The raison d'etre that supposedly justifies the over-budget, overdue and under-performing F-35 is its stealth. The idea is that it is supposed to be invisible which, we're told, more than offsets all its other disadvantages.
If history, ancient and modern, has shown us anything it's that great military breakthroughs are fleeting. The other guy sees a problem and he finds a way to counter it often at a fraction of the cost the first guy incurred in creating it.
Now it seems the F-35s vaunted stealth advantage may be largely neutralized even before the aircraft becomes operational. The F-35 has been optimized to thwart X and S-band radars which has led the Russians to field their L-band radar.
Defence analysts say the new Russian L band radar will detect the fighter and can be fitted to Sukhoi jet fighters of the type flown by Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Vietnam.
The Liberal member for Tangney, Dr Dennis Jensen, is a former research scientist and defence analyst with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. He says the radar system can see through the F-35's stealth protection.
" The stealth on the Joint Strike Fighter has been optimised around a certain set of frequencies and this is the problem with the radar that the Russians have developed to fit into the Sukhoi Flankers among others."
The Russians have been telling anyone who'll listen that they can defeat the latest American stealth technology. And they're backing that up with their own fifth-generation, stealth fighter, the Sukhoi T-50:
How effective is the new Russian super jet? Well the modern and highly capable Indian Air Force is going for it and they've been pretty shrewd in the aircraft they deploy.
Because stealth technology can and will be defeated we need to consider what this aircraft is giving up for the sake of stealth. Combat aircraft are an enormous assortment of compromises. You give up something to get something else. Everything comes at a cost - speed, range, maneuverability,payload, avionics, redundancy, strength and now one more cost - stealth. What does the F-35 give up to be stealthy? Quite a bit actually. Everything has to be carried inside which means fewer bombs, fewer missiles and no external fuel tanks. Mount any of that stuff outside and it's simply another airplane.
The question becomes if the F-35 was detectable, if it's stealth advantage is negated, is the rest of the airplane worth the massive cost? The answer is plainly no. Once the F-35 can be seen it's just another bomb truck that is pretty much outmatched by the latest European and Russian stuff. Once the stealth is gone this aircraft needs to be escorted by real fighters if it's to have any chance in contested airspace. Without stealth this thing won't have much chance of avoiding close-in fighting where all its weaknesses become glaring.
Hey, I've got the solution. This sort of aircraft has a lifespan of about 20-years so why don't we get a money back warranty from Lockheed that the aircraft will be stealthy to all possible threats for, say, at least ten years? Do you think for a minute Lockheed would imagine giving that sort of assurance? If Lockheed isn't willing to take a gamble on their own technology, should we?