Top ten light attack aircraft

23 October 2019 (Last Updated January 29th, 2020 10:38)

Light attack aircraft play a crucial role in attacking hostile targets during low-intensity conflicts. Airforce Technology lists the top ten light attack/combat aircraft, based on the weapons carried, payload capacity, and performance.

Top ten light attack aircraft
TA-50 is a light attack aircraft/lead-in fighter trainer based on the T-50 trainer aircraft. Image courtesy of ROKAF.

1. KAI TA-50

The top ten light attack aircraft
TA-50 is a light attack aircraft/lead-in fighter trainer based on the T-50 trainer aircraft. Image courtesy of ROKAF.

The TA-50 is a light attack aircraft/lead-in fighter trainer version of the T-50 supersonic advanced trainer aircraft developed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) in collaboration with Lockheed Martin. The first TA-50 entered service with the Republic of the Korea Air Force (ROKAF) in 2011.

The aircraft carries a weapons load of up to 3,850kg, comprising a General Dynamics A-50 three-barrel rotary cannon, AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles, Hydra 70 and LOGIR rocket launchers, cluster bombs, and general-purpose bombs.

Powered by a General Electric F404-GE-102 turbofan engine, the aircraft can cruise at a maximum speed of 1,852km/h and reach a maximum distance of 1,850km.

2. Textron AirLand Scorpion

Textron AirLand conducted the maiden flight of the Textron Scorpion aircraft in December 2013. Image courtesy of Airwolfhound.

The Textron AirLand Scorpion is a light attack and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft offered by developed by Textron AirLand, a joint venture of Textron and AirLand Enterprises. The jet aircraft made its first flight in December 2013.

The Textron Scorpion has a maximum payload capacity of 4,173kg while its six wing-mounted hardpoints can carry up to 2,810kg of ordnance, including a gun, rockets, laser-guided missiles, infrared air-to-air-missiles, and other guided and unguided munitions.

Its power-plant integrates two Honeywell TFE731 turbofan engines, which offer a thrust of 18kN each. The aircraft can fly at a maximum speed of 833km/h and attain a range of 4,074km.

3. HAL Tejas

The top ten light attack aircraft
Tejas multi-role light combat aircraft (LCA) is operated by the Indian Air Force. Image courtesy of Venkat Mangudi.

Tejas is a multi-role light combat aircraft (LCA) developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy. The aircraft entered service with the IAF in July 2016.

The supersonic jet features eight hardpoints with a maximum payload capacity of 3,500kg. It can be armed with a 23mm twin-barrel cannon,, air-to-air, air-to-surface, and anti-ship missiles, precision-guided munitions, rockets and bombs.

The Tejas LCA is powered by a General Electric F404-GE-IN20 turbofan engine, which develops a maximum thrust of 90kN with afterburner. The power-plant enables the aircraft to fly at speeds up to 1,975km/h. The aircraft can attain a maximum range of 3,000km.

4. M-346FA

The top ten light attack aircraft
The M-346FA aircraft was launched by Leonardo at the 2017 Paris Air Show. Image courtesy of Anna Zvereva.

The M-346FA (Fighter Attack) is a light combat variant of the M-346 advanced jet trainer developed by Leonardo (formerly Alenia Aermacchi). Unveiled at the 2017 Paris Air Show, the M-346FA is being promoted as a light attack aircraft that can also be used for combat training.

The aircraft has seven hardpoints to carry guided and unguided air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons and other external loads, including gun, reconnaissance, and target acquisition pods weighing up to 3,000kg.

The M-346FA’s power-plant includes two Honeywell F124-GA-200 turbofan engines with a rated thrust of 28kN each. It ensures a maximum speed of 1,075km/h.

5. Hongdu L-15

The top ten light attack aircraft
Hongdu L-15 aircraft can carry multiple weapon systems weighing up to 3,000kg. Image courtesy of Xu Zheng.

The Hongdu L-15 is an advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft manufactured by Hongdu Aviation Industry Group (HAIG) for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The aircraft entered service with the PLAAF in 2010.

The Hongdu L-15 features six wing-mounted hardpoints, which can accommodate 3,000kg of payload. The aircraft can be armed with short-range air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, rocket pods and bombs.

It is equipped with two Ivchenko Progress AI-222K-25F afterburning turbofan engines. The power-plant ensures a maximum speed of 1,715km/h and a ferry range of 3,100km.

