Once the Air Force gets approval to proceed, it can start “in 120-150 days” to launch an evaluation of off-the-shelf light close air support aircraft, but only as a possible prelude to an acquisition program, USAF acquisition chief Darlene Costello told reporters at ASC16. “This is about what’s available,” and not a program yet, she said. After the period of evaluation and “experimentation,” the Air Force will not proceed with a “downselect” of a winning offeror, Costello’s deputy, Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch said. There are various “schools of thought” about what the Air Force needs for CAS, he said, and one of them says that a light CAS aircraft that can operate “in a permissive environment” with a far lower operating cost than A-10s or F-16s would be a good fit for the service, but there’s no approval yet to proceed with a program, Bunch said. He doubted that a “clean sheet” design could be ready in time for the evaluation, and Bunch noted this effort is not an effort to seek a direct replacement for the A-10, which he noted will likely not exit the USAF inventory within the next five years, due to congressional opposition. “Right now, the path we’re on…is to get a demonstration of what is out there,” Bunch said.
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