A program that would have seen the Air Force buy up to 300 turboprop attack aircraft has officially been nixed, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Defense News on Monday. Instead, the Pentagon will see an as-yet-unannounced alternative aircraft.
However, the two Textron AT-6 Wolverines and two Sierra Nevada A-29 Super Tucanos the Air Force bought will still be used for experimental purposes and for training partner air forces that still use the aircraft. The Air Force had intended to have the two planes compete for the contract to be used as low-cost alternative aircraft when it’s not worth it to risk expensive jets like F-35s.
As Sputnik reported, while the two aircraft seem a bit out of place in the 21st century, their slow speed and long loitering time over the battlefield make them ideal for “armed overwatch,” the Pentagon’s name for the new close air support mission that has become predominant over strategic bombing since the War on Terror began.
Neither aircraft would be of much use against Russian or Chinese forces, confrontation with which now occupies the minds of Pentagon planners, following a 2018 shift in White House doctrine away from the War on Terror.
Instead of the turboprop planes, Special Operations Command has asked for $106 million for a new, unspecified armed overwatch aircraft, Defense News noted. Military.com reported on Friday on a new SOCOM solicitation posted on the government’s acquisition and awards website for 75 aircraft that will “provide Special Operations Forces (SOF) [with] deployable and sustainable manned aircraft systems, fulfilling Close Air Support (CAS), Precision Strike, and SOF Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) [needs] in austere and permissive environments.’”
In addition to the Super Tucano and Wolverine, two other light attack aircraft previously under consideration by the Air Force include the jet-powered Scorpion, built by Textron and AirLand, and the Air Tractor AT-802, a modified crop duster.