Friday, June 29, 2012

Japan orders 4 F-35s

Japan, a late entry in countries buying the F-35, placed a firm order for 4 of the stealth aircraft today:

Japan on Friday signed a formal agreement with the United States to buy an initial four F-35 fighters built by Lockheed Martin Corp and other equipment for 60 billion yen ($756.53 million), a company spokesman said.

The letter of offer and acceptance, which was signed in Japan, includes four conventional takeoff variants of the F-35 fighter at a cost of 10.2 billion yen ($128.61 million) each, a slightly higher price than the 9.9 billion yen ($124.83 million) than Japan initially budgeted to spend.

But the cost of the two simulators and other equipment dropped to 19.1 billion yen ($240.83 million) from the anticipated level of 20.5 billion yen ($258.48 million) so the overall price remained at 60 billion yen.

Norway placed it’s first order for F-35s a couple of weeks ago.  Foreign orders will help Lockheed Martin maintain production on the jets at higher levels than with domestic orders only and should benefit in cost savings as full production ramps up.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What makes the F-35 a cutting edge fighter?

A press release by Northrup Grumman gives you an idea:

Sensors designed for the U.S. Air Force’s F-35 aircraft monitored five NASA sounding rocket launches that took place in rapid succession this past spring, demonstrating the next-generation fighter’s ballistic missile detection, tracking and targeting capability, according to a Northrop Grumman press release.

The suborbital rockets, launched March 27 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, were detected and tracked simultaneously by the electro-optical distributed aperture system (DAS) and electronically scanned radar array sensors, the press release said. Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems of Linthicum, Md., designed both sensor suites for the F-35, which is built by Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md.

In short and in part, it is the F-35’s sensor suite and sensor fusion that make it unlike any other aircraft.  Whereas before, fusion took place in the pilot’s head as he or she took in all the data provided by outside sensors, in the case of the F-35, the aircraft is doing that fusion leaving the pilot to concentrate on tactics.

A good primer on the difference the sensor suite will make can be found in this short Northrup Grumman film:

Obviously part of the problem in discussing these innovative new systems is the secrecy involved.  Lockheed Martin VP Steve O’Bryan discussed that recently:

“As you can probably imagine, it’s very difficult for me to get an unclassified public release on the electronic warfare system, on the electronic attack, or other things, but I’ve tried to get as much as I possibly can,” O’Bryan said. He showed video that came from the F-35’s Distributed Aperture System and its Electro-Optical Targeting System, as well as a sensor picture from its synthetic aperture radar.

The F-35’s sensors and targeting capabilities are world-beating, Lockheed says, and O’Bryan gave one example: “What’s unique about the F-35 is the resolution that I can’t talk about, but what it enables is auto target recognition and auto target locating. So you get the ability to see and classify tanks, [armored personnel carriers], double-digit [surface-to-air missile] launchers that are unique. No other airplane has that capability. It’s able to do it through the weather and because of the computer power of the F-35 it is something unique to the F-35.”

In addition to its radar and laser targeting, the jet has six mid-wave infrared cameras that feed video right into the pilot’s helmet, enabling her to look anywhere, including through the floor of the airplane. The IR video is incredibly detailed, O’Bryan boasted. He showed video of an F-16 from the DAS perspective, and pointed out that even though it was not a conventional TV image, you could see the rivets on the fuselage and even the tail markings that showed the Viper was from Edwards AFB, Calif.

These capabilities are becoming a reality as the press release from Northrup Grumman points out.

The DAS, a suite of six infrared cameras providing a 360-degree spherical view from the aircraft, autonomously detected and tracked all five rockets through second-stage burnout, the press release said. The radar sensor was able to detect and track the rockets independently but also based on cuing data from the DAS camera suite, which enabled detection at a greater range, the release said.

The sensors used in the demonstration were carried not by an F-35 but aboard Northrop Grumman’s BAC1-11 testbed aircraft, the company said. Only minor modifications to the sensor software were necessary, the press release said.

“Since DAS is always staring simultaneously in every direction, an operator does not have to point the sensor in the direction of a target to gain a track,” Jeff Leavitt, vice president of Northrop Grumman’s combat avionic systems business unit, said in a prepared statement. “The F-35 pilot could continue the primary mission while the sensors automatically observe ballistic missile threats.”

