Tuesday, January 24, 2012

F-35 Update

F-35 Killer?

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.


Sixth Estate said...

The problem is, for all that we're spending on this aircraft, it doesn't really matter. There is no war with Russia on the horizon. If the F-35 fails, that will only "prove" the need to rush into another trillion-dollar procurement scheme.

At that point, someone will trot out the revisionist nonsense that Reagan "spent the Soviets into oblivion" with his Star Wars scheme in the 1980s, and that it's time to do the same thing again, and we'll be off to the races.

The Mound of Sound said...

I beg to differ, 6E. America always has a running war with Russia, a massive war in the weapons market.

And let's not forget that both sides are preparing for a very real contest over Arctic territory and resources. That's the sole, even remotely legitimate basis for Canada acquiring the F-35.

After Reagan, the Russians would love to knock the pins out from under America's defence industrial complex. What better time than when America is already wobbly.