The A-10 Thunderbolt II may have evaded a light attack aircraft replacement and the congressional budget axe, but the beloved Warthog and its 30mm gatling gun is finally facing a brand new threat to its existence: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Defense officials announced on Feb. 28 that the F-35 will undergo critical testing of its reconnaissance and close-air support capabilities early in April, a major stepping stone before the Pentagon formally kicks production of the freakishly expensive and notoriously problematic fifth-generation joint strike fighter.
But while defense officials are keenly focused on the F-35’s soaring production costs, the exercise may include a head-to-head face-off against the venerable A-10, a much-anticipated test of the aircraft mandated by the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that’s guaranteed to be the best exhibition of close air support muscle in years.
“The Congress has directed the [Defense Department] to do comparison testing, we call it,” Vice Adm. Mat Winter reportedly told reporters at the F-35 Joint Program Office headquarters, according to Military.com. “I wouldn't call it a fly-off; it's a comparison testing of the A-10 and the F-35. And given that the department was given that task … that is in operational test and evaluation plan.”
Fuck that: A fly-off by any other name is still *absolutely* a fly-off, one that’s expected to determine whether the feisty F-35 could prove a suitable replacement for the Warthog that’s made a name for itself tearing assholes in close air support roles.
On paper, this seems deeply unlikely. The DoD’s latest assessment revealed that too many crucial systems are “dependent on workarounds that would not meet Service expectations in combat situations.” Sure, the A-10’s been flying since the 1970s, but the airframe can still land without canopy, cannon, or landing gear if needed. By comparison, the F-35 hasn’t even entered into IOT&E; yet.
That hasn’t stopped defense planners from pushing to kill the A-10. A 2014 Air Force public affairs guidance obtained by Task & Purpose mandated that officials talk up plans to divest from the A-10 in favor of the fancy-schmancy new flying suffocation machine; as Defense News notes, the 2017 NDAA only included fly-off language precisely because Congress and the Air Force have clashed over the future of the airborne murder engine for years. There are good reasons for this — stealth, maneuverability, and an expansive suite of weapons — but it’ll take a real-life head-to-head for officials to truly weigh the aircraft.
So which one is better: The sleek new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, or the venerable A-10 Thunderbolt II? Leave a comment below or tell me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your most persuasive arguments for and against the aircraft and we’ll publish your responses, assuming they are legible, coherent, and not full of trash talk.