A Proposed Super Tucano Sale to Lebanon Exposes Wider ALE-47 ECM Sales Opportunities

by C. Zachary Hofer, Electronic Systems Analyst, Forecast International.

The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency recently announced the State Department’s approval to sell six Embraer A-29 Super Tucano aircraft to Lebanon. Aiding the plane’s close air support role would be the ALE-47 countermeasures dispensing system, which would protect the aircraft from enemy fire.  BAE Systems (the ALE-47 manufacturer most likely to be involved in this contract), under the terms of the potential contract, would supply eight of the ECM units, with six installed in the Super Tucanos and the other two serving as spares.  The contract, however, has not yet been signed.

The ALE-47 has had a long service life on board many varieties of aircraft. Its platform diversity is one of its strongest selling points. In 1993, the first ALE-47 production contract was awarded, and by the close of the dawn of the 2010s, the unit had been deployed across 37 different aerial platforms.

Over the years, the ALE-47 has flown on aircraft as disparate as V-22 tiltrotors; P-8 anti-submarine, anti-surface, and maritime patrol aircraft; C-130 transports; H-60 helicopters; and fighters like the F-15, F-16, and F/A-18.

In particular, the fighter aircraft are starting to show their age, and alternative countermeasure dispensers have been specified for more recent models, leading to declining ALE-47 sales. While it is very particular, the light attack aircraft market niche will be a critical factor in future ALE-47 sales trends. Platforms performing the light attack role could feature as prominently as some of the unit’s perennial sales favorites such as the C-130 and P-8, which, as platforms, have provided numerous orders.

Light attack aircraft are small in size and cost, but in terms of their potential customer base, provide a huge market.  While an air force might not be able to sustain a top-notch or even second-tier fighter fleet financially, it will likely have the competency to field a handful of light attack aircraft.  Therefore, a smaller nation, like Guatemala or, in this case, Lebanon, can purchase ALE-47-carrying attack platforms when full-on fighter aircraft are not a viable, or the most prudent, option.

If Lebanon and the U.S. government further pursue the A-29 Super Tucano sale, the total contract would be worth around $462 million. The ALE-47 portion will be much less significant, with an estimated value of between $480,000 and $784,000.

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