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Is the Super Tucano a Practical Option for the RAF?


It seems the idea of the RAF adopting some sort of cheap turboprop attack aircraft won’t go away.

In a recent speech the Chief of the General Staff, Sir David Richards, suggested that the UK should be concentrating on troop numbers at the expense of fast jets such as the Typhoon, not because of any inherent superiority of a turboprop but because they are cheaper and good enough against a low tech insurgent force like the Taleban.

Discussing equipment can be said to be rather premature because equipment plans fall from the pages of a strategic review and that strategic review is not due until later this year. When it reports on the place the UK sees itself in the world, what types of conflict we might expect to be involved in and other factors, equipment plans will hopefully form a key part of it.

That said, equipment is vital to the execution of a strategy so discussions on types and quantities is interesting and no less vital than other aspects, even in the absence of this strategic and operational context.

General Richards’s speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies was very interesting and the general thrust of his argument will certainly find many nodding in agreement, his central proposal to reshape the armed forces for the future rather than yesterday is one of the themes of our Future Defence Review series. There is an obvious need for more infantry, engineers, helicopters, UAV’s and intelligence staff. In a world of finite resources, something has to give, equipment like main battle tanks, high-end frigates and fighter jets whilst undoubtedly technological marvels are pant wettingly expensive!

It is this expense that distorts the equipment plan so that whilst we may be able to have aircraft carriers soldiers facing the enemy can’t have adequate helicopter lift or night sights.

Although it is a tired old cliché, hard choices do indeed have to be made.

General Richards makes the point that the UK should not dispense with all its high-end warfighting capabilities but rather rebalance in favour of the ‘war among the people’ types of conflict that are likely to be more prevalent in the future.

What he actually said was

I am emphatically not advocating getting rid of all such equipment, one can buy a lot of UAVs or Tucano aircraft for the cost of a few JSF and heavy tanks.

Despite this thoughtful and intelligent assessment most of the mainstream media concentrated the cyber army and Tucano aircraft.

Putting two and two together and coming up with an aardvark, the Guardian, Telegraph, Times and other mainstream media went to town and printed the usual raft of frothing nonsense that has come to characterise defence journalism in this country. It mainly involved having an ill-informed go at the Typhoon and parading the Super Tucano as the great white hope, the saviour of the armed forces.

Wikipedia derived costs, facts and figures liberally sprinkled through what was, frankly, embarrassing reporting from our mainstream media.

Tom Coghlan in the Times extrapolates what General Richards said and reports

General Richards, Chief of the General Staff, believes that the Super Tucano offers a cost-effective alternative to fast jets such as the Cold War-era Eurofighter Typhoon in counter-insurgency operations such as those in Afghanistan. Resembling something from the Second World War, a Super Tucano costs about £5 million, a fraction of the £60 million estimated cost of the F35 Joint Strike Fighter ordered for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers or the £67 million of a Typhoon.

Calling the Typhoon a Cold War-era aircraft is an interesting way to describe a superlative swing-role aircraft that isn’t even fully in service, especially as the first version of the Tucano flew in 1980.

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian steps even further into the nonsensical with devastatingly accurate and insightful comments like;

The same is true of the air force. Jet fighters are toys for boys, a hangover from the Battle of Britain

As bombers, their inaccuracy makes them counter-productive rather than counter-insurgent, and they are swiftly being replaced by cheaper drones

In our previous suggestions, we have suggested cancelling CVF and JCA, using the funds to expand in other areas and we have also looked at the utility of turboprop aircraft for operations in Afghanistan but it is worth another look as it is topical and some of the wildly inaccurate reporting needs correcting.

In looking at its utility of turboprop combat aircraft the first thing to do is look at what missions are currently being carried out in Helmand by fast jets such as the Tornado, latterly the Harrier and maybe in the future the Typhoon. Some of these missions are obvious but some less so.

Providing close air support (CAS) to troops in contact is carried out in conjunction with on the ground controllers and at their disposal will be a range of effects; a low and fast show of force, air-delivered cannon fire, guided bombs, missiles and rockets (Apache attack helicopters and fast jet) or indirect fire from 81mm mortars, 105mm light guns and GMLRS guided rockets. They match the desired effect to the capability and act accordingly. In a multi-national force such as ISAF these effects might be delivered by a number of nations. A patrol might not always be within the operating range of indirect fire equipment and the range of effects that can be delivered by air might be more appropriate. Aircraft also carry out a range of intelligence gathering and reconnaissance missions, planned patrols and pre-emptive strikes.

Could a Super Tucano ALX, Beechcraft AT6 or other similar aircraft take the place of a Typhoon, if for example, it were operating Afghanistan, a template for the types of conflict General Richards predicts we will be engaged in more often than not?

They are certainly cheaper to buy but are they cheaper to own and would they be a false economy.

