My post yesterday has sparked a lively discussion at DefenseTech.org (click here). After reading some of the comments, I think clarifying a few points about what makes a COIN aircraft is in order. So here’s what I think, but feel free to offer your own ideas:
a) Area weapons (ie, 30mm cannon, 105mm howitzer, cluster bombs, etc) are generally bad for counter-insurgency. Precision is very important. Pinpoint rounds (ie, 10lb high-incindiary explosive, 155mm artillery shells) are much preferred to spraying bullets or submunitions. This is one of the big reasons why COIN is different than close air support.
b) Survivability is another must for COIN. IRCM is the only thing you can do about MANPADs. Armoring and flight control system redundancy are the only things you can do about artillery. Speed and tactics are also helpful. This rules out the Caravan, but makes aircraft like AT-6B, AT-37, OV-10, EMB-314, PC-9 and A-67 more appropriate.
c) ISR is most important role for this kind of aircraft, not firepower. It needs to be the eyes and ears and only should use weapons if it finds a high-value target of opportunity in the right circumstances.
d) UAS are probably the ideal weapon but they are not exportable. Because UAS’s technically can be adapted into cruise missiles, the Missile Technology Control Regime bans UAS exports to all but the most staunchest allies (Australia, Italy, UK currently — although Singapore, Japan and Korea may join the list). In any event, UAS’s are still to costly and complicated to operate for most nations with a COIN problem.