Air Force Conducts “Light Attack Experiment”

Light attack

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.”

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Will Air Force Personnel Shortage Have Critical Impacts?


By Debbie Gregory.

Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff , said the service is critically short of personnel and needs to expand by more than 30,000 active-duty service members. Otherwise, the service branch may face challenges in meeting its security obligations, including an air war against Islamic State militants.

Goldfein said he will recommend expanding the size of the active duty Air Force from its current size of about 317,000 to 350,000. It would probably take five or six years to reach the higher level. Under current plans, the Air Force had planned to grow to 321,000.

At the start of the Gulf War, the Air Force had 134 fighter squadrons. Over the past few decades, that number has been cut to 55.

Yet, the Air Force is conducting nearly 70 percent of the strike missions against ISIS and conducting 90 percent of midair refueling missions over Iraq and Syria since August 2014.

Goldfein, who is described as a pilot’s pilot, has not just flown F-16s and F-117As, the kind of warplanes associated with an Air Force officer. He has also piloted the MQ-9 Reaper.

The Air Force is delivering weapons and ammunition to Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State, and has air-dropped supplies to a rebel force marching on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria. It is also responding to other global crises.

Russia and China are emerging as potential threats that could challenge the U.S. military in ways the Islamic State has not. China is expanding its presence in the South China Sea and Russia has become a major player in Syria’s civil war, siding with the regime of President Bashar Assad.

The U.S. Air Force has rarely been challenged in the skies during its campaign against the Islamic State. That could change if the United States were to face another nation’s military capable of challenging the U.S. military’s technological advantages.

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