The pending US Air Force competition for a light-weight ground-attack aircraft has been widely publicized. The US is expected to formally announce the OA-X competition this summer. The winner of this competition could very well be the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. Or could it?
Yes, the famed and feared Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt will continue to cause hazards to forces opposing the US for a few more years. However, unsure about exactly how many more years and if the Lockheed Martin F-35 will be able to fill the Thunderbolt’s shoes when it finally leaves, the US Air Force is looking at its ground attack capabilities. And the conclusion is that a small and flexible aircraft is needed.
That aircraft may very well be the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. This Brazilian turboprop was designed in Brazil but is currenty also license-built in the US by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). As part of a contract awarded in February 2013, these aircraft are adding a ground attack capability to the Afghan Air Force. Pilots from Afghanistan learn to fly the A-29 with the US Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
Given this experience, the A-29 is likely candidate to enter in the OA-X competition. But ideal enough to actually win? The US-designed and produced Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine may fit the bill just as well. And how about an armed Textron AirLand Scorpion Jet?
Plus, let’s not forget there’s another competition running right now, and it’s called T-X. The candidates in that competition may also offer the flexibility the US is looking for. An armed version over Lockheed Martin’s and Korea Aerospace Industries’ T-50 trainer already exists, and its called FA-50. Meanwhile, Leonardo in Italy is already busy developing the M-346FT Fighter Trainer, an armed version of the M-346 Master.
Obviously, the winner of OA-X competition won’t be announced for some years. But it’s just as obvious that upon closer inspection, there are a lot more likely candidates than just the A-29.
The first four Embraer A-29B Super Tucano light attack aircaft for the Afghan Air Force arrived in Kabul this weekend, Afghan defense officials have said. The delivery follows last month’s graduation of the first class of Afghan pilots for the type.
The Afghan Air Force had its first class of eight pilots graduate on 17 December 2015 on its new primary combat aircraft: the Embraer A-29B Super Tucano. They were trained on Moody Air Force Base in the United States by staff of the 81st Fighter Squadron.
In March this year the then student pilots made their first real-life sorties on board the A-29 in the skies of the state of Georgia, a month after classroom training started and two months after the 81st FS was reactivated just for the Afghan Air Force Super Tucano – of which 20 were bought by Washington to equip the Asian country with some sort of fixed-wing air combat element.
Al-Quada hide-outs in Afghanistan
The White House and Capitol Hill apparently felt an obligation to rebuild the nation’s military after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in reaction to terror airplane attacks in Washington and New York City that destroyed NYC’s World Trade Center and parts of the Pentagon in DC. When the Osama bin Laden led al-Qaeda organisation claimed responsibility the American military went after their hide-outs in Afghanistan and took on the destabilizing Taliban forces in that country as well.
Granted the US for Afghan deal in February 2013 through the US based Sierra Nevada Corporation, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer set up store at Jacksonville in Florida to let US personnel assemble the so-called Light Air Support Aircraft (LAS) in a 40,000 square foot hangar.
The A-29 Super Tucano will form the backbone of the Afghan Air Force combat element, giving the Afghans something quicker and more versatile to field than the Mil Mi-35 helicopters it is replacing. Training in January started on three machines only, with only a few USAF Airmen. Now that the first eight students have graduated, the 81st FS will continue to train 20 more pilots over the next three years.
The training program made headlines in December when two Afghan military personnel failed to show up for work while in the US. The two have been missing since 8 December and when found, will be deported back to Afghanistan, US authorities say.
Shipped to Afghanistan the first A-29s will take up the fight when the Mi-35s are retired in January 2016. This seems all rather quick-quick and it is. In fact, US Air Force Major-General James Hecker, the commander of the 81st Fighter Squadron’s 19th Air Force, acknowledges the Afghan pilots and their American instructors “had to push it” since pilot training on a new aircraft type normally takes two to three years. The Afghan Air Force A-29 pilots had to be ready in 11 months.
Low-cost close-air support
The A-29 is currently considered to be the world’s best low-cost CAS/COIN aircraft, with an operational cost of about 1,000 to 3,000 US dollar per flying hour – use of weapons not included. For a normal attack or fighter aircraft the prize per hour is at least US$ 18,000.
Largest A-29 customer
Embraer so far delivered around 190 EMB 314/A-29 Super Tucanos of at least 230 aircraft ordered. Largest customer is the Brazilian Air Force, having received 33 A-29A single-seaters and 66 A-29B two-seaters between 2003 and 2012, with so far four aircraft lost in accidents. Worldwide the fleet has logged more than 180,000 flight hours and 28,000 combat hours.
Ghana is to order four additional Embraer A-29 Super Tucano light attack, counter-insurgency and training aircraft from Brazil, according to Ghanaian Air Force’s Air Vice Marshal Michael Samon-Oje. More new aircraft are on their way.
The high-ranking officers confirmed on Accra Airbase this week that its country will gain a second batch of the Super Tucanos, following a 2015 order for five A-29s, and that negotiations with Brazil are ongoing.
Third Ghana Airbus C295
As we reported earlier Ghana is upgrading its military. Apart from the five Harbin Z-9EH helicopters received in October this year, a third Airbus C295 tactical airlifter is soon expected. Six additional Mil Mi-17 tactical transport helicopters are on order in Russia, to complement the current seven “Hips”.
After the four remaining Aermacchi MB-339 aircraft were placed in storage in 2014, the Ghanaian Air Force has no fixed-wing combat element until the entry into service in 2016 of the first five Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos.
The US State Department has approved a possible sale of six A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Lebanon, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in Washington announced on 9 June. The aircraft would support Lebanon in holding off Islamic State (IS) at the eastern border with Syria.
The proposed sale includes associated equipment, parts and logistical support for an estimated cost of 462 million USD. According to the DCSA, the sale of the Super Tucanos ‘will provide Lebanon with a much needed Close Air Support (CAS) platform to meet present and future challenges posed by internal and border security threats’.
The Super Tucano was originally developed by Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer. Prime contractor in the US is Sierra Nevada Corporation, which builds the type in Jacksonville, Florida. Super Tucanos are currently being built for the Afghan Air Force. Other contractors are BAE Systems and Pratt & Whitney.