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Why the Calidus truly is the light fantastic

Posted 15 April 2019 · Add Comment

The UAE’s Calidus B-250 is bidding to become the next new generation light attack aircraft of choice. Alan Warnes reports.

The Calidus B-250 could potentially attract customers from all over the world because, unlike its rivals – the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano and the Beechcraft T-6B Wolverine ¬– the aircraft should not be regulated by International Traffic in Arms (ITAR) rules. Thus, the US cannot call the shots on who buys it.
At the recent Bahrain International Air Show, one Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) pilot, said, after stepping out of the cockpit simulator: “It is amazing.” When asked why, he said: “Because it’s set up like a fighter’s cockpit.”
Saif Alkaabi, a former UAE Air Force and Air Defence (UAEAF&AD) Mirage 2000-9 pilot, and now the vice president of marketing at Calidus, smiled: “It’s true. Our aircraft is mission-ready. It has not been built as a trainer then converted into a new mission like so many of our rivals. We have built it as a light attack aircraft.”
Calidus acquired Brazilian company, Novaer, to build the B-250 project in 2015. The aircraft
was unveiled to the public at the Dubai Air Show in November 2017.
At first glance, the B-250 looks similar to the Super Tucano, which is not surprising given both aircraft were designed by Novaer’s Joseph Kovacs. But, before the B-250’s designer started his work, he was told by Calidus that the aircraft had to be faster – with an air speed up to 300mph flying straight and level – pull between -3/+7G and have the most advanced technologies on board. It should also have a maximum endurance of 12 hours.
Powered by a 1600shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68 engine with a four-blade Hartzell propeller, the aircraft got its speed and more. According to Alkaabi, it can actually reach 380mph during manoeuvres.
Being pressurised to fly up to 30,000ft means it can get to a high enough altitude to avoid most enemy air defences and man-portable air defences (MANPADS).
The cockpit houses two Martin Baker Mk 16 ejection seats, so the pilot’s safety is assured, and a Rockwell Collins civilian Pro Line Fusion avionics system provides a nice look.
Alkaabi spoke of the importance of the UAEAF&AD in the project: “We are learning from the feedback coming from its operations [in Yemen] and channelling it into the aircraft.
“It relies heavily on a good man-to-machine (MMI) interface in the Mirage 2000-9 and F-16 Block 60, as well as good cooperation with other air forces. So the feedback we have received from the UAE’s Yemen ops and its air warfare centre is invaluable.”
Alkaabi added: “At the moment, current light attack aircraft are only used when the operator has gained air superiority. However, the B-250 will be able to operate during the air superiority phase. We designed the aircraft so the aircrew, working in a g-suit in a pressurised cabin, can work for long periods over the battlefield.”
The B-250 can remain up to eight hours on station.
Alkaabi went on to say: “Another priority is winning the asymmetric war. Defeating militias and terrorists, who are willing to use civilians as shields, is a top priority in the aircraft’s evolution.
“We want to introduce smart inexpensive weapons on to the B-250. There is no point in dropping a $100,000 dollar weapon on a $5,000 vehicle because you would be killing yourself economically. And we don’t want any collateral damage. So we are trying to find good solutions for the aircraft.”
Undoubtedly, the aircraft’s biggest advantage is that it is made from carbon fibre, which means it weighs around 1,000kg less and this can be converted into more avionics, more fuel and armaments.
Its armament load-out is impressive. For example, with four 250lb GBU-58 Paveway II laser-guided bombs, two AIM-9 Sidewinders and a drop tank, the B-250 has a range of 350 miles (560kms), according to Calidus.
Production of the aircraft is expected to take place at Al Ain, home to the new national aerospace park.
Calidus wants to integrate UAE weapons manufactured by the likes of Barij Dynamics (formerly Tawazun Dynamics) and Emirates Systems and Support Services (ESSS).
The latter is a partnership formed in 2014 between the UAE and South Korea’s LiGNex1. An ESSS spokesman said: “The Koreans can help us to integrate weapons, qualify them and change seekers in them.”
