With Europe hovering on the brink of meltdown, with pipelines to stop, with the Republican presidential clown car careening through the Deep South, it's easy to lose sight of the F-35 controversy.
Fortunately there are some, like the Ottawa Citizen's David Pugliese, who keep an eye on the difficult childbirth of Lockheed's mega-costly bomb truck. Pugliese writes that the aircraft is making some progress in development but may be running into trouble in cash-strapped Europe. Italy may drop out all together and Denmark is now conducting a competitive fly-off to find the best bank for its buck.
What struck me as particularly interesting was a Pugliese piece yesterday on the unveiling of an updated version of an old Russian fighter, the Su-35S-3. The Russkies say they've given it state of the art electronic systems, coated it with radar absorbing materials and tidied up all the exterior garbage that is a radar give-away. But the important part is an obscure reference to the aircraft's new radar system.
"The special features of the aircraft include a new avionics suite based on digital information control system integrating onboard systems, a new phased antenna array radar with a long aerial target detection range and with an increased number of simultaneously tracked and engaged targets (30 aerial targets tracked and 8 targets engaged plus the tracking of 4 and engagement of 2 ground targets), and new enhanced vectored thrust engines."
The "long aerial" reference seems to indicate the new/old Russian fighter will be equipped with L-band radar as well as the X-band radar standard in modern fighter nose cones. L-band radar requires a long array or aerial which the Russians have decided to mount in the leading edge of their fighter's wings. So what? The stealth technology of the F-35 is designed to defeat X-band radars but is reported to be ineffective against L-band radar.
It seems the Russians are announcing they're about to churn out a fleet of low-cost F-35 killers. If they can detect and track the F-35 they've leveled the playing field years before we even get the damned things in Canadian hangars. Without stealth it's mano a mano, hand to hand combat, and with its already identified speed, agility, payload and range deficiencies, that could just make the F-35 dead meat.
Think about it. This is America's biggest defence project ever - ever. Lockheed Martin's future hinges on the success of the F-35. That's Lockheed Martin as in America's pre-eminent defence contractor. Render the F-35 obsolete before customers are safely in the corral and you've just struck a bodyblow to America's defence industry - all for the cost of churning out a fleet of budget, high-performance stealth killers.
It's our own damned fault and that of today's mediocre military leadership. We're gambling everything on a brittle technology and sacrificing every other quality that makes a great aircraft in the process. That's an enormous Achilles' Heel and we'd be fools not to expect our potential adversaries to exploit that insane vulnerability.