Pentagon F-35 vs A-10 Close Air Support Evaluation Hits Next Phase
Warrior Maven Video Above - Army Wants F-35 as Pentagon Tests F-35 vs A-10
By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
The Pentagon-led F-35 vs. A-10 Close Air Support assessment is nearing its next phase of evaluation, following an initial “first wave” of tests in July of this year -- designed to test which of the two aircraft might be best suited to confront heavy enemy fire when performing high-risk CAS missions.
“Mission performance is under evaluation,” Vice Adm. Mat Winter, Program Executive Officer, F-35 program, told reporters earlier this year.
Pre- Initial Operational Test & Evaluation test phases, are currently underway at Edwards AFB and Naval Air Station China Lake, officials said.
“Mission performance is being evaluated in the presence of a robust set of ground threats and, to ensure a fair and comparable evaluation of each system’s performance, both aircraft are allowed to configure their best weapons loadouts and employ their best tactics for the mission scenario” a statement from the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation said.
Long-revered by ground troops as a “flying-tank,” the combat proven A-10 has been indispensable to ground-war victory. Its titanium hull, 30mm cannon, durability, built-in redundancy and weapons range has enabled the aircraft to sustain large amounts of small arms fire and combat damage - and keep flying.
At the same time, as newer threats emerge and the high-tech F-35 matures into combat, many US military weapons developers and combatant commanders believe the JSF can bring an improved, new-generation of CAS support to ground troops. Thus - the ongoing Office of the Secretary of Defense comparison.
Upon initial examination, some might regard a stealthy, 5th-Gen F-35 as ill-equipped or at least not-suited for close air support. However, a closer look does seem to uncover a handful of advantages.
Long-range, computer-enabled F-35 sensors could enable the aircraft to see and destroy enemy ground targets with precision from much higher altitudes and much farther ranges than an A-10 could; the speed of an F-35, when compared to an A-10, would potentially make it better able to maneuver, elude enemy fire and get into position for attack; like the A-10s 30mm gun, the F-35 has its own 25mm cannon mounted on its left wing which could attack ground forces; given its sensor configuration, with things like a 360-degree Distributed Aperture System with cameras, the F-35 brings a drone-like ISR component to air-ground war. This could help targeting, terrain analysis and much-needed precision attacks as US soldiers fight up close with maneuvering enemy ground forces.
An F-35 might be better positioned to respond quickly to enemy force movement; in the event that enemy air threats emerge in a firefight, an F-35 could address them in a way an A-10 could not, obviously; an F-35 would be much better positioned to locate enemy long-range fires points of combat significance and destroy hostile artillery, mortar or long-range-fires launching points. Finally, while the A-10 has a surprising wide envelope of weapons, an F-35 could travel with a wider range of air-ground attack weapons - armed with advanced targeting technology.
Also, fighter-jet close air support is by no means unprecedented. F-22s were used against ISIS, F-15s were used against insurgents in Iraq - and the F-35 recently had its combat debut in Afghanistan.
There are, however, some unknowns likely to be informing the current analysis. How much small arms fire could an F-35 withstand? Could it draw upon its “hovering” technology to loiter near high-value target areas? To what extent could it keep flying in the event that major components, such as engines or fuselage components, were destroyed in war? How much could A-10 weapons and targeting technology be upgraded?
Regardless of the conclusions arrived upon by the ongoing assessment, it is likely both the A-10 and F-35 will perform CAS missions in the immediate years ahead.
While the Army's reverence for the A-10 is a long-established fact, the service does also seem to like the F-35 for Close Air Support as well.
“When you are in a firefight, the first thing infantry wants to do it get on that radio to adjust fire for mortars and locate targets with close air support with planes or helicopters. You want fires. The F-35 has increased survivability and it will play a decisive role in the support of ground combat,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium in October.
--Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army - Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has a Masters in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.