The COIN Aircraft Comeback


The Iraqi air force in two years will be flying a new fleet of single-engine turboprops as counter-insurgency (COIN) aircraft. See the contract solicitation, posted by the US Air Force, here.

The requirement limits the potential bids to companies that have an aircraft that a) is already in wide use and b) is powered by the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engine.

That narrows the bidders to four that Defense Tech can think of: the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 Texan, the Korean Aerospace KO-1 Wong Bee and the Pilatus PC-9M.

Not to play favorites, but Defense Tech humbly suggests this means there are only two serious candidates: the AT-6 and EMB-314 — with the AT-6 gaining a huge advantage from the “Made in America” sticker stamped on the program’s marketing literature.

But don’t count out the Brazilians with the Super Tucano. Expect the executives in Sao Jose Dos Campos to propose moving the EMB-314 assembly — or opening a second production line — to Florida, if they win the contract.

Keep your eye on this program. This could be the first of many such requirements for a dedicated counter-insurgency aircraft fleet to come down the line, both abroad and in the US.

A reader commented on The Dew Line a few weeks ago:

“The T-6 is a trainer, and attempts by Hawker Beechcraft (or whatever it’s called this week) to remodel it as an armed platform are not convincing. That’s not what it was designed to do.

“Remember, the T-6 is just a Pilatus PC-9 and the original Swiss design is forbidden by law from being armed…anyone with armed PC-9s has made their own, alternative, arrangements. So flying in combat is not in its genes. Attempts by Raytheon to compare the armed T-6 with the F-15 were met with an embarrassed silence at one show I remember, not so long ago.

“The Super Tucano on the other hand was designed to be a combat aircraft from Day 1 thats why it makes a lousy trainer because its so big and heavy. The Brazilians deploy it into Amazon dirt strips to fight drug smugglers, it has guns (not an internal gun pod but two 0.50-cals in the wing), it can carry air-to-air missiles and has a very sophisticated (data linked) cockpit (thank you Elbit). In its class the Super Tucano is probably the aircraft you want to go to war in.”

Also, see my colleague John Croft’s account of his recent experience flying the AT-6 here on

I’ll just note that an armed variant of the T-6A is flown by the Hellenic Air Force, but lacks internally mounted guns in favor of a 50-cal pod.

Stephen Trimble

  • Foreign.Boy

    What’s wrong with Iraq’s MIGs?

  • Tartan69

    Their MiGs are probably all fast movers. I say sell ’em some A-10s and any old Spookys/Spectres we have in storage!

  • Grandjester

    The Super Tucano sounds perfect. Hence the T-6 will be chosen.

  • Galls

    “Their MiGs are probably all fast movers. I say sell ’em some A-10s and any old Spookys/Spectres we have in storage!”
    We need those A-10s and they cannot be produced anymore. More power to the revive the A-10 and to the massive amount of armchairs who agree.

  • Siconik

    So, why not just go with attack helicopters?

  • brad

    What about the Piper PA-48 “Enforcer”, they still have the prototype at the Air Force Museum in Dayton. Or Rutan’s plane that had the off-center jet engine.

  • esmoore5

    And speaking of COIN aircraft, it looks
    like the USMC is examining the possibility
    of bringing back the OV-10 Bronco.

  • Thomas

    I think you overlooked the P-9s. Our little ol Air Corp are using them with good results.
    Weapons Practice
    Formation Flying

  • Demophilus

    A little history, and a few comments.
    The Iraqi Air Force used the Tucano as a trainer; they got them from Egypt. The Super Tucano was partially developed by Northrop with Embraer for the JPATS competition that was won by the T-6. IIRC, there were complaints that Raytheon reverse engineered or copied aspects of the Super Tucano.
    If you read the RFP at the link, it calls for a 1200 hp engine. I think the standard T-6 engine is flat rated at less. That favors the Tucano, but the RFP also calls for significant use as a trainer. That might favor Raytheon, as might the requirements for interoperability of avionics, sensors, ISR equipment, etc. That’s Raytheon’s core business.
    Bear in mind that we’re probably not going to give the Iraqis a heavily armed platform they can use on our troops — at least, not without one of our guys in the back seat with a pistol. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why the USAF wants to go back to the .45.
    In the near term, these aircraft will more likely be used for FAC — e.g., as target designators, like the original T-6 Texans were used in Korea. They’ll be “nodes” in the “battlespace”, marking targets for US aircraft. In this context, COIN may not mean all the same things it has in the past.
    Finally, bear in mind that the US torpedoed a sale of Super Tucanos to Venezuela, and it was proposed at the time (by Defense Industry Daily, IIRC) that we buy those Tucanos and give them to Iraq. Also bear in mind that Raytheon does business with Embraer.
    Don’t be surprised if the winner of this race is an Embraer with Raytheon avionics, and it costs more than either of them.