To start this analysis the first task is to determine how much they are, as we have blogged many many times before, determining the actual purchase price of any item of military equipment from open-source information is an almost impossible task. Quoted figures are often out of date, subject to exchange rate fluctuation and usually do not include all those ‘optional extras’ like an initial logistics and spares facility, training equipment, contractorised support arrangements and country-specific equipment like defensive aids or radios.

Only rough estimates can be presented.

The industrial benefits are usually conveniently dismissed, when equipment is designed and made in the UK the value of income tax, corporation tax, VAT and other revenue for the government is considerable. Typhoon not only supports BAe and Rolls Royce but a significant supply chain as well, these organisations pay corporation tax, national insurance, buy photocopiers, make telephone calls and lots of other economic activity.

Of course, these industrial benefits generally come out of the MoD budget and go straight back into the wider government pot but if we are to truly look at cost comparisons then this factor should be at least noted.

Technology spin-offs and export sales also contribute to a wider economic benefit of the indigenous purchase.

However, in this comparison, I will deliberately not include these and look at the straight-out costs to the MoD.

The average estimate for a Typhoon is £70million which in most cases seems to be a high one, similarly, the oft-quoted price for a Super Tucano is £5million, which from recent evidence is low. All the mainstream media revel in quoting this price because it provides such a stark contrast, however, this price would certainly not include much of the equipment that comes with a Typhoon as standard, so the price would go up.

The Dominican Republic purchased 8 for approximately $93million, and Ecuador is planning to get 24 for $280. This works out at between $12 million and $15 million each, in their basic form, if we average these out the price comes in at £8.5million, somewhat off the £5m quoted in the Times. That price will be inflated even more once UK specific defensive aids and other equipment is fitted.

Defensive aids are still vital in all but the most benign airspace, the threat of man-portable anti-aircraft missiles is very real, even in Afghanistan. These would have to be fully integrated with the aircraft so the price would again, go upward.

UK equipment such as Paveway guided bombs, CRV-7 rockets, Brimstone/Hellfire and targeting pods would also need integrations, this is generally not a complicated process (should everything go to plan) but is an extra cost.

The reality of these vital but expensive extras and integration work is a unit price approaching £10million and that is without the usual MoD ‘cock up’ contingency uplift.

So the quoted exchange rate in the Times of a squadron of 16 for every single Typhoon is somewhat wide of the mark, for each Typhoon or JCA we would be able to purchase half a squadron, 7 or 8 airframes at most.

But isn’t that still great, 8 airframes to 1 seems almost too good to not consider?

It would be if a Super Tucano could do the same work as a Typhoon, it is a superficially attractive proposal, after all its an aircraft that can carry bombs and missiles much like the Typhoon.

But a more in-depth analysis shows they are not the same, in fact far from it.

A relatively slow turboprop like the Super Tucano is unlikely to be effective in the show of force role, the impact of a fast jet screaming overhead at an ultra-low altitude might seem a rather unusual mission requirement but they are used to influence and shape the battlefield where a more traditional attack might be counter-productive, in a COIN environment the loss of civilian life or destruction of property should be minimised. As time goes on, this tactic will inevitably become less effective as the enemy will get used to it, simply ignoring the aircraft but it is still a useful capability to retain.

Replacing a fast jet with a Super Tucano takes this capability away from the troops on the ground, it becomes a kinetic strike or nothing. Even if the Super Tucano was a credible show of force aircraft it would require it to be in the MANPADS and AAA threat zone for some time, exposing it to ground fires. In this application, speed means survival and effectiveness, turboprop means useless and full of bullet holes.

How about the primary role of providing close air support to troops in contact, this comes down to reaction times, sensors, communications, weapon load and endurance.

In order to provide reactive close air support, the aircraft in question has to be there in the first place, this means one has two options; a fast aircraft or lots of slower ones.

The fast jet can move from contact to contact at a high cruise or with afterburners reducing reaction times and enabling a large area to be covered with a single aircraft. Because the fast jet is so versatile, it can carry out other missions whilst still being able to provide reactive CAS. Speed does have the obvious disadvantage of fuel consumption but this is a trade-off, one cost against another. Whilst the Super Tucano can stay aloft for longer than for example a Typhoon, it cannot do so at high altitude, in hot conditions or with anywhere near its full payload. Significantly, the Super Tucano cannot be mid-air refuelled. The Times quotes 6.5 hours endurance for the Super Tucano, have a look at the Embraer website and this tumbles to 3.4 hours with internal fuel tanks and this is not at altitude, in hot conditions or with a full load.

So from this, it should be obvious that speed is vital, however, an added complication is the time it now takes to get clearance for a strike, as more restrictive rules of engagement designed to reduce civilian casualties slow the process right down, in these circumstances the low speed of a turboprop would be less of an issue, still significant though.

A Typhoon can carry approximately 7,500kg of stores across 13 hardpoints, with an internal main 27mm canon, although a hard point each would likely to be used for fuel and a targeting pod.

