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704th Test Group hosts light attack platform capability event


A Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano A-29 experimental aircraft flies over White Sands Missile Range. The A-29 is participating in the U.S. Air Force Light Attack Experiment (OA-X), a series of trials to determine the feasibility of using light aircraft in attack roles. Air Force senior leaders and international visitors were there Aug. 9 for the live-fly capability assessment hosted by the 704th Test Group at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The 704th Test Group is a unit of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex, which is headquartered at Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ethan D. Wagner)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, TENN. -- As part of the Light Attack Experimentation Campaign, Air Force senior leaders and international visitors were in attendance Aug. 9 for a live-fly capability assessment of off-the-shelf light attack aircraft hosted by the 704th Test Group at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.

The 704th Test Group is a unit of AEDC, which is headquartered at Arnold Air Force Base.

In its first week, the light-attack experiment featured Air Force pilots flying basic surface attack missions in the Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, the Textron Aviation Scorpion jet and AT-6 Wolverine turboprop. Air Force pilots also completed familiarization flights of the Air Tractor Inc. and L3 Platform Integration Division’s AT-802L Longsword. Pilots will continue to fly these aircraft through a range of combat mission scenarios during the live-fly experiment to evaluate each light attack platform’s military utility.

“We’re experimenting and innovating, and we’re doing it in new and faster ways,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “Experiments like these help drive innovation and play a key role in enhancing the lethality of our force.”

The live-fly experiment is part of a broader Air Force effort to explore cost-effective attack platform options under the Light Attack Experimentation Campaign run by the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

A light attack concept has not been employed since Vietnam, but in February, the U.S. Air Force released an industry Invitation to Participate to evaluate the military utility of light attack platforms in future force structure.

Prior to this event, Lt. Gen. Arnie Bunch, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, has commented on the need for the assessment.

“This is an evolution of the Close Air Support experimentation effort which we have now broadened to include a variety of counterland missions typical of extended operations since Desert Storm,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Mike Holmes, Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements also said, “After 25 years of continuous combat operations, our Air Force is showing strain. Since we don’t expect the deployment demand to decrease, we have to look for innovative and affordable ways to meet capability demands in permissive environments while building and maintaining readiness to meet emerging threats in more contested environments.”

The Air Force is interested in becoming more agile by leveraging rapid acquisition authorities where appropriate, to meet anticipated needs. Experimentation and prototyping are envisioned as potential pathways to identify new operational concepts and candidate capabilities which can be rapidly and affordably fielded.

“We think we’ve brought together the right mix of aircraft to inform us on the ‘art of the possible’ in industry,” Bunch said. “This experiment is about learning what is available that could potentially meet an Air Force need.”

The Air Force is experimenting with potential off-the-shelf aircraft to demonstrate industry’s capability, capacity and interest in providing platforms that will be cost-effective assets with low procurement, operating and sustainment costs. It is anticipated that results from this campaign will assist in making future investment decisions.

“There could be a cost-effective solution in industry today that could perform our close air support missions and reduce the workload on our already taxed 4th Generation fleet,” said Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris, Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements. “That does not mean we have a program of record, it simply means we need to learn what is available.”

The information contained in this news release was provided by U.S. Air Force Public Affairs.