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Light Attack / Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR)

In February 2012, the USAF announced that its FY13 budget proposal would end funding for both the Light Attack / Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) and the Light Mobility Aircraft (LIMA) programs.

Light Attack / Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) program was to acquire an aircraft with modifications to satisfy the requirement for conducting strike, armed reconnaissance, and advanced aircraft training for irregular warfare operations in support of building partnership capacity for lesser developed partner nations. This program would provide a continental US-based capability to support irregular warfare efforts that help prepare partner nations to defend and govern themselves by demonstrating a light armed and reconnaissance capability that was consistent with their needs for supporting infrastructure, performance, anticipated methods of employment, acquisition and sustainment costs, and multi-role/multi-mission capability. LAAR was for training US pilots to train partner nation pilots, not for USAF combat employment.

The LAAR program grew out of the premise that countries in which the United States had a strategic interest were often in need of a platform that could provide conventional attack and limited reconnaissance capabilities, but were restricted economically from purchasing and maintaining conventional weapons systems in the US Air Force inventory. While such requirements for the nascent Iraqi Air Force subsequently disappeared, there was a need for such an aircraft in Afghanistan.

In addition, the USAF developed a requirement for a similar type of aircraft on which to train advisory personnel. The LAAR program was limited acquiring aircraft to provide an organic capability to train USAF advisory personnel for potential foreign security assistance missions. This would allow advisors to train on a type of aircraft similar that which would be common to foreign militaries, or supplied to them by the US. The LAAR aircraft were to have no combat role within the USAF.

Both the LAAR and LIMA programs had come out of the Observation/Attack-X (OA-X) Enabling Concept published in 2008. In early 2009, Air combat Command (AAC) and Air Mobility Command (AMC) had worked out the parameters for a next step in both the LAAR and LIMA programs, a combined Cost and Capability Analysis (CCA), to be held by August 2009. The purpose of the CCA would be to inform decision makers about alternative cost and capabilities for acquiring and operating light attack and light mobility aircraft. It would resemble in process and methodology an analysis of alternatives, but would not substitute for a formal source selection analysis. It would focus on analyzing specific commercial and governmental "off-the-shelf" aircraft that best supported the light attack and light mobility missions and produce a non-prioritized menu of light aircraft that the US and partner nations might employ in irregular war. ACC and AMC would brief the results to General Schwartz in December 2009, in compliance with the Air Staffs direction in February 2009.

In July 2009, the USAF issued a Capability Request for Information (CFRI) for an aircraft that would integrate with traditional command and control concepts and organizations and existing joint tactics, techniques, and procedures. Mission planning would require access to theater air tasking order and airspace control order dissemination networks. The Light Attack / Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) aircraft might be tasked as part of a joint team and would require communication capabilities to coordinate with supported and/or supporting units. LAAR platforms would employ a modular structure capable of interfacing with multiple weapons and sensors to tailor configuration to tasking and have robust, integrated sensors used to find, fix, track, and target within a single asset. For LAAR platforms, aerial gunnery and precision weapons would provide the ability to engage targets quickly, thus reducing the sensor-to-shooter timeline. LAAR platforms would also have the ability to coordinate fires directly with supported ground units through voice, video, and data links with other assets to create synergies and minimize fratricide.

The USAF's Aeronautical Systems Center issued the CFRI to determine the most cost-effective acquisition strategy to fulfill the need for 100 LAAR fixed-wing aircraft with deliveries starting in FY12 and an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in FY13. All proposed systems would be USAF Military certified and flown by military pilots. Existing Air Combat Command (ACC) facilities were to be used for aircraft storage and maintenance and USAF organic organizational-level maintenance would be established by the IOC date of FY13. Depot level maintenance was to be provided by the selected contractor.

In addition to the USAF requirement for the LAAR, it was also seen as having the potential for foreign sales as part of military assistance programs. The FY10 Foreign Military Financing spending plan for Lebanon, as submitted to Congress by the State Department, included $10 million for sustainment and repair of existing equipment, $14 million for acquisition of air, ground, and naval systems, $36 million for personal equipment, weapons, and ammunition and $40 million for close air support. The plan included the provision of LAAR aircraft that, according to the Defense Department, would provide the Lebanese Air Force with the capabilities to perform border security aerial surveillance and target acquisition. This military assistance component subsequently became the Light Air Support program (LAS).

