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This 'Air Tractor' could be America's next A-10

Another aircraft will fly at the Air Force's OA-X light attack competition next week.


Air Tractor and L3 announced August 1 they will offer the AT-802L Longsword to participate in the fly-off at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, on August 8 and 9, according to a release.

Together, the companies developed the L variant off its predecessor, the AT-802U, the release said. The Longsword is a light attack and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft.

"We are proud of the Longsword and the opportunity to participate in OA-X. We are looking forward to flying at Holloman AFB and showcasing our capabilities to the Air Force and to our partner nations," said Jim Hirsch, president of Air Tractor.

The AT-802L Longsword at Paris Air Show 2017. Wikimedia Commons photo by Mark Lacoste.

"The AT-802L Longsword provides a highly effective capability based on a rugged, proven platform that adds class-leading technologies integrated by L3 for a simple, yet powerful solution," added Jim Gibson, president of L3 Platform Integration and the L3 Aircraft Systems sector.

L3 developed a "certified, state-of-the-art glass cockpit and the L3 Wescam MX-15 EO/IR Sensor," ideal for medium-altitude ISR and search-and-rescue missions, according to the New York-based company.

Air Tractor, based in Texas, and L3 in March showed the aircraft during the Avalon Airshow in Australia, rebranding it the OA-8 with hopes of securing Asia-Pacific partners. Variants are operated by countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, and Kenya.

The Air Force distributed formal invitations to the fly-off in March.

Image courtesy of L3 Technologies.

Sierra Nevada in May announced the Super Tucano will participate in the event, pitching it as "A-29 for America."

Textron and AirLand LLC will showcase the Scorpion jet, as well as the AT-6B Wolverine, an armed version of the T-6 Texan II made by Textron's Beechcraft Corp. unit and Raytheon Co., according to an April release from Textron.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and other leaders have said the light attack plane will not replace the service's beloved A-10 Warthog.

The A-10 Thunderbolt "Warthog." USAF photo by Senior Airman Trevor T. McBride.

"We need to look and see if there are ways to save costs and do this in an efficient and effective manner … [and] it could create a building partnership capacity. Not every nation we want to build a partnership with needs an F-16 or an F-35," Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, said at the time of the invite announcement.

Bunch reiterated the light-attack concept — should the "experiment" prevail and the Air Force choose to fund it — is a needed platform for current manpower levels.

"Why are we even exploring this concept? The need is, we need to be able to absorb fighter pilots," he said. "Another reason is we want to look at a concept so we could have a lower operating cost, a lower unit cost, for something to be able to operate in a permissive … environment than what I would require a fourth- or a fifth-gen aircraft to be able to operate in."