As month-long demonstration begins today, a newly-released acquisition document reveals a potential path for the US Air Force to acquire a light air support capability for special operations forces.
The USAF has partnered with Special Operations Command's fixed-wing acquisition office to launch an open-ended technology hunt called light attack support for special operations (LASSO).
A broad area announcement could be released to industry, which would pursue information on advances in new technologies for light attack aircraft of interest special operations forces, according to an acquisition planning document dated 28 July.
The document suggests a new route to market for the contenders in the OA-X light attack aircraft experiment, a follow up to Combat Dragon II, which begins on today.
That demonstration will assess off-the-shelf options to fill a low-end attack and support role. The experiment will evaluate Textron Aviation’s Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine turboprop and Scorpion jet, as well as the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano at Holloman AFB, Nevada.
USAF officials have repeated that OA-X is an experiment and has no procurement dollars attached. The recent acquisition notice emphasises that point, noting the service issued the presolicitation for market research and does not promise a request for proposals.
The USAF will see where the experiment goes and make decisions from there, USAF Secretary Heather Wilson told FlightGlobal on 26 July at the Experimental Aircraft Association's Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Still, the OA-X demonstration could help address the slow pace of procurement, she says.
“This is a great example of it’s not a procurement – it’s an experiment so we can learn something,” Wilson says. “But the time between when the chief of staff said, ‘let’s try this,’ and when the aircraft were delivered for testing was five months. That’s the kind of innovation in a lot of different areas that we want to see. That doesn’t mean that we necessarily move forward with procurement with everything that we try that on, but it’s a new way of looking of looking at what the advancements are and thinking about them.”
The air force and Defense Department are currently discussing a national military strategy, including ways to handle missions in more permissive airspace, Wilson adds.