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COIN Aircraft: Additional capability or pie in the sky?

EMB-314 Super Tucano

Recently I saw this…

TBM850 Radar Pod
TBM850 Radar Pod

 Which reminded me of this…

Vought F4U-2
Vought F4U-2

  Especially this bit…

   F4U2 Corsair RadarI then wondered if something similar could be done for this…?

EMB-314 Super Tucano
EMB-314 Super Tucano

The EMB-314 Super Tucano appears to be the ideal COIN aircraft.  It’s relatively cheap, has a good endurance and it can carry a wide range of weapons, including the AIM-9L Sidewinder.  The radar on the SOCATA TBM 850 may just be a weather radar, but given the historical significance of the radar equipped F4U Corsair, there lays the potential to expand the intercept capability.

Given that governments require greater capability from the aircraft within their air forces, I wondered if a radar unit would give the Super Tucano greater flexibility, especially if it could engage fighter aircraft?  Ok, you may say that this is just, as the title suggests, a pie in the sky idea (pardon the pun), but aircraft such as the Dassault Mirage 50 and the Mirage F.1 were fitted with small radar dishes as the customers tendered to be from hot countries, which had the advantage of clear, blue skies.  The same could be said for the Super Tucano, giving it the ability to attack aircraft beyond the visual range of the pilot.  As the AIM-9L has a range of between 0.6 and 22 miles, this would vastly expand the Super Tucano’s repertoire.  As for the layout, the radar antenna would be mounted in the wing pod, with the actual radar unit itself being mounted inside the fuselage, as close to the aircraft’s centre of gravity as possible.  Yes, a radar unit would add weight and drag, but this could be negated by having a single seat variant if necessary.

EMB-314 Super Tucano
EMB-314 Super Tucano

 As the EMB-314 has a service ceiling of around 35,000 ft, this of course is dependent on aircraft weight, temperature etc, carrying a pair of drop tanks and Sidewinders, coupled with ground radar, gives an air force something of a trump card.  Given its rough field capability, it isn’t fixed to large airbases as a modern jet fighter is, and allows the Super Tucano to survive day one of a significant conflict or avoid an Israeli style mass, pre-emptive strike.

 Although the idea of a propeller driven aircraft engaging a jet fighter may sound somewhat implausible, going on past experiences the reality begins to become more apparent:

  •  A Royal Navy Hawker Sea Fury shot down a Mig-15, Korea 1952, as did a USMC Vought F-4U Corsair the same year.
  • Two A-1 Skyraiders shot down two Mig-17’s during the Vietnam conflict.

 Accepted, the list is not exhaustive and the jets were second generation, but when you consider the plausible anti-helicopter capability of a COIN aircraft, a low cost prop versus the high cost fast jet or Apache attack helicopter, the potential would prevent an MOD bean counter from standing up in polite company.

In reality the customer of the Super Tucano tends to be third world air forces, with small, less exotic inventories.  Giving the EMB-314 a radar to extend their capability, and may allow the mouse to roar that little bit louder.

And for anyone who thinks that the Super Tucano may lack the twin engine redundancy that COIN really needs, how about a version like this…?

P-82 Twin Mustang
P-82 Twin Mustang


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83 Responses

  1. Nice article AR!

    I really like that EMB 628 Twin Tucano,you must be reading the Ares blog,once suggested a AT-12 there as an alternative to the slower Bronco…:-),unfortunately the twin tucano lacks any cargo capacity the Bronco has
    and I do not know whether a Tucano or AT-6 can land on an LSH which a Bronco can.A Bronco might also be adaptable as an carrier AEW plane instead off an overpriced flying kitchen device which they call an Osprey.
    Remember the Britten Norman Defender with that big radar?
    They might put that radar kit Lockheed has made for the Merlin on a Bronco,you ‘ll save big bucks on operating costs(Vigilance pod they call it)



  2. Well, I suppose it makes sense to put something like the Lynx SAR on it for surveillance, but why bother with a radar for a2a engagements? Even GR7/9 didn’t have a radar. That’s the beauty of IR guided sidewinders, you don’t have to spend loads on radars.

    Wouldn’t there likely be an ISTAR asset in the area anyway?

  3. I think we should just design a new aircraft and engine. Instead of buying something of the shelf and modifying it, we should just design it. We would then give ourselves something we can work with and do anything we want rather than having to modify something all the time.

    It also means we could design a real beefy engine to deliver lots of electrical power and make a small power house plane.

    Is using a Europrop TP400 an overkill???…….

  4. JJ, I like the idea of the Bronco as an interim back up in case the F-35B goes south. With a radar and a targeting pod it could fill in until something jet powered comes on the scene.

    Simon, I was thinking of something for detecting beyond the pilots visual range. Alternatively an IRST ball could be an alternative, possibly on a changeable pod system, radar or IRST depending on your mission.

    Paul R, re: TP400 overkill?! Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68C 1,600 hp, TP400 11,000 hp, man that’s some overkill!

  5. A TP400,wow that is a humongous engine!But electric you say?Hmm recently Augusta Westland came up with this “Project Zero” concept,scale it up with 10.000 HP as a generator you really would have got a true A-10 successor with STOL capabilities.It will be A400M compatible.

  6. If you want a cheap and sub-standard fighter, you could use Hawk as it’s already in RAF service. It should climb and get to where it’ll be shot down quicker than a Tucano.

    I don’t get why you’d want a counter-insurgency aircraft capable of engaging jet fighters. If the enemy has jet fighters, can you describe that as an insurgency?

    As far as I’m concerned, these fixed-wing light attack aircraft occupy very much the same window as attack helicopters. Only sacrificing some characteristics for others – hovering and vertical take off / landing in favour of speed, availability, endurance, running costs for example. They have some positive traits, but trying to move these kind of aircraft into unsuitable roles doesn’t make them more attractive, they just become a liability.

  7. BB, In hindsight I should’ve been more specific, I was thinking more third world than first world, if all you can afford is turbo-props then the viability becomes more attractive, more Mauritania than UK. But, like the Hawk, if you’re climbing just to get shot down then your tactics are all wrong, I’m no expert on dog-fighting but I would think you’d fight a better armed enemy on your own terms rather than theirs.

