Super Tucano Wins USAF’s Light Attack Contest

It’s official, the Air Force has selected Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano as the Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft, better known as a counterinsurgency (COIN) plane.

The air service is buying 20 Super Ts from Embraer and its U.S. partner, Sierra Nevada Corporation, for $355 million, according to an announcement that Embraer released last night. Remember, a couple of years ago the Air Force planned to buy dozens of cheap, turboprop-driven COIN aircraft that could be used to provide light air support and ISR for troops fighting insurgents in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The planes were supposed to take the burden for such unglamorous missions off of jet fighters like the F-16, which cost far more to operate.  However, the draw-down from Iraq combined with shrinking defense budgets forced the air service to dramatically reduce the program. Now, the  service will use the small fleet of turboprop planes to help build up the nascent Afghan air force and the air services of “other nations.” Those last two words leave the possibility open for more Super T sales beyond those to the U.S. Air Force and Afghan air force.

“The A-29 Super Tucano will be used to conduct advanced flight training, aerial reconnaissance and light air support operations,” reads the company announcement.

Just over a month ago, Hawker Becchcraft’s AT-6B, Embraer’s rival in the LAS contest, was booted from the competition leaving the door wide open for the Super Tucano to win. The only question was whether the service would even buy the little planes.

Click through the jump to read the full text of Embraer’s announcement:

SPARKS, NV, DECEMBER 30, 2011 – Eren Ozmen, President, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), and Luiz Carlos Aguiar, CEO, Embraer Defense and Security (Embraer), today announced that the U.S. Air Force has selected SNC, partnered with Embraer, to supply Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft to be used as part of the U.S. government’s partner building efforts in Afghanistan and other nations.  The A-29 Super Tucano will be used to conduct advanced flight training, aerial reconnaissance and light air support operations.

As specified by the Air Force, SNC is being awarded a firm-fixed price delivery order 0001 contract in the amount of $355,126,541 for the Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft and associated support.  The delivery order is being issued under the simultaneously awarded basic contract FA8637-12-D-6001, an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract.  The initial demand is for 20 LAS aircraft together with ground training devices to support pilot training and support for all maintenance and supply requirements for the aircraft and associated support equipment.

“We are honored by this decision and the opportunity to serve our country,” said Taco Gilbert, Vice President of ISR Business Development at SNC. “We believe in the goals of the Light Air Support mission and are proud to be able to support the United States in its partner-building efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world.  American warfighters, American workers, and our partner nations all win with this award.”

The LAS mission requires a non-developmental solution that provides the versatility, engagement, and persistence that the warfighter needs in a counterinsurgency environment, at a significantly lower cost than fighter jets.  That aircraft must offer intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities; deliver a wide variety of munitions configurations, including precision guided munitions; and operate in extremely rugged terrain and austere conditions.

The A-29 Super Tucano was built specifically for counterinsurgency missions and is currently used by six air forces and on order by others.  It has proven extremely capable for LAS missions and is credited with helping the Colombian government defeat the FARC and other governments counter illegal activities.  The more than 150 units now in operation around the world have logged over 130,000 flight hours, including more than 18,000 combat hours without any combat loss.

“We are ready to support the LAS mission immediately,” said Luiz Carlos Aguiar, President Embraer Defense and Security.  “This is a tremendous opportunity for Embraer, the citizens of Florida and the thousands of employees who will be part of our supply chain.  We look forward to working with SNC and the U.S. Air Force to provide these aircraft.”

The LAS bid process received strong support from political leaders and Members of Congress from many states, including Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Texas and Oregon. “The goal of Sierra Nevada’s team, which included its partner Embraer and major suppliers FLIR, based in Oregon, and Elbit Systems of America, based in Texas, was to present the U.S. Air Force and partner nations with the best LAS capability.  We appreciate the many Members of Congress and other officials who supported a fair and open competition. We are particularly grateful to the many Florida state officials and members of the Florida congressional delegation who assisted in establishing a production facility in their state that will result in the creation of new jobs, bringing prosperity to their communities,” SNC’s Gilbert said.

The A-29 Super Tucano will be built in Jacksonville, FL by American employees with parts from American companies.  Aircraft training will be provided in Clovis, NM.  More than 70 U.S. suppliers in 21 states will supply parts or services for this contract.  At least 1,200 U.S. jobs will be supported through this contract.

Embraer is now moving to prepare for assembly operations.  The new production facility in Jacksonville joins a facility in Melbourne recently opened by Embraer to assemble executive jets.

