The quest for a low-cost, low-tech, irregular warfare aircraft to provide ground pounders with long loitering, on-call recon and strike got a big boost recently when Joint Forces Command’s Gen. James Mattis threw his support behind the Navy and Air Force “Imminent Fury” effort.
Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that he was taking a personal interest in the classified project, being run chiefly out of the Navy’s Irregular Warfare Office, that is looking at small turboprop aircraft for ground support. The sought after design falls somewhere between the Vietnam era OV-10 Bronco and A-1 Skyraider. It must stay aloft for a long time for surveillance needs but also have the punch to provide precise fire support when needed; a true "over the shoulder" aircraft for small ground units doing distributed operations in remote locations.
Mattis thinks using top-line fighter jets for close air support to troops patrolling rural villages in Afghanistan is overkill. As he diplomatically puts it: “Today’s approach of loitering multi-million dollar aircraft and using a system of systems procedure for the approval and employment of airpower is not the most effective use of aviation fires in this irregular fight,” he told the SASC. A light irregular warfare aircraft could also help build partnerships with foreign air fleets that operate large numbers of such aircraft.
Last summer, the Air Force requested aircraft manufacturers provide designs for a Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) aircraft, a low-tech and low-cost design that must be currently flying as they want it fielded within the next couple of years. Two early entrants are Brazilian manufacturer Embraer’s Super Tucano (pictured) and Hawker Beechcraft’s AT-6. Air Force chief Gen. Norton Schwartz has talked about possibly creating an irregular warfare wing that would operate the aircraft.
“A LAAR aircraft capability has the potential to shift air support from a reactive threat response, to a more proactive approach that reduces sensor to shooter timelines, with immediate and accurate fires, providing surveillance and reconnaissance throughout a mission, while providing communication and navigation support to troops on the ground,” said Mattis.
Here again is another example of Mattis pushing the services to work together on low cost, vitally needed programs that support troops in the field fighting today's wars.