April 27, 2009: The U.S. Air Force, is alarmed that the U.S. Navy (the Irregular Warfare Office) is investigating adopting a propeller driven warplane for use in irregular warfare. The navy, at the behest of SOCOM, has spent the last year testing the feasibility of using the Brazilian Super Tucano warplane to support U.S. special warfare operations. The Super Tucano is a five ton, single engine, single seat aircraft. It is basically a prop driven trainer that can be equipped for combat missions. The aircraft can carry up to 1.5 tons of weapons, including 12.7mm machine-guns, bombs and missiles. The aircraft cruises at about 500 kilometers an hour and can stay in the air for about 6.5 hours per sortie.
Colombia is already using Super Tucanos for counter-insurgency work, which is where American SOCOM operators saw it up close. They liked what they saw, and persuaded SOCOM to lease one and try it out. For some older SOCOM operators, the Brazilian aircraft is yet another attempt to revive the legendary Vietnam era A-1 Skyraider (nicknamed "Spad", after a famous World War I fighter). This was the most popular ground support aircraft during the 1960s. Developed at the end of World War II, the A-1 was an 11 ton, single seat, propeller driven aircraft that carried 3.5 tons of bombs and four 20mm autocannon. Cruising speed was 475 kilometers an hour, and the average sortie was about four hours. Ever since World War II, ground troops have been agitating for another A-1. The A-10 came close, but did not have the persistence (long time over the combat area) of the A-1.
The Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano costs $9 million each, and come in one or two seat versions. SOCOM wants the two seater, with guy in the back running sensors. The bubble canopy provides excellent visibility. This, coupled with its slow speed (versus jets), makes it an excellent ground attack aircraft. The SOCOM Tucano could be equipped to fire Hellfire missiles and drop smart bombs. SOCOM wants to lease four Super Tucanos as soon as possible.
Several countries use Super Tucanos for internal security and border patrol (mainly looking for drug smugglers). So far, 144 Super Turcanos have been ordered (including 25 by Colombia and 63 by the Brazilian Air Force) since it entered service six years ago. The aircraft is an upgraded version of the older Tucano, which entered service 26 years ago. There are about 650 of these in service in 15 air forces.
The U.S. Air Force is looking at an armed version of its primary trainer, the propeller driven AT-6A. This would be a three ton aircraft that would carry less than a ton of weapons and have less endurance of the Super Tucano.