The Blog

The Air Force's New Light Fighter?

2:50 PM, Aug 26, 2009 • By JOHN NOONAN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

SM27.jpg

It's no secret that Air Force Special Operations Command has been shopping around for a cheap, exportable close-air-support platform -- preferably a bird that can swiftly approach a fight, then slowly loiter above the fray for protracted periods of time. Everything I've heard on AFSOC's acquisition plan pointed to either the T-6 Texan (already used as a trainer) or the Brazilian made Super Tucano as the platform of choice. Now, it seems, there's a dark horse candidate moving up the ranks, one that purportedly out performs the legendary A-10 Warthog.

Of all the planes that might meet the Air Force's requirement, the SM-27 Machete from Hawaii-based start-up Stavatti is seemingly the least viable. But appearances can be deceiving. If and when the Machete takes flight, it might surprise a lot of people - even besting the tried-and-true, tank-busting A-10 Thunderbolt II close air support jet in some performance specs

The Texan has a couple of key advantages over both the ST and the SM-27, not the least of which being domestic assembly lines and a long, stable relationship with the Air Force. Plus, the Machete's first prototype isn't scheduled to fly until next year, indicating an even longer procurement schedule. However, that doesn't mean it's out of the fight.

The $10-million Machete, by contrast, could be a real performer, "with a balance between weaponry, weight, and fuel consumption," Peeler wrote. While today's A-10 jet easily out-performs the T-6 in most ways, the Machete can actually beat the A-1o in all but one category. The A-10 carries three times as much weaponry, but the Machete is faster in some profiles, climbs better, travels farther and loiters longer. That allows the Machete to fly some traditional attack missions, in addition to counter-insurgency patrols, whereas the T-6 is mostly limited to counter-insurgency. Not to mention, the Machete with its pointy nose looks like a fighter, which might endear it more to the Air Force's fast-jet crowd.

The Machete does have a wicked looking form, like a CAS platform that actually belongs in the 21st century. But second and third world allied nations -- and their limited defense budgets -- have to be taken into consideration when procuring any COIN-dedicated fighter. Though the Machete would no doubt be a real workhorse, I doubt we see the USAF buy anything that exceeds 5 million a pop.

Aside: if you think the SM-27 looks sweet, check out designs for the SM-47.