WASHINGTON — Textron's Scorpion jet and AT-6 will be joining the A-29 Super Tucano in the Air Force's light attack aircraft demonstration this summer, the company confirmed May 15.
"Textron Aviation Defense can confirm the Scorpion and AT-6 have both been invited by the United States Air Force to participate in the experimentation this summer to demonstrate their respective class-leading light attack capabilities," a Textron spokeswoman said Monday in response to an emailed query from Defense News.
The first set of demonstrations, which will be held this July at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, could potentially lead to a program of record, but as of yet no formal requirement exists for light attack aircraft.
However, Air Force officials — including Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and Air Combat Command head Gen. Mike Holmes — have postulated that a buy of light aircraft could help mitigate certain readiness and training concerns. The service’s current inventory of aircraft is already overtaxed with worldwide operational missions, leaving few resources for high-end training. If it decides to purchase a small fleet of inexpensive, production-ready light aircraft, low-end missions could be offloaded to those planes, leaving its more sophisticated aircraft free for training and operations where specialized capability is needed.
On Friday, Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer announced that the A-29 Super Tucano had been invited to participate in the light attack aircraft demo. The two Textron planes and the Super Tucano, which was built by Brazilian firm Embraer and with Sierra Nevada as its U.S. prime contractor, are the only known offerings for the experimentation campaign. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and IOMAX have all stated that they would sit out.
In a March interview, Textron officials confirmed the company’s plan to propose both Scorpion and AT-6 — two very different aircraft with varied levels of capability.
"I think the Scorpion has some capabilities with the sensors that it can carry to tackle that kind of a mission that may be a little more difficult for an AT-6," Bill Harris, Textron AirLand’s vice president of Scorpion sales, said then.
The Scorpion jet is more expensive but offers more capability than either the AT-6 or the A-29. It was designed by Textron as a modular aircraft that could be optimized with different sensors and weapons for missions such as close air support (CAS) or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), Harris said. The aircraft’s low levels of noise, coupled with its higher performance, could make it a better fit for conducting CAS in urban environments.
The AT-6, an attack version of the T-6A used by the Air Force for basic pilot training, is more of a match for the A-29. The low-cost turboprop plane features seven hard points for general-purpose, laser-guided and inertially aided weapons, and it can be flown for less than $1,000 per hour, said Jim Grant, Textron Aviation's senior vice president of military programs.
In a formal competition, the A-29 might have a leg up on the Textron planes because the U.S. military has already purchased the aircraft for the Afghan air force. Goldfein has expressed his desire to partner with other nations to drive procurement costs down, if the Air Force does move forward with a buy. However, because the Super Tucano was designed by a Brazilian company, it could undergo political scrutiny as a result of Trump's "America First" policies.
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.