The Super Tucano on the other hand can carry just over 1500kg of external stores across 5 hardpoints and must carry a medium calibre canon on an external hardpoint, which would also be counted as part of its payload. The weight of a defensive aids system would also reduce the payload yet further. In order to provide a greater endurance one of these hardpoints and a considerable proportion of its payload would need to be dedicated to an external fuel tank. If one wanted a targeting pod, an external fuel tank and a canon the available hardpoints would number 3.

When a Typhoon drops or launches a weapon or two, it can do it again. The Super Tucano would have to return to base to re-arm, leaving the troops in contact without cover.

The much slower Super Tucano would need longer transit times to its area of operation and that area of operation would need to be much smaller. Forward basing is one possible means of negating this transit time disadvantage but smaller forward airbases would need greater force protection as the area needed to operate for an extended period would be large, requiring extensive IED mitigation and manpower. Distributed air operations would also split the maintenance and logistics effort, meaning more in theatre personnel and more combat logistics patrols to support them.

Operating from temporary airstrips or even road areas (although roads are in short supply in Helmand) with resupply by helicopter is an option that might be considered but there are many complications when trying to operate continuous air coverage and would mainly involve shifting costs elsewhere. The forward air basing concept is certainly worth a detailed study because it has been employed to good effect in a range of conflicts in recent times but I suspect the answer would be more expensive and impractical.

Lower speed also means that the Super Tucano would be in a threat zone for longer than a fast jet, turboprops are eminently less survivable than a fast jet. The USAF A10 was designed specifically to be faster than the likes of the Skyraider that is so often cited in these types of discussion, conveniently forgetting that the Skyraider was shot to pieces with weapons 40 years ago. On the reverse of this argument, the advent of targeting pods and ROVER terminals means that the need to operate a low altitude is greatly diminished. Using precision-guided weapons would allow the Super Tucano to operate at medium altitude, beyond the reach of most AAA.

Some commentators also point to high speed as a disadvantage in CAS, perhaps 40 years ago when weapons were manually targeted but with targeting pods, GPS/INS and laser-guided weapons, this is no longer the case.

Comparing speed and payload might be interesting from a nerdy technical specs perspective but it translates into a very real effect.

In order to provide the continuous and reactive close air support coverage that a single fast jet does one would need a significant number of Super Tucano’s to be in the air at the same time. Also, maintenance of continual coverage is punishing, maintenance requirements would mean more airframes, the Super Tucano needs much less maintenance than a Typhoon but it is still a relatively complex aircraft, especially with the systems that would allow it to operate in theatre without being a burden on operations.

So whether the ratio of Super Tucano to Typhoon would be on a ratio of 8 to 1, only a detailed study would show but the airframe cost advantage is beginning to significantly diminish and as has been shown above, a Super Tucano would be a capability loss. As a quick reminder,  we have not to take into account the tax revenue which would be lost by purchasing a Super Tucano from Brazil.

But, it doesn’t stop there.

If it is accepted that more Super Tucano’s would be required to fulfil the missions of a single typhoon, may 5 or 6, it follows that more aircrew, maintainers, maintenance facilities, spare parts, simulators, quarters, medical facilities and all the other costs of maintaining a greater number of aircraft in an overseas theatre would have to be found.

Each Super Tucano needs two aircrews compared to one for the Typhoon as well and aircrew training is a lengthy process, especially to provide close air support to troops in contact, surely one of the most mistake intolerant activities in the armed forces.

Inexorably the cost advantage is diminishing to a point where it is likely the ‘cheap’ Super Tucano actually ends up costing more.

And the final cherry on top is that the Super Tucano would be of little use in any other type of operation.

If an aircraft such as a Super Tucano were used in operations other than CAS then it becomes a much more attractive proposition if one assumes that we do not try and use a Super Tucano as a direct replacement for a fast jet but rather as a complementary capability, where the speed and payload advantages of a fast jet are not as critical.

This is the argument that General Richards is advancing, swapping a small number of the exquisite in favour of more of the utility types, not an either-or argument.

It is an argument that I support, but we have to be careful to aim at the right places, using turboprops to replace fast jets in the close air support role would be more expensive and lead to a capability gap. In a complementary capacity, being able to augment the Apache Attack Helicopter, cover the armed reconnaissance role and perhaps provide some top cover or escort capability, would seem to make a lot of sense.

Is the Super Tucano the right aircraft for the job?

As a rule, we should be seeking to reduce the number of airframe types in service, commonality drives down support costs and achieves economies of scale.

Introducing yet another airframe does exactly the opposite.

With this in mind, an aircraft already in service (yes, we use the Shorts Tucano but it is a radically different aircraft to the Super Tucano) would be preferred.

All three services already operate the Beechcraft King Air 350 in some capacity.

