Beechcraft AT-6 Joint Airborne Weapons System
The Textron AT-6E Wolverine was in competition with the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano for the Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) requirement. The LAAR was to select an inexpensive light attack platform that could be a less costly alternative to stealth fighters such as F-35 Lightning or F-22 Raptor for operations in low-threat asymmetrical conflicts. The program was initially announced at 200 to 300 aircraft in total. But after years of delays, the program was canceled on February 10, 2020 following a fatal crash of a A-29 Super Tucano on June 22, 2018.
On July 18, 2006, Raytheon Aircraft Company unveiled the Beechcraft AT-6 Joint Airborne Weapons System, a multi-mission, multi-role version of the highly successful T-6A/B designed for the surveillance, reconnaissance, close air support, global war on terrorism, homeland security and training operations for the twenty-first century.
The Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine multi-role turboprop delivers mission configurability, advanced ISR technology and deployability and sustainability. The AT-6 equips operators worldwide with ease of training, logistics efficiencies and 85 percent parts commonality with the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II. The AT-6 Wolverine will enter into service at Nellis AFB, Nevada for follow-on light attack experiments by U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and partner countries and is available to its sister business unit, Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC), for contracted air services under the U.S. Navy’s Terminal Attack Controller Trainer (TACT) program for live-air training of forward air controllers (FACs), joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) and forward air controllers (airborne) at NAS Fallon, Nevada. The AT-6 Wolverine features 35 weapons configurations that fulfill SOCOM Armed Overwatch requirements for Close Air Support (CAS), Armed Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR), Strike Coordination & Reconnaissance (SCAR), and Forward Air Control (Airborne) (FAC(A)).
The Beechcraft AT-6 incorporates proven training methods and close air support capability to meet light attack and armed reconnaissance requirements. AT-6 capabilities cover a wide-mission spectrum that includes training, manned Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and light precision attack, while at the same time offering non-traditional capabilities for homeland defense and civil support missions.
Now upgraded with a more powerful 1600 Shaft Horsepower Pratt and Whitney PT6A-68D engine, the AT-6 is a structurally strengthened derivative of the proven Beechcraft T-6 trainer. Adding to the FAA approved primary flight avionics system by CMC Esterline, Lockheed Martin leveraged A-10C precision engagement modification capabilities in integrating the mission avionics of the AT-6. The result is a plug-and-play mission system architecture that combines state-of-the-art data link, combat communications capabilities, extensive variety of weapons delivery modes and precision weapons tailored for the AT-6.
Hawker Beechcraft Corporation (HBC) announced 09 September 2009 the successful first flight of its AT-6 prototype and the program’s progression into the next phase of flight test. The AT-6 prototype is a structurally strengthened derivative of the highly successful U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy T-6A/B trainer – the world’s most proven military trainer aircraft – that will offer the U.S. Air Force and partner nations a robust airpower solution that meets a wide spectrum of needs at a fraction of the cost of other platforms.
“We are very optimistic about the role the AT-6 will play for the warfighter – both in the U.S. and in partner air forces around the world,” said Bill Boisture, HBC chairman and CEO. “This is going to be a great airplane and I am pleased with the rapid pace we are moving through our planned test program. We are almost three weeks ahead of schedule. We believe the AT-6 offers the broadest range capabilities available in the market and that is why we continue to invest in its future today.”
The AT-6 is designed to be able to quickly transition pilots between basic flight training missions and complex NetCentric light attack and armed reconnaissance missions. The next phase of flight testing will last through October, during which the company will continue flight envelope expansion of the heavily instrumented AT-6 prototype, along with performance and handling qualities assessments with various external store configurations.
The Hawker Beechcraft T-6 derivative fleet passed the one million flight hour mark and 500th delivery with aircraft currently being flown by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Hellenic Air Force of Greece, NATO Flying Training in Canada and the Israeli Air Force. T-6 trainers for the Iraqi Air Force were in production in Wichita, Kan., and were slated for delivery to Iraq beginning later in 2009. On April 5, 2010, Hawker Beechcraft Corporation and Pratt & Whitney Canada announced the successful first flight of the second Beechcraft AT-6 production representative test vehicle (PRTV).
Raytheon Company was seeking in 2011 to integrate the combat-proven Griffin missile onto the Hawker AT-6 light attack aircraft. Griffin weighs 44 pounds with its launch tube, is 43 inches long and is an air- and ground-launched, precision-guided missile designed for rapid integration onto rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft and ground-launch applications. "Integrating Griffin on the AT-6 aircraft gives the warfighter a cost-effective solution to provide persistent surveillance and low-collateral damage in counterinsurgency and irregular warfare operations," said Harry Schulte, vice president of Raytheon Missile Systems' Air Warfare Systems. "The integration of precision weapons onto versatile light-attack, reconnaissance platforms enables customers to take off-the-shelf capabilities and rapidly field a solution that meets their needs." Griffin enables the warfighter to engage targets via a user-friendly graphic interface and guide the weapon to the target using GPS coordinates or laser designation. To maximize lethality, the user can choose to engage the target with height of burst, point detonation or fuze delay. The Griffin missile is in production and integrated on the C-130 Harvest Hawk. Griffin A is an aft-eject missile.
