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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. 


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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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