First, here is a quick starter on what this program is about:
The selected LAAR aircraft will have to meet several key requirements, including:
Rough field operations. The RFI requires that the aircraft be capable of operating from semi-prepared runways such as grass or dirt surfaces.
Defensive package. The aircraft will have to include several defensive measures, including a Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS), a Radar warning receiver (RWR), and chaff and flare dispensers.
Armored cockpit and engine.
Long loiter time. The aircraft must be able to fly 5 hour sorties (with 30 minute fuel reserves).
Range. The aircraft must have a 900 nautical mile (1600 km) ferry range.
Data link capability. The aircraft is required to have a line-of-sight data link (with beyond line-of-sight desired) capability of transmitting and receiving still and video images.
ntelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. The aircraft will have to laser track and designate targets, as well as track targets using electro-optical and infrared video/still images.
Weaponry. The LAAR aircraft will need at least 4 weapons stores capable of carrying a variety of weapons, including 500 lb bombs, 2.75 inch rockets, rail-launched missiles, and illumination flares. The aircraft will also be capable of aerial gunnery, either with an integrated or pylon mounted gun.
Desired traits (but not requirements) include:
Infrared signature suppression for the engine(s).
30,000 ft (9000 m) operational ceiling.
6,000 ft (1800 m) takeoff and landing distance.
Aerobatic capabilities capable of maneuvers such as the Immelmann turn, Cuban eight, and Split S.
The program was born as the need for close air support in Iraq and Afghanistan has proved very expensive to do with F-16, F-15, A10 and B1 Lancer. While all are capable of giving close air support their operations are very expensive and the operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan have shortened the planes lifespan.
As there is little or no threat in the air in these two countries a simpler, yet advanced option has been debated, and that is using an advanced turboprop engine with network capabilities offering close air support at much cheaper cost. In operations with limited threats for the Air Force these planes could relieve the more advanced and expensive planes. The program is rationale and initially it was talked about as much as 100 light armed airplanes being ordered. It has also been argued the plane type would be perfect for homeland security as well as board.
But there has been some controversy inside the Air Force. Some have really argued against this option suggesting UAV in combination with stealth airplanes are the way of the U.S Air Force future.
The end result is that initially the RFP is for 15 planes that will be transferred to Afghanistan Air Force and perhaps 20 planes later as trainers for the U.S Air Force.
This thread is a good opportunity to follow this development. Suggested topics can include, but not be limited to:
Who will eventually be awarded this RFP?
Why is there such a resistance within the Air Force for a cheap Close Air Support airplane?
With the potential of 1 trillion cut in defense spending will that increase the potential for LAS?
Is it possible that the resistance will decrease as the Air Force gain operational experience?
Is there room for both UAV and LAS?
Is UAV or LAS a cheaper option?
Here is an article about the program:
Here is an article about the axed AT-6:
Edit to add some pictures:
AT-6 Texan ii
Embraer Super Tucano
[Edited 2011-11-22 09:23:06]