WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday stated its intent to sole source A-29 Super Tucanos from Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer. But a similar solicitation for Textron’s AT-6 Wolverine will be forthcoming, an Air Force spokeswoman confirmed.
The Air Force intends to put out a final solicitation to the SNC-Embraer team this month and will award a contract by the end of the fiscal year, according to a May 8 notice on FedBizOpps.
“We expect a separate procurement action for the AT-6,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Defense News. Stefanek added that the service still intends to buy two to three of each aircraft for more experiments at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and with the special operations community at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
Earlier this year, the Air Force acknowledged it was unprepared to move its light-attack experimentation effort into a full-fledged program of record. Instead, the service kept both options — Textron’s AT-6 and the SNC-Embraer A-29 — on the table and requested $35 million to continue testing the jets in fiscal 2020.
Some analysts and lawmakers have accused the Air Force of slow-rolling the program in an attempt to see it quietly canceled, despite congressional enthusiasm for buying new attack planes.
However, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein maintains that future experiments will help the Air Force narrow down light-attack capabilities that the service and foreign nations need. He has also said the service will be ready to make procurement decisions around the FY22-FY24 time frame.
“The United States Marine Corps has already said they’re joining us,” Goldfein said in March. “We’re going to invite allies and partners, and with the authorities you’ve given us now that we own those prototypes, we will continue to experiment to build the interoperable network that we’ve already advanced.”
According to the pre-solicitation, the light-attack aircraft “will provide an affordable, non-developmental aircraft intended to operate globally in the types of Irregular Warfare environments that have characterized combat operations over the past 25 years. Additionally, it will support Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) with the ability to accomplish its mission of Close Combat Air support to partner nations.”
The Air Force has said that funding for the initial AT-6 and A-29 buys will come out of the estimated $160 million in unspent funds that Congress appropriated for the effort in previous budgets. Congress has appropriated $200 million in total for the effort since it was announced in late 2016.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.