10 Cancelled counter-insurgency aircraft: We ask a former MiG-27 pilot if he’d fly them into combat

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The thing about counterinsurgency is it doesn’t work. If you are doing counterinsurgency there’s a strong chance you’re in the wrong, either ethically, tactically or strategically and probably all three. Still, putting big guns on, often tiny, aeroplanes is pretty exciting stuff. We looked at 10 cancelled (or very short-lived) COIN aircraft — and then asked former IAF MiG-27 pilot Sqn. Ldr. Anshuman Mainkar how confident he feel flying each one of them into combat. 

10. BAe SABA – Small Agile Battlefield Aircraft  (1984) ‘SABA rattling’ 

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A historical perspective

In thinking about this piece, I did a bit of a search for unsuccessful Counter-Insurgency (COIN) aircraft, and turned up a reasonable number of aircraft, none of them British. This is a little odd, as, after the First World War, Britain made a great thing of policing its Empire by air, having worked out that this solution was cheaper, and quicker, than sending ground forces out to deal with trouble spots.

In doing so, it was exploiting superior mobility, enabled by the fact that the, generally poorly-equipped, opposition had no effective anti-air weapons other than the possibility of a lucky shot with a rifle. The aircraft used at the time, and indeed up to the Second War, were basically general-purpose biplanes, capable of carrying limited numbers of bombs, and the odd machine gun.

We interviewed one of SABA’s designers about the aircraft here.

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After the Second war, the Empire became the Commonwealth, as Britain set about divesting itself of its colonies. There were, of course, still hot spots to deal with, including troubles in Africa, Malaya and the Middle East, but a wide range of capable aircraft were also available to help manage these, making the development of new types unnecessary. An eventual decision to cease involvement ‘East of Suez’, pretty much took the UK out of the COIN game for a while, although an eye to the export market did result in modest successes with aircraft like the Strikemaster.

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In the US, however, a combination of a post-war vision of that Nation somehow being empowered as a World Policeman, National testosterone, and a fear of Communism, led to the US being involved in many conflicts, of scale ranging from the Korean and Vietnam Wars, to the Invasion of Grenada.

The Vietnam experience revealed the surprising utility of aircraft like the AD-1 Skyraider in suppressing ground forces, and ever since Vietnam, there has been a healthy succession of US efforts to field similar capabilities, delivered with some quite impressive aircraft, including the Cessna A-37, B-26K Counter-Invader, OV-10 Bronco and, at the extreme tank-busting end, the A-10 Thunderbolt II.

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In the UK, a gradual realisation dawned that in a globalised World, alliances were important, and the scope of the military’s involvement could not easily be limited to Europe. The extent to which this was driven by the military-industrial complex realising that the (as it turned out) temporary collapse of the USSR as a rival had left it searching for relevance is, perhaps, a topic best left to historians. It’s fair to add, however, that the shock of having to recover a far-flung remnant of Empire (the Falklands) in 1982, had shown that there were still distant trouble spots that could not be ignored.

Over time in the UK, a realisation dawned that in a globalised World, alliances were important, and the scope of the military’s involvement could not easily be limited to Europe. The extent to which this was driven by the military-industrial complex realising that the (as it turned out) temporary collapse of the USSR as a rival, had left it searching for relevance is, perhaps, a topic best left to historians. It’s fair to add, however, that the shock of having to recover a far-flung remnant of Empire (the Falklands) in 1982, had shown that there were still distant trouble spots that could not be ignored.

While it is likely that the RAF would have considered that the capability they had in their existing strike aircraft, the Harrier, Jaguar and Tornado, was sufficient that no dedicated COIN aircraft was needed, the MoD is continually driven by Treasury to search for cheaper ways to deliver capability. In addition, there would also have been consideration of whether Army should have its own anti-tank and anti-helicopter capability.

SABA

So, we come to the Small Agile Battlefield Aircraft concepts of 1987. The reference material states that these were intended to provide a means of clearing the battlespace of helicopters, tilt-rotors, UAVs and tanks, in circumstances where air superiority had already been achieved. In consequence, the only armament to be carried would be anti-air weapons (plus, presumably a gun or other anti-tank weapon).

