NEWS FROM ASC: Upcoming Budget Could Shape Future of Light-Attack Aircraft Procurement
Credit: Air Force
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Approaching budget deliberations could set the framework for future purchases of light-attack aircraft, according to the head of Air Force Special Operations Command.
Lt. Gen. James Slife said the Defense Department plans to examine whether support from light-attack aircraft should be supplied by Special Operations Command or the joint force.
“Whether [support] needs to be provided by somebody in SOCOM or whether that's provided by the rest of the joint force… is a matter that’s still up for discussion,” he said Sept. 16 at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space, Cyber conference at National Harbor, Maryland. “I know the department will take that up as part of the budget deliberations this fall and we will see how that is going to turn up.”
The Air Force originally requested $35 million for the service to move forward with its experimentation of the light-attack armed reconnaissance program, which includes the development of the Sierra Nevada Corp.-Embraer team’s A-29 Super Tucano and Textron Aviation’s AT-6 Wolverine turboprop.
According to Breaking Defense, multiple members of Congress are pushing for an amendment to the House version of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which would include a provision that would shift procurement authority for the aircraft to Special Operations Command if the Air Force does not go forward with the purchase.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla. and co-sponsored by five other Florida members, according to the outlet.
“With respect to the Congressional language … I don't think that that's been conferenced, so it's not part of the NDAA that will go the President,” Slife said. “I think what it did was [provide] SOCOM the opportunity to proceed with an acquisition program if the SOCOM commander were to make some assertion that this capability is required and so forth.”
Air Force Special Operations Command plans to use the aircraft for combat aviation advisory missions, Slife told reporters.
The Air Force has been pursuing a light-attack aircraft for years. Originally, the experiment involved four systems, including the Sierra Nevada -Embraer team's A-29 Super Tucano; Textron Aviation's AT-6 Wolverine turboprop and Scorpion armed reconnaissance jet; and Air Tractor Inc.’s AT-802L Longsword turboprop supported by L3’s platform integration division.
Meanwhile, the command's work to test and integrate a 60-kilowatt directed energy weapon system onto the AC-130 gunship is ongoing.
"We haven't seen anything up to this point that would lead us to believe that that's not all achievable in the near-term time horizon," Slife said.
The aircraft was built to support new sensors and weapons, making integration of the new system easier, he noted.
"We haven't seen any particular challenges with integrating so far," he said.