Sunday, August 30, 2015

Measuring the Wrong Metric

We will actually run tests to see how the old A-10 stacks up against the just-deploying F-35 in the ground support role. But the question really isn't about whether brand new high-tech plane can place bombs on target better than a more-than-three-decade-old plane. The question is can the Army trust the Air Force to use the F-35 for close air support role.

This will not be enlightening:

The Pentagon's Office of Operational Test and Evaluation said late Thursday that it would run tests to evaluate how the F-35 stacks up in close-air support vs. the A-10, according to Defense News. The tests will use the latest upgrade of the 3F software for the F-35 and take place in 2018.

Does anybody really expect the F-35 to really lose that contest? Even if it isn't rigged against the A-10?

Obviously, the rugged A-10 will excel in operations on the deck against enemies without effective air defenses. But I have no doubt that the trained pilot of a stealthy F-35 can drop JDAMs from high altitude in a high threat environment better than the equally trained A-10 pilot can do that.

But that isn't the issue. I'd rather have the Pentagon evaluate the sincerity of the Air Force to really care about close air support.

Because even if the F-35 is hands down the best ground support aircraft in the entire world, will this multi-role aircraft really be devoted to the mission that the single-purpose A-10 excels at?

Oh sure, the Air Force promises that multi-mission aircraft will continue to support the "mission" of ground support even when the asset designed for that mission is gone.

Yeah, I'm sure when the Air Force is prioritizing missions for their scarce multi-mission aircraft that ground support will be high on the list.

But by killing the only aircraft specifically designed just for ground support, the Air Force is very clearly telling us what their priorities are. The Air Force is essentially telling the Army (while denying this to Congress) to have a nice life--but goodbye. To think they were once the Army Air Force.

The Air Force can do the job of supporting ground troops. I remain impressed with how good a job they did throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.

The debate isn't about aircraft capabilities. The debate is about trust.

Jointness talks. Money walks.