Royal Thai Air Force Selects Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine For Light Attack Role

AT-6E N610AT
Textron Aviation Defense operates AT-6E N610AT (c/n AT-1) as a company demonstrator. Textron Aviation Defense.

Pitched against the Embraer Super Tucano, the Korea Aerospace Industries’ KA-1 and the Turkish Aerospace Industries’ Hurkuc C, the Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine has been selected by the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) to meet its light attack requirement. The RTAF evaluated flight performance and mission capabilities of each type in a series of flight demonstrations as the basis for its selection.

Air Marshal Pongsawat Jantasarn, chairman of the RTAF procurement committee said: “RTAF pilots and concerned parties found the attributes of the AT-6 procurement programme extremely favourable. It will also benefit both Thai and US mutual interests, strengthening the enduring strategic partnership between our nations.”

Textron Aviation Defense announced the $143.4 million contract for eight AT-6TH Wolverine aircraft, ground support equipment, spare parts, training, and other equipment on the opening day of the Dubai Airshow.

All eight AT-6TH aircraft are expected to be assigned to 411 Squadron, part of the 41st Wing based at Chiang Mai Air Base to support border security, anti-smuggling, counter-narcotics, and anti-human trafficking operations.

The RTAF is the international launch customer for the AT-6, the US Air Force’s latest light attack aircraft. One AT-6E (a former demonstrator aircraft delivered in December 2020) is in operation with Air Combat Command’s 81st Fighter Squadron based at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. A second brand new aircraft is scheduled to be delivered next month.

Textron Aviation Defense’s contract supports strategic and industrial policies of the Thai government: the modernisation and interoperability objectives of the mutual defence cooperation between the US and Thailand, and the growth of Thailand’s aerospace industry respectively. Last year, the RTAF published a white paper outlining a ten-year plan that detailed its S-Curve 11 strategy in which the service is using a purchase and development (P&D) approach for its key project requirements. This includes for technology transfer and support for the domestic defence industry and its development. Textron Aviation Defense has partnered with the RTAF and Thai Aviation Industries to share technology related to specific aircraft part production, aircraft wing and fuselage assembly and avionics modification. The AT-6TH configuration is unique to the RTAF but will field technology already operational in the AT-6 and other aircraft, resulting in a technology readiness level rating of 9-10.

AT-6THs will be equipped with both a data downlink currently in use by the RTAF and a separate video downlink compatible with the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver and other similar ground terminals used by Joint Terminal Attack Controllers. Textron Aviation Defense will build all eight AT-6TH aircraft at its facilities in Wichita, Kansas. RTAF pilot training will begin at Wichita in 2024 followed by service entry of the first aircraft later in the year. The RTAF and Thai government have not yet released details of any follow-on AT-6 purchases.

T-6TH: Production Near Completion

The AT-6TH contract follows on the tails of the RTAF’s $162 million contract awarded in October 2020 for 12 T-6TH Texan II trainer aircraft. In a slick marketing move on the opening day of the Dubai airshow, Textron Aviation Defense declared that all 12 T-6TH aircraft are near completion on the Wichita production line and surpassing technical inspection milestones ahead of schedule.

All 12 T-6TH aircraft will be assigned to the Royal Thai Air Force Flying Training School at Kamphaeng Saen Air Base where the first example is scheduled to be delivered in late 2022. Deliveries will conclude in early 2023. RTAF T-6THs will replace its remaining fleet of Aero L-39 Albatros aircraft.

Textron Aviation Defense will provide initial maintenance cadre training to the RTAF and the RTAF’s selected service provider for both T-6TH and AT-6TH. A Field Service Representative will also provide expert assistance to the RTAF maintenance organisation during the first two years of aircraft service.

AT-6TH Configuration

The AT-6TH’s configuration includes a 1,600 horsepower-rated Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68D turboprop engine (the T-6 trainer’s PT6 engine is rated at 1,100 horsepower), night vision goggle-compatible cockpits with a Lockheed Martin mission system (as per the A-10C) and HOTAS-style flight control sticks (as per the F-16), three multi-functional displays, an Esterline CMC 3000 flight management system, and Martin-Baker Mk16 0/0 ejection seats. In support of the light attack role, the AT-6TH is fitted with integrated armour around the engine, cockpit, and fuel collector tank, and can be fitted with a missile approach warning and countermeasure systems, and a radar warning system. It features a comprehensive communications suite including up to three secure multi-band ARC-210 radios, a data and voice capable beyond line-of-sight Iridium satellite radio, and both data and full-motion video capable line-of-sight datalink. Weapon targeting is supported by a Wescam MX-15Di EO/IR imaging system featuring an infrared six-step zoom camera, two colour daylight cameras, and laser designator, NVG visible illuminator, range finder and spot tracker.

The AT-6 can carry a wide variety of weapons that include HMP-400 0.50-caliber guns, AGM-114 Hellfire laser-guided missiles, APKWS 2.75-inch laser-guided rockets, GBU-12,500lb and GBU-58 250lb Paveway II laser-guided bombs, and the GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition.

by Mark Ayton