A-10 vs F-35: Should the Succession Proceed?


The planes of the US Air Force (USAF) are not immortal. As new technology is developed and implemented into new planes, old planes might not fulfill their uses as well as their successors, and are phased out. One of the more recent cases of this is that of the A-10 being replaced with the F-35. This case is also one of the more unique ones.

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II is a flying tank. The ‘Warthog’ or ‘Hog’, as it is nicknamed, is designed for close air support (CAS) of ground troops, attacking armoured vehicles, and quickly attacking enemy ground forces. The Hog is built around the 30 mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon, a Gatling gun that dishes out about 65 beer-bottle-sized bullets per second* (Wikipedia). In other words, there is little reason to envy the victims of a Hog. It also features AMG-65 Maverick air to surface missiles and various kinds of bombs as munitions.

The GAU-8/A Avenger fires 65 of these rounds per second
The GAU-8 Avenger, the round it fires, and a person for scale.

The Hog is also in no way a glass cannon. Indeed, durability was in mind when it was designed, which is made apparent by the 1200 pound titanium shell surrounding and protecting anything inside. Even if its frame is damaged, the Hog can still fly. It is designed to be able to fly with one engine, half of the tail, one elevator, and half a wing missing. An insane A-10 pilot takes advantage of these capabilities in the video below.

This video just goes to show the unfathomable survivability of the Hog. Only one engine needed here.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation (the most advanced aircraft generation classification as of 2019) combat aircraft made to perform ground attack and air superiority missions. It is armed with a four-barrel variant of the 25 mm GAU-12 Equalizer rotary cannon called the GAU-22/A and weapon bays capable of carrying everything from missiles to bombs. (Wikipedia)

The F-35 is the biggest and most expensive military project ever. According to Bloomberg, $1.1 trillion dollars in operations and support and $406.5 billion in acquisitions will be spent over the F-35’s lifespan, which lasts until 2070. Because of this, many are critical about the project. Critics have claimed that the F-35 is riddled with flaws, due mainly to Lockheed being allowed to ‘design, test, and produce F-35s at the same time.’ However, the high costs put into the project, which was, as of 2014, $163 billion over budget, making it too big of a project to kill. (Wikipedia)

Hey Imgur! Lets talk about America's newest fighter aircraft

Despite the criticism, the F-35 isn’t exclusively a money vacuum. It features multiple improvements over current-generation fighter airplanes, listed in this article: Wikipedia.

So, which one is better? From the sources I have looked at, and the opinions of those who know more than me, the old Warthog seems to be the superior aircraft. It’s not exactly a fair debate, either**. The A-10’s aura of sheer bad-assery (boosted mostly by the strapping Swiss cheese maker it was built around), durability, survivability, and good track record grants it the favor of many. It’s also less than 25% as costly as the F-35. And while the F-35 may be more versatile, with it being a multirole stealth fighter and the Hog being designed specifically for CAS, its track record and durability cannot begin to compare. The F-35 is a constant target for criticism, due to its high costs and performance that doesn’t exactly live up to that cost. On face level, offense is similar, though the A-10 may win in this category as well, with the aforementioned oversized 7-barrelled death-stick known as the GAU-8 Avenger.

This debate goes to show how the method one uses to engineer things can influence the success of that thing. The F-35 was unable to find a balance between cost and delivery. As mentioned above, Lockheed ‘designed, tested, and produced F-35’s at the same time.’ It couldn’t meet deadlines, and had to be rushed. And with all the new fighter aircraft technology being invented, lots of money was invested into the project to get as much of it into the F-35 as possible, eventually making it ‘too big to kill.’

The lessons we can glean from the F-35’s failures are very useful in engineering. Prioritize making a good product over an advanced one. In my engineering class in particular, a wooden rocket car project was able to outperform the competition not because it was advanced, but because it was simple and could meet deadlines. Make sure to schedule your project’s development well, so you can complete your project on time. And know the signs of when its a good time to hang up the towel, or you’ll have invested too much time and money into your project, and it too will be ‘too big to kill.’

See the source image
Be on schedule, children (adults too).

*There is a common belief that the GAU-8 Avenger can stall the plane after being shot for too long. As a retired USAF colonel said, these claims are false, as he has fired the gun for about 8 seconds and seen no impact on air speed. The colonel in question had about 3500 flight hours in A-10s. (Stars and Stripes)

**Apologies for any seemingly biased writing.

Wikipedia (A-10)
Wikipedia (F-35)
Stars and Stripes