Monday, December 12, 2011

Canada Needs Answers Or It Should Scrap the F-35 Deal

The recent Iranian downing of America's latest, high-tech stealth drone, the RQ-170, raises a load of questions that nobody is asking.

Begin by asking just how Iran managed to down the thing in the first place.   This technology is supposed to be so stealthy the bad guys aren't even supposed to know it's around.

The Americans say it malfunctioned over Afghanistan and glided in for a crash landing inside Iran.   The Iranians claim they detected the drone in their airspace and overrode its guidance systems to bring it down for a safe landing and capture.

Okay, was Iran able to detect this super-stealthy drone?   If so, how?  What stealth systems - structure, radar absorbent coatings, electronics - would they have to defeat in order to detect it?   What technology does Iran have that can defeat America's best stealth technology?

If the RQ-170 drone's stealth technology can be defeated what does that mean for the stealth technology in the F-35s we're planning to buy?   Will our potential adversaries have America's stealth secrets in their hands long before we even get delivery of Lockheed's uber-costly stealth fighters?

The F-35 is all about stealth.   Without its supposed radar invisibility it's a seriously flawed aircraft.  It can't out-turn, out-climb, outrun or outgun even 4th generation Russian aircraft like the SU-30 fighter family.   The F-35 compromises virtually every quality that makes a top fighter for the sake of stealth cloaking.  It gives up range, payload, agility, speed, twin-engine redundancy - the lot - for supposed radar invisibility.  If its stealth cloaking can be defeated (even before it rolls off the assembly lines) it's an aerial white elephant.

The F-35 has always been a high-stakes gamble and now it may be a sucker's bet.   A sure bet would be that Iran won't be wasting any time parceling out samples of America's stealth technology to the Russians and the Chinese.  They'll inspect and test it for a leg up in developing their own stealth and counter-stealth systems.

According to Navy Times, this is a giant problem for America's stealth programme:

...just an hour after Iranian state television aired images purporting to show off its prize, the Air Force’s top uniformed officer raised the specter of a foreign power copying the stealthy jet’s top-secret technology.

There is the potential for reverse engineering, clearly,” said Air Force Chief Gen. Norton Schwartz. “Ideally, one would want to maintain the American advantage. That certainly is in our minds.”

If the jet “comes into the possession of a sophisticated adversary,” there’s not much the U.S. could do about it, Schwartz said Thursday during a taping of “This Week in Defense News.”

The Iranian broadcast showed apparent footage of a mostly intact RQ-170 put on public display. While the craft showed some damage, it seemed to be in remarkably good shape.

One source said the aircraft in the footage was definitely the Sentinel, a subsonic, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft built by Lockheed Martin. The aircraft appeared to have sustained damage consistent with a wheels-up landing, he said.

...The capture of a mostly intact RQ-170 by a hostile power like Iran is “the biggest Christmas present to our enemies in probably a decade, at least,” Goure said

The captured aircraft will help adversaries copy U.S. stealth design techniques, coating materials, engine technology, and UAV command-and-control systems, he said. It will also help them develop countermeasures against stealthy U.S. aircraft.

If the F-35's stealth secrets are out, there's no reason for Canada or anyone else to buy it.   That's deeply unfortunate for Lockheed and the Pentagon but that is not Canada's problem.


Anonymous said...

Another question...what does Canada need to hide from?

Anonymous said...

"Okay, was Iran able to detect this super-stealthy drone? If so, how? What stealth systems - structure, radar absorbent coatings, electronics - would they have to defeat in order to detect it? What technology does Iran have that can defeat America's best stealth technology?"

When you say that you are assuming the Iranian's are telling the truth?

More propaganda.

The Mound of Sound said...

Ultimately, even if this drone crashed from loss of control, it's in Iranian hands now and, with the assistance of the Russians and Chinese, they'll be able to unlock most of its secrets - radar deflecting design, radar absorbent coatings and radar cloaking electronics. That will give the potential adversaries, the countries the F-35 is specifically designed to confront, years in which to copy, improve and field their own advanced stealth designs and effective stealth countermeasures.

That's why, at this point, I believe it would be prudent for Canada and our allies to invest in stealth countermeasures and stick with more capable, conventional fighter options.

Anonymous said...

But you've been saying all along the f35 isn't right for us, it isn't cost effective, there are problems. But Harper says we are getting the f35. Period. Do you expect that he will actually change his mind?

The Mound of Sound said...

I suspect Harper will be tempted to go with the flow. If the US scraps the programme of course he's out. If enough of the other "partner" nations start getting cold (colder) feet, he may also get out.

With all the cost/performance problems plaguing this aircraft I tried to imagine what was driving Harper's support for it. It strikes me that no one could assure him it won't be obsolete within five years, ten at the outside. That makes me wonder whether Steve actually thinks we'll be needing its stealth capability in the very near future? Does he believe there's a realistic chance we'll be using this aircraft against its intended adversary within a decade?

Remember, the F-35, at its best, falls far short of being a quality, air-superiority fighter of the type needed to defend Canada's vast airspace. It doesn't have nearly the range for that and we'll be operating far too few of them. So it defaults to its stated role, joint tactical strike fighter, a.k.a. bomb truck. It is primarily an offensive weapon using high-tech stealth systems to enable it to enter heavily-defended target areas and deliver its modest weapon load.

Does Harper (and, for that matter, his military advisers) foresee that scenario in the near term?