Counter-insurgency aircraft are a specialised variety of military light attack aircraft, designed for light counter-insurgency, armed reconnaissance, air escort of ground forces, and ground support against 'low-intensity engagements', usually irregular groups of insurgents. They are usually armed with cannon and/or small-calibre rockets.
Air power can play an important role in counter-insurgency, capable of carrying out a wide range of operations:
- Transportation in support of combatants and civilians alike, including casualty evacuations;
- Intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance;
- Psychological operations, through leaflet drops, loudspeakers, and radio broadcasts;
- Air-to-ground attack against 'soft' targets.
For an aircraft - whether fixed-wing and helicopter - to successfully carry out all these roles, it should have such qualities as low loitering speed, long endurance, simplicity in maintenance, and the capability to make short (or vertical) take-offs and landings from rough front-line airstrips.
The first use of counter-insurgency aircraft was in the 1920s and 1930s in colonial warfare, in places like Ethiopia and Iraq. The benefits offered by even a single aircraft in tasks such as reconnaissance or strafing small groups were immeasurable. As the British found in Iraq in the 1920s and in some encounters in the frontier in Pashtunistan, aircraft stripped away many of the advantages that traditional insurgents had enjoyed. It also offered a way of inflicting direct and cost-effective retaliation on the communities that supported the insurgents.
By the late 1950s, the French air operations in the Algerian War was decidedly counter-insurgent in nature, with helicopters such as the Piasecki H-21 being used not only to carry troops, but also machine guns and rocket launchers on an ad hoc basis, to reach FLN guerilla positions on otherwise inaccessible mountain ridges and peaks.
As late as the Vietnam War counter-insurgency missions were flown by existing aeroplanes and helicopters hastily adapted for the role, most notably the Douglas A-1 Skyraider. Later, more specialized counter-insurgency (or COIN) aircraft began to appear, such as:
- Advanced High Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (South Africa)
- Britten-Norman Defender (UK)
- BAC Strikemaster (UK)
- Cessna A-37 Dragonfly (USA)
- Cessna O-2 Skymaster (USA)
- Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano (Brazil)
- FMA IA 58 Pucará (Argentina)
- Pilatus PC-21 (Switzerland)
- Rockwell OV-10 Bronco (USA)
- Soko J-20 Kraguj (Yugoslavia)
- US Aircraft A-67 (USA)
- UTVA Kobac (Serbia)
- TAI Hürkuş (Turkey)
- Sagraves, Robert D (April 2005), The Indirect Approach: the role of Aviation Foreign Internal Defense in Combating Terrorism in Weak and Failing States (PDF), Air Command and Staff College
- "Algerian War, 1954 - 1962". Acig.org. Retrieved 2009-10-03.