  • Foreign.Boy

    Attack choppers are super expensive…

  • Ken

    Let’s just bring back the the P-51 (updated appropriately, of course).

  • Joe

    Might just as well pull out some A-37’s out of storage.
    Seems with the Navy standing up riverine warfare units and our Army fighting a counter-insurgency war while our Air Force is worried about the imminent communist err chinese airpower threat, we might as well avoid re-re-inventing the vietnam wheel for one time in this conflict.

  • RTLM

    We are re-winging and upgrading the A-10’s. No need to build new ones when the existing airframes are still sound – and with us until 2040. The Tucano is the best choice for this role. Open the line in FL so the systems can be installed under our supervision and fire up the PW Canada factories as well.
    Don’t go more capable than the COIN Tucano – basically a more capable Predator – there’s still the question of training up trustworthy Iraqi pilots.
    And if I had my choice of WWII planes to bring back for this role it’d be Vought F4U Corsair

  • Camp

    Personally, I liked the old Marine Corps OV-10 Night Observation Gunship (NOGS) with a turreted M197 20 mm gun slaved to a FLIR. Sort of a Mini-Spooky.

  • esmoore5

    Update: It looks like the Tucano’s former designer
    has been brought in to help with the A-67 Dragon
    COIN aircraft program. See:

  • George Skinner

    Using a turboprop trainer for COIN is probably a better idea than trying to bring back an old aircraft. It’s easier to get parts, and newer designs tend to benefit from a lot of improvements in design and maintainability. Fixed wing seems to have better survivability than helicopters, too, and vastly better reliability.

  • pete saussy

    The COIN A/c promoters share the same deception/delusion that nobody is going to shoot at these slow, lightly armored [pilots flak vest?] aluminum pidgeons. They won’t have the benefit of the entire USAF loitering [wonderful word]with a cornupia of ordnance at their beck and call. give’m Hinds or A-10’s, something survivable

  • Nicholas Weaver

    Pete: The Super Tucano has an armored pilot capsule specifically to deal with ground fire.
    And a little more performance info (if I was in charge of the Army convoys, I’d definatly want a few of these little bad boys overhead…
    6.5 hour endurance, with a service ceiling of 35000 feet and a max speed of 400 knots.
    Able to operate off of SHT@#{) airstrips in the amazon.
    2x .50 caliber machine guns.
    3000 lb bomb capacity (with advanced avionics for smart bombs, so 12 Small Diameter Bombs)
    And $5M a pop.
    So harder to hit than an Apache, cheaper, and with equal/more WhupAss.
    As an insurgent, which would you rather deal with?
    One F-22 or 40-50 of these little bad-boys?

  • Virgilio “Lambada” Colcol

    Does anybody thought of the FMA IA-58 Pucara that was being used by the Argentinians during the Falklands war? It was built by Argentina specifically for COIN and it has 2 Hispano 20MM Cannon, but was replaced later on the IA-58B model with a pair of DEFA 30MM Cannon mounted on the belly of the fuselage. Plus 2 pairs of (7.62 MM) 30 Caliber Browning machine guns on each side of the forward fuselage. It can carry more ordanances than the Super Tucanos, Pilatus PC-9’s and AT-6 Texans. Or, Why not used any surviving Hinds or Sukhoi’s SU-25 Frogfoot if any of’em survived the Gulf War Part II.

  • Josh Reese

    Crikey, another expensive “tech” solution to a police problem. How fast will these little throwbacks be shot down? Very.
    We wouldn’t have so many insurgents if we hadn’t foolishly invaded Iraq and tried to establish a colony, steal their oil and carelessly bombed the s@it out of “suspected” targets. Collateral damage is a great recruiting tool for Al Qaida.
    But the money must be made, however bad the idea. Pea-shooters will win the war on terror!

  • ELC

    I think it is worth looking at the new Fairchild AU-23A with the new modern protective armor and weapons systems. They are very versital, adaptive and effective. Use them as an orbiting mini gunship (4 of them) now that is laying lead on the land, can also deliver troops, supplies, medical evacs and whatever else you might dream up. Sure they are slow, so are helicopters, so use common sence when you plan your missions. The price of these aircraft systems are less than half of the compition and they are so versatol and effective. Yes, there is one other thing, it is very short field capable and a tailwheel, requiring very good pilots.

  • FooMan

    I was reading aircombat and saw that there was yet another updated version of the old mustang with a turbine (read turboprop) engine fitted for COIN missions they have been around for about three decades and to my knowledge no one has ever bought ONE! the mustang was a great aircraft and more than adequate ground attack but the newest of the airframes is what circa 1950? Even the skyraider would have worked if the airframes were not better than 45 years old.