These are the systems that will define the F-35 as the cutting edge fighter for the next generation.  As you can see, even in unclassified releases, the capabilities announced and being tested will provide the aircraft significant advantages over the current legacy fleet.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Test pilots talk about the F-35

Here are the first 3 episodes of Lockheed Martin’s “Test Pilot Tuesdays”


Friday, June 22, 2012

The F-35’s “software problem”

Another issue critics love to wring their hands over is the software that is being developed for the F-35.  First, as they like to remind everyone, it is very complicated.  In fact a recent GAO report called it “as complicated as anything on earth”.

Uh, ok.  My guess is in the 1990’s code that ran a super-computers operating system could have been called the same thing for its time. But we developed it didn’t we?  So what does that mean?  Well, it means that the code being developed for the F-35 is an ambitious attempt to give it an edge that no other aircraft flying will have, but it is something developers obviously think is achievable. 

Lockheed Martin VP Steve O’Bryan updated us on that recently:

He said 87 percent of the software the F-35 needs is flying on airplanes today, including test versions of the next major block due out this summer. He said 94 percent of it has been developed in the lab.

“The variance is small and it is contained,” he said. “Lockheed Martin and [DoD F-35 program executive officer] Vice Adm. David Venlet agree the schedule is adequate to support the software build and funding is adequate to complete the software build.”

O’Bryan said that Lockheed has added a “$100 million lab” to work on F-35 software and added “200 heads” to the software effort. He said Lockheed and the program are “recovering schedule” on the software, and he laid down a marker for when we’ll be able to see how it’s going.

“The test of that will be when we release the complete Block 2A software to flight test – that’s where I’d be able to give you a metric to demonstrate that,” O’Bryan said. It should appear “this summer. I’d ask you to measure us to that.”

As Loren Thompson noted in a recent article in which he addressed the F-35’s software, there are “no show stoppers in sight, either in the hardware or the software.”

Critics seem to discount our abilities as a nation of innovators, especially in the technological area (somehow, it seems, able to know what is or isn’t possible with little or no expertise on the subject they’re criticizing). 

The F-35 is a developmental aircraft.  While it is true the aircraft has had problems, it appears that progress is accelerating in a very positive direction. Hardware, software, testing, you name it, it is trending well.

Remember that each time you read the purveyors doom and gloom saying what is promised is impossible.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Does the F-35C have a tailhook problem?

The answer, obviously, is yes.  All one has to do is dial in any critical piece about the aircraft and you’re sure to hear it mentioned along with the usual conjecture that fixing it could involve “costly redesign”.

But it doesn’t appear that the fix will involve a “costly redesign” or that it is really that significant of a problem.

What one has to understand is that there has never been a reason to hide the tailhook in any other Navy carrier aircraft.  But with a stealth aircraft – a first for the Navy – such a requirement came into existence.  That caused some problems with design that have had to be addressed.  And it appears they have.

Lockheed Martin VP Steve O’Bryan recently detailed the problem and the fix.

First, the problem:

“The distance between the main landing gear and the tailhook on the F-35C is the shortest of any naval aviation carrier airplane that we’ve had. Because we have to hide the hook — because if you had a hook exposed you wouldn’t be as stealthy airplane, that distance is tighter than any other. So it means when you roll over the wire when you land on the deck, the wire goes flush to the deck, and then you have to pick that wire up as it’s generally on the deck. So what we’ve had to do is re-design the hook shank.


Every airplane’s hook shank — as you’d imagine, you ground those things down, dragging it around, so it’s a remove-and-replace kind of thing. It has a bolt through the back of it and it holds on to the hook and we’ve redesigned that to have a lower center of gravity, or in a more mundane way, to make it a sharper hook point. And that allows us to pick up the wire.

And, as he mentions (and we reported here), testing has gone well to this point on the new design.

CF-3 performed a total of 18 successful roll-in arrestments [MK-7 (6 with risers and 4 with no risers) and E-28 (8 arrestments)] at Lakehurst from 80 to 100 knots ground speed.

There’s actually more to the solution than just redesigning the hook.  That’s a requirement to put more pressure on the hook so it will stay down on the deck and not bounce or skip. 

The other thing we need to do is, we need to make sure that the hook stays flush on the deck. So what you don’t want — and I was a Navy pilot, so I apologize if I’m using a lot of vernacular here – you want to keep that hook on the deck so it doesn’t bounce, or the words we used was skip. It can do that a couple different ways. It can move laterally and it can hit other stuff and just bounce, if you will. Another technical term. So what we’ve done is we’re going to modify what’s called the hold-down damper, kind of a good name for a thing because it does exactly that, it holds the hooks down, it dampens any oscillation. We’ll increase pressure on hook to do that.

The whole thing is a remove-and-replace assembly so any modifications we make to it is an easy fix.”

