Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The F-35 - a "Technical Miscalculation"

What do you think the chances are that Canada will get saddled with Lockheed's F-35 light attack bomber?  South Korea is aboard, so is Japan.   Norway is buying some along with the Netherlands, Britain and Italy.  Australia is still on board and, with the Abbott government at the helm, will almost certainly load up on Lockheed's second-best stealth warplane.   With Australia, Britain and the U.S. buying the thing, can you imagine Harper saying no?  I'm pretty sure Lockheed has Steve Harper Locked up.

Which leads me to Aviation Week's F-35 pundit, Bill Sweetman who considers the F-35, "a classic example of how almost every military and political leader in Western defense fell in line behind a technical miscalculation."

It may come with a Cadillac Escalade price tag but Sweetman leaves no doubt that the F-35 is really a Dodge Neon, the poor cousin of Lockheed's F-22 stealth fighter.

The U.S. Air Force dusted off the "high-fast sanctuary" in 1982 in defining the Advanced Tactical Fighter, the program that led to the Lockheed Martin F-22.  ATF was intended to cruise at Mach 1.6 and pull 6g at supersonic speed in burner, all at 60-65,000 ft.

The original ATF requirements balanced stealth against speed, height and agility.  All-aspect stealth was added to the menu after Lockheed and Northrop promised the Pentagon that the price in weight, money or risk would be small.  The USAF would be in better shape today if they had been right.  If you want to see the original requirements in action, look at the Chengdu J-20 and Sukhoi T-50.

Sweetman reminds us that, despite the F-22's flaws and shortcomings, the F-35 doesn't even come close.'s bomber studies are focused on stealth, and even the value of the F-22's speed and agility in dodging SAMs is not stressed today because awkward questions might follow concerning the survivability of slower, less-maneuverable aircraft with a similar or slightly larger RCS.

As the 19th century humorist Josh Billings put it, "It ain't what a man don't know that makes him a fool.  It's all the things he does know that just ain't so."

Another article in the same edition of Aviation Week drives a truck through the myth that the F-35 is a fighter or anything other than a light attack bomber.  The article looks at the countries that have signed on for the F-35 and notes that, with the exception of the Netherlands (and Canada probably) they're all keeping real fighters to do the many things that Lockheed's light bomber can't.

The Brits and the Italians, for example, are retaining and relying on the Typhoon as their air defence/air superiority fighter-interceptor.  RAF Air Commodore Dave Waddington explained why.  The Typhoon, he said, is "a superb Air to air platform."  Italian Colonel Vito Cracas, a fighter wing commander, was pretty blunt.  "The JSF does not have a high-end air-to-air capability.  We need to have both aircraft."

It's no coincidence that the only countries willing to consider the F-35 a fighter aircraft are the two that won't have anything else.  That's the road Harper and our military leadership are taking.   But I'm pretty sure the final Canadian F-35 won't be safely behind an RCAF hangar door before the boys in blue will be campaigning  for more warplanes, this time real fighter-interceptors.


Purple library guy said...

"It ain't what a man don't know that makes him a fool. It's all the things he does know that just ain't so."

Indeed. Along with a solid helping of Upton Sinclair's, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

Amanda said...

Seems JSF's F-35 program has become a curse to UK & US, as the program has hit with technical hitches, delays and some cancelled orders. As the time prolonging unit per cost is increasing, this makes more investement into the program. The more they invest the cost of the F-35 will increase this will effect the new order bookings.

In this article it discusses whether F-35 program is profitable or not ... Some says it is going to be failed as it is the joint venture with US & the Lockheed Martin. UK is also calculating whether they get it money's worth from its investments or not ... the future will decide ....

The Mound of Sound said...

Recent reports suggest Lockheed has successfully steamrollered its competition and critics alike and, for better or worse, the U.S. and its allies will be stuck with this warplane as their front line aircraft for decades to come.

The F-35 may be a "5th Generation" light bomber as Lockheed claims but it's still prototypical, a "Beta" model, with all the flaws and shortcomings that are usually only worked out in later designs.

The opposition not only has its own stealth designs but will be deploying them in the far more effective "defensive" role.

I think there's far too much chance of the F-35 turning out to be a colossal blunder ten years from now for the suspect promise it affords.