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Light Attack Aircraft (LAA)
Light Attack Experiment - Phase 2 - Light Attack Platform

This program changes names every few months, making it very tedious to track.

The Commander Directed Projects Division (AFLCMC/OZJ) issued a Notice of Contract Action (NOCA) 03 August 2018 to solicit proposals from limited sources and award contract(s) for the production of Light Attack Aircraft. The presolicatation notice was re-issued as FA8637-19-R-1000. LAA will provide an affordable, non-developmental aircraft intended to operate globally in the types of Irregular Warfare environments that have characterized combat operations over the past 25 years. It is anticipated that formal solicitation will be released in Dec 2018 and contract award in 4th quarter of FY19. The effort will be awarded using other than full and open competition to the successful offeror under the authority of 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(1), as implemented by FAR 6.302-1 - Only One Responsible Source and No Other Supplies or Services Will Satisfy Agency Requirements, among the limited sources. Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and Textron Aviation are the only firms that appear to possess the necessary capability within the Air Force's time frame without causing an unacceptable delay in meeting the needs of the warfighter.

An Embraer EMB-314B (A-29B) "Super Tucano" participating in the USAF's Light Attack Experiment at the Red Rio Bombing Range impacted the ground at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico on on 22 June 2018. One of the two crew received minor injuries. The other crew member, USN Lt, died in the crash. The crash came about five weeks after the USAF kicked off the second phase of the light attack experiment at on 17 May 2018. The USAF plans to make a decision to potentially buy hundreds of light attack fighters after evaluating the data gathered during this experiment. In addition to the A-29, Textron Aviation provided a AT-6 Wolverine for the USAF to evaluate.

Following the Light Attack Experiment conducted in August 2017, the Air Force announced its intention to continue experimenting with two non-developmental aircraft, the Textron Aviation AT-6 Wolverine and the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, from May to July 2018 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.

"Rather than do a combat demonstration, we have decided to work closely with industry to experiment with maintenance, data networking and sensors with the two most promising light attack aircraft the AT-6 Wolverine and the A-29 Super Tucano," said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. "This will let us gather the data needed for a rapid procurement."

Further experimentation will examine logistics and maintenance requirements, weapons and sensor issues, training syllabus validity, networking and future interoperability with partner forces. The Air Force will also experiment with rapidly building and operating an exportable, affordable network to enable aircraft to communicate with joint and multi-national forces, as well as command-and-control nodes.

Air Force Materiel Command issued an Invitation to Patriciate (ITP) [Solicitation Number: ITP-LA-SDPE-2017] on 17 March 2017 for the Capability Assessment of the Non-Developmental Light Attack Platforms in support of the Office of Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE), Air Force Materiel Command, Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Four commercial off-the-shelf planes participated in the experiment, including: Air Tractor and L3s AT-802L Longsword; Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraers A-29 Super Tucano; and the Scorpion jet and AT-6 Wolverine, both from Textron.

The SDPE issued this ITP as part of its market research into industry's capability, capacity, and interest in providing platforms that will be cost-effective assets (i.e., assets having low procurement, operating, and sustainment costs) in the future United States Air Force (USAF) force structure. Results from this Capability Assessment will be used to inform requirements and acquisition decisions The invitation was part of a broader Air Force effort to explore cost-effective attack platform options.

  • Light Attack - the aircraft must be capable of: Continuously computed impact point (CCIP) and/or continuously computed release point (CCRP) employment of MK81/82, BDU-33s, rocket pod munitions (70mm Hydra), laser guided and if capable, GPSaided munitions; CCIP employment of a .50 caliber minimum forward firing aerial gunnery capability; Employment of a minimum of two 500 lb class weapons while configured with a forward firing gun and electro-optical (EO)/infrared (IR) sensor.
  • Armed Reconnaissance - to allow for targeting and reconnaissance from both crew positions the EO/IR sensor should be integrated with the aircraft avionics, displays and heads up display (HUD). The aircraft must be capable of: EO/IR Full Motion Video (FMV) imaging; Laser designation using North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Standard 1.06 micron laser designator; Night vision goggle (NVG) compatible IR marking; Laser spot tracking; EO/IR image downlink to distribute FMV line-of-sight in flight to Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) or One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT) receivers.

