“A-10 will always be better than F-35 in Close Air Support. In all the other missions the JSF wins” F-35 pilot says

…and (quite obviously) the F-22 will always be better in Air-to-Air combat. But, in all the other missions the F-35 wins.

It’s wrong to compare the F-35 with any other asset that was designed to perform a specific mission: this is, in simple words, what a U.S. F-35 pilot said in an interview he gave to the Danish website focusing on military topics Krigeren.

Interviewed at Luke Air Force Base, by Christian Sundsdal, Maj. John Wilson, an F-35 pilot with an F-16 background clearly explained something that is quite obvious to everyone: an A-10 Thunderbolt II will always be better in CAS than the F-35 because it was designed to perform that kind of mission. Similarly, an F-22 will always be better than the JSF in air-to-air combat, because it was designed for that role. However, the F-35 is better in all the other missions.

For sure, aircraft designed for a specific role are going to be more effective in that one than other multi-role platforms. The problem in this case is that the F-35 is going to replace these assets, even though many believe this is not cost-effective, and could even cost some human lives as far as CAS missions, with Troops in Contact is concerned.

Furthermore, according to Wilson, once all the limitations are removed and it can carry weapons, the F-35 will be as capable as the F-16 in the CAS role.

According to Wilson, the majority of CAS missions that have been flown in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, were flown by Predators, F-15E Strike Eagles, F-16s and F-18s.

“The A-10s make up a very small percentage [and the fact that] every JTAC or guy on the ground that has been saved, has been saved by an A-10, that’s just not true” Wilson says.

“If the guys on the ground are concerned about that…I’d say they shouldn’t be. They should only be concerned that the pilots of whatever aircraft it is, is properly trained and doing his job, dropping the right bomb, on the right target, at the right time.”

Wilson admits the aircraft is expensive, but he says that maintaining several different types in service is even more costly.

Here’s the interview.

Interview with F-35 Pilot from Krigeren.dk on Vimeo.


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Figure I should get a word in before the droves of bandwagon F-35 haters arrive.

    The CAS point has been beat to death. What Maj. Wilson says is correct. A-10’s do not do the vast majority of CAS missions. In fact, if you’re actually concerned about the safety of troops in contact, you wouldn’t send an A-10 because it flies so slowly it takes twice the time for them to respond to a TIC versus an F-15/16/18/35. Even B-1’s have been used more than A-10’s recently for CAS. Want your troops to wait twice the time for help to arrive? Send an A-10.

    His other point about comparing the F-35 to single role aircraft is spot on. Is the F-16 ever going to be as good air to air as an F-15C? Hell no. But the F-16 can do 20 other mission types the F-15C can’t. When you consider the versatility and success of the F-16, the “jack of all trades, master of none” argument frequently used against the F-35 falls to pieces.

    • Preach. As somebody who has been the one directly assisted by CAS assets I can completely support these comments. Half the time our CAS assets were bombers loitering at 25,000 ft. The other half the time it was an F-14 or other legacy fighter because we could get it on station in one third the time.

    • Well with the extended loiter time of the A-10, especially with the centerline tank mod, why not send them out ahead of time when you know there may be troops in contact? Being a grunt I’d rather head out knowing I’ve got rotations of A-10s overhead for hours on end rather than to get in another sticky situation waiting for supersonic fighters to come through last second and hopefully put ordinance on target and only to leave again because they’re bingo fuel or Winchester. Don’t get me wrong, down in the weeds, any and everything helps but if it’s ugly and slow but can hang for a long with me for a long while in a pseudo Sandy roll, I’d take it every time…

    • The A-10 is a special kind of CAS. It is more or less used for planned assaults and Air Support that doesn’t have to be immediately on station.

    • Pooter Bilbo,
      From the beginning of 2006 to October 2013, A-10s flew 19 percent of CAS operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than the F-15E Strike Eagle or B-1B Lancer, but less than the 33 percent of CAS missions flown by F-16s during that time period.

      • That statistic sounds exactly right. I’ve heard from numerous sources that it’s right around 20%. I was addressing the misconception the A-10 is the only plane that provides CAS to our guys on the ground. There are some people that genuinely think this is the case, and that if we retire the A-10 all of the sudden we will have forfeited all of our CAS capabilities. Another interesting thing to consider is how often the A-10 actually uses it’s distinguishing capability: the gun. The answer? Not very often. More often than not, the A-10 uses the same missiles and bombs for CAS that can be delivered by any of the other aircraft in the inventory.

        • Other thing to consider is precision of attack. IMO A-10 is able to attack enemy soldiers far more closer to yours than any other warplane. Another point is that A-10’s can be based closer to battlefield than other faster jets so that the to help your troops could be similar (at least).

  2. Of course this zipper-suited sun God is toeing the AF party line. That dude’s career would be over if he bad mouthed the F-35.

