Members of Congress and decision-makers at the Pentagon have for quite some time thought the light-attack A-29 Super Tucano aircraft would be an optimal choice for support to Special Operations Forces, as it can offer air support to maneuvering ground troops in less-contested or low-risk environments.
The A-29 is a Brazilian aircraft built by Embraer and also manufactured in the U.S. through a partnership with Sierra Nevada Corporation. The planes are still in production and have been in service since 2003 as a counterinsurgency, light-attack armed aircraft not intended to be a major air supremacy platform or operate against advanced air defenses. The aircraft has been in service in many countries including Chile, Columbia, Indonesia, and the Philippines among many others.
The A-29 Super Tucano is a highly maneuverable light attack aircraft able to operate in high temperatures and rugged terrain. It is 11.38 meters long and has a wingspan of 11.14 meters; its maximum takeoff weight is 5,400 kilograms. The aircraft has a combat radius of 300 nautical miles, can reach speeds up to 367 mph, and hits ranges up to 720 nautical miles. Its combat radius of 300 nautical miles positions the aircraft for effective attacks within urban environments or other more condensed combat circumstances.
A-29s are turboprop planes armed with one 20mm cannon below the fuselage able to shoot 650 rounds per minute, one 12.7mm machine gun (FN Herstal) under each wing, and up to four 7.62mm Dillion Aero M134 Miniguns able to shoot up to 3,000 rounds per minute.
Super Tucanos are also equipped with 70mm rockets, air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-9L Sidewinder, air-to-ground weapons such as the AGM-65 Maverick, and precision-guided bombs. It can also use a laser rangefinder and laser-guided weapons. These kinds of weapons can prove extremely critical when it comes to supporting ground troops on the move faced with incoming enemy fire.
A-29: A Counterinsurgency Warrior
The A-29 is optimal for counterinsurgency as it can operate close to the ground and hit targets with precision weaponry, offering vital close air support. These are just a few of the ways in which A-29s can change the equation when it comes to counterinsurgency. First and foremost, the aircraft can save lives. If overhead fire support is able to identify and attack pockets of enemy fighters, fewer ground troops have to enter into enemy fire. Also, the aircraft can access an overhead asset such as an intelligence node able to send targeting information and data regarding troop movements.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.