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Air Force Faces Rocky Road Ahead For Replacing the A-10

…However, Mark Gunzinger, senior fellow at the Center for Budgetary and Strategic Analysis and a former Air Force colonel, disputed the idea that Welsh and Goldfein’s comments represented a veiled attempt to retire the jet. Instead, they should be seen as a “huge signal” that the service remains committed to the close air support mission, he said. If the Air Force does press on with a new program, the service will have to establish what capabilities will be needed to perform the CAS mission in a more highly contested environment. Potential adversaries in the Asia-Pacific and Europe already maintain capable air defenses, but Middle Eastern and African state and nonstate actors also are gaining access to more sophisticated weaponry capable of bringing down a slow, low-flying aircraft like the A-10, Gunzinger said. With that in mind, an A-10 replacement should look a lot like an F-35, Gunzinger said: stealthy, capable of data fusion with other aircraft, and with the ability to fire off a variety of precision-guided munitions, including joint direct attack munitions and small diameter bombs. Couldn’t the F-35 just be used for close air support missions, as was the Air Force’s original plan? “The Marine Corps thinks so,” Gunzinger said, but added that another option is to develop an A-10 replacement with lower operating costs than the F-35, perhaps with less stealth and a larger payload…Gunzinger was more supportive of buying a purpose-built A-10 replacement, but the service should not rush procurement of a new aircraft during the near term, when so many acquisition programs are in their beginning stages. Until those programs mature, “fly the wings off the A-10,” he said.

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