With a fully developed aircraft, a familiar supply chain and SNC’s expertise in providing in-theater logistical support, commanders in theater will take possession of the first A-29 Super Tucanos on-schedule and on-budget as per the LAS requirements.

Embraer will provide the A-29 Super Tucano aircraft; ground training devices (GTD) – simulators and planning stations; and spare parts.  SNC will provide in-field logistic support and pilot and maintenance training.

  • Nicky

    The A-29 Super Tucano is not only perfect as a COIN and ISR aircraft, it can also be used to patrol the CONUS and the US Borders. I think a Fleet of these should be used for the US Air force as well. It would be perfect if each Air National guard unit has a squadron of these in addition to their F-16’s and F-15’s.

    • ajSpades

      Why use the Super Tucano at ~$20 million a piece when a cheaper general aviation platform is all that is needed for patrolling the borders? I would imagine a bush-pilot type plane would be even better if they really needed to land out in the desert for some reason.

      • tiger

        It’s for the Borders of Afghanistan. Did you miss the point about suppling the Afgan Air Force?

    • Tony

      The SIA-Marchetti fighter can do a lot better job for about $100,000 each. I know I’ve flown one.

    • Paul C

      This is BS. Once again, the USAF proves itself CORRUPT by buying OUTSIDE THE USA. They considered the EADS aircraft as a tanker to replace KC-135s and now this. The question is: Did OBAMA influence USAF procurement officials and is this a kickback to Brazil to support their other interests in the USA, nemaley gaining USD for oil exploration? I am retired USAF and this disgusts me to no end. US tax dollars going to a Brazilian aircraft company. This is another reason we need a SECOND AMERICAN REVOLUTION.

  • Musson

    Aww man. You could have bought half an F-35 instead.

    • kim

      Well played….

    • William C.

      It’s always been that way. In 1970 how many PA-48s (based off the P-51) could you buy for a single F-15? Yet which is more useful?

      • William C.

        You down-voters are missing the point. There is a balance to be struck in everything. For COIN operations it may be good to have something like the A-29, though I kinda preferred the OV-10X proposal. Yet we still need our F-15s, F-22s, and F-35s. Modern fighters are damned expensive, there is no avoiding that. But they’re survivable in conventional warfare. We can’t ignore needs related to COIN warfare, but we can’t use the procurement of aircraft like the A-29 as an excuse to weaken other aspects of the air force.

        If you guys want specifics you could get 2.5 F-35s for $355 million, going by current LRIP prices which will go down as production continues.

    • Mat

      US sold 15 T-6A Texans to Iraq for 210mio$ and that is a very basic plane compared to this with 50% less power ,no armament ,no surveilance equipment,very basic elctronics

  • George

    They could just rebuild a A-1 Skyraider with new cockpit instead of buying Brazilian-designed Ceesna look-a-likes

    • tiger

      We are not going back to 1950. There are no mass of Skyraiders left worth rebuilding. Best plane won for a change.

    • carloscardoso

      Cry, baby, CRY!!!!!

      • bob

        Dumb brazillian.

        • jungleboy

          dumb american

    • Belesari

      I think both the sky raider and the tucano are over built for this.

      The airtractor or any other could have done just as well for around 5mil or so per plane and would have been less maintanence intensive.

    • TGR

      A-1 = wrong engine for starters

    • tribulationtime

      I agree with all new technology. Carbon fibers, Titanium and some finishing aerodinamics (wingtips, reshape engine area, or something like that). Advantages? A) sort time airwhorty qualification B) Real COIN enought warload with long loitering/patroling time. C) All COIN performance Tested D) damage endurance and lower maintenance and cheaper. Disavantages? killer One) minimun builder profit.

  • Rajarata

    Great choice ..cuz… proven along Brazilian & Ecdudorian border !

    • SKyepapa

      Brazil does not border Ecuador at any point.

      • jhm

        i think he meant the ones used to intercept little cessnas loaded with coke

  • B_Smitty

    I was hoping the OV-10X could’ve broken into the competition. Yes, it’s not in production, but IMHO it had more going for it.

    • moose

      Boeing said they were going to move forward with OV-10X even without a win, but haven’t heard much from them since. If they got the line rolling they’d have a better shot at follow-on contracts.

    • There are so many good ones there that it’s hard for me to pick a favourite! Though the mycorcotlist who ended up in the garden had me wincing before he made his lucky escape.Do you think the driving is so bad over there in general, that it’s compulsory for everyone to have a camera in their car for insurance purposes?

  • Jim

    Close to $18MM per unit? Sure doesn’t seem like much of a bargain.

    • MCQknight

      Compared to a $100 million dollar F-15 or $250 million dollar F-22 it is.

