Breaking Defense website has a report on a Close Air Support (CAS) summit sponsored by the Air Force (1). There were a few nuggets of information that reveal just how little interest the AF has in CAS.
Carlisle [ed. Gen. Hawk Carlisle, head of Air Force Air Combat Command] told us “gaps” were spotted in training and to, some degree, in future equipment.
The biggest gap in Close Air Support right now,
Carlisle told reporters, is the training CAS pilots currently have to operate in what the Air Force nicely calls “contested environments” — places where the enemy has a decent chance of shooting you down."
"Pilots have operated in uncontested environments over the last 13 years and haven’t had time to train for high-end operations, the general said."
The biggest gap in AF CAS is training for contested environments!? Isn’t that kind of what CAS is all about – providing direct air support to ground forces at the front edge of the battlefield in what is, almost by definition, a contested environment? That the AF is not providing that training pretty well indicates their level of commitment, or lack thereof, to CAS. However, beating up on the AF about their lack of commitment to CAS, which has been a poorly kept secret for many years, is not the point of this post. We’ll move on.
"... the three versions of the F-35 will,
Carlisle noted, be the main CAS weapons operating in hot environments."
The F-35 is not even remotely an optimal platform for CAS. That’s not even a debatable point and, again, that’s not the point of this post.
Instead, for the sake of discussion, let’s accept the use of the F-35 in the CAS role. What I want to look at is the F-35’s ability to provide gun support in CAS.
What we currently have, in the A-10, is the GAU-8 30 mm Avenger rotary gun which carries and fires up to 1350 rounds of depleted uranium armor piercing shells at a rate of 3900 rounds per minute. The gun is installed at a slight downward angle to assist in strafing runs. Contrast that to the F-35’s gun system, the 25 mm, four barrel, 3300 round per minute, rotary GAU-22/A.
The A-10 projectiles weigh 13.3-14.0 oz, depending on type. The F-35 projectiles weigh 6.5-7.5 oz.
The A-10 carries up to 1350 rounds compared to the F-35A which carries 182 rounds. The F-35B/C do not have an internal gun. They carry the gun in an external pod with a capacity of 220 rounds. Of course, the external pod impacts the aircraft’s stealth.
So, we see that the A-10 has a larger gun with around 5 times the ammo capacity, firing depleted uranium shells that are twice the weight, from a gun that is mounted and optimized for ground attack, compared to the F-35 whose gun is, literally, an afterthought add-on for the Marines and Navy. Anyone claiming that the F-35 is capable of performing the CAS role is playing loose with the facts. The F-35 is capable of performing the gun support portion of the CAS role only in the sense that it has a gun that can be pointed at the ground. In no other way is it capable or effective. A man shooting a handgun from a glider can be claimed to perform CAS, too, I guess.
Of course, there is much, much more to CAS than just the ability to fire a gun at the ground. There is also much more to it than just the characteristics of the CAS platform. Training is paramount. The understanding of ground force strategy and tactics, the understanding of where, when, and how to best support ground forces, the ability to effectively interface with ground controllers, knowledge of the local terrain, understanding of enemy forces and their movement, and so on are as important or more so than the weapon characteristics of a given platform. There are also many more CAS weapons than just a gun and we won’t examine those today.
Today’s post simply points out the inadequacy of the F-35 gun system when used for CAS when compared to the A-10. Combine that with the AF’s acknowledged lack of training and it’s obvious that anyone claiming the F-35 will adequately fill the CAS role is kidding themselves and their audience.
(1) Breaking Defense, "Close Air Support Summit Sparks Nod To Textron’s Scorpion", Colin Clark,
March 09, 2015,