New Aircraft Orders & Battlefield Performance Raising Super TUCANO Profile
Last 25 October, US prime contractor Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) and manufacturer Embraer, reported an order for another six Embraer A-29 Super TUCANOs for the Afghan Air Force. This brings the number of A-29 aircraft ordered by the US service on behalf of foreign nations to 32 planes. SNC has delivered 20 aircraft to Afghanistan and two of six to Lebanon through the US programme. Taco Gilbert, a retired US Air Force (USAF) brigadier general and now a Senior Vice President at SNC, told a media teleconference call attended by MONS, the first two of the six additional A-29s ordered by the Afghan government, “will initially deliver to the USAF this September.”
The number of A-29s ordered for US foreign military sales (FMS) customers is expected to increase this February. Discussions about a foreign military sales contract for the delivery of 12 A-29s to Nigeria is in the final government-to-government stage.
Indeed, the expert in this military sector added: “International interest in the A-29 continues. Recently, the Philippines also engaged in some counter insurgency missions and has selected the A-29 [six ordered in November 2017 through direct commercial sale].”
With respect to the A-29’s battlefield performance with its Afghan Air Force operators, Mr. Gilbert noted: “NATO commanders have reported to us, and this is their words, ‘zero, collateral civilian casualties from A-29 strikes’.”
Mr. Gilbert noted, in part, that service’s improving effectiveness in A-29 operations is attributed to, “the training the USAF has provided to them,” and the improving performance of Afghan air force aircrews and maintainers – migrating from basic close air support to, “a much more mature air force able to strike closer and closer to the ‘friendlies’.”
Further, the Super TUCANO’s, “better visibility, ability to ‘go slower’ and better deliver munitions in closer proximity to the target,” and other inherent capabilities, when compared to the F-35, F-22 and other fast jets, were cited as further enhancing the Afghan Air Force’s missions.
A significant development on MONS “watch list” is the USAF’s ongoing light attack experiment (OA-X) experiment. SNC and Embraer are offering the A-29 Super TUCANO in this competition. The A-29 in the O-AX competition is different from previous A-29s built for export through US FMS. Mr. Gilbert noted the export versions, “did not have all the data links and communication systems required to be interoperable with US equipment. The upgrades made to support O-AX makes the A-29 fit seamlessly into the network upon which all of our [US] forces depend – whether that is air-to-air transfer of information via LINK 16 and other systems, or whether the JTAC system of messaging with our ground forces. Also, there are upgrades to the sensor package – a US-only sensor – and radios not cleared for export.”
The experiment included a one-month phase at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico (US) last summer, and may include an overseas phase in a theatre-of-operation.