The Air Force will transition its close air support “culture” to its fourth generation fighters and the F-35 fleet, eventually equipping it with more effective weapons for close combat, Air Combat Command boss Gen. Hawk Carlisle told reporters at the Pentagon Friday. As USAF slowly divests the A-10 fleet, he wants to make sure the experienced pilots in those aircraft are placed in specially trained and equipped “CAS squadrons” of F-15Es, F-16s, and F-35s. “We want that expertise to go to those squadrons,” he said, noting a third of the F-35 squadron standing up at the Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nev., is composed of former A-10 fliers. The F-35, which will hit initial operational capability in 2016, will be “basic CAS capable” he said, but as it improves towards Block IV it will add more mature sensors, weapons such as the small diameter bomb II, a synthetic aperture radar, and other improvements. USAF and the other services also want to examine what are the best weapons for the close fight of the future, Carlisle said. “Even the A-10 only gives you 15 seconds of trigger pull,” he said, and the services want to explore weapons with high magazines, and controlled yields for close-in fights. Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh has already directed the Air Armament Center at Eglin AFB, Fla., to “get the way forward on this,” Carlisle told reporters, and coordinate with entities such as the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Research Laboratory.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.