Says light attack planes unneeded by USAF, but others disagree

By Mike Whaley

On May 6, 2010, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told attendees at an event of the Center for National Policy in Washington DC that the idea of using a light COIN-type aircraft for irregular warfare was unnecessary, and that the Air Force already had the right planes for the job. He also said that there isn’t a need for a smaller cargo aircraft. Schwartz originally promoted the idea of such aircraft as necessary to meet current and future military needs.
Schwartz told the group “There is a not a need, in my view, for large numbers of light strike or light lift aircraft in our Air Force to do general purpose force missions… with the platforms that we already have in our force structure, and our capabilities, we can service any close air support requirement. It’s as simple as that.”

He did state that there is a missing link in the USAF’s capability to train foreign air forces. He suggested that this should be an aircraft that is in the USAF inventory so that foreign governments will be more likely to buy them for themselves. He said that in 2012, the USAF will hold the Light Attack and Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) competition to choose 15 such aircraft, which will most likely be prop-driven, and would be used as trainers, but not as USAF COIN aircraft. Afghanistan and Iraq are specifically targeted as beneficiaries of this program, and there is an emphasis on “modest cost”. All this appears to heavily favor a variant of the Raytheon T-6A Texan II, which is used by the USAF and US Navy and already has a logistics system in place which would likely be easy to extend to foreign allies we are working closely with.

Schwartz’s clarification that the goal of the LAAR program is to serve as a USAF-owned training fleet dedicated to foreign military training is a contradiction to previous indications, which were that LAAR was meant to help restore the “down and dirty” close-air support capabilities that the US military lost with the retirement of planes such as the OV-10 Bronco and O-2 Skymaster, among others.

However, there is disagreement on the issue. In March 2010, Gen. James Mattis of Joint Forces Command told the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee of the need to obtain a light fighter-type aircraft to support irregular warfare, slamming the modern approach of using highly advanced and expensive aircraft and a command bureaucracy to decide what to shoot at. A RAND report entitled “Courses of Action for Enhancing U.S. Air Force Irregular Warfare Capabilities” also proclaimed a need for the military to create a dedicated COIN squadron with about 100 light attack aircraft, in part to relieve the pressure on “high-end” fast jet fighters. RAND said that “partners are more likely to want aircraft that U.S. forces are flying to great effect”. The US Navy has a new office for irregular warfare and has been considering adopting Embraer’s Super Tucano.

Whether this will affect Boeing’s OV-10(X) modernized Bronco proposal remains to be seen… Boeing (which absorbed NAA/Rockwell) has sold and supported many OV-10 variants to foreign nations starting in the 1970’s, with much success. So even without USAF interest in a modernized OV-10, Boeing may yet find a market for the plane worldwide in countries that can put it’s unique capabilities and features to good use.

Information for this article was condensed from DOD Buzz