F35 or A10 – Which Do You Prefer?

The F-35 program is the most expensive weapon system project in history, and also one of the most controversial. There are a lot of questions around it, and one of the major ones is whether a single type is being asked to do too many things. The F-35 is supposed to replace large parts of the US fighter fleet, including the F-16, F/A-18 Harrier and A-10. It’s the last one that has sparked the most arguments, because there are real questions about how well it can do the A-10’s highly specialized job.

It’s hard to imagine two more different aircrafts, really. The F-35 is an advanced, stealthy fast jet that carries a small load of precision-guided weapons. It’s unarmored and relies on its low radar visibility for protection. The A-10 was designed in the late 1960s and even then wasn’t exactly cutting-edge technology. In fact one goal for the program was to make the plane as simple and basic as possible, to reduce maintenance requirements and give a high availability rate even when flying from dispersed airstrips. Essentially, it’s a slow but agile bomb truck, capable of carrying a massive load of almost every tactical air to surface weapon in the US arsenal. It was also, famously, designed around its GAU-8A 30mm cannon. In fact, that’s not quite accurate – it was designed around the gun’s ammunition system. The A-10 has a truly enormous ammunition capacity – up to 1,350 rounds. Even at 3,900 rounds a minute, that gives it a significant gun capability. The F-35’s 25mm gun only has 180 rounds.

The F-35 can carry some highly effective ground attack weapons, including Paveway guided bombs and the Brimstone missile, so there’s no doubt of its ability to hit targets. The problem is that it can’t hit very many before it has to break off and rearm. Technically, it can carry almost as heavy a load as the A-10 – 15,000 pounds of weapons, compared to 16,000 pounds – but even with external pylons, which take away its stealth advantages, it has a lot fewer hardpoints to hang them from.

However, the real questions are about the F-35’s survival ability in a CAS environment. Its advocates are saying that its stealth design will let it operate in hostile environments, whereas the slow, almost defenseless A-10 can only operate in friendly airspace. In reality, this isn’t exactly true. The A-10 was designed specifically to fly into the multi-layered air defense zone above a Soviet tank division, which wasn’t a safe place to be. Losses were expected to be heavy, but with its armor, multiple backup systems and low-level agility, it had a better chance of surviving than any other aircraft.

The F-35 is a lot faster than the A-10 and harder to detect on radar; it can stand off and attack with long-ranged weapons. But, if it does have to come in close and support friendly troops with gun and rocket runs – and that’s what close air support is all about – it’s going to lose a lot of its protection. It can be detected, and targeted, on radar at shorter ranges, and it’s completely vulnerable to visually aimed guns. If it is hit, then the damage that an A-10 would shrug off is likely to be terminal to the more fragile fast jet.

Now the USAF is planning a flyoff to decide if the F-35 really can replace the venerable Warthog. This is something the fast jet lobby has been resisting for a while, but Congress has imposed a testing requirement and banned the Air Force from retiring the A-10 until the F-35 has been proven as a replacement.

It’s likely the tests will show that the F-35 can do the job, because that’s what the Air Force is looking for, and service chiefs tend to get what they want – the Navy’s gunfire support debacle, when the battleships were “replaced” by a destroyer that now has almost no gun capability at all, is the perfect example. History tends to win in the end, though. Every time a major air force gets rid of its dedicated close support aircraft, it ends up buying a new one when it gets fed up losing fast jets to random machine gun bullets. I don’t see this time being any different.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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36 thoughts on “F35 or A10 – Which Do You Prefer?

  1. In current dollars, an A-10 II would run about $80 million per ($20 million in 1976 dollars), while it looks like the F35 is going to settle in at $110 to $130 million. But that’s not the whole story. Once built and in the air, the F-35 is going to eat $42,000 an hour vs. about $6,000 for the Warthog. Now put hundreds of them in the air for a few hundred hours and do the math again…

    At the end of the day – for me, at least – you have to ask yourself what you’re getting for all that extra money. Does the F-35 really provide something we don’t already have? The Warthog certainly does. I don’t understand why it is the best, most hated plane in the force…

  2. I would prefer the A-10 and they upgrade its capacities like they do with the B-52 and other fighters in the US inventory. Not time to put it out to pasture if they put the money to upgrading it instead of buying something new which would take years to deploy and come up to the same levels like it is now. Question is can the F-35 take a 30mm or APG or a SA-8 into it like a A-10?

