Textron Aviation Defense announced March 16 that negotiations concerning the sale of two AT-6 Wolverine light attack/ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) aircraft to the U.S. Air Force had been finalized. Conducted by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Agency through Other Transaction Authority (OTA) channels, the purchase is worth $70.2 million and includes pilot training, military certification, engineering services, and contractor spares and support provision for up to four years.
The expected Wolverine purchase follows a similar order for Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos that was announced by U.S. prime Sierra Nevada Corporation on March 3. Both contractors received a request for proposal (RFP) in late October for a limited number of aircraft. The pair of types had been extensively tested in the two phases of the Air Force’s Light Attack Experiment until that was brought to a premature close in June 2018 following the crash of an A-29 in which a Navy pilot died. The recent orders will allow the trials to continue, leading towards a potential purchase. Deliveries are expected next year.
“Our focus is on how a light attack aircraft can help our allies and partners as they confront violent extremism and conduct operations within their borders,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein at the time of the RFP release. “Continuing this experiment…gives us the opportunity to put a small number of aircraft through the paces and work with partner nations on ways in which smaller, affordable aircraft like these can support their air forces.”
Air Combat Command will evaluate the AT-6s at Nellis AFB, Nevada, where the focus will be on common architecture and intelligence-sharing networking that connects platforms with sensors and weapons to deliver what Goldfein described as “a digital network for light attack aircraft.” A key element is to develop exportable networking solutions that will improve interoperability between U.S. and partner forces. “If I hear one thing from my international air chiefs,” said the Air Force chief, “it’s that ‘we need to figure out how to share information both ways.’”
Meanwhile, the A-29s will go to Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Florida, as part of the Combat Air Advisor program. They will be used, among other tasks, to develop an instructor pilot training program to support international partners in line with the U.S. National Defense Strategy of building capability in allies and partners.
Independently, U.S. Special Operations Command revealed in February a need for an estimated 75 light attack/ISR aircraft to meet its Armed Overwatch requirement. The aircraft would replace dedicated ISR aircraft, as well as provide close air support, strike coordination and reconnaissance, precision strike, and airborne forward air control.