  3. And the point is…? It’s the USAF leadership (and their stooges) that are making the case for the F-35 vs. the A-10. The A-10 is the premiere provider of CAS, and is – and will continue to be – unparalleled in its abilities. The USAF does not want to afford it, but it could. It just chooses not to do so because its culture is steeped in the fiction that it must have the most technologically sophisticated aircraft in every mission area – even though the battlespace does not require it.

    • No, it’s not the premiere CAS aircraft. Not by a long shot. It’s people like you that are spreading so much misinformation around.

      I’ve personally benefited from CAS assets dozens and dozens of times. Guess how many times it was an A-10? Maybe one in ten. Half the time it was a B-52 or B-1B loitering at 25,000 feet. The other half the time it was one of our legacy fighters. Ive personally listened to our JTACs push A-10s to a different unit because we needed help and didn’t have time to wait on them. My experiences weren’t unique.

      Nobody is making the case for the F-35 vs A-10. The F-35 is here. It’ll be here for sometime. Parts of the A-10 community also recently received a new lease on life. People like you are so passionate about the A-10 that you’re ignoring realities to humor it. The fact is, a future where LO platforms are a necessity for even COIN/asymmetric is rapidly approaching. Nobody argues this. The only argument is how to approach it. Manned or unmanned? A high-low mix of LO and traditional aircraft? For a country like the United States, that put’s so much emphasis one a single service member’s life, it isn’t really a debate. Unmanned is fine, but any manned aircraft has to be LO. That isn’t stupid or wasteful. Until we’re ready to accept loses like the Russians or Chinese, programs like the F-35 will be a necessity. Hopefully they are handled better from a budget and procurement stance, but nevertheless, it’s here now, it’s what we’ve got.

      • Sure and all this at the expense of the taxpayer: a b1b doing cas; do you use your Ferrari to do your shopping?

  4. It seems, that the pilot has no clue as to what the costs are of the machine he is flying. It also seems, that the author is not aware of the fact, that the US MoD has all the data concerning the costs per hour of every airplane/fighter in its inventory (and of foreign planes). Whereas the cph of the f22 are more than 70000 usd those of the A10 are less than 15000. All other planes are mostly more than twice as costly to run than the A10, which thereby for the ground troops gives the biggest bang for its buck.. It is to be expected that due to its complexity, weight and excessive maintenance time the F35 will be in the price range or a little below that of the f22. CAS is about “loiter time”, flying “long and slow”, relative “ruggedness” of the plane and “payload”. The F35 will be considered too expensive and vulnerable to be able to do CAS. Obviously the pilot has the “jockey attitude” and prefers to fight the flankers and Pas high in the skies. This kind of war is not so “fashionable” anymore, just read Gen.Sir Rupert Smith, about the “assymetrical” warfare. And talking about cost saving: skip the F35, pick the Gripen and mix it up with A10 or comparablee planes that really help the “boots on the ground”; it would save 100s of billions of dollars.

    • First off, the US does’t have a MoD, we have the DoD. Second off, I don’t like the F-35 very much, but the F-35 fills more roles than just the CAS role, and the Gripen would come no where near those needs.

      • MoD, DoD same bloody thing. They have Defence in it and they’re both pouring far too much money into the F-35 Program. What we should have done to Lockheed Martin when they ran into problems is “Get the issue fixed with money you have left, until its fixed we won’t put 100% support into this thing.” We shouldn’t have put more money into the problem when they arise.

    • The US doesn’t have a Ministry. It’s a department.

      I’ve personally been supported by the A-10 on more than one occasion, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I love the A-10, but If I’m completely honest, I can’t think of a single occasion (over 40 months deployed during the Global War on Terror; probably witnessed CAS utilized over 100 times) where the F-35 wouldn’t be completely capable instead of the A-10 or other CAS aircraft. The truth is, CAS is changing and your definition of what CAS “is about” is flawed and based off of old practices and principals. Additionally, a large percentage of the CAS I’ve personally received came from B-1Bs or B-52s. I’ve also personally been in situations where things are tight and we used F-14s or other supersonic aircraft for CAS because the A-10s took too long to arrive on station and we needed help in that moment, not 15 minutes later. I experienced that more than once. Will the F-35 be better than the A-10 at traditional CAS? Of course not. Does it need to be? No, not really. Giving up a very slight bit of niche capability in return for an aircraft that can ALMOST do the same thing, and additionally do far more isn’t such a bad deal. I say that as someone who has had their own life, and the lives of friends hinge on these issues.

