F-35B Lightning II. Photo: iStock
F-35B Lightning II. Photo: iStock

The US is finally moving forward with an assessment designed to prove the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is up to the task of replacing the battle-tested A-10 Warthog jets, but some are calling the tests a “farce.”

“The tests, as designed, are unlikely to reveal anything of real value about the F-35’s ability to support ground troops in realistic combat situations—which the F-35, as the presumptive replacement for the A-10, must be able to demonstrate,” an analysis published by the Project on Government Oversight (PGO) said.

Air Force leadership is in a difficult position, hard-pressed to replace the aging A-10 close air support attack plane with the astronomically expensive F-35. But that means successfully demonstrating that the F-35 can outperform the A-10 in a close air support fly-off.

There is no way that this test, according to the PGO article, would be able to demonstrate that.

“A close air support test should involve large numbers of ground troops in a highly fluid combat simulation in varied terrain, across many days. It should test the pilot’s ability to spot targets from the air in a chaotic and ever-changing situation. The test should also include a means of testing the program’s ability to fly several sorties a day, because combat doesn’t pause to wait for airplanes to become available.

But the Air Force scheduled just four days’ worth of tests at desert ranges in California and Arizona. And, according to sources closely associated with the fly-off, not a single event includes ground troops, or any kind of fluid combat situation, which means these tests are hardly representative of the missions a close air support aircraft has to perform.”

“In other words,” the article went on, “the test was designed by someone with a vested financial interest in the F-35 program, rather than by people whose primary interest is its performance in combat.”

The tests tilted the results in favor of the F-35 in a number of ways, including by testing only against highly visible targets, thus masking the more restricted view from the F-35 cockpit. The F-35 also sports surprisingly bad video quality and infrared imaging resolution, compared with the high-definition of the A-10’s instrument panel display, coupled with the plane’s sniper and lightening pods.

“On a broader level, testing only against easy-to-see, static, non-reactive targets artificially confirms the Air Force’s delusional notion that future close air support can be successfully conducted by planes flying at 15,000 feet and 450 knots relying on supposedly accurate, digitally transmitted target coordinates,” the article lamented.

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