The US Air Force has begun studying future close air support (CAS) aircraft to succeed the Fairchild Republic A-10 as the Pentagon evaluates the weaponry it needs for “prolonged operations” of one year or more.
The flying branch is looking at tactical air support platform alternatives for low-intensity “permissive conflict” like counterterrorism and regional stability operations, similar to the types of missions being conducted Iraq and Afghanistan today, where air superiority has been achieved and coalition aircraft can roam relatively freely in support of ground troops.
USAF officials say a portion of a "combat air force study” is dedicated to considering alternative CAS aircraft: everything from the Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine, Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, and the Textron AirLand Scorpion on the “low end” of the capability spectrum to more sophisticated clean-sheet attack aircraft or AT-X derivatives of the planned T-X next-generation trainer.
The study comes as the air force “re-phases” its retirement of the hardy A-10 "Warthog" that currently serves in the role. It has pushed back the fleet’s divestiture from this fiscal year to “between 2018 and 2022” at cost imposition of $3.4 billion.
Service officials admit that despite being an ideal close air support platform in high-end conflict with Russia, the long-delayed A-10 replacement, the Lockheed Martin F-35, will be too expensive to operate in the Warthog’s day-to-day role.