Hawker Beechcraft has begun flying the prototype AT-6 light-attack/armed-reconnaissance aircraft, a structurally strengthed version of the T-6A/B Texan II turboprop trainer.
Photo: Hawker Beechcraft
Embraer, meanwhile, will make its first appearance at the Air Force Associaation show in Washington next week. The connection - they are both pursuing a potential US Air Force procurement, possibly jointly with the US Navy, of a fleet of light-attack aircraft for irregular warfare operations.
The Air National Guard will use the AT-6 prototype for a Congressionally mandated and funded counter-insurgency demonstration later this year, while the Navy has tested a leased Super Tucano in the armed ISR role under its Imminent Fury project.
The Air Force, meanwhile, issued a pair of requests for information in July for a light attack/armed reconnaissance (LAAR) capability and a six-passenger, civil-certificated Light Mobility Aircraft (LiMA). The RFIs talk about the need for 100 LAAR aircraft for delivery over 2-4 years beginning in FY12, and 60 LiMAs for delivery over four years beginning in FY11.
The LAAR requirements outline look to fit the AT-6 and Super Tucano: a tandem-seat aircraft capable of carrying an EO/IR sensor with laser designator and a minimum of two 500lb munitions, capable of aerial gunnery, with armored cockpits and engine and a defensive suite. Performance? Aerobatic, minimum 180kt cruise, 30,000ft ceiling, take-off and land within 6,000ft.
There are reports the USAF is considering forming a new numbered air force to operate these and other irregular-warfare platforms, including its Projet Liberty MC-12Ws. These types of low-cost, low-tech aircraft are attractive for some wars - the A-1 Skyraider and OV-10 Bronco did sterling servcie in Vietnam - but when they try to institutionize them, the whole weight of Air Force "overhead" comes down on them. I predict they'll be mothballed in five years.