By Debbie Gregory.
In August, for the first time since the end of the Vietnam era, the Air Force conducted a flying experiment with combat aircraft. This nontraditional event was put together in only five months.
The Air Force was interested in assessing the potential of low-cost, commercially developed ground attack aircraft to conduct the kind of combat missions that have composed the vast majority of combat missions in the last 25 years. The light attack experiment is the first large-scale experiment of its type in decades.
During the first week of the experiment, Air Force pilots flew basic surface attack missions in Textron Aviation’s AT-6 Wolverine turboprop, as well as in Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano.
Now, the Air Force is preparing to launch Combat Dragon III, a combat demonstration meant to test light-attack aircraft in the field.
“We are preparing as if we’re going,” said Air Force Reserve Col. Mike Pietrucha, who is light-attack adviser to Air Combat Command.
The squadron commander and a detachment of 70 personnel will be drawn from operational squadrons.
The personnel chosen will have a minimum requirement of 1,000 flight hours and combat experience.
“We’re experimenting and innovating, and we’re doing it in new and faster ways,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “Experiments like these help drive innovation and play a key role in enhancing the lethality of our force.”
Expected to make a final decision about combat-testing by the end of the year, Air Force leaders have already selected some of the previously tested aircraft. Testing criteria includes weapon capability, reliability and maintenance requirements.
“This experiment is about looking at new ways to improve readiness and lethality,” said Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein. “Working with industry, and building on the Combat Dragon series of tests, we are determining whether a commercial off-the-shelf aircraft and sensor package can contribute to the coalition fight against violent extremism.”