Two Horse Race Between AT-6 and SUPER TUCANO
At the end of January it became apparent that the US Air Force (USAF) has excluded the Textron Aviation SCORPION twin-jet from the next phase of the OA-X experiment. This leaves Textron’s AT-6 WOLVERINE and the Embraer/Sierra Nevada A-29 SUPER TUCANO as the sole remaining contenders for a requirement that could be for as many as 300 aircraft by 2022 if the experiment transforms into an acquisition programme.
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson described the two remaining contenders as “the two most promising light attack aircraft,” explaining that the focus on two aircraft “will let us gather the data needed for a rapid procurement.”
The next moves will include a competitive demonstration at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, from May to July. Rather than the demonstration that was originally scheduled to be conducted in a combat zone, the UAF has “decided to work closely with industry to experiment with maintenance, data networking and sensors,” according to Wilson. This suggests to some observers that surveillance and communications functions of the aircraft are now being prioritised over weapons capabilities.
OA-X aims to find a low-cost, exportable aircraft for permissive environments, according to Air Force sources, providing relief for more advanced aircraft where their capabilities may not be required and increasing levels of interoperability with a wide range of coalition partners. The acid test will come later this month when the Trump administration submits the Fiscal 2019 defence budget request to Congress. If the programme is funded, the USAF could make an OA-X contract award as early as FY19.