WASHINGTON — A weeklong summit on the close-air support (CAS) mission did not lead to any major decisions about a next-generation replacement for the A-10, the head of Air Combat Command told reporters March 6.
However, the service will continue to look into options for what Gen. Hawk Carlisle referred to as an "A-X" system, including the possibility of choosing an existing plane like the Textron Scorpion jet to fill gaps in the "low-end" CAS realm.
"There wasn't anything definitive, other than we will continue to think about it and plan for it and see what that would look like," Carlisle said.
Carlisle first brought up the potential for a new, CAS specific follow-on to the A-10 last month at the Air Force Association's annual conference in Orlando, Florida.
The Air Force is attempting to retire the A-10 as a cost-saving measure, something that has launched vociferous opposition from both the CAS community and members of Congress. Part of the argument the service is trying to make is that the CAS mission will be performed more and more by the F-35 joint strike fighter.
Because the F-35 is still coming online, Carlisle indicated an A-X design is not coming anytime soon.
Asked whether an A-10 follow-on could come in the next decade, Carlisle said: "I don't know. There are other initiatives out there. I just don't think we're that far yet. I don't think we know."
And because the world environment is so fluid, he noted that designing a new system now could lead to future gaps.
"The F-35, as we are getting later models, will be the primary CAS platform in a very dangerous, highly contested environment, but we don't know what is going to happen next," Carlisle said. "We may need more capacity at the low end… there may be an inflection point where we have to get greater capacity at lower cost. So that may be the next platform."
One option would be to look at lower-end jets that are currently available on the market for CAS in lightly-contested environments, much like the A-10 has been operating in over Afghanistan and Iraq.
Asked about Textron's new Scorpion jet as a potential fill-in for that role, Carlisle replied: "It could. It could."
"That's not something that's outside the realm," he said. "It may be. We have gone out and looked at other platforms to see if they could meet the low-end CAS capacity at a reasonable cost-per-flying-hour, and we've looked at it and done some research. We're keeping our eyes open."
The Scorpion, unveiled in Sept. 2013, has drawn positive reviews from the aviation world, but has yet to land a launch customer. Textron officials have made no secret of a desire to land the US Air Force in some capacity, pushing hard to fill requirements for the Air National Guard and offering up a variation of the Scorpion jet for the T-X trainer competition.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.