It might not look as warlike as a Super Tucano but arguably is much more suitable as a complement to fast jets and the Apache attack helicopter. This would relieve the pressure on the fast jet force, spreading out airframe hours and providing a meaningful if a not significant reduction in overall operating costs.

We have already integrated communication, defensive aids and sensors so adding weapon functionality like Hellfire or even a future guided CRV-7 rocket should not be a significant or overly expensive exercise. We have discussed the potential of a guided CRV7 rocket, the CRV7-PG and would be a good fit, low cost, accurate and with a low yield warhead.

It has a very long endurance, sufficient crew comfort for long missions and could also provide limited electronic or signal intelligence and communications rebroadcast with a secondary role of air despatch also being very useful.

The Iraqi air force has for some time been operating armed Cessna C208B Combat Caravans, equipped with a pair of Hellfires, this shows the state of the possible and it is not as if this is even a new idea.

Accepting a reduction on fast jet numbers for a couple of squadrons of armed business turboprops like the King Air 350 should be high on the list of possible futures for the RAF.

An armed Shadow R1 for the RAF makes a lot of sense, a reasonable complementary capability to reduce costs but please let’s not kid ourselves it is a viable replacement for a Typhoon.

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26 Responses

  1. I’ve argued the case for Super Tucano’s before but with hindsight, unless the Taliban started using light aircraft to transport drugs, they’d be little use for anything else. When we pull out of Afghanistan what use would the Tucano be apart from weapons training? Tucano is therefore not the answer.

    If we want higher speeds and greater altitudes for our attack helicopters then we need to start looking at compound helicopters, unfortunately these aren’t in production.

    As cheap(ish) solution I’d agree that King Air 350’s armed with Hellfires (like the Iraqi Cessna Caravans) would probably be the best option.

  2. The Air Staff never learned from the 60s: like the TSR2, the Typhoon is a very wonderful aircraft wildly over specced. Even its original inception as an air superiority fighter was dubious: where would it have been deployed? Even back in 1955, Harold Macmillan as Defence Minister wrote a paper entitled, ‘No More Biggin Hills’. Sandys saw the logic of that, but not the Air Staff, either then or now.
    And you’re right: the Tucano would equally be a one trick pony – fine for fighting tribesmen in the hills, but not much else.

    Can we restart the production for the Buccaneer, please?

  3. Look, The Typhoon is here, it works, it is only going to get better. It can everthing that the RAF want a fighter to do and it will do it all very very well indeed. If they had designed in the ability to be carrier based it would be perfect. The costs were made higher and the development time increased due to the bloody Germans. The development costs have been sunk, so lets make the best of this very fine aircraft. General Richards obviously does not know what he is talking about, a bit of a concern for the CDS!!!

    Rather than wasting time and money on more aircraft, surely what we need are more UCAVS. Lets get Teranis in prouction ASAP and in the meantime buy more Reapers and the new jet powered one (the name escapes me and if I open another window on the bloody Linex laptop to look it up I lose the screen that was open with Think Defence).

    Oh lets have a few more Apache’s.

  4. The Typhoon is as relevant now as it was during the cold war, anyone who says its just a cold war relic should stop staring at their feet and start looking up, especially in the skies to the east.

    The days when Russian aviation technology lagged decades behind the west have long since gone. China is the new rising superpower and they’re steadily re-equipping their airforce with J-10’s and non-licence built Su-27’s. The Russians have also vastly improved their legacy Mig-29’s and Su-27’s and have begun to field them as Mig-35’s and Su-35’s.

    With 3-axis vectoring engines, quaraplex FBW controls, AESA radar and off-bore sight missiles, going head to head with machines in anything less than a Typhoon would be verging on the suicidal.

    Given the propensity for the Russians to sell their kit to just about anybody, the chances of the RAF coming up against these fighters in the next decade will increase significantly.

    In addition to this, France is still actively marketing the Rafale, and any sudden change of regime in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States could see the RAF up against F-15’S, F-16’s and Typhoons. It happened in Iran, it could happen again. We should be actively looking at vectored thrust for the Typhoon to cover for any eventuality, in addition to improving its ground attack capability.

    As for Buccaneers, they’ve been consigned to the museums and scrapyards for a good reason, there’s no way they can cut the mustard today. If anything the Jaguar should be brought back into service, tough, cheap and fine for short-term forays into the sticks.

    As for Harold MacMillan, he clearly forgot the Fw-190 scourge following the Battle of Britain. History has a nasty habit of coming back and biting you in the ass, which is what will happen if we let our fighter technology and capability diminish over time.

  5. Richard, good post, could not agree more. We also need to make sure we get at least 180+ to ensure that we have enough airframes available to cover all the roles currently provided by the Tornado’s and what was undertaken by the Jaguar.

    Richard you are right about bringing back the Jaguar. The Jaguar’s had all been upgraded prior to their decommissioning, they even had HMS (Helmet Mounted Sights). It would have made sense to keep a golden fleet of, say 12 airframes going by using the rest of the fleet to provide spares. They would have been ideal for Afghanistan. Now we should get the Typhoon’s in service ASAP as they are much more reliable than the Tornado and will be more effective due to their increased power.

