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USAF Light Attack Decision in November?

by John Reed on September 7, 2011

A U.S. Army general today dropped a bit of interesting news about a U.S. Air Force program today. The air service will decide the winner of the Light Air Support — or COIN plane — contest in November, Army Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller told bloggers this morning.

For years now, the Air Force has been looking to buy a handful of light, turboprop-driven planes that can be used to train foreign pilots and carry out light attack missions. Embraer’s Super Tucano, already used throughout Latin America for these missions is a perfect example of this type of plane.

The Super T has been pitted against Hawker Beechcraft’s AT-6 (shown above) in the competition for up to 20 birds to help train the nascent Afghan National Army Air Force.

However, the program has been scaled back considerably since early 2010 and seemed stalled out when original the June 2011 contract award date came and went without a peep from the air service. Then, last month, news surfaced that the Air Force was to choose a winning plane in September.

Here’s what Fuller, deputy commander of programs for NATO’s effort to build the Afghan military and police, said today when DT asked for an update on the Afghan air force:

They have asked for a fighter jet, the F-16 specifically. Instead, we’re going to provide them a close air support, turboprop aircraft and it’s in source selection right now with the U.S. Air Force. The U.S Air Force is going to buy that same aircraft and when the U.S. Air Force decides what aircraft they’re going to procure, we’ll buy the same aircraft. So, sometime in November they should complete that source selection and we’ll start fielding them in about the 2014–2015 time-frame.

(I’ll let you know what the Air Force says about this when we hear back from them.)

Fuller was explaining how the U.S. is guiding the Afghan air force toward buy the right, aka cost effective airplanes such as the light attack fighter and 20 of the twin-engine C-27A Spartan transport despite the fact that local officials sometimes want to buy expensive hardware like F-16s or brand new C-130Js. “They have asked for the C-130 and we said, you can’t afford a very expensive aircraft,” said Fuller.

The same goes for ISR gear, according to the two-star.

They couldn’t afford it; there’s a big infrastructure associated with ISR. That goes back to Afghan-right, Afghan-first, Afghan-like. This is Afghan-right. This is where they have to negotiate with the U.S. government and other countries to say, ‘I still need some additional capability can you provide that for me?’ Instead of buying jet aircraft why don’t they negotiate with us and other countries to have us provide some air support that’s located here on a temporary basis or a rotational basis.

The whole premise behind Fuller’s Afghan-right concept is to give the nation equipment that will meet its security needs but won’t break the bank — especially important given the fact that the country is trying to build its civil infrastructure.

Every now and then I’ll hear the comment when I’m talking to a senior leader here [where they] say they need tanks and jets. I said, ‘you can’t afford that and what we need to think about is how do you afford this because, in the future, I don’t believe the U.S. government is going to be interested in paying a really high sustainment cost because we gave you tanks and jets and they’re very expensive to operate.’ So, they’re starting to understand what’s appropriate for this country because if you have to spend all your cash just to sustain your military force then what about the schools?

If we have them spend all of their available cash on maintaining this big force that we could potentially put here, they’re not going to be able to afford schools, they’re not going to be able to afford medical care. So we’re trying to be very good stewards of your tax dollars and my tax dollars and ensure that we do the right thing for Afghanistan and give them the capability that they need.

 

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