Ah, good ol’ CAS arguments!
On one side, we have those who claim that the only way ahead is WW2-era aircraft with lots of guns, piston engines, and the most complex piece of equipment being a holographic sight.
On the other, we have those that claim the only way to do CAS is from 30,000ft+ with two bombs, a jet that never goes slower than mach 2, and a loiter time of maybe 5 seconds if the pilot is really good with the throttle.
It’s a shame that the world isn’t quite so simple as either side would like to think. There are times when a simple bomb dropped from the stratosphere is the best solution, but there’s also times where a up close and personal gun run is the best solution. One must apply the right tool for the job – using a F-35 to drop a bomb on a tent in the desert isn’t an example of efficient use of resources, nor is throwing an A-10 into SAM city. I suspect this is partly why OA-X is still ongoing, as it could add another tier of capability in a highly complex, chaotic environment. Let’s also remember that the AC-130 can bring a lot of pain to the battlefield, though it’s far from cheap or efficient in most circumstances.
I’d be remiss to not mention that my side of study has been from the Army side of the house, especially rotary wing, where the focus is the ground war. Sorry to disappoint you pointy nose fighter jocks, but aircraft are a very poor way to take and hold territory. Warfare isn’t strictly limited to that, of course, as such air power capability is highly useful when fighting a more modernized enemy. It’s a bit more muddy when fighting an enemy that operates on a less civilized spectrum – and when you start dispensing bombs willy nilly, you end up ■■■■■■■ everyone off when you blow up some civilian’s house and cause him, his family, his 5 brothers, 3 uncles, etc. all join the fight because his favorite goat was turned to hamburger thanks to your so-perfect, precision guided weapon. That might win a battle, but it’s going to lose a war.
The past 20 years has seen technology used as a crutch in place of human judgement, which is where the real problem lies. I would highly recommend reading “A-10s Over Kosovo” for a good review of this concept, namely in that A-10s were using archaic technology, but were far more effective than super duper F-16s at FAC due to the pilots and their experience at performing the mission – and not relying on technology to do everything for them. This has been and likely always will be the Air Force’s problem, as they have a tendency to focus on “gee whizz” over everything else. That isn’t a slight against the Air Force, but those who are a part of it know that’s a very real problem with the culture there, just the same as the Army gets caught up in “Fulda Gapism.”
Long story short, the A-10 is neither as bad as the pointy nose fighter jocks in the Air Force think it is, but neither is it a glorious, unstoppable behemoth that everyone else believes it to be. It brings certain capabilities to the table that other aircraft don’t and it’s wrong to ignore that because it isn’t as fast or cool as an F-35. I’m also pretty sure that the Air Force isn’t going to suddenly task the A-10 with SEAD, since they know better and they have more appropriate aircraft for that job. Likewise, tasking F-35s with CAS isn’t going to happen very often if A-10s are available.
Story time: the Army used to operate OV-1 Mohawks in a CAS capacity, which caused the Air Force to ■■■■■ endlessly. There was an Army pilot who was full of ■■■■ and wind who would intentionally load up weaponry and practice on a CONUS range, just to see how long it would take for the Air Force observers to race to the nearest phone and complain. This was a sticking point because at the time (Vietnam era), the Air Force’s idea of CAS was a bunch of B-52s carpet bombing the area, which wasn’t what the Army needed. Hence, the reasoning why aircraft like the AH-56 and AH-1 were developed.