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The Best Aircraft for Close Air Support in the Twenty-First Century

Senior Air Force officials have announced that retiring the A-10 will save $4.2 billion and will justify spending nearly $400 billion on the F-35 program. The F-35, the Department of Defense's newest multirole fighter, is being groomed to replace legacy fighter aircraft, including the A-10. Designed as a dedicated air-to-ground platform, the A-10 plays a specific role in ground support that continues to be required in engagements around the world. 


This article examines which aircraft, or combination of platforms, is the best option to lead and sustain the Air Force's close air support (CAS) capability in the twenty-first century. It compares five airframes (A-10, F-15E, F-16, F-35, and light attack aircraft such as the AT-6B) according to the following criteria: design, fleet age, upgrades/capability/hardware, cost per flying hour, stores capacity, range, speed, and time on target. The study found that the A-10 is the best aircraft to perform the CAS mission and that, based on financial and wartime needs, a mix of mission-specific platforms would be better at achieving those objectives than an expensive fifth-generation multirole fighter.   More

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