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FMA IA 58 Pucará

Named after a form of South American stone hill fortress, the Pucara's origins can be traced back to the mid-1960's when Argentina's Fabrica Militar de Aviones ( Military Aircraft Factory ) was requested to develop a new combat aircraft capable of performing COIN, CAS and reconnaissance missions. The first flight of the prototype AX-2 Delfin, powered by a pair of Garrett TPE331-U-303 turbo props, took place on 20 August 1969. Subsequent prototypes were re-engined with French Turbom Eca Astazou XVIG turboprops.

It could mount a 30 mm cannon and carry a variety of bombs. It was slow but rugged. The Pucara was designed to operate from roughfield and unprepared sites with the minimum of ground support - a point it proved to good effect during the Falklands War of 1982. Operations are possible by night, but not in adverse weather conditions, and weapons aiming is achieved visually by the pilot making full use of the excellent forward visibility over the Pucara's downward sloping nose.

The IA-58's very small turn radius allowed pilots not to lose sight of non-considerable targets. It has an endurance that is envied by combat jelplanes and that enables the plane to be on watch over the selected zones during several hours, thus preventing the enemy from moving Ireeely; its load capacity (15 ton-) and fixed armament (2 X 20 mm cannons and 4 X 7.62 mm machine guns turn it into a high risk menace for irregular groups; it covers a surprisingly wide range of speeds, from 140 to 450 km/h; it can operate in unprepared fields, with a maximum diagonal of about 400 m and even less if JATOs are used; its twin engines provide it with an excellent survival rate and may keep flying even with substantial structural damage.

The production standard IA 58A first flew on 8 November 1974, with deliveries to the Argentinian Air Force commencing just over a year later. Improvements led to the IA 58B model, the main upgrades being improved avionics and the addition of two 30mm cannon in place of the 20mm weapons. By 1986, 70 Pucara A aircraft had been manufactured. FMA began producing the Pucara B in 1981 and a single seat version was expected to fly by 1985.

There was no other plane in the world capable of successfully replacing it in the task for which it was intended. This fact is very important since the Pucara was essentially planned for a specific war and not for a multirole performance that ends meeting no commander's satisfaction. The Pucara was designed for COIN [Counter-Insurgency Operations] such as those taking place in the late 20th Century in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Peru, Namibia, Eritrea, former Spanish Sahara, Philippines, Kampuchea, Afghanistan and others.

On the contrary, the so called "conventional" wars were less and less frequent as the destructive power of probable contenders increase. Without really intending it, the contenders adopted a mutual deterrent altitude that is beneficial to everyone.

Initially considering the air weapon systems needed to meet the demand of COIN, specific conditions are met. Limited personnel and material concentrations; targets that are generated fastly and that disappear likewise; use of ground weapons preferably: shortage of antiaircraft weapons; practical lack of air units on the part of rebel forces; frequent superposition of combat troops and revolutionists in the operation zone; little or no use of mechanized units on the part of subversive forces; difficult identification of said forces; hardly relevant subversive facilities and weak organization of defensive positions; highly diluted rebel logistical lines; great mobility on the part of revolutionists and great influence of non-conventional factors (effectives' morale, psychological action, political pressures, press attacks, etc.).

The Pucara design was materialized in order to provide ground forces with air fire close support provided there existed no porwerful air opponent on one hand and limited anti-aircraft resistance on the other. Nobody thought of Pucara as an aircraft capable of either achieving air superiority or entering an enemy territory properly defended by intercepters and SAMs. Those imposing said requirements on the Pucara make a serious mistake.

The FAA operated approximately 71 indigenously produced Pucaras at the start of the war. The Pucara made its debut in a war different from "its own war" and therefore it was not surprising that numerous units were lost, even though only a few of them were shot down while flying to make an attack.

There are some specialized commentators who missed the point about what the "Pucara war" had to be and, after June 1982. They did not hesitate to} criticize the performance of the plane in Malvinas Islands. Many of the losses suffered in the islands were simply due to the fact that it was impossible to park the aircraft in safe or at least slightly camouflaged shelters, so they were exposed to air and naval fire just like any .other fixed ground target. They had to fly over enemy zones heavily protected by SAM systems even though that situation had not been considered at the time of design.

However, when hit by ground fire, these units proved to have amazing capabilities to bear damage and gave several pilots the chance to eject themselves even at a very low altitude. The speed the IA-58 may develop does not qualify it to overfly enemy territory in conventional wars, where antiaircraft artillery concentration reduces the survival of subsonic units.

The weapons that this aircraft was capable of carrying during those days inevitably compelled it to fly within firing range of enemy positions and of eventual air opponents; however, if it had had an AAM on board — similar to the lethal AIM-9L Sidewinder — it would have posed a threat to VTOLs and Harriers due to its devilish maneuverability and endurance.

The Pucara was the pride of the Argentine aircraft industry—designed and manufactured in Argentina. However, overall production figures were modest at best, with exports to Uruguay, Sri Lanka and Colombia accounting for less than 20 aircraft in total.

On 8 July 2011, FAdeA delivered the first upgraded IA-58 to the air force. The upgrades start with maintenance improvements, with the eventual replacement of the avionics and navigation systems. Finally, FAdeA will replace the ageing Turbomeca Astazou engines with Pratt & Whitney PT6A-62s, allowing the seminal counter-insurgency aircraft to remain in service until 2045.

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Page last modified: 17-01-2015 19:49:02 ZULU