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Did Libya Show the Need for Light Attack Planes?

by John Reed on November 11, 2011

This is interesting, the high-cost of using some of the world’s most advanced fighter jets in Libya against Gadhafi’s joke of a military has led some NATO allies to consider buying cheap light attack planes similar to the ones the United States wanted to buy to fight insurgencies.

NATO’s chief targeteer for the Libyan campaign recently said that it simply cost too much money to deploy cutting edge jets like the Eurofighter Typhoon and France’s Rafale for long periods of time against an enemy that had almost no hope shooting them down.  In other words, the fancy jets can be overkill, even in campaigns against other nations.

Per Aviation Week:

“We need to think about the need for the future for a low-cost platform to be able to do our job, if required, in a permissive environment,” argues Brig. Gen. Silvano Frigerio, deputy chief of air and space plans in the Italian air force and chief of the targeting directorate for NATO’s Libya operations.

“If we don’t have a composite fleet with very high technology and maybe lesser technology aircraft, how can we manage to fly thousands and thousands of flying hours on a joint operation area looking for one armored vehicle with the sophisticated aircraft we will have in the future? Maybe we can’t afford to stay there for such a long time,” he says. During the Libya operations, allies were worried about the cost of the duration of the conflict, he tells the International Quality and Productivity Center’s annual International Fighter Conference here.

This is pretty much the same argument the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Special Operations Command have all made when asking Congress for cash to buy light turboprop attack and ISR planes that can be used to provide air support to ground troops fighting insurgents in places were the U.S. owns the skies.

However, the Pentagon’s quest to field turboprop attack planes seems almost dead. This month, the Air Force was supposed to settle on about 20 light attack planes — either the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 (shown above) or Embraer’s Super Tucano — that it could use to help train the Afghan air force, but that effort may well fall victim to the Pentagon’s budget cuts.

Could NATO’s experience in Libya open the door to a new set of customers for light attack planes — NATO countries that want to be involved in peacekeeping and stability operations around the world but who can’t afford to send their precious few frontline fighters on expensive combat deployments?

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