We’ve LONG been in favor of the Air Force adopting a light attack/armed recon aircraft based on an existing trainer design (or the superb OV-10 Bronco) to support troops in Afghanistan and other permissive environments.
Recent discussions with respect to the application of airpower in Irregular Warfare have highlighted the applicability of light attack aircraft, currently missing from the US arsenal. Used extensively by the US in Vietnam, the light attack aircraft were widely exported, but were not replaced in US service when they retired due to age. Focused on the “high/low” F-15/F-16 mix envisioned to fight the Warsaw Pact in Western Europe, theUSAF has been particularly resistant to the possibility that the USAF might operate a modern light attack aircraft at all. Key objections range from the superficial (it has a propeller) to the conceptually flawed (the aircraft can’t be used in an MCO). Lost in the fray is the huge benefit to the forces currently involved in combat provided by an attack aircraft which can carry a similar warload to the F-16 with more hangtime, at a fraction of the cost, using a small sliver of the F-16’s logistical and support requirements. If we are to take the long view, a modern high/low mix which includes light attack shows significant potential to expand the capacity of tactical air worldwide without compromising the capability of a force involved in Major Contingency Operations. Yes, of course you can use light attack in a major war.
At this point, I’m not really concerned with which platform they choose, just that they choose one.
But I’ve got unfailing insight into the future. Let me tell you what will happen. The fighter mafia, not wanting to get stuck with unsexy airplanes, have been dragging their feet on this, and will continue to do so. As US involvement in Afghanistan is trimmed back, the push to buy these LAARA birds will diminish somewhat, and then the fighter mafia will use the looming $400bn in defense cuts to argue that we can’t afford to buy and operate a new airplane.
LAARA is a good idea, long overdue (I mean, we’ve only been fighting in Afghanistan for 9 whole years!) and will almost certainly never reach operational status.