    Boots on ground!

  3. I write from the perspective of an old grunt/pilot. In other words, I’ve looked up and looked down. I’m also old enough to have seen this scenario play out before. It’s the same old “one weapon system to replace all the other very different systems” dreamed up by people that will never have to bear the up close and personal brunt of the resulting cluster. Of course, there are numerous examples of this pipe dream going up in smoke over the years but the “idiot savants” never seem to learn.

    Bottom line is the A-10 and its danger close/survivability/lethality cannot be replaced by anthing other than another A-10 like platform. If my face is in the dirt I sure don’t want my next few minutes decided by some dude firing a stand off weapon from beyond sight in the hopes it vaporizes the bad dude a mere few yards distant and not me because if he gets in close some farmer with a mosin might send him into the next dimension. I want some dude with caste iron stones (and a platform to support them) on a gun run so close we can give each other a thumbs up.

    Just my thoughts, I could be completely wrong.

  4. The F/A-18 is the Hornet.
    My vote is the A-10. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. The A-10 has been proven to handle the job as needed. You need air support with long loiter time and one that can withstand ground fire. The A-10s cannon can support ground troops and take out tanks after other munitions are gone. It’s a no brainer really, the A-10 is the aircraft you want.

    But let’s face it, the whole issue is not about what aircraft is the best choice for the job. The question is how to cut costs. The Air Force wants out of the close air support role, and wants the money for the F-35 money pit. It’s not about what aircraft is best. Look at the Navy replacing the F-14 and A-6 with the F-18. The F-18 can’t do either role as well as either aircraft, but the F-18 is ok at both. The role of specialty aircraft is almost gone. Now instead of a muscle car or pickup truck, we have minivans to replace them both.

  5. For close troop support, low and slow with the capability of extended time over the battlefield. Low initial cost, low maintenance, high survivability, proven platform, that is the definition of an A-10.
    F-35 definition, fast and looks cool.

  6. The A10 is a proven war fighter, that is extremely tough, can stay in a fight and get the pilots home. Its not sexy, but it is a “junkyard dog”, that the pilots love and have great confidence.in. It is also cheap to keep in operation compared to the F35. The “know nothing, do nothing Monday Moring Quarterbacks”, most of whom have never had to go into battle, want the Wart Hog gone, so they can satisfy the Lobbyists campaigning for the F-35, which according to many reports is a giant “boongogg0le”, that can’t even “hang with the F-16”. It is a maintenance nightmare, that is so far over budget, its shameful. And, it is unproven in combat!
    My vote would be to stay with the aircraft that is consistently there for the ground troops!! The ugly, mean, tough A-10 Warthog!!!

  7. An A-10 is a totally different aircraft for a totally different use. An A-10 could almost be a turbo prop as it provides close support for ground fighters who like to have it low and slow and just overhead. No F-35 is ever going to be an A-10, and no A-10 is ever going to be an F-35. Warthogs Forever!

  8. The Army and marines need an aircraft that can stay on point and take abuse. Keep the cheaper A-10 and remove the stigma for a a do all aircraft. Put the brass in a trench and fire both in CAS mode while RPGs and heavy weapons are trying to knock out the aircraft. Then watch their decisions change.

  9. The A-10 is the best ground attack and ground protect aircraft ever built. There is no way the F-35 can fill this slot. Even though the Generals at the Pentagon don’t like it, the Infantry in the Army and Marines wouldn’t trade the A-10 for its’ weight in gold or the F-35.

  10. The A-10 is a superb CAS aircraft. Low and slow,a real advantage when troops are danger close. The GAU/8 30 mm gun is a show stopper against troops and armor.Why would you wand to use a faster,less maneuverable plane at faster speeds to support troops. The Fighter Mafia is running loose again.
    I worked on the A-7D(a real CAS workhorse).

