Over the deserts of brand-new Mexico, the U.S. Air force is kicking the tires on four light aircraft, one of which will almost certainly become the service"s following light attack aircraft. The Textron Scorpion, Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine, Sierra Nevada A-29, and also Air Tractor AT-802U room all being tested in ~ White Sands Missile Range, brand-new Mexico in simulated missions from convoy escort to sustaining friendly soil troops in contact.

Here"s a video of the three planes undergoing testing:

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The program, known as the Light assault Experiment, is basically a fly-off in between the 4 planes to identify which best fits the air Force"s requirements. The Air pressure wants an observation and attack (OA-X) plane that deserve to fly over battlefields with minimal air defense hazards (think that the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan or Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq) and also not only carry out firepower on demand to soil forces, but also scout ahead and also gather intelligence on adversary forces.The aircraft would certainly not be perfect for fighting nations like Russia and also China that deploy advanced, completely modern waiting defense systems.

Basically, USAF desires a manned plane that can act together both a weapon and sensor platform, and also is inexpensive to boot. Previously, the Air force has used everything from A-10 Thunderbolt II attack jets come B-1B bombers in the near air support role. These plane are often an overmatch for chasing guerrillas, and also they"re additionally extremely expensive to fly: a B-1B prices $61,000 one hour to fly, if the F-35A joint Strike Fighter, i m sorry the Air pressure has designated the A-10"s successor, costs $42,000 one hour.

Whichever aircraft wins OA-X, it must be cheaper to buy (the Textron Scorpion expenses just $20 million versus the F-35A"s $90+ million) and likewise cheaper to fly. The Scorpion prices just $3,000 one hour come operate. End 1,000 trip hours, that"s a difference in operating costs of $39 million matches the F-35A—the identical of practically two whole Scorpions. Even contrasted to the reasonably inexpensive A-10, the Scorpion is $14 million cheaper end 1,000 hours. The various other three contestants, gift propeller-driven aircraft, room likely likewise inexpensive.

The OA-X plane may end up being cheaper, but it won"t lack for features. All 4 aircraft feature wing and fuselage hardpoints for moving a combination of weapons and also fuel stores, consisting of laser-guided bombs for striking targets v precision. While OA-X won"t have the A-10"s renowned GAU-8/A 30-millimeter gun, the could lug a lighter caliber pistol pod. OA-X will virtually certainly have actually a dedicated sensor pod. Fifty percent of the contestants have actually the L-3 MX-15Di sensor pod, permitting them to detect opponents targets at long ranges, including at night.

How would OA-X run in wartime? A OA-X aircraft could loiter in one area where troops are most likely to face contact v the enemy. As soon as it it s okay the call, it can use its sensor pod to conveniently figure out where friendly and enemy troops are. The would run at altitudes better than 10,000 feet to protect against shoulder-fired surface to waiting missiles, dropping laser-guided bombs on enemy forces significant by forward air controllers ~ above the ground with lasers. Laser-guided rockets such together the advanced Precision kill Weapon system are another option. Dropping below 10,000 feet, pistol runs with weapons such together the GAU-19/A three-barrel .50 caliber Gatling gun space an alternative (the AT-802U, because that example, can lug two at once.)

The OA-X project has actually the backing the the air Force and Congress. Chairman that the Senate armed Services Committee john McCain has authorized $1.2 billion end 5 year to acquisition up to 300 aircraft. The requirement, will to gain the planes, and also the dollars space all there. Unless all four wash out of the competition, it appears a certainty that among them will certainly win out and also become the wait Force"s next light strike jet.

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