The Air Force in planning an experiment in the spring to see what type of off-the-shelf aircraft could fulfill a light attack aircraft requirement, according to a service spokesman.

Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder told reporters Tuesday that the service will invite select vendors who have proven capabilities to participate in this experiment. Ryder said the Air Force will test out light attack scenarios for the low end fight like close air support, personnel recovery and air interdiction.

Textron is still searching for its first buyer for Scorpion. Photo: Textron.
Textron is still searching for its first buyer for Scorpion. Photo: Textron.

Ryder didn’t respond to a request for comment later asking if the experiment would be invitation-only or open to all interested contractors. He told reporters he expected more information to be released in the coming days.

Ryder said the idea of the experiment is to determine if there is an aircraft available to perform the low end fight that would be less expensive than using aircraft like the F-22 and F-35 that are designed for the high end fight. The F-22, for example, is designed to penetrate enemy airspace and make a first strike against multiple targets.

“You can use a F-16 or F-15 or F-35, certainly, to strike those targets, but if you’re going to be in an extended, long-term, low-end fight, does that make the most sense,” Ryder said.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on Jan. 18 welcomed a proposal by Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) for the service to buy hundreds of low-cost light attack fighters. Using less expensive aircraft, he said, would save money that could be used to improve the readiness of the high-end fighters.

Goldfein said Jan. 18 that the Air Force was already evaluating such light attack fighters. The service, in July, 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. Former Air Force Secretary Deborah James later indicated that six or seven companies were seeking similar arrangements (Defense Daily, Jan. 18).

McCain released a white paper in mid-January calling for a broad defense buildup, including 300 light attack fighters. The senator said such aircraft would need minimal development work and that the Air Force could acquire the first 200 by fiscal year 2022 (Defense Daily, Jan. 17).