The Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, shot down his own idea of a light attack aircraft for irregular wars today, saying existing aircraft can perform any and all close air support missions that a new, light strike fighter could. On top of that, he averred there is no need for a smaller cargo lifter either, he said.
“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,” Schwartz said, speaking at a Center for National Policy sponsored event in Washington, D.C. “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 could not envision replacing existing F-15, F-16 and A-10 aircraft with a light strike aircraft.
Schwartz did identify an existing capability gap: an aircraft that can be used to train nascent foreign air arms. It should be something in the U.S. Air Force inventory, so that foreign pilots become familiar with it and then foreign nations are encouraged to buy the same aircraft in some quantities.
To that end, in 2012, the Air Force will hold a competition to buy 15 light strike and surveillance aircraft, probably propeller driven, he said. But these aircraft would be used as trainers, to build “partner capacity” with foreign air forces, specifically those in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The idea is a modest cost platform, one that can perform the light strike mission or surveillance, as the case may be, and do so that can be readily assimilated and operated within the means of our army air corps counterparts.”
Last summer, the Air Force requested aircraft manufacturers provide designs for a Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) aircraft. Many had speculated this meant the Air Force would be adding a LAAR air wing. Schwartz made clear that is not the case. The LAAR aircraft will be used as trainers, owned and operated by the Air Force, to train foreign pilots in low end missions.
In March, Joint Forces Command’s Gen. James Mattis, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the military needs a light fighter for irregular warfare. “Today’s approach of loitering multi-million dollar aircraft and using a system of systems procedure for the approval and employment of airpower is not the most effective use of aviation fires in this irregular fight,” he said.
A recent RAND report, titled “Courses of Action for Enhancing U.S. Air Force Irregular Warfare Capabilities,” said the service should stand up a dedicated COIN air wing equipped with about 100 of the currently undefined “OA-X” light attack aircraft. Such an aircraft would greatly facilitate partnering with Iraqi and Afghan aviators, while lowering the costs and reducing excessive flying hour demands for high-performance aircraft such as the F-16.
Additionally, as “partners are more likely to want aircraft that U.S. forces are flying to great effect,” building and operating a COIN aircraft would simultaneously boost support for ground troops while “whetting the appetite of partners who are prematurely looking to acquire high-performance jet aircraft such as the F-16.”
The U.S. Navy’s new Irregular Warfare office, under its “Imminent Fury” project, has been eyeing the Brazilian Super Tucano turboprop to provide close air support to special operations forces.