A New Way to Do Close Air Support

The F-35 strike fighter “is going to be incredible” in the close air support role, but it won’t do it the same way as the A-10, said Maj. Gen. Thomas Deale, director of operations at Air Combat Command Headquarters, during AWS16 on Thursday. Although the F-35 was not specifically designed to do CAS like the A-10, it offers better sensor integration and battlespace awareness, as well as the ability “to communicate and promulgate that information across the joint force.” However, there are two things the Air Force will lose when it finally does divest the Warthog: the 30mm cannon and “a little bit of that culture,” said Deale. But, he added, the culture is “not completely absent” from the rest of the force. “There isn’t an airman out there in a cockpit that’s not going to lay down their life if a situation on the ground calls for it.” The F-35’s 25mm cannon will be “extremely effective” in an air-to-ground role and “the F-35 also is the only strike fighter we have in the inventory that on day one, when we need the full stealth capability, it can get in there and penetrate in a highly contested environment and be effective in CAS or whatever mission set we have,” said Deale. “Then on day six or seven, … we can put external stores pylons on there, and load it up, and it will be a truck bringing precision munitions to whatever mission dictates. That’s something the A-10 can’t do.”