Meet the combat crop duster, armed and armored to join the fight

By Allison Barrie

Published August 16, 2017

Crop dusters regularly fly the skies above America’s heartland, but this combat crop duster is unlike anything Americans have ever seen.

This plane is loaded up with weapons and fortified with armor to take the fight to America’s enemies and help protect U.S. forces on the ground.

L3’s Aerospace Systems worked with Air Tractor to transform the classic crop duster into a combat crop duster ready to strike.

Dubbed Longsword, they’ve taken Air Tractor’s AT-802 crop duster and modified it for attack, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

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What sort of modifications? The cockpit is armored – and so are the fuel lines. In fact, the fuel tanks are self-sealing. The wings have been made stronger and equipped to carry some serious firepower into combat…and these are just a few of the enhancements.

The U.S. Air Force has selected Longsword to participate in the ongoing, innovative Light Attack Experiment, or OA-X.

Currently, the Air Force is putting it through a series of tests to see just what it can do at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

Longsword is almost like a flying version of the iconic rugged, versatile, off-roading truck seen on farms throughout America –one with lots of weapons ready to take on some tough jobs.

What kind of weapons would this modified crop duster bring to the fight?

The Longsword can provide four weapon hard points per wing that can be loaded up with all sorts of weapons to defeat a range of threats.

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One option is highly precise hellfire missiles that can eliminate an individual terrorist or even penetrate advanced armor on vehicles.

A few other powerful options include BU-12 Paveways laser guided bombs, 2.75” rocket pods and machine gun pods.

Longsword could also unleash 500 pounder, seven-and-a-half foot Mark 82 unguided general purpose bombs to devastate enemy forces.

There’s also Thales’ Scorpion Helmet Mounting Cueing System that means that pilots can use their head to precisely steer weapons and sensor cueing. Targets can be acquired super quickly and then rapidly handed-off to sensors and weapons.

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There’s also an integrated mission operator station with L3 ForceX Widow mission management system - another feature that you don’t see every day in the average cropduster.

Why would the US military need combat crop dusters?

The 16,000-pounder genuinely has potential to add a heck of a lot to the fight.

As a light attack aircraft, it could step in to provide air support to American military teams on the ground. It could free up more advanced aircraft like the F-35 to take on other missions.

Longsword harnesses the powerful Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67AG turbine engine to race into action.

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Say for example, a U.S. Army Special Forces team is pinned down by Islamic extremists on a mission. Air Force pilots could rapidly fly in to support them with some serious firepower at speeds reaching 200 mph.

What exactly can the Longsword do?

In addition to reaching forces who need help quickly, another great advantage is that this weaponized crop duster an land with as little as 1,000 yards of runway. And it doesn’t need a formal airport runway to land.

Dirt roads and tiny airstrips in remote, hard-to-reach places are all fair game. This flexibility is important - the Longsword can land, refuel, reload and rejoin the fight.

When the aircraft is reloaded with water to fight fires, the turnaround time to load a full 820 gallons can be less than five minutes.

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What if a light attack aircraft could rendezvous with a team in a remote location close to forces who need help then reload, refuel and return to the air and the fight in under five minutes?

Minutes matter in close air support situations because a minute can mean the difference between life and death for U.S. forces.

While reloading the weapons and fuel may take a bit longer, the turnaround could be just as remarkably fast.

Anytime, just about anywhere

The aircraft also provides versatility in the air.

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Even though crop dusters might bring to mind flat vast farming fields, this combat crop duster is actually well suited to tackle challenging war zone terrains like mountainous regions.

With lots of agility, it can deliver speedy climbs, tackle narrow flight corridors and fly close and low while maneuvering deep ravines and accessing steep ridge lines.

Longsword could quickly reach ground forces under attack and then when it reaches the area, it can slow and unload some serious firepower. 

And for gathering of critical day from the air, Longsword also has lots of state of the art tech, like an MX-15 EO/IR sensor.

Allison Barrie is a defense specialist with experience in more than 70 countries who consults at the highest levels of defense and national security, a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees, and author of the definitive guide, Future Weapons: Access Granted, on sale in 30 countries.  Barrie hosts the new hit podcast “Tactical Talk”  where she gives listeners direct access to the most fascinating Special Operations warriors each week and to find out more about the FOX Firepower host and columnist you can click here or follow her on Twitter @allison_barrie and Instagram @allisonbarriehq.

 

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