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Requerimiento COIN de la USAF, SuperTucano, Ares SG y Symetrics Industries.The U.S. Air Force is seeking a contractor to provide a counter insurgency aircraft and logistics support for the government of Iraq and its security forces. USAF officials would like to provide the Iraqi government with a two-seat, turboprop aircraft that would better help the forces there fight insurgencies and terrorist operations. The service’s Aeronautical Systems Group (AESG) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is overseeing the process.
The USAF first posted a listing for contractor bids in May 2007. Officials at AESG said the process of collecting information for the program would be ongoing.
The USAF said the COIN aircraft will be a lightly armored, two-seat, turbo-prop aircraft capable of locating, tracking, identifying and engaging a variety of targets with a suite of electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors and laser-guided/unguided air-to-ground weapons/missiles. It will also be a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) aircraft modified to perform COIN operations. The aircraft would be delivered in country no later than November 30, 2008. Contractor logistics support for the aircraft would have to be in place 30 days in advance of the deadline to support operational requirements for the aircraft as they arrive, according to the service.
The project will be considered a foreign military sale, but will be required to comply with all applicable USG Federal Acquisition Regulations. The service also said the aircraft will use a PT-6-based turboprop engine fueled by JP-8 or similar fuel to maintain commonality with other Iraqi aircraft. The engine would provide as a minimum 1,200 shaft horse power and possess crew stations for a two-man crew with dual sets of flight, navigation, communication and weapons controls, be capable of full employment (aviation, navigation, communication, sensor use and weapons delivery) with only one pilot and an empty back seat. It should also be suitable as an intermediate/advanced single-engine fixed-wing flight trainer with systems which allow the aircraft to be easily reconfigured for COIN operations and possess light armor to protect the occupants of both seats and engine compartment from small arms fire.
The aircraft must be capable of flying in excess of four hours while maintaining a 45-minute fuel reserve while loaded with two GBU-12 or Mk-82 type weapons. As for the aircraft’s growth and capability, it should be built for DoD and NATO to enable future expansion and interoperability with other platforms. The USAF or the Iraqi government would have the option to purchase additional COIN aircraft in lots of six aircraft at a time, according to the service.
The USAF has historically modified jet fighters or bombers for COIN operations instead of investing in a counter-insurgency fleet. Such a fleet would consist mostly of lower, slower-flying turboprop aircraft for fixed-wing needs or transport planes. High-tech jets can be used for limited COIN work, but it would be difficult and next to impossible for COIN aircrafts to do the reverse. Some COIN-type aircraft and missions include propeller-driven or jet trainers for light attack, helicopters, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, light transport, utility and armed unmanned aerial vehicles.
Because of the current fight against global terrorism, many U.S. officials have said that the anticipated need for COIN fleets now is greater than ever. And with the technology advancements made in precision munitions and other sensor packages, COIN fleets can now be developed more effectively, according to the officials. Jets would be at a disadvantage for COIN work, which often requires flying closer to the ground for extended periods of time.
High-tech jets are also more expensive to operate and maintain during a time where Pentagon officials and Congress are searching for ways to trim the budget. Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group, told SOTECH that it makes sense for the United States to provide a COIN aircraft for the Iraqi government. “[The United States] is passing the mission [of fighting the insurgency] to the indigenous government,” Aboulafia said. “From the U.S. standpoint, a small insurgency airplane wouldn’t be of use [to U.S. military forces]. It is assuming that the United States is reducing its operations tempo. And in which case, this makes sense.”
Douglas Royce, an aircraft analyst for Forecast International, said the United States providing the Iraqi government with a turboprop COIN aircraft is a good first step in the rebuilding of the Iraqi Air Force. “If the United States is going to turn over more security to the Iraqis, they will have to give them the tools to eventually do this,” Royce said. “If you look at the alternatives, this is probably the best alternative. They want to give [the Iraqi government] the capability [of a strike force] without giving them the full capability of fighter jets.”
