Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Super Tucanos

The head of the Honduran Armed Forces, General René Arnoldo Osorio Canales wants to buy 4 "Super Tucano" Embraer EMB-314 light attack aircraft. Everyone in Central America appears to be buying Super Tucanos and General Osorio doesn't want to be left out. Guatemala is expected to buy 8, El Salvador 6, Nicaragua 3, and Panama 4. The US has proposed to buy 100 of these for counterinsurgency operations. Even Honduras's model for everything security related, Colombia, has 25 Super Tucanos. Osorio also wants to buy helicopters and fast naval launches.

Osorio wants 8 "Super Tucanos" but because of the economic crisis in Honduras he'll settle for 4. The Secretary of Defense, Marlon Pascua, has asked the United States to donate 4 others, along with helicopters.

He proposes to buy these for slightly more than $40 million dollars with funds that will come to him from the new "Ley de Seguridad Poblacional" which promises to funnel lots of money to the Armed Forces and National Police, if it survives legal challenges. The "Ley de Seguridad Poblacional" is expected to bring in around 1,500 million lempiras this year alone. The entire purchase price of 4 Super Tucanos is around 760 million lempiras, or slightly more than half the expected receipts.

Honduras bought 12 Embraer EMB-312 Tucanos, the predecessor to the Super Tucano, in 1984, but virtually everyone who bought that model that long ago has retired them, or is in the process of retiring them. Repair parts are hard to get. When Honduras brought this up with Brazil, they suggested Honduras buy the Super Tucanos. It is unknown how many of Honduras's original fleet of 12 Tucanos are still flying, but one recently crashed in Comayagua.

How do the two aircraft compare? Both aircraft have the same wingspan, but the Super Tucano has a longer fuselage (about 1.5 meters longer), a much more powerful engine, and as a result, a slightly reduced operating range. It can carry slightly less payload (1200 lbs versus 1300 lbs), but can fly 100 kph faster than the Tucano. Despite being of Brazilian manufacture, over 70% of the parts are American. The speed and agility, and armaments are the keys to its success in drug interdiction missions.

The General explained that the main use of these aircraft will be in drug interdiction (forcing drug aircraft to land, not shooting them down). After the Dominican Republic bought and deployed its fleet of Super Tucanos, and used them to intercept drug flights, drug runners stopped overflying the Dominican Republic according to Time Magazine.

Unfortunately, these aircraft are built to order with at least a two year lead time. Even if it ordered them today, it would be 2013 or 2014 before they could be delivered, and still longer before they could have an effect on drug trafficking in Honduras.

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