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US Air Force issues RfP for light attack aircraft

A Brazilian Air Force A-29 Super Tucano taxies during Green Flag-West 19-8 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Photo: US Air National Guard

The US Air Force is buying a limited number of light attack aircraft after releasing final requests for proposal earlier this month.

The service said it intends to buy two to three units of Textron Aviation AT-6 and Sierra Nevada Corporation/Embraer Defense & Security A-29 aircraft.

“Over the last two years, I watched as the Air Force experimented with light attack aircraft to discover alternate, cost-effective options to deliver airpower and build partner capacity around the globe,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett. “I look forward to this next phase.”

The acquisition will help support the US National Defense Strategy’s focus on building allies and partner capacity, capability and interoperability via training and experimentation.

The AT-6 Wolverine will be used by Air Combat Command at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for continued testing and development of operational tactics and standards for exportable, tactical networks that improve interoperability with international partners.

The A-29 Super Tucano will be used at Hurlburt Field, Florida, by Air Force Special Operations Command to develop an instructor pilot program for the Combat Aviation Advisory mission, to meet increased partner nation requests for light attack assistance.

Since August 2017, air force and navy pilots have flown both aircraft extensively to assess their capabilities. The experiment looked at a variety of operations where light attack aircraft could be employed with partner nations, while yielding data about new exportable, tactical network communication capabilities.

“Our focus is on how a light attack aircraft can help our allies and partners as they confront violent extremism and conduct operations within their borders,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “Continuing this experiment, using the authorities Congress has provided, gives us the opportunity to put a small number of aircraft through the paces and work with partner nations on ways in which smaller, affordable aircraft like these can support their air forces.”

Goldfein also said the experiment will continue to examine a common architecture and intelligence-sharing network that can connect platforms, sensors and weapons and provide a digital network for light attack aircraft.

“If I hear one thing from my international air chiefs, it’s ‘we need to figure out how to share information both ways,” he said.

A contract award for the A-29 is expected by the end of the year while the AT-6 is expected to be ordered in early 2020.