There’s a story, you may have heard, about NASA spending millions of dollars to create a pen that could write without gravity in space. By contrast, the Russian Space Program simply gave their cosmonauts pencils in order to accomplish the same job. Although the story is a myth, it does highlight America’s ability to spend an unnecessary amount of money on technology to accomplish certain missions.
Don’t believe me? Recently, Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley complained about the Modular Handgun Systems program wasting $17 million in two years just to field a new handgun to replace the M9 Beretta. This is not the only program the military has thrown millions, or even billions of dollars at. The United States Air Force (USAF) has been pushing for years to produce a fleet of the highly advanced F-35 Lightening II stealth fighter jets to replace the extremely successful A-10 Thunderbolt II, most commonly known as the “Warthog.” What the Air Force intends to do is phase out the currently existing fleet of 3rd and 4th generation aircraft with this new 5th generation F-35 Lightening II and its several variants. This includes phasing out the A-10. However, I believe that it is a mistake for the USAF to replace the A-10 with the F-35.
First, we need to understand the capabilities of the A-10. Despite its ungainly appearance, some reporting indicates the Warthog is a powerhouse piece of equipment and extremely favored by U.S. ground units in today’s conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as an air-to-surface asset, its primary function. The Warthog has had a highly successful combat record, although U.S. Air Force Generals allegedly have been trying to prevent A-10 pilots from releasing their combat records in order to promote the F-35. It also is more durable and survivable against enemy fire because most of the aircraft is made of titanium armor. This armor was introduced because the A-10 is a slow moving aircraft and needed thick armor against Anti-Aircraft (AA) Fires, or possibly even enemy aircraft. There are reports of Warthogs being shot to pieces by AA and still able to fly back to base in one piece (one report noted an entire wing was blown off).
On top of this, the Warthog can carry a very impressive arsenal of weapons thanks to its larger wingspan, which is larger than the F-35. A wider variation of weaponry gives more flexibility to engage specific ground targets. Thanks to its ability to move slow and its thick titanium armor body, the A-10 is superior in Close Air Support (CAS) missions, the most common missions seen in today’s current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The F-35 was created in order to tackle multiple missions to include: electronic attack, air-to-surface, air-to-air, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. This way, the F-35 could “accomplish” all the missions of the current fleet. In addition to these missions, the F-35 was created with advanced stealth, interoperability, and a full mission systems coverage. All of these are wonderful things, no doubt, but at what costs? This makes the F-35 a Jack of all Trades, yet Master of None. In other words, the F-35 will be competent in all of its missions, but may never be outstanding in any of them. This could pose a problem for dealing with more advanced threats in the future.
Next, we must understand the major problems of the F-35 compared to the A-10. The first problem is the physical costs. A generic F-35 costs around $178 million, with the most expensive being $337 million. Today’s Warthog: $18.8 million. The US has already spent over $400 billion on the aircraft program, with a projected estimate of $1.45 trillion, which some experts say is enough to provide tuition-free education for every student in the US until the year 2039. The next problem is the design. The F-35 will have new technology and electronics that will be connected all throughout the aircraft due to its smaller frame. Even though the F-35 will be faster, minimal damage received in Close Air Support (CAS) missions could render the aircraft inoperable for further use. However, the F-35 won’t be able to go as slow as the A-10, making CAS missions more dangerous for the troops on the ground. As mentioned previously, the A-10 has a titanium armor center and belly, where most of its electronics and equipment are located, protecting it from the inevitable ground fire.
In addition to its armor, the A-10’s twin engine aids in CAS missions because if one goes down, the other engine has enough power to fly the aircraft back to base. Another problem is that the USAF can’t even keep the F-35 out of the repair shop, possibly the Air Force’s biggest problem and a logistical nightmare. There are reports of 25mm cannon malfunctioning and multiple engine malfunctions as well, which one such engine malfunction actually grounded the entire F-35 fleet in the summer of 2014. While it is expected to be problems during development of this aircraft, don’t forget that we’ve already spent over $400 billion on this aircraft over several years and yet are still no closer to fully implementing them in the fleet. Also, it only makes logical sense that repairs on the more advance F-35 will be more costly than repairs done on the A-10, adding to the already massive spending for this aircraft.
