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USAF considers accelerated light-attack aircraft buy in 2019

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson may ask Congress to reallocate funds to the light-attack aircraft programme this year, a move which would accelerate the department’s purchase of the aircraft by one year to 2019.

Funding for procurement of the light-attack aircraft is currently slated to begin in fiscal year 2020 and there is about $2.5 billion budgeted over the next five years for the programme, according to the Air Force. The possible reallocation of funds was first reported by Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Two aircraft are finalists for the light-attack aircraft, or OA-X, programme: Textron Aviation's Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine and Sierra Nevada/Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano.

The Air Force is interested in buying propeller-driven aircraft for surveillance and light-attack duties as a cheaper alternative to using aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-35, Boeing F-15 or Fairchild Republic A-10.

Once relieved of their light attack duties, more advanced aircraft, which are also more expensive to operate, would be redeployed to counter threats from more capable adversaries; for instance, so-called great power nations like Russia and China.

Light-attack aircraft are seen as useful in counterinsurgency and anti-terrorism missions over countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq where US control over the skies is not contested by enemy aircraft or surface-to-air missiles.

Last July, the USAF staged the OA-X experiment at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. Several aircraft, including the A-29 and AT-6, demonstrated how they could perform the light air support mission, which includes light attack and training functions. The USAF has scheduled a follow-up OA-X experiment this summer at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, and invited only the A-29 and AT-6 to participate.

The USAF already purchased 26 Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos as part of a separate programme to equip the Afghan Air Force.

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