Finally, the F-35 Lightning II and A-10 Warthog will face off in head to head testing to see if the F-35 can take over as the US Air Force’s prime close air support platform.
The testing of the two polar opposite aircraft is being carried out by the Pentagon right now, Kris Osborn of Warrior Scout reports.
The tests come after Senate House Armed Services Committee Chair Senator John McCain grilled Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh in April on his proposal that F-16s and F-15s would take over the role of the A-10 after it’s retirement.
“It’s really embarrassing to hear you say something like that,” said McCain in response to Welsh’s proposal to mothball the Warthog.
Since then, a scathing report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has come out that deeply questions the wisdom of retiring the A-10 and points to wide capability gaps that would be left by the Warthog’s retirement.
However, the F-35 has overcome several hurdles in the meantime, and proven itself as a capable aircraft that has surprised even those who were bullish on it from the start.
Right now, Pentagon weapons testers are analysing results from flight tests and simulated combat scenarios to see if the F-35 can really step up and handle missions the A-10 has mastered over decades.
As the GAO uncovered, a big part of the reason why the A-10 succeeded in its unique roles is not only the plane’s own design, a slow, low flyer that could absorb small arms fire and keep on ticking, but also the elite level of training the A-10 community received.
Should the Air Force find that the F-35 could bridge the capability gap with sufficient training, the A-10 may finally be mothballed.
However, Air Force officials said that right now they’re looking at a few other options: upgrading existing A-10 airframes, buying an existing replacement, or just building a new plane like the A-10, Osborn reports.
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