SEALS, Tucano planes and more than 3,300 pounds of weapons

With more than 3,300 pounds of weapons, the fierce Super Tucano can swoop in to unleash hefty firepower from above and save lives of warfighters on the ground.

The A-29 “Super Tucano” turboprop aircraft looks like a Latin spin throwback to the World War II era of iconic American fighters-  but make no mistake this aircraft is a modern hybrid of low tech and high tech fit to fight current threats.

The Super Tucano is currently taking part in the  U.S. Air Force's exciting Light Attack Experiment. The A-29 that is part of the Experiment is a partnership between Brazilian firm Embraer and U.S. firm Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). The aircraft is built in Jacksonville, Florida.

The U.S. Air Force has also selected the Super Tucano for Afghanistan.

Providing the best possible close air support for American forces on the ground is incredibly important. Aircraft like the Super Tucano that are participating in the Light Attack Experiment offer some different advantages to deploying fighter jets.

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The plane’s rugged landing gear, as just one example, means that it can land on mere dirt and does not need to operate from major bases with lots of runway so it provides the opportunity to have aircraft closer by at forward operating bases when forces are in need.

On the outside the plane may look retro, but that airframe is armored and designed to withstand +7G/-3.5G loads. And that is just for starters, because it is chock filled with advanced tech – including an impressive array of weapons.

How Super Tucano fights from above

With the 1,600 SHP Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68/3 turboprop engine, it can reach the fight fast with a maximum speed of about 370 mph.

Once there, Super Tucano can also keep constantly near the fight – even within thousands of feet is possible – as opposed to flying in large multiple-mile radius circles. This means that the aircraft can more immediately react and respond to things evolving on the ground.

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In fact, Super Tucano can fight from the air at less than 1,000 feet above the ground battle.

From there, the aircraft can protect forces unleashing weapons from above for more than three hours – whereas fast jets may only be able to help for a mere fraction of that time before they need to refuel at bases that are often a great distance away.

Flying this close can also importantly help pilots prevent friendly fire accidents in the midst of intense, rapidly changing firefights.

3,300 pounds of weapons

Super Tucano carries an array of weapons that no enemy would want to see heading their way.

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In fact, five hard points under the wing and fuselage allow the aircraft to bring more than 3,300 pounds of weapons to a fight.

In addition to two internal machine guns, it can bring two .50" machine guns in the wings, with each unleashing 200 rounds for powerful close support of ground forces.

Rocket launchers like the LAU-68 and bombs like the Mk 81 or Mk 82 equipped with guidance kits are two other sorts of firepower it can unload to defeat enemy forces.

If the Super Tucano is under attack from an enemy plane, then it can unleash short-range air-air missiles like the AIM-9 Sidewinders – just like jets.

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In addition to armor, the air crew’s safety is enhanced with advanced tech like MAWS (Missile Approach Warning System) and RWR (Radar Warning Receiver). It also has cunning modern tech like chaff and flares to defeat enemy attacks.

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Modern targeting for precise attacks

Modern missions often happen at night.  The aircraft has been designed to be compatible with this need - from NVG Gen. III infra-red vision capability to details like cockpit and external lights that are compatible with NVG.

The electro optical infrared system helps the pilots recognize targets by collecting images around the clock, both day and night. FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) supplies digitized thermal imaging.

The advanced laser designator and pointer is integrated with the weapons system and enhances precise attack.

Low tech, high tech Hybrid

The armament is synced up with a state-of-the-art avionics and sensor systems.

Inside that classic retro look, it isn’t just the approach to weaponry that blends low tech and high tech for maximum impact.

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There is also highly advanced tracking, interception and surveillance tech. The plane’s communications are highly advanced.

The Super Tucano has an encrypted digital anti-interception and jamming V/UHF radio, so sending and receiving data like targets can be secure.

How the Navy SEALs transformed the Tucano into a Super Tucano

U.S. Navy SEALs often identify the very best technology and then trailblaze with it.

The SEALS spotted the potential of the Tucano and fought hard for it to be adopted to provide better close air support, transforming it into the Super Tucano.

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Brazilian company Embraer built Tucano especially to provide close-in air power for typical South American and African firefight scenarios. Tucano had a proven track record of being well suited to fight wars in Latin America.

The Navy refitted a Tucano, ramped it up and tested it.

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The result? The birth of the A-29B Super Tucano and an aircraft that would prove the SEALS right time and again downrange. It performed so well that the Super Tucano stable grew.

The Super Tucano is a great example of how Navy SEAL teams quietly revolutionize how tech is used to provide critical advantages. Thanks to their early adoption, innovations sometimes eventually make their way into hands of wider American forces equipping them with better advantages too.

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.