You would think with the amount of time, money, and advanced technology put into this aircraft that the F-35 would be the most superior aircraft in the world. While the projected capabilities of the F-35 will (hopefully) be superior in the future, there’s reports that the Russian PAK-FA, AKA the T-50, will outperform the F-35 in air-to-air battles. If Russia possess the power to outperform our best aircraft in air-to-air battle, then we would be unable to conduct air-to-surface missions, let alone CAS. If we do not have the best air-to-air capabilities over our largest threats like Russia or China, then we wouldn’t be able to carry out air-to-surface missions because our enemy would have air supremacy! We wouldn’t be able to fly our F-35s, let alone our A-10s if this was the case.
In short, the USAF should not phase out the A-10 with the F-35. The F-35 should have been designed solely for stealth and air-to-air missions so that we can maintain air superiority in any potential battles or wars with our projected enemies. With air superiority, the A-10 can then come in and do air-to-surface missions in air controlled areas. Today, many of our battles take place in extreme close quarters, and with the continued rise of cities and mega-cities this type of close quarters combat doesn’t appear to going away any time soon. Unfortunately, the F-35 program has already spent so much money that it would be worse to scrap the program entirely. Instead, the USAF should try to re-prioritize the F-35’s mission to be air-to-air and try to scrap the F-35’s air-to-surface, mainly CAS, missions. If the USAF is capable of doing this, then I propose that the USAF phase out other aircraft such as the F-18, F-16, and Harriers, and maintain/further advance the A-10. The USAF fleet should be part F-35 and part A-10, not all F-35 as the USAF currently wants. With the F-35’s primary mission is air-to-air, the U.S. can maintain air superiority against projected threats for future conflict. With air superiority, the U.S. can perform CAS or air-to-surface with the A-10. In turn we have air superiority against enemy fighter jets as well as superiority in CAS and air-to-surface missions. Unless the operating environment calls for better CAS or air-to-surface capable aircraft or if the defense budget increases, then the USAF can create a new program to create a modern aircraft that can perform the same missions as the A-10, only better, and then can it phase out this battle-hardened aircraft.
Perhaps the autror would be advised to f do a bit of basic reaseach befor [publishing an articale, I certtainly hopes he does batter than this in his classwork or he would have no hope of graduating
As an example he want the USAf to get rid of the f/A-18s and Harriers it has, How exactly is the USAF supposed to get rid of aircraft they have never possessed. He also advised optimizing the F-35 for air to air, Does he not know that the USAF already has the f-22, and the the f-22 is the world preeminent aircraft for that mission?
I would advise revising your comment(s) for Grammer and spelling mistakes before posting. Now, to answer some of your questions. First, I misspoke when saying the USAF should replace the F/A-18 and Harriers. The DoD wants to replace all 4th generation Aircraft with 5th generation aircraft i.e. the F-35, so it doesn’t just stop with the USAF. I focused to much on USAF since they have the A-10s in their fleet. To the second part, the F-22 may currently be the best at its job in the world, but other research shows that the Russian PAK-FA, or even the Su-35 will out perform the F-22, and in some cases the F-35, and this is more about air-to-air capabilities more so than just the ability to accomplish several missions.
While I agree the A-10 is the better platform for non-opposed CAS, you are mistaken in your assessment of the F-35 mission set. Dedicated air superiority is performed by the F-22 Raptor. The Air Force does not use the F-18 (Navy and Marines do). Both the Air Force and the Navy/Marines would benefit from retaining a significant number of less technologically advanced aircraft for CAS missions.
Interesting article, though it appears to be written by someone who does not understand how air power works on tactical, operational or strategic level. The A-10 was designed to engage Soviet armor with the precision weapon of the day, the Maverick missile. For today’s wars the USAF has a whole family of GBU (Guided Bomb Units) precision weapons available to engage the enemy. They can be used and are employed by a variety of platforms. The idea that you need to fly slow and low for CAS is also false. It is actually about 30 years out of date. Today, all of the fixed wing fighters carry some variant of a targeting pod which allows them to provide precision air support while remaining invisible to the adversary troops on the ground. The A-10’s armor also means nothing if it gets engaged by double digit SAM systems or enemy aircraft. Systems which can only be suppressed by the multi-role fighters such as the F-16CJ. The A-10 is really good at a couple of missions only, CSAR and CAS, while other aircraft such as F-16, F-15E, or F-35 are multi-role and provide the best mix of capabilities for the money spent. Lastly, the best reason to get rid of the A-10 is to free up the fighter pilots for other aircraft. This is especially important, given the current fighter pilot shortage.
