Recently, the US Army was in quite a conundrum. It's National Guard inventory consisted of aging UH-1 Huey and OH-58A/C Kiowa aircraft, with UH-60 Blackhawks--badly needed in Iraq and Afghanistan--often filling their roles. Clearly, a new Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) was needed.
After testing a number of models, the Army, surprisingly, picked the proven Eurocopter 145. Renamed the LUH-72A, the "Lakota", as it's officially known, performs homeland defense, search-and-rescue, light medevac, VIP transport, and observer/controller duties. Pilots love the 6-million dollar aircraft, which sports a digital avionics package which rivals those of the latest CH-47F and UH-60M model helicopters. The Lakota will even reportedly fly an entire instrument approach down to a 10-foot hover.
It's part of a larger trend within the US military. Fighter designs such as the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II are soaring well over $100 million per copy. Yet, the F-22, which entered service in 2007, still hasn't flown a combat mission in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead of these expensive stealth fighters, American troops are asking for inexpensive, low-tech aircraft which can loiter over the battlefield and drop ordnance right on top of insurgents.
That might mean the return of prop-driven ground-pounding aircraft like the A-1 Skyraider, T-6 Texan, OV-10 Bronco, or even the PA-48 Enforcer (a highly modified P-51 Mustang). More likely, though, it might mean Brazil's Embraer A-29 "Super Tucano". Armed with a .50-cal machine gun, 20mm cannons, a rocket pod, and pylons for air-to-ground bombs and air-to-air missiles, the Super Tucano can fly low enough to deliver amazing firepower in support of ground troops, all for $9 million per copy. Just the thing for Iraq or Afghanistan. That's a lot more than can be said for a $180 million stealth fighter.