While the Embraer Defense & Security/Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) A-29 Super TUCANO light attack combat and reconnaissance aircraft has been selected by 14 air forces on three continents, that number is expected to increase, according to Taco Gilbert, Senior Vice President of ISR, Aviation and Security (IAS), at A-29 industry partner Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC).
The US Air Force has notified the A-29 team of its intent to purchase A-29s for use in the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), “but we have not yet received the contract,” Mr Gilbert stated, highlighting the capabilities an A-29 brings to defence forces, including combat and reconnaissance, close air support, convoy escort, training, and a host of other missions in the permissive and semi-permissive environments. “The A-29 is built to operate routinely and continuously in support of very complex special operations missions in rugged conditions, including from unimproved runways, in areas of extreme weather and with little support equipment,” he added.
As this conference convened, the A-29 significantly was in the air orders of battle for Afghanistan, Lebanon, Colombia and Brazil – and is currently operating in several combat zones around the world. Indeed, in April 2018 the Afghan Ministry of Defence provided one return on investment from its air force’s A-29 fleet, noting the aircraft are responsible for one-third of all airstrikes conducted against insurgents. From that and other outcomes, the SNC executive asserted that is, “why it has become the gold standard for light attack and reconnaissance aircraft.”
The most recent (November 2018) contract award was for delivery of 12 A-29 Super TUCANOs to the Nigerian Air Force. Asked about future deliveries to customers, participation in contract fly-offs and related competitions, and other activities on the A-29 programme’s business horizon into early 2020, it was noted: “There is an increasing interest around the A-29 in the international market with several potential customers asking for information about the aircraft. However, we do not comment on potential business.”
Mr Gilbert responded to the question about A-29 on-board systems, initially pointing out with its combination of advanced sensors, from FLIR, L3 Wescam and others, the A-29 has the ability to network with joint forces and coalition partners. “The A-29 acts as a force multiplier as part of a fully integrated air and ground combat team sharing data across the battlefield,” he added, and more significantly, emphasised the A-29 can enter inventory ready to plug into US Air Force command and control architecture. “It’s unique in its design as an open architecture platform, capable of rapid integration of new sensors, radios and mission software, and in the aircraft’s ability to match the growing need for multidomain command and control required for US and allied forces.”
Other onboard capabilities continue to evolve. This February it was announced the US Government delivered a consignment of BAE Systems’ Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) laser-guided rockets meant for the Lebanese Armed Forces to arm that air force’s A-29s. “More than 150 weapons configurations are certified for A-29s,” Mr Gilbert concluded.