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Air Force Chooses AT-6, A-29 for Secondary Light Attack Experiment

An A-29 Super Tucano pitch to land in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 28, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)
An A-29 Super Tucano pitch to land in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 28, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)

The Air Force has selected two aircraft in its "light attack experiment" to undergo more demonstration fly-offs, among other exercises, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.

The service intends to test the Textron Aviation AT-6 Wolverine and the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano from May to July 2018 at the base, it said in a release Friday.

The Air Force said the testing will not include a combat demonstration or an opportunity to test the aircraft overseas in a combat scenario.

"Rather than do a combat demonstration, we have decided to work closely with industry to experiment with maintenance, data networking and sensors with the two most promising light attack aircraft -- the AT-6 Wolverine and the A-29 Super Tucano," said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. "This will let us gather the data needed for a rapid procurement."

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Wilson revealed in December the Air Force had the findings from the "light attack" aircraft demonstration, known as OA-X, which took place in August at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.

"In less than five months, we had four aircraft on the ramp to test at Holloman Air Force Base and, last night, I just got the test report. So in less than 11 months, with five pages, we have tested four aircraft for a potential light attack aircraft for the United States and allies," she said during a December Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on acquisition reform.

The four aircraft -- AirTractor and L3's AT-802L Longsword; Sierra Nevada and Embraer's A-29 Super Tucano; and Textron and AirLand LLC's Scorpion, as well as their AT-6B Wolverine -- conducted live-fly exercises, combat maneuver scenarios and, on some occasions, weapons drops during the Holloman demonstration.

The service on Friday said the second phase will "examine logistics and maintenance requirements, weapons and sensor issues, training syllabus validity, networking and future interoperability with partner forces."

Phase II will also explore "rapidly building and operating an exportable, affordable network to enable aircraft to communicate with joint and multinational forces, as well as command-and-control nodes," the release said.

"This effort to find a lower-cost and exportable aircraft for permissive environments is directly in line with the National Defense Strategy," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.

"A light attack aircraft would not only provide relief to our 4th- and 5th-generation aircraft, but also bolster our interoperability, so we can more effectively employ airpower as an international team," he said in the release.

Five international partners observed the first phase of the light attack experiment at Holloman, the service said, but it did not disclose which countries. The Air Force plans to invite additional international partners to observe this second phase of experimentation.

Goldfein in September told Military.com that the light attack initiative should be viewed as a new way of doing business -- not just a plane, but part of a larger communications system.

OA-X "is actually not about the hardware -- it's about the network," he said, adding he wants the service to train more often with coalition partners, who may not have high-end fighter aircraft.

Goldfein, who served as the U.S. Air Forces Central Command commander between 2011 and 2013, said, "Is this a way to get more coalition partners into a network to counter violence?

"Can I -- at the same that we're looking at a relatively inexpensive aircraft and sensor package -- can I connect that into a network of shareable information that allows us to better accomplish the strategy as it's been laid out?" he said.

The service said it expects to have the information it needs "to potentially buy light attack aircraft in a future competition" based on data from the first and second experiments.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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