Powering combat missions

Wendy Stocker Armed Conflicts, Conventional Weapons

Sidebar to “Canadian aircraft engines sent to countries at war” by Kenneth Epps and Brockenshire Lemiski

The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 34 Issue 1 Spring 2013

The following three cases provide evidence that aircraft powered by Canadian-built engines were used in combat despite government guidelines that call for “close control” of such exports.1

From 1975 to 2002 Angola endured a civil war between government armed forces and the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Human Rights Watch (1999) reported that Angola purchased six Brazilian-made EMB-312 ‘Tucano’ aircraft in October 1998 for $15-million (U.S.), following a private visit by Angolan President dos Santos to Brazil in August 1998. Originally developed for the Brazilian Air Force, more than 500 Tucano aircraft have been sold worldwide. Two hard points under each wing allow the aircraft to carry weapons. The Tucano is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-25C engine (Airforce-technology.com 2012a).

In September 1999 the Angolan Armed Forces launched an offensive against the UNITA forces in Bailundo. The Africa Research Bulletin (1999) reported that UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was “unsettled by the government onslaught” and UNITA leaders “admit[ted] that the government’s Brazilian EMB-312 Tucano jets, flying from Catombela airbase in Benguela Province, have hit hard.”  

Chad has hosted a low-level conflict for more than 25 years. In 2006 fighting in the Darfur region of Sudan spread into southeast Chad, causing tension between the two countries. In June 2006 the Chadian Air Force bought one PC-9 aircraft from Swiss manufacturer Pilatus. The PC-9 “can be modified to carry up to 1,040 kg … of ordnance” (Defense Industry Daily 2008) and is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-62 engine (Pilatus n.d.). The sale was approved by the Swiss government under the condition that the aircraft be used only to train pilots (Defense Industry Daily 2008).

In 2008 the Swiss government stated that the PC-9 was suspected of participating in a January 2008 attack in Sudanese territory. The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs said that the aircraft had “very probably” been refitted to carry weapons (Swissinfo.ch 2008), in contravention of Swiss export regulations.

Colombia has hosted armed conflict between the government and rebel forces for nearly 40 years. The largest and oldest rebel group is Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

In December 2005 Brazilian manufacturer Embraer signed a contract with the Colombian Air Force for 25 EMB-314 “Super Tucano” aircraft. According to the Embraer press release, the aircraft’s intended use was “internal security and border patrol missions.”

The Super Tucano is characterized as a “light attack and counter-insurgency aircraft” (Airforce-technology.com 2012b). It is capable of flying at faster speeds and higher altitudes than its predecessor, the EMB-312 Tucano. Onboard computers include weapons-aiming and -management software; the aircraft is equipped with five hard points for external weapons. The Super Tucano is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68A engine.

In 2008 the Colombian Air Force flew a Super Tucano into Ecuador to bomb a FARC encampment. The FARC second-in-command was killed. The attack led to a diplomatic break between Colombia and Ecuador as well as an increase in arms imports by Ecuador (including an order for 18 Super Tucanos). Another FARC commander was killed in an attack in September 2010, when Super Tucanos dropped more than seven tonnes of explosives (Defence Review Asia 2012). In July 2012 United Press International reported that a Super Tucano was shot down by the FARC. Although this claim has been disputed, multiple sources confirm that the crash occurred during military operations against FARC rebels (Stone 2012).  

1. Details on the three armed conflicts are taken from Project Ploughshares’ Armed Conflicts Report. 

Africa Research Bulletin. 1999. Bailundo Falls. Vol. 36, No. 10, pp. 1-2.

Airforce-technology.com. 2012a. EMB-312 Tucano Trainer Aircraft, Brazil.

_____. 2012b. EMB-314 Super Tucano / ALX trainer and light attack aircraft, Brazil.

Defence Review Asia. 2012. Super Tucano leads the flock. October 22.

Defense Industry Daily. 2008. Swiss kerfuffle over Chad’s use of Pilatus aircraft. January 23.

Embraer. 2005. Contract introduces Super Tucano into international market. December 8.

Human Rights Watch. 1999. IX. Arms trade and embargo violations. Angola Unravels: The Rise and Fall of the Lusaka Peace Process.

Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. n.d. PC-9 MAdvanced Turbo Trainer.

Stone, Hannah. 2012.  Did the FARC shoot down Colombian war plane? InSightCrime, July 16.

Swissinfo.ch. 2008. Chad likely armed Swiss-made aircraft. January 17.

United Press International. 2012. Colombia air force aircraft shot down. July 12.



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