…after years of hearing that the F-35A would be the sort-of replacement for the A-10C, it’s worth reviewing why it never could be. It’s not for the gun or the armor. It’s the increased threat: Russian motorized rifle brigades now run with lots of their own 30 mm guns, looking up. Missiles are now a bigger problem too. As Colonel Mike Pietrucha USAF wrote for War On The Rocks last month, the heat from that huge engine is itself a huge target for heat-seekers. Lockheed has worked hard to suppress the signature, but physics dictate there’s only so much that can be done. Overall, the hundred-million-dollar jet is just too expensive to hazard to for busting tanks that way.
In the short-term the USAF has plans to replace some A-10s with Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons, but in the medium- to longer-terms there are plans to procure or develop either a platform that that can operate either in a permissive environment only, or one that can operate in both a permissive and contested environment. The options are being considered under the auspices of the recently announced A-X project.