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Will Mattis Push COIN Plane?

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week, newly nominated Central Command head Gen. James Mattis reaffirmed his support for a turboprop aircraft to provide ground pounders with long loitering time, on-call recon and strike. The project called “Imminent Fury” was run out of the Navy’s irregular warfare office.

Mattis described it as a test program to see if inexpensive turboprops could replace the much more costly jets currently used in counterinsurgency battles. As we’ve described it before, the sought after design falls somewhere between the Vietnam era OV-10 Bronco and A-1 Skyraider.

While the Navy’s request for additional funds for the program was recently denied, Mattis said he’s still trying to build support for the concept, to at least gather data that could inform future spending decisions.

He’s going to have his work cut out for him as sources from the Navy’s irregular warfare community recently told Defense Tech the program is as dead as Julius Caesar. Who killed it? The Air Force, we’re told, and its powerful fighter community, which was not at all interested in sticking their pilots in a low and slow ground support aircraft. The Air Force is still having trouble choking down the “drone driver” mission.

As we wrote a couple of months ago, Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, shot down his own idea for an irregular warfare wing, arguing that the current, and future, inventory of jet aircraft can perform any and all close air support missions that a new, light strike fighter could. He could not envision replacing existing F-15, F-16 and A-10, or future F-35s for that matter, with a light strike aircraft.

Mattis made an important point in front of the SASC earlier this year: “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,”

Yet, without Air Force buy-in, it’s hard to see this effort goes anywhere. I’m not sure Mattis’ powers of persuasion will have much impact on the Air Force’s dominant constituency.

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