COIN Contractor Fits
With the requirements that the COIN aircraft already be in wide use and powered by the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engine, at least four aircraft come to mind that could fit the USAF requirements, analysts told MAT. They include: U.S. Aircraft A-67 Dragon, the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 Texan, the Korean Aerospace KO-1 Wong Bee and the Pilatus PC-9M.
The Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano, also named ALX or A-29, is a turboprop aircraft designed for light attack, counter insurgency and pilot training mission, incorporating modern avionics and weapons systems. It is currently in use by the air forces of Brazil and Colombia. Besides pilot training, it is heavily employed in monitoring operations in the Amazon region.
The Korean Aerospace KO-1 Wong Bee is an advanced turboprop trainer variant of the KT-1, which is unarmed. Built by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the KO-1 is designed to carry seven-round rocket launchers, gun pods, drop tanks and Sidewinder missiles.
The Pilatus PC-9M Advanced Turbo Trainer is a more powerful evolution of the PC-7 and a variant of the PC-9. Pilatus has sold more than 240 of the aircraft to 13 customers, including 12 military customers.
The Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 Texan is currently used by the USAF and U.S. Navy. It has multiple weapon configurations with fully integrated sensors, data-link and cockpit protection. Royce said the AT-6 Texan is “a natural choice” because it is an aircraft already in training with the United States.
US Aircraft Corp., Akron, Ohio, saw the need for a purpose-built COIN aircraft about four years ago. Starting with conversations between Ray Williams, company president and retired Brigadier General Skip Jones, the two decided that most smaller countries needed a combat aircraft suited to their specific needs. “Modern air war has and is continuing to evolve,” said Williams. “We view that air war for most countries in the future will be more like WWII and Korea as opposed than the super modern air-to-air, peer-to-peer combat that was the Cold War period.”
“To our great surprise as we looked around at everything that was out there, there was nothing made specifically for the counter insurgency mission,” said Williams. “We have spent a great deal of time with the U.S. Air Force and with a lot of retired pilots who flew these kinds of missions from WWII up to present time to define exactly what is needed in this type of aircraft. We are not taking another type of aircraft, for example a trainer, and modifying it to a mission it was not built for. We are starting from scratch. We have the luxury of building it specific to the mission.”
The company’s initial concept was to make a close air support/counter insurgency aircraft for second and third world allied countries. Understanding the changing environment, they have now added an ISR mission capability to the plan.
According to Williams the three guiding principles of the design are survivability, maintainability and durability. Based around a PT6A-68/3 powerplant, the company’s A-67 Dragon is expected to have a top speed of 371 knots at 20,000 feet. Maxmium range is anticipated to be about 1,880 miles with a flight endurance of about 11 hours. The key to the performance is a wing designed for combat missions not for a training aircraft.
The company currently has an 80 percent flying scale prototype and hopes to have a full scale pre-production prototype in November 2008. The current regime is testing the capabilities of the wing, fuselage, empennage and fuselage configuration. First production could be as soon as early 2009.
“We have three types of team partners working with us,” said Williams. “We have large national laboratory assets like Wright Patterson and NASA. We have the university systems which have huge engineering departments and computer capabilities for modeling and validating. Finally, we have huge infrastructure of component manufacturers and integrators throughout the United States. We rely on each of these partners for their areas of expertise.”
Interest High In COIN Contract
Several companies have expressed interest to the USAF in providing services for the COIN aircraft program. They include: Hawker Beechcraft; L3-Aeromet; Blast Off Inc.; Total Aircraft Services, Inc.; Ares Systems Group; GE Aviation; International Logistics Associates; Lockheed Martin Systems Integration-Owego; Northrop Grumman Systems, Corp; Northrop Grumman California Microwave; U.S. Aircraft Corporation; Intelligence Identification Integration LLC; ATK Integrated Systems; Symetrics Industries LLC; King & Spalding LLP; BGI LLC; Sierra Nevada Corp. Integrated Mission Systems; and Taos Industries.
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