Paramount Group, a private SA defence company, and Aerosud, the aerospace technology developer, unveiled a new low-cost aircraft suitable for civilian and military applications today.

The Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (AHRLAC) will sell for less than $10m, Paramount CEO Ivor Ichikowitz said.

The AHRLAC, which was the project's secret name while under development and pronounced "arlack" has been designed for use in search and rescue operations or for patrolling fisheries, borders and anti-poaching operations.

Low-cost aerial reconnaissance is a must in an environment of high fuel prices and defence budgets.

The AHRLAC was designed at the Aerosud innovation centre on the outskirts of Pretoria. The aircraft is able to stay in the air between seven and 10 hours and its ability to carry two pilots gives it an advantage over unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones.

Globally there is a trend towards pilotless flights as it is viewed as cheaper and safer.

"The conventional wisdom is not necessarily true. With AHRLAC we have developed a revolutionary aircraft that will maintain the dominant role of the pilot in civil and military flight," Group managing director of Aerosud Paul Potgieter said.

Pilots are central to "conducting effective air operations," Dr Potgieter said. The AHRLAC is autonomously capable and is able to defend itself against any attacks.

The AHRLAC can carry 20mm cannons and is able to be fitted with other armaments.

Governments in Asia and Western Europe and Eastern Europe have all expressed interest in acquiring the aircraft, Mr Ichikowitz said.

The company will begin taking orders for its pre-order list in the coming weeks, he said. A prototype for the AHRLAC is "well under way," Dr Potgieter said, and production of the first aircraft is expected in the second-half of next year.