Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Need for Speed, Why Go Anywhere Without It?

When you're going "state of the art" you always run the risk that the adversaries you have in mind will quickly find the Achilles' Heel(s) in your latest & greatest technology.  It can be a lot easier and infinitely cheaper to find ways to counter a dramatic new technology than it was to create that advance in the first place.  It's the sort of thing that makes the boffins go "Doh" just like Homer Simpson.

There are growing signs of just that sort of early obsolescence happening with the overdue, over-priced and under-performing F-35 Joint Strike Fighter light attack bomber.

What do our "bad guys" know?  Plenty.  There has been plenty written about the F-35.   They're also believed to have stolen big chunks of its 9-million lines of code and other manufacturing and design data.  The Iranians snagged one of Lockheed's RQ-170 stealth drones and the Chinese are reported to have pillaged it, taking away materials and electronics.  It's a safe bet the Chinese won't stop anytime soon and will continue to filch whatever they can until the F-35 is finished testing in 2019.

When you're banking on secret technology and the other guy has made off with the blueprints, it loses a certain amount of its lustre.

The Chinese and the Russians believe they have already negated a good deal of the F-35's wow factor and they've got several more years to keep at it.

But we're told Canada must find a replacement for our aging fleet of CF-18s and very soon.   Fair enough.   We could always go for a '35, one that would fly the pants off Lockheed's F-35, Sukhoi's Su-35.   Even Business Insider says with all the current crop of fledgling 5th Generation fighters plagued with technical problems, the Russian 4th Gen Su-35 is the best thing on the market.

The Su-35, with L-band radar arrays fitted into its wing leading edges, is a stealth killer.  It's not limited to the X-band radars of most fighters, the radar that stealth technology is designed to defeat.  The Sukhoi has both.

The Russian super fighter also has a quality that was the hallmark of 4th Generation fighter technology, supercruise, and that it has in spades.   Supercruise is the ability to fly at supersonic speeds without having to resort to fuel-guzzling afterburner power.  All the best Gen 4 fighters have supercruise capability.  Why does it matter?  It allows the aircraft to cover great distances very quickly which is important when you're trying to intercept a target and even more important when you're trying to stay safely ahead of your pursuers.   When you have a limited range bomber like the F-35 that's not remotely stealthy from behind, not being able to outrun the competition is game over.

A few years ago a company known as Tactical Air Support was able to fly two privately owned Su-27's, the forerunner of today's Su-35.  The company's chief operating officer, Gerry Gallop, was a former U.S. Navy Top Gun instructor who had logged many hours in everything from the F-4 Phantom including the F-14, F-15, F-16 and  F/A-18.

Gallop was amazed at how effortlessly and fuel efficiently the Su-27 maintained supersonic speeds.

"I take it out of burner and I'm just at mil power and the speed dropped down to--I was still supersonic," he says. "By the time we got done, 25 minutes supersonic, I looked at the gas and go 'you know I could turn around fly back the way I came supersonic and still have a normal amount of gas left to land'," Gallop says. "I had more fuel when I was done that profile than a single centerline Hornet had on the ramp."
The Flanker holds 9,400Kg (20,700lbs) of fuel, which is similar to an F-14 with two external tanks, Gallop says. "I'm up there clipping off 13 nautical miles a minute and I'm burning 110kg per minute," he continues. "I took off with 9,400 and I'm burning 110kg per minute at Mach 1.3, so you look at that and go 'I can be supersonic a long time and you look at how many miles you can fly at that speed.'"
Part of the reason the Flanker performs so well at those speeds is because the jet was optimized to perform in the transonic and low supersonic regime--between Mach 1.05 and Mach 1.2--but it will easily run to Mach 2+.
The Su-35 may be the best fighter in the air for decades to come but it's a political non-starter for Canada.  We're stuck beneath America's umbrella which probably means we'll be shelling out huge bucks for a light bomber that's almost certain to deliver far less than was promised.


Anonymous said...

The Russians seem to have figured this military jet fighter technology thing out very well. The Americans, Chinese and Europeans, not so much.

Of course the Harperites will continue to transfer Canadian taxpayer money to the American corporation Lockheed for inferior technology because, uh, because....?

The Mound of Sound said...

The way I see it is that the Su-35 demonstrates there is still a lot of improvement and upgrading capacity remaining in these 4th Gen warplanes.

This 5th Gen business, especially when it doesn't incorporate the key advances of Gen 4, is premature and may easily backfire on us.

The Su-27 came out in 1977 in response to America's big F-15 and it has spawned an entire family of fighters culminating in today's latest version of the Su-35.

Anonymous said...

I think the Russians have won the fighter jet technology battle hands down.

But it is an empty victory. The energy of the brilliant minds that design this technology, not only in Russia, but in every country of the world, should be focused on designing the sustainable civilization of the future.

Once we figure out how to sustain our civilization, then maybe we can think about fighter jet designs - but I hope we don't.

Purple library guy said...

I'm still a bit unclear what 5th generation is supposed to mean, exactly. I mean OK, stealth I guess, except if 4th generation fighters have radar that can detect it that doesn't seem like something to base a whole new "generation" of planes on.

What else? Better software? Demonstration yet once again that trying to make something multi-role leads to it being not that good in any of the roles? What?

The Mound of Sound said...

As "The Fifth Estate" revealed, this "Fifth Generation" moniker came straight out of Lockheed's public relations department.

It's supposed to signify low-observable stealth technologies coupled with advanced sensors and avionics.

Actually, Lockheed's F-35 is anything but multi-role. It's a straight line in/straight line out, low level, light attack bomber. That much has been stated by Lockheed execs.

The F-35 has only frontal aspect stealth and it's effective only against X-band radars. From the sides, above, below, behind it's not stealthy. If it gets forced into twisting, turning air combat it utterly forfeits its stealth advantages just when its flying deficiencies (speed, climb rate, turn rate) come into play.

Because of its limited, internal fuel capacity and its lack of supercruise, the F-35 can only hope to outrun pursuing fighters by going to afterburner thrust which drains its remaining fuel for the egress run pretty quickly. You don't have to shoot down a warplane if you can force it to run out of fuel.