircraft were first donated to Jordan by the UAE in the latter half of 2013, they were handed over in an unarmed configuration to be used purely for ISR duties. However, with all six aircraft now operational with the RJAF, the US government has approved IOMAX to proceed with weaponising these platforms.
As configured for the RJAF, the IOMAX BPA uses an AT-802 platform fitted with six underwing hardpoints for weapons, and a centreline pylon for an electro-optical/infrared sensor turret.
Once armed, the six BPAs will join the RJAF's two Airbus CN235-100M gunships, and six Cessna C208B Grand Caravan turboprop command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) platforms (and which may have also been armed with Hellfire missiles), in constituting one of the most potent border protection capabilities in the entire Middle East. The RJAF recently announced its intention to convert one of its Airbus C295 tactical transport aircraft into a gunship also.
While the Jordanian aircraft will not be equipped with a gun at this time, IOMAX plans to integrate the GAU-19B 12.7 mm (.50 calibre) Gatling gun pod onto the Block III aircraft currently being developed for the UAE and other potential export customers; dubbed Archangel. The gun is being supported in the UAE by a number of former US Air Force Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots who are now advising the UAE government.
According to Dan Franco, vice president Airborne ISR/Weapons at IOMAX, while there are no technological or hardware issues with integrating a gun, the company is working closely with the UAE to develop concept of operations (CONOPS), which are suited towards successful employment of the weapon. The Archangel was originally conceived to be a stand-off platform, employing its weapons and sensors from well outside the range of ground fire, and this is at odds with the use of a gun that by its nature must bring the aircraft in close to the target.
Despite the issues surrounding the altered CONOPS and the structural changes to the aircraft for the ejection-seats, Franco said that the company is on board with the requirement for a gun, and that it actually sees it opening up a whole new raft of mission sets for the Archangel.
"The gun will be especially useful in engaging unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as strafing ground targets," he said. As well as adding a gun, IOMAX has also successfully tested the Archangel's employment of the GBU-58 PGM against maritime targets; a particular requirement for the UAE given the threat posed by Iranian fast inshore attack craft.
In-line with its original requirement to stay high and offset from the target, the Archangel is not fitted with ejection seats for the two crew members (instead, they are accommodated in crash resistant seating with airbag-fitted restraints). Although this has proven to be satisfactory for the current crop of Block I and Block 2 customers, IOMAX has been in discussions with Martin-Baker with regard to fitting ejection-seats in the Block 3 Archangel. This will require some remodelling of the cockpit and the fitting of a bubble canopy, and while the UAE has requested ejection-seats as an option for the Block 3, it is also considering the bubble canopy option to enhance crew visibility.
IHS Jane's understands that as well as donating six of its original 24 (10 Block 1 and 14 Block 2) Border Patrol aircraft to Jordan, the UAE is still operating 14 BPAs and intends to increase its fleet to 38 aircraft by 2016.
First unveiled at the Paris Airshow in 2013, the prototype Block 3 Archangel Border Patrol Aircraft (BPA) is based on the Thrush S2R-660 (also designated the 710), as opposed to the Air Tractor 802 aircraft. IOMAX chose to make this change as Thrush provides greater access to the production line in order to modify the aircraft as the build progressed, and there were also some benefits in terms of top-end performance. The Air Tractor and Thrush-derived aircraft are physically almost identical as both aircraft same a common heritage from an agricultural aircraft designed by Leland Snow in the 1950s.
While the UAE's Dassault Mirage 2000-9 and Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Block 60 Desert Falcon combat jets are superbly suited to top-end air defence and strike missions, the ISR and attack mission set of the BPA requires a platform that has long legs and the ability to carry an inordinate weight and variety of weaponry.
Given that defence procurement in general, and defence aviation in particular, can often be as much about buying the latest shiny new toy as about buying the right tool for the job, the UAE's decision to adopt the brutish and 'agricultural' aircraft for this mission speaks volumes for Minister of Defence Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's desire to see the country's armed forces at the forefront of regional military capability.
While still only a relatively small service with just 4,000 personnel, the UAE Air Force & Air Defence (UAE AF & AD) has enjoyed significant upgrading over recent years and now boasts a whole raft of enhanced capabilities. These upgrades have been as much about seeing the UAE take on a greater role in international operations as they have been about improving domestic capabilities, and the Border Patrol Precision Strike Aircraft concept has been central to this.
In 2011 the UAE, along with Qatar, joined the international community in the NATO-directed Operation 'Unified Protector' mission over Libya. While the UAE AF & AD is known to have contributed F-16 and Mirage 2000-9 combat aircraft to that mission, IHS Jane's understands that IOMAX BPAs may also have been heavily involved in flying combat missions against Colonel Gadaffi's forces.
Given that the medium altitude, precision strike capability fielded so far by the UAE AF & AD have proven to be so effective, it would make perfect sense for the Emiratis to build on this success with the latest variant Archangel.
- IOMAX offers Archangel light attack turboprop to the Philippines
- IOMAX Archangel: 2013 Paris Airshow