Flying began on the second phase of the USAF’s Light Attack Experiment at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, on May 7. Pilots are flying the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano and the Textron Aviation AT-6B Wolverine during a three-month, live-fly experiment to gather additional information about aircraft capabilities, as well as partner nation interoperability, prior to a potential light attack purchase.
“This second phase of experimentation is about informing the rapid procurement process as we move closer to investing in light attack,” said Lt Gen Arnie Bunch, military deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. “If we can get light attack aircraft operating in permissive combat environments, we can alleviate the demand on our 4th and 5th generation aircraft, so they can be training for the high-end fight they were made for.”
The USAF is also assessing interoperability and networking capabilities, to one day carry out light attack operations side-by-side with coalition partners. According to the 2018 Air Force Posture Statement, “Retaining irregular warfare as a core competency at a lower cost, and strengthening our alliances are key elements of our National Defense Strategy.”
Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee: “We’re looking at light attack through the lens of allies and partners. A big part of the Light Attack Experiment is a common architecture and an intelligence-sharing network, so that those who would join us would be part of the campaign against violent extremism.”
During this phase of experimentation, aircrew include fighter, attack, or special operations pilots, plus test pilots and flight engineers from the air force, air national guard, and air force reserve. Collectively, they average more than 1,000 flight hours and more than 100 combat missions, and all pilots have been instructors in one or more aircraft.
Flight scenarios will consist of both day and night missions in air interdiction, close air support, armed overwatch, and combat search and rescue. Maintenance observers will focus on flightline and in-shop maintenance, to inform sustainment and product support requirements.
The experiment is part of a broader air force effort to explore cost-effective attack platform options under the Light Attack Experimentation Campaign led by the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. The first phase of the Light Attack Experiment took place in August 2017 at Holloman AFB, with four models of light attack aircraft.