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HKS Authors

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Abstract

For decades, the U.S. Air Force has contemplated replacing the A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog” with a newer fighter aircraft. However, a quantitative analysis comparing the Warthog’s performance and costs with those of its intended replacement, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, shows that retiring the Warthog would be operationally unsound and fiscally imprudent. The rationale for the replacement is that it would increase airpower capability while controlling costs. That rationale does not withstand scrutiny. An effectiveness analysis based on results from a survey of joint terminal attack controllers indicates that the A-10 vastly outperforms the F-35 in providing close-air support (CAS), a critical requirement for future conflicts against terrorists and insurgents. A cost analysis demonstrates that replacing the A-10 before its service life ends in 2035 would cost at least $20.9 billion. The replacement plan would waste substantial resources and seriously impair U.S. military capabilities. Given that constrained future budgets and low-intensity conflicts requiring precision CAS can be expected, the U.S. air fleet should include the A-10 Thunderbolt II.

Citation

Green, John, and Richard Zeckhauser. "Thunder Versus Lightning: A Performance and Cost Analysis of the A-10 “Warthog” Versus the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter." Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis 10.3 (2019): 434-468.