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Special Operations: Low, Slow And Dangerous
   Next Article → ATTRITION: Sailors And Airmen Join The Army

August 7, 2009: The U.S. Navy is  developing a dedicated close air support aircraft for its SEAL commandos. The Navy has leased an EMB-314 Super Tucano aircraft, and is testing it in desert ranges in California, and at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. It is the culmination of a yearlong project codenamed ‘Imminent Fury.’ This is an effort to provide a low cost aircraft to perform armed intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions. If proven successful, four more aircraft will be bought and sent to Afghanistan.

A two seat, single engine turbo prop, the Super Tucano seems made for the Counter Insurgency (COIN) environment, especially in built up areas where airstrikes have been criticized due to sometimes high civilian casualties. Such controversy fueled a decision not to use airstrikes near villages unless a unit was on the verge of being overrun.

The Super Tucano can fly low and slow, loitering over friendly forces, making precision strikes as needed, unlike Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) which typically cruise at medium-high altitude when utilizing their missiles.  Jets remain at a disadvantage due to their speed and time on station. Even the popular A-10 Warthog lacks the ability to loiter for hours unless refueled by tanker.

The Super Tucano offers a 1,000 kilometer radius, 5 hour endurance, 600 kilometers per hour top speed, 35,000 foot ceiling and is modified with an extensive range of electronics including the ability to tap into UAV surveillance feeds. It also can utilize rudimentary short length airfields near the battle zone to refuel and rearm in short order.

The Super Tucano carries more weapons than helicopters, but less than jets and consists of twin .50 caliber machine guns and nearly two tons of guided bombs and rockets. Infra-Red flares and Electronic Counter Measure equipment is available for use as defense against missile threats.

As thought provoking as the concept is, it is hardly new. During the Vietnam War, the propeller driven AD-1 Skyraider attack aircraft performed similar duties supporting Special Forces throughout numerous close quarter combats, often tipping the scales in favor of the heavily outnumbered ( and often surrounded) teams. Still, money for the project remains questionable. However, supporters hope transferring funds from other items will ensure a realization of the proposal.     

Since September 11, opportunities for such aircraft dedicated to small forces increased substantially. Numerous situations presented themselves in Afghanistan where reconnaissance, engagement and/or disengagement outcomes might have ended differently with a Counter Insurgency aircraft involved immediately beyond helicopter range and eliminating tanker dependent jets for heavier strikes against larger forces elsewhere. -- Mike Perry

Next Article → ATTRITION: Sailors And Airmen Join The Army
  

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Gerry       8/7/2009 8:53:05 PM
The Super Tacano is an excellent combat close support aircraft, but not only for special ops. Situations that require long loiter times in most combat scenarios would benifit. A platoon pinned down waiting for relief would certainly qualify for a couple of Tacanos hovering in the area. OK, I'm a vietnam veteran, so I may be a little prejudiced.
 
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sjdoc    Air Force involvement?   8/10/2009 3:49:59 AM
Given that the Army SOCOM components are going to want this kind of air support as well, has thee been any interest expressed by the Air Force with regard to the acquisition of these aircraft and the development of squadrons equipped therewith?
 
The Air Force can't interfere with the Navy getting these birds in the BuAer inventory and developing tactical doctrines for their employment, but if the Army tries to start training on these Super Tucanos out of Ft. Rucker, I anticipate squeals of rage from the people in America's only unconstitutional military service. 
 
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SCCOMarine       8/10/2009 7:30:32 PM

Given that the Army SOCOM components are going to want this kind of air support as well, has thee been any interest expressed by the Air Force with regard to the acquisition of these aircraft and the development of squadrons equipped therewith?
 
The Air Force can't interfere with the Navy getting these birds in the BuAer inventory and developing tactical doctrines for their employment, but if the Army tries to start training on these Super Tucanos out of Ft. Rucker, I anticipate squeals of rage from the people in America's only unconstitutional military service. 

The Air Forces new service chief has recently stated interest in the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 which is a proposed attack version of their T-6A pilot-trainer aircraft for this mission.  You can Google articles on this.
 
The Navy is also interested in this plane but the needed something to put into practice immediately, which they have been putting it thru various testing at Yuma I believe for the last 6mths or more.
 
 
"I anticipate squeals of rage from the people in America's only unconstitutional military service."
 
If your referring to the Marine Corps they were already 3 years ahead of the crowd.  The Department of the Navy's (Navy & Marine Corps) "Imminent Fury" study, which is the study this article is referring to that aquired the Tucano's, picked up on a study 2 years early in '06 done by the Marine Corps.
 
This study, in response to an Urgent Needs Request, called for the Marines to purchase OV-10 Bronco's for close-in ISR & Forward Observing, w/the possibility of arming them  for the COIN in Iraq. 
 