    I once read of a pair of RAF Jaguars on exercise took out a pair of F-15 Eagles in an opportunity shot, so its not always a one-sided affair, if the tactics and opportunity favour you. Also, the prop/jet engagements in the article, I believe that it was down to the aggression of the individual pilots that turned the tables of the engagement.

  8. JJ, I was lucky enough to see the Islander AEW Platform up close and personal, it had a modified APG-66 radar from the F-16, G-RAPA if my fading memory serves me right. Can’t say I was fussed about forward visibility on the ground as the nose rode high in the air to allow clearance for the radar bulge and to prevent damage to it if the nose wheel gear lost pressure.

    Brilliant concept though, talking to the one of BN’s salesmen, he said the biggest problem was air forces wanting prestigeous looking aircraft on the dispersal, rather than rough field types that could operate from a dirt strip and actual survive a conflict! Nothing changes in that respect!

  9. I have no principled objections to these sort of light attack aircraft, Ace. But I think that if you’re looking for additional roles for them, then JJ is probably more on the right track.
    As he touches on, they potentially could carry various ISTAR kit. Or he mentioned Bronco offa carrier – you could have surface attack, against everything from fast boats to large ships; or light COD, and so on.
    Against your third world opponents, with the sort of payloads some of these planes carry, it would be a cheaper way to carry a couple of 500 pounders and a targeting pod than sending out supersonic stealth fighters (whatever did happen to those UOR Sniper pods off the Harriers?). But I don’t think they’d be much worth against anything other than helicopters and cargo aircraft, certainly not a substitute air to air fighter.

  10. We also have a few of these. Add brimstone and and a few more airframes you have you coin aircraft

  11. Naysayers will love to point out that to use an aircraft like the Tucano you need air superiority and, without it, you’ll lose every aircraft you send aloft. i just wonder if avionics and air launched weapons have reached a point where it really doesn’t matter what kind of aircraft you attach them to. Imagine if a Tucano armed with AIM-9Ls or whatever could shoot down a fifth generation fighter.

  12. Monty

    They haven’t nor will they ever be. The effectiveness of air launched weapons is improved significantly by the energy imparted by the launching aircraft. Any aircraft can be shot down if the pilots unlucky or stupid.

  13. There are probably two straightforward reasons why this has not been done already:

    1. There may not be power from the engine and engine ancillaries capable of actually powering the radar in its present configuration. It probably can’t be done from an off-the-shelf engine that comes standard on a trainer. Even then there are degrees of usefulness. I recall that the radar on the MPA variant of the Heron doesn’t put out as much power as the same radar on a larger conventional MPA.

    2. The physical size of the radar also limits its usefulness with respect to the frequency and effective range of the radar. A big radome allows for greater ranging radars. A small one simply means the other guy can see you before you can see him.

    That aside, why bother? At best, it would give you a minor edge against some helicopters and simply advertise your presence to anything larger and more deadly. If you really want to give your coin aircraft an edge, invest the space, weight and power in a decent radar warning receiver and countermeasures.

  14. Hi Mercator,

    I couldn’t tell what the power requirement was for a possible radar choice, but that may be solved by fitting a larger AC generator on the engine. Engines may be standard but the ancillaries can be changed as they are interchangeable.

    After a quick Google session, the weather radar antenna on the TBM 850 appears to be 30 cm, compared to the APG-65 fitted F-18A/B which is 71 cm dia (the AV-8B+ antenna was reduced to approx 58 cm to fit in the nose), so I don’t think antenna size will be the main problem, but squeezing the actual unit and LRU’s in might be.

    As to why, the radar wouldn’t just be for air to air interception, although was my initial idea, especially for night interception with guns (like the F4U Corsair). It can also be a substitute for an ARBS to provide for more accurate bombing, which I don’t think the Super Tucano has, it can also be used as a weather radar or for ground mapping, possibly target illumination for other assets. Integration with Radar guided Hellfire or Brimstone?

    Check out this puppy:

    Ok, so its not an air intercept radar, but it demonstrates how fast technology is moving and what may be available in the next few years. But the title of the piece does mention ‘pie in the sky’ so it was just a thought exercise thrown into the public domain, and as such all comments are welcome :-)

  15. The COIN aircraft occupies the same place as attack helicopters. Add some Osprey like twists tand you diminish much of the difference between the two.
    Weren’t there some attempts in Russian naval aviation with extra boosters to give helicopters stand off missiles against jet fighters in air to air combat?
    You should copyright your idea and make the COIN aircraft unmanned for the proposal.

  16. I still find it hard to understand why the 70 year old P-51 Mustang is superior in almost every way to the Super Tucano.

    We should be able to do better given the gas turbines that are now available.

  17. Chuck, a great design is always a great design, and NA got it about from the start! I think the difference is down to the fact that the Mustang was designed from the outset as a long-ranged combat aircraft, whereas the Tucano was an upgraded trainer. The addition of a second seat and instruments as well as additional drag from the large canopy will degrade performance. It would be interesting to see how a single seat Tucano would perform in comparison.

  18. Radar on a turbo prop for the guidance of AAMs would be the triumph of possible over practical; the thing simply does not have the kinetic performance to engage other combat (ie fighter) aircraft. Previous examples (Korea etc.) pitted cannon-equipped aircraft with overlapping performance envelopes; the same would not be true of a 400 kts Tucano versus a 3rd / 4th generation turbojet. You could, arguable, use it against other rotorcraft or turboprops but the low speed means interception is going to require quite a bit of pre-planning (or luck).
    OTOH, a radar could be useful for nav or certain ISTAR or ground attack roles.

    The P-51 has considerably more power than the Tucano, but the latter is lighter and offers lower wing-loading. It probably has better acceleration and control response as well, along with its superior load carrying.

  19. Bluenose, most AWACs radars are on turboprops, just very, very big turboprops. :)

    I know, usage is very different for a frontline turboprop and a support platform buried in a defence net. That being said, it is still best not to underestimate them. Their survival rates against modern AAMs is probably going to be terrible, but if they manage to lob a missile at you, you are going to be fighting against the missile, not the plane. And some countries *cough..China, Philipines etc* would happily trade a turboprop or even half a squadron of them to down a modern FJ.

