A funny thing happened on the way to Counter Insurgency operations, we stepped back a few decades in aircraft. While jet aircraft have many major pluses on lift and speed, they lack fuel economy, endurance and typically need a large maintenance tail. COIN work requires large loiter times, low maintenance and yet the ability to be around when needed for Combat Air Support. Thus the new generation of COIN aircraft the A-67 Dragon (H/t: Strategypage), by US Aircraft Corporation which is making this mostly for export, but its purposes range across the COIN field.
One of the first reactions I had to looking at the aircraft was: 'They just re-invented the P-51 Mustang!' While unfair due to the modern electronics and aircraft parachute for recovery, these are very similar aircraft. This is one of those areas where coincident evolution of design based on technical specifications will lead you similar outcomes: there are hard and fast design limits that the P-51 was pushing and the A-67 is fitting into for another purpose. Thus, to get an idea of what we are looking at I will use the venerable P-51 Mustang for comparison (one of the late model variants if memory serves... I had picked up the information for general purposes for another idea and didn't keep track of where I had picked it up).
|Loaded Weight (lbs)||7,400|
|Max. Speed (mph)||371||437|
|Max. Speed, tactical (mph)||346|
|Cruise Speed (mph)||301||362|
|Combat Radius (miles)||1,880||1,650 w/ext|
|Ferry Range (miles)|
|Service ceiling (ft)||35,000||41,900|
|Rate of Climb (ft/min)||4,882||3,200|
|-Wing Guns||6 x .50 cal mg|
|Max. Carry Weight (lbs)||3,600||2,840|
While the A-67 Dragon does have an edge on climb, range and hardpoint external carry, the P-51 makes up for that with a higher operational ceiling, higher maximum speed and direct fire capability. The A-67 gives up direct fire for external load, higher speed for longer loiter and has a higher rate of climb to a lower operational ceiling.
Here the COIN concept takes charge but only slightly, since the P-51 was also made for ground attack and strafing, which 6 x .50 cals could do very effectively with electromechanical gunsights. What could be achieved in the modern era with HUD and computer adjusted firing is unknown, but my guess is that it would be quite spectacular. If the .50 cal could be swapped out, then the actual maximum external carry would be almost identical between these two aircraft.
One thing that the sales brochure for the A-67 is not clear on is the actual range and if that is with the centerline external fuel tank (which is my guess given the performance characteristics of the aircraft), in which case the 200 mile difference adds up to 1.5 hours of airtime. One thing not shown for the P-51 is the combat ferry which is a mode of guns only and maximum fuel, which adds range to the aircraft for a one-way ferry or more effective airtime, that would bring the P-51 well into the loiter time and possibly even carry two relatively light bombs (most likely 2x 250 lb. SDB) or two missiles.
This in no way disparages the A-67 Dragon, indeed the design similarities to the P-51 points out just how successful that design was for its purpose, as a single seat 'Pursuit' aircraft that was also capable of multiple roles in observation and ground attack. While later 'Attack' aircraft variants would show up after WWII, such as the A-1 Skyraider that was also a single seat aircraft for COIN work used up to Vietnam, the P-51 pointed to a design lineage that is nearly eternal for the kind of work it would do. And today's high resolution camera systems and persistent surveillance equipment would only add to the type of platform provided by that original design concept. Something very like the A-67 Dragon.
Still, the lack of robust firepower on-board has proven to be a major design flaw no matter what the combat aircraft is. And with modern, precision missiles and bombs, the ability to get 'lead on target' has always proven to be the final decider in a fight where the odds are evened by one means or another. With electronics and counter-measures to radar and heat seeking missiles, one very quickly gets down to guns no matter if the target is from a MANPAD or a green jet fighter pilot who just never was taught how to deal with planes that slow.