Missions other than CSAR and CAs are almost never perforend in combat, getting rid of the beast aircraft for those very common missions so you can have more aircraft with Capabilities that are usual not needed seem to be a bit backwards. I guess that the ability OT keep grunts on the ground alive is secondary to the defense counteractions get money to pay retired generals with and the Air Force getting new bright and shiny toys
His picture is a bit fuzzy on my monitor, but I desperately hope CDT Bourland has a couple of years left before being commissioned. This is the second MWI article I’ve read on air war issues that’s shot through with misinformation and outright fiction. Let’s walk through the article:
“It [the A-10] also is more durable and survivable against enemy fire because most of the aircraft is made of titanium armor.”
Sort of. The cockpit and critical avionics are protected by a titanium armor “bathtub” — this also provides part of the structure supporting the gun. The engine nacelles are partially armored. But A-10s are not built like tanks — most of the airplane is conventionally constructed.
“There are reports of Warthogs being shot to pieces by AA and still able to fly back to base in one piece (one report noted an entire wing was blown off).”
Let’s dispatch that last part quickly — the origin of the “A-10 returning with one wing blown off” traces back to a discussion about a game site called Dynamic Combat Simulator. In short, it didn’t really happen. Could it? An IAF F-15 landed after losing much of one wing in a mid-air collision; since the A-10’s flight controls were designed to compensate for major damage like this, it’s possible…but not unique. And mistaking a gaming discussion for real life is appallingly bad research for a future strategic planner.
More importantly, the whole discussion about how well the A-10 is armored ignores what that armor is for: to get the plane and pilot home. Airplanes are fragile by nature, and the A-10 isn’t that different. Take a hit, go home. Do not make another pass, do not stay in the fight. A few holes can be patched in a day…more than that, and the jet is down for days or weeks, if it ever flies again. Yes, A-10s (along with many other airplanes) have taken some impressive damage and come home — the poster child is a Warthog hit by an IR SAM over Baghdad in 2003 (http://www.aircraftresourcecenter.com/Stories1/001-100/0016_A-10-battle-damage/story0016.htm). That airplane never flew again. The bottom line is that if a CAS bird is hit, it’s out of the fight. It’s not dropping bombs on bad guys while it’s heading home, or while it’s being repaired.
“On top of this, the Warthog can carry a very impressive arsenal of weapons thanks to its larger wingspan, which is larger than the F-35.”
Er…yes, but wingspan has little to do with it. The F-35’s primary limitation on weapons load is the internal weapons bays, not the size of the wing. In fact, F-15s and F-16s carry just as much warload as an A-10, and until the A-10C modifications, could carry smart weapons the A-10 couldn’t.
“In addition to its armor, the A-10’s twin engine aids in CAS missions because if one goes down, the other engine has enough power to fly the aircraft back to base.”
One hopes…and again, that gets the aircraft home. It doesn’t keep it in the fight.
“Another problem is that the USAF can’t even keep the F-35 out of the repair shop, possibly the Air Force’s biggest problem and a logistical nightmare.
Also, it only makes logical sense that repairs on the more advance F-35 will be more costly than repairs done on the A-10, adding to the already massive spending for this aircraft.”
Historically, new aircraft are terrible maintenance pigs. With maturity, they generally get better. A large part of the F-35’s problem is the computerized logistics system, which is a separate issue from the aircraft performance.
“I propose that the USAF phase out other aircraft such as the F-18, F-16, and Harriers, and maintain/further advance the A-10. The USAF fleet should be part F-35 and part A-10, not all F-35 as the USAF currently wants.”
That would be nice, but consider this: the manufacturer that made the A-10 no longer exists. The A-10 is the only aircraft remaining in the U.S. inventory using the TF34 engine. Spares can (and are) being custom made in small numbers, but at a cost. Even more pressing, there’s a manpower cost — mechanics to work on F-35s were supposed to come from those revectored from working on A-10s. Would the Army be as enthusiastic if keeping the A-10 cost 10,000 troops removed from their end strength?
Others have pointed out the Air Force doesn’t fly the F-18 or Harrier, but the Marines — who are passionate about CAS — do. Interestingly enough, the Marines have always favored “fast CAS”. They phased out their A-1 Skyraiders in the late ’50s in favor of the A-4. They’ve never shown interest in adopting the A-10.
The F-35 will have to prove itself as a CAS airplane. It won’t be in the same manor as an A-10…but the luxury of doing CAS like we did it in 1945 has only survived this long because we’ve been chasing tribemen without any significant air defense capability. The peculiar stasis we’ve been in for 15 years now is highlighted by Mr Kerr’s comment that “missions other than CSAR and CAS are almost never performed in combat,” which ignores a great deal of recent military history, both ours and others.