The live-fly experiment is an element of the Light Attack Capabilities Experimentation Campaign run by the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, scheduled for summer 2017 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. This is an evolution of the close air support experimentation effort which we have now broadened to include a variety of counter-land missions typical of extended operations since Desert Storm.

This is not a competition, not a fly-off of any sort, and there is no acquisition program of record. The objective is to qualitatively evaluate the military utility of light attack platform industry concepts and to do that were evaluating the platforms against a set of operational measures of effectiveness. There are eight supporting objectives including: demonstrate system ability to find, fix, track and target; demonstrate data link interoperability, demonstrate weapons delivery and accuracy; demonstrate flight manual predictions and that they are accurate to aircraft performance; demonstrate the flying qualities and handling qualities; demonstrate systems functionality; observe aircraft suitability and determine the platform visual and aeroacoustics signatures.

Aircraft Attributes of Interest (AAI)

  • Mission Performance. The aircraft must be able to take off using a maximum runway length of 6,000 ft, clear a 50-foot obstacle, and fly a combat profile using the Reconnaissance 1 (REC1) profile in Annex 3 for sea-level standard day conditions.
  • Aircraft Availability. Aircraft must support an operations tempo requiring 900 flight hours per platform, per year, for ten years. The aircraft availability rate must be at least ninety percent (90%) Mission Capable (MC) for completion of day and night missions under Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC). Platforms must be capable of sustaining an eighty percent (80%) Fully Mission Capable (FMC) rate for the completion of missions under Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).
  • Tactical Communications. Aircraft must be equipped with two Joint, secure tactical UHF/VHF voice radios. The UHF radio must be capable of using HAVE QUICK II. If cryptological hardware is not installed for the experiment, then secure communications capability will be evaluated on paper. Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) voice communications and a tactical datalink (Joint Tactical Information Distribution (JTIDS) or Situational Awareness Data Link (SADL)) will be required on production aircraft; if not equipped for the experiment, this capability will be evaluated on paper.
  • Range and Endurance. Aircraft must be capable of 2.5 hours mission endurance with appropriate VFR fuel reserves, full guns, and two weapons stations loaded with munitions. External fuel tanks are permissible. Ferry range with external fuel must exceed 800nm.
  • Aircraft must have onboard EO/IR sensors that provide the crew with ability to detect, identify, track, and target stationary or moving surface targets under day or night conditions in clear weather. Aircraft must be suitable for NVG or equivalent night vision use by aircrew. Aircraft should be able to employ battlefield illumination devices (parachute flares). If SUU-25 is not appropriate for flight this capability will be evaluated on paper.
  • Survivability. Aircraft will be evaluated for IR and visual signature during the experiment. Aircraft systems must provide awareness of attack sufficient to employ countermeasures effective against IR-guided and RF proximity-fuzed weapons (chaff & flares). Missile warning will not be evaluated in the experiment and must be evaluated on paper. Engine and cockpit floor must be capable of being protected by armor capable of defeating a 7.62x39 BP round (GRAU designation 7N23) at 100 meters range; armor need not be installed for the experiment. Aircraft must be capable of having a radar warning system installed but one need not be installed for the experiment.
  • Supportability. Aircraft must have an average fuel flow of approximately 1500 lb/hr or less, clean.

System Attributes (SA)

