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Funding for new close air support platform remains uncertain

While rumblings of two potential close-air support platforms for the US Air Force shook Washington last week, discussions surrounding a possible light-attack aircraft and A-10 replacement have yet to reach the service’s secretary.

The two new CAS procurements are still “pre-decisional,” USAF Secretary Deborah Lee James told an audience in Washington DC during a Tuesday event sponsored by Defense One.

“I have not actually seen a proposal on any of this that has come forward to me,” she says. “Where would we get the money [is] not at all clear to me.”

Last week, Air Force officials briefed industry stakeholders on the AX-2, a replacement for the Fairchild Republic A-10, and the OA-X, a light-attack aircraft that would fly in permissive environments. The service is examining a clean-sheet design for AX-2 but the OA-X would call for a fully-developed, commercially developed aircraft. That could include at Beechcraft’s AT-6 and Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano, which the USAF is delivering to the Afghan Air Force for light attack missions.

Those potential procurement programmes have not raised questions about the Lockheed Martin F-35’s close air support mission, James adds.

“I’m not worried about that at all,” she says. “Part of the declaration of the initial combat capability is that the F-35 can do the CAS missions that would designate it as required as part of IOC, not the full up CAS, but what’s called the limited CAS.”

Although Raytheon intimated at the Farnborough air show that the USAF had asked them to examine a future CAS mission for the T-X trainer, James maintains that the service is focusing on a sole trainer mission for T-X and said she was unaware of a dual mission.

T-X trainer’s final request for proposals is due in December, but the next draft could release today, she adds.

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