Analysis: that's why some Colombian Air Force officers don't like T-6 Texan II deal

Colombia A-37 replacement light attack
Beechcraft AT-6 light attack aircraft.

A few days ago, we posted about the Beechcraft T-6C Texan II deal from Colombia. The type was selected to replace the old T-37B trainer aircraft at the flight school of the Colombian Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Colombiana - FAC). The agreement includes 8 aircraft and an option for another 8.

That deal was heavily criticized by high-ranking FAC officer. They believe that these funds would have been better spent on the purchase of a LIFT (Lead-In Fighter Trainer) aircraft and modern fighter jets and that the T-6C's role could have been played by the current Embraer T-27 Tucano.

They are only partially right. The modernization program of the Embraer T-27 Tucano did not go ahead as planned, it suffered from delays in the supply of screens and problems with the new landing gears. Furthermore, the cost of modernizing the aircraft was much higher than expected, forcing the armed force to upgrade fewer aircraft. These problems led to the older T-37 continuing to carry the brunt of intermediate pilot training, flying more hours than the more modern Tucano. This led the FAC to prioritize the replacement of the A-37. This led the nation to prioritize the replacement of the A-37. The choice of a turboprop instead of a jet is mainly linked to the lower acquisition and operating costs.

Along with the T-37, the Colombian Air Force is also seeking to replace the Cessna A-37 light attack/advanced trainer aircraft belonging to the 311 "Dragons" Combat Squadron. This could be the right occasion to introduce a light attack jet able to cover also the last training phase. Budget problems do not allow the FAC to have a jet destined for a single role (trainer or LCA), but it must be able to play multiple roles.

In recent years, the needs of the FAC have changed, today it is forced to improve its air defense capabilities in addition to those of air attack and CAS. The country is facing a change in the type of threats, moving from asymmetric warfare to conventional threats, ie it must defend its national airspace from potential violations by cross-border enemies.

The types of jets currently considered most suitable for these tasks are the Leonardo M-346FA and the KAI FA-50. Buying one of them is considered a priority over a new front-line aircraft as the FAC believes it is more important to have well-trained pilots ready to fly a future new fighter (Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70 or Saab Gripen E).

However, despite the plans of the armed force being valid, detractors fear that there will not be enough budget to purchase other types of aircraft. It is currently unclear how the FAC intends to use the optional second batch of eight Texan IIs. Will they be assigned to training or will they also take over the current A-37 task? Beechcraft also produces a combat version of the T-6, the TA-6B, which is currently competing in the United States under the OA-X Light Attack Aircraft Program. 

The TA-6B was already introduced in Colombia seven years ago, during the 2013 F-Air Colombia International Aeronautic Fair, however, it could be penalized by the lack of air-to-air capability. According to Beechcraft, "It is purpose-built for light attack, armed reconnaissance and counterinsurgency missions."

We have to wait the next steps of the nation to be able to draw final conclusions.

Written by Matteo Sanzani

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