Posts Tagged ‘OA-X’

Light Attack Aircraft: A Niche That Doesn’t Exist

Monday, August 7th, 2017

The Air Force has an experimental program to deliver a low-cost light attack aircraft for ground support duties. The light attack aircraft experiment, or OA-X project, has produced propeller-driven aircraft that look like a cross between a Diamond DA40 and a rejected ME-109 prototype with modern weapons on underwing hardpoints.

The program theoretically exists because it’s not cost-effective to use an F-35 (at $32,000 per hour of flight time) to kill poorly-armed insurgents.

I think the entire program is bunk. (And not just because John McCain is pushing for it.)

It’s not that the need for a light, low-cost aerial attack platform doesn’t exist, it’s just that there’s no military or technological justification (at least in the American armed forces) for that platform to be a manned aircraft. Those mission parameters are already satisfied by cheaper drones whose capabilities continue to improve by leaps and bounds. The problem isn’t that the Air Force can’t fly drones (the MQ-9 Reaper is extremely capable), but that the Army, the Navy, the Marines and the CIA can all fly them as well.

The entire Light Attack Aircraft program exists because of an inter-service political issue: The Air Force neither wants to do close air support, nor wants to give up that role to the Army. Put a pilot in a fixed-wing aircraft, and the Air Force gets to keep the mission, along with the money and headcount that go with it.

And as for why the Air Force keeps trying to kill the one plane they already have perfectly suited for ground support, the A-10 Warthog, well, I and others have already written about that at length. As Jerry Pournelle once put it, “USAF will always retire hundreds of Warthog to buy another F-35. Always, so long as it exists. And it will never give up a mission.”