It's a two-seat, twin turbofan design meant to be used as a light strike aircraft, ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) platform, or a trainer. Wing pylons are capable of mounting external fuel, weapons, or sensors. A modular design allows easy customization for potential customers.
|The Scorpion's stingers.|
While it certainly appears sleek, with a tail quite reminiscent of the F-14 Tomcat, the Scorpion is certainly no dogfighter. It's incapable of supersonic flight and those long, straight wings are designed with loiter time in mind, not high speed performance. Still, the promise of an affordable ($3,000 per flight hour) light attack and ISR platform seems to have a lot of potential in the days of military budget cutbacks and uber-expensive stealth fighters.
But is there a market?
|Douglas A-4 Skyhawk|
The concept is certainly not new. Back in the 50s, the USN desired a small, lightweight attack aircraft to replace the prop-driven A-1 Skyraider. The Douglas Aircraft Company, (which would later merge to become McDonnell Douglas, and then become part of Boeing) came up with a diminutive little aircraft, the A-4 Skyhawk. The Skyhawk was so small that it didn't need folding wings in order to be stored on an aircraft carrier.
Able to take off and land on smaller WWII era carriers, the A-4 was welcomed into the USMC as well as many other countries desiring a small attack aircraft. Seeing widespread use in Vietnam, the Skyhawk proved popular with pilots, earning the nickname "Scooter", it was often praised for its agility and toughness. It was also quite easy to maintain and quite affordable to fly. About 3,000 copies of the A-4 were produced, with many still in use almost 50 years after its introduction.
There has been no real successor to the A-4 however. Replaced by the much more expensive F/A-18 Hornet and the AV-8 Harrier in the USN and USMC, the A-4 may have well been the last of a breed of small, easy to maintain jets flying in western air forces.
|Boeing Skyfox prototype.|
There have been other attempts, however. In the 80s, Boeing attempted a small, lightweight attack/trainer aircraft based heavily off of the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star. Replacing the T-33's single turbojet with two more efficient turbofans, the Skyfox was faster and could fly much further.
Despite its low cost, and the possibility of upgrading existing T-33 airframes (which numbered in the thousands), there was little interest in the Boeing Skyfox.
|Northop F-20 Tigershark|
Unfortunately, the F-20 never saw a single sale. President Reagan's lifting of sales restrictions on the F-16 Fighting Falcon proved to be the Tigershark's downfall. The USAF, knowing that every F-16 sold to a a foreign country meant cheaper F-16s for them, actively pushed for more foreign F-16 sales. With it's potential market swallowed by the F-16, the F-20 was cancelled. To this day, the F-20 is often mentioned as the "best fighter that was never built". It's similarities to the Saab Gripen however, cannot be ignored.
|Scaled Composites ARES|
Rutan's fabled use of high-tech composites made for a very light aircraft, and the ARES boasted rather impressive handling and endurance, capable of turning at 7G (the same as a F-35C!) with a range of 2200km (same as an F-35A). With it's 25mm rotary cannon, the ARES would have been utilized in much the same way as an A-10, albeit less deadly but at a lower cost.
Despite the ARES' low cost and impressive performance, the US military was not interested. No further development and no sales resulted.
|Are budget-busting aircraft like the F-35 and F-22 the only viable option?|
Is there still a market for cheap, lightweight, and easy to maintain combat aircraft? Recent procurement trends would suggest otherwise, as low cost concepts like the Skyfox, F-20, and ARES are all passed over, while budget busting aircraft like the F-22, F-35, and B-2 are pressed into service.
Some are suggesting that it is time to revisit the concept of cheaper, less "capable" aircraft. With defense budgets imploding on an international basis, maybe these people are on to something.