Small Weapons for Light Fighters


Under the U.S. Air National Guard evaluation of a future Light Attack and Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) to be operated by the U.S. and Afghan air forces, the Air Force is seeking a low cost, light fighter capable of flying at altitudes up to 30,000 ft. above sea level, with a range up to 900 nautical miles, and mission endurance of six hours.

In the recent weapon test campaign AT-6 completed firing of 2.75” unguided rockets, conducted captive carry test with guided 2.75" rockets and dropped general purpose bombs, four GBU-12, and four GBU-58 laser guided bombs (LGB - above), all LGBs scored direct hits. Additional tests are planned with other weapon types including Raytheon Griffin 35-lb. GPS/laser-guided bomb and Hellfire guided missile from Lockheed martin..

LAAR is positioned as an affordable, advanced training, light attack and armed reconnaissance aircraft that could meet the U.S. government plans to equip under-developed governments with effective aerial recce and attack capabilities necessary for combatting insurgency and drug trafficking. While providing effective, precision attack and real-time recce, the aircraft should affordable to own and operate and be able to operate from austere fields. Deliveries of such aircraft would often be considered as ‘training aircraft’, while combat operations could be flown by local trainees or,when necessary, by their foreign ‘trainers’, assisting government counter-insurgency operations.

The Super T's advanced avionics & guided munitions capabilities include an all-glass cockpit, certified to withstand bird strikes, with design and technology similar to fourth-generation fighters. Photo: Embraer

As part of these evaluations the Brazilian Embraer A-29 Super Tucano and Hawker Beechcraft Defense Company (HBDC) AT-6 are undergoing weapon qualification and operational evaluation Currently undergoing operational assessment by the Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve Test Center (AATC), toward a final selection next month. Embraer has prepared its position in the U.S. by teaming with the California based Sierra Nevada company and establishing a production and support facility for its aircraft in Florida.

Evaluations currently underway focus on weapon qualification; while the A-29 team has maintained radio silence since June, HBDC provides regular updates about the program progress. In recent months the AT-6 completed firing of 2.75” unguided rockets and carried out precision guided weapons test campaign dropping eight laser guided bombs (LGB). During the two week deployment, the AT-6  typically  flew three sorties per day employing approximately 60 BDU-33, BDU-50, GBU-12, and GBU-58 general purpose and precision munitions. All eight LGBs scored direct hits.

Two Griffin missiles attached to the AT-6 underwing pylon. The aircraft is scheduled to test fly with the griffins in the coming weeks. Photo: Hawker beechcraft

Additional tests are planned with other weapon types including Raytheon Paveway II bombs, captive carry of different types of 2.75” guided rockets, the Griffin 35-lb. GPS/laser-guided bomb. In follow-up testing the aircraft will fire laser-guided rockets, and Lockheed-Martin’s AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.

The aircraft also performed air-to-air gunnery, employing .5 Cal machine-guns, assisted by integrated lead computing  gun  sight. This capability could be of value for the Air Sovereignty Alert (ASA), which the U.S. Air National Guard performs defending U.S. airspace. Similar mission, currently flown by F-16s, could be performed by gun and missile-armed AT-6s. Hawker Beechcraft is offering the National Guard a version of AT-6 equipped with a glass cockpit based on the A-10C modernized Warthog. To further demonstrate this role the AT-6 will conduct a live-fire tests with the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile in 2012.

The AT-6 also performed air-to-air gunnery, employing .5 Cal machine-guns, assisted by integrated lead computing gun sight derived from the A-10C Modernized warthog. Photo: Hawker Beechcraft.

Raytheon Company is seeking to integrate its 12 pound Small Tactical Munition (STM) onto a wide variety of light-attack aircraft. Two of these 22 inch long missiles are stacked in a canister carried by manned or unmanned aircraft. STM is the smallest air-launched weapon in Raytheon’s portfolio. According to Bob Francois, vice president of Advanced Missiles and Unmanned Systems for Raytheon Missile Systems, the small size of this new missile enables the warfighter to carry dozens of STMs on a multitude of light attack aircraft. “Instead of using an expensive system to destroy a target such as a lightly armored vehicle, the warfighter could use an STM, which costs roughly the same as a pickup truck and reduces collateral damage.” The STM weapon uses foldable fins and wings, it incorporates a purpose-built warhead designed by Nammo-Talley and features a Kaman Aerospace electronic safe arm and fire device. The weapon is employed from the U.S. military’s common launch tube.

The outfit the AT-6 is offered includes the Pratt and Whitney Canada PTA-68D turboprop engine, CMC Esterline’s mission modified Cockpit 4000, Lockheed Martin’s A-10C-based mission system and L-3 WESCAM’s MX-15Di day/night-capable sensor pod. The aircraft is also equipped with an ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management System, advanced ARC-210 radios with secure voice/data and SATCOM capabilities, a variety of air and ground datalinks and the weapons capability required to excel in meeting irregular warfare mission requirement. Phopto: Hawker Beechcraft


  1. LAAR is wounded but not quite dead. However, what irritates me is the USAF wants to turn this little bird into some miniaturized A-10 bomb truck. Exactly WHY does it need all this fancy, high tech weapons and fire direction systems? You don’t need them when you’re gunning a bunch of Taliban on the ground with AKs and RPGs. Keep the bird both simple and stupid. You’re going to have it flown (and maintained) by a bunch of goat herders!

  2. Embraer keeping radio silence on weapons capability? What I see is a advertisement of the AT-6 trying to look as news. Embraer A-29 has 132 tested weapons configurations, capability to carry assimetrical combat loads and has launched all this weapons the AT-6 is experimenting with in actual combat, proving its capabilities in 18,000 hours of actual COMBAT not testing, by the way without a single lost. And just to remember the Embraer A-29, which is a much larger aircraft constructed of a stronger structure and with armour, has its .50 cal machineguns mounted internally, leaving free hard points space for more weapons carriage and optimizing aerodynamics when flying with guns only. And its guns are “tested” every week in Brazil and Colombia airspace to achieve cooperation from aircrafts flown by drug traffickers. The AT-6 is not even in the same category… Maybe that’s why the Embraer A-29 won the competition this week! By the way, where is the news about Embraer winning the LAAR competition?

  3. MasterGunner01

    I think the real benefits this will be for the US is not so much the plane itself but the cheap & lightweight munitions developed for it.
    You want to kill a Taliban why mount Hellfire missiles on your Predator which are about $60,000 a pop when you could have an STM which cost the same as a truck?
    An STM might not have the same kick as a Hellfire but its still more than enough to kill Mr Taliban.

    As for the LAAR and the other planes in its class if nothing I think they are very much part of the future of the fighter plane industry.
    I think the fighter plane market of the future is going to be based on on a two pronged approach.
    The countries who want modern armies will be buying things like F35 whilst poorer countries or those where the chances of war breaking out are slim will opt for these things rather than the expensive jets whose superior capabilities they don’t need.

    Its also good when it comes to approving the sale of a fighter because international politics comes into it.
    Its much easier for Congress to justify selling a plane like this type of plane to a country where politics is involved than it is to approve the sale of jets and of course if the US refused to sell them anything at all because of politics they would buy jets from Russia or Europe at least this way the US has a chance to make a sale.

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