Hawker Beechcraft’s AT-6 Military Standard 1760 bus compatibility allows outfitting the aircraft with a myriad of US precision-guided bombs, rockets, and missiles. The IW arena, which depends upon winning the support of the relevant population and limiting collateral damage, demands precision targeting. the light attack aircraft has demonstrated impressive numbers for deployment range and on-station loiter. The AT-6, for instance, boasts a no-wind deployment range of 1,725 nautical miles (nm) while landing with a fuel reserve exceeding 45 minutes. In addition the AT-6 has calculated an AGM-114 Hellfire standard configuration load with a 400 nm combat radius and loiter time of two hours on-station. Reducing the combat radius, say to 200 nm, doubles the on-station loiter time available. In essence this capability equates to continuous A-10 or F-16 ISR/CAS coverage without having to rendezvous with a tanker for aerial refueling. The presence of light attack aircraft for the entire coverage period would benefit ground troops tremendously.
On July 9, 2012, Hawker Beechcraft Defense Company entered low-rate initial production of its Beechcraft AT-6 light attack aircraft at the company’s facilities in Wichita, Kan.
The Air Force’s Light Air Support (LAS) contract, awarded to Embraer on 27 February 2013, involved 20 planes worth $427 million, including spares and services. That was a typical light attack aircraft contract, in the smallest aviation industry segment. In a good year it’s worth $1.5 billion in jet and turboprop deliveries worldwide, less than a tenth the value of the world market for supersonic fighters. Beechcraft immediately announced that it would file a protest with the Government Accountability Office, and Congressman Mike Pompeo and Kansas senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, announced support for the company’s protest. This protest could conceivably stop the LAS contract for a second time; the first award, also to Embraer, was halted a year earlier after legal action by Hawker Beechcraft (as the company was then known).
Textron Aviation Defense LLC, a Textron Inc. company, on 16 March 2020 announced the finalization of a $70.2 million Other Transaction Authority (OTA) with the U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to equip the U.S. Air Force with twomulti-role Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine aircraft, pilot training, engineering services and up to four years of contractor support for maintenance and spares. Textron Aviation Defense delivera the aircraft to the Air Force in support of Air Combat Command’s (ACC) development of operational tactics and standards for exportable, tactical networks that improve interoperability with international partners. The work in support of this OTA, which includes activities in support of military type certification, will take place in Wichita, Kansas.
This acquisition enables the U.S. Air Force to leverage a commercial off-the-shelf, non-developmental integrated weapons system to equip a multi-national coalition with a common system that meets a wide array of training and operational requirements. An affordable solution, the AT-6 cost per flying hour is less than $1,000 and its small maintenance footprint — as demonstrated during both phases of the Light Attack experiment — underscore the aircraft’s cost-effectiveness, deployability and sustainability.
“Our focus is on how a light attack aircraft can help our allies and partners as they confront violent extremism and conduct operations within their borders,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein in a U.S. Air Force press release published upon the issuance of the request for proposal. “Continuing this experiment, using the authorities Congress has provided, gives us the opportunity to put a small number of aircraft through the paces and work with partner nations on ways in which smaller, affordable aircraft like these can support their air forces.”
ACC will experiment with the AT-6 to further examine the ways in which a common architecture and intelligence-sharing network will connect platforms, sensors and weapons and deliver a digital network for light attack aircraft.
“It’s rewarding to equip U.S. and partner nations with an affordable, easy to maintain and highly effective tactical aircraft in this era of constrained military budgets,” Pierson added. “The U.S. Air Force and Navy flew the AT-6 during the Light Attack experiment, putting its combat-proven A-10 mission computer, Wescam MX-15 EO/IR sensor, Airborne Extensible Relay Over-Horizon Network (AERONet) and other capabilities to work, employing a substantial amount of ordnance, demonstrating aircrew re-fueling and re-arming at the Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) and conducting other activities in support of experiment objectives. The AT-6 met all of the experiment’s standards and proved itself as a high performance, austere field-capable aircraft that delivers unparalleled mission capability, deployability and sustainability.”
The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, announced the arrival of the AT-6E on Feb. 17, 2021. The AT-6E is a variant of the T-6 Texan II trainer from Beechcraft, a division of Textron, configured for light attack and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. The Air Force, as well as the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army, already operate unarmed versions of the Texan II.
The most immediately visible difference between the AT-6E, which Beechcraft has marketed in the past as the AT-6B, AT-6C, or simply the AT-6, and standard Texan II trainers are its six underwing pylons. These can accommodate various precision-guided bombs and missiles, as well as rocket and gun pods, among other stores. It has an additional station under the fuselage, which is typically occupied by a sensor turret containing electro-optical and infrared cameras. The Air Force's model reportedly has a WESCAM MX-15D turret, which also includes a laser designator, from L3Harris.
The AT-6E designation for the Wolverine appears to comprise the AT-6/AT-6B/AT-6B light attack configuration of the baseline T-6 Texan II trainer, plus satellite communications and other undisclosed USAF equipment. The USAF acquisition of the AT-6E aircraft clears the path for foreign adoption of the platform through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program as well as via Direct Commercial Sales (DCS). In any case, the AT-6E’s successful completion of both Light Attack Experiment (LAE) Phases I & II — including a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) and austere field landing demonstrations – made it an addition to the export market.
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