Air Force Wants More Money for Light Attack Aircraft Effort

A Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano A-29 experimental aircraft flies over White Sands Missile Range, Aug. 1, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ethan D. Wagner)
A Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano A-29 experimental aircraft flies over White Sands Missile Range, Aug. 1, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ethan D. Wagner)

The U.S. Air Force is seeking to give an extra boost to its light attack aircraft effort by shifting unspent money to the program.

As part of the Pentagon's annual request to Congress to reallocate money between budget accounts, officials this year are asking to move $2.8 billion across the services. The news was first reported by Inside Defense earlier this month.

The Air Force hopes to combine a total of $156.73 million from its fiscal 2018 and 2019 budgets to continue light attack -- also known as OA-X -- experimentation. It also wants to procure as many as six aircraft, according to the omnibus request.

"The Air Force requested reprogramming within the previously approved light attack funding. The reprogramming request of $56.7M to Light Attack Procurement sources from currently unobligated FY18 Light Attack Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) funding," the service said in a statement Thursday.

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"This additional procurement funding, if approved, would be combined with $100M of currently appropriated FY19 Procurement funding to support a planned purchase of a small number of light attack aircraft. These aircraft are planned to support the continuation of light attack experimentation initiatives and Air Force Special Operations Command's Combat Aviation Adviser mission requirements," officials said in an email.

The Defense Department said procuring a handful of aircraft will "address AFSOC's capability gap in its combat aviation advisory mission," according to the omnibus.

Last year, AFSOC announced it had begun plans to double the number of combat aviation advisers it sends to train partners on special operations missions.

Officials told at the time that the Air Force had started laying the groundwork to expand each of its teams, with a goal of reaching 352 total force integration advisers over the next few years.

Procuring up to six aircraft will also give Air Combat Command the ability to analyze new "tactics, techniques and procedures [and] refine an exportable network concept with associated operational tactics, and to facilitate Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) training," the request states.

In March, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told lawmakers the service would buy a small fleet of turboprop aircraft, putting some at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and some with AFSOC at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

The Air Force will begin by purchasing up to three each of Textron Aviation's AT-6 Wolverine and Sierra Nevada/Embraer's A-29 Super Tucano.

"We're going to place a detachment with those at Nellis Air Force Base ... where we do conventional training, and a detachment with those that do special operations at Hurlburt," Goldfein said during a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing. He said procurement funds for the full program will be laid out in the 2022 to 2024 budget cycles.

The Air Force has asked for an additional $35 million for light attack aircraft in its 2020 budget request.

In the past, Goldfein has described light attack as a "network approach" to build up a team between coalition partners operating similar aircraft.

The service first held a series of light attack experimental fly-offs and maneuvers at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. In 2016, it announced plans to hold flight demonstrations with a handful of aircraft to test whether lighter, less expensive off-the-shelf planes might be suitable for lower-risk missions in places such as Afghanistan.

The second phase of the experiment was canceled in July 2018 following a fatal crash.

Even with the second phase cut short, Air Force officials have said the best fits for light attack are the Textron Aviation AT-6 Wolverine and Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano.

The service did not say exactly how the reprogrammed funds, if approved, would expedite the program's timeline.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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