One of the more unusual, and potentially useful combat aircraft currently under development is the 9.6 ton Scorpion. This design was conceived by some private investors who noted that with the arrival of smart bombs along with lighter and more powerful sensors had made it possible for a combat aircraft to avoid most ground fire while delivering precise ground attacks with smart bombs and missiles. Over the last decade this has led the U.S. Air Force to develop a large (4.6 ton) UAV (Reaper) that often replaces fighters (F-16s and F-15s) and ground attack (A-10s) aircraft and does the job more cheaply.
Defense manufacturer Textron partnered with the original investors as a private venture to develop and manufacture the Scorpion mainly for export. Scorpion is a two-seat, twin-engine aircraft that can carry 2.8 tons of weapons. Endurance is about five hours per sortie and, perhaps most important, the aircraft only costs $3,000 an hour to fly. This is 85 percent less than an F-16 and about the same as a Reaper UAV.
While Scorpion can be equipped with air-to-air missiles it was not designed to be a fighter but rather a reconnaissance and attack aircraft. Top speed is subsonic (833 kilometers an hour, about the same as an airliner) and max altitude is 14,000 meters (45,000 feet). It has six hard points for carrying bombs, missiles and electronic pods. There is also an internal bay that can hold 1.4 tons of weapons. It is made largely of composites and has a service life of 20,000 flight hours. The wings are designed to be easily removed and replaced with different ones (for different types of missions). The developers plan to create a pilotless (UAV) version. Although it is a two-seat aircraft it can be operated by a single pilot.
Carrying a 200 kg (440 pound) targeting pod the pilot or the guy in the back can use the FLIR (video quality night vision infrared radar) and TV cameras while flying at 6,200 meters (20,000 feet) to clearly make out what is going on down on the ground. The pods also contain laser designators for laser guided bombs and laser range finders that enable pilots to get coordinates for JDAM (GPS guided) bombs. Safely outside the range of most anti-aircraft fire (six kilometers up and up to fifty kilometers away) pilots can literally see the progress of ground fighting and have even been acting as aerial observers for ground forces. These capabilities also enable pilots to more easily find targets themselves and hit them with laser guided or JDAM bombs.
Reconnaissance pods are about the same size, shape and weight of targeting pod and can take high-resolution photos while the Scorpion is moving along at top speed. For recon missions into dangerous air space Scorpion can also carry electronic countermeasures pods for defense against missiles. A number of counties have expressed interest in Scorpion, mainly because the aircraft is easy to fly and maintain, cheap to operate and designed to take advantage of all the electronic gear now available to hang off a hard point.