  6. Admin – excellent post, well thought out – and of course this is just another reason why journalism has reached the depths that it has – ‘subject matter experts’ such as those who write and comment here know a lot more about these things than the journo’s of The Times – or any other paper probably. Yet they pump out schlock which in the ‘old days’ would have been relegated to The Sun :-(

    I agree with all comments ref Typhoon. However there is a compelling argument for something cheaper and simpler, much like the buying of Off-the-shelf MRAP’s instead of something like Boxer. However as described in the article, a procurement of Super Tucano might not be it, as its probably not enough OTS, it as a one trick pony it does need to be really cheap.

    Armed Shadow’s R1’s are not the answer either, they can do “armed ISR” but that is not the same as ‘close air support’ – however it would be a cheap additional capability enhancement.

    Jaguars were an excellent aircraft with all the latest mods, but underpowered for Afghanistan, yet dedicating the whole fleet to this particular campaign and flying them until they ran out of life might have been very cost effective.

    The Bucc was the dogs nuts – still flying when I joined up, and my grandfather (ex-WWII FAA) was involved in its development – but it would have been totally useless in Afghanistan.

    I am not sure there is a cost effective air craft available at a cheap enough price. I am not a big fan of UAV’s for many reasons, but they could help in this scenario I admit. Personally I think we may need to go back to the “queen of the battlefield” – artillery ! The full gamut from 155mm howitzers, to laser guided 120mm mortars and even GMLRS……

    So, no new aircraft types,no re-introduction of old types (!), modest increases in UAV’s, in AH64 availability and more artillery support including new 120mm breach loading automatic mortars (on armored vehicle of your choice..) with precision guided rounds.

  7. I’m sure the Indian Air Force trialled the Honeywell F125IN in the Jaguar (9,850 lbs thrust to the Adour’s 7,305 lbs), this would improve performance for Afghanistan.

    Any conversion work could be done by HAL in India for the fraction of the cost rather than getting BAE to do the work. Honeywell could also be contracted to provide field support rather than train the RAF’s engine techs to do it, this would save time getting the aircraft operational.

    Conversion of 12 airframes shouldn’t be overly expensive in the scheme of things and getting HAL to re-wing them at the same time could also address any medium term fatigue issues – and still a lot cheaper than a Typhoon.

  8. I am sure I read somewhere that the MoD is advertising for a Jaguar airframe for Cranfield, having disposed of them all is now buying one back. When I read the article it said the approximate price would be £30k

    Can’t find the source now though

  9. If it were the ideal world we would have a two tiered fast jet force a high end super duper do everything multi-role jet like the Eurofighter is hyped to be working alongside a smaller cheaper fast jet. I think turboprop attack aircraft are not something the UK should be thinking about as they are far too limited in capability to justify themselves and would cost lives something which should be politically less palatable than money. On that last point I said should be but life seems to be worth less than money for the current government and voters which is saddening. If something much cheaper is definitely needed then armed Hawk trainers would be my suggesting as long as they are kept simple no fancy equipment just the basics. These aircraft could then be used in the normal training role including expanded weapons training when unsuitable for deployments to the next war zone. Maybe some sort of conversion kit could be developed or modular equipment that is fitted when needed to available aircraft although how long until advanced jet training is PFI’d or has that happened already.

    On a wider point I feel we still need a two tiered fast jet force or two different jet’s although most are currently multi-role aircraft it might cost more but it has advantages. I cannot really draw any conclusions until something is flying off the carriers if that ever happens it’s supposed to be the F-35B. In my opinion the F-35 program looks doomed to failure and even if it does deliver the aircraft will be exorbitantly expensive and essentially a bit crap, again in my own opinion. This leaves the door open to the high possibility of two large grey hulls with no fast jets as I doubt the politicians would fork out for conversion and aircraft. Even if somehow it is decided we still need carriers and funds are available which aircraft do we go for? The Rafale, Super Hornet or one of the higher risk options e.g. Sea Gripen or SeaPhoon. On a side note Sea Gripen would be interesting as it could be deployed ashore with the Royal Marines operating from roads if need be as it was designed to do. We would be using its design features in reverse in a way, offence instead of defence but I think it would be an idea worth considering.

  10. Euan said: “then armed Hawk trainers would be my suggesting as long as they are kept simple no fancy equipment just the basics”

    Not a bad idea I suppose, definite benefits over a Super Tuc, new Hawks with the ‘air combat wing’ or whatever BAe used to call it, they have space in the nose for thermal imager / TV, they have NVG compatible electronic cockpits. Just wonder about the thrust to weight ratio and hot and high performance.

    Having said that, we have over a 140 upgraded Tornado’s on inventory — why are only 8 deployed ?

