A Close Air Support Capability Gap?

F-35 Program Executive Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan told Senate legislators on Tuesday the Joint Strike Fighter’s current schedule shows it will not be able to use the Small Diameter Bomb II until 2022, the year the Air Force plans to retire its last A-10. Speaking during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) called this “problematic” because the SDB II focuses on mobile targets in adverse weather, an ability the A-10 currently holds. “I think that’s important,” Ayotte said. “I hope that is taken into consideration as we look at this comparison.” Ayotte pressed Michael Gilmore, the director of the Pentagon’s Operational, Test, and Evaluation, on a fly-off competition between the A-10 and F-35 for close air support ability. “Comparison testing makes common sense,” Gilmore said. “If you’re spending a lot of money to get improved capability, … the easiest way to demonstrate it is to do a rigorous comparison test. With regard to [close air support], we’re going to do it under all the circumstances we see CAS conducted, including under high threat conditions—in which we expect the F-35 will have an advantage—and other conditions requiring loitering on the target, low-altitude operations, and so forth.”