Stephen Trimble at Flight International:
US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) planners have called for the stand-up of a new “irregular warfare” wing dedicated to fighting insurgents and terrorists with an aircraft fleet numbering 44 airlifters, 20 helicopters and 20 turboprop strike fighters.
AFSOC’s proposal, which is described in a recent internal White Paper obtained by Flight International, would dramatically increase the air force’s assets dedicated to the counter-insurgency mission, which now includes a single squadron equipped with two Bell Helicopter UH-1N utility helicopters. [emphasis Murdoc's]
This is something I’ve supported for quite some time. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t mind large numbers of cheaper close air support planes in the hands of the Army and Marines, but if the only way to get them into the field is with AFSOC, so be it. Maybe this could prove (or disprove once and for all) the utility of light turboprops over today’s battlefields and possibly open the door for more of the same in the regular forces.
The Air Force wanted for so long to ditch the A-10. Now it’s seeing that getting down and dirty is a new way to get into the game and they suddenly want some turboprops. Should have seen that ten years ago, but better late than never, I guess.
The article mentions the Beechcraft AT-6B and the Embraer Tucano and Super Tucano. It also notes that the Douglas A-1 Skyraider played a similar role in Vietnam.
However, be afraid, be very afraid, of any major modification requirements to these planes. The whole point is to get simple and cheap. A program that finally (maybe) delivers a bazillion dollar turboprop ten years from now is not what we need.
A pro to the concept: The planes will be so cheap that they won’t interfere with F-22 and F-35 budgets.
A con to the concept: The planes will make many wonder why we need so many F-22s and F-35s.