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Recently, there has been a rising demand for low-cost, combat-capable aircraft that is able to perform a range of missions in an unchallenged environment, as an alternative to costlier fighter jets.  

Turboprops are an extension of basic military trainers or civilian-use planes and are growing in popularity as they are affordable and can perform major missions delivering more power and efficiency at slower flying speeds and costing a fraction that of fighter jets, according to defenseworld.net.

Among their advantages, turboprops outweigh armed drones and helicopters in performance as they are able to carry a heavier payload and fly higher and longer than either of them.

Turboprop engines make less noise than jet engines, cost less than jet engines because of high-temperature metallurgy and have the least environmental chemistry impact from fuel consumption versus payload.

However, they are vulnerable to shoulder-fired missiles, anti-aircraft artillery and even light unguided weapons as they fly low and slow. This limits their use to situations where the adversary is not equipped with air defence systems.

Places that now fly them, or are expected to do so, include Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco and Venezuela and the United States.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have highlighted the need in planes that can fly low and help in better targeting rather than fighter jets that fly high and fast and attack large targets in a challenged environment.

The low logistical requirement of turboprop aircraft makes them suitable for airfields that are too short or rough for jet fighter and attack aircraft, or too dangerous to support with large quantities of fuel.

Embraer had built a propeller-driven plane specially made for the close-in aerial fighting. Famously known as A-29 Super Tucano, it was capable of flying and fighting from less than 1,000 feet above the ground. With potential US Air Force interest in light attack aircraft, a number of manufacturers have put forth existing and potential products for consideration.

Early this month, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and Embraer Defense & Security  announced that they would be sending their A-29 light attack aircraft to the US Air Force’s evaluation. Same month, Textron Aviation sent out a notice that it’s AT-6 Wolverine and Scorpion aircraft were slated to take part in the tests.

Additional examples include the Alenia Aermacchi SF-260, a turboprop version of the SF-260 light trainer / attack aircraft designed to provide cost-effective primary and basic training to pilots even in adverse weather conditions. The KAI KA-1 is a light attack aircraft indigenously developed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) for the country’s air force. A-29 Super Tucano, the most widely deployed modern turboprop light attack aircraft in the world, with Brazil and Columbia as its most experienced users. The Beechcraft AT-6 Coyote is a single engine turboprop light attack aircraft.