Who Are Contenders For OA-X Light-Attack Demo?
The U.S. Air Force will take its first step toward potentially fielding a low-cost, light-attack aircraft this summer with a flight demonstration at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The service is looking to choose up to four industry partners to bring one or two off-the-shelf aircraft to Holloman for a capability assessment in which Air Force aircrew will evaluate each aircraft’s ability to perform light attack and armed reconnaissance missions and operate from austere locations.
For industry, the stakes are high—the selected designs will likely have an advantage if the Air Force moves forward with a 300-aircraft buy. Since affordability is a main driver, Embraer and Sierra Nevada Corp.’s A-29 Super Tucano is an obvious front-runner. Already in service with the Afghan air force through the U.S. Light Air Support (LAS) program, the turboprop is a proven asset, with historically low operating costs.
Textron also has a shot, with either its turboprop AT-6 Wolverine or light jet Scorpion. However, the AT-6 lost out to the A-29 in the 2011 LAS competition. Meanwhile, the Scorpion has never quite found its niche. Its performance is not up to par with most true fighters, and its reported $3,000-per-hour operating costs might be too expensive for an OA-X capability.
Other less obvious options will likely start appearing as the OA-X effort gains traction. Here is a look at some of the possibilities.