A COIN Aircraft Comeback

This blog has repeatedly asked the question: Why doesn't the US Air Force operate a counter-insurgency (COIN) aircraft? And I don't mean an F-16 with an M61 Vulcan strafing a ground target, but an ugly-looking, turboprop-powered, low and slow aircraft like the A-1 Skyraider, which was used so effectively in Vietnam.

f-20-tigershark.jpg

It (finally) appears that the USAF has been asking itself the same question, and an article published today in the service's official Air & Space Power Journal makes the following conclusion:

"Realistically, the new right-tech platform may be an unmanned aerial system, but to create the opening for a long-term enabling plan, the USAF should first develop a strategy for exportable COIN technologies. If the F-20 legacy still applies, it also means that the USAF should operate these platforms in its own inventory."

The author's chain of reasoning goes like this:

1. The USAF should remain focused on the non-COIN fight and let its lesser-funded coalition partners do the COIN dirty work.

2. This means the USAF needs to be able to offer these partners an exportable aircraft.

3. The Northrop F-20 was the last time the USAF tried to sell an aircraft to partners that it didn't buy itself, and the fighter flopped on the export market. No one wanted to buy an aircraft that lacked a USAF-supported supply chain.

4. Ergo sum, the USAF needs to buy its own inventory of COIN aircraft, in order for it to have an exportable product to offer to the nations who actually need such an aircraft.

The author pointedly declines to promote a specific platform, but she probably doesn't have to.

Congress may have already decided the issue with an earmark found in the 2008 US defense appropriations bill.

Senator Sam Brownback, of Kansas, has earmarked $3 million in research and development funds for the AT-6B, the Wichita-based Hawker Beechcraft product that is often marketed as a COIN aircraft. The funds have been allocated to the Air National Guard.

Other would-be competitors are the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano and the US Aircraft A-67 Dragon.

-- Stephen Trimble

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