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Jordan is upgrading its Air Tractors for precision-strike
December 15, 2019
The IOMAX Archangel. Based on the Air Tractor AT-802, the Archangel is specially equipped for counterinsurgency warfare. Capable of deploying 4000kg in various air-to-ground munitions, including precision-guided bombs, it is being marketed as an affordable and durable COIN asset. Photo credit - IOMAX

Jordan is upgrading its Air Tractors for precision-strike

By Bilal Khan

The Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) is upgrading its six IOMAX Archangel Block-1 to Block-2 standards, enabling the turboprop-powered attack aircraft to carry INS/GPS precision-guided bombs (PGB).

The IOMAX Archangel is a heavily modified version of the Air Tractor AT-802, a lightweight turboprop-powered aircraft originally designed for firefighting and agricultural pest-control.

With the growing demand for dedicated counterinsurgency (COIN) aircraft that are cheap to operate and able to deploy precision-guided munitions, the Air Tractor AT-802 was repurposed into an attack aircraft.

IOMAX adopted the Air Tractor AT-802 and developed a heavily modified attack variant – the Archangel. Air Tractor and L-3 Communications also developed a COIN-centric version – the AT-802U. Despite sharing the same core platform and role as the Archangel, the AT-802U is a very different system.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) gifted six IOMAX Archangels to the RJAF in 2013. The RJAF also acquired four Air Tractor/L-3-built AT-802U from the U.S. (these were originally meant for Yemen).

As noted above, the Archangel and AT-808U are different platforms, even though they are derived from the same original design. The RJAF is only upgrading the six IOMAX Archangel aircraft.

Once complete, these aircraft will be able to carry a 250kg satellite-aided precision-guided bomb, enabling it to hit reinforced targets. In addition, the IOMAX AT-802s will also carry Cirit laser-guided rockets.

The Cirit is produced by the Turkish munitions company Roketsan. It can be deployed from various platforms, from fixed-wing aircraft such as the Air Tractor to attack helicopters such as the AH-1F Cobra, which Jordan also operates. The Cirit is a good low-cost solution, especially for moving targets.

Over the past several years, Jordan has sought to build its ability to engage in COIN, especially with the use of specialized aerial platforms. The Air Tractor program is merely one weapon in Jordan’s arsenal, it also operates CN-235 and CN-295s configured as close air support (CAS) gunships.

Like its contemporaries, such as the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, the Archangel and AT-802U are being marketed as low-cost high capability COIN assets. The basic idea behind these aircraft is that despite being much cheaper to procure and operate, they can deploy the same precision-guided air-to-ground bombs and missiles as a much more expensive (and capable) multi-role fighter jet.

In COIN, the idea of being able to save on operational costs, and then channel the savings towards higher sortie rates against non-state actors – who are generally dispersed, well-embedded, and fast-moving – is enticing for militaries looking to make full use of their air superiority in such combat environments.

That said, there are drawbacks. Despite their apparent cost-savings, COIN platforms still require resource commitment, and in some cases those resources could be drawn from developing defences for external conventional threats. While these COIN platforms may be valuable against non-state actors with minimal or non-existent anti-air warfare capabilities, they have limited utility against conventional militaries.

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