Monday, April 02, 2018

Caveat Emptor - Beware Lockheed's F-35

I do not believe that Canada needs a warplane that does one thing perhaps, possibly, maybe, better than its rivals: the ability to launch a first strike attack on an adversary with sophisticated air defences, i.e. China or Russia.

I don't believe Canada has any damned business participating in a first strike attack on those countries. Such an attack would either have to be massively devastating to the nations we want to take by surprise or else they would retaliate with weapons against which Canada has no, zero, nada, zilch ability to defend itself.

It's bad enough the Americans think such a mission might be viable. It's far more troubling if we come to think the same way.

The world is becoming increasingly dangerous. That's not going to go away anytime soon. We will remain in peril, directly or indirectly, from challenges ranging from climate change, overpopulation and over-consumption to terrorism, insurgency and nuclear proliferation. That's the world in which we, our children and our grandchildren will have to deal with. That dictates that we have some aerial defensive capability. A partially stealthy, nuclear-weapon capable, light strike bomber does not meet our needs.

Canada has a lot of airspace to control and secure. That dictates a certain minimum number of warplanes capable of flying a stipulated range and a suitable speed carrying and capable of delivering a particular weapon load and performing in a way necessary for attaining air superiority. The F-35 doesn't ring those bells. It's less than agile. It has a limited range and a paltry weapon load and its far from a world beater in agility. It's also bloody expensive.

Now we learn that the land of the bottomless defence spending pockets, the United States of America, is finding the F-35 prohibitively costly to operate. The American military was looking to buy 2,400 of them in their three variants. Now it realizes that operating the F-35 is going to be far more expensive than expected, so much more that the buy may have to be trimmed by a full third, from 2,400 down to something around 1,600.

For a small-budget country like Canada, that should be a deal-breaker. We were only budgeting for a paltry 60 machines. However if their life-cycle operating costs are what the Americans now suggest, we could wind up with a lot of warplanes that will be stuck on the ground.

It's called "readiness." This has caused a big controversy in Europe where many nations operate the EuroFighter Typhoon. At one point Spain had 39 Typhoons out of which 6 were operational, about 15%. Germany had 42 out of 109 servicable, 49%. The remainder were grounded for want of parts or technicians available to repair them, i.e. no money to keep them flying.

Now that it seems even the Americans can't keep their prescribed number of F-35s flying why should Canada even give it a second thought?


Anonymous said...

Readiness continues to be bad for the F-35 as do maintenance times:

The entire fleet of 235 operationally deployed aircraft was only available and ready to perform all of the F-35’s intended multiple missions 26 percent of the time—that is, 26 percent was the “fully mission capable” rate.

Under the much less stringent criterion of being ready to fly just one of its missions, the F-35 fleet showed only 50 percent mission capable rate—a poor result that, disappointingly, hasn’t changed for more than three years and remains below the modest 60 percent single-mission availability-rate goal set by program officials. The bottom line is that even if the F-35 were combat-effective in all of its multiple missions, it would be unavailable to deliver that effectiveness when needed in battle three-quarters of the time.

The F-35 reliability and maintainability data generated through developmental testing are as bleak as the availability trends. The average flight time between unscheduled maintenance events is 44 to 82 minutes across the three F-35 variants. Time to repair each of these failures is 4.9 to 7.3 average hours. Like availability, the reliability trends show little or no improvement.

This aircraft won't do what the manufacturer claims it will and is not up to par with even legacy aircraft. Canada should give LM a firm NO on this lemon.


The Mound of Sound said...

That's why these aircraft should always be subjected to a competitive "fly off." Done properly, the prospective customer identifies the type of missions it needs to fly and then has the manufacturers put their contender through the paces on a grueling 3-4 mission per day, three or four day test to simulate surge conditions in both defensive and offensive roles. This includes longer duration, tanker missions. How many sorties can it perform effectively? The SAAB Gripen excels in this situation.

Trailblazer said...

The latest info suggests that the unfinished product that is the F35 will be developed whilst in service!!


the salamander said...

