Monday, May 7, 2012

Selective examples, selective facts

It is always interesting to note critics who will exclaim something like "this fighter still has 80% of its testing still to be done" and then declare it a failure. I'm not sure how one makes such a declaration given the quoted fact.  But it never slows them down.

Or perhaps instead they say something like this:
A virtual flying piano, the F-35 lacks the F-16's agility in the air-to-air mode and the F-15E's range and payload in the bombing mode, and it can't even begin to compare to the A-10 at low-altitude close air support for troops engaged in combat. Worse yet, it won't be able to get into the air as often to perform any mission -- or just as importantly, to train pilots -- because its complexity prolongs maintenance and limits availability.
Looking at the paragraph in question, one realizes quickly how much has been left unsaid. That should immediately turn your skeptic's dial up to maximum.

For instance, unsaid  is the concept that agility is mostly an asset in close-in air combat.  Visual range. Most agree that the vast majority of future air-to-air combat will be BVR.  Beyond Visual Range.  It comes down to a fairly simple fact: it really doesn't matter how superior an F-16's agility might be to the F-35's if the F-35 can see it, target it and shoot it before the F-16 even knows it's in the area.  There is no F-16 more agile than a properly targeted air-to-air missile.

Anyone.  Given the stealth capability and advanced sensors of the F-35, which aircraft do you suppose might have the advantage in such a scenario?  The more agile?


Moving on to the F-15E, it's almost as interesting to note which plane wasn't chosen to carry this example.  Why not the F/A-18?  Because the F-35 has superior unrefueled range.  As for the bomb load, the F-15E is superior in that regard.  Unless, of course, stealth is necessary for ingress and egress to the target area.

An aircraft that can carry all the bombs in the world, but can't get to the target, is useless.  Should stealth not be a requirement, the F-35 can load up too, with extra ordnance on external hardpoints.

Finally, probably the most interesting of the three comparisons.  Everyone has a fondness for the A-10.  The Warthog is one of those planes that is so unique and so effective at what it was designed for that there's a reluctance to replace it.  The natural inclination, as practiced in the cited paragraph above, is to tell others how poorly the replacement would execute the same mission in comparison.

Certainly it preforms it well and it is indeed debatable as to whether any other aircraft can fulfill the role as well.  However, there is one thing we do know about the A-10.  It will never fly an air superiority mission.  The F-35 will.

That, of course, brings us to a larger point.  As I mentioned below, the cost of maintaining (and obviously upgrading) 4th generation fighters in lieu of the F-35 - using the same assumptions used to cost out the F-35 over 55 years - would see a cost four times the amount of the F-35.

As should be obvious now, the F-35's capabilities include those that currently require many specialized single mission aircraft. Tactically, with the F-35, you have one air frame designed to do them all.  What that means is operating costs are reduced by streamlining spare pools, supply chain management, infrastructure, etc.  Pilot and maintenance training is also consolidated and optimized.

On consideration, that would seem to be a "good thing" in an era of austerity and certainly better than championing old technology at greater cost.


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