  • Cockpit Configuration. The configuration of each cockpit must allow for full control of the aircraft, weapons employment, weapons jettison, and weapons override from either seat, permitting single pilot instrument flight rules and visual flight rules operations by either aircrew IAW Title 14 Code Federal Regulation (CFR) Part 91. The aircraft will have or be capable of having a control system in the rear seat that allows sensor, expendables release, laser and radio control without having hands on the flight controls. The aircraft must have dual tandem zero airspeed and zero altitude ejection capability, accommodating pilots 64 inches 77 inches tall and sitting heights of 34 inches 40 inches. All aircraft flight and fuel controls, and critical/essential circuit breakers must be accessible from front cockpit, with seat belts/shoulder harnesses fastened. All aircraft controls and instruments within each cockpit must be visible and accessible from the seat, with seat belts/shoulder harnesses fastened.
  • Navigation. The equipment must permit GPS and VOR navigation and flying localizer, VOR/DME and Category I ILS approaches in accordance with Title 14 CFR Part 91. The equipment should permit flying non-directional beacon (NDB) and azimuth direction finding (ADF) approaches, integrated GPS approach profiles, and be equipped with a database which can be populated with approach descriptions, digital maps, and digital terrain elevation data. Common multifunction display (MFD) cockpit configuration for all aircraft to include Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) and Vertical Navigation-certified Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation capability to allow day/night, all-weather instrument flight, especially into airfields that do not possess navigational aids. The aircraft must also have the ability to be FAA ADS-B compliant.
  • Communications. The aircraft must have Mode C/S transponder or Mode C/3 transponder and have a crew intercom and dual radios to communicate simultaneously with Air Traffic Control (ATC) facilities and operational agencies line of sight (LOS) IAW Title 14 CFR Part 91. Aircraft must have or be capable of having an IFF transponder covering Mode I, II, IV and V. A control head must be provided to allow the crew to transmit/receive simultaneously on four (4) radios. This SA overlaps with the Tactical communications AAI at 1e.
  • Environmental. The aircraft must be equipped with an air conditioning and heating system capable of cooling/heating the aircraft interior to 55 85 degrees F when outside temperatures range from 30 degrees F to 122 degrees F to include solar gain. The environmental control system must be able to cool avionics to below 131 degrees F within 30 minutes of avionics startup, and must be able to indefinitely maintain the temperature of the avionics at 131 degrees F or lower. The cooling system must have sufficient dust and sand filters to be capable of conducting desert environment operations.
  • Defensive Measures. The aircraft must be capable of employing manuallyactivated and automatic IR and RF countermeasures (flares & chaff).
  • Materiel Reliability. A 95% probability of completing a mission profile free from a mission critical failure in flight as outlined in Annex 3, paragraph D2 is required.
  • Propulsion. The aircraft must have a propulsion system that will operate on JP-8 or Jet-A fuel and accommodate all takeoff, flight and landing operations with standard fuel and weapons loads as described in Annex 3. The aircraft must be capable of being started with an internal battery. In addition the aircraft must be able to start using an external power source including another aircraft of the same model.

Additional Attributes

  • Light Attack. Stores Loading and Carriage. The aircraft must be capable of carrying the standard conventional loads (SCLs) listed in Annex 3 on NATO/US compatible hard points IAW MIL-STD-8591 Design Criteria Airborne Stores Suspension Equipment and Aircraft Store Interface.
  • Maneuverability. The aircraft, in a clean configuration with sensor ball, must be capable of performing the following maneuvers: aileron roll, cloverleaf, lazy eight, loop, barrel roll, chandelle, Cuban eight, Immelmann, and split S. c. Operating Ceiling. The aircraft must be able to operate up to 25,000 MSL (FL250).
  • Pressurization and Oxygen. The aircraft must provide pressurization for sustained flight up to and including FL250. The aircraft must provide a selfgenerating oxygen system to support flight up to FL250.
  • Unimproved Surface Capability. The aircraft must be capable of taxi, take off, and land with a configuration as described in the mission profile in Annex 3, paragraph D1.2. on unimproved surfaces rated at a California Bearing Ratio-5 (CBR-5). Aircraft must be able to turn with no ground support other than fuel.
  • HUD. The aircraft must have a HUD in the front and a HUD repeater with symbology and camera picture in the rear cockpit. HUD data must include aircraft flight parameters, position, navigation, timing, and weapons employment information.
  • Mission Reconstruction. The aircraft must be capable of allowing timesynchronized digital recording and replay of cockpit audio, HUD, and MFD data from training missions for at least two hours. All recorded data must be available for playback on a laptop computer-based tool during debriefing.
  • Mission Planning Tools. Aircraft mission planning must use a computer-based mission-planning tool and be easily transferred to each aircraft by a removable storage medium.
  • Night Operations. The aircraft must be capable and have the necessary lighting to permit night formation flying. NVG compatible position, anti-collision/strobe, landing, taxi and interior lights are required. Cockpit instrumentation must be NVG compatible. Variable intensity standard NVG compatible interior lighting is desired.
  • Operations in Icing Conditions. Aircraft must be capable of transiting light icing conditions for 15 minutes.
  • Certification. Aircraft must be certified or capable of gaining certification for day/night visual flight rules/instrument flight rules (VFR/IFR) operations. Aircraft must be certified or capable of gaining certification to meet acquisition requirements and allow for U.S. Military operation.