This was B4 authorization of expansion of the Corps & the Army, the Marines concluded they didn't have the Money or the Manpower to support the Aquisition. 
 
Someone in the US Navy, most likely in the SEAL community, saw the merits of the Marine report & forwarded to the D.O.N. who initiated the "Imminent Fury" study eventually leading to the purchases of the Tucanoes.
 
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sjdoc    The unconstitutional military service...   8/11/2009 3:12:14 AM
--
...is the U.S. Air Force, which - unlike the Navy and the Army (and even the Coast Guard, as the "Revenue Marine," I believe) - are named in the U.S. Constitution as agencies which the Congress is duty-bound to raise and maintain. 
 
The creation of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service really ought to have been established with a constitutional amendment.
 
But, hell, after four terms for Franklin Delano "I Wipe My Paralytic Butt With the Constitution" Roosevelt, the charter under which our federal government claims its dubious legitimacy was pretty much a completely dead letter, wasn't it?
 
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SCCOMarine       8/11/2009 12:01:54 PM
Nah, I believe he's speaking of the Marine Corps.  We're the only service not guaranteed by the Constitution.
 
Thats also why we're known as the "President's Own", a title now mostly assigned to the Marine Corps Band nowadays, but was originally a title referring to our unique relationship w/the President & the Congress-The only service without a Constitutional Charter & the only service that can deploy indefinitely soley on the Order of the President.
 
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Old Grunt    No, he's talking about the USAF...   8/11/2009 1:55:58 PM
who are absolutely paranoid about the Army even getting close to fixed wing combat aircraft, much less operating them.  They even made a concerted, and successful, effort to strip the Army of its part in the JCA program.  It's bad enough that they have to deal with the fact the the Army uses (gasp! dare I say it?!) enlisted operators for their UAV/UCAV's, but to have some marginally human Army person actually fly a fixed wing combat aircraft on an offensive mission...! Why that's positively insane!!  It might give people the impression that USAF pilots aren't really all that special after all.
 
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flyingarty    EMB-314 Super Tucano aircraft   8/12/2009 8:46:26 AM
This is a waste of money and the project should be scrapped. The Navy needs to conscentrate on UAV's and getting the blanking F-35 into service. There is absolutely no reason for the Navy to house its own SPEC-OPS plane when Spectre gunships  and A-10 shoud be readily available if requested. Flyingarty.
 
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SCCOMarine       8/12/2009 12:13:19 PM

This is a waste of money and the project should be scrapped. The Navy needs to conscentrate on UAV's and getting the blanking F-35 into service. There is absolutely no reason for the Navy to house its own SPEC-OPS plane when Spectre gunships  and A-10 shoud be readily available if requested. Flyingarty.

Well whether its a waste of money or not still remains to be seen, thats the purpose of the study.
 
The purpose is to study the gaps btwn what your suggesting & all options that can be brought to the fight.
 
Your proposal leapfrogs over everything this study is designed to address.  The A-10 is not Slow enough, the Spectre is not Low enough, the F-35 is like 5yrs away & would be no different than the A-10, & for a comparable UAV your talking about the $100 million Reaper.
 
"I.-F." acquired the Tucanos b/c it needed a readily available plane to Immediately begin testing TTPs, it was a proven COIN Light Attack Airplane.  But the study is less about the Tucano & more about the utility of a Light Attack Plane for COIN in general.
 
Whats needed is a cheap, light, tough, armed, plane that you can put a FAC in the backseat to talk to the ground and can stay low.
 
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flyingarty    And the Cobra does work why?   8/12/2009 1:28:22 PM
What about the Super Cobra that the USMC just spent millions of dollars upgrading? Sorry no sale. It is time that military organizations come to the realization that you are not going to get everything you want so you better pick wisely. The freaking Osprey should have had an armed varient, but it design was so fubar'd that now they cant arm it without going back over something that they tossed out.
 
Thi is the lesson the USAF is learning with the F-22. Tax payers are upset  and congress has turned off the money. This is a specialty item that other equipment can feasibly do. Flyingarty
 
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flyingarty    What is needed   8/12/2009 2:47:20 PM
"Whats needed is a cheap, light, tough, armed, plane that you can put a FAC in the backseat to talk to the ground and can stay low."
 
 
 
No the Reaper and Predator handle these duties fine. It that the Seals do not want to depend on another service for support. Sorry, this needs to happen. Are you seriously telling me between the A-10, AC-130, MQ-9, Predator, Apache,  SuperCobra that there is not a mix of Platforms that can do this job? Seriously-you are kidding right!
 
A-10 not slow enough? forsooth! You must in the procurement office for  this thing.
 
Flyingarty
 
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