The US Air Force has decided to buy two to three A-29 and AT-6 light attack aircraft. The final request
for proposal was published on October 24. The A-29
will be deployed at Hurlburt Field, Florida, by Air Force Special Operations Command to develop an instructor pilot program for the Combat Aviation Advisory mission. The contract award is expected to be end of the year. The AT-6 will be going to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for continued testing and development of operational tactics and standards for exportable, tactical networks by Air Combat Command. The propeller-driven planes will be part of the Light Air Support program of the Air Force, which seeks a light counter-insurgency, ground attack and reconnaissance aircraft. The Air Force and US Navy have flown both planes since 2017 to assess their capabilities.
The USA needs a plane that can provide effective precision close air support and JTAC training, and costs about $1,000 per flight hour to operate – instead of the $15,000+ they’re paying now to use advanced jet fighters at 10% of their capabilities. Countries on the front lines of the war’s battles needed a plane that small or new air forces can field within a reasonable time, and use effectively. If these 2 needs are filled by the same aircraft, everything becomes easier for US allies and commanders. One would think that this would have been obvious around October 2001, but it took until 2008 for this understanding to even gain momentum within the Pentagon. A series of intra-service, political, and legal fights have ensured that these capabilities won’t arrive before 2015 at the earliest, and won’t arrive for the USAF at all.
The USA has now issued 2 contracts related to this need. The first was killed by a lawsuit that the USAF didn’t think they could defend successfully. Since February 2013 they have a contract that they hope will stick. The 3 big questions are simple. Will the past be prologue for the new award? Will there be an Afghan government to begin taking delivery of their 20 planes much beyond 2014? And will another allied government soon need to use this umbrella contract for its own war?