    • TGR

      Still cheaper than operating a Reaper

    • TMB

      There is a massive difference in cost per flight hour between an F-16 and the Tucano.

    • Tony

      An Italian Merchetti for $90,000 can do the same job if not better. I know, I’ve flown one.

  • Eric

    what’s the closest civilian version?

    • Dennis

      No civilian counterpart – built specifically for the military trainer markeplace.

    • Ben

      There’s no equivalent to this particular craft, but the Pilatus PC-21 has broadly similar size, specs, and performance.

  • Marcel

    avionics are the expensive part of the A-29 this is why it costs $18MM. But the good thing of this airplane is the operational cost, much cheaper than a jet plane and able to do the same job:

  • I’m glad that the Air Force is getting into the light attack business, but with Afghanistan winding down, I’m worried that these might just get donated to a “friendly” country.

    • Brian Black

      The USAF isn’t getting into the light attack business… yet, these are for mentoring and developing basic air forces in Afghanistan and around the globe.

      I don’t understand your government’s opposition to light attack aircraft, especially considering the potential financial savings.

  • Robert Colt

    Question remains, will the high-tech Airforce actually get the aircraft for its service. Airforce always like the high-tech verse low tech, including A-10s. Only through reality did they cave in a keep the plane. A-29 seems like with wars winding down, Air Force will likely not employ them in the service since their budget going down likely want keep the high-cost ticket aircraft instead.

  • DockScience

    Be interesting to see why Beechcraft was shut out.

    • tiger
    • OCLandspeeder

      They were dropped because the AT-6C is simply not as capable & robust as the A-29. Plus, Raytheon needed more time to get everything working properly since the AT6-C needed A LOT of work for it be anywhere as good for COIN as the A-29 is right out of the box. The Texan II was designed as a trainer for “rich” air forces of the world who can afford to have it land and maintained at nicely paved, clean, air bases.. The Super Tucano was designed as a COIN from the ground up that will take a beating, land on rough fields, carry more weapons, carry a gun (internally), and loiter for very long periods.

      • Specifics? What work needed to be done? . What says the AT6 is for rich countries that have neat clean runways? Because its US made? Morocco has ordered them and so has Iraq. Do they operate from only “nice” runways. The AT6B is cheaper I believe. Why do you say its maintenance costs are higher? Payload, speed and endurance are virtually the same. Landing gear? Uh the fact that its a training aircraft might say the landing gear isn’t as “dainty” as you’d like to believe.

        You are trying awful hard to convince everyone that the Tocano is hands down superior without specs. Hmmmm, you have any embraer stock?

    • Gladius

      You are righr DS.There was no contest. Today I understand Beechcraft is sueing as it seems to be turning out to be a no bid contract for a foreingn company. Is this anything like ” We want to Brazil’s best buyer ” ?

    • No one is answering the question. Beechcraft was supposedly a couple of days late responding to the notice it was dropped which was sent to the wrong office.

      That’s why no one Tocano fanboys aren’t listing specifics or refering you to Tocano’s fact sheet which is written by guess who? Embraer.

      • jamFRIDGE

        Maybe we wanted a good deal on some Brazilian oil?

  • Belesari

    I think the picking of the Tucano had more to do with politics than the best craft to win.

    Some part of me expects to see brazil announce a important defense deal go down with US defense companies.

  • bob

    So much for “buy American”. Now we’re sticking with this stupid brazillian made crap when we have f-16’s/f-15’s stuck in the scrap yards waiting to be destroyed.

    With the most spent in defense budget, we can’t even come up with our own light attack fighter.


    This is why the Russians/Chinese have been, and will be more ingenuitive than us.

    • Mister Rose

      But we still have the top spot for inventing new words!

      • idiot

        Nope, not a new word, it’s called slang.

    • tiger

      Bob, the plane will be built in the USA. Try reading the article.

    • kim

      It’s ok – pretty often other countries buy American instead of their own stuff….

    • BAJ15

      I suspect this might have something to do with Brazils long awaited A-4 replacement decision; aka more F-18 sales for to big to fail/big political donor Boeing.

    • Paul C

      Ingenuitive? No such word. BTW, this is OBAMA corruption forced on the USAF.

    • Mc Donald

      Gringo idiota, só olhar toda a ficha técnica do Super Tucano. Você não pode utilizar um F-15 ou F-16 para fazer o mesmo serviço.

  • Lance

    Should have brought back the A-1H Skyraider Carries more munitions and is faster prop plane. and could absorb alot more damage and bring the pilot home.

    An A-10 could do a better job then this lousy Turboprop could. Piston and or pure Jet is the way to go Turboprops are worthless.