  11. Have a look at the Hawk 208 that BAe sold to Malaysia, has all the avionics and electronics, wingtip AA missiles hardpoints, 3 dual store wing hardpoints, about a 3 tonne payload, air refuelling probe and an uprated engine. Not sure of cost but it should be worth a look.

    Jed, your point about Tornados is an interesting one, the same goes for the upgraded Harriers. I know they have returned home from a long tour but the aircraft themselves have had nearly a billion pounds spent on them and could soldier on for another decade.

  12. Although the Hawk is cheaper to run than a Eurofighter, considerably so, its still £30k-40k an hour, my understanding is that the Tucano is considerably less than £10k an hour to operate.

    I did some thinking, rare I know, about what the Tucano Salesmen say it can do for us, and really came up with.
    Stay on site for long periods of time.
    Provide direction to other out of area assets.
    Provide direct fire support.
    Be cheap.

    Now, its certainly my understanding, that those are useful things to bring, based on my understanding of how firefights in Afghanistan generaly go, bullets start flying, we call in airpower, wait 20 minutes for it to arrive, some Taliban die, we advance for a minute, bullets start flying, we call in air power, wait 20 minutes for it to arrive, some more Taliban die, and so forth.

    With a Tucano on site, a TIC can call in fast air, but it can also call in Artilery and Mortar fire, directed by the Tucano.
    Which to me, seems like a useful thing.
    Not that I’m a Infantry Captain who might have a better idea.

    Now, looking at that capability and wondering how elsewe could deliver it, I ended up with The US Armys Warrior UAV.
    They’ve recently spent $1b purchasing a batch of systems, which I’ve done some Handy Maths with and worked out that for $90m, about £60m, or the price of a Typhoon, you get a squadron of 12 drones and 5 control stations.
    Each drone has a top speed of 155mph, positivly sluggish compared to evwen the Tucano, but its not supposed to be a reactive platform anyway.

    If we look at our, “what do we want Tucano for?” list from above, we have,
    “Stay on site for long periods of time.”
    Well, the Warrior has 36 hours of endurance, even if its based 500 miles from its point of loiter, it can loiter for 26 hours.

    “Provide direction to other out of area assets.”
    It has funky cameras, much better than would be carried in a Tucano, and they’re designed with this role in mind.
    An Artilery unit can be given the position of enemy forces almost exactly, along with corrections if they miss, and a casualty report if they hit.
    Incoming fast air could have targets pre lased so they dont have to waste 3 minutes orienting themselves, they can just fly in and attack the marked target, then be off to another TIC.

    “Provide direct fire support.”
    They carry 4 Hellfires, which although slightly less useful than 4 Rocket Pods, is hardly anything to ignore.

    “Be cheap.”
    They are, very.

    But, I hear you cry, what will they do in a “proper” war.
    Well, I thought of that too, where a Tucano would be suicide to operate against an SU-27/35, a Warrior, which can carry 8 Air Launched Stinger Missiles, lacks a killable pilot.
    So lets say we go to war, unsupported, against Russia, our Typhoons would be hardpressed to win the air war over the North Sea. That job would be made much much easier if we were to have a UAV screen, or pockets, in the way. They’d either have to be shot down, with the limited supply of missiles, or avoided, leaving the risk of them cutting off escape routes.

  13. Dom – you had me right up to the last paragraph – please tell me that was meant to be funny – please….

    155mph radar-less drone in the air-to-air role, lets just put the Sopwith Camel back into production :-)

  14. I doubt they would actualy shoot anything down, but I think they could be bloody annoying.
    Something similar was used in Iraq before the recent invasion, the US sent them out to either force an Iraqi jet to shut it down, which could then be intercepted, or force Iraqi air defences to shoot it down, revealing thir positions.
    So semi serious, they arent goin to win dog fights, but 12 of them would carry over 96 short range missiles
    Isnt it still RAF policy to send pilots who survived ejecting froma shot down Typhoon back up in a Hawk?
    (In the event of them being needed obviously)

    Some more numbers
    A Typhoon costs £90,000 an hour to operate.
    About £10,000 of that is airframe wear and tear, so that leaves £80k as a saveable cost in fuel, spares, maintenance and pilot time.

    If we make up a number and say it costs £20,000 an hour to operate a Warrior UAV, that gives us a “saving” of £60,000 an hour.

    So those 12 warrior UAV would need to save Typhoons 1000 hours of flight time to pay for themselves.
    If we put in a cost of £2000 an hour for warrior, they need to save 750 hours of Typhoon time.

    Does anyone know how many flying hours we rack up in Afghanistan?

  15. The Jag would probably the best choice for Afghanistan, its a shame its gone, and Hawk 200’s would be a lot cheaper compared to the Typhoon, but BAE would still find an excuse to charge us a packet.

    Given the cost of spares and logistical back-up in the West comapared to the East, we could always hunt around the bottom of the NATO bargain bucket and cobble together/lease a squadron of Su-25 Frogfoots.