On the face of it, the premise is odd, but possibly is either a throw-back to air policing a hot spot with no anti-air capability, or contributing to a coalition effort where the air opposition has already been suppressed (except for helicopters, tilt rotors etc.). Given, however, systems like the AC-130U, this situation is clearly regarded by some as credible in some circumstances.

What of the concepts themselves? There were 5 concepts explored. The P1233 was a straight-winged canard powered by a turbo-prop driving a contra-rotating pusher propeller, with 6 pylon-mounted air-to-air missiles. The P1238 used the same propulsion system, but with a twin-boom layout reminiscent of the product of a relationship between a Cessna O-2 and a Vampire.

The P1234 came in three variants. The P1234-1 looked quite avant garde, with side intakes feeding a single jet engine, blending into a straight wing, with no horizontal tail surfaces. Armament consisted of a low-profile under-fuselage gun turret, aimed via a helmet mounted sight, and a couple of weapons pylons. Overall, the impression looks like another hybrid, this time between a Fauvel tail-less glider and a miniature SAAB Draken.

The P1234-2 is described as simply being a turbofan version of the P1233. I don’t think this is really the case. Although the same wing may have been used, this is now in a tailed configuration, rather than as a canard, with twin fins. The flying surfaces are attached to a forward fuselage that has clearly fallen off the back of the Harrier production line. The six pylons of the P1233 are retained.

The P1234-3 is a small delta, looking like a scaled-up Payen Delta or possibly like a scaled-down (is that possible?) Tejas, with the propulsion system of the Fouga Magister – one small engine each side of the fuselage. This version has two tip mounted missiles plus an under-fuselage turret and some form of sensor in the nose.

Would the concepts have worked? And which would be the best? Interesting, hard to answer questions.

Of the two turbo-props, I prefer the P1238 because the airframe carries less risk than the P1233. It’s a simple, well proven layout, where the P1233 has not only the canard layout, but appears to have some questionable lateral-directional issues, given the use of a forward fin (rudder?) possibly because of the large ventral fin which is being used to protect the propeller on take-off and landing.

Of the P1234’s, the P1234-2 would probably get the Ministry nod, because the fuselage is clearly stolen from the Harrier, and the layout is more-or-less conventional. On aesthetics, I prefer the P1234-1, just because it looks both pretty, and pretty cool. The P1234-3 either has two engines, which will increase cost (but perhaps enhance survivability), or a bifurcated arrangement like the Sea Hawk – but the latter looks unlikely from the reference material. It would certainly need more runway than the other variants.

So, if the decision were mine, the P1234-1 is the one for me. Big contra-rotating propellers are cool, but somehow not in a pusher configuration.

Reality Check

One has, however, to ask – does the requirement make sense?

I am not sure it does. One issue is that, to be viable, air superiority has to be assured. OK, there are many recent circumstances where that may apply. But all these concepts look vulnerable to shoulder-launched missile systems, and these are widely available to almost everyone, not just those with tanks and tilt-rotors.

Other commentary around these concepts suggests that they may have been a bit of a make-work, to keep the design office at Kingston occupied as BAe began to focus military aircraft work at Warton. I’d be sceptical of such suggestions, and merely observe that Kingston is much more likely to have been interested in future ASTOVL requirements than in SABA.

The origin of the requirement is also unclear. Although the reference material mentions a NATO interest, it is unlikely that these concepts would have gone anywhere without Service support. In the context of the time, it may be that these studies, and transient UK interest in the Scaled Composites (Rutan) Ares, may have been sufficient to convince the Army that an armed Attack Helicopter would be more useful than the limited capability offered by the SABA concept.

The SABA studies might have been useful in establishing a baseline for the capability offered by a budget fixed-wing solution. Acquisition of the A-10 might have been a bit more expensive, but would also have been a low risk option, having been in service for about 10 years at this time.

I must stress that at no time in my professional career did I have any connection with the SABA concept or requirement. Hence any, and indeed all, of the above should be regarded as speculative.

