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A-10 vs F-35 Flyoff

The tri-service, Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program (USAF, USN, and USMC) sought a replacement to each services 4th generation multi-role fighters; the USAF wanted a replacementfor the F-16, F-15E, and A-10, even though the A-10 is a dedicated ground attack platform. Planners intended to take advantage of technological advances while reducing research, development, and procurement costs in order to keep...technological superiority in a period of constrained resources.

At the behest of Congress, the Pentagon conducted a fly-off to determine the future viability of the Air Forces close air support (CAS) platforms. For several years, the Air Force had tried to retire its fleet of A-10s, suggesting that its other platforms, including newly-arriving F-35s, could assume the CAS mission from the venerable but aging Warthog. These more modern platforms armed with an array of high-tech weapons, Air Force officials often explained, could better achieve the desired CAS effects across any battlespace, including regions where enemy defenses might otherwise imperil the low, slow A-10.

The services position met significant opposition, however, extending from the blogosphere to congress. Advocates for the A-10 countered that the relatively simple, battle-hardened Warthog brings irreplaceable capability and weapons effects to the battlefield, and at a fraction of the procurement and operating costs of the service favored F-35.

To prove their point, several A-10 proponents repeatedly called for a fly-off between the two platforms, but in August 2015 Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Mark Welsh quipped that such a test would be a silly exercise. Then in the summer of 2016, Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), a former A-10 combat pilot, introduced legislation requiring a head-to-head test of the two platforms during a portion of the F-35A initial operational test and evaluation; the fly-off would have to be completed before Congress authorized any additional changes to the A-10 force structure.

In an opinion piece published June 14, 2016 in The Air Force Times, McSally outlined the tests objectives, The testing must demonstrate how the two aircraft can perform missions in realistic combat settings, such as when pilots are required to visually identify enemy and friendly forces in close proximity, both during the day and at night.

"The A-10 is uniquely designed for life-saving missions such as close-air support and combat search and rescue. The former protects troops in harms way while the latter involves rescuing downed pilots or other isolated personnel from enemy territory before they become prisoners of war. The Pentagons confusing and inconsistent statements about the future of CAS and CSAR raise questions about how serious leadership is about preserving these missions."

the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) released in August 2016 highlighting the serious capability gaps that would occur under the Air Forces proposals to prematurely retire the A-10 Warthog. Loss of the A-10 airframe will also cause a decrease in Air Force CAS capability. Senior DOD leaders have stated that the A-10 is the Air Forces best CAS aircraft. The CAS experts convened by the Air Force in 2015 concluded that A-10 divestiture creates a gap because the Air Force is losing a high-capacity and cost-efficient ability to kill armor, moving, and close proximity targets in low weather conditions. (GAO, pg. 49-50)

The RAND Corporation released a report prepared for the US Army affirming U.S. Rep. McSallys persistent arguments for retaining the A-10 aircraft. After analyzing Air Force plans and alternative options, RAND's report recommended fielding a viable Close Air Support replacement before eliminating the capability the A-10 provides.

The FY2017 NDAA, which was signed into law on December 23, 2016, included a provision authored by Rep. McSally to mandate an A-10, F-35 fly-off before any A-10 can be retired. The legislation details what capabilities a fly-off must test, including Close Air Support and Combat Search and Rescue, two missions currently performed by the A-10.



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Page last modified: 27-07-2018 23:53:34 ZULU