The US Air Force's top officer has said that a "light strike" platform optimised for the irregular warfare mission could be added to the service's inventory of manned fighters.
Such an aircraft could serve both as a basic trainer for the USAF and "partner" air forces, and as an attack platform in operations against terrorists and insurgents, says chief of staff Gen Norton Schwartz.
"There is a legitimate need to talk about the light strike role and the building partner capacity role, and we certainly intend to have that discussion in the coming months," Schwartz said following a speech on the USAF's role in irregular warfare at the Brookings Institute.
In Vietnam, the USAF operated the Douglas A-1 Skyraider to attack irregular forces known as the Viet Cong, but has since abandoned the use of such manned, propeller-driven aircraft in combat.
However, Schwartz, a former special operations commander, says he plans to launch talks in June with the USAF leadership on the need for a specialised irregular warfare unit.
Schwartz adds that the USAF generally wishes to avoid operating single-mission aircraft, and prefers buying platforms with "general purpose", or multi-role capability. A joint basic trainer/light strike fighter may fit Schwartz's description.
The USAF currently operates the Hawker Beechcraft T-6A Texan II as the joint primary aircraft training system (JPATS) to qualify all pilots. The company has also proposed an attack version of the JPATS platform called the AT-6, with a capability to drop precision munitions and carry .50-calibre machine gun pods.
"If we had a primary trainer that is for basic pilot training that could be easily reconfigured into a light strike platform - and then you would have a cadre of instructors who could sort of make that transition quickly to a building partner capacity role in the same airplane, and the same crew, and perhaps folks who we have arranged to have language skills that's a part of their repertoire - that is a very attractive way to solve this problem," Schwartz says.