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11 November 2015

Dubai Airshow 2015: Embraer exhibits A-29 Super TUCANO

In a bid to attract new customers, Embraer Defense & Security is displaying its already succesful A-29 Super TUCANOlight attack aircraft during DAS15. Speaking to MT during the show, Embraer Defense & Security's vice president for business development Geraldo L.C. Gomes explained that, "the Super TUCANOhas been developed under a Brazilian requirement as part of the SIVAM (System for the Vigilance of the Amazon) project".

EMB-314 (Photo: FAB)
Given the characteristics and vastness of the Amazon, Embraer designed a new aircraft that requires, "little to no logistic support," and that, "can operate from improvised airstrips in remote areas". This has resulted in a "strong aircraft, optimised for COIN, irregular warfare", Gomes said. He boasted that the A-29, or EMB-314 as it is traditionally called, is, "a turboprop aircraft with jet like characteristics".

Hence, in an effort to maximize the aircraft's survivability, many of its critical systems have been designed with a "high degree of redundancy" in mind. The Super TUCANO also features a, "datalink capability that is integrated into the flight management system's operational flight programme," allowing the aircraft to receive data from offboard sensors such as AEW&C aircraft and ground based radars to build up a comprehensive operational picture. Gomes said: "the difference with competitors is that the Super TUCANO has been developed from scratch for COIN. Our aircraft has a fatigue life of 18,000 flight hours which is uncomparable to others. The others are trainers that have been armed and their service life will be reduced in a COIN environment".

Powered by a 1,600shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68/3 turboprop engine, the Super TUCANO can cope with stresses between -3.5G and 7G. The aircraft has a MTOW of 5,400 kg and a weapons payload of 1,550 kg with fully loaded guns. Gomes indicated that by now the company had, "certified 150 different weapons configurations".

Unlike its competitors the A-29 is armed with two FN Herstal M3P 12.7mm heavy machineguns with 250 rounds of ammunition each that are fitted in the wings of the aircraft with the aircraft's eight hardpoints being free for a wide range of other weapons. A nose mounted EO/IR sensor pod is installed which when equipped with a laser target designator allows the aircraft to designate and hit surface targets with PGMs. A FLIR Systems Bright Star DP EO/IR sensor is installed on the A-29s which are destined for Afghanistan while Embraer also offers the option of installing the STAR Safire III. Gomes also said that the aircraft has, "plenty of space," to integrate other mission systems with the Super Tucano featuring an open design architecture. Already capable of supporting maritime missions, Embraer has also recently looked into a recce pod for the A-29 that contains a SAR radar. It is known that Embraer Defense & Security's subsidiary BRADAR has developed the BradarSAR system that can easily be installed in small aircraft weighing only 30 kg. Integrating the A-29 with a COMINT capability appears a logical next step as COMINT is widely used for wide area search in the Trans Sahara region where Embraer has had much export success with its Super Tucano recently. Meanwhile, the A-29's endurance on internal fuel is given as 3.4 hours. When adding external tanks, this can be increased to 8.4 hours.

According to information provided by Embraer, the Super TUCANO is currently operated by ten air forces on three continents and has flown over 270,000 hours including around 33,000 combat hours. Gomes said Embraer has sold, "about 230 aircraft" with the company from Brazil "nearing the delivery of the 200th aircraft".

The Super TUCANO is now built at two production lines, one in Brazil and one in Jacksonville in the United States. For the United States Air Force's Light Air Support (LAS) programme, Embraer has partnered with Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) for the delivery of A-29s to the Afghan Air Force. The initial decision to award SNC and its partner with the contract was overturned after protests were filed by competitor Beechcraft that had hoped to sell its AT-6. However, after a rebidding process, the USAF decided in February 2013 it had again selected SNC and Embraer Defense & Security for its LAS programme. Under a U$427.5 million order, 20 A-29s will be delivered to the USAF. By now 12 aircraft have been handed over according to Gomes with these aircraft initially being used to train Afghan pilots and maintainers at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. The first aircraft was rolled out by SNC from its facilities in Florida on 25 September 2014 with deliveries to Moody commencing a day later. By January 2016, the A-29s should start taking over from the Afghan Air Force's current, aging fleet of ground attack assets. In addition to the aircraft purchased by the USAF for Afghanistan, the Super Tucano is also operated by Angola, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Indonesia, and Mauritania. Customers that have yet to receive aircraft include Ghana, Mali and Senegal. Guatemala is also known to have selected the Super Tucano while Lebanon can now also be added to the list having become the most recent customer for the aircraft.

A-29 (Photo: USAF) 
 Pieter Bastiaans