Making its world debut at the Paris air show is the Iomax Archangel, an armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft based on a Thrush 710P agricultural aircraft.

Iomax is a closely held and secretive company, founded by CEO Ron Howard, a former aviator with the U.S. Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Air Regiment, and it previously supplied electronic equipment to private and government clients, Howard said earlier this year in a magazine interview.

Howard says the company already has orders for 24 Archangel conversions from the United Arab Emirates and is negotiating for contracts in Jordan and Libya. The UAE, interestingly, already has taken delivery of the armed AirTractor AT-802U, Iomax’s closest rival.

Like the AirTractor AT-802, the Thrush 710P is one of the biggest agricultural aircraft on the market, with a 54 ft. wing span and a 1,300 shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-65AG. In fact, the power, speed envelope, taildragger gear and typical operating weights would not be too unfamiliar to a Junkers Ju 87 pilot.

Iomax modifies the aircraft with a two-seat cockpit, six-weapon hardpoints and an L-3 Wescam MX-15Di imaging and targeting turret on a centerline pylon. The MX-15Di incorporates infrared, color and mono daylight cameras and a laser designator, and the Archangel is designed to carry laser-guided bombs, Hellfire missiles and any of the emerging class of laser-guided rockets.

The aircraft is fitted with an Esterline CMC Electronics Cockpit 4000 glass-cockpit avionics suite, already in use on a number of jet trainers, with three 5x7 in. multifunction displays in the front cockpit and one in the rear cockpit, based around a mission computer that manages and integrates sensors and radios.

Iomax claims that the Archangel costs one-third as much as competing systems – referring to Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano and the Beechcraft AT-6 – but that its 5,000 lb. maximum payload and 9 hr. endurance are superior by a factor of three to four.

However, it’s also slower, has a bigger wing, and lacks high-speed trainer features such as pressurization and ejection seats.

The market focus is on border patrol in a permissive environment where there is no anti-air threat.

One certainty is that anyone looking for an armed reconnaissance aircraft today is going to be spoiled for choice. Not only are the Air Tractor and Iomax aircraft competing with the Tucano and Texan, but South Africa’s Paramount – which just completed the acquisition of Advanced Technology and Engineering Company Ltd., a major helicopter upgrade house – is persisting with its Advanced High Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (Ahrlac) project for an AT-6-sized, single-PT6 aircraft designed from the ground up for armed reconnaissance. First flight is now expected later in 2013.

Moreover, the U.S. Navy is conducting its Combat Dragon II demonstration with a pair of veteran Boeing (originally North American) OV-10Gs, fitted with new sensor turrets and big-screen cockpit displays, and designed around laser-guided rocket armament.