in Defence / Features

The Paramount picture

Posted 10 August 2018 · Add Comment

Sam Basch takes brief look at South Africa’s Paramount Group, which is headed by Ivor Ichikowitz, a man who seems to have the ability to see opportunities others often overlook and who continuously grows his innovative defence group across the air, land and sea domains.

It is tempting to see in the Paramount Group’s executive chairman and CEO, Ivor Ichikowitz, a chess master pitted against a line of players simultaneously.
In executing a deliberate move here, he leaves the opponent pondering a suitable counter-move, as he purposefully strides over to the next board for yet another, equally calculated attack.
His mind seems adept at analysing and playing a range of activities all at once.
In real life, Ichikowitz does move fast and purposefully in the manner of one who knows where he is heading. His voice and animated gestures tend to strengthen this impression. As a young man, he actually enrolled for drama studies in Johannesburg, which got him into protest theatre before he travelled through Africa and immersed himself in the continent's literature.
Africa is where his roots are – and his heart.
“Behind our innovations, advancements and global success, is an attitude inspired by our African heart – a can-do mind-set that continually challenges the status quo,” Ichikowitz said.
This philosophy is the force still driving the company he established at the dawn of democracy in South Africa in 1994. These were turbulent times, but they provided the spark that ignited a fireball of innovation in aerospace and defence to roll around the world.
An example is the Mwari aircraft that is attracting attention wherever it is shown – about which more in a moment.
Intriguingly, Paramount was initially built with little if any dependence on the domestic market. That is because the focus was on the rest of Africa and, later, further afield. Ichikowitz saw it as his mission to project Africa’s skills and expertise to the rest of the world. “Africa is able to produce world-class products capable of competing with the main defence technologies in the world,” he said.
Today, this global company with more than 3,000 employees, innovating in aerospace, combat systems, maritime and advanced technologies, works with sovereign governments across five continents. Importantly, it has manufacturing operations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
“We’ve built solid relationships and formed valuable partnerships with governments, agencies and defence organisations in more than 30 countries around the world,” he explained.
Paramount claims to be the largest privately owned defence and aerospace business in Africa, with a reputation for developing and delivering integrated solutions for defence, internal security and peacekeeping forces.
According to the company profile, the Paramount Group has an aerospace offering comprising supersonic fighter aircraft solutions, air force establishment, systems integration, avionics, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and sighting and mission sensors. Integrating advanced systems that extend the mission performance and lifespan of fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and unmanned airborne vehicles, is a key competence.
Part of the problem for many African nations has often been a less-than-adequate defence budget to acquire new aircraft, including helicopters and UAVs, military vehicles and naval vessels. Since its foundation years, Paramount has set up funding structures to enable clients to procure traditionally hard-to-finance packages to suit their available resources.
This is one of Paramount Group’s core competencies to this day. Its comprehensive finance capability incorporates a wide range of funding structures compliant with international Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank requirements. This allows for Paramount to create defence solutions that are not only affordable but also best-in-class.
In addition, the group has built significant expertise in aircraft upgrade and modification, maintenance, integration, logistics and training solutions.
This African capability is available to any air force in the world, which extends the service life of aircraft while reducing the high acquisition costs of new equipment.
In recent months, Paramount was able to enhance its pilot training capability through the acquisition of four dual-seater Dassault Mirage F1 fighter aircraft from the French Government. These aircraft will complement Paramount’s Impala/Aermacchi MB-326 jet trainers, previously operated by the South African Air Force (SAAF), at the training academy north of Pretoria, where pilots with basic flying skills are instructed in combat techniques.
Paramount’s experience with the F1 is based on its acquisition of the SAAF’s retired Mirage F1 fleet some years ago, complete with spares stocks, simulators, training aids and other related material.
This gave it full airframe and engine overhaul capability, as well as the ability to upgrade and modernise avionics and mission systems.
With the latest acquisition, Paramount has a platform to introduce supersonic fighter capability to growing air forces, along with full maintenance and ground support, air base overhaul and pilot training.
At the signing of an agreement in April with US-based Draken International for the on-going engineering support of its fleet of Mirage F1M aircraft recently acquired from the Spanish Air Force, Draken International CEO, Jared Isaacman, rated Paramount as “one of the few companies in the world that possesses extensive depth of F1 experience and knowledge”.
While always focused on doing things differently, Paramount has laid the groundwork for innovative manufacturing, which it calls a ‘portable manufacturing’ model. It enables in-country manufacturing, transfer of technology and skills, and the creation of local job opportunities. Examples of this model can be found in Jordan and Kazakhstan, where some of Paramount’s land combat vehicles are manufactured.
Depending on the requirements of the client, this could also result in the rolling out of a defence industrial complex, thus creating significant benefits for the economy.
“We believe that our solutions-focused approach has contributed to our success,” Ichikowitz said. “Many companies manufacture products and then take them to market. Paramount starts by assessing the security and defence challenges faced by the governments and agencies we work with. We then apply our unparalleled knowledge, wealth of experience and vast capabilities to craft world-class solutions to directly address these needs.”