    The Czech’s have probably still got some in storage and Bulgaria still has them in service. We could use them for the duration and leave them in theatre for the Afghan Air Force.

    It may sound a far fetched at face value but if we can lease Mi-8/Mi-17’s then why not? Maintenance and reliability issues aside of course.

    There’s enough Mi-24’s and MiG-29’s in NATO to warrant their logistical support, so it could work with the Su-25. In addition to this, the Russians have already used them in theatre, so we know they’re well suited, and the Bulgarians already have forces in Agfghanistan and they could help with technical support. All we have to do then is train and provide the pilots.

    Ok, admittedly, its a very simplistic view, and the realities would be somewhat more complex, but given the costs of operating fast jets in theatre, from a financial point of view it is feasible.

  16. Richard what you suggest has merit, but it is a NATO centric, multi-national solution – I am not saying that is wrong at all, but it in some ways if fudges the issue of what the RAF has, what it should have in the future, and how it uses its assets.

    To continue on your train of thought though, what about all those lovely S3 Vikings sitting the desert. The last operational deployment of the S3 was as an over-land NT-ISR asset in Iraq. If the US Navy can no longer afford them, however a multi-national NATO squadron flying them in Afghanistan ?

    Plenty of airframe fatigue life left, coped well with sand and heat in Iraq, good endurance, up to 4 crew (very, very useful for handling the airborne FAC role – maybe even flying ‘command post-mini’), good internal sensors (radar and EO) ability to carry latest targeting pods and ability to carry internal or external weapons. Fit its bomb-bay for the SDB / Viper Strike and et voila…..

  17. Solution to the CAS requirements of the Army and as a STOL aircraft capable of dispersal into the field among the Army it will support like the Harrier Force did in Germany before it was Navalized? 3 or 4 Squadrons of surplus to USAF requirements A10s. Rugged, cheap, comparitvely simple, proven and available. The best aircraft the RAF probably never had, but perhaps not sexy or gadgety enough for them.

  18. Effects based procurement. So what’s the Tucano Effect?

    We live, allegedly, in a world of effects based defence procurement, so those of us who want a Tucano fleet should have no problem defining its effect.
    It actually was quite problematic, so I stole Armed Intelligence from Admins argument and added Cheap and Numerous to look original Cheap, Numerous Armed Intelligence support to large scale planned patrols in Afghanistan.

    Now, a Tucano like plane can deliver that effect, and if we budget at £10m should be able to procure something with a decent range, long term loiter capability and carrying four Rocket Pods (76 rockets) or four Hellfire missiles.

    For one Typhoon we can get 6 upgraded Tucano.

    As can the Shadow, but I’m going to assume it will cost a lot more (I can’t find any figures), although provide much better Intelligence capability.
    Since cheap was the order of the day, good enough, is.

    We then have to ask, what else can deliver this effect?

    I give you, the MQ-1C Warrior

    For $1billion you, or the US army anyway, get 11 Squadrons, each consisting of 12 drones and 5 control stations, totalling 132 aircraft and 55 control stations.
    That works out at $90m per squadron

    Each drone can operate for 36 hours over 200 miles and can carry 4 hellfire missiles I’m assuming the range issue is one of radio control range limits, so it could be solved by additional control stations, rather than it has an average speed of 11 miles an hour.

    Quite handily, one Typhoon is more or the less same price as one Warrior Squadron.

    There is also The Warriors big brother, The Reaper

    However this system is significantly more expensive, WikiTalk has a figure of $205m for 5 drones and “some” ground equipment, assume two control stations, apparently paid by the Saudis. Although significantly better armed, carrying 14 hellfire missiles, it isn’t cheap, therefore cannot be numerous and therefore fails.

    BAE also have several systems in development, but information is sparse, and from looking at pictures, they appear to be Unmanned Vulcan Bombers, big, expensive and fast, and so out of the competition.

    So it appears I’ve selected a winner, The Warrior.

    For the cost of single Typhoon, we could buy 12 drones and 5 control stations, I’m guessing that’s two in long term maintenance, five active and five ready to launch/just landed.

    With a top speed of just 100miles an hour and a payload of 4 missiles they’re completely and utterly useless if your isolated patrol has just hit a mine or been ambushed, for that you need a Fast Jet to come and help, or an Apache if ones in the area.

    The Warrior comes in when you’re not an isolated patrol, you’re an attack on a Taliban Compound or you’re a supply run.

    Operation Flint

    And the Supply run that followed it

    How much easier, and safer, would both of those operations have been if a pair of warriors we’re onsite at all time, providing a lookout for possible enemy movements, an immediate counter strike if enemy forces attacked and finally if the situation warranted it, guidance for artillery fire or incoming fast air.
    Two or three minutes are usually wasted as incoming fast air orients on friendly forces, two or three minutes saved if a UAV is already lasing targets.

