Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Tuesday she is not worried that the service’s future light attack aircraft will be more vulnerable than its existing fighter jets and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs.
“No, that doesn’t concern me a lot,” Wilson told reporters during a press conference at the Pentagon.
The Air Force is looking to buy an aircraft to fight insurgencies and terrorists around the world that would be a smaller, lower-cost alternative to the A-10 or the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Earlier this month, it announced the two finalists are Textron’s AT-6 Wolverine and the A-29 Super Tucano by Sierra Nevada and Embraer.
Whichever aircraft is chosen, Wilson said it will be given missions that fit its capabilities.
“You wouldn’t put a light attack aircraft in the environment that you would put an F-35 or even potentially an A-10. We have different systems for different kinds of missions,” she said.
The A-10, developed in the 1970s, wields a massive nose cannon and is protected by a titanium "bathtub" of armor and is considered one of the most survivable aircraft. The new fifth-generation F-35 is considered the most advanced fighter jet in the world and has stealth technology that makes it virtually invisible to enemy radar.
Both the Wolverine and Super Tucano competed in the Air Force’s Light Attack Experiment in New Mexico last year and came out the frontrunners. The experiment pitted four aircraft against each other and sought to fast-track the service’s new aircraft.
Now, both will undergo a battery of testing this summer to decide who gets the Air Force contract. But Wilson previously announced that neither the Wolverine or Super Tucano will be required to demonstrate their combat skills.
Instead of a combat demonstration, the service intends to work with the defense industry and experiment with both aircraft’s maintenance, data networking and sensors.