Warplanes: Buy American, Or Else


December 13, 2007: The U.S. Air National Guard has been given two Beechcraft AT-6 armed trainer aircraft, to evaluate for their use in counter-insurgency operations. This is being done largely at the behest of the Iraqi and Afghan air forces, which are looking for such an aircraft . There are other contenders for this job, but they are foreign built. The money for the AT-6 evaluation came via a U.S. legislator who wants to see an American aircraft bought. The AT-6 is being touted mainly as "American Made," while its precise capabilities are played down. That's because the AT-6 has some formidable completion. The best regarded of the foreign craft are the Super Tucano light combat aircraft from the Brazilian manufacturer Embraer. With better endurance and carrying more weapons, the Super Tucano already has most of the market for such warplanes. This five ton, single engine, single seat aircraft was built for pilot training, but also performs quite well for counter-insurgency work. The Super Tucano is basically a prop driven trainer that is 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. One of the options is a FLIR (infrared radar that produces a photo realistic video image in any weather) and a fire control system for bombing. Colombia is using the Super Tucanos for counter-insurgency work (there are over 20,000 armed rebels and drug gang gunmen in the country). The aircraft is also used for border patrol. The Super Tucano costs $9 million each, and come in one or two seat versions. The bubble canopy provides excellent visibility. This, coupled with its slow speed (versus jets), makes it an excellent ground attack aircraft.


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