    I can forsee some use similar to a flying minefield, areas of denial where you fire the payload and run for it in harassment tactics (and/or die). The only question is would it actually be worthwhile to play attrition tactics with an expensive radar? Might want to do datalink to an AWACs plane leaving only the firing systems on the plane?

  20. Putting AMRAAMs on an AWACS and going fighter-hunting might have similarly disastrous outcomes :)

    A missile performance envelope is based partly on the energy situation of the launch aircraft so if you’re limited to less than 400 kts and 30,000 ft then sparring with something with a tail-pipe is a very good way to get killed; aerial combat is about energy management and forcing the other guy to play your game. A Tucano would, alas, have little chance of that and likely get zapped by someone sitting much higher and faster. Of course, you could always get a lucking kill against someone unskilled or unlucky but that would be the exception that tests the rule. That also makes data-linking a shot to something with a [bigger] radar a bit unlikely as you’d have to draw them in nice and close which might not be popular with the COIN crew.

    TBH, survival rate against relatively modern AAM seems a lot higher than their stats would suggest, or to put it another way; PK for radar-guided missiles turns out to have been pretty optimistic owing to shortcomings in the tech, odd real-life RoE and the tendency for actual operations to bear limited resemblance to training sorties (such as the opposition not playing by the rules).

    Like I said, it is just not worth the cost and weight for air-to-air given the likely limited (if any) return on your investment. There may well be a place for COIN turboprops alongside MALEs and UCAVs, but BVR combat really does not strike me as a runner. Fighter combat is usually decided by pilot skill and tactical situation before relative aircraft performance, but a Tucano simply has too much stacked against it.

  21. @BN

    No offence and I am not an air to air combat expert but am pretty good at AAW but you under estimate detection ranges and massively underestimate modern missile vs aircraft performance.

  22. @APATS; the success rates of radar guided missiles in recent conflicts are generally available – they consistently fare far worse than manufacturer claims or peace-time training ops suggest and where they do not it is usually because they are launched well-within the ‘normal’ BVR launch parameters. I also do not see where you think I am underestimating detection ranges and aircraft performance: a dedicated, supersonic air superiority platform designed around its radar / IR sensors and missile armament will wipe the floor with a turboprop trainer hastily converted to carry radar and a BVR missile. The mechanics of generating a NEZ when you have massive energy superiority over your opponent cannot be sidestepped and a lower energy machine simply does not have the ‘room’ to fight at anything other than a massive disadvantage

    Spurious comparisons with Korea are simply irrelevant :)

  23. APATs is right, modern AAMs have a pK that is seriously painful, part of the stats if you take in total is sometimes skewed to the negative due to problematic systems in the past like the AIM-7 whose performance was so bad pK was rated at about 0.1, leading pilots to fire in large volleys, which further skewed stats.

    Nowadays, the pK is closer to 0.5, i.e one kill per 2 missiles.

    On the other hand, Blue, you are right too, by talking about energy states and launch platform base capability, that plays a very large part in performance and end result too. I take it you work or worked in a primary or secondary capacity with FJs before? The conceptual understanding is there.

    As I pointed out above, I think turboprops vs turbojets would result in a lopsided ratio too, I just don’t want to get too careless against them. Carelessness can cost.

  24. @Bluenose

    While I don’t agree with the idea of putting high-end AAM’s on turboprops for the most part I think you are overly harsh on the performance of radar guided weapons. The vast majority of that data comes from a long time ago weapons wise. Shoots since going to a new generation of weapons have been pretty rare. Even the AIM-7 was drastically better in its last variants than the Vietnam era weapon. AIM-120 generation weapons should be much better.

  25. Bluenose, comments accepted.

    In a modern context, and in hindsight, what if the aircraft types were changed to say, Super Tucano v Hawk? As a Tucano trying to take on a Block 50 F-16 would be somewhat suicidal.

    Given a scenario of a third world Super Tucano operator, who cannot afford fast jets, having a confrontation with a BAE Hawk armed third world neighbour, would you consider arming a Super Tucano with Sidewinders to be a good idea? Also, having a radar on the turboprop and using radar lock as part of a show of force, would you give that any credence?

  26. The P-51 is a nice design yet you will lack twin engine redundacy.So you want to have a bit more speed and range aswell and offcourse a decent rollrate?(which you will not get in a Twin Mustang)then there can be only one airplane;
    De Haviland Hornet!Lot’s of range and with 2x pt6 not even underpowered,well not by much anyway.
    Not the type of bushplane I had in mind…add 2 Mauser 27mm guns,some FLIR/laser stuff etc,pretty decent warplane,a 2 seater might function as a trainer(Hawk replacement?a la PC 21??)etc etc….
    Unfortunately no cargo capacity and only a single tail(vulnarable) unlike a Bronco.

  27. This pK of 50%…

    I thought sidewinder (L onwards) had a hit rate of over 80%?

    Anyway, statistics are statistics and can be manipulated too easily. The normal figures that are used for missile pK are the total number of missiles fired against the total number of aircraft destroyed. So if you launch 2 you’ll never get higher that 50% even if both hit the target.

  28. Desert Storm has a kill rate of 18% for RF missiles (that is, 18% of the kills were achieved by radar-guided missiles – I would have to look up how many were launched versus aircraft destroyed) and AFAIK that is the best that has ever been achieved; mostly by F-15s with heavy AWACs support and use of the NCTR IFF system. The claimed pK by the manufactures is much higher but has never seemed to live up to expectations. Am not aware of any conflict with better stats than that (admittedly, there has not been heavy use of them) but pK of 0.5 strikes me as very unlikely under any kind of actual operational conditions.

    Obviously, missiles have improved (lit; we may as well assume they have improved) since then but given the lack of actual usage and the massive gap between the claims of those that have been used and their actual effectiveness, I remain rather sceptical of their likely effect in actual combat operations.

