HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. — This month, three industry teams will hand over four different light attack aircraft to Air Force pilots for a series of flight demonstrations to test just how well the aircraft can prosecute targets on the ground while operating in austere desert environments. Those that prove their mettle will move on until the next phase of the experiment: a combat demonstration in the Middle East.

Specifically, planes could participate in the fight against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters Wednesday.

The Air Force won’t know for sure whether it will pursue a combat demonstration until the experiment at Holloman Air Force Base is finished. Then, the service will take the data it has collected and assess the aircraft cost, capability and the manufacturer’s production capacity.

“That data is intended to inform strategic decisions. It will also tell us whether we take this to the next step, to what we call a combat experiment, and whether any of these aircraft are ready for that,” Wilson said. “That combat experiment could take place early next year.”