July 6, 2015:
The African nation of Mali is buying six Brazilian A-29 Super Tucano aircraft for their air force. The Super Tucano is a single engine turbo-prop trainer/attack aircraft that is used by over a dozen nations. The armed version carries two internal 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns and can carry up to 1.5 tons of bombs and rockets. It can stay in the air for 6.5 hours at a time. It is rugged, easy to maintain, and cheap. You pay $15-20 million for each Super Tucano, depending on how much training, spare parts, and support equipment you get with them.
Super Tucano can be equipped to carry over a half dozen of the 120 kg (250 pound) SDB GPS smart bombs (or half a dozen dumb 500 pound bombs), giving it considerable potential firepower if rigged to handle smart bombs. The Super Tucano comes equipped with a GPS guidance system. Max altitude is 11,300 meters (35,000 feet) and cruising speed is 400 kilometers an hour. Naturally, this aircraft can move in lower and slower than any jet can. Thus the Super Tucano is also equipped with armor for the pilot, a pressurized cockpit, and an ejection seat. Not bad for an aircraft with a max takeoff weight of 5.4 tons. These "trainer/light attack aircraft" can also operate from crude airports or even a stretch of highway. Aircraft like this can carry systems to defeat portable surface to air missiles.
The Super Tucano 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 less than a tenth as much per flying hour to operate a Super Tucano compared to an F-16. This is why the U.S. Air Force uses Super Tucano (as the A-29) as trainer for training pilots of allies that bought the Super Tucano.
Mali joins several other African countries (Angola, Burkina Fasso, Mauritius, and Senegal) who already have Super Tucano, which has become the world’s leading counter-insurgency aircraft. Mali will use the A-29 to help control the growing problem with Islamic terrorists in the north, and the drug smugglers moving cocaine to North Africa.
Mali’s Cold War era warplanes have been inoperable for years. All were acquired in the 1960s and 70s and not maintained very well. After the 1970s some transports were acquired, mostly for carrying senior politicians around. Military leaders have long wanted some basic, easy and cheap to operate aircraft for training and reconnaissance. That is what the Super Tucano does, plus carry out ground attack if so equipped.