—Jim Smith

MiG-27 pilot response

“It was designed to launch in an air superiority environment, protecting ground formations from aerial threats. We’re looking at combat situations now, with considerable loiter. As a pilot, I’d have to be mentally prepared to get thrown around considering the loading/stresses, demanded turn performance, and the loiter demands. Mission-wise, haven’t seen under the hood, but she better have all the bells and whistles to survive what’s coming. She boasts of good performance against fast jets. I wouldn’t be keen to pit the Flogger against her, on the first day of the battle, at least :)” 

9. Rutan ARES ‘The Killer Bee’

The A-10 is a very mildly asymmetric aircraft, placing the (massive) gun slightly to one side to allow room for the nose wheel to retract into. It was also a big gun that resulted in the more pronounced asymmetry of the Scaled Composite ARES (Agile Responsive Effective Support), a close air support aircraft designed as a result of a study into a Low Cost Battlefield Attack Aircraft (LCBAA) – essentially a smaller cheaper A-10. A major problem with aircraft mounted guns arises if the engine ingests waste gases produced when the weapon is fired. To avoid this Burt Rutan sensibly mounted the gun on the right side of the aircraft and the engine intake is on the left. To avoid problems from asymmetric recoil of the gun the exhaust gases produced by firing it are channelled left by a duct to cancel this out. To compound the asymmetry of the aircraft, the engine is not mounted parallel to the direction of flight but canted eight degrees to the left, the jet pipe is curved to direct the thrust directly to the rear. The curved jet pipe also serves to reduce the IR signature of the aircraft. As seems to be the norm with ‘low cost’ combat aircraft with a massive potential international market, ARES proved thoroughly excellent in tests and then no one bought it. However all was not lost as ARES starred as the secret Me 263 in the screen (ahem) ‘classic’ of 1992 ‘Iron Eagle III’ and remains airworthy (and available for hire) with Scaled Composites at Mojave as a research aircraft.

British technical liaison Jim Smith travelled to the desert to learn more about this capable, but ultimately doomed, aircraft. 

“In early 1990, I was asked to visit Scaled Composites at Mojave to gain information on the Ares light support aircraft. At the time, I was working for the British Embassy in Washington DC in a technical aerospace liaison role, working mainly with US Government Agencies, but occasionally with US Industry, and seeking to promote technical collaboration in Aerospace.

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I welcomed the opportunity to visit Scaled Composites. As an aerodynamicist and an air vehicle configuration specialist, this would provide an opportunity to see a new product from the always imaginative Burt Rutan, and would also provide an opportunity to catch up with NASA projects at the nearby NASA Dryden (now NASA Armstrong), at Edwards Air Force Base.

I visited Scaled Composites on the 26th Feb 1990, one week after Ares had made its first flight, and attended a presentation of the aircraft to local media, industries and others.

Ares was the Greek God of war, and Scaled Composites had also turned ARES into an acronym for its Agile Response Effective Support aircraft. The design was described at the time as an anti-helicopter and light support aircraft, with potential customers being the US Customs Service and possible the US Army or Marines. The intent was that the demonstrator would validate the concept and that further development would enable a variety of other roles to be developed.

The aircraft is of unusual design, essentially resembling a turbofan-powered configuration similar in size and shape to a Rutan Long-Eze, wrapped around a GAU-12U 25-mm multi-barrelled cannon.  The design is dominated by the arrangements made to accommodate the cannon, which is mounted in a payload bay on the starboard side of the aircraft. To avoid any problems with gun gas ingestion, the Pratt & Whitney JT-15D engine is mounted at an offset of 8 deg and fed by a single intake on the port side of the fuselage, with a curved jet pipe exhausting parallel to the fuselage longitudinal axis.

The attached photos of the aircraft were taken on the visit and show the unusual layout of the aircraft.  The demonstration flight made on the day was the 5th flight of the aircraft.

This is video is quite impressive, showing the aircraft manoeuvring nimbly at low level around rough terrain in California, firing trials with the cannon, and Burt Rutan explaining the features of the aircraft.