In essence, modify the damper that holds the redesigned hook down to put more pressure on the hook than is now being exerted.  As O’Bryan says, an “easy fix”.

More discussion on the O’Bryan interview in the following days, but now when you see the usual “the plane can’t even land on an aircraft carrier” nonsense the critics like to throw out there, you’ll have a comeback.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

F-35 critics need to get current if they’re going to be credible

Certainly, any developmental program has its problems, and criticism is sometimes warranted.

However, when critics decide to publish their criticisms, it certainly doesn’t help their credibility when they say things which aren’t true or aren’t as they claim.

For instance, there are a couple of stories out recently criticizing the program.  Here the helmet for the F-35 is discussed:

The visor is, according to the Government Accountability Office's latest annual report on the F-35's development, "integral to the mission systems architecture." In other words, the plane was more or less designed around the unique capabilities of that fancy helmet appendage.

Just one problem: It doesn't work. In flight tests, the visor's "symbology" has evidently been unreadable, because the plane itself has been bouncing up and down in the air more than expected. The effect is probably like trying to read an e-book while riding a bicycle along a boulder-strewn path.

"Display jitter," the GAO report says in a footnote, "is the undesired shaking of display, making symbology unreadable ... [due to] worse than expected vibrations, known as aircraft buffet."

Unfortunately for the plane's designers, jitter and buffeting are only part of the problems undermining the visor's use. The others are a persistent delay in displaying key sensor data - making the visor symbols outdated as the aircraft streaks through the air at speeds up to 3000kmh - and an inability to show night vision readings properly.

So what's the big deal? It's just a visor. Well, the GAO report says "these shortfalls may lead to a helmet unable to fully meet warfighter requirements - unsuitable for flight tasks and weapons delivery, as well as creating an unmanageable pilot workload, and may place limitations on the [F-35's] operational environment."

What you see here is only part of the story and it is dated to boot.  While all of that is true, the implication is this is a show stopper.

In short, if the visor doesn't work, the plane may not be able to do all the impressive things that the Pentagon is spending more than US$1.5 trillion (NZ$1.9 trillion)- over the next 30 or so years - to make it do. The GAO said this alarm was sounded by the programme officials interviewed by its investigators.

They then talk about a “new” visor under development and mention that the helmet troubles are "being addressed" but leave it there.

Well wait, isn’t that important?  Are they being addressed?  Are they being addressed in a satisfactory manner?  And how long will it take?

Seems those questions are key ones that would explain whether or not a) this is a show stopper and b) whether the “new” visor will be needed, no?

Instead, that’s ignored for more doom and gloom about the program in general.

Well here’s what’s happening on the helmet as reported here weeks ago.  I don’t know about you, but the following seems pretty important when talking about this problem:

To correct that deficiency, King said VSI is installing a micro-inertial measurement unit (IMU) on its helmets that will dampen the vibrations on the transmitter, similar to the way noise-canceling headphones are able to block out background noise. That technology is set to be flight-tested on a JSF flight sciences test aircraft in late May or early June, and a more rigorous test involving an F-35 equipped with full mission systems software and hardware will take place in late June or July. King predicted that although those tests are unlikely to result in a perfect solution, they should illustrate what specific areas VSI needs to focus on to eliminate jitter altogether.


"What I think is going to happen is we're going to find out there's a vibration component or a frequency component we weren't aware of, and we're going to have to tweak the algorithm to dampen out that last little piece," he said. "I expect it to be about 90 percent successful based on all our lab work and everything else, and the remaining 10 percent I characterize as more fine-tuning than anything else. My expectation is by the end of the summer, we're going to have this problem behind us."

Ah, so the problem has been identified, a fix is being tested and it is anticipated this problem will be behind them by the end of summer.

That, however, doesn’t conform with the doom and gloom portrayed in the title (“Why F-35 Pilots Have the Jitters”) or the discussion of the problem, does it?  And all of this information I just shared is available on line.  It simply doesn’t fit the narrative, does it?

By the way did you notice the other inaccuracy in their discussion of the program?

In short, if the visor doesn't work, the plane may not be able to do all the impressive things that the Pentagon is spending more than US$1.5 trillion (NZ$1.9 trillion)- over the next 30 or so years - to make it do.

“Or so” is a pretty poor way of missing the actual cost figure quoted by the Pentagon by 25 years.  That’s right, the highly controversial cost estimate covers 55 years, not 30.  That too is easily found on line in numerous cites.  Mistakes, half the story and inaccuracies like that don’t help the credibility of the critic.

