The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) are partnering to explore technologies for a potential light-attack aircraft for special operations forces (SOF).

The Air Force Lifecycle Management Center plans to release a broad agency announcement to solicit information on “technologies relevant to a potential future SOF light-attack mission and/or emerging light-attack platforms,” according to a “Light Attack Support for Special Operations (LASSO)” notice posted July 28 on FedBizOps.

Embraer's A-29 Super Tucano for Afghanistan. Photo: Embraer.
Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano for Afghanistan. Photo: Embraer.

The effort is separate from the light-attack experiment that the Air Force is conducting at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. In the experiment, which began in late July and runs through Aug. 31, the Air Force is evaluating four aircraft to help it determine whether such a platform would be useful against terrorist groups.

Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), one of several companies supplying aircraft for the experiment, is also monitoring the joint Air Force/SOCOM effort to see what comes of it, said Taco Gilbert, senior vice president for SNC’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance business area.

For now, though, SNC and Embraer Defense & Security are focused on the A-29 Super Tucano turboprop they provided for the Holloman experiment. Gilbert told reporters Aug. 4 that the A-29 is averaging two flights a day and is performing well.

“Most of the flights so far have been, to the best of our knowledge, pretty straightforward, nothing really unusual,” he said. “We are looking forward to what some would see as some of the more demanding aspects of the evaluation,” such as landing on an unimproved field.

Asked to comment on the recent announcement that the AT-802L Longsword turboprop, offered by Air Tractor and L3 Technologies [LLL], will participate in the experiment (Defense Daily, Aug. 1), Gilbert said the A-29 has several advantages, including an ejection seat and a pressurized cockpit. “As a former Air Force aviator myself, I think having that ejection seat is essential,” he said.

Asked to respond to Gilbert’s remarks, L3 said in a statement that the Longsword “certainly has the low procurement, operating and sustainment costs sought [by the Air Force] while delivering highly competitive mission performance as a light-attack platform.”

The experiment also includes the AT-6 Wolverine turboprop and the Scorpion jet, both provided by Textron [TXT] Aviation Defense.