Friday, February 02, 2018

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to host light-attack plane testing

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base will be the site of continued testing of two proposed light-attack planes that have been cited as potential replacements for the A-10 ground-attack jet, a mainstay of operations at D-M.

The testing is part of an ongoing effort to collect data to help the Air Force to buy an off-the-shelf light-attack aircraft at low cost.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a news release Friday that the testing from May through July will involve the AT-6 Wolverine and the A-29 Super Tucano.

Wilson calls those aircraft “the two most promising” among four included in tests conducted last summer at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

The AT-6 is a version of the T-6 Texan made by U.S.-based Beechcraft Defense, while the A-29 is made by Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer with assembly of planes in Florida by its partner, Sierra Nevada Corp.

The release says the new round of testing will focus on areas including logistics and maintenance requirements, weapons and sensor issues.

Davis-Monthan hosts the nation’s largest contingent of A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jets, with one A-10 combat squadron, an active-duty training squadron and an Air Force Reserve training unit.

The Air Force has proposed retiring the A-10 but has delayed its plans amid stiff opposition in Congress and high demand for the plane, which was designed as a tank killer but is highly valued for close air support of ground troops.

Tucson-area business and civic leaders fear the loss of the A-10 without significant new missions could leave D-M vulnerable to closure as the Air Force faces excess base capacity and budget pressure.

The base contributed more than $1 billion to the local economy in fiscal year 2016, according to D-M’s latest report.

The proposed light-attack plane could replace the A-10 for some low-flying missions where air defenses are limited, experts say.

The U.S. began buying A-29s for the Afghan air force in 2013 and has delivered about a dozen of 20 expected to be delivered by the end of 2018.

Another A-10 base, Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, has been training Afghan A-29 pilots since 2015.

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