In January 2012, Hawker Beechcraft sold an initial order of 6 new T-6C+ military trainers to the Mexican Air Force (FAM), with deliveries to begin to “an advanced training base in Mexico’s northern region” in early 2012. This is almost certainly Santa Gertrudis, in Chihuahua. Terms were not disclosed, but Hawker Beechcraft also advertised the T-6C+ plane’s “[carriage of] external stores and delivering practice weapons for training purposes.”
Latin American aviation expert and author Inigo Guevara added some outside background into the sale, and its rationale. The FAM needs to replace its entire 66-plane Pilatus PC-7/9 fleet over the next decade or so. The FAM also needs planes that can respond to the information relayed by their new Integrated Air Surveillance System (SIVA) of aircraft and ground radars, since their fighter fleet is just a handful of aged F-5E/F jets. The T-6C+ planes are Mexico’s 1st step toward solving these problems.
Mexico’s T-6 Solution
Mexico’s Pilatus aircraft were used in combat against Zapatista guerrillas, and Switzerland banned further sales in 1995. That ban appears to have been lifted, as they delivered 2 PC-9Ms in 2006 as replacement aircraft. Nevertheless, Mexico’s aging fleet needs to be replaced.
T-6C+ planes with Heads-Up Display, Up-Front Control Panel, an integrated glass cockpit, and an advanced Esterline CMC Cockpit 4000 open architecture avionics suite appear to be Mexico’s choice. Of course, a plane that can mount “practice weapons” can also mount simple, low-weight real weapons like gun pods and small rocket pods. Those are quite sufficient against drug-running aircraft, and the growing trend toward precision-guided 70mm rockets could give Mexico’s FAM an entirely new set of precision-strike capabilities.
Most of Mexico’s neighbors have chosen Embraer’s EMB-314 Super Tucano for this trainer and light attack role. Its heavier construction, built-in guns, and more advanced weapons capabilities are all advantages, but its biggest advantage has been its availability as a tested dual-role plane.
HawkerBeechcraft has a long history with the FAM, and operates 2 factories in Chihuahua, Mexico. The AT-6’s recent loss of the American 20-plane LAS contract underlined the need to show a customer for the T-6 family’s dual-role potential, as well as the need for new T-6 customers. Mexico’s initial order is a step toward securing those jobs in Mexico.
It’s also true that T-6 aircraft are a less obvious escalation than a Super Tucano buy, and the tone of the HawkerBeechcraft releases suggested that Mexico was being very careful in its characterization of these planes.
Finally, there’s the American angle. T-6Cs offer commonality with American military flight training, and are a more obvious candidate for future aid-based purchases, like the Merida Initiative.
Beyond this initial buy, Mr. Guevara states that:
“[As far as I know], the T-6C+ is meant for tactical training and emergency air intercepts using a gunpod… the Mex AF wants an initial 10 for tactical training in Chihuahua (I would guess these 6 plus 4 options) and a further 20 to form two squadrons to begin immediate air sovereignty patrols over southeastern Mexico… [As an educated guess,] These may well be any of the AT-6 versions (my bet is on the AT-6B) and/or T-6C+. Those 30 are the first phase of the programme, a second phase will seek to acquire the other 36 or so.”
Contracts & Key Events
Aug 21/14: Delivery. Beechcraft delivers its 2 T-6C+ military trainers to the SEMAR, alongside 1 of the 4 King Air 350ERs ordered for the Mexican Navy’s ongoing fixed-wing aircraft modernization program. Sources: Textron, “Beechcraft delivers T-6C+ trainers, King Air 350ER to Mexican Navy”.
March 25/14: +2 Navy. Beechcraft announces an initial order from the Mexican Navy Secretaría de Marina (SEMAR) for 2 T-6C+ military trainers, as the first step in modernizing SEMAR’s fixed-wing aviation fleet. This brings Mexico’s T-6C+ orders to 14.
The Navy trainers are scheduled for delivery in the summer of 2014, and Beechcraft’s Global Mission Support is working on a related contract for 2 years of parts support, training for pilots and mechanics, and Field Service Representatives. Sources: Beechcraft, “Mexican Navy Places Initial Order for Beechcraft T-6C+ Trainers”.
2 Navy T-6C+
March 14/14: Merger. Textron Inc. closes its acquisition of Beech Holdings, LLC. It will combine its Cessna business and Beechcraft to form a new segment called Textron Aviation. The acquisition was announced on Dec 26/13, and terms were $1.4 billion in cash. Sources: Textron, “Textron Completes Acquisition of Beechcraft”.
Textron buys Beechcraft
Oct 24/13: +6 more. Beechcraft announced a follow-on sale of 6 more T-6C+ military trainers to the Mexican Air Force (FAM). They will be delivered “to an advanced training base in Mexico’s northern region in late 2013 after required export licenses are obtained.”
A related contract is being negotiated to include 2 years of parts support, and the placement of Field Service Representatives who back up and train FAM maintenance personnel. Sources: Beechcraft, Oct 24/13 release.
Mexico buys 6 more
Aug 24/12: Deliveries begin. Hawker Beechcraft Defense Co. announces that Mexico’s first 4 T-6C+ military trainers were delivered in a ceremony at Santa Lucia AFB in Reyes Acozac, Mexico. The remaining 2 aircraft are scheduled to be delivered in time for Mexico’s September 16th Independence Day celebration.
HBDC has become its own company, in anticipation of a buyout that would transfer the company’s civilian production to China’s Superior Aviation Beijing Co. That merger eventually fails, and the firm goes through a normal bankruptcy restructuring to emerge as a single firm: Beechcraft.
January 2012: AT-6 fires laser-guided rockets. A HawkerBeechcraft AT-6C turboprop light attack plane at Eglin AFB, fires laser-guided 70mm rockets in testing. The rockets come from BAE/GD (APKWS), Raytheon/EAI (TALON), and ATK/ELbit (GATR). ARKWS shots involved 2 rockets: an unguided round as a demonstration of safety and basic operation, followed by a guided shot from 3 miles that “successfully hit within inches of the center.” As an added demonstration, BAE Systems personnel added the APKWS mid-bodies and assembled the rockets on site. Time from beginning of assembly to flight and the successful shot was 3 hours.
The test is good news for BAE, the US Navy, and HawkerBeechcraft, but it’s also good news for Mexico. Their related T-6C+ trainers can carry rocket pods, and the T-6 family’s proven ability to fire laser-guided rockets makes the new planes more valuable. Integrated laser targeting isn’t present in the T-6C+, as it is from the L-3 MX-15i turret mounted in the AT-6C’s belly. On the other hand, targeting could be done from the ground for close-support missions, and time will tell whether a quick wing-mounted fix is produced for T-6s and similar planes. These kinds of solutions could also boost the T-6’s global popularity, which would be good news for HBC’s Mexican factory workers. BAE | HawkerBeechcraft | Aviation Week.
Jan 9/12: First 6 bought. Hawker Beechcraft announces that it had sold 6 new T-6C+ military trainers to the Mexican Air Force (FAM), with deliveries to begin to “an advanced training base in Mexico’s northern region” in early 2012.
Mexico buys 6