    That, of course, is not taking account of the ability of the COIN aircraft to use the radar data effectively and position itself for an attack, both areas in which it is likely lacking. While there is the ever-present random factor and possibility of chance, the kinetics are simply against a COIN aircraft being able to do anything effective against a genuine fighter aircraft because of its far lower performance and lack of optimisation for the role; history is full of unlikely winners in dissimilar combat encounters, but as much as they are trumpeted, they tend to be the minority.

    @Ace Rimmer, was this not the role that the Hawk 200 was supposed to fill; cut-price fighter with some of the capabilities of the genuine articles but a fraction of the cost? I am sure a better pilot in a radar-equipped Tucano would have a chance against a Hawk flown by an inferior pilot / in a worse tactical situation, but that kind of analysis depends very much on the relative value of each factor. A radar might well be some help, but against a far better rate of climb and speed it is not clear it would mean much; indeed, the Tucano’s low performance would remove the major advantage that radar might confirm, that of the time-honoured ambush (it would be hard-pressed to catch the Hawk) so given the cost and weight, it all seems something of a hiding to nowhere.

  29. @Bluenose July 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm, “The P-51 has considerably more power than the Tucano, but the latter is lighter and offers lower wing-loading. It probably has better acceleration and control response as well, along with its superior load carrying.”

    Not true, the Super Tucano has 1600 SHP, more than the normal rating of the P-51 and it is the Mustang that has superior load carrying with a much higher max take-off weight. Flown light and clean the Super Tucano does have a lower empty weight so should have the advantage in acceleration but it has only two installed .50 cal.

    @JJ July 3, 2013 at 2:59 pm, “The P-51 is a nice design yet you will lack twin engine redundancy….then there can be only one airplane; De Haviland Hornet!

    There is another choice, the Northop P-61,,
    At 36,200 pounds Max T/O weight, a huge plane for the time, but now about the same weights as an F-16.

    Sophisticated control systems made it the most maneuverable US fighter of WWII. Not as fast as the Hornet, but it was used as a night intruder as well as night fighter because of its load carrying. Twin tail, lots of space for crew. Extra crew members might even be used to control drones.

    Back to the basic question, is it worth putting an Air Intercept Radar on a COIN aircraft? I don’t think so, better to use the weight and drag to carry more air to ground weapons.

  30. Observer,

    What do you mean by pK then?

    The probability that the target is “killed” if it is hit? In which case 50% is pretty poor.

    The 80% AIM-9L is based on actual kills in the field (well air) so is the best statistical evidence available.

    Ahh, I see. You’ve picked up on my 80% “hit”. I should have put “kill”. Semantics! ;-)

  31. @ chuck hill

    Apologies, I was mentally going with the Shorts version which only has 1,000 shp. You are quite right that the genuine COIN version has more power (but the late war Mustangs had closer to 1,700 hp with higher compression and octane fuel). The effective war load of the Tucano is greater owing to the hardpoint setup, though the Mustang max weight including fuel is greater. No doubt the developed version of the theoretical 1980s version would be more capable from an air-to-ground perspective.

    However, the relative efficiency of a turboprop probably win over a Merlin-powered aircraft from a fleet management perspective. The P-61, though a very advanced aircraft for its day, is probably a little too large and heavy for modern usage (and the Hornet is a lot prettier) :)

  32. No Simon, pK the comparison many factors including the radar cross section, energy difference of the target, maneuverability, sensitivity of and type of seeker, general ECM/IR countermeasures, etc to determine if a target can escape the seeker of the missile before it closes in to detonation range.

    Blue is right in that they are pretty bad. The 0.5 one quoted was for the latest AIM-120, your hit/miss ratio would be the 0.18 he quoted.

    The AIM-9 has a heaps better pK due to many factors.

    1) It’s IR guided, not radar
    2) It’s passive homing, not semi-active homing
    3) It’s not BVR, launch range is usually so short the target doesn’t have enough energy to move out of the detection cone in time or to take drastic evasive maneuvers.

    pK is more or less a maths comparison, which tends to be higher than real life. For visual ranges like the AIM-9s that you point out, they are close to actual, BVRs, not so much as the enemy has time to as Blue mentioned, “manage the energy” for best effect.

  33. The p-51 is interesting its the first aircraft that came to my head when people started talking about the Tucano with missiles. The main difference between the two for performance is the wing as someone mentioned they were designed for different things. A Tucano wing is designed not to give the student any nasty suprises and give him/her plenty of warning when its reaching its limits. The p-51 wing is a higher performance aero foil but that means pilots have to be more skilful in reading the signs as it approaches its limits because its lift will fall away abruptly and probably quite violently no fbw protection on these a/c.

    As for putting radars in a pod on the side of an aircraft well you’ll probably need one on each wing the fuselage will create big dead zones on the sweeps hence why radars are usually at the pointy ends of such aircraft. Add a das, a targeting pod, fuel and I bet your heading close to mtow especially somewhere hot.

    The interesting thing about missiles is the number of sparrow/AMRAAM missiles that were fired at basically within visual range engagements during the 91 gulf war. The large amount of energy required against reasonably high performance manoeuvring aircraft meant ranges were less that hoped for. Sticking a couple of sidewinders on for self defence would be probably be a gd idea. An fighter pilot who gets low and slow against a turbo prop aircraft deserves all he gets.

  34. Edit: I think I see where you got the 80% kill rate from, Falklands. That one was a fluke, they were using the first “all aspect” AIM-9s, so the enemy was expecting missiles that could only be used for tail shots. They probably literally flew head first into the missiles. Surprise is a nasty thing.

    The earlier versions had the same 10% +/- as the RF missiles.

    Of course, that is against FJs. Props which can’t move fast… oh well.

  35. And if you were wondering about the 180 re: missile effectiveness, yeah, upon further checking, Blue was right, my fault for taking the pK as the actual combat effectiveness.

    Blue, were you involved in aviation?

  36. The 80s version of the P-51 was the Piper Enforcer that had a 2445 hp turboprop, composite armour & an ejection seat.

  37. @Bluenose July 3, 2013 at 7:47 pm. (and the Hornet is a lot prettier) :)

    Agreed, but the Mossy looked even better. Make some out of composite w/turboprops and it would not give up much to the fast jets at low altitude.

