Tex­tron of­fers Scor­pion jet to IAF


The In­dian Air Force (IAF), which re­ceives pitches both so­licited and un­so­licited, has re­ceived one of its most in­ter­est­ing in re­cent times. Faced with a train­ing void in the in­ter­me­di­ate jet trainer space, the IAF had re­sorted to a global re­quest for in­for­ma­tion to gauge what so­lu­tions ex­isted in the world avi­a­tion mar­ket for a light jet trainer plat­form that could also un­der­take light attack and tac­ti­cal mul­ti­pur­pose mis­sions. One of the re­sponses the IAF has re­ceived is an air­craft that has evoked at­ten­tion for its sim­plic­ity, cost and mission pro­file: the Tex­tron Airland Scor­pion, a light tac­ti­cal twin-jet air­plane fit­ted out for tac­ti­cal in­ter­dic­tion mis­sions and ISR. Whether or not the IAF is will­ing to look strictly at air­craft that don’t fit its rather un­bend­ing trainer air­craft pro­file, the Scor­pion is an in­trigu­ing plat­form that makes af­ford­abil­ity its sin­gu­lar touch­stone.

First off, the Scor­pion isn’t in­tended as a high per­for­mance air­plane—and isn’t un­der devel­op­ment through a US Depart­ment of De­fense-funded pro­gramme or re­quire­ment, but rather a ven­ture by Tex­tron and Airland LLC based on their own in­de­pen­dent un­der­stand­ing of the world mar­ket for air­craft, and evolv­ing re­quire­ments. Shrink­ing bud­gets, the un­af­ford­abil­ity of high per­for­mance fighter jets, lo­gis­ti­cal eco­nomics and the spend­ing power of small or emerg­ing na­tions with se­cu­rity threat per­spec­tives largely guide the devel­op­ment of a light, un­com­pli­cated air­craft that can, in the words of the maker, en­gage in do­mes­tic in­ter­dic­tion, quick-re­ac­tion nat­u­ral dis­as­ter sup­port, air sovereignty pa­trols, and low-threat bat­tle­field mis­sions. In other words, the air­craft could be de­ployed in a counter-in­sur­gency pro­file as well.

Sim­plic­ity and econ­omy guide the devel­op­ment of the Tex­tron Airland of­fer­ing. At a stated op­er­at­ing cost of $3,000 per flight hour, the Scor­pion pro­poses to be hugely cheaper to op­er­ate than high per­for­mance jets cur­rently en­gaged in US op­er­a­tions around the world. And with a price tag of un­der $20 mil­lion per air­frame, the mak­ers will clearly be pitch­ing the air­craft at sub­stan­tial fleet num­ber re­quire­ments. The twin-seat con­fig­u­ra­tion makes it dou­ble as a pos­si­ble fast jet trainer, far ex­ceed­ing the per­for­mance re­quire­ments of the IAF’s ideal IJT. Sev­eral other in­no­va­tions keep the air­craft’s cost low: no flyby-wire, an all com­pos­ite fuse­lage that draws from parts al­ready built by Tex­tron firm Cessna, and a cock­pit only slightly dif­fer­ent from ex­ist­ing cock­pits on Cessna air­craft. The Scor­pion flies on two Honey­well TFE731 tur­bo­fans pro­duc­ing 3,600 kg of thrust that can keep the jet air­borne for just over five hours, with an over­all ser­vice life of 20,000 hours. Ac­cord­ing to Tex­tron, the Scor­pion, which flew for the first time in De­cem­ber 2013, is be­ing de­vel­oped with a 1,400 kg pay­load that could in­clude bombs (guided and un­guided), or elec­tronic pay­loads for in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing, all in an in­ter­nal bay.

Com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Malaysia, the UAE, In­done­sia and Nige­ria have shown in­ter­est in the Scor­pion, with dis­cus­sions tak­ing place with other coun­tries in the Mid­dle East and South East Asia as well. At a time when the In­dian Air Force’s re­quire­ments are evolv­ing, and yet held in place by old-fash­ioned pulls and pres­sures, out-of-the-box air­craft that ap­pear to chal­lenge what in US mil­i­tary jar­gon is called the death spi­ral—costlier and costlier air­craft, with higher and higher ca­pa­bil­i­ties, lead­ing to smaller and smaller ac­qui­si­tion num­bers and there­fore fleets. Whether or not an air­plane like the Scor­pion fits any­where in the IAF’s in­ven­tory and ca­pa­bil­ity wish­list is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict. For that, there would need to be greater op­er­a­tional syn­er­gies be­tween train­ing and other mis­sions, a con­fla­tion of doc­trine and the pos­si­bil­ity of step­ping out of the old rigidi­ties that re­main the guiding prin­ci­ples of ev­ery pur­chase.

The Scor­pion isn’t unique in its propo­si­tion. For years, train­ers have been po­si­tioned as be­ing able to dou­ble as light attack/counter-in­sur­gency and in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing plat­forms, most re­cently the Em­braer Su­per Tu­cano and the Yakovlev Yak-130. Such meld­ing of mission pro­files is a strong recog­ni­tion of the im­per­a­tives of train­ing, but the shrink­ing luxury of procur­ing and op­er­at­ing fleets of high per­for­mance air­craft for the spec­trum of threats that many emerg­ing na­tions face.

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