in Defence / Features

Icarus-X Caravan set to take off in east Africa

Posted 9 March 2020 · Add Comment

Belgium’s H3 Defence Solutions was showing off its Cessna 208 Caravan demonstrator – dubbed Icarus-X – at the Dubai Airshow in mid-November. Alan Warnes explains why the aircraft is very much a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Civilian-registered, the Icarus-X has what looks like a cargo pod underneath to house radar and other electronic systems. However, the hard point could give it away.
There is a capability of having four, but these can be taken off and the electro optical/infrared (EO/IR) turret lowers up and down into the aircraft on a gimbal when required.
It’s a “jack of all trades aircraft”, according to Ralph de Gier, H3 Solutions CEO. “It is basically a Cessna Caravan with a full reconnaissance sensor suite on it to cover the three domains – sensor, radar and radio frequency (RF) systems like signals intelligence (SIGINT), communications intelligence (COMINT), or even active electronic warfare (EW) systems like jammers.”
There is also a combat capability with four separate seven-tube launchers mounted on the hard points and any combination of unguided and guided rockets.
De Gier continued: “The military use the latter for precision but they are 20 times as expensive as unguided; if you just want to scare off people, or fire into a group of militants, unguided will do fine.”
For the launch customer in east Africa, de Gier has integrated the Thales laser-guided rocket (LGR) but he stressed: “We are free to integrate any system for a customer, as long as it stays out of international traffic in arms regulations (ITAR).”
While de Gier, who writes the software for the mission system, is proposing Thales rockets, anything from there on is a customer preference. FN Herstal machine gun pods and Nextar 20mm cannons, as well as guided and unguided bombs, are all possibilities.
“It’s a fully integrated system so all the sensors work together and the pilot and operator can use a Thales Avionics Scorpion clip-on helmet-mounted display (HMD) for cueing and operating the weapons.”
Test-firing of the strike capabilities cannot be done in Belgium, so that will happen in east Africa in March. He declined to say which country was involved.
“It is a complete programme, but the customer wants to fully understand the aircraft’s capabilities,” he explained.
The first aircraft was due to be delivered as African Aerospace was going to press. There will be another in mid-2020 and a third, possibly by the end of the year.
“The one in mid-2020 is expected to be fully armed; this capability is currently in the last phase of its development and we hope to present the aircraft at Farnborough,” said the CEO.
A closer inspection shows the Cessna 208 has a retractable Hensfoldt Argos IIHD EO/IR system, which the launch customer has acquired. It could easily be a L3 Wescam CMX-15, or CMX-20, which are ITAR-free.
Two rocket launchers and two machine gun pods can be mounted on the wing’s four hard points. The pilot, wearing the Scorpion HMD, has the ability to fire the weapons.
For guided rockets, the sensor operator in the rear can slew the EO/IR turret on to the target and send the imagery to the pilot, who can watch it on the middle Garmin display before firing.
For maritime patrol operations, the Seaspray 7300 or 7500 radars are the main options but de Gier is open to integrating any other systems.  

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