For awhile there, everybody was talking about the U.S. Air Force buying not another super-advanced mega-jet, but a slow, low-flying propeller-powered airplane that wouldn't even need to be "low observable." The Air Force wants to buy a batch of Light Air Support planes for Afghan pilots to use as trainers and in counter-insurgency missions, and it also considered buying some for itself, to provide air support and armed overwatch for American ground troops. But the urgency seemed to go out of both halves of this effort, with missed deadlines and radio silence about how or whether it would go forward.
That was until Tuesday's Daily Report from Air Force Magazine, which said a decision on the Afghan side, the Light Air Support competition, could be announced in September. Here's how the newsletter broke it down:
"With respect to when the government might announce that, we still don't have any definitive answer," Derek Hess, director of Hawker-Beechcraft's light attack program recently told the Daily Report. A decision on a ground support aircraft to provide the Afghan Air Force with a duel-role counter-insurgency training platform was expected in June, but is now slated for September, said Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Jack Miller. The Air Force expects to field 20 aircraft as arms assistance to the Afghan government under the LAS program, said Miller. Hawker-Beechcraft is partnered with Lockheed offering the AT-6 against the Embraer Super Tucano, offered in partnership with US contractor Sierra Nevada. "We believe, because it is past their published deadline [for LAS] and that has not been updated, that they are working diligently to make the source selection announcement and we're ready to get on with it," said Hess.As for a potential U.S. Air Force light attack aircraft, the jury seems to be out. Commanders' original hopes were that a new armed plane would be flying in Afghanistan by 2013, but it's possible the Air Force brass could be worried about an MRAP problem: The U.S. is slated to transfer responsibility to the Afghans the following year, and Air Force officials may not want to spend the money and effort on custom aircraft they'd just be stuck with after a few months of service. Especially if getting the birds requires another tiff with Congress.