Innovative, Low-Cost Aircraft Put to the Test During the US Air Force Light Attack Experiment

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The US Air Force conducted a Light Attack Experiment, or OA-X, last week, a program designed to evaluate how innovative aircraft perform in various attack-oriented situations. The four airplanes involved in this recent OA-X demonstration were the Textron Aviation AT-6 Wolverine turboprop, Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, Textron Scorpion light twin-engine jet, and a new take on a crop-duster design.

As reported by Fox News, the OA-X evaluations were conducted at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, giving the US Air Force valuable data as they examined potential light-attack aircraft to add to their complement of planes.

The demonstration involved a range of scenarios, some designed to emulate combat situations while others focused on tasks like reconnaissance and search and rescue, and used off-the-shelf variants of the plans during the evaluations.

Earlier this year, Air Force officials had invited companies operating in the aviation and aerospace industry to supply data on readily available aircraft that could potentially meet the military’s need for a small, low-cost plane that had the ability to provide support to ground missions while simultaneously being easy to maintain.

In a statement discussing the nation’s need for the quick procurement of tools that could serve the military, US Sen. John McCain, who is also the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a known supporter of OA-X, said, “Our adversaries are modernizing to deploy future capabilities aimed at eroding the US military advantage – and reversing that trend will require a new, innovative approach to acquisition and procurement.”

Officials with the US Air Force state that the OA-X test flights were not a competition and that the results of the experiment may not lead to a decision regarding which aircraft to acquire.

Some suggest that the acquisition of a new light-attack aircraft could replace a number of A-10 planes, and reduce total operating costs when compared to the amount required to support the A-10 as well as other fighter jets like the F-15 and F-16.

One of the OA-X participants, a modified crop duster dubbed Longsword, is based on the Air Tractor AT-802. To meet the requirements of combat, the cockpit and fuel lines were armored and the fuel tanks designed to be self-sealing. The wings were supplemented for greater strength and the capacity to carry weapons was added, including the potential to fire Hellfire missiles or drop a Mark 82 unguided bomb.