More than 30 F-35 pilots said the joint strike fighter outperformed the A-10 in every maneuverability category, according to a report released Thursday afternoon.
The Heritage Foundation report surveyed 31 F-35 pilots about how the plane, built by Lockheed Martin, compares to previous fighter jets like the F-15E and F-16C. While the fifth-generation joint strike fighter lagged behind some aircraft in its ability to turn efficiently, it outperformed the other jets in categories like responsiveness at slow speeds and the ability to recover air speed.
Champions of the A-10 Warthog on Capitol Hill have argued that the aircraft, which is currently conducting operations against the Islamic State, is the best for close air support.
"I am concerned that this airplane is replacing all of our legacy fighters — the whole jack of all trades, master of none," said Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., during a hearing last year.
While the Heritage report did not measure the F-35's close air support ability, the pilots interviewed for the report said the F-35 outranked the A-10 in every category of maneuverability from responsiveness at slow speeds to ability to regain speed after decelerating.
Even with some G-force limitations while the F-35 undergoes more development and testing, one pilot said that the joint strike fighter "exceeded pilot expectations." Once those restrictions are lifted, however, that same pilot said it will be "eye watering."
Pilots also selected the F-35 over other jets 100 percent of the time when they were required to spot a threat outside of their visual range, and more than 80 percent of the time in dogfighting, or the air maneuvering warfare that critics have said the F-35 fails at.
The F-35 has taken a beating on Capitol Hill from lawmakers who argue that the jet is over budget, behind schedule and not capable enough at some requirements. Officials at the Pentagon have repeatedly faced questions during hearings on several problems with the high-profile, high-cost program, including an ejection seat issue that could hurt or kill smaller pilots and a $400,000 helmet that didn't work properly.
Despite that, the report, from analyst and former Thunderbird commander John Venable, urged the Air Force to purchase the full planned buy of 1,763 F-35As, which the service just announced was combat-ready this week.
Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that the declaration of initial operating capability is a good sign that problems are behind the program.
"I think this is a good signal that it is past a lot of its problems, its technological challenges. I'm sure there'll still be some kinks that come up in the system in the coming years, but for the most part, I think this means that the program has stabilized, they're on a good trajectory, most of the potential for major cost overruns and technological challenges are now behind us," Harrison said at a breakfast event earlier this week. "It's had a lot, it's been through a lot, it's been a difficult program but I think we're getting to the point that most of that is going to be behind us now, I think that's really what the IOC means for that program."