Marines Monitoring Air Force Light-Attack Effort
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps is monitoring with interest the Air Force’s light-attack experiment to see if it is a possible direction for Marine Corps aviation.
“We have been watching, tracking and, as a matter of fact, participating,” Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, deputy commandant for aviation at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, said during testimony March 6 on aviation programs before the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee. “We have a pilot ready to go in case they were to deploy that airplane. We’re looking at this, right along with the Air Force.
After years of consideration, the Air Force has decided to conduct an experiment with two existing light-attack aircraft: the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano and the Textron AT-6 Wolverine, the latter a derivative of the T-6 Texan II trainer used by the Air Force and Navy. The experiment is planned for May through July.
The Air Force decided against a demonstration in combat overseas, instead opting to evaluate the two aircraft in a stateside demonstration.
The Defense Department has experimented in the recent past with two projects evaluating light-attack turboprop aircraft, the A-29 and the OV-10G+. The A-29 was evaluated in Project Imminent Fury but plans to deploy it under a project called Combat Dragon to Southwest Asia were canceled due to opposition by some members of Congress. A follow-on, Project Combat Dragon II, deployed the OV-10G+s, which were modified former Vietnam-era Broncos of the types used by the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy. The A-29 is in combat use by the Afghan Air Force.
“If you look at what that particular turboprop platform is doing around the world as far as Foreign Military Sales, it is doing well in some of those environments,” Rudder said. “We are going to evaluate, we are going to continue to look at it. What we have for light attack is our AH-1Z, which can carry 16 Hellfire [missiles]. We’re happy with the physics of what that [helicopter] can do. The one thing we always have to consider when it connects to the National Defense Strategy is, ‘can I self-deploy this airplane, and can it go aboard a ship?”Rudder emphasized that survivability is a key factor. The turboprop aircraft under consideration would be cheaper to field and operate than a tactical jet but would need a benign air superiority environment in order to be effective, bringing up the question as to whether a service can afford the two categories of attack aircraft.