AT-6 may prosper in Iraq draw-down

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Hawker Beechcraft boosts marketing as coalition exit strategy could see Iraqi pilots trained for light attack work

Hawker Beechcraft has stepped up marketing of its AT-6 light combat aircraft in anticipation of a request for counterinsurgency aircraft as US and coalition partners consider force reductions in Iraq. The company has flown more than 60 demonstration flights since September in a T-6B trainer with simulated AT-6 weapons carrying capability.

"We want to be involved in providing capacity for the US to help the coalition effort contribute to the exit strategy in Iraq," says Derek Hess, AT-6 programme manager for Hawker Beechcraft. Hess says military officials are working on a plan to build up Iraqi counterinsurgency capabilities, including light combat aircraft able to engage "small moving targets and hardened facilities" as well as conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. The idea would be to free up US and coalition air assets and manpower by training Iraqi pilots for light-attack work using the relatively low-cost AT-6. He expects as many as 20 of the $8-10 million aircraft to be needed by 2009, rising to 50 aircraft, enough for three squadrons. The AT-6 is a derivative of the T-6 turboprop trainer.

Weapons will be carried on six hardpoints under the wing, with an ISR sensor carried on the belly. Hess says a typical combat load will be two 250lb (113kg) laser-guided bombs, two to four Hellfire missiles and two external tanks that boost fuel capacity to 7,600 litres (2,000USgal), enough for a loiter time of 4.5h. The Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68-powered aircraft can also carry 0.50 calibre machine guns on the wing. The engine will be limited to 1,250shp (933kW), rather than its maximum of 1,600shp, to extend overhaul intervals and reduce maintenance costs.

Hess says AT-6 direct operating costs, including fuel, maintenance, overhaul set-asides and spare parts, will be about $450/h, a fraction of the cost of fighter aircraft used to perform similar tasks today.

The AT-6 will include a CMC Electronics mission computer,L-3 Wescam MX-15 ISR sensor with laser designator, AAR-47 missile warning receiver and ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser. The aircraft will include pilot and engine armour.

Hawker Beechcraft is building 60 T-6As a year for the US Air Force and Navy under the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System contract, but has the capacity to produce 96 a year at its plant in Wichita, says Hess. The company is halfway through the JPATS programme, having delivered 425 aircraft. The navy plans to buy 283 T-6Bs, with glass cockpits, starting in 2009.