in Defence / Features

Nigeria sale lights the way for Super Tucano

Posted 31 October 2017 · Add Comment

A US Air Force competition to find a new light attack aircraft could open new doors in Africa for Embraer's Super Tucano. Alan Dron reports.

The US Government’s approval in August of the sale of Embraer Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria was another milestone in the West African nation’s attempts to improve its counter-insurgency capabilities against the Islamist Boko Haram movement.
As African Aerospace went to press, there were still some hurdles to be negotiated before the turboprop aircraft could be delivered. The US Congress, some of whose members are opposed to the deal, had 30 days in which to block it. Only if the government’s decision survived that period would detailed negotiations then begin, which could see both the number of aircraft and the price Nigeria pays for them, changing.
At the time of writing, Nigeria was seeking 12 Super Tucanos and associated equipment for $593 million.
If it goes through, the contract will be another success for Embraer in finding Super Tucano buyers in Africa. Angola, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and Mauretania have all bought the aircraft, which can undertake light attack and surveillance sorties for much lower costs than heavier, more complex jets.
The Super Tucano is manufactured in Brazil and at Embraer’s US facility at Jacksonville, Florida. US-built aircraft are assembled in cooperation with Embraer’s US partner, Sierra Nevada Corporation.
If the Nigerian deal is finally confirmed, it will keep the Jacksonville production line ticking over; in June this year, Embraer Defense & Security CEO, Jackson Schneider, said that if more new orders were not received by the time 20 aircraft for Afghanistan and six for Lebanon were completed by year-end, Embraer might have to look at moving some production north from its Brazilian assembly line.
The Super Tucano’s prospects in Africa will get a major boost if it triumphs in the current United States experimental attack contest (OA-X).
The aim of the contest is to find a simple, rugged design that can be used in permissive air environments, notably counter-insurgency roles, for missions that currently require the use of sophisticated and much more expensive aircraft, such as F-16s, F-15Es and even the current close air support aircraft, the A-10.
The US is seeking a more basic aircraft that can operate out of rough airstrips with minimal infrastructure and maintenance facilities, at a fraction of the cost of existing frontline types.
The OA-X competition pits the Super Tucano, jointly entered by Embraer and Sierra Nevada Corporation, against three US designs – Beechcraft’s AT-6 Wolverine, L-3/Air Tractor’s AT-802L Longsword, and the sole jet in the competition, Textron’s Scorpion.
The US Air Force (USAF) conducted a series of sorties with each aircraft in August from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, both in daylight and at night, dropping a variety of weapons and testing various on-board sensors. Few details have been released, but if the USAF decides to make it a formal programme, the winning company could find itself supplying around 300 aircraft to the US.
That seal of approval would undoubtedly help the winning contender find more international contracts in Africa and elsewhere.
US commentators have noted that the Scorpion cannot operate from unimproved runways and that the AT-802L does not possess an ejection seat, which is thought to be an essential requirement of the design.
Additionally, the Super Tucano defeated an earlier version of the Beechcraft some years ago in the US light air support competition to find a simple attack aircraft for US allies, notably Afghanistan’s fledgling air force. The Super Tucano won an initial contest; Hawker Beechcraft (as it was then known) protested over alleged irregularities in the contest, which was ordered to be run again. The Embraer design won out once more and, despite a further legal protest from Beechcraft, was finally selected.
Sierra Nevada is known to have made ‘adjustments’ to the Super Tucano for the OA-X contest. Embraer declined to give details, although the changes are thought to involve communications equipment and software.
The OA-X mission “is exactly the type of mission the Super Tucano was designed to fill”, said Schneider. “It was aimed at guerrilla movements that were springing up in Latin American countries.”
While Embraer declines to comment on possible future sales of the Super Tucano in Africa, or even to confirm where the aircraft has carried out demonstration flights in the last year, the company says that its previous successes on the continent have aroused considerable interest from other countries. The Nigerian order, if it finally goes through, will only intensify that interest.
 

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