.. been reading Aviation Weekly & Space Technology since I was 11 years old.. so I aint new to the game. This whole F-35 sellout really aggros me. Your essay nails a key point re 'defending Canada' .. and I'm darn sure you recall how aggro I become if we don't maintain capability to defend, hell just patrol our coasts or be exemplars re Search and Rescue. Yes yes.. we have a NATO agreement, but realistically we should be providing long range patrol or refueling..

Of course I don't think we can't midair refuel our own aircraft.. and must rely on USA .. so we must blow our wad to have compatible aircraft.. Hell, have they got the pilot's helmet to function yet? F-35 seems a budget boondoggle that enchants and gives politicians a hard on. The Russians and Chinese are laughing.. and meanwhile we spend our $$ on lawyers to not live up to promises made to military vets.. Harper.. and now Trudeau.. same law firms

How is that 'Royal Canadian Navy' procurement coming along?
Are we still renting supply ships?

Jay Farquharson said...

"Of course I don't think we can't midair refuel our own aircraft"

"How is that 'Royal Canadian Navy' procurement coming along?
Are we still renting supply ships?"

the salamander said...

.. hammered well n good by Jay.. !

Anonymous said...

This whole issue ignores an entire sky-scape of “Flying Elephants”:

- Canada has one of the largest airspaces to monitor/protect

- the nations who would invade that airspace have military budgets several orders of magnitude greater than Canada’s

- despite the constantly regurgitated myths, Canada has never been a military power

Beyond the consistent failure of Lockheed aircraft to do anything reliably ( other than killing the airmen who are foolish enough to fly them), by any measure, the F-35 is so far out of spec, that is simply irrelevant.

Any country that has designs on Canada’s sovereignty already over-powers militarily us by such a ridiculous margin that any pretence to counter their power with aircraft or ships is simply inane.

Wherever it is funnelled, Canadian money spent outside of the realm of search and rescue is simply wasted.

Jay Farquharson said...

" despite the constantly regurgitated myths, Canada has never been a military power"

Trailblazer said...

The F35 is an 18 year old design!
Add to that it is still in development!
So you are going to cry fowl of old CF18's ?

Canada doesn't need to ( vomit)punch above its weight or any other onomatopoeia .
It just needs to protect it's inhabitants.
We are not a annex of the USA.


Anonymous said...

Jay - that’s a perfect example of the Canuk-Wr-Spin.

I am not saying we didn’t contribute, or that our contribution was insignificant, just that it was disproportionate to our self-back-patting. we need to grow up and accept that as brave and sustained as they may have been, they were lsrgely contributions of hard-labour and cannon fodder. We should have learned from those experiences and we need to drop the macho poise and use our brains

Uncommoner said...

I personally believe that the answer to Canada's domestic airspace needs can be met much more cheaply with the purchase of a second-line but capable (and proven) aircraft like the Aermacchi Master, alongside some home-developed light AWACS aircraft (maybe look into using the Twin Otter airframe?) and, of course, drones.

But we won't do that. Because the Canadian Military are just too focused on high performance fighter aircraft to realize that those don't actually suit our needs for domestic defense. The RCAF should NOT be going overseas to drop ordnance on people. Period. We have no business doing that anymore. Far better for us to accept a more peaceful role internationally.

It's hard to play peacekeeper in an F-35 (or even a CF-18).

Anonymous said...

Trailblazer -

given the polics south of “ the 49th” it may be important to insert the word “yet” into that sentence about annexes.

we will never have the military power to stop the russians, or the chinese, (or the israelis for that matter), or the most likely invaders of all . . . we’d better start using our cashflow to secure our future through some more peaceful approach

Ray Blessin said...

F35s and all "fighter" planes
are weapons of mass destruction. That is all.

The Mound of Sound said...