At IDEX 2017, ESSS was exhibiting the likes of the Emirates guided bomb – a Mk80 series unguided bomb with a wing/guidance kit, which turns it into a cruise missile using inertial/GPS navigation. The system has a wireless interface connecting the bomb’s fire control unit to the pilot’s knee-pad unit or mission-planning unit. The big advantage is the wireless communications ensure there is no need for any special modification to the aircraft platform.
This LiGNex1 wing kit is already in service with the Republic of Korea Air Force F-15s and F-16s.
Another weapon the partners are working on is the LOGIR imaging infrared precision rocket, which was seen mounted under the wing of one of the B-250s at the 2017 Dubai Air Show (DAS 17).
Providing ESSS with some opposition is Al Barij Dynamics – a partnership forged in 2012 between South Africa’s Denel Dynamics and Tawazun Dynamics, as Al Barij was formerly called. It manufactures the Al-Tariq family of strap-on bomb kit systems, used on Mk81, and Mk82 bombs. They provide the user with all-weather, day or night operational capabilities, utilising GPS/INS guidance.
The system allows for increased targeting accuracy by using a semi-active laser (SAL) seeker or an imaging infrared (IIR) with complete automatic target recognition (ATR) capability.
At DAS 17, Al Barij showcased its latest product, the P3 precision-guided munition, which also uses the WiFi system.
A low-cost, precision-guided kit designed to improve the range and accuracy of the standard Mk81 and Mk82s, it consists of either an inertial navigation system (INS)/global navigation satellite system (GNSS) guidance option or an INS/GNSS SAL seeker version.
P3 has been integrated on a number of platforms and serial production has already begun in the company’s Abu Dhabi facility.
The weapons won’t just be dedicated to the UAE. According to Calidus, they will also include Chinese, European, Russian and US systems to ensure all markets will be catered for.
So far, though, the B-250 is not believed to have dropped any weapons. This might be because the aircraft has a civilian Rockwell Collins Pro-Line Fusion avionics system, which was never developed to work with a stores management system and a military mission computer.
To get around this, Calidus could be integrating a second system to work in parallel. But the question is why is Calidus bothering with Rockwell Collins if such a solution has to be found?
The company has a close working relationship with Rockwell Collins, which has designed the new Firestorm targeting system and will allow the B-250 to move into the digital-close air support (CAS) era.
In the standard package, the system consists of a laser range finder, tactical PC, StrikeHawk video downlink receiver, joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) mobile networked joint fires digital targeting software, associated ancillaries, power management system and hand-held azimuth augmentation unit.
Firestorm has proven to be interoperable with the JSF but will only be offered to ‘certain clients’ said Alkaabi. And the reason for that is simple – it will be bound by ITAR regulations.
But, if this aircraft is to be successful, it has to be ITAR-free, so it can be sold anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the close relationship with Rockwell Collins will prohibit this. The moment a US avionics company modifies its software to accommodate the integration of weapons, the B-250 will fall under the ITAR regulations. Both the A-29 Super Tucano and Beechcraft T-6B light attack aircraft have already fallen under the ITAR jurisdiction.
Surely the purpose of designing aircraft like the B-250 outside of the USA, means it shouldn’t repeat the errors of its competition.
At DAS 17, a L3 Wescam MX-15D EO/IR turret was also fixed on the aircraft. With its advanced video tracker integrated to cater for its close air support, ISR and counter-insurgency needs, it is a great tool. However it, too, falls under the ITAR regulation.
GCC countries are continuing to try and break away from the chains of reliance on the US, which ties them down in ITAR regulations. They know there are enough solutions out there for Calidus to explore to replace the US systems.
Alkaabi said: “We have many countries interested, who are comparing the flexibility and capabilities of the design with other platforms, all at an operating cost of up to $1,200 per hour. And we can provide the customers with what they want.”

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