It is being reported that a competition will be held to determine which aircraft, the A-10 Thunderbolt II or the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter is better suited for the close air support (CAS) mission. The Department of Defense’s Operational Test and Evaluation Office will oversee the competition which may happen in 2018.
The duel was mandated by Congress, which is skeptical that the brand-new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can take on the job of providing air support to troops on the ground. This usually consists of flying close to the battlefield and unleashing rockets, guns, bombs and missiles on targets chosen by a forward air controller operating with ground troops.
Critics charge that the F-35 flies too fast to loiter over the battlefield, and has an insufficient payload to service large numbers of targets. The F-35’s four-barreled, 25-millimeter gun carries just 182 rounds of ammunition, a number its detractors say is much too small to fire repeatedly at ground targets. At just under $100 million a copy and an operating cost of $40,000 an hour, detractors also charge the aircraft is overkill for the mission. – Popular Mechanics
Many high ranking Air Force officials believe that the A-10 simply cannot survive in a modern high threat environment with sophisticated air defenses. Contending that the A-10 would be shot down before it could even engage in the battle many feel the stealth technology of the F-35 is the only viable solution for the modern close air support mission.
Air Force pilots who have flown the F-35 and gone on the record about their thoughts praise the aircraft and its ability to be successful in many roles.
Featured image of the A-10 and F-35 by the US Air Force