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.

    • Tony

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

      • Thomas L. Nielsen

        Have you flown the A-29 as well? If not, then please tell us on what you base that comparison.

        Regards & all,

        Thomas L. Nielsen

    • 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.

  • 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!!!!!

    • 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.

  • Jim

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

  • Eric

    what’s the closest civilian version?

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!


    • Belesari

      Because something like this:

      Would have better range be cheaper to operate and more than twice the payload. Of course…damn its a terribly unsexy plane. Oh and cheaper.

      We don’t need a P-51 or a super fast super powerful prop fighter.

      We need a cheapish long endurance, slow, reliable, powerful bomb truck.

      The Airforce screwed this around till it was forced to pick the Tucano. If this was a army program more than likely the Tucano would not have been selected.

    • I see Hawker have launched a legal protest against the competition decision.

    • Alex – what “fair and square” competition are you talking about? Beechcraft got bounced because they didn’t respond to correspondence sent to the wrong office.

    • Paul C

      Alex, No IT DID NOT. Once again, the USAF procurement team has been corrupted. This is Obama paying off Brazil.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    • PolicyWonk

      Granted. But the A-29 is purpose built, and has 50 cals built in, where the AT6B requires pods., and the sensors are better placed to do the job (if the stuff I’ve read is correct). I would prefer to buy American – but if we haven’t got the goods, then why not buy off the shelf if we can? This is a small purchase.

  • 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.

    • Rodrigo

      What are the inconvenient facts? not starting a flame war here, just trying to understand your point of view.

      The decision was not premature as this was a lengthy process.

      But hey, US can surelly put together a better plane with the same US parts.

    • PolicyWonk

      Yo majrod –

      Please elaborate – I’d love to know where you’re coming from.


      • Endurance – beechcraft (+300mi), speed, – Tocano (5mph), price, beechcraft is a little better ($10 vs $10.6).

        Google for more inconvenient facts. No flaming necessary but let’s not hate on the messenger. LOL, look how many negatives I got for telling th truth!

        They are both good planes. I’m just for buying American unless clearly outclassed. The Tocano doesn’t do that. That’s where ploitics comes into play.

  • 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…

  • 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 !!!

    • m167a1

      Don’t make fun of the wingnuts… they get all huffy. :-) to demonstrate I encourage you to repeat your remarks to the next PJ you meet.

      Now BS aside there has always been an issue in the DOD when it comes of who does what. there are good, bad and political arguments on both sides and we don’t need to rehash the “who owns CAS” thing here.

  • 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

      Hey, if they do samba on the battlefield, Shouldnt they also drop beer instead of bombs?

  • 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.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      So the USAF is corrupt because they didn’t choose your favourite?

      Seriously? Well boo-hoo….

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

  • 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