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The COIN Aircraft Comeback

by Ward Carroll on May 8, 2007

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The Iraqi air force in two years will be flying a new fleet of single-engine turboprops as counter-insurgency (COIN) aircraft. See the contract solicitation, posted by the US Air Force, here.

The requirement limits the potential bids to companies that have an aircraft that a) is already in wide use and b) is powered by the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engine.

That narrows the bidders to four that Defense Tech can think of: the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 Texan, the Korean Aerospace KO-1 Wong Bee and the Pilatus PC-9M.

Not to play favorites, but Defense Tech humbly suggests this means there are only two serious candidates: the AT-6 and EMB-314 — with the AT-6 gaining a huge advantage from the “Made in America” sticker stamped on the program’s marketing literature.

But don’t count out the Brazilians with the Super Tucano. Expect the executives in Sao Jose Dos Campos to propose moving the EMB-314 assembly — or opening a second production line — to Florida, if they win the contract.

Keep your eye on this program. This could be the first of many such requirements for a dedicated counter-insurgency aircraft fleet to come down the line, both abroad and in the US.

A reader commented on The Dew Line a few weeks ago:

“The T-6 is a trainer, and attempts by Hawker Beechcraft (or whatever it’s called this week) to remodel it as an armed platform are not convincing. That’s not what it was designed to do.

“Remember, the T-6 is just a Pilatus PC-9 and the original Swiss design is forbidden by law from being armed…anyone with armed PC-9s has made their own, alternative, arrangements. So flying in combat is not in its genes. Attempts by Raytheon to compare the armed T-6 with the F-15 were met with an embarrassed silence at one show I remember, not so long ago.

“The Super Tucano on the other hand was designed to be a combat aircraft from Day 1 thats why it makes a lousy trainer because its so big and heavy. The Brazilians deploy it into Amazon dirt strips to fight drug smugglers, it has guns (not an internal gun pod but two 0.50-cals in the wing), it can carry air-to-air missiles and has a very sophisticated (data linked) cockpit (thank you Elbit). In its class the Super Tucano is probably the aircraft you want to go to war in.”

Also, see my colleague John Croft’s account of his recent experience flying the AT-6 here on FlightGlobal​.com.

I’ll just note that an armed variant of the T-6A is flown by the Hellenic Air Force, but lacks internally mounted guns in favor of a 50-cal pod.

Stephen Trimble

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