We’ve spoken recently of the reintroduction of the OV-10 Bronco in the Middle East on a trial basis, and the use of Embraer’s EMB-314 Super Tucano light strike aircraft by Afghanistan and other countries for counter-insurgency warfare. Now it seems that Textron has its eyes on the same market (amongst others) for its Scorpion light jet (shown below), which we first met in these pages in 2013. See the earlier article for a full description of its features.
First revealed in September 2013, the Scorpion has been developed to suit mission sets including counterinsurgency (COIN), border patrol, maritime surveillance, counter-narcotics, and air defence, in a package set to cost no more than USD20 million to procure and USD3,000 per hour to operate.
Textron AirLand has built the platform around a 2.3 cubic meter [about 81 cubic feet] payload bay in the centre of its fuselage that can accept a variety of sensors and weapons systems, depending on the mission. The Scorpion also has six underwing hardpoints – three on each side – to carry additional sensors, fuel, or weapons such as the Textron G-CLAW and Textron/Thales Fury guided glide munitions.
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For cash-strapped Latin America, the Scorpion is a particularly attractive option, given that it can perform the vast majority of tasks that regional air arms usually demand on their combat fleets, but at a fraction of the procurement, operating, and sustainment costs of more advanced types.
There’s more at the link.
That’s an intriguing thought, particularly when compared to the turboprop OV-10 or EMB-314. The latter costs about $10 million a copy, while an upgraded, modernized OV-10 would probably cost twice that – or about as much as the Scorpion. The turboprop planes would be slower, but could loiter for longer due to lower fuel consumption. On the other hand, the jet could get to a trouble spot faster, and probably carry more (and more effective) sensors and weapons than the turboprops (at least in their present configuration). There are trade-offs either way, of course.
I’m sure the Scorpion could handle maritime surveillance easily enough, as long as it wasn’t a long-range multi-hour patrol, but could it carry weapons suited to maritime interdiction? I suppose short-range missiles like Hellfire or the South African Mokopa would be feasible. As for submarines, it certainly wouldn’t be able to carry sensors to detect them underwater, but it might be able to drop small short-range torpedoes like the European MU90 or the US Mark 54. If it patrols over or near an array of underwater sensors (something like the US SOSUS network, but optimized for shallow-water littoral use, perhaps deployed to monitor the approaches to a major port), it could drop such torpedoes on a target identified by the array. That opens up some interesting tactical options.
Here’s a video clip of the Scorpion at the British RIAT air show last year, including shots of its maritime surveillance tests.
What’s most impressive to me is the aircraft’s cost structure. At a per-unit cost of about $20 million, plus operating costs of about $3,000 per flight hour, it’s far more affordable than a typical fourth-generation strike aircraft like the F-16 (acquisition cost about $60-$70 million for current production versions, plus about $21,000 per flight hour in operating costs). As for something like the F-35, the comparison is mind-boggling. The latter costs upwards of $120 million per copy, and its operating costs are close to $50,000 per flight hour. A small air force can buy and operate an entire squadron of Scorpions for no more than the purchase and operating costs of a single F-35 over a year!
I think Textron may be onto something good here. Let’s see if they can find a launch customer. I can think of a couple of dozen air forces that would be logical targets for their sales efforts. I might pick up the phone and talk to a couple of former colleagues in South Africa, while I’m at it . . .