The U.S. Air Force is preparing for the next A-10 Warthog contract to re-wing more of the close-air support aircraft.
The next contract for the "A-10-Thunderbolt II Advanced-Wing Continuation Kit," known as "ATTACK," is going through source selection and is expected to be awarded this fall, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said Monday. The service has $267 million set aside to buy "about 20 total wings," she said.
The service last year said it had begun searching for a new company to rebuild wings on the A-10 after ending its arrangement with Boeing Co., even though officials have not committed to re-winging the entire fleet. The Air Force has 281 A-10s in its inventory, but it has decided to maintain wings for only six of its nine A-10 combat squadrons through roughly 2032.
Boeing is on track to complete its re-winging agreement, known as the "Enhanced Wing Assembly," for 173 aircraft by this summer, Stefanek said. So far, 169 aircraft have been re-winged under the contract, with the remaining four to be completed in the next few months.
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But work on the next few close-air support mission planes is changing as the Air Force moves forward with new acquisition and research and development techniques.
Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, said "digital engineering" sometimes allows the service to bypass the regular manufacturing process for parts.
Digital engineering is unlike 3D printing, which produces a physical part. If the service owns the rights to manufacture specific components of a plane or weapon, digital engineering lets developers see how to make the part and, in some cases, allows maintainers and engineers to create it themselves if they have the right tools and materials.
That's been working on the A-10, Roper said.
"I think new technologies like digital engineering allow us to change how production and design are done, and I think … [digital engineering] will allow us to not raise the cost of sustainment for very heterogeneous Air Force," he said last month during the annual McAleese & Associates conference.
"We don't have nearly enough [digital engineering programs]," he said, adding that it is also being used on the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system.
With digital engineering, the Air Force "can make smart choices" in very early stages, Roper said. In addition to potentially giving aircraft a few additional flight years, "we can completely change the game on how we do aircraft development and fielding," he said.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.