Hurlburt Field, headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command, could get as many as three light-attack A-29 Super Tucano single-engine turboprop aircraft early next year.

HURLBURT FIELD — A number of Florida congressmen, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Northwest Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, have been working to ramp up a defense program aimed at using light-attack aircraft, instead of the F-35 and other fighter jets, for at least some missions.


Hurlburt Field, headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command, could get as many as three light-attack A-29 Super Tucano single-engine turboprop aircraft early next year, depending on what happens with the still-to-be approved National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.


Plans call for the aircraft slated to come to Hurlburt Field to be used to develop an instructor pilot program. The Air Force also has plans to purchase as many as three other single-engine turboprop aircraft, Textron AT-6 Wolverines, which will go to Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base for testing and development of digital links with other aircraft.


However, Gaetz and the other members of Congress who signed a September letter to leaders on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees want a broader light-attack program.


Joining Rubio and Gaetz in signing the letter were Florida Republican Reps. John Rutherford, Mario Díaz-Balart and Bill Posey. Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Republican Reps. Don Bacon of Nebraska and Mark Amodei of Nevada also signed the letter.


The letter asked committee members to "allow the (light-attack aircraft) program to reach the next milestone necessary to transition to the battlefield."


Additionally, the letter noted that transitioning to light-attack aircraft, which would also be used by U.S. partner nations, "offers a low-cost solution to absorb missions currently being conducted by 4th and 5th generation platforms (including F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, as well as the newer F-22 and F-35 fighter jets)."


A broader light-attack aircraft program would, the letter noted, keep those fighter jets out of lower-level conflicts and "preserve high-fidelity fifth-generation fighter aircraft such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for a near-peer fight." Near-peer nations include Russia and China, where conflict likely would create a need to use modern fighter jets, which currently are being used in much lower-scale conflicts.


"This opportunity (for a broader light-attack program) provides our military with long-term cost savings ... while fulfilling all mission requirements," the letter noted.


The letter also notes language in the House and Senate versions of the NDAA regarding a push for a more aggressive light-attack aircraft program. That language, now identical in both versions of the bill, would give the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command the ability to purchase light-attack aircraft, if necessary, with funds transferred from the Air Force.


U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is the umbrella command for all of the U.S. military’s special operations forces, including the Hurlburt Field-headquartered Air Force Special Operations Command.


The proposed 2020 defense bill does, however, require that USSOCOM light-attack aircraft purchases can be made only after the commander "certifies to the congressional defense committees that a mission capability gap and special-operations-forces-peculiar acquisition requirement exists which can be mitigated with procurement of a light attack aircraft capability."


Currently, though, the push for a more aggressive military light-attack aircraft program is mired in congressional inaction on formal spending plans for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.


The NDAA, one of those spending plans, is being held captive by arguments over funding for a border wall and the creation of the Space Force.