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OPINION: Let’s Support U.S. Developing The A-29 Super Tucano

Photo by Nardisoero
Photo by Nardisoero
Photo by Nardisoero

The A-29 Super Tucano has the qualities needed for effective ground support in this era of modern warfare … so let’s add it to the U.S. arsenal.

Place this in the “Everything Old Is New Again” file.

Modern warfare, in particular the fight against terrorism, has created a new demand for a ground support military aircraft. The A-10 Warthog continues to be outstanding in its role of providing accurate fire and weapons on enemy ground positions.

But going back to a single-engine, propeller driven, ground support attack aircraft makes sense – even if it resembles the war birds that flew during World War II.

The development of the A-29 Super Tucano, also known as the Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano has provided a ground attack plane that can get the job done. Unfortunately, as this story points out, Congress failed to OK the funding for the Air Force to add the A-29 to its arsenal.

So why a turboprop plane? The A-29 can fly at low speed at low altitude and operate in desert-like heat. It also has the fuel capacity and economy to stay on station for long periods of time. The Super Tucano can be configured in single-seat and twin-seat models.

The A-29 has .50 cal machine guns (one in each wing), and features five hard points under the wing and a fuselage that can carry up to 3,300 pounds of additional weapons. The hard points also can be configured to carry auxiliary fuel tanks.

The A-29 is also cheaper to operate, requiring about $1,000 per hour in the air. By contrast, the A-10 costs about $11,500 per hour while the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter costs about $30,000 per hour of flight.

In January, the Afghan Air Force (AAF) acquired four A-29s, the first of 20 set to be delivered over the course of the next few years.

“The A-29 light attack aircraft is a versatile aircraft that brings a number of critical capabilities to the AAF,” said U.S. Army Colonel Michael T Lawhorn, director of public affairs for NATO’s Operation ‘Resolute Support’ in Afghanistan, said. “These include close air support, armed escort, and armed over watch.”

If the Defense Department is resolute in its desire to eventually retire A-10s from active service, it should ask ground troops what sort of close-support aircraft they would prefer to replace it with knowing that the other options are the F-35 or a limited number of F-16s. Given the choice between nothing and a capable weapons system, they’d probably vote for the A-29. Too bad that’s not the process.

Written by Wendell Barnhouse

Wendell Barnhouse is a veteran journalist with over 40 years of experience as a writer and an editor. For the last 30 years, he wrote about college sports but he has had an interest and curiosity about aviation since he was in grade school.