Warplanes: February 26, 2004

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Despite the dramatic success of heavy bombers dropping smart bombs over Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force has decided to look into acquiring some of the vertical take off version of the F-35 (the F-35B). The air force is already buying over a thousand of the F-35A version to replace many more F-16s and A-10s. But noting how air power was used in recent wars, it was recognized how useful the AV-8 vertical take off (VSTOL) aircraft were. The VSTOL planes could be stationed closer to the fighting, enabling to get to where they were needed more quickly, or simply in time to be of use. Moreover, the A-10 was the only combat aircraft that could operate from rough ground. The F-35A can't do that. So buying some VSTOL F-35Bs make sense, even if only to eventually replace the A-10s, which again won praise from army troops for the quality of their close support. The F-35B is a 22 ton aircraft that can carry six tons of bombs, including a gun pack containing a 27mm automatic cannon. The F-35 has two internal bomb bays, which can only hold a single thousand pound bomb each. But this maintains the stealthy aspect of the aircraft's design. There are also hard points on the wings that allow more bombs and missiles to be carried., although this makes the aircraft easier to spot with radar. Since the F-35s won't be entering service until 2008, the air force will also upgrade several dozen of it's 30 year old A-10s in order to maintain a force of ground support aircraft. The air force has recently done something unusual, provided energetic praise for the combat performance of the A-10. Change is in the wind, and the air force is adjusting its course.

 


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