Thunder vs. Lightning: A Performance and Cost Analysis of the A-10 and F-35
The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal made two contradictory recommendations. First, the U.S. Special Operations Command’s manpower should be increased by 3,700 troops and its funding by 10%, recognizing that these forces are likely to be increasingly engaged in lowintensity conflicts against terrorists and insurgents. Second, the A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog,” the United States’ most effective aircraft for providing highly accurate close air support (CAS), should be phased out and replaced by the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. Congress wisely accepted the first recommendation and rejected the second. The survival of the A-10, however, remains tenuous. The misguided justification for the plan to replace it is that doing so would streamline and modernize the Air Force within the constraints imposed by sequestration. We conducted a survey of joint terminal attack controllers. Their responses indicate that the A-10 is vastly more capable than its proposed replacement at providing highly precise CAS. A cost analysis demonstrates that the replacement plan would also waste billions of dollars. The A-10 fleet just received a service life extension through 2035, and is relatively affordable to operate. In stark contrast the F-35s that would replace the A-10s entail staggeringly high procurement and operating costs. The proposal to replace the A-10 fleet with Joint Strike Fighters is operationally and fiscally unsound, and would seriously harm U.S. national interests. In a future where budgets are tight and low-intensity conflicts requiring precision CAS are likely, a cost-effective U.S. air fleet must include the A-10 Warthog.