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The New Crop Of Low-Cost ISR Or Attack Aircraft [复制链接]

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发表于 2017-7-17 17:09:49 |显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 XLC 于 2017-7-17 17:14 编辑

Agricultural aircraft have made their own impact in counterinsurgency operations over the years. In Colombia and Central America, the crop sprayers have been used for just that, directly targeting drug crops with chemicals.

Increasingly, agricultural aircraft such as the Air Tractor AT-802, Thrush 710P and Thrush 510G are taking on a greater role as low-cost, long-endurance platforms kitted out with surveillance systems and a wide range of precision-guided weaponry. Platform integrators are touting the difference in cost compared with other light fighters and business-jet derivatives as they target customers in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere for border security, light strike and surveillance missions.

Air Tractor AT-802U

Air Tractor, which builds the AT-802 firefighting platform, already produces its own in-house intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) strike platform, and the company has displayed the aircraft at a number of international air shows. But solid sales remain elusive. Marketed as the Aerial Escort Aircraft, Air Tractor did offer the aircraft to Lebanon in 2015.


Air Tractor says the AT-802U provides 6-8 wing hardpoints for weapons, as well as three fuselage hardpoints; dedicated gun stations are located on the inner wing hardpoints. Ammunition for guns mounted here is fed from a magazine mounted in the nose, just forward of the cockpit. The company was also studying the development of a steerable 30-mm cannon for fitment on the centerline.


Air Tractor advertises that the AT-802 is combat-proven in counterdrug operations run by the U.S. State Department. The department’s Air Wing aircraft have taken 200 bullet strikes, yet the fleet has maintained a 100% safety record with no loss of life or injury, according to the company’s literature.


L3 Technologies Longsword

L3’s Longsword uses the AT-802 platform but has maximized it for extended range and payload. To increase the range, L3 converted the agricultural aircraft’s bays for carrying pesticides or fire retardants into self-healing fuel tanks.


As an ISR platform, the aircraft can fly for up to 10 hr. at up to 22,500 ft. In that capacity, the Longsword carries the L3 Wescam MX-15D high-definition electro-optical infrared sensor, an L3 ForceX Widow MMS mission software system, the Thales Scorpion helmet-mounted display and a full-motion video display. It can defend itself with an armored cockpit, the AN/AAR-47 infrared warning receiver and an AN/ALE-47 electronic warfare countermeasures dispenser system.



L3’s Longsword has plenty of wing space to cover precision munitions, with 11 hardpoints that can carry guns, guided and unguided bombs as well as rockets and missiles. Credit: L3 Technologies


If firepower is needed, the aircraft can be outfitted as a bomb truck, carrying Hellfire missiles to Gatling guns, Mk. 82 bombs and M260 rocket launchers on up to 11 hardpoints. Even with a full load of weapons, it can operate for longer than 6 hr., company officials say, adding that other light fighters may fly faster or higher, but they do not carry more payload or stay on station as long.“Think of this more like an Apache with very long legs,” says Joseph Siniscalchi, an L3 senior vice president for business development.


In January, the U.S. State Department approved the potential sale of up to 14 of the aircraft to Kenya, but the transaction has been challenged. The late Ron Howard, as CEO of Iomax, had argued that its counterinsurgency aircraft, Archangel, was unfairly overlooked by the African nation. In an interview not long before his untimely death, Howard suggested that Kenya was being sold an uncertified and still-developmental platform.


The Longsword is certified for the ISR mission, and L3 is working with the U.S. Air Force Seek Eagle office to certify some weapons. Kenya has also asked L-3 for weather radar and communications systems, but Siniscalchi says the country would have to cover the cost of certifying the add-ons.


For now, Kenya has asked to extend its current letter of agreement through the middle of September, Siniscalchi says. At that point, the two governments could decide to extend the deal, or Kenya could search for another aircraft.

Patrick Penland, vice president for transport programs, is adamant that the Air Force did not select the Longsword. “The Kenyans chose the AT-802 Longsword. That was based on having come to Waco, Texas,” where L3’s platform integration office is based, Penland says. “Their deputy chief of air force came and saw the ISR configuration.”


