The US Air Force is planning a light attack aircraft experiment at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico this summer, marking the service’s first step to introduce a new, low-cost fighter.

The USAF chief and acting secretary will direct the experiment this week, which would continue work from a previous US Special Operations Command effort known as Combat Dragon. While Combat Dragon I operated low-cost aircraft at Fallon Naval Air Station, Nevada, the second Combat Dragon exercise demonstrated OV-10 Broncos in the Middle East.

The air force will invite industry to demonstrate off-the-shelf aircraft at Holloman, which will determine whether the service should transition to a second phase with demonstrations in the Middle East, USAF chief Gen David Goldfein told reporters 3 March at the annual Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

USAF acting secretary Lisa Disbrow also made a significant push for the OA-X concept during her address at the annual Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida this week. Today, much of the air force’s demand comes from permissive environments, she told reporters.

“When you look at the cost of flying hours that we could potentially save is there a part of the mission that could be serviced by this part of the fleet,” Disbrow says. “Then that frees up the more complex assets to allow pilots to train for the full spectrum threat to be ready.”

At the same time, Disbrow called for an overall increase in aircraft. Although the USAF’s deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements warned against accelerating F-35 procurement before the development of Block 4, Goldfein and Disbrow are vouching for an increased buy. In addition to new procurement, the air force’s budget also calls for upgrades to legacy F-15s, F-16s and bombers, Disbrow says.

“We have to be responsible at budgeting,” she says. “It’s going to be a mix...we can’t just turn a switch and automatically have a new inventory to refresh and upgrade our aircraft we have on the ramp.”