    Still think AI radar on COIN aircraft is an opportunity cost in that it takes away from its primary mission by using limited payload for a capability they should never be in a position to use.

  38. “The AIM-9 has a heaps better pK due to many factors.”

    Plus there’s no warning that works for the FM versions :-(

    So all-aspect, no-detection, short-range = No chance.

    Compare with RF: all-aspect, blindingly obvious you’re being “pinged”, long-range = Low chance.

    I must admit I thought the 80% AIM-9L+ was for everything since their first combat debut in 1982.

    So, if anything, you could put AIM-9 on your Tucano and hope to hell you have a favorable energy state, which is entirely possible in a surprise attack.

    Anyone know what the SI is of the AIM-9 motor?

  39. Actually, I’d like the impulse (N.s) of the Hercules Mk.36 Mod.7,8 if anyone has it.

  40. Are folks seriously suggesting plywood fighters for the RAF? :) You do realise that the modern equivalent of the Hornet or Mosquito would be made out of MDF and come flat-packed from Sweden with several screws missing.

    A cheaper alternative to a Tucano air-to-air fighter is a truck carrying a rack of CAMM.

    If you want a light attack aircraft, and didn’t want to settle for one of the various tweeked trainers and agricultural planes, then I wonder how expensive (or cheap) it would be to reengineer one of the more recent aircraft – like Bronco or Pucara. A modern derivative of something that’s already been designed and flown. I’m not convinced that the same could be done with a 1940s aircraft -no matter how pretty they are- I think too much has changed in aviation for it to be worthwhile putting those on your drawing board as a starting point. Particularly something that was originally built by cabinet makers.

  41. Observer,

    All the Falklands AIM-9 shots were tail-aspect: we could, with hindsight, have used the AIM-9Gs the Fleet Air Arm already had in inventory and achieved similar results. There was some psychological benefit in having a nominal “all-aspect” capability that may have helped deter the FAA Mirages from trying to play much, but no head-on shots were taken.

    Sidewinder effectiveness evolved over time and depended heavily on user experience, especially in the early versions. In Vietnam up to 1968, 187 AIM-9B were fired for 29 kills (15% effectiveness) with 105 reported failures (so less than 50% reliability). AIM-9D was fired 99 times for 18 kills (15% effectiveness). By 1972, the US Navy were using the AIM-9G which scored 23 kills in fifty firings (46% effectiveness).

    Sparrow’s poor performance had several roots, with reliability atrocious (even in 1972 two-thirds of Sparrow firings failed) and crew training, especially in the USAF, very poor. By the 1991 Gulf War, AIM-7M was achieving about a 35% hit rate; this was bolstered by a good air situation, but hindered by many shots being “hopefuls” at or outside extreme range, against Iraqi aircraft fleeing to Iran (intercepts often fuel-limited: many pilots seem to have taken a Sparrow shot just before having to break off pursuit).

  42. BB, CAMM’s range is very limited.

    And if it works, why not? The driving principle here is not aviation performance save that of endurance, it is economy and numbers, so as long as you can build it cheap, it already served most of its purpose.

  43. @BB;Well these plywood planes looked pretty,thinking about them makes me feel good!
    Anyways the Mossie is a shining example of how the old(wooden construction) beat the new during WW2,if there was another combat plane which was more cost effective dring WW2 I would like to hear about it.

    To some extent and in a different context this applies to a Bronco aswell,sometimes old tech is good enough(yeah yeah not for A2A I know that now).
    So reengineering a Bronco?that will be good news there is a problem however;BAE and Lockheed have huge overhead costs(they will charge $50.000 for picking up a phone and when a receptionist smiles at you it is gonna cost you $100.000!!),so who will do this?I think Swiss Pilatus or Marshall aerospace would good candidates.

    You all have a nice weekend!


  44. It seems to me that a good COIN aircraft would be a two seat, twin engine, high wing aircraft, with a belly turret gun (25mm or larger). It should also have a fixed mini-gun for strafing.

    This would enable the aircraft to carry FACs, or artillery FOs, and also to orbit a ground unit and use gunship tactics (firing at the center of the orbit).

    It should be tough, cheap, have high endurance, and carry a lot of ordinance and communications gear.

  45. Why the belly turret? A gun is heavy and it’s use needs the aircraft to go within range of everything from Grails to 50 cals. Better to use the space for internal fuel and the weight to carry a large quantity of LMM, Brimstone, CVR7 (or it’s laser guided offspring) or LGBs.

  46. Pete,

    A COIN aircraft is not just a dump truck for ordnance delivery: a key function of the aircraft is to maintain an overhead presence, report on enemy movements, direct artillery and aircraft onto targets, and perform battle damage assessments.

    The most efficient flight profile to accomplish this is an orbit around the target area. Thus the need to deliver ordnance perpendicular to the direction of flight. This in turn calls for side firing weapons or a turret for a gun. Hellfire, AGM-176 Griffin , SDBs are great: some situations call for a gun.

    Expending a missile that costs $100,000.00 USD on a target that could have been killed by a few burst from an auto cannon, or mortar (considered as a possible replacement for the AC-130 howitzer) is just silly.

    Remember this is a COIN aircraft, it is not geared for fighting a major war.

  47. More thoughts on the ventral (belly) turret:

    Mounting a 25 or 30mm auto cannon in a ventral turret, allows the weapon to be trained or even retracted to reduce drag.

    A turret allows the aircraft to fly multiple attack profiles to suite target and threat. The aircraft can use pylon turns to deliver gunfire from an orbit. The aircraft can strafe linear targets like road convoys, or infantry positions by flying parallel to the target and shooting perpendicularly. Positioning the turret to fire directly ahead, the aircraft can strafe from a steep or shallow dive, or flying level by simply depressing the gun. Using this layout, the aircraft could kill from high orbit, fly nap of the earth, or parallel a target.

  48. Or you can just transplant the Apache chin gun. It isn’t as if the thing is huge.

  49. Although I’d heard of the Fairchild AU-23 I never gave it much thought, I never knew it was a licenced Pilatus PC-6 with a 20 mm rotary cannon bolted in the doorway, sounds great in principal but as the Wikipedia page puts it:

    “Specific problems identified included a slow combat speed (135 knots), a low working altitude, no capability for “zoom” escapes after delivering ordnance and a complete lack of armor protection for the crew and vital aircraft systems.

