The Air Force is opening its light attack aircraft experiment to submissions on Friday, according to a key official.

Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Military Deputy, Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch said Thursday the deadline for bids would be one month. The service will evaluate the proposals and downselect participants before flying at Holloman AFB, N.M., this summer. The experiment is open to anybody, but there are selection criteria.

Embraer's A-29 Super Tucano is an example of an aircraft that could be submitted for the Air Force's light attack experiment. Photo: Embraer.
Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano is an example of an aircraft that could be submitted for the Air Force’s light attack experiment. Photo: Embraer.

Bunch said selection criteria includes aircraft capable of operating off runways 6,000 feet or shorter and with a fuel flow of 1,500 pounds per hour. The service, he said, want aircraft with these parameters so it can go to an “austere location” and be able to drive down operation costs. Bunch said the Air Force would also look at the manufacturing level of those that participate in case it decides to quickly move into a program.

Bunch emphasized the experiment, at the moment, was not a program of record and that the Air Force was unsure how it would proceed after the experiment. He said the service could move forward into a combat demo, another continental United States demo or perhaps an acquisition program. Bunch said the Air Force wouldn’t know its path forward until after it analyses data collected during the experiment.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said Thursday the service is budgeting just over $4 million for the experiment. However, she said the cost will fluctuate based on the number of aircraft participating. Stefanek said money is included in the fiscal year 2017 budget request for the experiment. Full year FY ’17 funding for the Air Force has not yet been appropriated.

The Air Force, Bunch said, is pursuing the experiment for many reasons, including absorbing fighter pilots and pursuing lower operating costs. He said new light attack aircraft would save wear and tear on fourth and fifth generation fighter jets that currently perform these missions. Bunch said procuring aircraft from the experiment could allow combat air forces to focus on the high end flight. A new light attack aircraft program, he said, could also open up international opportunities for the Air Force to provide aircraft to nations that can’t afford exquisite aircraft like the F-35 or F-22.

Bunch cautioned that the Air Force would not pursue new light attack aircraft, if it were to move forward with such a program, at the expense of modernizing fifth generation aircraft like the F-35 and F-22.

Teal Group Vice President of Analysis Richard Aboulafia said Thursday examples of light attack aircraft include Textron‘s [TXT] Scorpion and AT-6 and Embraer‘s [ERJ] Super Tucano. Embraer is based in Brazil.