T-6C Texan II Sale Possible for Tunisia

 - October 15, 2019, 8:21 PM
Tunisia is seeking to buy the T-6C export version of the Texan II. (Photo: Textron Aviation Defense)

The U.S. State Department has approved a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of 12 Textron Aviation Beechcraft T-6C Texan II trainers to Tunisia at an estimated cost of $234 million, including related spares, ground support equipment, and support. Implementation of the sale would require nine U.S. government personnel and one contractor representative to be sent to Tunisia. The prime contractor will be Textron Aviation Defense of Wichita, Kansas. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) delivered the required certification notifying Congress of the possible sale on October 10.

The DSCA said that the proposed sale is intended to provide a replacement for “Tunisia’s aging trainer fleet” and to allow Tunisia to continue to train pilots for counter-terrorism and border security missions. For the U.S., the potential sale is expected to further strengthen the bilateral relationship with Tunisia and to provide additional opportunities for bilateral engagements. The acquisition is intended to improve the defensive capabilities and capacity of what the U.S. views as a major non-NATO ally and an important force for political stability and economic progress in North Africa.

The T-6 was originally developed to meet the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System requirement. The T-6C is an upgraded export variant, combining the digital glass cockpit of the T-6B with underwing hardpoints. The aircraft has a modern head-up display, upfront control panel, three multifunction displays, and hands-on-throttle-and-stick controls in each cockpit, and has an embedded synthetic air-to-ground and air-to-air training capability.

This equipment is all representative of the systems and capabilities of current front-line fast jets, although not of Tunisia’s elderly Northrop F-5E fighters, which have legacy analog cockpits. Selection of the T-6C may indicate that recapitalization of the front-line fighter fleet is also imminent.

The Al Quwwat al-Jawwiya al-Jamahiriyah At'Tunisia (Tunisian air force) operates a number of aircraft types in the training role, though several of them also have an operational commitment. Between 1974 and 1978 the air force received nine Siai-Marchetti SF-260CTs and 12 SF-260WT Warriors, the latter having underwing hardpoints allowing them to be armed, if required. About 18 SF-260s remain in use with Nos 13 and 14 Squadrons at Sfax-Thyna, with the SF-260WTs concentrated within No. 13 Squadron. Though used as basic trainers, the aircraft also have light utility and liaison roles.

Tunisian student pilots then move on to the Aermacchi MB-326, about 10 of which serve with No. 11 Squadron at Sidi Ahmed. Tunisia received eight MB-326Bs in 1965, augmenting them with five MB-326LTs and seven single-seat MB-326KT light attack aircraft in 1977. The 12 T-6Cs are most likely to replace these aging machines, filling the gap between the SF-260 and the nine surviving Aero L-59Ts (of 12 delivered) that equip No. 16 Squadron at Gafsa and operate in the lead-in fighter training and light attack roles.

A true light attack aircraft would be a useful addition to the Tunisian air force inventory, and there have been suggestions that the proposed T-6C purchase could pave the way for acquisition of the AT-6B Wolverine. The Wolverine is a dedicated light attack derivative of the T-6 and a candidate to meet the USAF’s long-running Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance requirement. The AT-6B is structurally reinforced and powered by an uprated 1,600-shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68D engine.