Senator Demands to Know — Is the F-35 Supposed to Replace the A-10 or Not?
Sen. Kelly Ayotte puts the Pentagon in its place
by DAN GRAZIER
One of the central issues in the debate over retiring the U.S. Air Force’s A-10 attack jet has been whether or not the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be an adequate replacement to perform the close air support mission.
The program office has issued a number of conflicting statements on the issue. And in this week’s Senate Armed Services Committee update on the F-35 program, the most heated exchange came when Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, sought clarification about conflicting statements Air Force leaders made regarding the mission — and which aircraft would perform it.
Ayotte first mentioned Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh’s recent statement in which he said, “the mission capability of the A-10 will not be replaced by the F-35.”
She then referenced the F-35 program office’s own Webpage, which clearly states the plane is to replace the A-10.
“Is General Welsh right or is your Website right?” she asked F-35 program manager, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan.
Bogdan completely dodged the question as being above his pay grade. Frank Kendall, the under secretary of defense for acquisitions, said both statements were correct. “We will replace A-10s with F-35s,” he said. While the F-35 would perform the mission, he added, it would simply do it very differently than the A-10 does.
Ayotte stressed the need for comparative flight testing, something the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C. watchdog group, has also argued is essential before retiring any additional A-10s, in order to ensure the lives of troops on the ground will be adequately protected.
The House Armed Services Committee’s chairman’s mark of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 includes a provision to this end that POGO said it hopes to see mirrored in the Senate.
Dr. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation, then produced the F-35’s operational requirements document, which clearly states the F-35 is supposed to replace the A-10.
Ayotte inquired about the upcoming comparative tests pitting the F-35 against the A-10 to find out if indeed the new plane can perform this critical mission.
“Comparison testing just makes common sense,” Gilmore told the senator. “If you’re spending a lot of money to get improved capability … the easiest way to demonstrate it is to do a rigorous comparison test.”
You can watch the entire exchange below.
- A-10s and F-35s Working Together to Save Downed Pilots
- The F-35’s Computer Brain Isn’t Working
- Test Pilot Admits the F-35 Can’t Dogfight