The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may have been the subject of more postulation than any other military aircraft in history. After years of cost overruns, delays, and issues, the fighter platform that America has long touted as the most advanced on the planet is finally nearing a stage when its comparisons to tried and true combat aircraft can leave the drawing board and start being based on legitimate side by side comparisons.

In April, the F-35 will undergo an evaluation of the platform’s ability to function as a close air support and reconnaissance aircraft – both integral facets of the Pentagon’s plans to utilize the 5th generation fighter as a replacement for a litany of existing platforms that are rapidly aging out of service; primary among them: the legendary A-10 Thunderbolt. The Air Force has been trying to retire the forty+ year old platform for some time, but to date, no aircraft has come close to demonstrating the same fire and maneuver capabilities boasted by the Warthog, let alone it’s ability to take a beating and remain airborne.

Capt. Kim Campbell stands next to her A-10 that received significant ground fire on an air support mission, and still brought her home safely. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-35 will not do close air support mission the same way the A-10 does. It will do it very differently. The A-10 was designed to be low, and slow, and close to the targets it was engaging, relatively speaking,” Frank Kendall III, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told the Senate panel in 2016. “We will not use the F-35 in the same way as the A-10.”

“We’re going to let the F-35 pilots take advantage of the systems on that aircraft … and see how well the missions are carried out in terms of the ability to strike targets in a timely manner and accurately, and then report on that,” Kendall said.