A recent photo has shown the IA-58H, AX-561, re engine prototype leaving the paint shop with a new air superiority camouflage. This aircraft over a year ago suspended its flight tests to complete the analysis on the works done by FAdeA with engineering assistance of Israel Aircraft Industries to replace the obsolete Turbomeca Astazou XVI-G engines for new Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-A62. With assistance from Israel Aircraft Industries, this meant to redesign the wing and to request Hartzell's development of a beta control, necessary to reverse the propeller.
Upon this much delayed work, some sources in the Ministry of Defense, have disclosed rumors of an intended request of from 3 to less than a dozen aircraft to be serviced and reengined, but nothing yet of more complex works on the remaining fleet. This engine replacement would only address one (still very important) aspect of a valid combat aircraft well within the 21st century. Except for some comms upgrades and commercial GPS navigation aids, the Pucara still holds the avionics and weapons systems as it was designed in the late 1960s. Some express confidence in the aircraft due to its ruggedness, small caliber resistance and low flight performance but still with no redundancies due to its cable-controlled commands, even less for electronic countermeasures, active or passive missile protection.
Most likely, due to the financial and political instability of the defense expenditure and the military-industrial complex in Argentina, these technical challenges can come too expensive, too late or might never even come at all. Meanwhile, these aircraft continue to be taken out of service and many of them scrapped or sent as memorials all over the country. With particular complaints of those who know that they can be refitted and have a structural health with lots of flights hours to go, this fact is countered by the fact that all Pucaras are practically unique and a fleet size refit and conversion should prove labor intensive.
Among the reengine and complete upgrade proposals for this COIN aircraft, little has been done in replacing many of its obsolete components and provide a modern set of avionics and displays. A rudimentary indigenous navigation and avionics display was tested on aircraft A-568 to be refitted on active aircraft but the proposal fell short and supposedly has been discarded. Indeed, is urgent to replace obsolete and unsupported avionics and instruments. It has been proposed a complete military upgrade with Full Glass Cockpit equipment used in the IA-63 Pampa III trainer, definitely an expensive conversion, considering other COTS cockpits, even Enstrom’s in use on the Air Force’s Texan II, a derivative of Paramount’s SWIFT suite or even a partial upgrade with TekFusion’s ARES kit.
The EO/IR pod development will be built based on the FV-300 by the argentine company, FixView. This company worked on commission from INVAP to develop a 5 ax EO/IR stabilized platform when INVAP’s own turned out to be obsolete in comparison to their developments. After signing off, FixView and INVAP found themselves competing in all security and defense related bids asking for such platforms. Another source claimed that the suite will not be indigenous, such as the case as the StarSafire platforms integrated in recently received Bell 412EP and provided by Gelman. On the other hand, one true possibility would be to fully upgrade the Pucara exclusively to be exported. But reasonable doubts can appear while considering even that with funding, many of the issues that rely on FAdeA’s capabilities will turn in delays and cost overruns due to the extension of the upgrade and with no guarantee of a conclusive and effective variant and still with no smart munitions’ integration.
This move on the conversion from Counter Insurgency (COIN) to an Observation platform would mark a swansong for the Pucara. These time consuming works and with scarce resources, the Air Force may consider a complementary force of light attack and ISR capable UAS to operate with a larger number of Texans, instead of requesting a specific light attack variant such as the Textron Wolverine and even options such the use of IA-63 Pampas, the acquisition of Textron’s Scorpion or a lighter platform similar to ADC/Paramount’s MWARI.
Most reasonably, the Argentine Air Force should concentrate its limited resources in completing the “+” modification so the recently incorporated T-6C Texan II can perform its armed trainer duties as they intended. Upon reception of 10 of 12 T-6C, the Air Force, diverted its EMB-312 Tucano trainers from training duties to armed policing in the argentine northeast. The Tucanos took over the place left by the lack of enough serviceable Pucaras. With no armament on board, the Air Force, certified its Colibri 7.62 mm pods already in use in the IA-63 Pampas, to equip the Tucanos. But these 30-year-old Tucanos, as the Pucaras, won’t be eternal and this will only buy some more time, as always has.