After the formal establishment of the USAF LAS effort, it was expected that the LAAR program would leverage the LAS indefinite deliveries/indefinite quantities contract as a priced option if the technical requirements were validated to mirror the effort. Award follow-on task order for the LAAR aircraft was estimated to be December 2011 as of February 2011.

On 15 August 2009, ACC asked Headquarters, USAF to endorse the CCA approach outlined earlier in 2009. Headquarters, USAF refused. According to Major General David J. Scott, Director of Operational Capabilities Requirements, this was not what General Schwartz had directed at the March Corona meeting which had touched on the issue of the LAAR and LIMA programs. Major General Scott objected to the lack of a formal analysis of alternatives and to the proposed restriction of candidate aircraft to "off-the-shelf}" types. Even more startling, he went on to announce that General Schwartz had decided that "the number of aircraft to be acquired is 15 each for LAAR and LM [Light Mobility]," that they would be "used exclusively" by partner nations, and that "at this time, he [had] no intention of using these aircraft for COIN/IW [counterinsurgency/irregular warfare] activity or employing them with USAF personnel in anger ... " In short, 176 aircraft outlined in a July 2009 update to the OA-X Enabling Concept were out of bounds, as was combat employment by the US Air Force. The only opening Major General Scott offered was the possibility that the program might grow if combatant commanders stated a need, and on 1 September 2009 he asked for their views. Just when General Schwartz made his decision was unclear. It might have been at a meeting on irregular warfare issues 14 July 2009. In any case, Scott's announcement was the first definite word ACC staff officers had of the decision. In late July 2009, they had begun hearing rumors that the Air Force leadership had decided to buy 15 light attack aircraft starting in Fiscal Year 2012, but those rumors did not suggest 15 was a final number.

In September 2009, United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) put in a bid to host the first LAAR squadron. Contending that "at least five newer NATO nations have air forces less capable than the Afghan National Army Air Corps," the command argued that the European theater was a natural arena for building partnership capacity. The aircraft could also provide a less expensive way to train joint terminal attack controllers and assist NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. USAFE would start with one squadron (15 aircraft), then expand to a total of 4. That, of course, ran counter to mainstream plans, which called for a fleet of no more than 15 aircraft, all based in the United States.

Although staffs continued to discuss timing, fleet size, basing and mission, General Schwartz's stance held for the rest of the year. The Corona Fall meeting, held between 4 and 7 November 2009, reiterated the 15-aircraft cap and ban on US Air Force crews in combat. General Schwartz wanted the cost reduced from just under $17 million to approximately $10 million per aircraft. ACC continued work on the CCA. General Scott asked ACC to draft an initial capabilities document, which ACC worried would delay the effort 4 to 8 months.

Problems continued to build. As the briefing went into final coordination, the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs, Major General Richard E. Perraut, pointed out that as long as the 2 aircraft's missions were restricted to building partnership capacity, as General Schwartz had directed, under current law only the 6th Special Operations Squadron could fly them. General Purpose Forces (like ACC) could not. Furthermore, as Air Force officials briefed staffers on Capitol Hill, they found little enthusiasm for light aircraft. Persuading Congress to pay for planes that US armed forces would not fly would be a hard sell, as were Air Force plans to do a sole-source purchase instead of competitive bidding and to forego a formal analysis of alternatives. Rather than retiring high-performance fighters and buying light aircraft, staff members wanted to extend the operational lives of F-15s and F-16s.

In the FY12 Defense Budget, the acquisition of the LAAR by the Secretary of the Air Force for Air Force inventory to be used in connection with training foreign military and other security forces was approved. However, the acquisition was limited so that, except as provided, none of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available for FY12 could be obligated or expended for the procurement or fielding of the LAAR until 30 days after the Secretary of Defense submitted to the congressional defense committees a report containing the findings of a review carried out by the Secretary of the capability of the elements of the Department of Defense that were responsible for conducting LAAR missions or fulfilling requests of partner nations for training in the conduct of such missions. The Secretary of Defense's report was to identify any gaps in the ability of the Department of Defense to conduct LAAR missions or to fulfill requests of partner nations for training in the conduct of such missions; identify any unnecessary duplication of efforts between the elements of the Department of Defense to procure or field aircraft to conduct LAAR missions or to fulfill requests of partner nations to train in the conduct of such missions, including any planned developmental efforts, operational evaluations, or acquisition of such aircraft through procurement or lease; and include findings and recommendations the Secretary of Defense considered appropriate to address any gaps or unnecessary duplication of efforts identified as part of the review.




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