Ploughshares to swords: A brief look at potential COIN aircraft

The Paris Air Show is a prime spot in the Aviation world to show the weird and wonderful, or at least the exotic.  One of the not-so-exotic exhibitors, but still interesting, is the Iomax Archangel.

Like its very similar competitor the Airtractor AT-802U, the Iomax Archangel is derived from the humble Agricultural range of light aircraft, in this case the Thrush 710P, the base airframes were essentially crop-dusters. Those with a keen defence eye will undoubtedly have noted already that Iomax was involved in the conversion and delivery of the AT-802U to the UAE Air Force.

Spot the difference….

Air Tractor 802-U
Air Tractor 802-U
Iomax Archangel
Iomax Archangel

It may be surprising to note that there are a host of differing types of other crop-dusters that seem ripe for potential development into COIN aircraft like the Airtractor AT-802U.  Given their rough field capability and tough airframes, they make ideal candidates for this role, being able to operate in austere conditions with minimal maintenance.  Although derived from agricultural aircraft, these new contenders sport new avionics, sensors, armour plating and significantly more engine power. To draw a brief comparison, the Airtractor AT-400, a forebear of the AT-802U had a 680 shp turbine, the latest armed version has been increased to 1,600 shp.

Unlike jet aircraft, these mud movers have the distinct advantage of vastly improved fuel economy and thus increased time on station.  To draw yet another comparison, when the Royal Air Force changed from the Jet Provost fleet of trainers to the Shorts Tucano, the fuel burn was reduced in the order of 70%.  In these cost conscious times, and with an eye to the fuel scarcity of the future, this is not a idea to be sniffed at.

These rural counterparts, unlike their slicker (more urbane?), trainer derived COIN cousins, can carry significantly more under-wing stores, 9000 lbs in the case of the AT-802U, making them more Sturmovik than Spitfire.  Although this admittedly this comes at the price of speed.  Given the cost of fuel, large fighters and supporting the infrastructure of a large airbase, these smaller aircraft come into their own for policing borders and hunting insurgents.  The current crop of converted crop dusters however, do not come with internal, wing mounted guns.  Instead, the aircraft must rely on external pods, which will degrade their speed performance further.

The contenders

The Cessna A188 Ag Truck; given Cessna’s historical connection with such aircraft like the O-1 Birdog and O-2A Skymaster, Cessna didn’t seem to be attracted to the COIN world with the AgTruck (and its variants), despite its purposeful lines, with production ending in 1985.  Given several manufacturers forays into what is a marketed as a border patrol aircraft, it may be prudent for Cessna to look into this potentially flourishing market.

Embraer EMB-202 Ipanema, although no stranger to the manufacture of COIN aircraft, Embraer seems more than content with the manufacture of the Super Tucano, although a development of the Ipanema would appear to be an ideal stablemate.

Hongdu N-5B, this modern Chinese design started out with a piston-engine and a tricycle undercarriage, however a demand for more power has ensured that this modern design has been upgraded with a Czech Walter M601F turboprop rated at 777 shp, and given a tail-dragger undercarriage layout for greater rough field performance.  Given China’s internal problems and need to patrol its Afghan border, the N-5B could be a potential outside contender, especially as an export aircraft with China’s forays into Africa.

Piper PA-36 Pawnee Brave, Piper sold the production rights to this particular model to WTA Inc in the early eighties, with production ending in 1983.

PZL-Mielec M-18 Dromader (named unflatteringly after the Camel which it resembles) is Polish made, and is a licensed copy of the Rockwell Thrush Commander, and therefore shares a common heritage with the Iomax Archangel and the AirTractor AT-802U.  It is available with a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-45 gas turbine engine as the M-18/T45 Turbine Dromader.  This aircraft, like the Chinese Hongdu N-5B, gives a country other than the USA a serious potential opportunity in the COIN aircraft market.

Although a number of these aircraft have been phased out of production, Airtractor and Iomax have demonstrated that with a little imagination and innovation, the humble crop-duster can make a significant contribution to a nation’s security.  However much I admire these tenacious little yokels, there is one nagging doubt I can’t seem to shake off, and that is this…..

The Stuka parties held by allied pilots during WWII demonstrated the weakness of the painfully slow Ju-87 compared to the inherently faster fighter types.  The action, often being savagely one sided, highlights the Achilles heel of slow combat aircraft, which is the need for total air superiority.

