AT-6: Possible Future Light Attack Contender

Confronted with the eventual retirement of the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the U.S. Air Force has been constantly pressured by the U.S. Army and U.S Marine Corps to find a suitable stopgap solution to the potential loss of Air Force close air support (CAS) capabilities. In the Global War on Terror (GWOT), soldiers and Marines, among troops from special operations forces and coalition nations, have come to rely heavily on the life-saving air-to-ground abilities of aircraft flying in the CAS role, including the A-10, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15E Strike Eagle, etc. While Air Force has made known their plans to explore the possibility of creating joint F-16/F-15E strike squadrons, discussions we haven’t heard since 2009/10 on the the often-overshadowed Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance and Light Air Support programs seem to have resurfaced. Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle indicated a willingness to consider introducing an aircraft like the Textron AirLand Scorpion into the Air Force’s fleet inventory as a light attack bird that could carry out both CAS and intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance (ISR) missions, complementing the larger and more heavily-armed F-16s and F-15Es. Though it would only be able to operate in low-risk environments, an aircraft like the Scorpion would be a great asset in the role it was designed to play, as long as there are bigger jets like Strike Eagles factored into the equation.

One example of an aircraft that the USAF had previously considered but removed from LAAR/LAS contention was the Beechcraft AT-6, an armed version of the T-6 Texan II already in use with the USAF’s Air Education and Training Command, as well as the U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Training Command. Built off a Pilatus PC-9, the T-6 has found a home within 8 countries outside the United States, and has experienced growing popularity, especially thanks to the capabilities it provides air forces. What’s more is that it’s easily adapted to a limited operational capability setting, allowing for the use of rocket and gun pods, small bombs and even fuel tanks should the mission call for it. The AT-6, built for LAS with optional ISR add-ons contains a digital cockpit with electro-optical sensors and datalink capabilities, as well as a powerful upgraded Pratt & Whitney PT6A-868D turboprop powerplant. The cockpit features an F-16 type HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick) control setup and can employ the Scorpion helmet-mounted cueing system as well, giving the pilots the information they need to know quickly, efficiently and comfortably. Though it didn’t make the cut for the LAAR/LAS program in a controversial move that Beechraft contested immediately after they were notified of their removal, the AT-6, or an further-upgraded version might be given a second look in the coming years. Keep an eye out!

9 thoughts on “AT-6: Possible Future Light Attack Contender

  1. inferior to the a-10. Single engine, light armor protection, small payload, death trap in high threat area. Build new updated A-10. A-10’s with modern technology, improved aerodynamics, stronger more efficient engines would do a much better job. Use f-22, f15, f-35 to gain air superiority, use drones to nick out SAM sited combine various equipment for their strengths. Stop the madness of fighters doing everything.


    1. Inferior to the A-10, yes. A sole aircraft-to-aircraft replacement for the A-10? Never! The idea is to cover the full spectrum of CAS by using an aircraft like the AT-6 for low-threat environments while using larger multirole fighter and strike jets for high-risk environments.


    2. I think the idea here would be to have a low cost, low maintenance (comparatively), easily transportable and rugged aircraft that would provide cost-effective CAS in environments devoid of significant anti-air defenses. Low risk environments.

      Picture a squad that can’t maneuver because of snipers or machineguns concealed in nearby building(s). The area of operations has already been cleared of dedicated anti-air missile defences and AAA, but irregulars/insurgents are still able to penetrate the area and use it as a staging area for attacks on friendly targets.

      The higher tech aircraft are either 30+minutes away, or are engaged with higher priority targets.

      But just 10 minutes away, you have 4 of these AT-6’s, which can be airborne within 5 minutes of getting the call. They have machine-guns and/or light autocannon, rocket pods with dumbfire or guided 70mm rockets, and can drop Small Diameter bombs to a circular area probable of 12-26 feet, from 20 or 30 or 40 miles away, depending on speed and altitude…the enemy could be hiding in a building right next to a school and you could attack them with the sdb without endangering the students.

      Could probably send a wing of 4 of these AT-6’s to deal with this sort of situation for less than the cost of sending a single A-10….and after they make the 10 minute trip to the engagement zone, they can still hang around for another 2.5-3 hours, dealing with whatever CAS/strike missions are available. And at a speed of 585 kph (the A-10 can go 706kph…not a helluva lot faster) and a max altitude of about 21,000-25,000 feet (well out of range of all but the largest AAA pieces). Lightweight air-to-air missiles and high manoeuvrability would make them deadly against helicopters as well….but the main draw would be cost effective, flexible and responsive CAS for men on the ground, great for when a Jdam from 40,000 feet just isn’t possible or acceptable, or especially: cost effective.

      They aren’t intended for operating in areas where air superiority hasn’t already been established, but for cost effective close air support in lower risk environments.

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  2. The USAF in run By General Officers most of whom flew Supersonic Fighters, They Hate anything Subsonic Or with a Prop.They tried for forty years to get rid of the C-130s. Just too Damn Ugly for a Fighter Jock,


  3. Well, then just suit up a Squadron of remaining P-51’s. This is somewhat of a cartoon. Looking at this is like watching an ISIS Subaru with a .50 Cal, screwed into the back bed. Oooh, I’m scared.


    1. South American and African countries have used similar platforms to great effect in asymmetric operations against terrorist affiliate groups, cartels, etc. It does work, if you’re wondering, and both the Air Force and Air National Guard agree after having independently tested (outside of the programs it was offered for) this very aircraft in 2011.


    1. You do know that the Predator and Reaper drones are prop-driven, right? Propeller planes still have a place in this world. Besides, this is meant for low-threat environments and not as a dedicated CAS platform for bigger missions like the A-10’s.


  4. Nothing is going to be as good as the A-10, but the AT-6 is a smaller aircraft to hit with small arms fire from the ground, and a much smaller heat signature to lock onto with heat seeking SAMs so I can see it surviving the mission. Even with a smaller loadout for the CAS mission, it will be a cheaper option.
    Stealth is great in small quantities, but is very expensive (F-22 and F-35), they are not designed for the CAS mission, but may be forced into it.


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