Congress Approves $400 Million to Develop an ‘A-10 Warthog Lite’

The Air Force’s OA-X program received a major boost after lawmakers approved a $400 million line item to assist in procuring or developing a light attack/observational aircraft for low-intensity conflicts. The new fighter would partially replace the A-10 Warthog, moving the Air Force one step closer to creating their target fleet of 300 light attack planes.

As reported by Popular Mechanics, the Observation, Attack, Experimental (OA-X) program is being funded based on its inclusion in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is another term for the Defense budget.

The goal of the OA-X initiative is to develop a low-cost fighter to perform close air support functions in areas where high-tech anti-aircraft weapons are sparse, such as in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria.

During the summer, four aircraft were tested to determine their suitability for the program. They included the Air Tractor AT-802U, Embraer/Sierra Nevada Super Tucano A-29, Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine, and Textron Scorpion.

The tests were conducted at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and included a variety of simulated combat scenarios, such as escorting a convoy and supporting ground troops during an encounter.

Air Force officials are also examining OA-X for its ability to create a cheaper alternative to certain current aircraft designated for close air support, especially with the retirement of the A-10 Warthog looming, as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter offers considerably more firepower than is necessary for such operations.

Additionally, the F-35 comes with a high operating cost, around $42,000 per hour. In comparison, the Textron Scorpion’s anticipated operating cost is only $3,000 an hour and, when the difference is examined based on 1,000 flight hours, results in a savings of $39 million.

According to DODBuzz, the Senate Armed Services Committee originally proposed an OA-X budget of $1.2 billion. However, the program is still considered an “experiment” and is not, at this time, a “program of record,” which means it has not yet had its requirements validated and approved, submitted independent cost estimates, nor had all of the program’s risks assessed.

However, OA-X is progressing rapidly and may have the 300 fighters in the hands of the Air Force within the next five years.