- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, recently sent an urgent request to the Pentagon’s Joint Staff to speed up deployment of four new light attack aircraft needed by special operations commandos for airstrikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The request was stalled after Congress blocked funds for the classified project, code-named Imminent Fury.

“An August 2009 Centcom [request for forces] for four aircraft in support of SOF forces conducting operations against al Qaeda and Taliban senior leadership in Afghanistan was not fulfilled and remains open,” Gen. McChrystal stated in a May 20 memorandum to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Click here to view Gen. McChrystal’s letter (PDF)

The turboprop aircraft are built on the Brazilian Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano airframe and will be fitted with 250-pound laser-guided bombs and other weapons. They also will carry high-tech intelligence and surveillance gear.

Gen. McChrystal said the planes “will fill this capability gap by leveraging uniquely qualified and experienced aircrew with increased agility of a survivable light attack aircraft integrated with sensors and weapons systems necessary to conduct critical find, fix and finish operations against [al Qaeda] and Taliban networks.”

The planes also will support the “critical need” for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in support of surging ground forces in Afghanistan, the four-star general said.

“The immediate deployment of the Imminent Fury team into Afghanistan will validate the concept while simultaneously providing a rapid means to help meet urgent theater demands,” Gen. McChrystal said.

According to defense officials, a request to reprogram $44 million in Navy funds to lease four Super Tucanos was made to Congress and turned down in April for reasons that remain unclear.

Suspicion is focused on pork-barrel politics. Specifically, the military was told there was no requirement for the aircraft or that the requirement was not clear, claims that would appear to be contradicted by Gen. McChrystal’s letter.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who sits on the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, is said to be behind the holdup. According to the defense officials, Mr. Brownback is delaying the funds so that a Kansas-manufactured competitor aircraft, the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6B, which has not been certified for military use, can be further developed and ultimately compete with the Super Tucano.

Spokesmen for Mr. Brownback did not return telephone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

Mr. Brownback and Rep. Todd Tiahrt, also a Kansas Republican, wrote to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in November to voice their objections to a Pentagon plan to buy 100 Super Tucanos. They stated that the buy would upset an Air Force review of light attack aircraft. They also stated that a “substantial investment” was made already in the AT-6B.

One Imminent Fury aircraft was already combat-certified in U.S. tests, and similar aircraft are already in use by South American militaries, including in Colombia, where it was proved successful in nighttime bombing raids against communist FARC narco-rebels.

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