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USAF reveals intentions to acquire light attack fighter fleet

After more than a year of flight demonstrations the US Air Force is formally moving the light attack aircraft experiment into the acquisitions phase, with the intention that it will award a production contract to Sierra Nevada Corporation or Textron Aviation in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019.

The pre-solicitation notice for the other than full and open competition was announced on 3 August. It is anticipated that a formal solicitation will be released in December of 2018, according to the USAF.

“[Light attack aircraft] will provide an affordable, non-developmental aircraft intended to operate globally in the types of irregular warfare environments that have characterized combat operations over the past 25 years,” the USAF wrote in its pre-solicitation notice. “Sierra Nevada Corporation and Textron Aviation are the only firms that appear to possess the capability necessary to meet the requirement within the Air Force's time frame without causing an unacceptable delay in meeting the needs of the warfighter.”

The USAF had been using data gathered from the light attack experiment phase, a series of demonstration flights over more than a year by the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano and the Textron’s Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine, to decide whether to buy potentially hundreds of light attack aircraft. The hope is these fighters could be cheaper alternatives for certain missions to using aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 and Boeing F-15.

The experiment was suspended prematurely after the fatal crash of a Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano on 22 June. The crash would not harm Sierra Nevada/Embraer's chances of winning the competition, the USAF said.

The USAF appears to be barring any manufacturers who did not participate in the light attack experiment by limiting potential bidders for the light attack production contract. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Czech aerospace manufacturer Aero Vodochody – companies that did not participate in the experiment – publicly pitched their jointly developed F/A-259 Striker jet to the US Air Force in July as a speedy, cost effective and production model that would meet the service’s requirements.

It is not clear if IAI and Aero Vodochody would protest their exclusion from the other than full and open competition. Neither company responded immediately for a request for comment.

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