It's been a while since a company unveiled a self-funded, purpose-built aircraft at a defense show. Funding in the Pentagon is tight, and new defense programs are scarce.
Some companies are taking a risk-averse strategy on spending IRAD to focus on mods and upgrades rather than an entirely new project.
Textron, however, has teamed with a small company called AirLand, for a joint venture to fly by year-end an entirely new light-attack aircraft called Scorpion. See Av Week's sneak peak at the aircraft, which is being rolled out at a press conference at noon today at the annual Air Force Assn. conference Sept. 16.
Scorpion is a twin-engine aircraft designed to carry 3,000 lb. of payload -- weapons or ISR collecting equipment -- in an internal bay. It also has six hard points.
Textron's timing with Scorpion could be brilliant or a flop. With a plan to achieve a $3,000 per hour operating cost, the company is trying to carve out a new low in the USAF's "high-low" combat aircraft mix with an option far below the procurement and operating cost of the F-35. A decade ago, the service envisioned the mix to consist of the twin-engine F-22 at the high end with F-35 being bought in numbers at the low end. But, the all-stealth plan is proving to be more costly than the service can afford. The F-35 operating cost is estimated to be nearly $25,000 as of this spring.
Textron's CEO Scott Donnelly says that despite the risk -- and lack of an actual requirement from the U.S. Air Force -- he's confident there is a place for Scorpion in the USAF fleet or, potentially, the fleets of foreign allies.
"There is a market space right now," he tells Av Week. "One of the challenges we have today in the Defense Department is we see budgets coming down [and] that is exactly why this is the right time to do this.”
The company is targeting nations that need a fast mover -- faster than the Super Tucano or AT-6 -- for CAS and air sovereignty missions. For USAF, Donnelly and AirLand investor former USAF secretary F. Whitten Peters suggest a Scorpion aircraft could be used for such missions as stateside interdiction and combat air patrols. Likewise, in Afghanistan and Iraq, the heavy use of more expensive systems such as the F-16 and F-15 did not require their high-end abilities to withstand G forces or fly faster than the speed of sound. In Afghanistan, they have been often flying in circles providing overwatch for ground troops, a mission Peters suggest could have been done for $1 billion per year less annually owing only to fuel-cost savings.
Go to Textron's ScorpionJet site for photos and videos.