The F-35 is different in more ways than Lockheed PR types would have us believe. By its very nature the F-35 is designed to be employed with a network of support aircraft that will be the eyes and ears of the 35 which to remain undetected cannot operate its onboard radars. It requires tanker support, AWACS support and, in many cases, its own fighter escorts. Because those support aircraft have to be positioned in the FEBA, forward edge of the battle area, they require their own escorts against defending fighters that might bring the whole armada down. My point is that you either provide these essential and extremely costly support aircraft or else you must operate as a cohort of a larger air force that has these aircraft, hence the American'a aerial foreign legion. That then surrenders a certain measure of your military and foreign policy autonomy to another power. And for what?

A more capable but less stealthy aircraft can operate with similar air forces such as most European forces.

And, yes, the F-35 is nearly 20 years old and still two years at least away from completion of testing. The two hundred plus already built will probably never see service but will simply be relegated to a training role rather than being fully upgraded (overhauled) to an operational standard.

This vaunted claim of a 50-year service life is contradicted by the Americans' rush to get what they call a "6th generation" successor into testing ASAP. In the
"generational" history of warplanes, the first one or two of each generation have always been technology demonstrators, prototypical efforts from which standards are evolved to be introduced into standard built aircraft. For example take the second generation (post-war) jet fighters. The earliest models were marginal performers, progressing step by step up to the F-86 Sabre/Mig-15 standard before giving way to the first supersonic or third generation fighter which, again, started with some pretty modest performers.

The F-35 was prototypical in that it embodied a giant package of compromises for the sake of one technology, low observability. Subsequent aircraft should have overcome the compromises only those successor aircraft aren't being built.

Jay Farquharson said...

4th largest Airforce, 5th largest Navy, a Merchant Marine that carried 1/3rd of all cargo, built 1/4 of all the tanks, trucks, guns, aircraft, ships for the Allies, put 1.1 million volenteers into Uniform, with a base population of only 11 million.

That's punching well above our weight.

Jay Farquharson said...

F-22 came first, and is actually a "fighter".

Trailblazer said...

The Romans were pretty good too!!

lets look at today and it's challenges ..


Trailblazer said...


Jay Farquharson said...

The main challenge today, is when you compare Legacy Aircraft cost, ( even with their upgrades over time), to current 4th Generation Aircraft, even adjusted for inflation, the cost is almost 3 times the cost of Legacy Aircraft.

So, for the same "budget" amount, you get 1/3rd the number of airframes.

Even a high/low mix, like we did with the CF-5, doesn't help any.

The RCAF needs to seriously define the mission set for the CF-118's replacement, and toss out all the non-critical roles, like acting as a US Foreign Legion.

Trailblazer said...

The RCAF needs to seriously define the mission set for the CF-118's replacement, and toss out all the non-critical roles, like acting as a US Foreign Legion.

To define the mission we need a clearly defined foreign policy.
A Canadian one at that, not a tag along USA one.


The Mound of Sound said...

Trailblazer, that Lockheed test pilot, Flynn, ex-RCAF, has a reputation for gilding the F-35 lily. To hear him talk, the F-35 is the first to master heavier than air flight. As for Typhoon, check the Euro readiness rates for the Eurofighter. Not confidence building. It's also a now dated design and quite expensive.Along with Rafale, F-18 and F-15 it's a question of which production line will be the first to shut down and the lag before the others go the same way.

Trailblazer said...

Electronic warfare is progressing at a far faster rate than mechanical weapons.
F35, Typhoon SU32, matters not; they are weapons to bomb third world brown people.

I have to wonder just what an effect would containing the military industrial complex have on our,western, GNP??


The Mound of Sound said...

Trailblazer I think you would find some helpful answers to your questions in Andrew Bacevich's 2005 book, "The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War." Bacevich is a former US Army commander who retired after leading a unit in Desert Storm to enter academia is a persuasive analyst and writer.

Jay Farquharson said...

And in his dozens of articles for TomDispatch.

Purple library guy said...

Have to take issue with one thing:
"Such an attack would either have to be massively devastating to the nations we want to take by surprise or else they would retaliate with weapons against which Canada has no, zero, nada, zilch ability to defend itself."
To the contrary. Especially in light of recent revelations about Russian weapon systems, it seems clear to me that EVEN IF such an attack were massively devastating to the nations we want to take by surprise, THEY WOULD STILL retaliate with weapons against which Canada has no, zero, nada, zilch ability to defend itself.