Iomax Archangel

Perhaps the biggest success story has been the development of the Iomax Archangel in association with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Archangel’s success in Yemen and, on a less high-profile scale, in Libya has certainly increased the public and industry perception of the agricultural aircraft as an alternative platform to the numerous trainers-turned light attack turboprops that have sold well in Africa, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region.

North Carolina-based Iomax’s association with the UAE began in 2009 when the Middle Eastern nation opted for a Border Patrol Aircraft (BPA) based on the standard Air Tractor AT-802 crop sprayer. Iomax delivered a podded electro-optical camera and added hardpoints to the wings in expectation of the fitment of weapons. In 2011, a further 14 were ordered.


However, to realize the full potential of the aircraft, in 2012 Iomax changed suppliers to Thrush, because Air Tractor was at the time unwilling to make the structural modifications to the aircraft that Iomax needed.

As Aviation Week reported (AW&ST April 17-30, p. 40), when test pilot Joe Edwards flew the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67F-powered Archangel, the pilot’s cockpit was moved forward 48 in. to improve visibility over the nose, while the mission operator’s position occupies the real estate where the pilot would have sat.


Inside, the aircraft is equipped with a CMC avionics suite that in the front cockpit features three multifunction displays and a centrally fitted head-up display. The rear cockpit contains two multifunction displays and a single 17-in. large-area display that feeds the image from the electro-optical camera. Other design features include a five-blade propeller that helps reduce the noise of the aircraft when operating at altitudes of around 15,000 ft.


Iomax has already carried out an extensive program of weapons integration work for both the AT-802 and the Archangel. Weapons regularly fitted to the UAE aircraft include Roketsan Cirit lightweight missiles—reportedly highly effective against moving targets—the GBU-58 Paveway II 250-lb. laser-guided bomb and the Hellfire missile. The aircraft have also recently been upgraded to use the Raytheon Talon laser-guided rocket.


The original batch of AT-802-derived BPAs have now been largely been replaced with Archangels; the AT-802s have been handed to other regional air forces—at least six were gifted to Jordan while 12 are now with the Egyptian Air Force. Iomax told Aviation Week in February that negotiations were underway to sell a further 12 Archangels to the UAE to allow the formation of a second squadron. The company is also working on development of a Block 2 version featuring a number of avionics, performance and weapon upgrades. The installation of a lightweight Martin-Baker ejection seat has also been discussed.


LASA T-Bird



The Bulgarian company Light Armed Surveillance Aircraft Engineering has already sold its T-Bird aircraft, based on the Thrush 510G, in Africa. Credit: LASA

Bulgaria’s Light Armed Surveillance Aircraft Engineering’s (LASA) T-Bird made an unannounced debut at the recent Paris Air Show. As the only non-U.S. company now offering a light-attack capability on an agricultural aircraft, it seems the company has enjoyed some limited success. Its prototype T-Bird is already in operation in Africa, apparently working for a private contractor on ISR duties, according to company executives.


The T-Bird is being touted as being a “unique combination” of a high-payload light aircraft with an “advanced Western technology ISR suite,” and a “proven, powerful ex-Warsaw Pact” counterinsurgency package.


LASA has developed the T-Bird in a way that skirts U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations. The company is using the Thrush 510G airframe that is powered by the General Electric H80 turboprop. Underneath the fuselage is an Airborne Technologies of Austria-developed pod that carries both an electro-optical camera and a data link for data transfer. The cockpit has been modified with night-vision-goggle-compatible digital instrumentation provided by Aspen Avionics and Getac-made rugged tablets that allow the rear crewman to use the electro-optical camera. Ballistic protection for the engine and cockpit has also been fitted.


The wing-structure has been modified for three hardpoints, and so far the company has carried out integration of Russian-made weapons only. At Paris, the aircraft carried pairs of distinctive UB16/32 and UB16/57 Russian-made unguided rocket launchers and a pair of UPK23/250 gun pods.


LASA says the aircraft costs several times less to operate than other surveillance platforms such as a Beechcraft King Air or derivative and “tens of times” less compared to specialist strike aircraft and helicopters.


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