Warplanes: Super Simple Bargain In Afghanistan


November 14, 2017: In late 2017 the United States agreed to provide the Afghan Air Force with another six A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft. This is in addition to the twenty the U.S. has already agreed to provide. Eighteen of these A-29s will be service by the end of 2018 with the additional six taking a year or so to be in service. The first A-29s entered service in Afghanistan during early 2016 and the Afghans found them very useful.

The A-29 is basically an armed trainer. The Brazilian Super Tucano already has most of the market for such trainer/warplanes. This single engine, single seat aircraft was built for pilot training, but also performs quite well for counter-insurgency work. The Super Tucano is basically a prop driven trainer that has structural features making it easy to equip it for combat missions. The Super Tucano comes with armor for the pilot, a pressurized cockpit, and an ejection seat. The A-29 has a max takeoff weight of 5.4 tons and can carry up to 1.5 tons of weapons, including 12.7mm machine-guns (one under each wing), bombs and missiles. The Super Tucano has a GPS based navigation system as standard and can also carry a number of optional electronics systems. One is a FLIR (infrared radar that produces a photo realistic video image in any weather) and a fire control system for bombing.

Cruising speed is 500 kilometers an hour and average endurance is six hours. Max altitude is 11,300 meters (35,000 feet) and stall (slowest speed) is 150 kilometers an hour. Naturally, this aircraft can move in lower and slower than any jet can. The Afghan A-29s are equipped to use small (250 and 500 pound) GBU-12 and GBU-58 laser guided bombs.

Several nations are using the Super Tucanos for counter-insurgency work. The aircraft is also used for border patrol. The Super Tucano costs $9 million each, and come in one or two seat versions. The Super Tucano suited Afghan needs. That is a smaller, slower aircraft that can double as trainers. It's easier to train pilots to use the Super Tucano, cheaper to buy them, and much cheaper to operate them. It costs about $500 an hour to operate an A-29, which less than a tenth of what it costs for an F-16. Moreover the Afghan A-29s are flown by Afghans, maintained by Afghans and support Afghan soldiers and police who know and appreciate that.


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