    • tiger

      Lance, you must be a Obama advisor with all the bad ideas…….

      The A29 Is faster, has a better service ceiling and the same range. There are only about 20 flyable Skyraiders in the world. They have not built one since Buddy Holly was alive. The Tucano is a off the shelf plane in service with many Air forces. The design was better than the AT6 on many levels.

      The A-10 is not built for the mission at hand. Hell Fairchild is not even in business anymore.

    • John

      Exactly, and we already have several hundred paid-for A-10s with recently modernized avionics supported by a mature training and logistics pipeline that can do everything the Tucano can and much more. Instead, we spend a third of a billion dollars on a lousy 20 aircraft to create a niche fleet that needs its own separate training and logistics support network and can only survive in a benign air environment. For the same money, AF could have financed the last major unfunded A-10 upgrade (a new engine core) and made our entire low and slow CAS/COIN fleet golden for another 25 years……..

  • Belesari

    Wow the tucano fan boys are out in force today ya’ll. No matter how much you down click you still can’t take away the fact that our opinions are more than likely right,

  • Alex

    Why can’t you all accept that the A-29 is the right plane for the given mission?

    The A-29 won “fair & square” the USAF competition…. Hence the contract!


  • Tad

    How does the pilot see over the front engine? And over the wing? Wouldn’t something with the wing on top and engines off to the sides or in the backt be better for viewing the ground? Just curious.

    • kim

      An old Bronco would give the pilot a better view, but it also had two engines to maintain. Though not this perfect, the pilot sits fairly high in the Tucano for better visibility. Low wings makes it easier to arm the plane with rockets or bombs.

  • Jonathan

    How the hell does one of these cost 18 million dollars?

    Does America even know the worth of a million dollars anymore? We are so used to spending billions that we forget how much a million really is.

    Multi million dollar avionics? Haha yeah right.

    This plane is worth $750,000 at most.

    • bob

      Agreed, we’re buying old ww2 modeled planes now because we’re 14+ trillion dollars in debt and we don’t care about the surplus jets we have.

      This is why the defense budget NEEDS to be cut. The money isn’t going to the troops, it’s going to worthless contracts such as this.

      Who benefits? Not the American people that’s for sure.

    • William C.

      Multi-million dollar avionics? Yep. Guess how much a modern targeting pod costs? Hell, do you know how much work has to go into simply making the “glass” used block certain laser wavelengths yet allow others?

    • Mat

      US sold 15 T-6A Texans to Iraq for 210mio$ and that is a very basic plane compared to this with 50% less power ,no armament ,no surveilance equipment,very basic elctronics
      Price includes goldplating ,Florida jobs program and fees for congresmen and lobbyists and in teh end of that Sierra needs to make a profit even in case of cost overruns . Buying 20 planes would never justifly setting up a production but that is the price of politics.

  • William C.

    Anyway, it’s good to see this contract finally get awarded. But it seems 4 years late.

  • bob

    For all you ‘BUY AMERICAN’ folks out there. Hawker Beechcraft may be based in Kansas but is partially owned by a Canadian company (Onex) and has been closing their US plants and moving them to Mexico.

    Hawker Beechcraft Corporation Opens Facility In Mexico

    Hawker Beechcraft opens second facility in Mexico

  • Embraer is a Brazilian company. SNC is based in Sparks, NV with around 30 locations throughout the US.

  • dockem

    Talk about re-inventing the wheel!

  • PolicyWonk

    Where the US Navy used these planes successfully (they leased them) and tested them in COIN operations, the Navy’s version of the USAF’s infamous “fighter mafia” is suspicious of the A-29 partially because it isn’t carrier certified. Then again, neither is a PC-3.

    The A-29 should be able to perform COIN operations well. Its got the range, loiter capability, and sufficient hard points to be really useful (and cheap to run/maintain).

  • robertro2


  • OCLandspeeder

    The A-29 won because it is the ONLY COIN aircraft of the type that is proven, in service, and can be delivered now. The Raytheon AT-6C simply is not meant for COIN but optmized as an advanced trainer. It can’t operate in rough fields! Meanwhile the A-29 has been doing its job as COIN for years and years now. It has a robust airframe, heavy duty landing gears, greater payload, range, etc. The cost of the plane is commensurate with its capabilities. It has the latest avionics AND the most advanced targeting and observation & network system available. That is why it cost money. $18M is nothing when you factor in the cost of an F16 $55M+. A Blackhawk UH60M cost around $15M! The A10 is no longer in production and the cost of tooling up to produce it will exceed the $55M of a new F16 Block 52. The closest alternantive to the A-29 is the AMX MR fighter jet but it sure as hell would cost more than $18M and it won’t have anywhere close to a 4 hour loiter time loaded with weapons as the A29.