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keil kraft
keil kraft
June 29, 2013 6:01 pm

The enemy these days is unlikely to have air superiority and in the field this simple unsophisticated low tech option must have a role especially as it can operate almost anywhere. I guess a few of them will fit inside a C-130, A400 etc
Rutan’s ARES budget COIN aircraft of about 20 years ago had a cutdown gatling gun.

mike
mike
June 29, 2013 8:06 pm

The cockpits of these all look similar, particularly vulnerable (from the side especially) – more so given their lower speeds, especially with the almost standard proliferation of HMG’s/AA guns on the back of a pick-ups during the Arab shi!t storm/spring, I cant see these emulating the Stuka’s of old… If armored like their heavier/faster counterparts; would that effect their payload?

Interesting to see how the UAE’s air-tractors turn out.

John Hartley
John Hartley
June 29, 2013 8:09 pm

I see on defensenews that France may buy 12-18 Reapers.

Observer
Observer
June 29, 2013 8:17 pm

Agree with keil, if you are doing COIN, the enemy is not likely going to be using MiG 29s or F-16s, so air superiority is not really a question. It is only if you use them outside of their anticipated role do you start getting problems.

Biggest worry about these guys is probably Strelas, Grails and Iglas.

As for speed, for ground attack, the slower the better. Too fast and your weapons fire becomes too dispersed to properly saturate the ground.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
June 29, 2013 11:21 pm
Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
June 29, 2013 11:35 pm
Chuck Hill
June 30, 2013 12:46 am

Maybe make it optionally manned? An alternative to UAVs

Cessna has not completely left the field. There is the AC-208 “Combat Caravan” which is equipped to use Hellfire.

Fluffy Thoughts
Fluffy Thoughts
June 30, 2013 6:21 am

Totally plucked-out-of-the-air but here goes:

Could we develop a manned version of Mantis? Swap-out the satellite-comms and reduce the fuel-load to compensate required human enviromental stuff (givinf it – fag-paper stuff – an empty weight approaching 6 – 7000lbs). That leaves ~ 10K lbs for fuel and ordinance.

Parallel developement of the current product-stream to give manned/un-manned synergies and will send a salute, Agincourt stylee, to the French. Primarily UK-built (so returned taxes reduce actual costs) and it marks our return to the combat market (rejoining the powers that are Iran and Turkey). Whats not to like…?

John Hartley
John Hartley
June 30, 2013 8:04 am

I seem to remember that BAE published drawings of a COIN/attack helicopter killer in the late 80s. It was a pusher turboprop said to be very agile.

John Hartley
John Hartley
June 30, 2013 8:11 am

Mind you, beginning to think that with the need for greater reach to avoid hostile airspace & the need to loiter over a battlefield, a modern day B-29 Superfortress might be better. 10,000lb of bombs over a range of 3250 miles. Even carried 2 British 22,000 lb bombs externally under inner wings. What about using the wings & engines of an A400M to create a modern bomber that can drop two 22.000 lb Grand Slams on the enemy?

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
June 30, 2013 10:03 am

RE: BAE COIN/helicopter hunter. Was called SABA – Small agile Battlefield Aircraft:

http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread186160/pg1

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
June 30, 2013 10:14 am

This picture archive is interesting: particularly like the Soviet Broncoski – T710 Anaconda – a slightly larger copy of the OV-10 Bronco; and the BAE P1239 with a ventral weapon module:

http://s553.photobucket.com/user/abtex/library/SABA%20aircraft?sort=3&src=wap&page=1

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
June 30, 2013 10:16 am

@ Chuck – Combat Caravan would have the advantage of orbating fire like a mini-gunship

Mark
Mark
June 30, 2013 10:24 am

Interesting piece this a gd idea from the manufacturer and one some countries could benefit from. Would like to see the king airs get the ability to carry brimstone in uk service if there kept.

A lack of aar capability and reach prob means the uk won’t go this route as simply you’d need lots more of them which means more people which gets costly. Mind you these would be a competitor for apache replacement.

John the reapers for France http://www.scribd.com/doc/150574321/France-13-40-pdf these uav things are cheap aren’t they:)

x
x
June 30, 2013 11:40 am

We could do with some of the normal version to spray poppy fields with weed killer…..

Chuck Hill
June 30, 2013 5:34 pm

The Tucano is still not as capable as a P-51.

It is a shame this aircraft never was fully developed.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_A2D_Skyshark
Imagine what we could do with the largest turbo-props currently available.

Waddi
Waddi
June 30, 2013 5:39 pm

Should be able to take off from QEC and land as well without arrestor wires.

Chuck Hill
June 30, 2013 5:57 pm

Hartley June 30, 2013 at 8:11 am, “Mind you, beginning to think that with the need for greater reach to avoid hostile airspace & the need to loiter over a battlefield, a modern day B-29 Superfortress might be better. 10,000lb of bombs over a range of 3250 miles. Even carried 2 British 22,000 lb bombs externally under inner wings. What about using the wings & engines of an A400M to create a modern bomber that can drop two 22.000 lb Grand Slams on the enemy?”

