Transport and business aircraft equipped with weapons and sensors could be emerging as low-cost alternatives to fighter planes as recent procurements have shown.
Boeing announced today at AAD 2014 that it moving forward with its Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA), with ground and flight testing underway.
According to Robert Schoeffling of Boeing Military Aircraft, the prototype aircraft, based on the Bombadier Challenger 605 platform, had progressed from a paper design to being integrated with sensors and systems in just two years.
Boeing announced last November that it will partner with Field Aviation (an aircraft modification company that converted 10 Bombardier Dash 8 Q200s and Q300s to maritime surveillance aircraft for the Australian Coast Guard in the mid-90s) to jointly build a business-jet-based MSA.
The aircraft will have mission systems commonality to the larger Boeing P-8A Poseidon, a variant of the 737-800, and a lower cost, according to Aviation Week. The companies are developing an MSA demonstrator using a Challenger 604 and hope to generate the first sales within two years.
Earlier this month Iraq requested the sale of 24 Beechcraft AT-6C Texan II aircraft and 2 spare ALE-47 Counter-Measure Dispensing Systems and/or 2 spare AAR-47 Missile Launch Detection Systems and non-SAASM global positioning systems with CMA-4124 worth $790 million from the US.
Cessna parent company Textron developed a new tactical strike aircraft capable of replacing current, heavily priced fighter planes in low lethality scenarios and homeland security mission: “irregular warfare,” border and maritime patrol, reconnaissance, counter-narcotics and air defense operations.
The aircraft is a two-seater with twin tails, two 8,000 lb turbofan engines, straight wings and all-composite fuselage (its shape, eapecially the tail complex, loosely reminds that of the F-14 Tomcat). The internal weapons bay and the external hardpoint give the aircraft the capability to accomodate precision guided munitions.
With a maximum speed of about 450 kts and a hourly cost of only $3,000, the Scorpion emerged during the Libya Air War in 2011 that highlighted the need for low-cost combat planes to contain the cost of prolonged operations.
In November 2013, Alenia Aermacchi and the Italian Air Force signed an agreement at the Dubai Airshow to support Italian Praetorian fleet. The Praetorian, which is a specialized version of the MC-27J, is expected to support the Italian Special Forces and Comando Operativo Forze Speciali (COFS) in their missions.
The MC-27J is the multi-mission variant of the C-27J Spartan tactical twin-turboprop airlifter. It is designed to provide 360° coverage against air-to-air and surface-to-air threats in the battlefield, the Praetorian is an advanced electronic warfare (EW) suite, including computers, cameras and unspecified fire-support systems.
As part of the two-phased Praetorian project, Alenia Aermacchi will first develop and deliver the Praetorian prototype to the Italian Air Force in spring 2014, for immediate testing in the threatre
Meanwhile, Texas-based Air Tractor which is now affixing armor plating, sensors, and weapons ranging from .50 caliber machine guns to air-to-ground missiles onto planes originally designed to douse cropland with chemicals and spray water on brush fires.
So far they’ve sold 24 of these weaponized crop-dusters to the United Arab Emirates air force.
The Air Tractor’s AT-802U costs about $2.5 million per aircraft in comparision with the $137 million price tag for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter.
Meanwhile companies such as Embraer and Gulfstream have militarized their business aircraft as well. Embraer offers airborne early warning and reconnaissance versions of its ERJ 145 passenger jet and Bombardier is marketing modified versions of its Challenger midsize plane as a high-altitude search-and-rescue aircraft, and its smaller Learjets as signal-intercepting spy planes.
Duties such as coastal patrols can also be performed by Bombardier’s 80-seat Q400 turboprops that now serve regional airports, according to the company.