The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter stands to be the most sophisticated jet in the Air Force’s arsenal once ready for combat — but the Pentagon wants to first see how the state-of-the-art aircraft performs against its old standby, the A-10 “Warthog.”
Top brass in the Department of Defense said they’re preparing for exercises that will compare the capabilities of the F-35, its fifth-generation fighter still in the final stages of development, with those of the A-10, a close-air support jet that’s been used since the first Gulf War.
“The comparison tests on the close-air support mission will reveal how well the F-35 performs and whether there are gaps, or improvements in capability, compared to the A-10,” J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation, told reporters last week.
There will “absolutely” be differences between how the F-35 and the A-10 conduct close air support missions, Mr. Gilmore said, and comparison tests will help the Air Force understand the strengths and weaknesses of either aircraft before the Joint Strike Fighter is officially entered into combat.
The F-35 program is slated to ultimately cost the U.S. military $1.5 trillion, but the Air Force doesn’t expect the jet to be ready until 2021. A series of setbacks have already created obstacles for the program along the way, and Defense Department officials aren’t certain that the aircraft will be able to replace the A-10 in every aspect of air-to-ground combat.