Sunday, June 05, 2016

Obituary for the F-35?

The US Air Force does not want to get trapped with the F-35 when 2030 rolls around. Given that the partly stealthy light attack bomber won't be fully operational until 2019 that means they want its replacement or workaround coming on strength barely 11 years later. The link above will take you to a USAF study on what the US needs to maintain air superiority by 2030. It makes the case for a much better aircraft than what's on offer today.

Emerging integrated and networked air-to-air, surface-to-air, space and cyberspace threats, as well as aging and shrinking fleets of US weapon systems, threaten the Air Force’s ability to provide air superiority at the times and places required in the highly contested operational environments of 2030 and beyond. 

Threat capabilities are likely to advance along two major vectors over the next 15 years. First, traditional threat systems will continue to evolve and proliferate. Along this threat vector are advanced fighter aircraft, sensors, and weapons. While near-peers have most of these capabilities today, advanced air and surface threats are spreading to other countries around the world. Air superiority forces will face growing numbers of these threats across a wide range of locations and scenarios in 2030. 

The second threat vector is a series of comprehensive capabilities with a less predictable impact on warfare. These include increased threat capabilities to negate our advantages in the space domain, increased quantity and sophistication of cyberspace threats, and air threats including hypersonic weapons, low observable cruise missiles, and sophisticated conventional ballistic missile systems. How, when and where these capabilities emerge is less clear, but it is certain air superiority forces will face many of these threats by 2030. 

The Air Force’s projected force structure in 2030 is not capable of fighting and winning against this array of potential adversary capabilities.

Then there's this veiled warning - let's never, not ever, repeat the F-35 fiasco.

As the pace of technological advancements continue to increase the Air Force must leverage experimentation and prototyping to more rapidly infuse advanced technologies into the force. Additionally, the Air Force must reject thinking focused on “next generation” platforms. Such focus often creates a desire to push technology limits within the confines of a formal program. Such efforts should be accomplished within the S&T portfolio and proven through effective prototyping, harvesting when mature to a sufficient level for transition. Pushing those limits in a formal program increases risk to unacceptable levels, resulting in cost growth and schedule slips. This put such programs at risk of cancellation due to their nearly inevitable underperformance, and results in delivery of capabilities “late to need” by years or even decades.

No more "next generation" nonsense. No more building a plane at the same time you're struggling to develop the technology. From now on you develop technology through prototyping, the conventional approach.  New technology is to be "harvested when mature," i.e. when you know it works and are sure it's worthwhile.


Anonymous said...

Technology advances more quickly than the actual development and building of weapons systems.
It would seem that countermeasures are easier to produce than the so called air superiority aircraft and missiles that are being developed.
The F35 has been so long in the making it is , likely, already obsolete.
The concept of war that we are used to is also obsolete.
Drones, electronic hacking and subversion are changing the way we fight.


Anonymous said...

To add.
The F117, Typhoon, Rafale, F22 etc were all built to fight yesterdays war!

Steve said...

manned fighter bomber et all planes make as much sense as a raidiator grill on a Telsa

Boris said...

I wonder what would happen if they treated the F-35 as a - very expensive - prototype (which it really seems to be), made a list of the lessons learned, and applied them to a clean-slate design. How fast could they produce one? I read somewhere they're looking into the prospect of restarting F-22 production.

The Mound of Sound said...

Reading between the lines, Boris, I think that is exactly what this report is getting at. No more of this "next generation" nonsense. Progress incrementally, "harvesting" new technologies as they become sufficiently mature, that sort of thing. I suspect they're concerned about the generals and admirals already clamoring for a "6th generation" replacement. The planners knew that stealth technology had a limited shelf life. It was never a foolproof means of cloaking. Secrets get out (do they ever), the other guy gets his own version even as he develops effective countermeasures.

Last time America's allies went shopping they got cheap, effective and robust - the F-16.This time they have to settle for expensive and potentially disastrous. Cost alone dictates a lifespan that merely worsens all of the airplane's shortcomings out of the box.