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At the time, I thought this was a neat little design, with an original approach to packaging a large gun into a small airframe. I was sceptical of how such an aircraft could contribute to UK capability, but could see the potential for an air policing or border protection role for others.

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Now, the design looks well ahead of its time. With the ability to carry external stores on 4 hardpoints as well as the cannon, ARES would have been a fast and flexible counter-insurgency asset, offering much greater speed than competitors derived from turbo-prop agricultural aircraft or trainers.

151_ares_002.jpgHaving made this initial visit, I included a visit to Mojave on a couple of other occasions. Among other projects, Scaled Composites built the composite delta wing for the Pegasus air-launched small satellite deployment system, and claimed this as the fastest and highest altitude composite wing, travelling at greater than Mach 5 and up to 200,000 ft. The company has built many notable products, including the Voyager and Global Flyer; and the White Knight 1 and 2 and Spaceship 1 and 2. They are building the Stratolauncher, which will have the largest wingspan of any aircraft yet flown, with a view to providing an airborne satellite launch system.”

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The Model 151 ARES turbofan could arrive on the scene in it own BATTLEBOX towed by a M113  armoured vehicle.

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Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

MiG-27 pilot response

“Rutan ARES – as a policing aircraft / anti-smuggling / etc. great piece of equipment and fun to fly. Can try their luck against slow moving military targets. Reminder in my diary: Getting into a combat with potent platforms to be avoided. Shoot and scoot, and enjoy the scenery on the way. A good ride for a cool flight :)” 

8. Northrop A-9

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MiG-27 pilot response

“Northrop A-9A – lost out to the Fairchild A-10. It may have lost out to the A-10, but any design that combines gaps from an actual conflict with inputs from participating combatants cannot go too wrong. The A-10’s selection is justified, but losing out to it is not a black spot on its character, by any measure. Will fly!”

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7. PZL-230 Skorpion Jet Machinepistol’ 

A mid ’80s Polish requirement for a small, agile battlefield attack aircraft resulted in the PZL-230F. Looking like a Manga cartoon of a SR-71, it was actually a serious design with an emphasis on survivability, ease of use and economy of operation. Slow (around 400mph) and capable of forward basing it would have offered a flexible close air support capability. Armament would have consisted of a gun (possibly the GAU-12 rotary cannon) and a light load of guided and unguided munitions.

histor6-1.jpg Initially a degree of stealth was desired, but later in the programme it was decided that this was a redundant quality in an aircraft operating so close to the frontline it would be visible with naked eyes. Its rivals were the IL Kobra 2000 and PZL Mielec M-97/M-99ch. Several configurations of the PZL-230  were offered with turbojet, turboprop and turbofan engines. The 230 won the contest and some development work was done, but it was unsustainable, as Poland faced the economic crisis of transitioning from communism to capitalism. It was terminated in 1994, never having reached a flyable prototype stage.

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MiG-27 pilot response

“I would love to sit in that bubble and scream across the valley of death, but seems far removed from the Flogger’s ruggedness or reality. I think the latter Cold War played truant with what was a futuristic design that could’ve been supported as a composite technology demonstrator, at least. Won’t fly. Literally. Can taxi though.”

6. PZL Kobra ‘The Pizzle Twizzle’ 

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A late Cold War-era Polish battlefield attack aircraft that looks like a Manga SR-71 is too high-risk for you? You might find a suitable replacement in the PZL Kobra. The Kobra picked up where the PZL-230F Skorpion left off – another lightweight attack aircraft optimised for operations in the forward edge of the battle area. A twin-engine design from Warsaw’s Aviation Institute in collaboration with PZL, it sought to break the Polish Air Force’s dependence on its regular Soviet-supplied equipment.
Revealed to the public in September 1993, the Kobra soon disappeared without trace, but not before a computer-generated artwork provided a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.

While the Skorpion was judged to be too radical a solution for the close-air support requirement (remember, at this time the only Polish Air Force aircraft in this class that required direct replacement was the Lim-6bis ‘Fresco’), the Kobra was hardly conventional itself. The engine air intake was mounted above the fuselage, just aft of the bubble canopy, à la North American F-107, presumably to provide optimum protection from ground-launched infrared-guided missiles. The swept wings were of conventional configuration, but the large horizontal tail surfaces were mounted on twin dorsal fins projecting well below the bottom of the rear fuselage.

