The U.S. Air Force is on the market for a new light aircraft intended for use in reconnaissance and air support missions in conflicts that are unlikely to include advanced anti-aircraft weapons systems, such as in Afghanistan and Syria. They have now narrowed their selection down to four potential candidates, and some of them bear a striking resemblance to attack aircraft one might find in a history book.
The Air Force Program taking place in New Mexico, dubbed the “Light Attack Experiment” or OA-X for short, is basically a good old-fashioned fly-off, in which these four airplanes will take part in a number of exercises intended to demonstrate their abilities to meet or exceed the Air Force’s dictated requirements. While the U.S. Air Force already has a vast arsenal of aircraft to employ in observation and attack operations, it has become clear that utilizing the latest, most advanced, and by the nature of those qualifications, the most expensive, aircraft in the U.S. fleet for low-risk operations is an unnecessary waste of a great deal of money.
While many people are familiar with the vast expenses associated with the development and production of an advanced multi-role aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, many tend to forget that these complex aircraft also have a large dollar value associated with their operation once they’ve reached the fleet. Two of the more expensive planes to see use in air support operations over areas with minimal air defenses are the massive B-1B Lancer Bomber and the aforementioned F-35. The B-1B costs an incredible $61,000 per hour to operate, with the F-35 coming in at a comparably paltry $42,000.
While this expense would certainly be justified against a near-peer opponent like China or Russia, and honestly would even hold up in terms of ensuring our pilot’s safety against less technologically capable opponents like North Korea – each of these platforms represent a technological overkill in a conflict against enemies like ISIS or the Taliban; akin to using a Barret .50 caliber sniper rifle for a job more suited to a snub nosed .38 revolver.