The Armed Services Committees of both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate have been trying to keep the A-10 Warthog from being phased out of service and replaced with the new F-35. An Air Force test pilot just gave surprising testimony about the close-air-support capabilities of the two aircraft.
Lt. Col. Raja Chari is the director of the F-35 integrated test force and the commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron. He makes an important distinction between the two aircraft.
“You need to really define; what exactly are you talking about when you say [close-air-support (CAS)]? The way you define the question will dramatically affect the answer that you come up with,” Chari said. “Are you talking about CAS in a low-threat environment, or CAS in a high-threat environment? Basically, contested or uncontested?”
In Chari’s opinion, if the enemy has substantial anti-air capabilities, the A-10 “isn’t really in the conversation.” The A-10 is low-cost and long-serving as a close-air-support platform. The success of the Warthog has been in removing threats from insurgents and militias that have little to no antiaircraft capabilities. In that scenario, the plane has been remarkably effective in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the other hand, the F-35 is designed to evade enemy detection and their defenses.
One of the capabilities of the A-10 that has won it many fans in the military is its ability to fly low and slow, sometimes staying in the air for up to 90 minutes. Chari points out, though, that with tanker planes refueling the F-35, it can achieve similar times in the air.
“If you are talking a non-contested environment, which would be the only place you could make that comparison with the A-10, you are going to have tankers, so it’s kind of moot,” Chari said of the A-10’s supposed loitering advantage, adding, “You could easily get to 90 minutes [in the F-35] if you are 15 minutes from where you are going to loiter.”
Additionally, the F-35 can get to its destination faster than the A-10 can. It also has a bigger gun than the F-15s that currently fight alongside the A-10s.
“I’m not downplaying the A-10,” Chari concluded. “It’s an awesome platform, but…you have to know the role it can fit in.”