Industry members were invited to participate with aircraft that may meet an Air Force need for a low-cost capability that is supportable and sustainable. The Air Force would analyze data received from vendors seeking to participate in the experimentation campaign and then invite selected offerors to participate in a live-fly capabilities assessment. The Air Force hosted the live-fly experiment to assess the capabilities of these off-the-shelf attack aircraft. Industry participants participated with suitable aircraft, which were flown by Air Force personnel in scenarios designed to highlight aspects of various combat missions, such as close air support, armed reconnaissance, combat search and rescue, and strike control and reconnaissance. The live-fly experiment also included the employment of weapons commonly used by other fighter/attack aircraft to demonstrate the capabilities of light attack aircraft for traditional counter-land missions.

A positive aspect of the experiment was the type of contracting mechanism being used an Other Transactional Authority. An OTA is a legally binding instrument more like a commercial-sector contract between the government and industry. OTAs encourage collaboration and promote innovation from non-traditional defense contractors as well as traditional industry partners, thereby allowing the assessment of commercial off-the-shelf light attack aircraft.

Lara Seligman of Aerospace Daily reported 22 August 2017 that " A new fleet of about 300 affordable light attack aircraft designed for the low-threat environment would ease the burden on the fourth- and fifth-generation fighters currently providing close-air support in the Middle East, freeing them up for the high-end missions they were designed to fly. The cost to operate and maintain the new aircraft is expected to be much lower than the high-end fightersSierra Nevada has boasted well under $1,000 per hour for the turboprop A-29 compared to about $18,000 for the A-10C and $34,000 for the F-15C.... . A light attack fleet would provide another track for new fighter pilots, allowing them to gain critical combat experience and accumulate hundreds of flight hours in a short amount of time... "

Light Attack Experiment - Phase 2

Flying began May 7, 2018, for the Air Forces second phase of the Light Attack Experiment at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Pilots are flying the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano and the Textron Aviation AT-6B Wolverine during a three-month, live-fly experiment to gather additional information about aircraft capabilities, as well as partner nation interoperability, prior to a potential light attack purchase.

This second phase of experimentation is about informing the rapid procurement process as we move closer to investing in light attack, said Lt. Gen. Arnie Bunch, military deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. If we can get light attack aircraft operating in permissive combat environments, we can alleviate the demand on our 4th and 5th generation aircraft, so they can be training for the high-end fight they were made for.

The Air Force is also assessing interoperability and networking capabilities, to one day carry out light attack operations side-by-side with coalition partners. According to the 2018 Air Force Posture Statement, Retaining irregular warfare as a core competency at a lower cost, and strengthening our alliances are key elements of our National Defense Strategy.

Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, We're looking at light attack through the lens of allies and partners. A big part of the Light Attack Experiment is a common architecture and an intelligence-sharing network, so that those who would join us would be part of the campaign against violent extremism.

During this phase of experimentation, aircrew include fighter, attack, or special operations pilots, plus test pilots and flight engineers from the Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve. Collectively, they average more than 1,000 flight hours and more than 100 combat missions, and all pilots have been instructors in one or more aircraft.

Flight scenarios will consist of both day and night missions in air interdiction, close air support, armed overwatch, and combat search and rescue. Maintenance observers will focus on flightline and in-shop maintenance, to inform sustainment and product support requirements. The experiment is part of a broader Air Force effort to explore cost-effective attack platform options under the Light Attack Experimentation Campaign led by the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

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