Warplanes: Ancient OV-10s Survive In Southeast Asia

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August 14, 2018: The Philippines is receiving another four OV-10 aircraft from the U.S. These are being provided at no charge. The United States still has six or more OV-10s in government service and the Philippines has several in storage because of lack of money to get them flyable. Of the four just sent to the Philippines two had been used by NASA and two had been upgraded and sent to Iraq in a combat test. Those two OV-10Gs were upgraded with a new glass cockpit and a fire-control system that allowed it to fire APKWS laser-guided 70mm missiles. The 2015 test was considered a success but the U.S. Air Force opposed adopting an OV-10 as a light attack aircraft and that was that. The two OV-10Gs had their military gear removed but were otherwise serviceable. The Philippines is receiving the four OV-10s disassembled and is using its own OV-10 technicians to assemble them and make them combat ready for service by early 2019.

Several dozen OV-10s are still in use worldwide out of over 300 manufactured. In Vietnam, the OV-10 was used more for reconnaissance and directing air and artillery strikes, than in using its own firepower. Since the 1990s, the Philippines have received 36 used OV-10s from the U.S. and Thailand. By 2018 eight of them were flyable and these were regularly used for reconnaissance and ground attack missions. The OV-10 is a two-seat, 6.5 ton, twin prop aircraft that can carry over two tons of weapons and stay in the air for three hours per sortie. Max speed is 450 kilometers an hour. Wingspan is 12.2 meters (40 feet) and length is 12.7 meters (41.6 feet).

The first OV-10 was delivered to the U.S. Air Force, specifically for use in Vietnam, in 1968. The last one was produced (for export to Indonesia) in 1976. The U.S. Air Force and Marines were the primary users of OV-10s and the last of these was retired, by the marines, in 1994. Over a hundred were exported to Germany, Thailand, Colombia, Venezuela, Philippines, and Indonesia. In mid-2017 the remaining eight flyable Filipino OV-10s were frequently seen attacking ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) targets in the southern city of Marawi, where hundreds of Islamic terrorists tried and failed, to take control of the city. The air strikes and ground troops crippled the several Islamic terror groups that had joined together and embraced ISIL, believing that would guarantee them victory.

In 2012 the Philippines equipped some of its OV-10s to use American made JDAM (GPS guided bombs). In early 2012 OV-10s used these smart bombs to attack an Abu Sayyaf (Islamic terrorist) camp on Jolo Island. American UAVs provided reconnaissance, using heat sensors to spot the terrorist camp and night cameras to confirm who was there and provide the Filipino OV-10 with GPS coordinates. The attack was made before dawn and the American UAVs recorded video of the survivors dragging off the dead and wounded before Filipino ground troops showed up. The Philippines Air Force later denied they had used smart bombs but hitting a target like that, at night, is nearly impossible with unguided bombs. In any event, the aircraft delivering the 227 kg (500 pound) bombs was definitely an OV-10. Accepting American technical advice, including high tech weapons, is a touchy political subject in the Philippines, which may explain the denials.

Since the 1960s advances in technology (materials, electronics and aircraft design) made the propeller driven single engine basic pilot training aircraft more robust and adaptable. Noting this trend at the end of 2017 the Philippines ordered six Brazilian A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft. These A-29s will be in service by the end of 2019. The A-29 is basically an armed trainer. The Super Tucano already has most of the market for such trainer/warplanes. This 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 has structural features making it easy to equip it for combat missions as the A-29, which comes with armor for the pilot, a pressurized cockpit, and an ejection seat.

The A-29 has a max takeoff weight of 5.4 tons and can carry up to 1.5 tons of weapons, including 12.7mm machine-guns (one under each wing), bombs and missiles. The Super Tucano has a GPS based navigation system as standard and can also carry a number of optional electronics systems. One is a FLIR (infrared radar that produces a photo-realistic video image in any weather) and a fire control system for bombing. Cruising speed is 500 kilometers an hour and average endurance is six hours. Max altitude is 11,300 meters (35,000 feet) and stall (slowest speed) is 150 kilometers an hour. Naturally, this aircraft can move in lower and slower than any jet can. A-29s can be equipped to use small (250 and 500 pound) GBU-12 and GBU-58 laser-guided bombs.

Several nations are using A-29s for counter-insurgency work. The aircraft is also used for border patrol. The Super Tucano costs $9 million each, and come in one or two seat versions. The Super Tucano suited Filipino needs much the same way the OV-10 did, but even more so and at greater expense. The A-29 demonstrates how a smaller, slower aircraft that can double as trainers. It's easier to train pilots to use the Super Tucano, cheaper to buy them, and much cheaper to operate them. It costs about $500 an hour to operate an A-29, which less than a tenth of what it costs for an F-16.

The Philippines selected the A-29 because of earlier experience with a similar aircraft, like the OV-10. By the 1990s it was obvious that these aircraft were suitable, and often superior, for counter-insurgency work. The A-29 is one of the best examples of that.

 


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