GABORONE, Botswana — African demand for Embraer Defense and Security's flagship A-29 Super Tucano light attack/trainer turbo-prop aircraft is set to surge as economically strained countries seeking cheaper multirole aircraft settle for its lower price tag, operational simplicity and ease of maintenance, a senior African military analyst said.
The prediction by African military aviation analyst George Sibanda comes weeks after the Brazilian company confirmed 11 new firm orders of the A-29 Super Tucano from Mali and Ghana. Both countries plan to deploy their A-29 aircraft on pilot training and other internal security missions, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).
In company statements released in June, Embraer Defense and Security President Jackson Schneider said both orders mark an expansion of the company's African market, "where several countries already operate the Super Tucano. This is a robust and versatile airplane, with proven experience in combat and will fulfill with excellence the missions for which it was selected."
He said the Super Tucano is the only aircraft that suits the counterterrorism role as it can be used for both surveillance and combat.
Despite the projected short- to medium-term slump in military aircraft demand from oil-based African and Middle Eastern economies, Sibanda said, Embraer stands a better chance to expand its attack/trainer aircraft market in Africa than its Western and Russian competitors.
"The surge of the African military aviation market over the past five years has been premised on the steady growth of the oil and mineral-based economies of most buyer nations," said Sibanda, a retired lieutenant colonel and aircraft engineer of the Zimbabwean Air Force who now works for a private aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) firm in Australia. "It was also spurred by force modernization needs to counter the threat of transnational terrorism, piracy and insurgencies in North, East and West Africa.
"Force modernization demands continue to drive aircraft [demand], but African militaries now assess aircraft suitability based on pricing and maintenance costs against mission delivery," he said. "They now look at whether there are incentives such as loans to support their aircraft acquisition and MRO programs. Embraer stands a better chance to increase its African market shares because it offers the simplicity, low operating cost and low-cost maintenance while providing a versatile fighter/trainer aircraft in the A-29, which meets the demand of most African militaries."
Embraer also stands to benefit from the cordial defense cooperation and training ties Brazil has with various African governments, especially Portuguese-speaking countries, Sibanda said. In March, a delegation of Brazilian government and Embraer officials toured Angola, Mozambique and South Africa on a marketing drive which renewed regional interest in the Super Tucano.
"The latest acquisitions by Mali and Ghana show that the A-29 Super Tucano is increasingly becoming Africa's choice of multi-role aircraft," Sibanda said. "It has been expanding its footprint since March when the Brazilian Defense Ministry donated three refurbished earlier-model A-29s to the Mozambican Air Force.
"The two governments also signed an agreement in terms of which Brazil will finance a Mozambican procurement of three more A-29 advanced light attack/trainer aircraft on easy payment terms. This Brazilian business model is more attractive to cash-poor but resource-rich African governments seeking a low-cost, cheaper-to-maintain but more advanced aerial defense platform to defend the new-found hydro-carbon or mineral wealth."
Since the A-29 fills the attack and advanced pilot-training needs of expanding African air forces in one package, it cuts procurement and maintenance costs, Sibanda said. Further, he said, the Brazilian government's support for the proliferation of Embraer military aircraft to Africa is laying the groundwork for future MRO jobs in the medium to long term.
Another prospective West African Super Tucano buyer is the Nigerian Air Force, which is actively acquiring newer and more sophisticated aircraft to fight the Boko Haram insurgency.
In a meeting with Brazilian Deputy President Michel Temer late last year, former Nigerian Deputy President Namadi Sambo said his country needs more sophisticated aircraft to fight Boko Haram and support regional peacekeeping.
No firm orders have been confirmed, but Embraer's standing in Nigeria is elevated by the country's strong bilateral defense, intelligence and security cooperation ties with Brazil. It is also rooted on past defense procurement deals which include the Nigerian Navy's acquisition of several Brazilian-made off-shore patrol vessels up to 2013.
"We all know this aircraft is appreciated worldwide for its versatility and simplicity," Malian Defense Minister Tieman Coulibay said at the Paris Air Show last month, explaining why Mali chose to buy six Super Tucanos. "To put it short, I am happy to sign this contract."
The Super Tucano made its African skies debut in September 2011 when Burkina Faso received three A-29s. Since then, Angola, Mauritania, Mozambique and Senegal have joined the Super Tucano family, and now Ghana and Mali.
The Super Tucano is operated by 10 air forces in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. The company has a backlog of more than 210 firm orders and 190 aircraft have been delivered to customers to date.
The A-29's missions include light attack, aerial surveillance and counterinsurgency. It is equipped with a sensor system which includes an electro-optical / infrared system with a laser designator, night-vision goggles, secure communications and data-link packages.
Its principal armaments are one .50-caliber machine gun in each wing and five hard points which can carry a maximum external payload of 1,550 kilograms. It can also be armed with air-to-air missiles, bombs, rocket pods and gun pods.