STOCKHOLM — The U.S. Air Force has selected Sierra Nevada and Embraer's A-29 Super Tucano to participate a light attack aircraft demonstration this summer, an event that could lead to a procurement of the plane if the companies can prove a business case, the companies announced May 12.
The A-29 is considered by many to be the frontrunner for any potential program of record, as it is the only light air support aircraft in the world with a USAF military type certificate and has been purchased by the United States for the Afghan air force.
While the Embraer plane is the first aircraft announced as part of the demonstration, the Air Force will likely experiment with other options as well. The biggest defense contractors are sitting out of the demo, including Lockheed Martin and Boeing. However, the A-29 could face a challenge from two Textron aircraft, the Scorpion jet and AT-6 turboprop plane, the latter of which lost out to the A-29 during the competition to supply light attack aircraft to Afghanistan.
"SNC is proud to participate in the USAF's effort to enhance warfighter support and bring greater value and affordability to the American taxpayer," said Taco Gilbert, senior vice president for SNC´s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance business area. "Partnering with Embraer, we’re proud to present the U.S.-made, combat-proven A-29 as part of this experiment."
No program of record for light attack aircraft exists just yet, although the proposed procurement has been referred to as OA-X by officials. Top Air Force brass, including Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, are interested in purchasing several hundred inexpensive, nondevelopmental combat planes to conduct routine, low-end missions in the Middle East, but companies must first prove that their aircraft can meet the Air Force’s needs at the right price.
The first light aircraft experiment is set to kick off this July at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, but it would likely be followed by other assessments — including possibly one in the Central Command area of responsibility, Goldfein has said.
The A-29 was originally designed by Brazilian firm Embraer for close air support and counterinsurgency missions in hot climates like that of the Middle East. For competitions involving the U.S. military, Sierra Nevada acts as the A-29’s prime contractor, and the aircraft would be produced at Embraer’s production line in Jacksonville, Florida.
"The A-29 is uniquely suited for training and seasoning fighter pilots," said Jackson Schneider, president and CEO of Embraer Defense & Security. "This means more highly-trained pilots more quickly and less expensively, while allowing other platforms to do the work they do best."
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.