The USAF released to industry an ‘invitation to participate’ in a new light attack ‘OA-X’ experiment on Friday. Senior USAF officials have been talking specifically about a requirement for 200 to 300 OA-X aircraft for nearly a year now, triggered initially by the need to offset the pessimism around retiring the A-10C Thunderbolt II. It also reflects the reality that while the USAF is keen to position itself to meet future ‘near peer’ threats, the majority of its operations over the past 15 years — not to mention combat operations right now — have been in a permissive environment.
USAF acquisition chief Lt Gen Arnold Bunch told reporters at an Air Force Association press call that this is purely an experiment, not a formal program of record, and there are no formal plans past the experiment. Bunch laid out some broad requirements for a potential OA-X aircraft; the need to be able to operate from a 6,000-ft runway and have an average fuel flow of under 1,500lbs per hour.
OA-X would complement the A-10 in the near term. It would free up other high-end fighters to concentrate on the ‘near-peer’ fight. It would also enable the USAF to start addressing its ‘critical’ fighter pilot shortfall by getting new pilots out into the field faster.
The experiment is about building a business case for OA-X. The USAF says it expects replies within a month and will then pick candidates to enter into a flying experiment at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, this summer. The USAF says it wants an aircraft that is ready to go and requires minimal work prior to going into production.