Purple library guy said...

I've probably said this before, but I've never quite understood the importance of stealth for a border patrol craft. I mean, part of the point of border patrol is to be seen, right? The nefarious Icelanders or whoever have their aircraft poking up against our borders and our patrol craft come along, look menacing and generally ensure they get the idea we've got our eye on them. Not sure how that's supposed to work if they don't know we're there . . .
(Of course F35 stealth apparently doesn't work that great, especially from side angles like an opponent would see if it was patrolling our border. But it's almost lamer if they do know we're there but we're obviously trying to hide.)

Jay Farquharson said...

While "stealthy" aircraft can be seen by IRST and long wavelength radars, they are a tiny target to short wavelength radars, because they are maximixed to this effect.

As a result of this, non AWAC's and ELINT aircraft can neither detect the aircraft at BVR, nor even when they can in a limited fashion, ( not many sparrows at 30,000 ft over the North Atlantic), it's very difficult, almost impossible to guide a missile to that target.

So, to use an old example, a F-35 could observe, monitor and record, Spanish Trawler's illegally harvesting cod, in Canada's EEZ, while being protected by a Spanish Warship, with out being detected. Because of the F-35's advanced and integrated sensor array, "everything" from visuals, radio comms, cellphones can be recorded and used as evidence.

However, current studies of F-35 sortie rates per cost, show that a 60 aircraft "fleet" could make 2 patrol soties a week off Newfoundland, while the same Rafele or Gryphon fleet could make 60.

The Mound of Sound said...

PLG, there are a variety of technical questions concerning the efficacy of the F-35's stealth technology that simply won't be answered until it first encounters a "peer" adversary with substantial, sophisticated air defences. In the roughly 20 years America (Lockheed) has been developing the joint strike fighter, those intended adversaries, China and Russia, have been busy developing stealth counter-measures and their own stealth warplanes.

I have never seen the issue discussed but stealth cloaking varies in effectiveness depending on whether the aircraft is operating defensively or offensively. The Americans boast that the Chinese and Russian offerings aren't nearly as effective as the F-22 and F-35 but the adversaries' fighters don't have to be in order to prevail. They will have the "home field" advantage. The defenders will be operating over their own territory. They won't have the range problems that face the attackers. The defenders will also have the benefit of ground-based radars and air defence batteries, especially the S-400 missile systems. At the same time they'll be backed up by very fast, very long-range conventional fighters that will pose a lethal threat to F-35s short on fuel trying to egress from the target. The F-35 doesn't have "supercruise." If the pilot needs to go supersonic to try to escape pursuers he'll have to burn massive amounts of fuel from the aircraft's finite internal stores.

Early on Lockheed officials addressed the F-35's frontal-aspect stealth by saying it wasn't a fighter but would, instead, fly low and straight to its target and low and straight back out again. To them, the F-35 is really just a light strike bomber.

Aircraft, especially unproven warplanes such as the F-35, can only be properly evaluated one way. That is a gruelling, multi-day fly-off competition. How well can it perform the various missions you require. Patrol, interception, air to air combat, tactical strike, close air support, the whole gamut. What are its reliability and turnaround rate? How many missions a day can the aircraft reliably fly? Canada is buying a few score of these things so we're going to need an aircraft that can generate a respectable number of sorties. If you need an aircraft capable of flying three missions a day and instead wind up with an aircraft that can fly one mission every three days, you've got a serious problem.

Purple library guy said...

Mmm, I can see the point of the stealth then.
Well, if you went with the Rafaeles or Gryphons surely with the money you saved not buying F35s you could pick up a few stealthy little long-loiter-time drones for those surveillance needs. They wouldn't need to be armed or anything, presumably not a huge cost.
Hey, I wonder--are there surveillance drones that can be carried by a fighter plane like a missile? Spot something at the edge of your sensors that might be interesting, launch the little bugger and see what's up. Surely someone's thought that would be handy.