Don’t forget there are AC-130s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_AC-130) and they have even rolled huge 22,600 pound bombs out the back. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GBU-43/B_Massive_Ordnance_Air_Blast_bomb
http://img30.imageshack.us/img30/8004/c130bomber.jpg
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_PwV1RhazOnI/SiBYT00js_I/AAAAAAAAA9o/OwsJC9YW5Us/s1600/Hercules-2.jpg

Waddi
Waddi
June 30, 2013 5:58 pm

Should say would take a brave pilot and wouldn’t be allowed!

Chuck Hill
June 30, 2013 5:58 pm

@Waddi June 30, 2013 at 5:39 pm “Should be able to take off from QEC and land as well without arrestor wires.”

in reference to something equivalent to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_A2D_Skyshark

Might work as AEW and ASW aircraft too.

Observer
Observer
June 30, 2013 6:02 pm

“Should be able to take off from QEC and land as well without arrestor wires.”

Er… why?? A carrier for COIN is like a tank for killing flies. Total misuse of equipment. These things should be using dirt fields and clearings in a jungle etc, not get tied to a supercarrier and a army division.

x
x
June 30, 2013 6:11 pm

@ Waddi

Yes. But there is plenty of space and it is very light. :)

In this film (16:00) there is footage of a much heavier and much taller Gannett landing onto a smaller deck (not by much!) ………..

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
June 30, 2013 6:16 pm

Slow, long loiter time and it can carry a heavy load – any use for ASW? Anti-boat swarm?

x
x
June 30, 2013 6:22 pm

@ Observer

If you read the bumf it is being sold as utility aircraft………

The Air Tractor® AT-802U is an economical single engine turboprop aircraft designed for surveillance, precision strike, and rugged dirt strip utility missions. The AT-802U combines an 8,000-lb. (3,629 kg) payload and 10-hour ISR mission capability with the flexibility and responsiveness of a manned weapon system – for a fraction of the cost of unmanned aerial vehicle systems.

» Real-time eye in the sky for ground troop support
» Integrated fire control system
» Training-focused force support
» Small logistics footprint

Oh and this…….

http://www.456fis.org/THE%20A-1E/Skyraider_va-15.jpg

which to me suspiciously like a propeller COIN aircraft on an aircraft carrier deck…..

:)

Waddi
Waddi
June 30, 2013 6:29 pm

@Observer

I suppose anything that a hugely expensive Apache would do?

Brian Black
Brian Black
June 30, 2013 7:07 pm

If you want one of these little prop aircraft, it would make some sense to use the same type as the RAF’s basic trainers so that pilots are familiar with aircraft already.
The Tucanos are due replacement in just a few years. Pilatus PC-21 and the Beechcraft T6 are contenders for the replacement.

Chuck Hill
June 30, 2013 7:31 pm

@Observer June 30, 2013 at 6:02 pm, “Er… why?? A carrier for COIN is like a tank for killing flies. Total misuse of equipment. These things should be using dirt fields and clearings in a jungle etc, not get tied to a supercarrier and a army division.”

The USN has been operating jet powered COIN aircraft off CVNs for the last decade. They are called F/A-18s.

Chuck Hill
June 30, 2013 7:39 pm

@Waddi June 30, 2013 at 5:58 pm, “Should say would take a brave pilot and wouldn’t be allowed!”

21 takeoffs and unarrested landings by a C-130 on USS Forrestal. None of the landing required more than 605 feet.

Ability to reverse thrust on the props, allowed rapid deceleration without arresting gear.

Rocket Banana
June 30, 2013 7:51 pm

BB,

So… the Super Tucano then?

Waddi
Waddi
June 30, 2013 8:14 pm

Key advantage of cropdusters is the taildragger undercarriage, much more robust. Tucano has nose wheel.

Peter Arundel
Peter Arundel
June 30, 2013 9:40 pm

Hartley

The BAE pusher was the Small Agile Battlefield Aircraft (SABA)

http://i553.photobucket.com/albums/jj399/abtex/SABA%20aircraft/saba2.jpg

Have to say that if you want a nose full of Laser ranger/marked target seeker etc then you need either a pusher or a twin.
Personally I like the idea of a bigger Fantrainer for a COIN aircraft as it means there’s no prop on the back to strike the ground if the pilot rotates a bit too enthusiastically, the nose is free for a low drag sensor installation and the hot turbine exhaust can be mixed with the cool fan efflux to reduce the IR signature.

http://www.flightglobal.com/airspace/media/militaryaviation1946-2006cutaways/images/82054/rfb-at1-2-fantrainer-cutaway-drawing.jpg

That said, I’m not sure if CAS aircraft have much of a future. Any decent MANPADS would have little trouble with anything less than a fast appearing high speed target and any of these modified crop sprayers would be vulnerable to simple manually aimed ZPU-1/2/4 that aren’t exactly rare.

