Cities have become the new battleground and Hybrid or Urban Warfare the greatest threat being waged by ISIS to Boko Haram to Hamas to Ukraine rebels. New air, ground and sea based platforms and munitions are desired having capabilities of accurately engaging targets in urban terrain with low collateral damage. The US military has been interested in light attack capabilities for special forces. The US Air Force (USAF) has released a draft request for proposal (RFP) for the light attack aircraft programme. US Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said: “We must develop the capacity to combat violent extremism at lower cost.
Buying several hundred light attack aircraft would also bring with it several other advantages, proponents of the strategy argued. A very economical fighter aircraft that has a multi-mission capability, that can fly in permissive environments would take the load off of the fourth-generation and the fifth-generation fighters, and not use up their service life in missions that don’t require all that capability .
Further, there is the fighter pilot shortage, which requires not only cockpits to train fighter pilots, but cockpits to season them. And seasoning in fourth and fifth generation aircraft is phenomenally more expensive than in an OA-X. Having more light aircraft in its inventory would increase its capacity, allowing it to train more pilots per year.
In addition, buying a low-cost, easy-to-use plane would also “bolster our interoperability,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said in a statement. This in turn would give the service an opportunity to partner with international countries who might not be able to afford a more pricey jet like the F-35 or F-15.
The Air Force announced in 2016 that it was considering holding a flight demo with light attack planes the following year. The aim was determine if such an aircraft would be useful to perform missions over permissive airspace in place of much more expensive and capable fourth and fifth-generation fighters. That may point to the efficacy of light attack aircraft in theaters like Afghanistan, where insurgent groups have little surface-to-air capability.
The Air Force was expected to test four different aircraft types including Sierra Nevada’s A-29 Super Tucano, the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6, the Textron Scorpion Jet and the Air Tractor AT-802U during its experiment. The hope, Air Combat Command head Gen. Mike Holmes told Defense News then, was to better understand whether inexpensive, off-the-shelf aircraft could fill some of the service’s close-air support requirements in the Middle East at a cheaper operating cost than combat aircraft like the A-10 or F-16.
Now Airforce has cancelled earlier experiment and announced new experiments, planned for May to July 2018 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, narrow the field to Textron Aviation’s AT-6 Wolverine and the A-29 Super Tucano made by Sierra Nevada Corporation and Embraer — cutting the Textron Scorpion and L-3 Technologies’ AT-802L Longsword from further competition.
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has added $1.2 billion to the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the U.S. Air Force’s OA-X light attack/observation aircraft effort.
U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM)’s LASSO
At the same time, it appears that U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been actively pushing the service for a project of its own, called Light Attack Support for Special Operations, or LASSO. According to thedrive.com, LASSO could potentially include readily reconfigurable designs with modular bays to accept different sensors or simply aircraft able to carry any of a number of multi-purpose pods able to carry day- and night vision cameras, radars, data links, and more.
The weapon system category includes four actual munitions requirements, as well as a desire for an advanced targeting system. This latter system should be able to receive real-time information about time-sensitive targets, which could include individual terrorists, as well as other threats, friendly forces, and basic waypoints.
Once the crew of the notional light attack aircraft marks their target, the Air Force wants them to be able to rapidly engage them in the most appropriation fashion. The command is interested in bombs and missiles with scalable effects that can attack targets, destroying them in the “first pass,” all while avoiding as much collateral damage as possible. This could be particularly useful when striking terrorists or militants in densely populated urban environments. This section also stipulates a desire to be able to get at targets above and below ground, which would include tunnels, something that has become a particular feature of the fight against ISIS in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
The Air Force wants to be able to reprogram these weapons in flight, via a secure datalink, in order to improve accuracy and provide additional data to help develop follow-on munitions designs. Though not specifically noted, this would give crews additional control after releasing a bomb or missile, allowing them to better direct it away from innocent civilians if they suddenly enter the target area or fine tune their attack if the target moves. Israel already builds a number of weapons that fit this basic description of a man-in-the-loop precision munition, including the Spike NLOS missile.
The Air Force and SOCOM have been developing a number of small precision guided munitions, such as the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) II laser-guided rocket, for both manned and unmanned aircraft. SOCOM has already fielded a common launch tube that can fire a number of missiles and stand-off glide munitions, including the popular AGM-176 Griffin and upcoming GBU-69/B Small Glide Munition (SGM), for various platforms. These may find way in the LASSO project.