Wednesday, December 05, 2012

F-35 May Not Be Usable in Asia Either.

Range may be the Achilles' Heel of the F-35 stealth light attack bomber.   At the end of the day, the Joint Strike Fighter may not be the right warplane for the Pentagon's Pivot to Asia.   A detailed story of the F-35's troubles and shortcomings was recently published in The New York Times.

The current cost of the F-35 is estimated at $137,000,000 per copy and that's not taking into account fixes and upgrades that will be tacked on as the airplane crawls through testing.  Full production is now not expected until 2019.

"While weapons cost overruns have long been a problem, the F-35 is also running into the changing budget realities, and a new focus on rivalry with China, that will probably require shifting money to a broader mix of planes."

The aircraft, with its platinum price tag, single-engine vulnerability, minimal loiter time and limited weapons loadout is not suited for ground support of troops in the field.   We'll need something cheaper, more robust and capable to help our soldiers.   Oh, but we're not buying any of those, are we.   And we're also not buying any twin-engine, high-speed, long-range interceptors to cover our vast northern frontier.

And now the American military has figured out the F-35 really isn't cut out for an air war with China either.

"...the F-35 could be too sophisticated for minor conflicts, and its relatively short flight range could be a problem as the Pentagon changes its view of possible threats. Mark Gunzinger, a retired Air Force colonel who is now an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the Pentagon would need to shift money to  longer-range planes as China and other countries expanded the reach of missiles capable of destroying American ships and bases.
"The Navy is developing a stealthy unmanned fighter that could fly from carriers and go two or three times as far as the F-35. The Air Force is studying concepts for the bomber, which could fly much farther and carry more firepower than the F-35." 

The Australians had this figured out years ago.   The F-35 has to drag big, vulnerable aerial tankers along with it.   Take out those big, easy tankers and the F-35 doesn't get to go home even if it manages to survive the enemy air defences.   You don't have to shoot down the F-35, you simply have to shoot down the sitting duck tankers and it's a one-mission air war - game, set and match.

Washington should seriously consider just giving Lockheed a golden handshake settlement on the F-35, enough to keep Lockheed whole, and move on to newer aircraft without all the Joint Strike Fighter's flaws and limitations.   As for Canada, we should start looking realistically at the alternatives.


Anonymous said...

Yes, Canada should be looking at alternatives. The F-35, even if it had been executed perfectly, would never have been the aircraft for us....

Purple library guy said...

Depending on those cost overruns, you could get at least 10 A-10 bombers for the price of one F-35, probably more like 15. So, like, don't buy maybe 2 or 3 F-35s and we've got all our "Doing NATO dirty work bombing largely defenseless people" missions covered more thoroughly than all 60 F-35s could have. A-10 carries way more ordnance, is far more robust, and basically Just Works.

That means you have plenty of money left to concentrate on a really good pure fighter with two engines and good range, or alternatively just skip it and get some stuff that's cheap and reliable and works for border patrolling. It's not like we're going to win an air war against Russia or China or the US anyway.