Warplanes: Tunisia Goes Texan

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April 30, 2020: Tunisia is joining other Middle Eastern nations like Iraq, Israel and Morocco in buying the U.S. AT-6C "Texan II" trainer/attack/reconnaissance aircraft. Tunisia wants to buy twelve but budget problems means the initial purchase is only four. In addition to 512 bombs,  48 500 pounders and the rest 250 pounders (113 kg). These bombs are mostly being used with guidance kits that turn bombs into GPS guided bombs. There are also 3,290 70mm APKWS laser guided missiles. APKWS is a cheap laser-guided missile and four of them cost as much as one Hellfire APKWS has been very popular to nations with much smaller defense budgets but in need of laser-guided missiles.

APKWS are basically 70mm unguided rockets with a laser guidance kit attached. Normally each APKWS weighs 15 kg (32 pounds), with a guidance system attached. The guidance system consists of a laser light seeker and moveable fins, battery and microprocessor to guide the rocket to the reflected laser light the laser designator is bouncing off the target. These 70mm rockets usually have a 2.7 kg (six pound) warhead, and a range of about 10 kilometers when fired from a fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter. The APKWS is small enough that each hard point on an aircraft can carry a launcher holding four APKWS instead of one Hellfire. Thus an AT-6C can carry a dozen APKWS missiles. These cost about $30,000 each and hit within a meter (a few feet) of where the pilot is pointing the targeting laser. The accuracy and smaller warhead mean the APKWS is safer to use when friendly troops or civilians are nearby.

Tunisia still has problems with Islamic terrorists. Some are caught in urban areas but most are hiding out in mountains along the Algerian border. As Iraq discovered, AT-6s with APKWS are very effective weapons against Islamic terrorists whether in the open or urban areas.

Tunisia is also buying two spare T-6 engines and fire control systems for the GPS bombs and laser guided missiles. This package deal, which includes training, spares and maintenance, will cost $326 million. The Texan “C” version includes hard points on the wings for carrying bombs and missiles, or pods for recon and intelligence collecting. Iraq already has 24 AT-6Cs it ordered back in 2014 and has used them effectively since then.

Back in the 1990s, the T-6A was selected by the U.S. Air Force as the replacement for the half century old T-37Bs, which were basically worn out. One reason the Texan won was because the T-6A design is based on the very popular Pilatus PC-9, which already had an excellent reputation as a trainer aircraft. The U.S. Air Force began using the T-6A in 2008.

A single engine prop driven aircraft, the T-6 reduces fuel costs by over 60 percent (compared to the T-37B). Cruise speed is 512 kilometers an hour and max speed is 580. Max altitude is 9,400 meters (31,000 feet). Endurance is up to three hours depending on load. When armed, endurance is about two hours. The three ton T-6As cost about $8 million each while the AT-6Cs cost a bit more. The AT-6 can carry about half a ton of weapons (bombs, missiles, machine-gun pods).

The Swiss PC-9 trainer evolved from the PC-3 that was designed and built in the 1950s. The basic design of the PC-3 was worth upgrading and so it was through the PC-7 in the 1970s and then the PC-9 in the 1980s. The AT-6 was a PC-9 with few changes initially, other than it was now an American aircraft built in the United States. After the T-6 won a 1995 competition to become the new basic trainer for the American air force and navy both services added additional requirements and that led to the T-6A, which was half a ton heavier than the PC-9 and, internally, quite different. Later came the T-6B with a glass (lots of flat screen displays) cockpit that trainee pilots would encounter in their advanced (jet) trainer and then the combat aircraft they would serve in. The T-6C is the export version of the T-6B and most export customers take the AT-6C which can serve as a trainer or light-attack aircraft,

Pilatus has produced nearly 300 PC-9s since the 1980s while the T-6, which entered service in 2001, already has three times as many aircraft in service or on order. The American manufacturer (Beechcraft) had an enormous advantage in that its aircraft was made in the United States and modified to suite air force and navy requirements. That made it easier to get export orders.

 


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