Since the United States first became heavily engaged in fighting insurgents around the globe, it was clear there would be a requirement to supplement existing conventional weapons such as tanks and fighters with military systems suited to the unique demands of irregular warfare. That is how the military ended up acquiring a “mine-resistant, ambush-protected” armored vehicle for Iraq, and an all-terrain version of the same system for Afghanistan.
The Air Force determined that it needed to complement its fleet of sophisticated fighter and attack jets with a simpler aircraft designed for operating in moderate-threat environments. It’s not that fighters aren’t good at what they were conceived to do, but they fly too fast, cost too much, and stay in the air too briefly to be the best answer for air operations in places like Afghanistan. In addition, they are too complicated to be piloted and maintained by the military personnel of some partner countries.
So the Air Force decided to acquire a light attack and armed reconnaissance (LAAR) aircraft. The requirements were for a two-seat turboprop capable of flying at altitudes of up to 30,000 ft. with an armored cockpit and advanced sensors. The LAAR would also mount a full-motion video camera and a data link to transmit video and other information. For weapons, the LAAR would carry a cannon and be able to deliver two 500 lb. bombs, 2.75-inch rockets and rail-launched munitions.
The primary U.S. contender for the LAAR is the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6. The AT-6 is a variant of the T-6 primary trainer currently used by the U.S. Air Force and Navy as well as a number of other countries, including the new Iraqi Air Force. The T-6 is a reliable, easy-to-maintain aircraft, just what you want for teaching partner-country pilots. The same features would apply to the AT-6 variant. It would reduce the costs incurred by the U.S. Air Force in supporting partner countries. The choice of the AT-6 would realize life-cycle cost savings because of the ability to leverage the existing supply chain in place to support the T-6. In addition, the AT-6 would join some 37 Hawker Beechcraft MC-12Ws the Air Force purchased to serve as manned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.
Another reason that the AT-6 makes sense is because it facilitates an easy and natural relationship with the U.S. Air Force, given its experience with the T-6 trainer and partner countries. U.S. pilots and maintainers would not have to learn how to fly a different aircraft in order to train foreign air force personnel.
A final and not unimportant point is that unlike some of the other contenders for the LAAR role, the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 would be developed, produced and assembled in the United States. The entire supply chain would be secure, safe and American. The AT-6 is a low-risk, low-cost solution that avoids the political, logistical and operational challenges that would inevitably arise if a foreign-built aircraft were selected as the LAAR.
Find Archived Articles: