As reports emerge that IOMAX will not put forward its Archangel armed counter-insurgency aircraft for the US Air Force’s OA-X light attack experiment this summer, the field is looking rather sparce for this summer’s event.
The Air Force has issued an invitation to industry to participate in the demonstrations, which will take place at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The service is currently considering the purchase of as many as 300 off-the-shelf light fighters that would support operations in low-threat environments in the Middle East.
OA-X is being investigated to assess if it could provide amore cost-effective solution for providing close air support (CAS) when compared to aircraft like the F-16C. However, thus far only the Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine and Textron AirLand Scorpion are thought to have been put forward for the experiment. Both Lockheed Martin and Boeing have said they will not participate, quashing any thoughts of a T-X training aircraft spin-off for the OA-X role, or the possibility that Boeing might resurrect the popular OV-10 Bronco. It also suggested that the USAF was looking at low acquisition and unit costs, down in the $10 million region and therefore suiting an AT-6 or A-29.
Sierra Nevada Corp has not said if it will participate with the A-29 Super Tucano, so for now, only the Textron offerings appear to be on the table.
The AT-6 and the A-29 were already evaluated by the USAF for the Light Armed Strike requirement that ultimately led to the Super Tucano being procured in small numbers for Afghanistan. Similarly, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) ran the ‘Combat Dragon’ trials to assess the suitability of turboprop aircraft in counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan, with a pair of OV-10Gs completing a combat evaluation with CENTCOM that ran until October 2015.
As it stands, the OA-X experiment may only serve to break new ground by formally evaluating the Scorpion, which Textron says could be procured for ‘the low $20 millions’ with an operating cost of around $3,000 per flight hour.
Textron AirLand completed the first weapons firing trials with its company-funded Scorpion demonstrator — coincidentally also at Holloman — from October 10-14 last year to demonstrate its CAS mission capability through the successful deployment of three widely used weapon systems. Test work started with unguided Hydra 70 2.75in rockets, followed by four APKWS, and culminating with two live AGM-114F Hellfire missiles.
As it stands, the OA-X experiment may only help the USAF decide if it wants to spend $10 million per light attack aircraft, or whether it needs to pay more for something like a Scorpion.
Maybe that’s an experiment that the other contenders feel the USAF can make a decision on without the need for their involvement.