The A-10 and the F-35 will finally have a chance to face-off in an upcoming evaluation, the Air Force’s top general said Thursday, despite earlier in the week claiming a comparison was a “silly exercise.”
That evaluation, however, won’t take place until 2018, but it’s one that will keep many waiting with anticipation, Bloomberg reports.
According to J. Michael Gilmore, the director of the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation Office, the goal of the test is to see “how well the F-35 performs and whether there are gaps or improvements in capabilities compared to the A-10.”
The A-10 has long been compared to the F-35, not so much because they’re the same sort of aircraft with exactly the same function, but because the Air Force has tried to sideline the A-10 in favor of shifting resources to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program of all time.
Critics have maligned Air Force leadership for aggressive tactics to remove what many troops consider to be invaluable close-air support, which they say the F-35 simply can’t supply. The Air Force’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Lt. Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr. stated that assuming the F-35 comes out of the test negatively for close-air support, the Air Force “will utilize all of the resources we have to be able to meet that CAS requirement” to compensate.
Whether that means keeping the A-10 around is unclear, but members of Congress intend to make sure the A-10 remains part of the fleet. Arizona GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte and John McCain have both fought off attempts by Air Force leadership to do away with the aircraft.
“I will not support the divestment of the A-10 until an equally or more capable close air support aircraft achieves full operational capability,” Ayotte said Thursday in a statement to The Washington Post.
Bunch conceded that the A-10 might be able to outperform the F-35 in some areas—at least at this stage in the F-35’s development. Gilmore also noted that there will be unavoidable differences in the way the aircraft carry out close-air support.
“There are going to be differences, absolutely, in the way the F-35 conducts CAS in comparison to the A-10, and that’s yet another reason to do this comparison test, to understand what those differences mean,” Gilmore noted.