Arguing about whether the F-35 can dogfight misses a really big point

House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry drafted a bill that would stop the Air Force from using funds in their 2017 budget to retire or reduce the use of the A-10 Warthog until the Pentagon's weapons tester completes comparative tests between the A-10 and the F-35 Lightning II. The tests would compare the two aircraft's ability to conduct close air support, search and rescue missions, and forward air controller airborne missions DefenseNews reports. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate Armed Services Committee contend that the F-35 doesn't possess the capabilities of the A-10, and that removing the Warthog from service would create a notable capability gap, which would be felt by the soldiers on the ground. In March of 2015, when Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh's claimed that F-16s and F-15s would take over the role of the A-10, Senator John McCain unleashed the following scathing criticism: "It’s really embarrassing to hear you say something like that when I talk to the people who are doing the flying, who are doing the combat who say that the A-10 is by far the best close-air support system we have." Indeed the A-10, a Cold War-era legacy plane has gained itself a cult following with forward deployed troops in heavy combat zones. The distinctive buzzing noise made by the Warthog's 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger has come to signal salvation to soldiers in need of close air support. "Cutting back a one-of-a-kind capability with no clear replacement is an example of a budget-based strategy, not the strategy-based budget we need to meet our defense needs," a letter from the legislators stated last year. | U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Connor J. Marth

An F-35A Lightning II team parks the aircraft for the first time at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, February 8, 2016. | US Air Force photo

WASHINGTON, DC — According to some reports, America’s fifth-generation stealth aircraft doesn’t excel at dogfighting.

But fortunately, the F-35 Lightning II is not built for dogfighting.

While some analysts have argued that the air-to-air combat capabilities of the F-35A won’t match some of its peer aircraft, pilots who spoke to Business Insider pointed out that the US’s fifth-generation fighter is designed in such a way that dogfighting may be an afterthought.

Also read: Pentagon advances F-35 vs A-10 Close Air Support testing

“As a pilot, dogfighting is fun, but it doesn’t get the job done,” US Air Force Maj. Will “D-Rail” Andreotta, commander of the F-35A Lightning II Heritage Flight Team, told Business Insider.

“If I’m dogfighting I’m not bombing my target. I’m not getting my job done, and what I’m probably doing is wasting gas and wasting time.”

Andreotta, a pilot in the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base who has flown both the F-16 and F-35, says the F-35A’s unprecedented situational awareness and stealth gives him “the utmost confidence that this plane will operate perfectly” in a dogfight with fourth-generation aircraft.

An F-35 and F-16 fly side by side. | US Air Force photo by Jim Hazeltine

An F-35 and F-16 fly side by side. | US Air Force photo by Jim Hazeltine

“I have stealth, so I’ve fought against F-16s and I’ve never gotten into a dogfight yet. You can’t fight what you can’t see, and if F-16s can’t see me then I’m never going to get into a dogfight with them.”

What’s more, Andreotta says, the US Air Force’s F-16s and F-35s work well together.

“The F-16s, F-35s, F-22s, no matter what the aircraft, they all bring something to the fight, they’re all different and they all are great compliments to each other. We just all have different capabilities that we can use to get the job done.”

“The F-16s and fourth generation are really benefitting from all the information we are able to pull in and send to them,” Andreotta said. “I can take information that I’m getting from the F-35 and push it out to other aircraft that don’t have the capabilities that I have. That’s huge. I would have killed for that when I was flying an F-16.”

“I think if you talk to any fourth-generation pilot that has flown with the F-35 they’ll rave about the information they’re getting from us, and we’re not even at the point where we are sending out all the information.”