Jordan’s Pocket Gunships: Converted CN-235sFeb 21, 2011 18:43 UTC by Defense Industry Daily staff
In February 2011, with unrest engulfing the Middle East, ATK announced a project with Jordan to turn 2 Jordanian CN-235 light transport aircraft into small aerial gunships.
The aircraft would pack electro-optical targeting systems that include a laser designator, aircraft self-protection equipment, and a weapons suite of Hellfire laser-guided missiles, 70mm/2.75 inch rockets (which could include laser guided rockets), and the same M230 link-fed 30mm chain gun that equips AH-64 Apache helicopters. The weapons are all controlled by ATK’s STAR mission system, turning the CN-235s into lethal but relatively inexpensive counter-insurgency platforms…
The Gunship Opportunity
Aerial gunships are extremely useful in a number of military scenarios, but most involve internal security, counter-insurgency, and special forces work. Their slow speed and regular flight patterns while firing can make them very vulnerable to air defenses, which sharply limits their usefulness in full scale warfare. On the other hand, they can be devastating against insurgents with few to no air defense systems.
US Special Operations Command AC-130H Spectre and AC-130U Spooky gunships are the best known examples of this type, but at over $100 million apiece, their price tag is a bit steep for most countries. It’s even a bit steep for US SOCOM, who saw the need to expand their gunship fleet. That could have created a ready-made lower-budget gunship for the global market, but US SOCOM’s efforts to field an AC-27J Stinger variant of the USAFs forthcoming C-27J Spartan light transport was never funded. Instead, roll-on weapon kits are being developed for some of their larger Hercules aircraft, notably the MC-130W Combat Spear (which becomes the Combat Dragon when armed). The US Marines have a similar program for their KC-130J aerial tanker/ transports, known as “Harvest Hawk.”
A number of countries around the world operate C-130s, which could make roll-on arms kits very attractive on the global market. Jordan’s is one of those C-130 operators, but this move to co-develop a gunship based on a smaller aircraft that’s popular around the world could open up a strong niche for them, too. Especially in their own region. At least, they hope so. ATK, meanwhile, sees a wide global reach for EADS-CASA’s CN-235 family, and sees opportunity all around the world.
Contracts & Key Events
Feb 19/11: ATK announces the co-development agreement with Jordan’s King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB). ATK’s scope of work includes development, systems integration, aircraft modification, and testing. Work will be performed in Jordan, and at ATK facilities in Fort Worth, TX, Mesa, AZ and Pelham, AL. Subject to U.S. government export licensing approval, the modified aircraft are expected to be delivered by the late spring of 2013.
One interesting angle here is that various “order of battle” databases do not list any existing Jordanian CN-235s. 3 squadron flies a pair of larger EADS-CASA C-295Ms out of King Abdullah AB in Amman, and the same base reportedly holds Prince Hashim Bin Abdullah II Aviation Brigade’s 31 squadron and its AN-32B special operations aircraft, but CN-235s are not listed. A pair of CN-235s were reportedly rented for a while from Turkey, and a set of 2006 reports discussed the kingdom’s reported interest in buying 2 from co-developer Digiranta in Indonesia, but the fate of that deal was never announced. If a quiet deal hasn’t already been done, Jordan’s challenge would be to arrange a fast enough delivery to maintain the conversion project’s spring 2013 schedule.
The joint release acknowledges that KADDB has never done an aircraft modification, but they hope to create a project with sales appeal throughout the region. ATK’s Special Mission Aircraft product portfolio has included a variety of surveillance platforms, but the gunship is a step beyond for them, too. ATK Missile Products Group President Mike Kahn says the firm sees opportunities in Asia and Latin America for similar capabilities, and has had some initial discussions, but the contract with Jordan will be the stepping stone:
“This is really the first step. Countries without a big budget but with a need for some light attack capability on either their existing aircraft, or to modify aircraft that they are buying, will have the option with our package. It is a cost-competitive option as we can work with a wide variety of aircraft.”