Recently, the USAF finally broke-down and compared the F-35A to the F-16, in a direct fly-off that critics have been calling-for over at least 15 years now.
The F-35A lost. BRUTALLY. Against an F-16D, a bulkier, draggier, heavier 2-seat variant of the F-16, which was even carrying droptanks to boot --- the F-35A was in a clean configuration, with no external stores to hinder it's agility;
The USAF has been working overtime to discredit the findings of their own reports, but the fact is that with a thrust/weight ratio of 0.87 (the F-16C's is over 1.0), a wing loading of 103lb/ft2 at combat weight (the F-16C's is 87lb/ft2), and a stall speed of more than 250mph at combat weight (the F-16C's is 150mph), the F-35A is a battle-loser.
Now Congress is ordering the USAF to do a fly-off between the F-35A and another aircraft it's planned to replace --- the A-10 Thunderbolt II;
The (Br)asshats are hard at work trying to discredit this idea as well and weasel their way out of it, but given precedent set by the recent F-35 versus F-16 test, they'll have a very hard time getting out of it, no matter how "silly" General Mike Hostage claims it to be (that was the word he used; it won't be so silly if the nest-egg of his post-military employment goes up in smoke!).
That said, watch what happens in this fly-off like a hawk, because the USAF will pull every stop to nerf it. Expect some of the following...
1- Gunnery will not be compared, and the fact that the A-10 fires up to 4x as many bursts of fire (and can destroy much more hardened targets) will not be a conclusion of the test. In fact, the static ground testing of gunfire from an F-35 has only just begun a few months ago (after more than 20 years of development, and 15 years of test flights!), and the JSF Program Office says it won't fire it's gun in mid-air until 2017. Even if it does, the F-35 doesn't have a gunsight or a Heads Up Display to aim it's gun, and the software required to aim the weapon from the pilot's Helmet Mounted Display isn't expected to be available until 2019 at the earliest.
2- Full-up live fire testing on F-35 components and complete airframes will not be conducted; the A-10 already proved itself in these tests way back in the early 1970s.
3- Weapons carriage will not be compared. The A-10 has a 50% larger payload, carries larger numbers of munitions, and has hardpoints that can hold heavier individual pieces of ordnance (up to 5000lbs).
4- The A-10 will not be demonstrated use the Small Diameter Bomb, Hydra 70 rockets, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, Mk.80-series general purpose bombs, and cluster bombs, because the F-35 isn't compatible with any of them.
5- The endurance will not be compared, because the A-10 has a 50%-longer range than the F-35 on internal fuel alone, and nearly 200% more range with droptanks. The F-35's compatibility with droptanks was permanently deleted by 2006, for weight-savings and safety purposes.
6- Loiter time over the target will not be compared, because the A-10 has several times as much.
7- Take-off and landing capability on rough and/or short runways will not be compared, because the F-35 lacks ruggedized landing gear, and has almost 3x as long a take-off run as the A-10.
8- The ability to operate from frontline airstrips will not be compared, because the A-10's APU and batteries allow it to start it's own engines at the push of a button. The F-35 requires a huffer cart and a generator cart.
9- Multi-engine survivability and redundancy will not be compared, because the F-35 has only one engine.
10- The ability of the A-10 to continue flying if it loses electric power and/or hydraulics will not factor in, because the F-35's controls aren't operable without power.
11- Maneuverability at low speeds and altitudes will not be compared, because the A-10 has already been proven to have a faster turn rate and nearly half the turning radius of an F-16A in this arena, and the F-16A maneuvers better than the F-16C, which maneuvers better than the F-16D, which has been proven to maneuver better than the most agile variant of the F-35 (the F-35A).
12- The utility of the A-10's radios to communicate with ground troops and it's laser spot tracker to find marked targets will not be factored-in, because the F-35 has no such capability.
13- The ability of the A-10's pilots to visually detect, identify, and engage targets --- as well as to discern friend from foe on the ground --- thanks to it's bubble canopy and low stall 120mph speed will be factored-in, because the F-35 has a clamshell canopy (with much worse visibility) and a stall speed in excess of 200mph.
14- The A-10's sortie rate in excess of 2-per-day will not be a factor, because the F-35 has never demonstrated the ability to fly even one sortie every two days.
15- The maintenance will not be compared, because the A-10 has the amount of maintenance man-hours per flight hour and average downtime per-day of any combat aircraft currently operational in the US inventory. The F-35 has the worst of these.
Mark my words, the USAF *will* omit as many of these factors as possible.