I got a big chuckle today when I read this story in the Wall Street Journal and did some subsequent research on the "Air Truck" that is stealing the press from the Paris Air Show this year. The Journal puts it best when it notes that A&D companies "are trying to capitalize on the growing appeal of low-cost planes packed with high-tech surveillance gear and weapons. These planes are suddenly in vogue as the costliest warplanes are falling out of favor at the Pentagon." In other words, cheap is in. Expensive is out.
The Air Truck AT-802U is essentially a flying crop duster (it looks the part as well). But this one packs a punch -- enough payload to support four tons of firepower. Another article covering the story notes that the Paris Air Show variant of the 210 MPH tactical aircraft "will be configured with dual 12.7 mm GAU-19/A three barrel Gatling guns, M260 rocket launchers and representative MK-82 bomb". Now that's some serious firepower for a plane that looks more like an armored Cessna -- complete with non re-tractable landing gear -- than anything else.
Without question, it's unlikely that this Air Truck will ever take center stage in a modern military as the centerpiece of a program designed to achieve air superiority. But at what I'm estimating is between 1/20th and 1/50th the cost of the tactical jets that are usually on display in Paris, it's a bargain that represents a new type of Spend Management thinking in defense contracting. Pesky crop critters should be afraid. As should the bad guys, who will have to try a lot harder to break the banks of their attackers when they're trying to shoot down planes that are swooping in. Compared to the $137.5 million Raptor (or even a F-16 at under $20 million), the Air Truck no doubt represents a bargain in cheap firepower.