So the United States Air Force and Navy, have realised they need a non gas sucking, supersonic, limited endurance combat aircraft... oh and one that needs an onboard pilot.
There are many off the shelf "commercial" aircraft that can fit this LAAR (Light Attack and Armed Reconnaissance) requirement. The best are the Tucano and the AT-6. They are both the same basically the Ford and Dodge pickups of the industry. I like both.
What I don't like is the need for the USAF to seemingly flail around for a mission for this aircraft. The Sept 14th, article on the possible arming of the AT-6 with the 25mm cannon is a point in this direction. I have been in the 1980s involed in the arming of commercial off the self (COTS) aircraft with COTS armaments (yes they do exist, you just need a license or be a government).
The LAAR mission was originally designed in 1917 WWI by the Germans, and perfected by the Russians in WWII, as far as the United States, the A-1 Skyraider was the last great ground attack aircraft, with the A-10 a close second, but hidden behind these last two greats, are the two previous COIN, now LAAR aircraft, the T-28 Trojan, and the OV-10 Bonco. The T-28 fits the LAAR requirement closest as it started as a trainer and was used to fill a need, Operation Against Insurgents/Light forces In A Air Opposition Free Zone.
That said, the T-28 used FN gun pods, bought from FN, Belgian at the time. These pods with various a sundry machine guns up to 20mm Vulcan were tested on 'my' aircraft successfully. This raises the Question to me why are the USAF not just moving forward, with this project?
Oh and missions:
We actually need this cheap aircraft which if the USAF can think straight, could be fielded within 18 months, with little or no effort.
Think about it.
I was lucky enough to fly the T-6C just ahead of the Farnborough air show and do a simulated bombing run, on Glastonbury Tor of all places!
I'm not a pilot, but could definitely get the point of why you could want to arm an aircraft like this for the LAAR mission: in an exercise they flew 24 sorties and used less fuel than one F-16 flight: http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2010/07/24/344813/farnborough-hawker-beechcraft-confident-of-at-6-sales.html
This type of aircraft certainly won't suit everyone, but for those with a lot of budget (like the USAF) and those with very little (say the Afghan air force) it could certainly do a worthwhile job. So long as there are no hostile fast movers around, that is!
I have been thinking on the fast jet problem and remember a neighbor in the neighborhood I grew up in seeing my new Lindberg model Me-262. he then went on to tell myself and his son about his encounter "air battle" with a 262.
He was and observer in a L-4 "Piper" Cub in the winter of 1944/45, they were chugging along at about eighty miles per hour (130kph), when the ground exploded below them and then the Cub rolled as the new jet roared by having missed the first pass. His pilot, righted the plane and turned to follow the jet flying about 6 times faster. They continued to turn keeping their nose constantly toward the much faster fighter. the Me-262 never got a chance to line up, and flew away after what me friend's father said seened like forever. The squadron commander never did believe their report.
That said, in a radar evironment such an escape might be difficult. that shiny disk up front makes a great doppler reflection, but then again counter measures have come just as far from the winter of 1944. If you can see a fast mover, on radar warning, infraredd sensors, or AWACS, you can take action.
Honestly, the A-1s and Jolly Greens flew in incredibly hostile evironments (to the front door of Hanoi) some were lost, most were not, but that is war. There is a place an important place for "light" forces in this age of war. Do everything craft have there place, but $40-80 million aircraft are not always the answer. For reference read about the A-10 and General Schwarzkopf; It is a humorous informative story of the customer (Army) dictating against supplier (USAF) recommendations.
Think About It
In the 26 October 2010, article Steve Trimble runs down the list of requirements and problems for the highly specialised LAAR/COIN aircraft. One of the points he brings up is that this is a Close Support Aircraft, something the USAF never seems to want.
Brief history... the USAF wanted to kill the A-10 in 1989, and replace it with the AF-16, In 1990, the US Army, told the USAF were sending AF-16's to the first Gulf War, told them in No Uncertain Terms send the A-10s or give them to the Army to use. the USAF sent the A-10s. Now they do not want to create anything more than a training unit to "Study" the problem. Basicly they want to kill the program in the bud.
Notice meanwhile.... the US Navy whats to lease a few Tucanos to use in the Afgan. Read that as Marine close support.
Once again a couple of points:
1. Survivability: We (the alied forces) are flying around in HELICOPTERS. These including the Apache are slow and low and vulnerable. What is fired at them will be fired at the LAAR. This is a risk that all aircraft face, but the risk needs to be out weighed by the utility of an aircraft that con loiter for several hours in the area, then fly a short distance back to a FARP, with a dirt strip. Not a 5000 foot runway.
1a. Pilot Protection: This is basically pilot and engine armour. self sealing tanks are a given. The Kevlar armour of the Tucano is the best solution, it is add-on, it is flexible and relativly light, reinfoced by ceramic plates. If weight is a problem put in a larger PT-6. most of them fit in the same envolope regardless of HP. (I know this is simplification but putting guns on an existing airframe is not rocket science, see the Ayers Vigilante/armed Turbo Thrush Coin aircraft. (look it up in the Flight Archives 5 August 1989) or the current Armed Black Hawk)
Bottom line here is the USAF doesn't want this dispite the goodness to the Army. So the Ball is in the Army's Court, If they want close support THEY will have to force it.
Think about it,