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  • Manned Light Aircraft May Edge Out UAVs In Some Markets
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 3:04 PM on May 05, 2011

    Unmanned aircraft have proven themselves to be expensive and man-power intensive. A cheaper option is smaller manned aircraft equipped with sensors and weapons designed for the unmanned aerial vehicles market.

    Modern trainer designs in particular are being re-invented as light attack aircraft that can serve as a sensor truck for communications relay, long-endurance surveillance and intelligence gathering. It also would carry small, precision bombs and, perhaps -- in a few years -- multi-spectrum surveillance, communications jamming and electronic attack options. Aerospace industry officials contend there is a potential world market for thousands of such aircraft that includes law-enforcement organizations and disaster relief agencies.

    For example, the Hawker-Beechcraft, Lockheed-Martin AT-6B is a “UAV that is inexpensive to operate and doesn’t require much satellite bandwidth,” says Derek Hess, director of the AT-6 light attack program. At the same time, it offers advantages an unmanned aircraft cannot. “Having a government official in the aircraft would make for fast decision making when working cooperatively with the Border Patrol, Homeland Defense or fire-fighting support, particularly if you integrate them into a command and control network that’s already compatible with the A-10C [close air support aircraft].”

    Advanced electro-optical sensor packages are expected to offer useful payloads. Hyper-spectral sensors are compact and lend themselves to smaller platforms. As they emerge on the commercial market, their uses for irregular warfare, homeland defense and civil support will quickly take off.

    “For example, hyper-spectral returns can look at vegetation to see what will burn,” Hess says. “You can plug into existing command and control networks to be more proactive in fighting fires or some other disaster. Or you can sense, in a border security environment, where people have been walking and when paths have changed over time.”

    So what else is in the future of light attack?

    “Why we as a company began this … is about designing a foreign military assistance program to build capacity for like-minded nations,” says Derek Hess, Hawker Beechcraft’s director of light attack programs. “We are looking at national security strategies in a post-911 world. We need a [common] tool for airmen to engage with other airmen around the world. And we think that tool is the AT-6.”

    Roughly, the AT-6 would serve the same purposes and in some cases replace the OV-10, A-37 and F-5 legacy turbo-prop and jet aircraft that are at the end of their useful lives.

    Given that the aircraft was designed for student pilot abuse that’s similar to the rigors of carrier-landings, there appear to be a lot of operational options for the aircraft.

    “I’m ready to put a tailhook on it and operate off a carrier,” Hinson says. “I went to Desert Storm [1991 Iraq/Kuwait War] on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and we launched OV-10s. As to the next generation [capabilities for fighting in] the electronic warfare spectrum, I think anything with 14-in. lugs [for exterior payload carriage] and a 28-volts self-generating power system is within the capability of this airplane.”

    Tags: ar99, AT-6, HawkerBeechcraft, UAVs, ISR, unmanned

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