  50. The better option is to design a platform specific turret, as the AH-64 turret is not aerodynamic, and certainly cannot retract (something that should be explored).

  51. “Expending a missile that costs $100,000.00 USD on a target that could have been killed by a few burst from an auto cannon, or mortar (considered as a possible replacement for the AC-130 howitzer) is just silly.”

    Well that’s the beauty of modern PGMs – they no longer cost $100,000 a pop.
    As for mortars, I’d suggest a couple of triple-ejector-racks of these;

    Stay too high for anything your Insurgent is likely to have available to shoot at you. Expending a missile on a soft target is not silly. Having a multi-million quid, low altitude, slow aircraft circling a target in gun range being shot down and it’s crew paraded around by jubilant militants is very silly.

    Low level, low speed strafing runs with guns are a thing of the past. Orbiting gunships won’t be with us long after the first one get’s Grail’d, Gremlin’d or Grouse’d out of the sky.

  52. “A COIN aircraft is not just a dump truck for ordnance delivery: a key function of the aircraft is to maintain an overhead presence, report on enemy movements, direct artillery and aircraft onto targets, and perform battle damage assessments.”

    Another good argument against a heavy, draggy belly turret and cannon. Use the weight for more internal fuel and a longer loiter time.

  53. “A COIN aircraft is not just a dump truck for ordnance delivery: a key function of the aircraft is to maintain an overhead presence, report on enemy movements, direct artillery and aircraft onto targets, and perform battle damage assessments.”

    Probably why the shadow fleet is expanding

    As for moveable belly turrets should we call them an air brake by any other name!

  54. “Low level, low speed strafing runs with guns are a thing of the past. Orbiting gunships won’t be with us long after the first one get’s Grail’d, Gremlin’d or Grouse’d out of the sky.”

    “Another good argument against a heavy, draggy belly turret and cannon. Use the weight for more internal fuel and a longer loiter time.”

    So what are you suggesting we use? Bad language? PGMs are very ammo limited and 100,000 a pop is about right. The SDB has a quoted price tag of 90,000.

    Sorry Pete, but I don’t think your predictions are right this time around, the AC-130 is still a fearsome fire support platform, and an orbiting fire pattern can still wreck hell on a target. No MANPADs gunner is going to stand up when you are raining explosive fragmentation shells around his position, and the 90 degree flight profile makes flares more effective.

    Can’t remember which Russian MANPAD it was, but I remember a “how to” manual that was posted on a notice board once, IR guided, you had to step on the battery pack to activate it and stand on it while tracking. Not really a comfortable position, being stuck there while HE is raining down.

  55. Pete,

    Modern Gunships can fly higher and fight above than the service ceiling of a MANPAD.

    You obviously have not actually worked an A-10 or AC-130U over a target… Strafing is an effective, and highly useful tactic in certain situations. A COIN or CAS aircraft should be able to strafe.

    Altitude and attack profile is dependent on mission and threat.

  56. Mark,

    That aircraft has the aerodynamics (and looks) of a brick!

    Surely a sexy gun turret would spruce up the old gal!

  57. “Can’t remember which Russian MANPAD it was, but I remember a “how to” manual that was posted on a notice board once, IR guided, you had to step on the battery pack to activate it and stand on it while tracking.”

    Well if you should remember I’d be interested since the thermal batteries on all soviet / russian MANPADS screw into the front of the grip / sight unit under the missile tube in much the same way as Stinger.

  58. “Modern Gunships can fly higher and fight above than the service ceiling of a MANPAD.”

    Fly; yes. Attack? With 30 – 40mm cannon? I doubt it.

    You obviously have not actually worked an A-10 or AC-130U over a target… ”

    No, oddly I haven’t. Very few people have. I have to admit that it’s not even on my bucket list. This probably shows a lack of moral fibre on my part but there you go . . .

    “Strafing is an effective, and highly useful tactic in certain situations. A COIN or CAS aircraft should be able to strafe.”

    It’s only effective if you have no better option and/or the opposition has nothing to shoot back with. Any attempt to make strafing a standard tactic would soon cause any enemy with even a modicum of intelligence to set up juicy targets as traps. Anyone who has ever strolled through the lake district will know that fast jets can appear quickly and often (if they’re really knocking on) with absolute surprise. A Tucano, meanwhile (which is a good analogue for a turbo-prop powered COIN aircraft or gunship) can be heard long before it appears and once it’s visible it takes a long time to go out of sight.

  59. “So what are you suggesting we use? Bad language? PGMs are very ammo limited and 100,000 a pop is about right. The SDB has a quoted price tag of 90,000.”

    You didn’t look at the link I posted. Nobody (well almost nobody) would drop a 500lb SDB on a target that could be engaged with a 30mm cannon. The RAF, since they don’t have a 30mm cannon would use a CRV7 rocket – a weapon that has proven highly effective and it reputedly more accurate than the 27mm cannon on Tornado. It’s even available with a laser seeking head . . . So, fire a 70mm HE, guided rocket from a pod of, what 7? 19? (I only know pod sizes for US 70mm rockets . . .) from 4000m away or pile in for an exciting strafing run with your cannon?

  60. @Pete;That 70 or crv 7 rocket pgm is just the kind of weapon a Bronco should be able to use,strafing is risky yes but fighting a war is risky.Also staying high and dry in your $100 million F-15E,dropping a LGB and then move out of the area thinking you took away the threat to GI’s on the ground simply does not do it,you need to be there all the time,you simply can not do that with fuel guzzling mach 2+ supercruising trillion dollar 50 year lifecycle jets.Get something simple and cheap.

    Also Convoy escort was mentioned here,why use a $50 million AH-64 for that?It can not even move a few wounded GI’s or civilians to the hospital,a Bronco can if there is a little stretch of open and straight road(plenty of that in the Sahara&Iraq).and how long is an AH-64 present?how long does it take for an AH-64 to arrive when trouble begins?

