The AT-6 Texan II light attack aircraft deployed precision-guided munitions (PGM) for the first time over southern Arizona’s Barry M. Goldwater Range on September 28.
As part of an ongoing demonstration by the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Test Center (AATC), the Texan II dropped three GBU-12s – 500-pound laser-guided bombs. The Test Center says that each hit its intended target. Lt. Col. Keith “Coma” Colmer, who has been part of the ongoing demonstration of the AT-6 since it began in 2009, said, “This was the first time that we brought light attack into the modern generation of weapons.”
Officials play down the prospect of the U.S. Air Force procuring any significant number of light attack aircraft. The demonstration is funded by legislation urged by the Kansas congressional delegation. The AT-6 is manufactured in Wichita.
In the next phase of the program, the AATC will test the GBU-58, a new 250-pound precision-guided munition that produces less blast radius and less collateral damage – a suitable weapon for counterinsurgency and close air support missions. The test center also intends to demonstrate air-to-air capabilities in upcoming trials with .50-caliber gun pods, firing rounds at a targeting banner in tow 2,000 feet behind a Cessna Conquest.
As of now, the AT-6 demonstration is slated to end in December with deployment of a new category of laser-guided rockets with longer range, capable of hitting a target with minimal collateral damage. As recently as 2008, the Air Force had plans to purchase 100 light attack aircraft. Observers now say that the service has other priorities and is more likely to focus on the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and on plans for a new bomber.