The Skorpion dates back to the mid-1980s era of Solidarność, but before the shackles of Soviet domination had been thrown off. In contrast, by the mid-1990s, Poland was newly independent. This is reflected in plans for the Kobra to incorporate 70-80% of Polish components, compared with just 20% for the Skorpion.

The Kobra’s powerplant was to be a pair of indigenous thrust-vectoring turbofans, based on the existing PZL D-18, generating 27kN (6,070lb) of thrust – sufficient to provide for a weapons load of up to 4,000kg (8,818lb). Rate of climb was to be in the region of 100m/s (19,665ft/min).

Had the Kobra found official favour, it was planned to achieve a first flight within four to five years (around 1997-98, in the best-case scenario), before service entry in the early 2000s. At the time, there was a perceived requirement for between 60 and 100 examples (a two-seat variant was also schemed) that would have bridged a gap between Mi-24 helicopter gunships and fighter-bombers.

 — Thomas Newdick, aviation writer

MiG-27 pilot response

“Another futuristic design from Poland, promising to fill a useful gap between gunships and conventional fast jets. Not sure how much Poland’s cosying up to NATO had a role to play in killing this in its infancy, but sad nonetheless. Given how the Su-25 and A-10 are getting stretched, one can’t fail to wonder what would have been had these platforms been allowed to evolve, both in the East and the West. Today, of course, we have the rotor-wing and the unmanned creeping into the battlefield support role, with the fixed wing beating a slow retreat into the background. Will dream, and fly it in them.”

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5. Helio AU-24A Armed Stallion ‘Mekong Bobtail’Helio_AU-24A_Stallion_in_storage_at_Davis-Monthan_AFB,_July_1972.jpg

 

Credible Chase was not Chevy’s barely known Shakespearian acting brother but a US sponsored project was intended to add mobility and firepower to the South Vietnamese Air Forces as quickly as possible. The type had a brief combat career. 

MiG-27 pilot response

“Helio AU-24A Armed Stallion – One of those designs boosted by the ’necessities’ of war, it was ultimately passed on to an ally for counter-infiltration/surveillance/road convoy escort roles – finding for itself a niche that it may not have been designed for, but acquitted itself creditably in. Sometimes, it is all about the timing, and this one sparked at the right moment. Let me choose my battle, and I’ll fly it.”

4. Ilyushin Il-102 ‘Arse-end Ivan’

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The sexy high-tech nature of the latest warplanes is appealing to the inner child of those in charge of procurement, which may partly explain why the exceptionally ugly and low-tech Il-102 failed to enter production. And boy, did Ilyushin try. It started life as the Il-40 a design from 1953. It was then dusted off and slightly modified to compete against the Su-25 as a new battlefield support aircraft for the Soviet air force. It lost the competition, but unusually for the Communist Soviet Union, Ilyushin persisted with it as ‘private’ effort.  This culminated in the Il-102 of 1982, which must be the last fixed-wing design to be offered with a rear gun turret fitted with a GSh-23L twin-barreled cannon that could traverse in the vertical plane. Considering that Ilyushin created the Il-2 Sturmovik, an aircraft as symbolically important to Russians as the Spitfire is to the British, is not hard to see their magnetic attraction to building a new tough and simple warhorse, but the this ‘Jet Sturmovik’ was not to be.

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MiG-27 pilot response

“Auto-operated tail gun turret, a second cockpit mid fuselage. A a little stuck in time-warp? Got to give it points for unique features, especially the under-wing bomb-bays. Fit for starring role in an Indian Jones flick. I’ll trade in my Flogger if given a role.”

