Air Force Shows Off Its Light Attack Experiment

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein speaks with a Beechcraft representative shortly after landing in an AT-6 Wolverine at Holloman AFB, N.M. The AT-6 is one of four aircraft participating in a "light attack experiment" at Holloman. Air Force Magazine photo by Brian Everstine.

HOLLOMAN AFB, N.M.—Air Force crews are “test driving” four commercial aircraft for a possible new light attack weapons system, testing it against a series of points focusing on what the jet could possibly bring to the fight.

But don’t call it a competition.

The light attack “experiment” at Holloman AFB, N.M., consists of the Air Force looking for a possible “OA-X” aircraft to fly close air support in permissive environment. The service is looking to “do something quickly” and is asking if it is “feasible to consider a non-developmental, off-the-shelf light attack aircraft,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Wednesday during an open house on the program here.

The service was authorized $6 million to evaluate possible aircraft for the mission, and within five months of beginning the program, four aircraft were on the ramp at Holloman. The aircraft are the A-29 Super Tucano from Sierra Nevada and Embraer, the AT-802 Longsword from Air Tractor and L3, the Textron Airland Scorpion, and the AT-6 from Beechcraft.

“That’s the kind of rapid evaluation those provisions intended to allow,” Wilson said.

The four aircraft were on display at Holloman on Wednesday, with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein making an entrance flying the AT-6.

Air Force crews, which consist of 16 aircrew, along with crew chiefs, maintainers, weapons troops, and joint terminal attack controllers are evaluating the aircraft on multiple missions to include day and night close air support, said Lt. Col. Robert Odom, deputy commander of the 704th Test Group. The pilots evaluating the aircraft have experience in the A-10, F-16, F-15E, F-22, F-35, U-28, and B-52.

The crews are testing more than 580 data points, including areas such as the aircraft’s visibility and handling, the sensor packages, data links, and weapons, among others. Aircrew will complete surveys on how each aircraft performs. Pilots will employ inert weapons on ranges around Holloman, including White Sands Missile Range, and land on an undeveloped, dirt runway at Cannon AFB, N.M., Odom said.

Ultimately, the Air Force testers will provide one final report for each aircraft detailing how it handles the mission.

If there are aircraft that prove capable, they will then move to a combat experiment, said Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command. This will include flying missions for combatant commanders as needed, and they will then be evaluated again. If the program progresses, this could take place next year, he said.