AIR FORCE NEWS
Air Force Drafting Requirements for Potential A-10 Replacement
The Air Force is in the process of drafting a requirements document for a follow-on close-air-support aircraft that could replace the A-10 Thunderbolt II, a service leader told reporters April 7.
"We are developing that draft requirements document. We're staffing it around the Air Force now," said Lt. Gen. James M. "Mike" Holmes, Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements. "When it's ready, then we'll compare it to what we have available, we'll compare it to keeping the A-10, we'll compare it to what it would take to replace it with another airplane and we'll work through that process."
Having an effective close-air-support platform is important in maintaining air superiority in the future, Holmes said. "The gap between our capabilities and the capabilities of potential adversaries is closing and it's closing at an accelerated rate," he noted during an Air Force Association breakfast.
For a follow-on platform, the service is attempting to find the "sweet spot" for what an optimal close-air-support replacement would look like. To determine the best solution, it will have to balance the cost and effectiveness of buying an entirely new platform versus using currently available aircraft or keeping the A-10, Holmes said. Service officials have estimated that it will cost the Air Force $3.4 billion to keep the A-10 in the inventory over the next five years.
Examining the possibility of using platforms that are already being built is an important step in the analysis process because the Air Force would save money in development costs, he added.
Some existing aircraft being considered for the CAS replacement are turboprop airplanes like the A-29 Super Tucano manufactured by Embraer Defense and Security and the AT-6 Wolverine manufactured by Beechcraft Defense, a subsidiary of Textron Aviation. The service is also considering developmental airplanes such as Textron's AirLand Scorpion, in addition to light, fighter planes that are currently being built and fielded, he said.
At the same time, the aircraft chosen for the T-X trainer competition to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of T-38 Talon jet trainers, could also potentially be used for close-air support, he added.
"There is an option down the road that you might take the airframe that's designed for T-X and use it for some other use," he said. "We have some money in our budget that will let us do the studies" to look at that.
However, the Air Force needs to be careful with the T-X because if it starts adding requirements to the program, it could become unaffordable and the service won't be able to replace its trainers, he said. "We're focused on that trainer requirement now," Holmes said. "Then there is an option after we've reached that point that we can look at variants of the T-X to do other things."
The Air Force is determining ways it can give appropriate credit to competitors for providing excess power, cooling and space in the airplane that will enable it to fill other roles in the future, he noted.
Holmes said he has already seen a draft of the CAS requirement document and it will make its way to the Air Force chief of staff sometime this spring. "Then we'll fold that into the larger study we're doing on the future of the combat Air Forces, and that's a longer-term project," he said.
The overall decision will eventually be rolled into the Defense Department's topline. The Pentagon will then have to look at "how that fits into everything else the department has to do and the choices that have to be made under a restricted budget environment."
Photo: Air Force