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3. Potez 75

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Intended as a battlefield support and counter-insurgency aircraft armed with guided anti-tank missiles (the SS-10), the wonderfully anarchistic Potez 75 shared much with modern helicopter gunships, including its top speed of 171 mph. The type didn’t prove successful as a missile platform and was subsequently modified to perform the light attack role with guns, rockets and light bombs. It proved its worth in this role in a combat evaluation in the dirty Algerian War of the mid-1950s. Potez received orders for 100 from the French military. Light COIN aircraft are seldom popular with air forces, as it is feared they lead to subservience to land forces and threaten the beloved high-tech fast jets. Accordingly, the Potez 75 failed to survive budget cuts.

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MiG-27 pilot response

“Potez 75 – A design that has evolved but not changed much hence (boom / pusher), its operational success is noteworthy. Also proves how in spite of failing in its originally designed role as a missile carrier, it went on to become an effective ground attack platform. There is nothing like conflict and constraint to bring the best out of most designs. It has a specific battle to fly, not much latitude there.”

 

2. Breguet 460 ‘Vultur’ ‘Uncultur Vultur’

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Throughout the 1930s, French aircraft designers went to seemingly endless lengths to build the ugliest aircraft the world had yet seen. This happy state of affairs would still, no doubt, be ongoing if it weren’t for a few rogue designers, distracted by long hours devising new examples of aeronautical anti-pulchritude, inadvertently producing a couple of quite pretty fighters. France immediately capitulated to Germany. Coincidence? Perhaps.

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Meanwhile the Armee de l’Air had formulated possibly the most mercurial specification for a combat aircraft yet devised: the ‘Multiplace de combat’ in which the same aircraft was to act as a bomber, reconnaissance aircraft and heavy fighter. This idea was ultimately not entirely insane as the de Havilland Mosquito managed exactly that some years later. However, back in 1935 when this machine made its first flight the roles envisaged for this aircraft were totally incompatible. That did not stop various companies attempting to produce such an aircraft and the Vultur was Breguet’s stab at the impossible. As can be seen, Breguet succeeded handsomely in producing an aesthetic monstrosity, only exceeded in ugliness by the competing Amiot 143 which ultimately became a pretty successful heavy bomber (though it is impossible to even entertain the possibility of it succeeding as a fighter).

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Despite its impressive armament which included three 23mm machine-guns and 1500 kg of bombs which would have rendered it potentially useful in the COIN role in France’s colonial possessions, the Vultur was not deemed sufficiently hideous to enter production. However, the Republic of Spain, desperate for modern (or at least modern-ish) equipment, acquired several examples (probably all that were ever built). Although its operational life in Spain is obscure, as are those of most aircraft operated by the Republicans, it is known that it saw action against Franco’s Nationalist forces – arguably the most successful insurgency in history. So although it was cancelled, the Vultur did at least see active service in the COIN role.

Weirdly, and for no obvious reason, the aircraft was developed into an improved version, the Breguet 462, which also served in Spain and ultimately two examples survived to operate in the Vichy French air force. Decidedly obsolete, both were scrapped in 1942.

Ed Ward
MiG-27 pilot response

“Can’t help comparing this to the B-17 origin story. A less ambitious program, it too failed initially. However, the military/govt., did not totally  dismiss the idea, and the rest, they say, is history. The importance of sticking it out and encouraging designers to experiment cannot be overstated. Won’t fly!”

 

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  1. Sukhoi T-12 (1984) ‘Conjoined Battle Frog’
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Source: Assaltatori ed Aerei Da Attacco Al Suolo: Russi E Sovietici

 

In 1981 the Soviet ministry for the aviation industry requested designs from the main design bureaus for a new generation of combat aircraft for the 1990s. It was a vast requirement as the USSR wanted new fighters, bombers and tactical support aircraft; the latter need was be addressed by project ‘Sturmovik-90′.

In 1984 the Sukhoi OKB chief of project Mikail Potrovic’ Simonov pushed forward an extremely unorthodox proposal, the freakish T-12. It consisted of two Su-25 fuselages connected to a central section. If that wasn’t unusual enough already, it also had swept forward wings.