6. L-159 ALCA

The top ten light attack aircraft
The L-159 advanced light combat aircraft offers six under-wing hard-points. Image courtesy of Ragnhild&Neil Crawford.

The L-159 advanced light combat aircraft (ALCA) is a single-seat subsonic attack aircraft from Czech manufacturer AERO Vodochody. The first ALCA prototype made its maiden flight in August 1997 while the first aircraft entered service with the Czech Air Force in 2000.

The aircraft is primarily intended for light attack, reconnaissance, air defence, counter-insurgency, and patrol missions. The twin-seat configuration of the L-159 is designed for advanced flight training. The aircraft features six under-wing mountings, which can carry bombs, rocket launchers, and air-to-ground and air-to-air guided missiles.

Powered by an F124-GA-100 turbofan engine, the aircraft has a maximum take-off weight of 8,000kg and payload capacity of 2,340kg. Its maximum cruise speed is 936km/h and operation range with additional fuel tanks is 2,530km.

7. YAK-130

The top ten light attack aircraft
The Yakovlev Yak-130 combat aircraft has a maximum weapons payload capacity of 3,000kg. Image courtesy of Oleg V. Belyakov.

The Yakovlev Yak-130 is a twin-seat advanced jet trainer and light combat aircraft offered by Irkut Corporation. The subsonic aircraft entered service with the Russian Air Force in February 2010.

Primarily intended for advanced flight training, the aircraft can perform light-attack and reconnaissance missions. It provides nine external stations with a total payload capacity of 3,000kg. It can carry air-to-air missiles, smart bombs, aerial bombs, unguided rockets, and a gun pod.

The aircraft is powered by two Ivchenko-Progress AI-222-25 turbofan engines with a rated thrust of 24.52kN each. It can fly at a maximum speed of 1,060km/h and attain a maximum range of 2,100km.

8. L-39NG

The top ten light attack aircraft
L-39NG trainer and light attack aircraft made its first flight in December 2018. Image courtesy of AERO Vodochody AEROSPACE a.s.

L-39NG is a new trainer and light attack aircraft developed by Aero Vodochody primarily for the Czech Air Force. Based on the L-39 Albatros, the aircraft made its first flight in December 2018.

The jet aircraft is deployed in basic and advanced flight training, light combat, close air support, counter-insurgency, and reconnaissance missions. It features five external hardpoints, which can carry 1,640kg of payload, including a gun pod, air-to-air missiles, guided/unguided rockets, and bombs.

The L-39NG’s power-plant integrates an FJ44-4M turbofan engine, which has a maximum thrust rating of 16.87kN. The aircraft has a maximum speed of 780km/h and can attain a range of 2,130km with internal fuel.

9. AT-6 Wolverine

The top ten light attack aircraft
The AT-6 Wolverine can carry more than 13 general purpose and precision-guided munitions. Image courtesy of Textron Aviation Inc.

The AT-6 Wolverine is a light attack and armed reconnaissance solution being offered by Beechcraft.

The multi-mission aircraft is contending with the A-29 Super Tucano for the US Air Force’s light attack aircraft programme. It features seven hardpoints and can carry a maximum payload of 1,864kg, including more than 13 general purpose and precision munitions.

A Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68 turboprop engine coupled to a Hartzell four-bladed propeller powers the AT-6 Wolverine. The engine develops a maximum power of 1,177kW and enables the aircraft to fly at a maximum speed of 827km/h. The ferry range of the aircraft is 3,195km when fitted with four external fuel tanks.

10. Embraer A-29 Super Tucano

The top ten light attack aircraft
The EMB 314 Super Tucano can be armed with gun pods, missiles, precision-guided munitions, and bombs. Image courtesy of the US Air Force.

The EMB 314 Super Tucano, also known as A-29 Super Tucano, is a turboprop light attack aircraft offered by Embraer to meet the light combat requirements of the armed forces worldwide. It is a successor of the EMB 312 Tucano trainer.

The primary operators of the aircraft include the air forces of Brazil, Colombia, Afghanistan, Chile, Ecuador, and Indonesia. The A-29 Super Tucano carries a range of ordnance weighing up to 1,550kg, including gun pods, air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, precision-guided munitions and bombs.

The aircraft is equipped with a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68C turboprop engine driving a Hartzell five-bladed propeller. The engine develops enough power to attain a maximum speed of 593km/h, while the external fuel tanks ensure a maximum range of 3,056km.