Air Transportation: Polish Built SOCOM Aircraft


July 20, 2021: U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is seeking 75 ground attack aircraft for use overseas in areas where there are no hostile air-defenses and a need for propeller-driven ground attack aircraft to support SOCOM missions. There are five companies submitting proposals for this Armed Overwatch program and one of them is an armed version of the existing SOCOM C-145A, which is an unarmed transport used under the same conditions the new attack aircraft are meant for.

What is unique about the C-145A is that it is an upgrade of a Cold War era Russian (Ukrainian) Antonov design, the twin-engine An-28. A Polish aircraft manufacturer, PZL competed with a Russian a firm to replace the An-14, an older twin-engine transport designed in the 1950s. PZL got the contract to build the An-28 under license and eventually built over 200 of them. Both the An-14 and An-28 were specialty aircraft, designed for STOL (short takeoff and landing) in crude airstrips. Russia used them to move passengers and cargo to remote locations.

The Antonov aircraft company was based in Ukraine and became a Ukrainian firm when Ukraine became independent in 1991. Poland continued to build the An-28 under the Antonov license. Then in 2007 the An-28 manufacturer was bought by an American firm and became a division of Lockheed. That gave PZL access to the most modern American aviation technology and, when SOCOM was looking for a twin-engine STOL transport in 2009, it bought 16 upgraded, with American engines and electronics, An-28s renamed the C-145A. Two years later they bought 20 Dornier 328 commercial transports as the C-146A. The C-145A was retired in 2015 and transferred to foreign allies, some of which had seen the C-145A in action on their own territory.

In 2021 SOCOM accepted five designs for the armed overwatch program and only one of them, the C-145A, was a twin-engine armed transport. The C-145A manufacturer had earlier proposed a gunship version of the C-145A, to complement the four-engine SOCOM gunships based on the C-130 transport. SOCOM was interested but not enough to place an order. But then came the Armed Overwatch program and the C-145A, now as the MC-145, was considered a worthy candidate. As an MC-145, this twin-engine aircraft could carry more weapons, spend more time over the target area and also function as a transport. Results of the competition will be known later in 2021.


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