Air Force Starting Second Phase Of Light-Attack Aircraft Experiment

The second phase of the U.S. Air Force’s light-attack aircraft experiment was set to begin May 7 at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, according to service officials.

The second phase “is starting today out in the desert,” said Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris Jr., Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements. 

Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris Jr., Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, speaks at the Air Force Association in Arlington, Va., on May 7, 2018. (Photo by Marc Selinger/Defense Daily)

Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris Jr., Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, speaks at the Air Force Association in Arlington, Va., on May 7, 2018. (Photo by Marc Selinger/Defense Daily)

The Air Force has said that the three-month experiment will involve “the two most promising” aircraft it used in last year’s flight demonstration: the AT-6 Wolverine turboprop from Textron [TXT] Aviation Defense and the A-29 Super Tucano turboprop from Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) and Embraer Defense & Security (Defense Daily, Feb. 2).

The second phase will focus on how the planes share information, what sensors they should carry and how they should be operated and maintained.

In “the first phase of this experiment, we gathered a lot of great information,” Harris said. “We recognize that there are some other areas, including logistics and sustainment, that we need to get after, and that’s what [the second phase] is focused on.”

The Air Force is exploring whether low-cost, light-attack aircraft could ease the anti-terrorism workload on its fighter jets, which are overtaxed and expensive to operate. The service also wants to see if light-attack planes could improve interoperability with allies that cannot afford fighters.

The Air Force has said that the experiment could pave the way for it to rapidly buy a fleet of light-attack aircraft (Defense Daily, Feb. 16).

“The price per kill today using precision-guided weapons off fourth -and fifth-generation fighters is exorbitant, and our country’s been paying that price for decades,” Harris said. “What we hope to do in the next five or six years, depending on how the experiment goes, is lower that cost so that we can gain new allies and partners with the light-attack approach.”

Harris made his comments at an event hosted by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

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