    • Uh, you do know trainers are flown by students that tend to have rough landing skills? How do you KNOW the AT6B can’t operate from rough fields? Why is that a requirement. We haven’t operated CAS from rough fields since WWII.

      Why are you comparing the Tocano’s price against jets and helicopters? Seems a comparison against the Beechcraft’s $10mil price would be more appropriate (though it put a nice big neat hole in your argument). Combat proven? The Tocano is a good plane. Its “combat” record is not an insurmountable achievement. OV10’s have a more distinguished record against a much less permissive environment.

      You’re creating a straw argument you can easily knowck down. When you compare the numbers the Tocano isn’t a hands down winner. Now include a multibillion dollar F18 deal to Brazil and it sure is… My recommendation is wait on this purchase until Brazil decides what its going to do and look at the beechcraft while we wait.

  • Absolutely!!! Amazing how they cite Tocano press releases (like they are going to say anything derafatory) instead of putting down specs. Real free innovative thinkers?

  • So does the AT6B

  • Premature decision by the Air Force. Beechcraft has a protest in.

    This looks more and more like a “reach around” to induce the Brazilians to go with the F18.

    The Tocano is a fine plane but the lengths its supporters go to ignore other inconvenient facts is a strong indicator that there is a lot more than meets the eye.

  • Super Fly

    A small amount of faith in the USAF has been restored but this plane should have been bought 7 years ago and in significant quantities (100+).

    Unfortunately history is not repeating but rhyming, after Vietnam we divested ourselves of our excellent COIN aircraft (A-37, A-1, OV-10, OV-10, etc…) developed over that long war and now at the probable last stretch of these conflicts we are going half in and too late.

    But we’ll take what little the fighter mafia will give…

    • Super Fly

      OV-10, OV-1 I meant…

  • grimreaper

    Why is this little varmit eating aircraft being given to the Air Farce? They are just a gaggle of prissy blustering do nothing lead sled drivers. If the govt is going to buy this type of aircraft, they why arent they distrbuted to the Army and the Marines and the Coast Guard and the Border Patrol where they will be used for something other than kiddy rides for AF woosies. Ground troops need aircover, the AF needs to get a life !!!

  • jungleboy

    south american socialist nation only in your tv watcher brainless mind, bacon eater fat american friend

  • StrumPanzer

    I’m sure the Super Toucan will be a great COIN fighter and Fire support aircraft. I just wish they had dusted off the old Burt Rutan Ares Mudfighter plans and used that instead. I was just reading that the AT-6 is actually based on the PC-9 which is a Swiss design so what the big deal if we or plain is designed by the Swiss or the Brazilians. Hey may it will be able to samba on the battlefield.

  • Rodrigo

    wow… i hope you dont represent the majority of the US view… cuz you sound stupid.

    When did Canada become part of the US? Did it become the 51st state?

    The Beechcraft brand has since been purchased from Raytheon by Onex Corporation a Canadian “private equity fund” which retained the name Hawker Beechcraft.[3]

    That said, their plane is not better, its an adaptation of a smaller plane to try to match the requirements and it failed at that.

    Brazil is not anymore socialist than the US with its socialized education and 911 services. Yes our constitution gives us some garantees on what everyone gets equaly, like health care and education, police, etc etc etc. The Country does a terrible job at creating a fair situation for everybudy, but we are improving. that doesnt mean we’re communist, that acusation alone lets everyone else who can look into reality know that you are not very informed of the time and age we are living in. Cold war is over, get over it.

    • tiger

      Well said!

  • driesz

    What about resurrecting a proven classic – the A-1 Skyraider! Unit costs would sure probably be lower.

  • Paralus

    It would be interesting to see if they can integrate the SDB or the mortar rounds that they are adopting for CAS. Laser guided AKPWS-II hanging off the wing would be a nice touch.

  • Tacairman

    The Blackwater owner saw the need for this first. They bought a Super T back in 2005 already. It was used as a precision CAS demonstrator for JSOC and USAF. Too bad the USG didn’t listen then. USG would have saved billions in fuel and aircraft maintenance already.

  • jhm

    i miss the old broncos…

  • Tim

    Uh oh… It looks like this is not going to happen… yet.

  • I think AT6B best buy, but AF so much corrupt win super tucano A29.

  • bill mcdonald

    when will the dept of defence start working to help fight our wars, instead of working for other countries and agaist our servicmen and bussinesses angry americanmcrexd