An Historic PR “fumble” in the Super Tucano Vs AT-6 Public Fight

By Ed Timperlake

Currently the U.S. Air Force is engaged in a source selection process to pick a Light Attack Support Aircraft (LAS) for the emerging Afghan National Army Air Corps.

The Super Tucano is the only platform with proven combat success in fighting against both the communist FARC guerillas in Colombia and drug kingpins operating across borders in South America. (SLD Forum: “All Else is Rubbish”).

The AT-6, the other LAS in consideration, is not yet even certified for ordnance release.

So what exactly has been the PR strategy for the AT-6?

An opening salvo was fired by Mr. Richard Michalski, general vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM&AW) and was posted in The Hill Congressional Blog. For some reason he focused on both a buy America argument while also attacking Embraer Air for not being cognizant of the ejection seat ergonomics for female fighter pilots. For a country with a female President this was truly strange.

The echo chamber supporting him in the comment section made two astonishing statements:

First was an attack on the Second Line of Defense article in which I had placed a picture of a Super Tucano female pilot in the Brazil AF (EMB314: Which Gender Issue?).

The second point made in support of Mr. Michalski essentially captures the overall line of support currently in play that argues it is good for the American worker to select the American AT-6 over the Super Tucano.

Soon there appeared other articles in print stressing the need to protect the American worker and adding an additional point about the supply chain strength of building the AT-6 in America

(See for example AT-6 Meets The Need For An Affordable Light Attack Aircraft)

“A final and not unimportant point is that unlike some of the other contenders for the LAAR role, the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 would be developed, produced and assembled in the United States. The entire supply chain would be secure, safe and American. The AT-6 is a low-risk, low-cost solution that avoids the political, logistical and operational challenges that would inevitably arise if a foreign-built aircraft were selected as the LAAR.”

Or see Pentagon’s Light Attack Plane Competition Has Large Implications).

“There are only two credible contenders for the contract: an American plane made by Hawker Beechcraft designated the AT-6, and a Brazilian plane made by Embraer designated the EMB-314. They’re both propeller driven, multi-mission aircraft, and their price-tags are similar. But because the Beechcraft offering would be developed and assembled in America, it would generate over 1,000 jobs here. The Brazilian plane would be developed elsewhere, and final assembly in the U.S. would probably generate less than a hundred jobs.”

Concurrently, along with buy-America and supply chain arguments in play the next PR strategy was to stress the advanced systems on the AT-6. In a front page Aviation Week story a HBC pilot let the reader believe that  the lone (1600shp) AT-6 in existence wakes up every morning and thinks it is an A-10

AT-6 Seen As Versatile Combat Aircraft By David Fulghum  (Av Week) May 18 2011:

“Now, as the AT-6B/C, it is promising to become an inexpensive path to network-centric operations, precision strike and advanced surveillance for other air forces.

Nor is there a foreseeable end to the development potential envisioned for the two-seater. It offers 1,600 shp, 5-6-hr. endurance and an A-10C cockpit—a combination that’s being created by the team of Hawker Beechcraft and Lockheed Martin.

As for what a light attack platform should be, the debate is over, declares Daniel Hinson, AT-6 demonstration and test manager and chief test pilot. The answer, he contends, is an affordable manned platform that is toughened to the demands of pilot training and that lends itself to integrating niche features that include precision weapons as well as advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.”

Unfortunately, for the advanced “tron” argument the AT-6 has bumped into some unforgiving laws of aerodynamics that were recently pointed to the very knowledgeable and prestigious Association of Old Crows.

The Association of Old Crows (AOC) sponsored a symposium in Arlington in May 2011 on the AT-6, and the laws of physics were made in a very direct way:

  • No RWR (Radar Warning Receiver) installed.
  • Significant weight and balance (CG) and overall weight challenges associated with MWS (Missile warning System) installation
  • Aircraft is tail heavy; ballast had to be installed forward to re-align CG
  • Ballast detracts from overall aircraft payload

To summarize on the demonstrated Combat capability of both aircraft:

  • The Super Tucano is a proven combat aircraft that is currently killing Communists and drug kingpins; and
  • The AT-6 is not yet certified to drop ordnance and pays a price in support in just trying to defend itself in a limited threat environment.

As much as I enjoyed the open and fair debate on capabilities, the AT-6 supporters were just handed a huge OOPSIE by HBC management and their investment banker owners (49% US, 49% Canada, 2% corporate officers)

Goldmanʼs Hawker Beechcraft Pursues Talks on Chinese Jet Venture

May 23, 2011, 7:52 PM EDT

By Howard Mustoe

May 24 (Bloomberg) – “Hawker Beechcraft Corp., the private- aircraft manufacturer owned by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Onex Corp., said itʼs in

negotiations about a joint venture that could lead to the production of planes in China.

The U.S. company has been in talks since January over a deal that may ultimately see it transfer technology to win a bigger slice of sales in the fastest

growing major economy, Chief Executive Officer Bill Boisture said in an interview.

“Iʼve been there three times since the first of the year and there are serious discussions about potential joint ventures,” Boisture said. While there are “real

possibilities,” talks are at an early stage and a deal may initially focus on joint sales, followed by production of parts and then final assembly “over the next

10 years,” the executive said in London.

History of this type of activity with the Peoples Republic of China has not been kind to the American worker and our Defense Industrial Base. Joint Ventures with allies and fellow democracies have tremendous potential, but with the PRC absolutely not!

American workers are always caught in the middle between Investment Banking “deal making ” and PRC scamming and have over time learned some very hard lessons.

One egregious and famous example is the loss of an entire factory.

On August 24th 1993, Chinese Officials walked into a MacDonald-Dougless managed defense plant in Columbus Ohio. The plant had giant computer-controlled strategic machine tools. It built parts for the Minuteman missile, F-15 Fighter and C-17 airlifter. Needless to say the workers tried to block the PLA visitors with overturned tables and filing cabinets. All future PLA site surveys were scheduled for Sunday when the plant was shut down. But the deal went through and the tools were shipped to China.

Ultimately, everyone lost McD and the workers are both gone except of course the PRC who won  because the machine tools wound up in PLA military factories.

Consequently, when the PRC makes overtures for joint ventures American national security can be put at risk, industrial base jobs will be lost and dual use technology compromised.

So everyone who has made arguments in favor of the AT-6 that it is American made and has state-of-the-art “tron” technology have just had their entire argument destroyed and thrown back in their face. It is actually sad for them because they tried so hard.

This entire matter is an ugly PR fumble of the first order.



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