Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on Jan. 18 welcomed a recent proposal by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for the service to buy hundreds of low-cost, light-attack fighters to perform less dangerous missions and ease the burden on high-end fighters.

Using less expensive aircraft in certain situations would save money that could be used to improve the readiness of more advanced fighters, such as Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-22 Raptors, that might be needed elsewhere, Goldfein said at an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) event in Washington, D.C.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. Photo: Air Force.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. Photo: Air Force.

McCain’s proposal is a “great idea,” Goldfein told the AEI audience. “We’re 15 years into a long campaign in the Middle East, this will continue to be a coalition fight, and so we’ve got to continue to evolve and look at the way we prosecute and sustain this campaign against violent extremism.”

Goldfein noted that the Air Force is already evaluating such light-attack fighters. In July, the Air Force said it signed a first-of-its-kind cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with Textron [TXT] to provide an airworthiness assessment of the company’s Model 530 Scorpion. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James later indicated that six or seven companies were seeking similar agreements.

“We’re going to do an experiment and just sort of see what’s out there,” Goldfein said. “I’m expecting many of the companies to come forward.”

McCain, who released a white paper Jan. 16 calling for a broad defense buildup, recommended that the Air Force buy 300 light-attack fighters to “conduct counterterrorism operations, perform close air support and other missions in permissive environments, and help to season pilots to mitigate the Air Force’s fighter pilot shortfall.” McCain said the aircraft would need minimal development work and that the Air Force could acquire the first 200 by fiscal year 2022.

Textron, which has already said it might offer the Scorpion for the Air Force’s T-X trainer competition, announced that the first production Scorpion completed its maiden flight Dec. 22 in Wichita, Kan. The flight marked the start of “a robust flight test program,” Textron said at the time.

In his AEI appearance, Goldfein also defended the Pentagon’s plans to update all three legs of the aging nuclear triad, including Air Force bombers and Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles. Holding up an eight-inch floppy disk still used by Minuteman 3 forces, he said, “It’s time to modernize.”