These needs, according to Ichikowitz, include versatile aerospace and defence technology that can support nations in building security, supporting economic growth and providing stability to their citizens, institutions and core industries.
He believes the aerospace and defence industry is an important driver of innovation in any economy, which has positive downstream benefits for sub-suppliers, sub-contractors and services providers.
As Paramount approaches 25 years in business, Ichikowitz continues to instil the original ‘can-do’ mentality into the younger generation of engineers and technicians; in fact, into all employees.
This is found in his philosophy of leveraging aerospace innovation, which got Paramount to start developing a ‘smart’ aircraft – as reported in these pages a year ago. Shown for the first time at the IDEX exhibition in 2017 in Abu Dhabi, Mwari is a weaponised version of Paramount’s advanced high-performance reconnaissance light aircraft (AHRLAC) now produced in a state-of-the-art 15,000sqm factory north of Pretoria.
‘Mwari’ translates as ‘all-seeing being’ in the African Shona language. It is slated as a versatile, low-cost platform with the same intelligence-gathering and precision strike capabilities usually associated with a larger class and significantly more expensive aircraft.
Therefore, it is particularly suited to nations and regions, such as the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, where the constantly evolving threats of extremism, terrorism, insurgency, piracy and asymmetric warfare remain pervasive.
It conforms to what Ichikowitz describes as the need for an “aircraft that can perform multiple mission-types with greater reliability and technological efficiency in challenging environments”.
In an opinion piece entitled ‘Ensuring aerospace innovation meets tomorrow’s challenges’,
he posed two questions. First, how do we better equip governments with the aerospace capabilities needed to tackle such threats when the world is changing so rapidly? And second, how do we ensure that today’s R&D is going to meet challenges of tomorrow, which we cannot yet predict?
Mwari emerged from Paramount’s expansion of the envelope with what it terms revolutionary approaches. “Along with other global innovators, we eradicate the inefficient sub-supply chains and place emphasis on close-coupling the engineering and manufacturing processes; primarily by adopting ground-breaking approaches to prototyping and manufacturing through advanced kinematics, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis, and advanced 3D printing,” he explained.
According to the Aerospace Development Corporation (ADC), in which Paramount holds a stake, the aircraft is a clean-sheet, next-generation design, using the latest CATIA and digital design systems specifically aimed at digital production. This involves all the innovative principles of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ by emphasising the use of rapid digital prototyping, laser additive and 3D printing, and a jig-less manufacturing approach.
For Ichikowitz, the new philosophy “allows for a quicker turnaround time from design to factory floor and an ability to make rapid adjustments to specifications. This swift process allows us to constantly modify aircraft in order to keep pace with external technological and security advancements – without having to re-engineer a complex manufacturing system or rebuild a supply chain.”
An unexpected benefit of digitised R&D and manufacturing is that new centres of engineering excellence can rapidly be developed anywhere. Being Africa-based, Paramount believes it has special insight in defence challenges faced by ‘unpredictable’ regions of the world, thus making it “possible for us to design and manufacture our products anywhere in the world”.
In February, Paramount announced the Bronco II aircraft as another precision-strike command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) aircraft based on its AHRLAC.
Launched by newly created Bronco Combat Systems (BCS) USA, the Bronco II is a purpose-built, sophisticated airborne find/fix/finish/exploit/analyse (F3EA) system. It will be able to operate for extended periods in remote theatres with minimal infrastructure and a small logistics and maintenance footprint.
According to BCS USA, work has started on establishing a manufacturing base that will enable the full production of the airframe and mission systems integration in the US. The ability to industrialise the Bronco II in its totality in the US was made possible by the fact that the aircraft is 100% digitally designed.
The Bronco II operates at a fraction of the procurement and lifecycle cost of an aircraft with similar mission applications and capabilities.
There is more to Paramount than its aerospace business, high-speed naval vessels, armoured vehicles, military optronics, and its communications and electronic systems business.
Ichikowitz deserves credit for taking a keen interest, and investing, in anti-poaching technologies.
With an eye on saving wildlife like rhinos and elephants, especially in South Africa’s Kruger National Park and Gabon Parcs in west Africa, he donated a Gazelle helicopter and K9 unit for the protection of the latter’s precious rainforest elephants.
His Ichikowitz Family Foundation, established in 2010, focuses on developing Africa’s young generation through education programmes, promoting human rights, conservation of the continent’s unique biodiversity and a better understanding of Africa’s modern history.
“It’s become a passion for me and I think, irrespective of our politics today, those of us who have lived through liberation struggles and other conflicts across Africa have an obligation to ensure that we contribute to the continent’s future by preserving its rich history for future generations,” he said.
He also founded the African Oral History Archive, a global effort to record and showcase the continent’s acclaimed or unknown history makers.
The foundation’s philanthropic work is based on intelligent giving, capacity building and, ultimately, helping people and places to help themselves.
Its award-winning #IamConstitution campaign is a nationwide awareness and educational drive to commemorate the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic founding document in 2016.
“Today, the challenges of being a responsible, effective citizen are more diverse, nuanced and complex than in the past,” he said. “Sustaining democracies, strengthening economic competitiveness and meeting local, national and global challenges, demand a broader vision of citizenship for the 21st Century.”
Ichikowitz knows the impact he has made: “From our humble beginnings, Paramount Group is today recognised as a very important player in the global aerospace and defence industry,” he concluded.

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