      It’s gotten to the point where although the procurement and financial aspects have been a nightmare, the F-35 haters and detractors are slamming the aircraft based on false or massively embellished information. During both the F-35 and F-22’s lifetime, air defense will have evolved to the point, where even during asymmetric warfare, an aircraft that isn’t a LO platform simply won’t survive. This is a fact. The only question is, do you tackle it with manned, unmanned, or a mix of the two? I have a cousin that fly’s the Super Hornet, and will transition to the F-35 before it becomes officially operational. I have a few other very close friends that will also probably fly the F-35. None of them are complaining. None of the guys flying it right now are complaining. Sure there are gripes, but I’ve specifically asked my cousin if he’d feel confident taking the F-35 into the jaws of an integrated air defense system. His response was that he can’t think of an aircraft that he’d feel safer in. That wasn’t him parroting Lockheed Martin or the Pentagon. That was a combat veteran talking to another combat veteran that also happens to be family over a few beers.

      Neither the Gripen nor the A-10 is capable of operating in an air space that hasn’t been sanitized. The Gripen is a great aircraft for what it is. It’s also as cheap as it is for a reason and wouldn’t fit into the American military under any circumstance short of a light strike for COIN operations. And even then, the proliferation and rapid pace of air defense technology would render the Gripen useless for the US very quickly. Far faster than the F-35.

      Let’s start wrapping up all the anti-F-35 idiocy. Because of it’s very public teething issues, coupled with massive costs, every Joe around has turned into combat aviation analyst and expert. The truth of the matter is, most of the F-35 hate isn’t even remotely accurate. Every idiot with an internet connection, no matter how limited their information is, is whining about the F-35 and using it as ammunition for any kind of grievance they can imagine with regards to the US, the US military, American foreign policy, or DoD budgeting and procurement. These are the same idiots that say “military industrial complex” in every sentence while not understanding one iota about procurement or budgeting. They also whine about their “tax dollars” repeatedly but have zero clue how taxes fit into the DoDs budget in the first place. I guarantee if you read through the comments in this post alone, you’ll find half a dozen of these idiots. Please don’t be “that” guy. A few idiots may agree with you. The rest of us, especially those that have some insider knowledge and/or have crunched the numbers while comparing and contrasting are getting pretty worn out will all the blind “derp F-35 bad derp derp!”

      • First of all, to say the journalists that have a negative view on the f35 do so based on false or embellished info is doing them injustice. Some of those are former miltitary personel and have written for a long time about military matters. To give an example: Australianairpower consists of pretty well informed former pilots who in my view use “hard facts” to come to the conclusion that, not only because of its poor CAS capabilities (because the RAAF does not specifically need such a “function”) the F35 is a bad choice. You indicate to have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan; was there ever an enemy airplane in sight? This is exactly what at least in the near future the coming war will be: “assymetrical” as in we rule the skies and fight a technically inferior enemy. It is the people , as is the case in the Netherlands, that advocate the procurementt of the “JSF” as it is called that have delusions about , perhaps fighting the old advesary of the cold war era. Recently a professor of the University of Amsterdam said two important things. The first being the rise of islamic extremisn (allso in Libya, Mali and Egypt) as being the biggest threat for Europe. The second was that to his asthonisment the “air weapon” alone could not bring down IS. “Boots on the ground are needed” those were his excact words. Those troops need air cover , the protection my unit in Yugoslavia , albeit for political reasons, lacked and the best solution is the A10. It escapes me that where the Dutch airforce had more 90 F16’s we now,due to its enormous costs, can only afford 34 F35, of which in the beginning years only 4 will be able the fly at all. And when , with a cost per unit in between 150 and 200 million dollars (the exact amount is not given, one wonders why) it amazes me also that people still think that such a precious plane will be used for something a ten times cheaper plane can do better. Mind you it still is the most expensive arms deal in Dutch history! When the boss of the team that was responsible for the development of the F15 and F16 calls the F35 a “lead sled”, one should listen very carefully. The notion, that a certain stand off approach to CAS with stealth can work is not taking into account an important basic principle. That is, as history has shown it is cheaper and easier to develop a AA system than to make the airplane “invulnerable”, Vietnam and Afghanistan (for the Russians) made that very clear. Even with the technical developments the “danger close” distance of “long range” CAS is substantially larger than when the A10 is concerned, which is important considering the average distance between fighting parties in firefights. When the A10 is ten (10!) times as cheap as the F35 will probably be such a comparison has a strategicall if not tactical weight. The f35 will be too expensive and vulnerable to be used in CAS (in a Dutch situation)

      • Pleasure to read your reply. I’ve been hearing the A-10 Myth for months. Sure I love the bird, but reality is reality and the “A-10:Cult of the Gun” followers get tiring.

      • Mate you’ve just written 722 words (Checked it on Microsoft Word) for a comment. Most my essays that I struggle to do are only 500 to 700 words.

  5. Interesting but keep in mind that he is a commissioned officer of the USAF. Although he probably agrees with it, he probably can’t publicly disagree with the policy and public statements of the USAF.

    • A very good point. Not to mention that if he says anything bad about the F-35, he loses his job. Seems like a very unbiased source…

    • Interesting but keep in mind, you are also making pure theoretical speculation. Much of what he says has been confirmed among many and not all of them are American pilots flying the F-35.

Comments are closed.