The Air Force released May 8 a notice of intent to solicit proposals from Sierra Nevada Corp. [SNC] for light attack aircraft, and intends to soon release a second similar notice to Textron Aviation [TXT].

The presolicitation, posted via FedBizOpps, states that the Air Force’s Fighters and Bombers Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, intends to solicit proposals from one source and award a contract for “an affordable, non-developmental aircraft intended to operate globally in the types of Irregular Warfare environments that have characterized combat operations over the past 25 years.”

Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano. Photo: Embraer

The light attack aircraft would also support Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) in close combat air support missions to partner nations, the notice said. A formal solicitation will be released sometime this month, and a contract will be awarded in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019.

“Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is the only firm that appears to possess the capability necessary to meet the requirement within the Air Force’s time frame without causing an unacceptable delay in meeting the needs of the warfighter,” the notice said.

Air Force leadership in March expressed their intent to procure a small number of turboprop aircraft from both Sierra Nevada Corp. for the Embraer-built A-29 Super Tucano, as well as from Textron Aviation for its AT-6 Wolverine in fiscal year 2020.

Air Force Spokesperson Capt. Cara Bousie said in an email to Defense Daily that the service “intends to award a contract to Sierra Nevada for Light Attack Aircraft.”

“The exact number of aircraft is still unknown, but the plan remains to procure two to three A-29s,” she said, adding, “We expect a separate procurement action for two to three AT-6 aircraft.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee at a March 13 hearing that the service plans to continue the light attack experiment using other transaction authorities, and will test the viability of unmanned aircraft, fixed-wing and other platforms, before procuring more light attack assets in the FY ’22-FY ’24 timeframe (Defense Daily, March 13).

“What you’ll see in this budget is money that we are going to use to procure a small number of aircraft from the two companies that have been with us so far,” Goldfein said.

Sylvia Pierson, Textron Aviation Defense Director of Communications, said in an email to Defense Daily that the company “looks forward to fulfilling the Light Attack Aircraft (LAA) needs of our nation and its allies.”
“Textron Aviation Defense maintains open lines of communications with USAF officials regarding future acquisition decisions, activities and timelines,” she said, adding, “The AT-6 Wolverine’s highly successful completion of the U.S. Air Force training, flight, weapons, maintenance and sustainment experiments positions us well for future acquisition.”

The Air Force began experiments with four off-the-shelf light attack aircraft – including the AT-6 and A-29 – in 2016 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.

The potential value for each future contract was not disclosed, but Bousie said the plan remains to use fiscal years 2018 and 2019 funds for the light attack procurement.

The service’s FY ’20 budget justification books include $100 million appropriated in FY ’19 for the light attack program, also called “OA-X.” No funds were included for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The service budgeted $960 million from FY ’22 to FY ’24 to procure 24 aircraft across the five-year Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) – four in 2022, and then 10 each in 2023 and 2024.