The centre section housed a novel propulsion system devised by P.A. Kolesov, named Izdelie 107. It was a kind of ‘double’ engine that could operate through an elaborate bypass system like a variable cycle turbojet, depending on the speed, maximum thrust or operating economy required. The considerable size of the aircraft, whose weight could reach 30 tons, was viewed with a certain skepticism by military authorities who would would have preferred a more compact machine. Conversely, Simonov was convinced of the need to make an aeroplane without compromise, capable of employing a wide variety of armaments to attack any type of land target. Despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union, studies continued until 1992, with continuous modifications and reinterpretations of the initial design, some of which included two conventional engines, a rather more conservative single fuselage, the introduction of measures to decrease the radar signature — and even a a carrier capable variant. The T-12 never reached the construction phase.

Thanks to Isma Mehreen and Ivano Guastella for translating from the excellent Assaltatori ed Aerei Da Attacco Al Suolo: Russi E Sovietici 

MiG-27 pilot response 

“It was 1984. The Soviet-Afghan campaign was raging. The Soviets felt a need for a replacement of the Su-25, which averaged about 360 sorties per annum, considerably higher than other types.

One design that the Soviets came up with was the Sukhoi T-12 Shturmovik ‘attack aircraft’ 90. It basically sought to twin the Su-25, placing two fuselages in parallel, taking combined thrust up a notch to 100kn (02 x RD 33I OR 01 x RD 79-300 ) along the centerline axis, and increasing payload/loiter/even survivability (twin cockpit design) in the process.

 

Design:

First look at the design, and it reminds you of the Wing-in-Ground-Effect (WIG) designs like the S-90 ekranoplan.

Stealth 1.0?

While not a ground-effect aircraft by any means, the  lifting body design, forward swept wings, nacelles and a lack of horizontal stabilisers may point toward some form of Stealth 1.0 experimentation. The planned use of internal bays to carry payload also emphasises this.

Safe to assume, though, that external carriage would also be an option (contrary to today, back then payload was a big factor). The pilot/Fire Control Radar would be housed on the port section, and the WSO/Nav-attk on the starboard. Lessons for Afghanistan, re. crew survivability?

Performance:

The Max Take Off Weight was planned for 20 tons (the figure for the Su-25 figure is 19.3 tons). Against the 4.4 ton store capacity of the Su-25, this design peaked at 6.5 tons.

EW sensor package in the aft would enable stand-off/protection measures, and additional room for fuel would increase loiter.

Offsetting the low thrust-to-weight ratio (below), it is estimated that the forward sweep would help retain manoeuvrability in the transonic regime, enhance low speed performance – especially given the unique twin design, assist STOL ability and improve range.

Powerplant:

Variable bypass ratio turbofan powerplant with flat nozzles seem to be on cue here. However, if the 0.69-0.70 Thrust-to-Weight Ratio of the Su-25 was desired, a thrust of at least 19 tons (RD 79-300) with an AUW of 30 tons would work. But that would violate the planned AUW.

Hence, the second option of utilising 02 x RD 33I (02 x 5500kgf) for a lesser TWR (0.53 – 0.55) for the initial variants, but still weighing in at 23 tons. Maybe they had also retaining a future possibility for re-rating (AL-31) / thrust vectoring / even VTOL, maybe.

Afghanistan aside, the case for carrier ops is also strong with this one J

Well, whatever the design feasibility, the early 90s put paid to this project, promising during its time, from progressing ahead.

In hindsight, the higher payload/range requirement for close-support was unique to Russian platforms of the era. In addition, the Su-25 managed to hang in there just about okay.

It is likely that this platform, had history been kind to it, would’ve evolved beyond the role it was designed for, into a test-bed for stealth evolution / next-gen carrier aviation or a strategic role in the tactical battle area (wink wink tac nukes)

Incidentally, both the Allies and Axis tried this back during WWII. A sense of urgency, plus a need to put heavier and longer-range platforms into the air encouraged them. Both incidentally were trumped by the advent of the jet engine, and the new challenges of airpower.

Who knows what could’ve become of the Sukhoi T-12 Shturmovik 90. But it remains safely ensconced in the legacy of fighter design, consigned to the digital attic now, awaiting its time to come back to the drawing board!