  • gabe

    There was a unique aircraft built years ago called the Sadler Vampire that was adapted for COIN. A single seat, single engine, twin boom, pusher propeller airplane.

  • some1

    if they use MIGs, some guys won’t make money.
    that’s what is wrong with MIGs

  • Issa

    The current crop of COIN aircraft are too slow. All of them need to be capable of approaching the Sound Barrier in a Dive safely and exceeding 500mph in level flight.
    Most of current crop look like cheap upgrades of private light aircraft and not using the latest materials. Except for the tub around the pilot.
    The PA48 Enforcer is a proven model to work from. Think the new T-6 is a promising but compromised 2nd design.
    These COIN AC need to add full moving surfaces to provide instantaneous maneuverability. Build a 10k#, 6000 shaft HP Turbo Prop planne with Contra Rotating Propeller with the latest in movable configuration.
    The Russian TurboProp Bears Top Speed Cruise is 575mph. SO it should be doeable.
    These TurboProp COIN aircraft will be encountering all kinds of Combat Jets. They need to be competitive facing for example an East European L39 type light attack jets or an A10 or Russian Frog. Which would be hard pressed in a Dog Fight.
    Even a Mig, F16 or F22 would have to be careful in close combat. Against a properly configured TurboProp with enough HP, Cannon and Rockets will turn the tide.

  • stephen russell

    But arm those COIN planes with:
    EW array
    More rocket pods
    MiniGun Pod.
    Missile pods.
    40mm cannon pod.
    Armor plating
    Strong engine.
    2, 3 man crew.
    Use for FAC???
    Test use in Colombia Jungles, Peru,
    So Mexico???
    Carrier launched???
    Hybrid type planes.
    C123 reuse COIN gunship???
    Reuse the T37??
    Russian prop trainer plane, 1978 era, 1989 era.

  • F. Stilwell

    I am looking for the drawings for the PA-48 Enforcer aircraft. I want to build one with a modern turbo prop engine and can not locate the drawings. Reward for information leading to a set of drawings.

  • Adrian Wainer

    Post 9/11 to fight this new type of War, America should have put the A2D Skyshark in to production.
    Best and Warm Regards
    Adrian Wainer

  • Adrian Wainer

    Post 9/11 to fight this new type of War, America should have put the A2D Skyshark in to production.
    Best and Warm Regards
    Adrian Wainer

  • Adrian Wainer

    Post 9/11 to fight this new type of War, America should have put the A2D Skyshark in to production.
    Best and Warm Regards
    Adrian Wainer

  • Adrian Wainer

    Post 9/11 to fight this new type of War, America should have put the A2D Skyshark in to production.
    Best and Warm Regards
    Adrian Wainer

  • David

    The new small diameter bombs and laser guided 2.75 inch rocket should work quite well with these airframes along with say six wing mounted 7.62 MGs and selection of heavy gun pods and larger ordinance.

  • troy

    guess what combat helicopter gets/got the most use in afgan/Irac ? The Kiowa Warrior! And guess what, it is derived from the bell 206 (not a combat heli) and the weapon it uses most often is the .50 cal. It also only has a top speed of 149mph (129kts) The job that the Kiowa warrior is doing is what the coin aircraft is supposed to do. I’m sure a lot of you want something cool but this is about doing a job good/simple/cheep.

  • Kent

    1. COIN aircraft should be easy to fly, easy to maintain, maneuverable, relatively inexpensive, have long loiter time, and can carry enough armament to suppress insurgents. The AT-6B and EMB-314 (both equipped with 1,600 hp flat-rated PT-6) meet those requirements.

    2. COIN aircraft will NOT be facing high-performance aircraft, so you don’t need a 5,000 hp turboprop monster.

    3. COIN aircraft will be move faster, operate less expensively, and loiter longer than attack helicopters.

    4. Putting old tech solutions like the A-1 Skyraider or PA-48 Enforcer into production would cost more than necessary and provide much more capability than is needed to the detriment of simplicity.

    5. Currently the Iraqi Air Force is operating several Cessna AT-208B Combat Caravan aircraft armed with 2 Hellfire missiles. They have requested 36 AT-6B’s because they are currently operating the T-6A as a trainer. This would get trained pilots into aircraft with which they are already familiar with more capable systems.

    6. The USAF has a poor institutional history of supporting COIN/CAS concepts. They shed the very capable A-37B Dragonfly as soon as they could and weren’t real happy about the A-10, either. Nothing will do for the “zipper-suited thunder god” types but real “gee-whiz!” jet fighters.