  61. “;That 70 or crv 7 rocket pgm is just the kind of weapon a Bronco should be able to use,strafing is risky yes but fighting a war is risky.”

    No problem with a Bronco or any other Slow-ish COIN type. I just think that the suggested armament (turret mounted cannon) is a bad idea. It takes up too much volume and weight (which could be used for fuel) and it adds a huge drag penalty too. War is risky but in a COIN scenario we (the west, that is) can’t, politically, accept high losses of men or equipment. The public won’t accept it. The insurgent usually has time on his side and knows that every aircraft downed, every pilot killed (or even better, captured) is a victory even if it costs the lives of 100 insurgents. Strafing is a risk no longer worth taking. Losing your multi-million dollar/pound aircraft to a 14.5mm HMG on the back of a HiLux is a Bad Thing and will lead to questions being asked in the house.

    “Also staying high and dry in your $100 million F-15E,dropping a LGB and then move out of the area thinking you took away the threat to GI’s on the ground simply does not do it,you need to be there all the time,you simply can not do that with fuel guzzling mach 2+ supercruising trillion dollar 50 year lifecycle jets.Get something simple and cheap.”

    Never suggested any such thing. Staying high and dry in your Super Bronco / Tucano / AT6 / Pucarra whilst lobbing LMM, Guided CRV7 or even laser guided 81mm mortar bombs (see earlier link) is a better idea then barreling in, 30mm cannon blazing. Get rid of the heavy, draggy 30mm cannon turret and you can have more internal fuel and stay even longer on station. If laser guided CRV7s are too expensive then using standard ones allows you to open fire at a longer range than a cannon does allowing you to break off sooner and, hopefully, survive anything fired back at you.

    There seems to be a romance around ground attack aircaft. From IL-2s to A-10s the idea of an armoured aircraft ploughing through the AA fire to deliver pin-point attacks on the enemy has a powerful grip on the imagination. Loss rates show that it has always been a very risky business even against primitive, manually aimed AA weapons. These proposed COIN aircraft aren’t as fast as a Typhoon or even a Beaufighter. They’re not built around an armoured spine like an IL-2. They would be at least as vulnerable to heavy machine gun fire as a Spitfire whilst lacking it’s speed. There is no shortage of ex-soviet heavy machine guns in the worlds trouble spots. Add in the various IR homing MANPADS and I truly believe that strafing is just too risky.

  62. Was in the garden yesterday. So you’re talking 6ft fences and two story terraced houses with gardens back to back. Heard a low noise that I couldn’t quite make out, but definitely wasn’t “natural”. 10 seconds later a low flying Apache comes into view (and those boys and girls do fly low!). The exposure as it passed along the row of houses (roughly paralell) was probably 20 seconds or so, then it was gone. That was an Apache, probably at cruising speed.

    I think some people are over estimating just how much time you get to find and hit a low flying aircraft. People also seem to be forgetting that helicopters like Apache, Cobra and others have been delivering low altitude close air support, including a ton of cannon fire, for a long time now.

  63. Pete,I understand your objections against strafing and the aerodynamic/fuel trade offs.However sometimes it is good to have a plan B when you are out of rockets and the fighting gets really dirty,so you risk your airplane.
    is such a situation likely?yes,for instance in Mali the French army had to cross long distances so they problably had to make all kinds of compromises in determining who gets what,you get my drift right?Also combat scenario’s might be different in reality then originally planned..
    True nobody wants to see dead airmen,but hang on a minute,we do risk GI’s riding around in Humvee’s,Mastiffs,Marders,Bushmasters,YPR-765 and so on,they want(they deserve) permanent aircover from people stationed at their base,not someone thousands of miles away,a drone can not transport wounded men.
    Furthermore you are correct in saying that Tucano or PC-9 variant or whatever are vulnerable ,exactly why a Bronco is the right plane with the right shape,it can take some punishment although it is not an Ilyushin 102(no not a typo,102).

    As far as inaccurate gunfire is conserned they did made this thing in Germany;
    It is a recoiless 30mm gun.destined for Tiger but it got stuck in budget cuts somewhere

    And indeed you did not suggest staying high&dry in a multimillion dollar jet,yet that is what we have been doing.

    Ah well I gues Ace Rimmer is right,Bronco’s are not glamorous enough,The F-35 looks better on a sales stand evn if it has not got a gun in it like the F-4 in its early days…oops the thread is starting to drift…sorry

    @Chris;Helicopters have been around for quite some time,yet an Apache is a fuel/spare part guzzling machine,Boeing and it’s shareholders love it!

  64. @JJ

    Yep but that Apache gives you 60 seconds worth of a battalions fire power and has done a great job from killing Tangoes in Lebanon to loyalists in Libya and a lot of places in between.

  65. “Modern Gunships can fly higher and fight above than the service ceiling of a MANPAD.”
    “Fly; yes. Attack? With 30 – 40mm cannon? I doubt it.”

    Gravity helps.

    And Pete, I did look at the link you put up. Not impressed, it’s basically a gravity bomb and 81mm isn’t really impressive blast wise.

    The one thing orbiting gun systems are far superior to with respect to bombs and missiles is persistance of firepower. You can suppress a target for a long, long time as you have a large ammo stock, more than enough for your G.I to flank and close in with the target. I can’t see you doing that with an F-16 even with double TERs (6 bombs).

    You may ascribe that all others who disagree with you are victims of misplaced romanticism (frankly, I never gave a damn about CAS as long as it was on time), but that covers over the fact that different systems do give different advantages that are still useful even if it is old.

    Now if only people can afford a dual tier air force. :)

  66. Perhaps I should clarify my position;

    Not against COIN aircraft – long loiter time essential.
    Not against an internal cannon – a single, built in 27mm is adequate but not necessary.
    Strongly against a cannon turret – too much weight space and drag.
    Against strafing with guns as anything but a tactic of desperation – too dangerous to be anything other than that.

    I don’t think that infantry “deserve permanent air cover”. They deserve permanent fire support. Does it matter if that rocket is fired from an aircraft or from a truck 4km behind the requesting unit?

