Air Force OA-X Trials Likely Moving To Battlefield

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After initial trials with the Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine, the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, the Textron Scorpion jet, and the L-3/Air Tractor AT-802L Longsword at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson told reporters that combat trials were a likely next step in the OA-X light attack demonstration program. Wilson did say that combat trials were predicated on combat commanders approving the aircraft for use in an operational setting, but that’s probably a low bar for the AT-6 and A-29, both of which the Air Force has deemed “tier one” competitors for having met all the Air Force’s initial specifications. The Air Force already operates those two aircraft or a close variant thereof. The Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine is closely related to the T-6 Texan II used by both the Navy and Air Force for primary pilot training and is itself closely derived from the Pilatus PC-9. The Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base trains Afghan pilots to fly the Super Tucano. Afghan pilots then fly the same airplane on counterterrorism combat missions back home.

The Air Force Air Combat Command (ACC) is already considering how it would conduct a combat demonstration. Col. Michael Pietrucha told Defense News that the ACC envisions stationing the aircraft somewhere in the Middle East and having them fill in for the A-10 or F-16 on less demanding missions in uncontested airspace. Lt. Gen. Arnold Brunch, the Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition officer, told Defense News that the combat demonstration would probably be limited to the AT-6 and A-29—the only two aircraft that met the initial requirements. The AT-802L is unpressurized and lacks an ejection seat. It’s unclear which requirements are specifically lacking in the Scorpion jet, but it likely lags well behind the other competitors in both acquisition and operating costs as the only turbojet-powered airplane in the group.

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