The current Air Force plan of record is to replace both planes with the F-35A fighter, a stealthy “fifth-generation” tactical aircraft that is much more survivable than anything the Air Force has today for supporting ground troops.  The service expects to declare the F-35A operational later this year, and has recently confirmed to Congress its requirement for 1,763 of the multi-role jets.  However, behind the scenes, something very odd is happening with Air Force plans for future close air support.

On June 21, Lara Seligman of Aviation Week & Space Technology reported that Air Force planners want to buy two new aircraft for performing close air support — neither of which is in its already oversubscribed modernization plan.  One, designated the OA-X (“O” for observation, “A” for attack, “X” for experimental), would look more like a P-51 Mustang left over from World War Two than a modern tactical aircraft.  The other, designated A-X2, is a replacement of the A-10 that supposedly would be more affordable to operate.

This is a truly foolish plan.  The propeller-driven OA-X would be configured mainly for “permissive” environments, meaning places where enemies have no air forces and no air defenses.

The other plane, a jet, would be cheaper to operate than the A-10 — which the Air Force says costs $20,000 per hour to operate. Which is why it’s a safe bet the A-X2 will never be built; some bright new idea will eclipse it long before anybody begins bending metal.