This article was written by Mark Thompson and was first published on the Center for Defense Information at POGO. Read the original article here. The opinion of the authors does not necessarily correspond with that of the editorial team. Want your opinion to be featured on AeroTime? Send us a line at

Air Force weighs a cheaper way of waging wars in developing countries

Today’s U.S. warplanes were built to destroy the Soviet Union: B-52 Stratofortresses would fly low to avoid Moscow’s radar and rockets before destroying their targets; B-1 Lancers would sweep back their wings to plunge in fast to avoid being shot down; bat-winged B-2 Spirits would sneak in by trying to render themselves invisible to Soviet air defenses. And F-22 fighters were designed to tighten the U.S. Air Force’s grip from air superiority into air dominance over Soviet warplanes.

So why has the U.S. Air Force been using these costly warbirds to destroy mud huts, obliterate crude drug labs and take out terrorists for the past 16 years?

“That puts an aircraft that costs between $40,000 and $80,000 an hour to operate, and then you are dropping about a $54,000 weapon to kill a guy on a motorcycle,” said Taco Gilbert, a retired Air Force brigadier general seeking to push the Air Force in a cheaper direction. “We are going to lose that war, eventually, just economically.”

No wonder he retired with only a single star. Gilbert is a now senior vice president at Sierra Nevada, one of the companies competing for the light attack program.

Last year Senator John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the armed services committee, said the Air Force should buy 300 so-called light-attack prop planes to curb this financial fiasco. Last month [May, 2018], the Air Force launched a competition between two relatively cheap aircraft to keep from going broke. The service is pitting the Textron Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine against the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano at New Mexico’s Holloman Air Force base to see if it can find a winner. At about $20 million each, that is roughly half the cost of the Air Force’s “cheap” F-16 fighter, and less than 1 percent of a B-2’s price tag. But it is also about the inflation-adjusted price of the service’s A-10 Warthog.

A Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine experimental aircraft, one of the contenders to be the U.S. Air Force’s new light-attack warplane, flies over the White Sands Missile Range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ethan D. Wagner)

McCain said the Air Force should keeping flying its beefier, low-and-slow A-10s, beloved by grunts for helping to keep them alive on the ground. The Air Force has been trying to ground them, unsuccessfully, for years. Some critics in and outside the Air Force sense the service’s ardor for the prop planes is a ruse to rid itself of the pesky A-10, which has bedeviled an Air Force eager to pump money into more costly aircraft.