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segunda-feira, 4 de abril de 2016

Some considerations on the interception of light aircraft in Portugal

The idea that armed forces are only for war in XXI century is ridiculous. Today there's a huge number of missions to the military, that goes from public service missions to humanitarian missions, and of course internal security missions.  One of them is help the police with the fight against drug trafficking, in land, sea or in this case, air. 

Fig.1 - A Cessna 152 from Portimão Aero Club. Light and ultraligh aircraft are some thousands in Portugal.

Of course not all the lost or out of route light and slow aircraft are in unlawful activities. But the most of them are. So it is a job for the air force, and in this case for the Portuguese  Air Force.  And what plane to use? Well, FAP (Força Aérea Portuguesa), has two fighter jets: F16 MLU and Alpha Jet. But all the interceptions are made by the F16, armed with sidewinder/Aim 120 missiles and internal gun M61A1, and the question that we make is: A March 2 fighter, with all this arsenal, is not to much for a light plane with a speed of 200 mph? 

Fig.2- Another problem in Portugal is the increase of light aircrafts in the narcotrafic. Since 2007 at least 30 of them crashed.

And the price of the mission ? The fuel used? The maintenance? But most important the efficacy? Several times ligh aircrafts escape to fighter and with 30 falls of small planes since 2007 it is a fact that the interception of this types by FAP and EAE (Exercito d'el ar espanhol) is far to be 100% of success. So perhaps there's a need for some modifications in this missions and in the type of airplanes to used when there´s situations were is not a fighter or a bomber to give the alert.

Fig.3 - The FAP has received 32 Cessna 337 in December o 1974. But in 2009 all of them were out of service. This type of plane is very good for intercept ligh aircraft, armed with rockets or guns pod.

If we were talking up until 2009, a fine plane for the interception of ligh planes was the prop 337 Skymaster. But this model is no longer in use and FAP not replaced him by an armed training aircraft. Super Tucano was a good option but the airforce in 1989 buy the TB30 Epsilon, also a prop but only with an armed version for Togo in service since 1984. Apparently one situations that is reality since 2007 was not considered when the 337 was taken out of service, with another plane  to ut in service or arming other Fap aircraft.

Fig.4 - FAP Alpha jet is an option against ligh aircraft. Armed with a Mauser 27mm guns pod his more than enought. But today the Alpha Jet is used only for instruction.

First the Fap models. The Alpha jet is a very interesting subsonic jet for this role. It is armed with a Gun Pod Mauser 27 mm, and for example some versions have the hypothesis of air to air missiles like the Matra Magic. But better is the Tb30 Epsilon from Socata mounted by OGMA (só OGMA have the certification to make the changes to put thins unarmed version of Epsilon armed). The Togo version can be armed with rockets, machine gun pods and bombs, and technically the french and portuguese versions can be changed to carry armament. With a toop speed of 378 km/h and a range about 1 300 km it is a cheap and reliable for a small nation like Portugal.

Fig.5 - The  standart fighter in FAP is the F16 MLU. In this image one of them intercept a Russian Tu95 in International Waters off Portugal. But a F16 is a bit too much for light aircraft. Some of them have escape to the portuguese fighters in a number of  occasions.

A new plane? The best is Super Tucano produced by Embraer that have a factory in Évora, Portugal. A suberb CAS and a experient interceptor in Brasil against drug barons and their ligh planes. It is also a fine trainer. The potential for Super Tucano in FAP is huge, but Portugal have less than 1,3% of Pib for the Arméd Forces. Helicopters like Alouette III are in service since the 60's and C130H are in a modernizations process for more 10 years in service. So, the best option is to used what Portugal have. Some of the 337 were put in fly conditions an offered to Mozanbique, so maybe it is possible to recovered 4 or 5 to make the interception of ligh planes. The Alphajet is another good solutions and has a jet and it can save the F16 for NATO type missions. But best is the armed Socata Tb30 Epsilon. Reliable, cheep and and a possible high efficiencly solution when other countries use up until helicopters. The only problem is  lack of faith of some Generals, from Portugal to USA, in ligh armed aircraft in a type of missions, since cas to interception. But that, is a matter for another article. 

Fig.7 - The Tb30 Epsilon of FAP. Portuguese Air force have . In more than 25 years of operations none of the 16 in use never have been armed.

Fig.8 - Another french Epsilon armed. Most of the modern air force doesn't like prop planes (Brasil and Argentina are exeptions), but if they use a trainer armed only when they need for example intercept light planes, maybe they undestain the importance of this light armed planes in lots of missions, like peace time or in low level scenarios.
Fig.9 - A French Epsilon with rocket matra pods.   

Fig. 10 - A technology demonstrador from the company. This Epsilon is armed with four Matra Rocket Pods
Fig. 11 - Schematics from a TB 30 armed with two machine gun pods

Fig.12 - Cockpit of a Tb30 Epsilon from FAP

Fig.13 - FAP had the T38 Talon. This one is equiped with a weapons pod and it is from a light number modified in USAF, call the At38. At least one was armed like this in 
Portugal. The type is no longer in use.

Fig.Fig.14 - A T37 and a A37. Portugal had the first but not the armed version. Today some nations use the A37 to intercepted small planes. T37 is no longer in use at Portugal.

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