19 March 2010

Progress in A-10 Replacement

The U.S. military is showing signs of progress in realizing that there is a place for low tech, inexpensive aircraft that can stay in the air for a long time like the existing A-10 as support aircraft for troops engaging low tech adversaries in irregular warfare. Both U.S. Special Forces and the Air Force are in the market for this kind of aircraft.

Military purists will note that the new aircraft are not true A-10 replacements, as they are smaller, less armored and oriented towards taking on opponents less capable than the tanks that the A-10 is well suited to dispatching. But, like the A-10, the proposed aircraft lack stealth technology, are much slower than top of the line jet fighters and have a air to ground rather than an air to air combat orientation. These planes are optimized to loiter for long periods in support of troops on the ground, rather than to rush at supersonic speeds to the scene.

Not long ago, the Air Force was adamant that the F-35A would meet all of these needs. The burgeoning price of the F-35A, and increasing evidence from the field in Afghanistan and from the early days of the Iraq War that there were military missions that planes like the F-16 are ill suited to carry out, have undermined that stance.

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