During WWII, the Germans and the Americans had experimented with a similar ‘twin-up-grade’.

The Germans with the Me 309 à Me 609 upgrade, sought to economise on time and effort (taking parts from the failed Me 309) to put a heavier fighter into the air. The jet-powered Me 262 put paid to the effort.

The Americans were more successful with the P 51 à F 82 transformation (inspired by another German twinning project, the Bf 109Z ‘Zwilling’), largely meant to transform them into long-range escorts for the B-29s (3200km+), towards the Pacific war effort.”

———————————————————————————

BONUS

American Electric Piranha (1966) ‘Little Miss Big Bite’ 

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With a name better suited to a Prog Rock band, the American Electric Piranha was essentially a weaponised LeVier Cosmic Wind (a name better suited to a Psychedelic Rock band). The Cosmic Wind was a tiny racing aircraft designed and built by Lockheed’s chief test pilot, Tony LeVier, and a group of Lockheed engineers. It first flew in 1947, and the design team hoped it would win the Goodyear Trophy for Formula 1 class racers. Six Cosmic Winds were built (the last in Britain in 1972) and the type won the 1964 King’s Cup.

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According to declassified documents “The search for a follow-on aircraft to the AC-47 had begun in 1966 when Project Little Brother looked at several smaller planes. This project died, however, when the Air Force decided to reconfigure the C-130 Hercules (Project Gunboat).” The Piranha certainly was smaller, powered by a tiny engine and held aloft with wings a mere 3.85 metres in span. Armament came in the form of two wingtip pods each carrying four Zuni unguided rockets and a single 500-pound (230 kg) bomb on a belly hardpoint. Had it entered service, this tiny aircraft may have had a tiny logistical footprint and been easy to deploy, but would have been exceptionally vulnerable to small arms fire in the dangerous skies above Vietnam. Even appealing to patriotic sentiment with the ridiculous alternative name’ American USA’ couldn’t save this unlikely project, and it was pushed aside by the AC-130, an aircraft with far greater endurance and firepower.

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Fairchild AU-23A Armed Pilatus Turbo-Porter 72-3 Janes – Sufficient put into service to not be relevant.

*Pave Coin Beech A36 Bonanza Janes 72-3. Other aircraft included the Piper PE1 Enforcer (turbine Mustang) – Janes 81-2, AU-23 and 24 (above), Cessna O-1, U-17 and O-2 and Cessna A-37.

SAAB-MFI-17 (only 300kg external load capability) 72-3 Janes

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8 comments

  1. kimmargosein

    I can’t imagine the Cosmic Wind carrying four Zuni rockets and a 500 lb bomb without major redesign. A 85 hp engine? It would be hitting the coffin corner where top speed and stall speed intersect.

  2. R.E. Warner

    Thanks for an amusing survey.
    Just a couple of minor corrections:
    1 – During your coverage of Scaled Composites’ ARES, you mentioned “M113 Gavin armour …” That “Gavin” name was coined by a fanboy, but never published by the manufacturer (Food Machinery and Chemical Corporation) or any professional soldier. please refrain from repeating that fallacy. Hint: my first driving lesson was in an FMC M113 1/2 Lynx, armoured and tracked recce vehicle.

    2 – The American Electric Pirana has a six-cylinder engine producing more than 85 hp. Another article describes the Number 1 AE Pirana as having a 210 horsepower IO-360 air-cooled engine.

    Please resume Hushkit’s normally high standards.

    Master Corporal (reitred) R.E. Warner, CD, BA and a couple pairs of jump wings

    • Hush Kit

      Thanks for that, now amended. To be honest I did wonder about both, I assumed Gavin was some special variant but was wrong. Re the power of the Piranha I think you must be right. Cheers, HK

  3. Prof. Anthrax

    The correct designation for Cessna’s combat-capable version of the T-37 trainer is A-37.
    AT-37 was used for development, but discarded shortly after the Dragonfly entered service.

  4. Pingback: 10 Cancelled counter-insurgency aircraft: We ask a former MiG-27 pilot if he’d fly them into combat – News Blog
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