The U.S. Army hasn't really flown fixed-wing combat aircraft since the Army Air Forces became the Air Force in 1947. An agreement on U.S. military policy written in Key West in 1948 divvied up the roles of aircraft used by the United States for air defense, interdiction of enemy land forces, intelligence, mine-laying, airlift, and pretty much anything else aircraft might have a role in doing.
Ever since, the Air Force is solely expected to provide close-air support, resupply, airborne operations, and pretty much everything else the Army might need fixed-wing aircraft for. Now one lawmaker wants to upend all that.
The top leadership of the world's new superpower came together after World War II to form this gentleman's agreement on whose air forces would perform what tasks because it was better than leaving it to Congress to codify it. Solving the problem before it became one also gives the Pentagon more flexibility in the future to control how it fights war, rather than forcing Congress to change legislation so it could get on with the business of defending America.
Seeing as how the Pentagon – and the Army in particular – need the tools required to execute that mission, one lawmaker is getting impatient with Air Force foot-dragging over a new close-air support attack aircraft. He's ready to give the contract and the money to the Army if the project doesn't get a move on.
Florida Rep. Michael Waltz is promoting his legislation to allow the U.S. Special Operations Command to get its own light attack aircraft, separate from the U.S. Air Force fleet. The House has already given the idea the green light (but not the money yet), and Waltz wants to extend that same courtesy to the Army. The reason is that the Air Force has been too slow in rolling out new, prop-driven attack planes for land interdiction.
"My frustration is almost palpable at why it is taking so long to get this platform out to where the warfighters need it," Waltz said.
The Air Force has been working on the plane for the past 12 years, unsure if it really wants the platform over the A-10 or the newest F-35 fighters. The argument for the prop planes is that they provide better CAS coverage while costing much, much less than flying an F-35 for hours on end, all while carrying the same armaments. There's only one problem – prop planes are really easy to shoot down.
The A-26 Super Tocano is just one of the types of light attack craft tested by the Air Force.
Waltz is a former U.S. Army Special Forces operator who believes low-intensity conflict will not go away in the coming years but rather will likely increase. He also believes the U.S. military's main mission shouldn't stray too far from its counterterrorism role.
"Whether it's Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, South America, we are going to be engaged with our local partners on the ground in low-intensity conflict..." he said. "If we can't move this program forward, then perhaps we need to explore if the Army needs that authority."
The Air Force is looking to produce six A-29 Super Tocanos or six AT-6 Wolverines for training and advisory missions overseas and here at home. While the Air Force program has no set date for rollout, the legislation to give the Army the authority to roll out its own is part of the House version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.