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Scorpion ruled out of USAF competition

Photo: Scorpion fires an AGM-114 Hellfire. Textron AirLand

 

The US Air Force has announced plans for a round of further light attack aircraft evaluations — but they won’t include Textron’s Scorpion light jet.

Gone is a plan to take the light attack evaluation (also know as OA-X) downrange to the Middle East, instead the USAF will further evaluate the Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine and the Sierra Nevada Corp. A-29 Super Tucano between May and July this year at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. The Textron AirLand Scorpion’s rejection comes as a bitter blow for Textron after an exhaustive push to market its new light ISR/attack jet. The USAF says it favors the turboprop AT-6 and A-29 as: ‘the two most promising light-attack aircraft,’ according to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. L-3’s Longsword light attack/ISR aircraft was also rejected.

She added: ‘Rather than do a combat demonstration, we have decided to work closely with industry to experiment with maintenance, data networking, and sensors with the two most promising light attack aircraft — the AT-6 Wolverine and the A-29 Super Tucano.’ She said this will be used to gather data ‘needed for a rapid procurement.’

An 81st FS A-29 prepares to taxi out for a mission. The unit operates to train Afghan and Lebanses Super Tucano pilots. USAF

Five countries including Australia, Canada, Paraguay and the United Arab Emirates observed the first round of evaluations last summer at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, and the Air Force plans to invite additional ‘international partners’ to come along to the second phase of experimentation this summer. USAF Chief of Staff Gen Dave Goldfein said a light attack aircraft would give the USAF more opportunities to partner with countries that might not be able to afford F-35s or F-15s, adding fuel to the fire regarding suggestions that OA-X is little more than an international sales push for US technology.

‘A light attack capability could sustain competence in irregular warfare, maximize capability from financial investment, and harness existing, innovative technologies. A light attack aircraft option not only offers additional value and flexibility, but also accelerates modernization of current and potential partner forces who do not require advanced fighter aircraft.’

The AT-6 Wolverine has been evaluated significantly by the USAF. Beechcraft/Jim Haseltine

Many question suitable applications for a new single-role light attack aircraft in the USAF inventory, even though it may be a way to lighten the load for fighter squadrons in terms of deployments in uncontested environments. It would enable the USAF to operate a fleet of cheaper platforms that would increase capacity and ‘absorb’ more pilots each year — but the USAF is already struggling to fill its active-duty fighter squadrons amind a manning crisis. Light attack may give the USAF a solution in terms of getting new pilots to the front line faster. Training a fighter pilot in today’s fifth-gen’ platforms is far from a quick process…

Goldfein says: ‘A light attack aircraft would not only provide relief to our fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft, but also bolster our interoperability, so we can more effectively employ airpower as an international team.’

So far, no funds have been made available for OA-X procurement, so all eyes will be on the Trump Administration’s Fiscal 2019 budget request submission to Congress on February 12.

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