Egypt hopes US cropdusters can be new COIN weapon

Georg Mader


Image: Georg Mader

Egypt is in talks with the US for the purchase of up to 12 IOMAX Archangel counterinsurgency aircraft

If the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) is approved, the aircraft are likely to be used for border patrol runs in the northern Sinai region alongside its fleet of IOMAX Air Tractor AT-802s.

The ‘Archangel’ – one of the latest additions to the world of counterinsurgency (COIN) aircraft – shares the distinctive ‘humpbacked’ appearance of the AT-802, having been developed around similar cropduster airframes.

IOMAX chief technology officer Jim Toole told Defence IQ that the Archangel offers a persistent ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capability in a platform that has the ability to engage targets with precision.

“Traditionally these capabilities would require two dedicated types, one for ISR and one for attack. Archangel can perform both roles effectively and at an operating cost of around $1,000 per hour, so the aircraft is extremely cost effective,” Toole said.

“Its rugged agricultural origins mean that it can operate fully loaded from short, rough strips, while its design keeps sensors and key systems away from potential foreign object damage. On top of that it can be quickly disassembled for ferrying by various transport aircraft.”


Archangel can be fitted with a wide array of precision weapons, including laser-guided bombs and rockets, while a plug-and-play integrated mission system allows it to carry virtually any store, weapon or system that uses a 14-inch Nato-standard lug spacing.

The cockpit, developed by Canada-based CMC Estelrine, integrates the weapon-system around a new computer and interface yet retains the electronics and communications familiar to ATR-802 operators.

Some versions of the aircraft have also been re-engineered for stealth, with composite blades from Germany’s MT-Propellers reducing the low-fly acoustic signature. 

International air forces are increasingly interested in light attack aircraft such as the Archangel, Embraer A-29, Textron AT-6, Beechcraft T-6 Texan II and Paramount Group’s Mwari. The US Air Force is undertaking a competitive demonstration this summer ahead of a possible purchase of a small fleet for use in training and low-end missions.

IOMAX CEO Ron Howard said the basic idea behind these aircraft is to ensure low-cost, high-capability assets for COIN operations.

“The general concept behind them is that despite being much cheaper to procure and operate, they can deploy many of the same precision-guided air-to-ground bombs and missiles that the much more expensive multirole fighter jets do,” he said.


Image: Georg Mader

“Those savings can be channelled towards higher sortie rates when it comes to engaging non-state actors, who are generally dispersed, well-embedded and fast-moving. With the Archangels sensors and PG-ordnance, it‘s easy to stay at 20,000-25,000 feet – well above the kinetic threat presented by insurgents with little to no anti-air capability.”

Both the Archangel and AT-802 were previously acquired by the UAE and used for engagements in Yemen and Eastern Libya. 12 AT-802s were transferred to Egypt and six to Jordan. 24 of the Archangels are in service with the UAE Special Forces and another 24 are expected to be inducted.

According to Howard, Jordan is also considering acquisition of the Archangel at a later date.

As reported by TIME, the use of American military equipment in Libya’s civil war has generated controversy because a United Nations embargo remains in place. The UAE has been using them against US- and UN-backed government forces and there is a fear that Egypt may do the same if the FMS is agreed.

Edited by Richard de Silva

The full interview with IOMAX can be read in the latest issue of Defence Industry Bulletin, available now.