A-10 & F-35 - Different designs. Different capabilities.
Originally posted in Google+
Okay, I know I’m biased. But in this case, I think I’m biased based on experience. I can also understand the need to justify the existence of the “next generation of multi-role fighter.” Still, I have to call attention to some smoke and mirrors going on and declare that, at this party, the emperor has no clothes!
From the website: “The F-35 will replace several legacy aircraft platforms. Click on each aircraft to see how the F-35 matches and exceeds its capabilities.”
First up is the A-10. How does the F-35 exceed the A-10’s capabilities? See for yourself…
The F-35 is better because “the A-10 is not stealthy and only reaches speeds of 420 MPH. In stark contrast, the stealthy F-35 provides precision ground support and travels at 1,186 MPH.”
By that criteria, it will also replace the AC-130 and B-52. In the close air support arena, speed is only an advantage when answering a call to get there fast. Once you’re there, speed can become a disadvantage when it comes to parking your plane in a small patch of airspace to get eyes on the battle and sort out the knife fight going on below you.
For the F-35 to retain its vaunted stealth capabilities, its payload will be near uselessly small for long-term on-station support of the ground battle. Sure, it can plus-up its payload, but with external stores it must descend to the lowly level of stealth of those poor “legacy aircraft” it is supposed to be so superior to. Also, unless the United States plans to relinquish control of the skies or foresees an end to its ability to establish air supremacy for the ground battle, stealth in a close air support role is not nearly as important as a long loiter time with a large, versatile payload.
I’m sure the F-35 is a great aircraft. It will perform some roles quite well. Still, I bet the F-22 will beat it in air-to-air (assuming the Raptor ever gets off the ground again). And, I bet that in a close air support matchup between a pair of fully loaded Hawgs and a pair of fully loaded Lightnings, the report card from the ground commander and his troops would rate the F-35 as a match to the A-10 at best… but likely not a “superior” close air support platform.
When the F-16 came out, it was hailed as THE multi-role solution that was going to do it all, and do it better. Well, we’re still flying F-15s, and we’re still flying A-10s. The F-22 is the replacement to the F-15. The F-35 is the replacement to the F-16. There is no replacement to the A-10, and none even being considered… which is a shame, since it looks like the close air support mission isn’t going away any time soon. In these days of tight budgets and high development costs, the solution could be as simple as the A-10 itself.
Take the basic, proven A-10 airframe, run it through a streamlined redesign process to integrate “new” technology (like the better engines that have been in service on civilian aircraft for over a decade), and reopen the assembly lines to build the A-10E. Do that, and you’ll have a proven close air support / forward air control / combat search & rescue / battlefield air interdiction aircraft that will last for decades, at a fraction of the cost of a completely new design.