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AT-6, Scorpion invited to challenge A-29 for USAF demo

Textron Aviation has confirmed the US Air Force will invite the AT-6 turboprop and Scorpion twin-jet to face off against the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano in a demonstration of close air support capabililty in August called the Light Attack Experiment.

“This is an exciting step forward for these programs, and we are confident the Scorpion and AT-6 are exceptional platforms to fulfill the USAF’s light attack mission,” Textron Aviation says in a statement.

The AT-6 Wolverine is adapted from the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II with a higher-thrust engine, data links and weapons stations. It differs slightly in configuration from T-6A, a version flown by the Hellenic Air Force that comes equipped to carry rocket and gun pods.

Textron AirLand, a joint venture, launched the clean-sheet Scorpion in 2012 initially to offer to the Air National Guard as a low-cost tactical combat jet for roles such as air sovereignty patrols and mission in low-threat war zones. It has since been offered to dozens of foreign countries as a jet-powered alternative to turboprop designs such as the Super Tucano, fulfilling a role once performed globally by the Cessna AT-37 Dragonfly.

“Both platforms offer advanced mission systems technology, affordability and adaptability,” Textron Aviation says. “Designed, sourced and built in the United States, the Scorpion and AT-6 also offer a strong, positive economic impact aligned with the goals of the current administration.”

Although the original T-6 was derived from the Swiss-designed Pilatus PC-9, Textron Aviation appears to be drawing a distinction with the A-29 Super Tucano. Embraer designed and built hundreds of Super Tucanos for the international market from its military aircraft production site in Gaviao Peixoto, Brazil. It teamed with US-based Sierra Nevada to win a US Air Force contract to deliver 20 A-29s to the Afghan military. Embraer assembled the aircraft for the Afghan contract in Jacksonville, Florida.

Last March, the USAF announced plans to conduct the Light Attack Experiment in August at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. Building on previous experiments focused on the close air support mission that were organized by the US Navy and Special Operations Command, the USAF demonstration will be expanded to include a broader set of counter-land missions typical of an extended military campaign.

USAF officials have discussed a follow-on acquisition programme dubbed OA-X, but so far has not committed funding or set firm plans for such a contract. The USAF now operates the Fairchild Republic A-10 as a dedicated close air support platform, but the fleet is scheduled to enter retirement after 2020. The multi-role Lockheed Martin F-35A had long been the USAF's preferred replacement for the A-10, but top officials have recently shown interest in a low-cost alternative to the stealthy Lightning II for the close air support mission.

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