  11. a 1954 australian built avon sabre can fly at 54,000 feet.
    the 35 can reach 43,000 feet on a good day
    an f18 can reach 50,000 feet
    down here the RAAF told us the f35 could do the job of the f111 and f18
    yet neither can attain the operational height of of an aussie built sabre or mirage
    it doesnt like lightening and they want to base them in lightening prone tropical australia. it doesnt like doing more than one op a day. there is more than a hundred in the air and word is it wont be 100% combat capable till the mid 20’s
    a know abortions are expensive but the cost of the f35 is bullshit
    strewth you can kill and f35 with a .22cal rifle whilst the A10 was designed to move above warsaw pack armor

  12. You summed it up nicely. The A-10 is heavily armored and carries a very heavy payload including Hellfire, Maverick and two small missile pods. It also carries two sidewinders to dissuade attack jets from thinking they are easy prey. Its centerpiece is 60 mm cannon that holds 100 shells that can easily kill a dozen tanks without having to fire a single missile. It can fly slowly or fast depending on its close cover mission. Its that infantry cover ability that makes the A-10 so special. It can destroy both enemy troops and their armor support.

    The F-35s main virtue besides being stealthy is its vertical and short take off ability. More stable than Harriers, the F-35 fits forward mission roles when friendly airfields are not available. They are however, easily outmatched by Mig-29s, 31s and the new version that is a match for our F-22 Raptors. The F-35 is a limited role aircraft and we should have never based all of our services air needs on this aircraft. I understand we now have some new drones that can easily defeat the F-35 and for that reason, we need to focus on building those drones and refrain from building anymore F-35s. Since Obama cut the number of Raptors from the planned 100 planes to only 21, the F-35 is woefully unprotected in terms of speed, maneuverability and firepower. Keep the A-10s and retire the F-35s.

  13. A-10 has been battle tested, has the toughness & the tech to be a force in air support! It also has the agility now to be better than ever! And of course cost efficiency!!

  14. It was evident in Iraq that the A-10 could sustain a lot of damage and still fly and keep the pilot safe. The F-35 would be too easy to shoot down in close air support plus if it had to hover to support ground troops it would be an easy target. I think it would be stupid to eliminate the A-10 Warthog.

  15. I can personally attest to the A10 as one of the toughest and combat worthy aircraft I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing that destinct”whine” as it pulls out of a dive to lay waste and unleash hell upon those who would oppose the ground pounders and grunts. Agian very few aircraft I’ve ever seen can stand toe to toe with the abuse this little fighter can take. So screw with something else and leave our A10’S alone

  16. warthog all the way- everyday
    been killed by the A10 during field training exercises multiple times over my military career. The A10 is still amazing and always a favorite

  17. Never could fathom why the numb skulls in Washington wanted to retire the Warthog. To believe that there will be no need for the magnificent close air support that the Hog provided and it’s redundancy, made it number 1. The believe that a tank war was the only reason the Hog was used for was idiotic. By the same token, we have let the MA1A fall into disrepair. As long as there is dry land, there will be the need for tanks like it. The F-35 is a necessity for the future, but like always, the politicians like all their eggs in one basket. How can you develop a flight system that will do it all. If that was true, then why have bombers or drones. No one system is perfect, and for sure, they are asking the F-35 to do to much.

  18. I have personally been up-close and watched the A-10 in combat in the middle east, in exercises in the Nevada dessert such as Red Flag and other real world training scenarios. The F-35 can not survive in the A-10’s environment and will fail just like all the other aircraft from the modified F-16 to the F-22 have.

  19. A-10 need fighter support to achieve missions. F-35 can perform ground pound missions and defend selves from air attack. With the A-10 you get the cost of the A-10 plus the cost of fighters providing top cover as well. A-10 needs more pilots to perform same ground attack missions.

    Attack helicopters are capable of low and slow ground attack missions as well and with standoff capabilities, are more versatile.

  20. There is know question the A10 is still the best CAS aircraft flying today. It is time to stop thinking about Jobs and the economy and focus more on what’s best for the troops. And nothing does it better than the A10. I worked A7s and took them to southeast Asia they did a remarkable job, but they couldn’t hold a candle to the A10. Up grade them and forget the F35.

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