The US Air Force has received initial funding of $2bn to purchase 100 light attack armed reconnaissance (LAAR) aircraft for carrying out asymmetric operations.
The LAAR programme, to be operational in 2013 – a year after the start of initial deliveries – will include propeller-driven aircraft, fitted with hardpoints for light support weapons.
The LAAR aircraft will carry a targeting pod and is capable of independently engaging targets to reduce the sensor-to-shooter timeline.
It will be procured under the OA-X programme and will operate as a forward air controller, with voice, video and data-links, and will reduce operating costs to nearly $1,000 per flying hour.
One or two podded 7.62mm mini-guns, two 500lb (227kg) guided-munitions, 2×0.75in rocket projectiles, and the AGM-114N Hellfire air-to-ground missile will be part of the air-to-ground weapons.
Once in use, the LAAR will operate from austere airfields on five-hour missions over distances of 900nm (1,667km) up to a ceiling of 30,000ft (9,144m).
In charge of the LAAR aircraft programme, the air combat command requires the first 24-aircraft squadron to be ready for combat within two years.
The first operator of the aircraft will be 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.