Warplanes: Super Tucano Versus F-35B


January 28, 2010:  Britain is having second thoughts about replacing its Harrier VTOL (vertical takeoff) fighter-bomber, with the F-35B, to provide ground support for the troops. While the Harrier can hover, this uses a lot of fuel. So while supporting the troops with firepower, the Harrier operates like a normal jet. In other words, it moves fast. Too fast to catch everything going on down below. This has produced a lot of complaints from the troops, mainly because the British soldiers sometimes receive ground support from slower moving, and far more popular,  American A-10s.

This got the British to thinking that a slower, and cheaper, aircraft might be a better choice for the close support job. One of the suggestions was to replace some of the $100 million F-35Bs with EMB-314 Super Tucano aircraft. These can be had, fully tricked out with targeting pod, SAM countermeasures and other electronics, for less than $20 million each. The Super Tucano is a two seat, 5.2 ton, single engine turbo prop aircraft that can fly low and slow. It has a 1,000 combat kilometer radius, five hour endurance, 600 kilometers per hour top speed, and a 35,000 foot ceiling. The Super Tucano normally carries twin 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine guns and nearly two tons of guided bombs and rockets. Britain would arm the aircraft with guided missiles and smart bombs.

Other nations have had similar debates over which aircraft is most suitable for ground support. The U.S. Air Force was never very enthusiastic about the 1970s era A-10, which it was going to get rid of until the 1991 Gulf War came along. That was the first time the A-10 got into combat, and the ground troops were effusive in their praise of the "Warthog." The A-10 has continued to provide outstanding service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the air force has refurbished them, to keep them in service for another decade or two. But there are no plans for a similar replacement. Air force commanders prefer "fast movers," not aircraft that move slow, and more effectively, while providing ground support. The British infantry are unlikely to get Super Tucanos, but you never know.



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