Yesterday, Air Force chief Gen. Norton Schwartz spiked the idea that his service would be adding a light attack wing to support the grunts in Afghanistan and other irregular wars. The F15Es, F-16s and A-10s can perform any and all close air support missions that a new, light strike fighter could, he said, speaking at a think tank in D.C.
“There is a not a need, in my view, for large numbers of light strike or light lift aircraft in our Air Force to do general purpose force missions.” It was a bit of a surprise - two congressional staffers in the audience asked him to clarify - as Schwartz himself had discussed the idea of a light attack plane.
Schwartz said the Air Force will propose buying 15 prop driven light strike and surveillance aircraft in the 2012 budget. But those aircraft will be used as a training wing, for security assistance work, building “partnership capacity” with foreign air arms, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A recent RAND title “Courses of Action for Enhancing U.S. Air Force Irregular Warfare Capabilities,” said the service should stand up a dedicated COIN air wing equipped with about 100 light attack aircraft. As “partners are more likely to want aircraft that U.S. forces are flying to great effect,” building and operating a COIN aircraft would simultaneously boost support for ground troops while “whetting the appetite of partners who are prematurely looking to acquire high-performance jet aircraft such as the F-16,” it said.
-- Greg Grant