04:08 GMT +320 January 2020
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    The US Air Force is looking to upgrade its close-air support (CAS) mission, and possible options include augmenting and replacing the service’s ubiquitous Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II jet.

    The Air Force has a primary plan that suggests the purchase of two aircraft to handle CAS operations.

    In the first phase, US Air Force officials seek to procure, under the OA-X program, a light-attack jet to support the A-10. The Air Force hopes to get its first 20 aircraft as early as in 2017, with additional orders in 2018, FlightGlobal reported, citing Dan Goure, an analyst at the Lexington Institute. Due to the urgency of the order, the jet will be chosen from already existing aircraft, including the Beechcraft AT-6 and the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano.

    In the following phase, the Air Force expects the acquisition of the A-X2, the intended replacement for the A-10, which could be either an existing or a new jet, to operate in medium-threat environments.

    Earlier, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James declined rumors that the new F-35 could be used in those procurements.

    “Part of the declaration of the initial combat capability is that the F-35 can do the CAS missions that would designate it as required as part of IOC, not the full up CAS, but what’s called the limited CAS.”

    According to James, options that suggest buying a single aircraft to replace the aging A-10 in CAS operations are also being discussed.

    However, she noted on Wednesday, according to Defense News, that the launch of a new program would mean the shutdown of an older one: “If something goes in, something else has to fall out."

    Earlier on Tuesday, Air Combat Command head Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle claimed that US Air Force may lack the funds to bring the CAS modernization plan to life, as the service is carrying the financial burden of concurrently introducing several other programs, including the F-35, the B21 bomber, the KC-46 tanker, and various nuclear and space system upgrades.

    He also noted that a low-end A-10 replacement for CAS missions would be inefficient in the face of a changing threat landscape.

    "When I look at a permissive close-air-support environment airplane five, seven, 10 years from now, I'm not sure what that environment's going to look like," he remarked.


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