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Rivals not deterred by USAF shift on turboprop fighters

The US Air Force has downgraded plans for standing up a new light attack and armed reconnaissance (LAAR) fleet, but two major competitors still see huge potential in the long term for a turboprop-powered fighter in US colours.

Lockheed Martin teamed with Hawker Beechcraft a year ago to compete with the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano for a potential 100-aircraft order. The USAF later reduced the size of the programme to 15 aircraft, as the focus shifted from establishing an Irregular Warfare wing to "building partnership capacity".

Both competing teams are waiting for the USAF to issue a request for proposals for the LAAR contract.

Embraer so far is offering the Super Tucano by itself, but is talking with potential US-based partners, says Jairo Sotério, marketing and business development senior manager for defence programmes. The company has leased space in Jacksonville, Florida, but has not decided where to build the Super Tucano if selected for the contract.

The Lockheed/Hawker Beechcraft team, meanwhile, has developed two prototype AT-6B aircraft featuring the mission system derived from Lockheed's A-10C upgrade and using a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68D engine.

As both companies wait for the LAAR competition to start, they are also among the bidders for a USAF deal to supply up to 20 light air support aircraft to the Afghan air force.

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