Counter-Terrorism: Super Tucano Does Africa

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January 29, 2020: The Central African nation of Burkina Faso has been the first African nation to receive the Brazilian A-29 Super Tucano aircraft and use it in combat. The A-29 has again proved itself an effect counterterrorism aircraft, but it took a while to get the Burkina Faso air force ready to use the aircraft. Burkina Faso received its three A-29s in 2011 and it took seven years to get pilots and maintainers ready. Those first airstrikes took place in late 2018.

By the end of 2019, these A-29s were able to operate effectively alongside French jets and helicopters in a joint operation against Islamic terrorists seeking to avoid detection and airstrikes. The French were able to spot the enemy and quickly direct the A-29s to the target for successful attacks. A French Mirage 2000D fighter bomber also participated along with some armed helicopters. Another Mirage stayed high keeping track of enemy movements. The French also have four Reaper UAVs operating in the area.

The enemy was about 200 gunmen in pickup trucks and on motorcycles who had attacked civilians and Burkina Faso troops and were, as was their custom, trying to get away to their rural hideout and plan another such attack.

For political reasons, Burkina Faso had been reluctant to cooperate with French air operations. That’s another story but in this case, Burkina Faso relented and the success of the joint operation may change their attitude towards France. Most of the enemy force was killed or wounded and this local al Qaeda group will have to adopt new tactics or suffer more such heavy losses. French air power has been particularly effective in neighboring nations like Mali, Chad and Niger but Burkina Faso reluctance to allow foreign warplanes in their air space was one reason so many Islamic terrorists established bases in Burkina Faso.

Other African nations have adopted the A-29. Mali received four A-29s in 2018 and is still getting pilots and maintainers ready for combat operations. Mauritania received two of four A-29s in 2012 and is still getting up to speed. Senegal has three A-29s on order while Ghana has five on the way. Nigeria has twelve A-29s on order. The Nigerian air force is more experienced and is expected to get their A-29s operational quickly. Mauritania, Senegal and Ghana do not have a pressing need for counterterror aircraft but Nigeria does as it is still battling Boko Haram Islamic terrorists in its northeast.

The Super Tucano is a single-engine turboprop trainer/attack aircraft that is used by eighteen nations, including several, mostly in Africa, awaiting delivery. The armed version carries two internal 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns and can carry up to 1.5 tons of bombs and rockets. It can stay in the air for 6.5 hours at a time. It is rugged, easy to maintain, and cheap. You pay $15-20 million for each Super Tucano, depending on how much training, spare parts, and support equipment you get with them.

Super Tucano can be equipped to carry over a half dozen of the 120 kg (250 pound) SDB GPS smart bombs (or half a dozen dumb 500 pound bombs), giving it considerable potential firepower if rigged to handle smart bombs. The Super Tucano comes equipped with a GPS navigation system. Max altitude is 11,300 meters (35,000 feet) and cruising speed is 400 kilometers an hour. Naturally, this aircraft can move in lower and slower than any jet can. Thus the Super Tucano is also equipped with armor for the pilot, a pressurized cockpit, and an ejection seat. Not bad for an aircraft with a max takeoff weight of 5.4 tons.

These "trainer/light attack aircraft" can also operate from crude airports or even a stretch of highway. Aircraft like this can carry systems to defeat portable surface to air missiles. The aircraft can stay in the air for about 6.5 hours per sortie. One of the options is a FLIR (infrared radar that produces a photo-realistic video image in any weather) and a fire control system for bombing. Several nations are using the Super Tucanos for counter-insurgency work. The aircraft is also used for border patrol by the United States.

The Super Tucano 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 less than a tenth as much per flying hour to operate a Super Tucano compared to an F-16. This is why the U.S. Air Force uses Super Tucano (as the A-29) as a trainer for training pilots of allies that bought the Super Tucano.

African countries are among the most recent to receive the Super Tucano, which has become the world’s leading counter-insurgency aircraft. Most African nations have Cold War era warplanes, usually jets that have been inoperable for years. Many of these were acquired in the 1960s and 70s and not maintained very well. African military leaders have long wanted some basic, easy and cheap to operate aircraft for training and reconnaissance. That is what the Super Tucano does, plus carry out ground attack if so equipped.

 


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