    They would also be very useful in a “proper” counter insurgency role, observing people laying IED’s and either killing them there and then or following them back to their base and either destroying it, calling in fast air to destroy it, or ground troops to capture it.

  19. Dominic the problem with your suggestion is the Army have already chosen a medium sized UAV in the Watchkeeper program. If that was not around then I would have no doubt in my mind about selecting the Warrior for the army. Generally my outlook on UAV’s is you have your different levels ideally concentrating on specific aircraft rather than having a whole different variety at each level. The first level is small handheld manpackable UAV’s that can be taken along with vehicle patrols or possibly on foot we already kind of have that with the Desert hawk 3 UAV. Next level is something that is catapult launched that does not require a runway for launch or recovery such as the Scan Eagle UAV ideal for FOB’s or use on ships. We don’t have anything like this from what I can remember off the top of my head as the Watchkeeper is a bigger than scan eagle and needs a runway so needs to be at an airbase which is a bit of a flaw. Next is the Watchkeeper or Warrior UAV’s these are still mainly reconnaissance assets but can be armed so start to verge into the hunter killer role and are ideal for what Dominic has suggested. The problem is we have Watchkeeper so getting Warrior would essentially duplicate this class of UAV which is not a great idea with a tight budget and would bring little extra capability. One thing to note as well all of these are flown by the Army as they are tactical assets with shorter range and limited weapons capability mainly to be used for improving the battlefield picture. They are also generally controlled in the field either from a laptop or a computer in the back of a small truck with line of sight communications. Instead of doing the kinetic work themselves these UAV’s generally call in artillery, fast air, attack helicopters or direct troops to a target to remove threats.

    On the larger side of things like the Reaper and BAE Mantis class UAV’s are in my mind hunter killers they launch and then search for hours on end for targets over a massive area and then attack what they find. Generally they should do this alone not really in direct support of people on the ground and essentially work in support of the wider theatre and operational objectives most of the time. For instance tactical UAV’s are generally launched when needed to cover convoys, patrols or other events in the warzone whereas the Reaper class UAV’s generally have an orbit that they stick to. These UAV’s are also controlled via satellite communications therefore the operator can be anywhere in the world most likely at the main HQ back in the UK. These aircraft are usually Air Force operated as they operate across a much wider area geographically and can fly at the same altitude as many Air Force aircraft. The smaller tactical aircraft generally operate at much lower level occupied by helicopters and any artillery fire which are generally army responsibilities so it should be a bit easier to deconflict the airspace.

    There are of course other UAV’s but that would be going on a bit and are better discussed elsewhere I just thought I would explain what I’m thinking about the whole UAV game. I do however agree a UAV would be a better choice than Super Tucano however what UAV and what level of UAV is an important question.

  20. Euan and Dominic – quick comment on your last comments (I am at work !).

    I actually would prefer to see SuperTuc than Warrior – reason for this is the humans in the cockpit. Much has been written about the ‘soda straw’ view you get with a UAV EO package, two crew in a SuperTuc, both with binoculars as well as an EO pod gives outstanding wider ‘situational awareness’. However like I said earlier, although running costs are higher, we already have lots of Tornado’s that could be loitering at medium altitude with their wings swept forward and with large amounts of underwing fuel….. why not just ‘lever’ what we have and ‘sweat those assets’ ??

    Ref the links to the stories about the outposts and the supply convoys – don’t use this as default reason to by UAV’s to provide “overwatch” – use these stories to question troop numbers, how we are deployed, the lack of suitable helicopter lift that results in road convoys etc etc. UAV (or armed ISR aircraft, or SuperTuc’s) on overwatch is a solution to a symptom, not to the problem.

  21. just found this website and i LOVE it!!! spent 22 years in the army and still mad keen on defence (although i spent those 22 years fixing kit that should never had been bought). with regards to the super toc there is an interesting article/video on ebay with reference to a cheap CAS aircraft developed in the 80’s by bert ruatan, it’s looks like the answer single jet with 25mm chain gun, the US army had a model built to evalulate it, but decided to discontinue the idea, however i seems they have a change of heart and have the original demonstrator out for another look bert is an aviation genius and has aircraft in the american hall of fame, now known for his virgin spacecraft design.
    rather me bump my gums about this incredibly cheap aircraft watch the video

    ps with the A400m looking lik it’s going to cost more than a room full of van goughs has anyone any thoughts on the kawasaki xc-2 which had it’s maiden flight in jan, it can carry the same as the a400 however it is a twin jet so can fly further in commercial skylanes more importantly it is a lot cheaper!! (it so looks like a mini C-17)!!
    thanks for reading my first post

  22. Hi Paul

    Glad you like the site, have a browse through the ‘back issues’ for a few articles on close air support

    Ref Kawasaki XC2, looks very interesting but I don’t think its short field performance is very good and the Japanese constitution prohibits export of weapons, shame that

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