Super Tucano proving to be the gold standard light attack and ISR aircraft in Africa

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Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano continues to accumulate orders in Africa, capturing a large share of the light attack and manned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) market.

Since entering production, the aircraft has been selected by more than 15 air forces in five different continents, including the United States Air Force (USAF), for its allies. Over 250 aircraft have been delivered, accumulating more than 430 000 flight hours, of which over 60 000 flight hours have been spent in combat.

Developed in response to the demanding requirements of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB), the A-29 Super Tucano can perform a broad range of missions that include light attack, aerial surveillance and interception, and counterinsurgency. It is equipped with a variety of fourth generation avionics and weapons, including an electro-optical/infrared system with laser designator, night vision goggles, secure communications and data-link package. Its systems allow the gathering and sharing of time-critical information, and the aircraft can operate as part of a networked environment.

Armament comprises one 12.7 mm machinegun in each wing. Five hardpoints can carry a maximum external load of 1 550 kilograms. Weapons options include gun pods, bombs, rocket pods, and (on the two outboard stations) air-to-air missiles.

As the Super Tucano was designed from the start to have a light attack capability, it features built-in machinegun mounts, self-sealing fuel tanks and armour in critical locations. Its combat abilities have been well proven in Afghanistan and Colombia, during Amazon protection operations in Brazil and counter-narcotics operations in the Dominican Republic and Brazil, amongst others.

The A-29 is rugged and versatile, being able to operate from remote airstrips with little support. Together with low operating costs and high availability (above 90%), this makes it suitable for tough African conditions. In addition to combat roles, the aircraft is widely used as an advanced trainer. Its ability to simulate combat missions and upload and download flight data have made it a highly effective training platform, Embraer says. As a genuine multi-mission aircraft, the A-29 is flexible enough to provide air forces with a single platform for light attack, armed reconnaissance, close air support, and advanced training, thus optimising their fleets.

Numerous Latin American countries have acquired the Super Tucano, including Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Dominican Republic. Other customers include Indonesia, Lebanon and the Philippines. In Africa, customers include Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Angola and, most recently, Nigeria.

Burkina Faso was the first African country to take delivery, receiving three aircraft in September 2011 for border patrol missions. In October 2012, Mauritania received its first of two aircraft, featuring sensor turrets for surveillance duties, although they have also been used for counter-insurgency missions, particularly against al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. They replaced older Tucano aircraft.

Angola became the next African country to receive the type, with the first three of six aircraft arriving in April 2013. Angola acquired its Super Tucano aircraft for border surveillance missions, augmenting a fleet of 14 older Tucanos.

In July 2018, Mali took delivery of four Super Tucanos following a 2015 contract as part of the rejuvenation of the country’s military. They are configured for light attack and close air support.

Africa’s largest and most recent Super Tucano order came from Nigeria, which ordered 12 from the United States in 2018 under the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) programme, with the aircraft manufactured by Embraer and modified by the Sierra Nevada Corporation in the US. The Nigerian Super Tucano deal is the largest FMS programme in sub-Saharan Africa. It includes spare parts for several years of operation, contract logistics support, munitions, and a multi-year construction project to improve infrastructure at Kainji Air Base, where the aircraft are based.

The first six Super Tucano aircraft arrived in Nigeria on 22 July and were inducted into the Nigerian Air Force at the end of August. The remaining six arrived at the end of September. They will assist the Nigerian Air Force in its fight against violent extremist organizations including the Islamic State West Africa Province/Boko Haram.

Embraer confidently states that the A-29 Super Tucano represents the gold standard in its field, combining superior aircraft performance with 21st century weapons, integrated sensors and surveillance systems to create a highly effective component of air power.  This is not an idle boast; the A-29 Super Tucano has been combat proven in conflicts around the world, in fact it is  the only combat-proven light-attack and reconnaissance turboprop platform currently in production and, as evidenced by a growing number of orders, the aircraft looks to have a bright future in Africa.



Indeed, although the Super Tucano’s competitors have attracted the odd order from African countries, they lag far behind the Super Tucano’s reputation in the African market.