This is why modern air forces should introduce Light Combat Aircraft

Air Force light combat aircraft
Leonardo M-346FA Light Combat Aircraft.

With the introduction of modern fifth generation fighter aircraft, the air forces are faced with a considerable cost increase. As an example, the cost per flight hour of an F-35A is around $36,000, compared to $22,000 for an F-16.

This is why some manufacturers are also promoting their Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) as companions for advanced 20/30 ton fighters. While fifth generation capabilities are now indispensable for building a credible and effective air force, a mixed fleet would help services keep costs down.

In recent decades, the air forces have tended to reduce the number and types of aircraft due to a lack of budget. As a result, modern and expensive fighter-bombers are currently also used in operational scenarios with a low threat level.

Industries are therefore commercializing modern LCA, obtained from the upgrade of advanced trainer jets, which are capable of effectively carrying out air-to-surface and air-to-air missions, as well as tactical reconnaissance. An example are the Leonardo M-346FA or the KAI FA-50. Both aircraft boast modern radar and the ability to load a wide range of weapons, while also retaining those advanced trainer capabilities that greatly facilitate and optimize pilot training.

Looking at the past years, an excellent approach to this concept was shown by the Italian Air Force which sent the AMX light attack aircraft in place of the more expensive Tornados to Afghanistan and Kuwait, obtaining excellent operational results. It is no coincidence that the AMX is the combat aircraft most deployed by the Italian Air Force in military operations abroad. To simplify the concept, today's LCA can be considered as an advanced AMX.

The United States has also long ago ascertained the need to maintain a mixed fleet (fourth and fifth generation fighters) to rationalize costs. US Air Force leaders also said they were considering an armed variant of the Boeing T-7A Red Hawk trainer jet.

While the military is currently largely focused on introducing fifth generation aircraft, we believe that as these programs are consolidated, they will begin to look to light platforms as well.

Nations such as Italy and Poland, which have already introduced a fleet of M-346 trainers, could consider the attack variant of the aircraft to decrease long-term military spending.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Image: Leonardo

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