Textron AirLand Scorpion
The Textron AirLand Scorpion is an American jet aircraft proposed for sale to perform light attack and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) duties. It is being developed by Textron AirLand, a joint venture between Textron and AirLand Enterprises. A prototype was secretly constructed by Cessna at their Wichita, Kansas facility between April 2012 and September 2013 and first flown on 12 December 2013.
The target market is the U.S. Air National Guard and foreign nations that cannot afford the F-35, but want an aircraft to perform ISR and light attack missions better than turboprop planes. Buying and sustaining the Scorpion would cost less than A-10 or F-16 upgrades. For air patrol, the Scorpion requires radar and the capability of supersonic flight, similar to the unsuccessful 1980s-era Northrop F-20 Tigershark. The market for light fixed-wing attack jets had declined in the 1980s as richer countries opted for more capable aircraft and poorer countries pursued turboprops and attack helicopters. It is uncertain if the Scorpion will be cheaper or outperform turboprops or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) in terms of range, endurance, low-altitude performance, and sensors.
The U.S. Air Force has made plans to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II, with its close air support mission to be initially covered by F-16s and F-15Es until it can transition to the F-35A. An inexpensive replacement aircraft may be considered to perform CAS against enemies without sophisticated air defenses. Analysts believe that the Scorpion will be difficult to sell to the Air Force; Textron AirLand believes it can sell without a requirement or lengthy competition. Budget cuts make new programs unattractive, and its missions of irregular warfare, border patrol, maritime surveillance, emergency relief, counter narcotics, and air defense operations are performed by RPAs. However, the Air Force pursued fully developed aircraft, excluding the Scorpion that lacked data on the cost of sustainment.
The Air National Guard has been under pressure by active Air Force officials to replace aging and costly F-16s and A-10s, and promoted unmanned aircraft. Air National Guard leaders feel losing manned aircraft to remotely piloted types would leave them ill-equipped for domestic emergencies, such as natural disasters and homeland security crises. While potentially politically motivated, some state governments have voiced apprehension of drones, fearing regulatory restrictions that could cripple a drone's ability to respond during disasters.