Mitchell Institute Releases New Policy Paper
“Light Combat Aircraft: Looking at O/A-X and Beyond”

ARLINGTON, Va (May 18, 2018) —The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce the latest installment in its Mitchell Institute Policy Papers series, “Light Combat Aircraft: Looking at O/A-X and Beyond” by Lt Col Michael Buck, USAF (Ret.), with Maj Gen Lawrence Stutzriem, USAF (Ret.) and Douglas Birkey. The new paper takes a close look at the proposed addition of a light attack, or “light combat aircraft” (LCA) capability in the US Air Force inventory.

With the second light attack experiment underway, this is a most appropriate time to discuss key considerations regarding this mission set. This is especially true when it comes to boosting combat power capacity, helping rebuild readiness throughout the combat air force, and ensuring top modernization priorities like the F-35 and B-21 remain on track.

Since the end of Operation Desert Storm, the Air Force has steadily whittled down its force structure while concurrently ramping up operations, with a particular focus upon low-intensity combat missions. The result has been a decline in readiness to meet near-peer challenges in highly contested environments—activities that are increasingly more likely and closely tied to core US interests. Doing more with less is no longer tenable.

A LCA capability, if acquired in adequate numbers, could have a transformative effect across the combat air forces. With tremendous endurance, flexible weapons loads, high delivery accuracy, commonality with other partner air force aircraft, and the ability to operate from austere locations, these LCA make an excellent choice for meeting the requirements of low-end conflicts. In addition, by utilizing modern command and control and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technology and teaming with the US military’s range of remotely piloted aircraft, LCA can also aid the collection of information in low-threat environments as well as execute time-critical strikes.

Over time, this will improve the readiness and longevity of USAF’s more advanced assets, as they increasingly reorient towards peer and near-peer threats. “Relieving high-end platforms from duties best suited for LCA will increase overall US Air Force readiness,” Buck notes, by decreasing wear and tear, resorting aircrew and maintainer readiness for high-end conflict, and improving the seasoning of new pilots to address shortages, among other benefits. Lower LCA operating costs will also drive efficiencies that can be invested in modernization for essential programs like the F-35, B-21 and KC-46. However, acquiring LCA will require additive funding, for present Air Force budgets are stretched too thin to gain this capability and also keep existing modernization programs on track.

The Mitchell Institute Policy Papers is a series of occasional papers that presents new thinking and proposals that respond to emerging security and aerospace power challenges in the 21st century. These papers are aimed at lawmakers and their staff, policy professionals, business and industry representatives, academics, journalists, and the informed public. The series aims to provide in-depth policy insights and perspectives to help illuminate potential solutions, based on the experiences and expertise of the authors, paired with studious supporting research.

For more information on the series, and inquiries about submissions, contact Mitchell’s Director of Publications Marc V. Schanz at or visit our website, at

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