Mark
Mark
June 30, 2013 9:55 pm

The tucano still has the potential for several thousand hours of life on the airframe and with a cockpit upgrade can remain relevant.

We have talked on other threads about what next for European aerospace defence industry. Well how about a new trainer aircraft probably a prop that sorta combines the hawk/Tucano role into one and allows streamlining of training requirements and aircraft types for the cost constrained airforces of the world could also come in a variant for a light coin aircraft. Could be developed over the next 10 years and introduced as a hawk replacement.

Observer
Observer
July 1, 2013 5:26 am

Chuck, still a waste of resources. If you are doing COIN, you have control of the area, which means airfields et al, you do not need to bring in a floating air base to provide what you already have.

Re: C-130, didn’t they have to use JATO bottles to get the C-130 off the deck? Think the regular mail run to carriers is done more by Greyhounds than Hercs.

JJ
JJ
July 1, 2013 5:27 am

If there is anything you want most in a coin aircraft if that you do not end up in the bad guy’s hands,i.e. you need twin engine redundancy.Also a very agile plane which can land just about anywere,including a LSH!You also want to have “hang around” capability…oh some cargo carrying capacity as a bonus would be nice to have,let’s say a couple of stretches or boxes of ammo
Hmm wait a minute such a plane has been around for decades,The Bronco!
http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/combat-dragon-ii-demonstrates-ov-10g-bronco-capabilities/

Picture this plane in service in Iraq or Afghanistan…

It seems they have “dusted off” this fine airplane,I’ll trade 1 bronco for 2 or 3 of these silly cropdusters or Tucano’s or whatever these “industrila wellfare” planes are called.

Cheers,
JJ

Waddi
Waddi
July 1, 2013 7:59 am

There is/was also the Pucara

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FMA_IA_58_Pucar%C3%A1

These things are all very vulnerable in normal warfare but against pirates/drug runners/Guardia Civil speedboats would be very cost effective. Cheap to buy, cheap to maintain and cheap to train pilots. We should have had dozens of them providing CAS to foot patrols over Afghanistan…bit late now. Think of them as a manned Predator for busy airspace.

Rocket Banana
July 1, 2013 8:35 am

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Cessna A-37 Dragonfly. It was the first aircraft that made me want to go “bombing”.

as
as
July 1, 2013 5:32 pm

as
as
July 1, 2013 5:53 pm
topman
topman
July 1, 2013 6:00 pm

Another idea might be to expand on 14 sqn rather than buy new.although they aren’t armed they could be.

mike
mike
July 1, 2013 6:04 pm

Simon

The tweet was an interesting little COIN type, used in ‘Nam, S.Korea and in S.America, but I remember reading that – like the jag – had power issues. Fair few air forces use/d their jet trainers for light strike too… could be made into a COIN type, you do see them out there – didn’t Nigeria send 4 to Mali?

Chuck Hill
July 1, 2013 10:36 pm

@Observer July 1, 2013 at 5:26 am, “Chuck, still a waste of resources. If you are doing COIN, you have control of the area, which means airfields et al, you do not need to bring in a floating air base to provide what you already have.

“Re: C-130, didn’t they have to use JATO bottles to get the C-130 off the deck? Think the regular mail run to carriers is done more by Greyhounds than Hercs.”

It would be reasonable to assume that if it is doing COIN, counter-insurgency, that your forces are welcomed by the host government and land bases are available, but we have seen lots of examples of where very expensive well established and well defended airbases on land are still subject to mortar and rocket and even suicide infantry attacks that destroy very expensive aircraft. Ships tend to be free of this sort of thing, and if your ship is going to be in the vicinity anyway it may be the cheapest alternative in marginal cost.

The C-130s, which were early versions without the higher rated engines in today’s J model did not require JATO for the take offs. Sorry, I thought I had included the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uM5AI3YSV3M

My point was only that if a C-130 could land and take off from a carrier without catapult or arresting gear, so could an appropriately designed turbo-prop close air support aircraft. (also demonstrated by the OV-10 video)

The C-130 was just to big to live on a carrier with other aircraft so yes smaller COD aircraft were used (C-1, C-2, US-3). The UK apparently used a version of the Fairey Gannet. I think they all had tailhooks.

Observer
Observer
July 2, 2013 8:33 am

Well that is true, you do have a point on both security and viability. I just hate the idea of tying such a high value unit as a carrier doing COIN when they are technically a strategic level asset. Seems a bit too much like overkill.

Chuck Hill
July 2, 2013 10:11 pm

It is overkill, same as Darings and Burkes doing counter-piracy, and you can apply the same rationalization.