The program, known as the Light Attack Experiment, is basically a fly-off between the four planes to determine which best fits the Air Force’s requirements. The Air Force wants an observation and attack (OA-X) plane that can fly over battlefields with minimal air defense threats (think of the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan or Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq) and not only provide firepower on demand to ground forces, but also scout ahead and gather intelligence on enemy forces.The aircraft would not be suitable for fighting countries like Russia and China that deploy advanced, fully modern air defense systems.
Basically, USAF wants a manned aircraft that can act as both a weapon and sensor platform, and is inexpensive to boot. Previously, the Air Force has used everything from A-10 Thunderbolt II attack jets to B-1B bombers in the close air support role. These aircraft are often an overmatch for chasing guerrillas, and they’re also extremely expensive to fly: a B-1B costs $61,000 an hour to fly, while the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, which the Air Force has designated the A-10’s successor, costs $42,000 an hour.