  67. “The one thing orbiting gun systems are far superior to with respect to bombs and missiles is persistance of firepower. You can suppress a target for a long, long time as you have a large ammo stock, more than enough for your G.I to flank and close in with the target. I can’t see you doing that with an F-16 even with double TERs (6 bombs).”

    Well that’s changing the terms of the argument! Someone argued that PGMs were too destructive compared with a burst of cannon fire so I pointed to the PG mortar bomb as a low yield solution to that problem.
    Why do people still think I’m advocating fast jets. I’m not and never have!
    This argument started with someone mooting a turreted cannon on a COIN aircraft so it could perform orbiting fire. It ain’t going to be as persistent as an AC130! I doubt any of the COIN aircraft suggested on this thread could carry enough 25-30mm ammo for any more than one or at most two minutes of fire depending on the gun chosen

  68. Oh, so that was what you were trying to point out. :(

    My suspicions are that the turret isn’t going to be as big a problem as its detractors think it will be. For one, the 25mm on the AH-64 isn’t known to be overheavy or unbalanced, though sometimes carrying a system over does bump into surprise problems. As for the drag, it isn’t as simple as “yes/no”, there are ways to reduce the problems, one method is simply to keep the main body of the gun out of the slipstream by putting it behind the main body and the barrel parallel to line of flight until it is time to deploy. After all, old WWII aircraft had turrets, sometimes even in the most draggy of places like 90 degrees from the doral or belly, and they didn’t cause too much degradation in performance.

    A gun turreted aircraft can still be useful. That isn’t the main problem. The main problem is back to the cost of maintianing a fleet of aircraft that can only be used for specific roles and conditions as opposed to fighter jets that can be used for almost everything.

    Niche is specialised, which can be good. It is also an expensive white elephant if the cards don’t turn out right.

    All in all, I don’t see dedicated COIN aircraft being a pathway in the future airforce, especially a cash strapped air force.

  69. Pete,

    Your arguments against machine guns and canon on aircraft are baseless.

    You are arguing with people who either understand the theory, or are very experienced with the practical issues. You can opine and theorize all you want, but very, very few aircraft without some gun or cannon are considered as good CAS aircraft for a reason. A COIN aircraft must be capable of CAS.

    1) Gun attacks, particularly strafing, generally minimize fratricide and can be worked much closer to troops in contact than high explosives. The aircraft never has to release weapons over friendly troops (generally a very bad idea) and most major infantry fights are linear targets which are well serviced by guns. A strafing attack parallel to friendly lines is also gives the troops a chance to observe, correct, or waive off a pilot.
    2) Aerial cannon and machine gun rounds accelerate due to gravity meaning that they significantly outrange an equivalent ground weapon fired as AAA. The acceleration of these projectiles as the also significantly increases their penetration.
    3) Coalition aircraft generally have been quite effective since the first GW I through today firing from above the ground AAA and MANPAD ceiling.
    4) A strafing run is very visible to ground troops which: 1) builds morale of the good guys, 2) discourages the bad guys, and 3) makes it easy to re-adjust incoming waves of CAS aircraft.
    5) Observer’s point about extending the fight using MGs or cannon is great. You can ration gun ammunition better than bombs, or missiles.

    I am not denying the effectiveness of bombs and missiles; it is a plain fact that guns, missiles and bombs are complementary.

  70. “All in all, I don’t see dedicated COIN aircraft being a pathway in the future airforce, especially a cash strapped air force.”

    I cannot speak for other countries, but I have observed first hand the financial outlay caused by the overuse of tactical aircraft in the USA.

    Almost every CAS call in Iraq and Afghanistan after the first couple of months could have been answered by an inexpensive airframe. I do not begrudge fighters, but frankly, we could have saved massive amounts of money using a cheap CAS/Coin aircraft like the EM-314 instead of B1s, F16s, F18s, etc. to kill a handful of illiterate “freedom fighters”.

    This is of course the whole point of an inexpensive airframe.

  71. I think we are missing some elements here…

    “A Missile can be Jammed, or fooled….Bullets fly straight and True”

    E.g In COIN, it’s likely your Enemies will have MMG’s and HMG’s. DHSK, 0.50cals Etc, even the heavier stuff like ZSU Guns. Flying low level in one of these things would be a bit of a concern. Doing it in an A-10 with a Titanium Bathtub around you with a GAU-8 , is one thing. Sticking some kit on a Training Aircraft and playing “20 minuters” is quite another.

    We would spend an awful lot of money on training people to maintain and fly this simple aircraft as well as accomodation and all the other elements a Human needs…

    Have done with it, and build a CAS Drone. Drones are better for COIN. All round lower footprint, and you don’t have to deal with Prima-Donna Aircrew…Win-Win.

  72. Mike,

    I am not suggesting the aircraft duel with AAA systems.

    The entire point of the ventral turret is that it gives you options to engage targets using multiple altitudes and attack profiles – well above AAA range.

    With the right sensors and optics, the aircraft could conduct a strafing run at altitudes above 5000 meters flying straight and level, simply by depressing the gun elevation.

    More likely is that the turret will be slewed perpendicular to the direction of flight and engage targets as the aircraft orbit the target the way an AC 130 does.

    Drones: right now, putting a forward observer aloft to direct artillery and or tactical air, seems to be a better solution than using a drone. That is likely to change in the future, but for now, a manned aircraft is best. Keep in mind that even in a COIN environment, guerrillas may receive sophisticated EW support from foreign states. The data link with a drone is a concern. A manned aircraft can fly its mission with strict electronic emission control, until it detects a target, or is called upon for support. A manned two seat aircraft can also carry commanders and troop leaders aloft for orientation that remains difficult to reproduce with maps, photos and videos.

  73. There is a 21st century Bronco in the making,No it is not the Polish one,it is an American Skorpion;

    “In Afghanistan and Iraq, F-15s, F-16s and A-10s have been used for patrols and close air support in completely uncontested airspace. This was overkill, according to some military officials. Built for high-speed, high-G maneuvers, these aircraft made little use of their strengths in these conflicts, but were needed to drop ordnance and provide armed overwatch for ground troops. ”

    better late than never…


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