A-10 Versus F-35: What a Head-to-Head Showdown Won't Answer

It's not just about equipment.

But the A-10 system is more than just a capable aircraft. It’s a weapons system built on a community that has been the cornerstone of the Air Force’s commitment of support to the Army for the last four decades. If the Air Force shifts the CAS mission to the F-35A, whatever part of the A-10 community that survives the initial transition will die the same, slow death suffered by other Air Force missions that supported the Army. Consider the fate of the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center mission, which dissolved into the ether when the EC-130 was retired.

The argument that future CAS engagements will almost all occur in denied environments, requiring the stealth and fusion of the F-35, also isn’t viable. Projected trends in global demographics, assessments of future operating environments, intelligence estimates and common sense all point to the likely need for CAS in low-threat/low-intensity environments for many years to come.

All 1,753 operational F-35As will be needed to train for—and face—the threats posed by China, Russia and North Korea. It would be foolish to use an F-35 in an environment where an equally effective, but less costly platform like the A-10 thrives.

Rather than demand a hardware-centric fly-off, lawmakers should recognize and value the capability inherent in the weapons system and culture that surrounds the A-10. They are second to none. The Army needs the expertise, culture and community surrounding the A-10 to remain a vibrant part of the Air Force for the foreseeable future.

A twenty-five-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, John “JV” Venable is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense.

Image: Capt. Todd Sheehy, 75th Fighter Squadron, inspects the GAU-8A 30mm gun on an A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft. ​Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Air Force.