Senate Interested In Air Force OA-X Project

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The Senate’s Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will almost certainly include authorization for $1.2 billion to buy a fleet of light attack aircraft. Support for the OA-X project has been steadily gaining traction since Senator John McCain proposed that the Air Force acquire 300 low-cost, off-the-shelf observation and attack aircraft early this year. The Senate's proposed NDAA, drafted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which includes the OA-X authorization, is unlikely to be changed before it's put to a vote. The aircraft would be used to provide battlefield observation and close air support in permissive environments—a mission currently performed by the A-10 (among others), many of which will likely need to be retired as airframe structural components reach the end of their service lives in the next decade.

Inclusion of the OA-X in the Senate’s 2018 NDAA is mostly a symbolic act at this stage. The House version of the bill does not include authorization for the program, and even if it did, the NDAA only authorizes spending of funds received by the Air Force. Congress would still have to appropriate funds for the project. The Air Force, for its part, is only at the beginning stages of an evaluation program to determine whether it wants an OA-X aircraft. A demonstration for Air Force officials will take place this summer, with Embraer and Sierra Nevada likely presenting the A-29 Super Tucano and Textron flying the AT-6 Wolverine and Scorpion Jet.

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