A-10 to fly until 2022 as DOD test chief warns against F-35 “block buy”

The US Air Force has revised its retirement plan for the A-10 attack plane, keeping the aircraft in the air into the next decade when the F-35 is finally ready for combat (whenever that is). (credit: US Air Force)

In the Department of Defense's budget request for 2017, the Air Force has conceded what to many has been obvious—that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will not be ready to take the place of the A-10 Thunderbolt II (also known as the "Warthog") in close air support missions any time soon. In its budget request, the Air Force is seeking funds to keep the A-10 flying, and DOD officials say the aircraft will remain in service until at least the 2022 fiscal year.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter gave a summary of the budget request in a speech at the Economic Club of Washington, DC on February 2. He said that the A-10 would be replaced by the F-35 squadron by squadron as the new aircraft are brought into service. But the Air Force has also reduced the number of F-35A aircraft it plans to purchase in 2017.

Officials at the Air Force's F-35 Joint Program Office had suggested last year that a "block buy" of F-35 aircraft, possibly in 2018, would reduce the overall cost of the program. But that idea is being opposed by the Defense Department's chief of systems testing. Michael Gilmore, the DOD's Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation (OT&E), has warned against committing to a "block purchase" of the F-35 by the US and other military customers until after the aircraft passes its initial operational test and evaluation.

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