by Kris Osborn
Dropping precision-guided bombs from thousands of feet up in the air and coordinating closely with ground-attack controllers to identify targets, Light Attack aircraft being evaluated by the Air Force for combat missions recently conducted a wide range of operational scenarios at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.
The combat scenarios were part of experimenting with the range of missions sets likely to be needed in attacks against terrorist fighters and other instances where the US Air Force has air supremacy - but still needs maneuverability, close air support and the ability to precisely destroy ground targets.
The emerging OA-X Light Attack aircraft is envisioned as a low-cost, commercially-built, combat-capable plane able to perform a wide range of missions in a less challenging or more permissive environment.
The idea is to save mission time for more expensive and capable fighter jets, such as an F-15 or F-22, when an alternative can perform needed air-ground attack missions – such as the current attacks on ISIS.
During the experiment, Air Force pilots flew basic surface attack missions in Textron Aviation's AT-6 Wolverine turboprop, as well as in Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer's A-29 Super Tucano, an Air Force statement said.
The emerging OA-X Light Attack aircraft is envisioned as a low-cost, commercially-built, combat-capable plane able to perform a wide range of missions in a less challenging or more permissive environment where the US Air Force already has air supremacy.
The Air Force tested Sierra Nevada’s A-29 Super Tucano, the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6, the Textron Scorpion Jet and the Air Tractor AT-802U during the experiment.
During the assessment, the various industry offerings dropped weapons, test sensors, conducted surveillance missions and performed the full range of missions expected in a combat situation.
Scenarios were designed to highlight aspects of various combat missions, such as close air support, air interdiction, combat search and rescue and strike coordination and reconnaissance, Grabowski added.
Prior to the experiment - Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Acquisition, told Scout Warrior the service is preparing for the possibility of sending one or two of the planes to combat following the experiment.
“If we get good results, then we are laying in the planning to do a combat demonstration. We will take a couple of airplanes and employ them in an operational scenario in the fight to determine limitations,” he said in an interview.
The effort has substantial funding and support from prominent members of Congress, such as Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. McCain wants the Air Force to buy a fleet of roughly 300 OA-X Light Attack aircraft.
A-29 Super Tucano
US-trained pilots with the Afghan Air Force have been attacking the Taliban with A-29 Super Tucano aircraft.
A-29s are turboprop planes armed with one 20mm cannon below the fuselage able to shoot 650 rounds per minute, one 12.7mm machine gun (FN Herstal) under each wing and up to four 7.62mm Dillion Aero M134 Miniguns able to shoot up to 3,000 rounds per minute.
Super Tucanos are also equipped with 70mm rockets, air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-9L Sidewinder, air-to-ground weapons such as the AGM-65 Maverick and precision-guided bombs. It can also use a laser rangefinder and laser-guided weapons.
The Super Tucano is a highly maneuverable light attack aircraft able to operate in high temperatures and rugged terrain. It is 11.38 meters long and has a wingspan of 11.14 meters; its maximum take-off weight is 5,400 kilograms. The aircraft has a combat radius of 300 nautical miles, can reach speeds up to 367 mph and hits ranges up to 720 nautical miles.
Textron Scorpion Jet
This emerging commercially constructed aircraft had its first successful flight in December of last year. Prior to this, the Scorpion successfully fired Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System rockets and AGM-114F Hellfire. The weapons were guided to their targets using first a ground-based laser designator system and then an airborne laser on the Scorpion‘s L-3 WESCAM’s MX-15Di sensor suite, a Textron statement said.
Textron has also announced Garmin as the avionics provider for the enhanced Scorpion. Textron information states that the newly configured G3000 avionics system include a large, high-definition display complemented by two high-definition touch-screen controllers and provides more mission capability in the forward cockpit position, additional navigation capability in the rear cockpit position and overall weight savings for improved performance as a multi-mission aircraft.
In addition, changes to the Scorpion airframe include four degrees of sweep to the wings, an enhanced aft horizontal stabilizer for improved high-speed performance, a simplified landing gear design, a next-generation Heads Up Display and hands-on throttle and stick controls, Textron data states.
Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 Light Attack
The AT-6 is a multi-role light attack aircraft. It uses a Lockheed A-10C mission computer and a CMC Esterline glass cockpit with flight management systems combined with an L3 Wescam MX-Ha15Di multi-sensor suite which provides color and IR sensors, laser designation technology and a laser rangefinder