The U.S. Navy has revealed that it has leased a Super Tucano propeller-driven light attack plane, pictured, to support U.S. Special Operations Forces, with another three on the way. “This is a close air support, manned aircraft with a pilot and sensor operator. The idea here is that SOF needs an organic capability that can stick with them while they’re doing their mission,” Captain Mark Mullins said, according to Defense News.
Mullins called the Brazilian-built Super Tucano a “fascinating piece of kit.” The plane has a six-hour endurance and can operate from rough fields and roads. “You can imagine the SOF guys and Marines really love this. The challenge here, and why it’s so contentious, is it falls into the seam where it’s really not clear whose bailiwick it is. It’s not a marinized aircraft. It doesn’t fly off the carrier.”
It doesn’t matter whose bailiwick it is. This capability is too important to let fall prey to inter-service rivalry. If the Air Force refuses to get on board with light attack, then the Navy should carry on alone.
U.S. combat aviation seems like all bad news these days. The F-22 program will deliver no more than 240 planes before it gets shuttered. The F-35 is late and over-budget and its program office seems intent on wrecking all other aircraft programs in order to protect its funding. F-15s are falling apart. A-10s are falling apart. Amid all this gloom, the Navy’s Super Tucano initiative is a bright ray of good news.
Close air support is arguably the most important tactical air mission, but the Pentagon has refused to make it a priority. The last time we built a dedicated CAS airplane was the mid-1980s, with the last batch of A-10s. The Super Tucano represents an almost breathtaking return to common sense.
Planes like this, plus armed drones, represent the future of U.S. air power for low-intensity warfare. Count on it. A decade from now, tiny fleets of F-22s and F-35s will form our conventional air deterent against major rivals, endlessly deploying on “show-of-force” missions, while Super Tucanos, Reapers, gunships and helicopters do all the actual work in the dull, dirty, distant wars that we’re likely to be fighting.
Update, 4/25/09: Air Force boss General Norton Schwartz said the air service will consider adding a light-attack plane to its planned “counter-insurgency wing.” “Schwartz added that the best approach might be to make the primary trainer aircraft something that ‘could be easily reconfigured into a light-strike platform,’” DoD Buzz reports.
(Photo: via defesanet.com)