The other article in question also hits on the helmet problem (inaccurately but provocatively entitled “F-35 Pilots Left Blind”), mostly repeats what was reported about the helmet visor in the other article and it too provides the reader with no exploration of the status of a fix.  It also throws this out there:

Although the F-35 isn’t expected to be up and running until 2018, the actual launch date might be even later. The GAO’s report reveals that the plane also has been documented to have problems with landing in tight spaces and the software that helps power it is in desperate need of an upgrade. Then there is another issue involving the craft’s tailhook, which, if corrected, might cause even more problems to arise. If redesigned, the GAO says that "other aircraft structural modifications may also be required,” skyrocketing the completion cost to even more astronomical numbers.

What in the world does “trouble landing in tight spaces” mean to anyone (you mean landing on the deck of an amphibious assault ship – that’s pretty tight)?  And which version?

Then there’s the tailhook claim.

Does anyone do research before they write anymore?

Software, from the update we gave you a week or so ago:

For the Mission Systems software, 8.1M of 9.3M Software Source Lines of Code (87%) flying today. Conducting Radar, Electronic Warfare, Electro Optical sensor employment. 95% of airborne software now operating in flight and ground labs

That certainly doesn’t conform to the claim about software, does it?

Tailhook?  Well again, this is available to those who will look:

CF-3 performed a total of 18 successful roll-in arrestments [MK-7 (6 with risers and 4 with no risers) and E-28 (8 arrestments)] at Lakehurst from 80 to 100 knots ground speed.

“CF-3” of course is the Navy variation for operation off aircraft carriers.  What is described in that single sentence is successful deployment of the tailhook.

Again, glaring errors or slanted narrative designed to make a pre-determined point – this is a program in trouble.

In fact, it is a program that is progressing rather well if the critics would ever bother to take an objective look.

However, as with reporting found in the two examples above, critics simply hurt their own credibility when they write for an agenda vs. the objective truth.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Norway places first firm F-35 order

Good news for the JSF program:

Norway formally ordered two aircraft and expects to order another 50 for a total procurement cost of $10 billion, the largest ever public purchase, Minister of Defence Espen Barth Eide told a news conference.

Norway has been one of the JSF’s most staunch supporters:

Norway, which has stood firmly by the program and its order, will receive its first four aircraft by 2016 while the remaining 48 would be delivered after 2017.

In addition to the warplanes, Norway will begin preparations for the final phase of Joint Strike Missile development after it received U.S. support for the integration of the missile into the F-35.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Is the F-35’s success the “Pentagon’s best kept secret”?

It seems to be since rarely do you see anything positive in the defense media about the aircraft.  But in fact, as I pointed out recently, the testing is going gang-busters and the aircraft remains ahead of schedule. 

Loren Thompson writes in Forbes about this phenomenon of ignoring the F-35’s progress to instead concentrate on the negative.

If you pay any attention to media coverage of the F-35 fighter program, then you know the Pentagon’s biggest weapons program is “troubled” (to use the favored adjective of reporters).  Flight tests are lagging, costs are skyrocketing, and overseas partners are beginning to get cold feet.  So the Joint Strike Fighter, as it used to be called, is looking like another black eye for the Pentagon’s fouled up acquisition system, right?

Wrong, as he notes.  He also notes why you continue to hear this factually incorrect litany repeated again and again:

For instance, Pentagon officials recently disclosed that the cost of building and operating the F-35 had risen to $1.5 trillion — without mentioning that a third of that total is unprovable estimates of future inflation and two-thirds of supposed increases from the program baseline reflect changes in how costs are calculated rather than real increases.  Officials also didn’t mention it would cost two or three times more to stick with the current fleet of fighters, given the cost of maintaining aging aircraft.  Most news accounts just cited the trillion-dollar price-tag, preferring to stick with the “troubled program” theme.  Easy to write, no thinking required.

Easy stories to write and, in the era of defense budget cuts, one which supports the popular premise that this program is a dog and thus ripe for cutting.

But it isn’t a dog.  It is progressing rapidly and well, much to the chagrin of the critics (the same core of critics who once called for the scrapping of the F-15 as “too costly and complex”, called the M-1 tank “a loser” while touting the M-60 as all the MBT we needed and claim legacy aircraft are the answer to our future national security.)

Thompson, as you see above, gives the “trillion dollar” cost some context.  Context you’ll never see in most articles that mention the trillion dollars.

He also mentions the flight tests – details that never find their way into the critics articles.  For instance:

By the end of this year, the most common version of the plane — the one that will be used by the Air Force and exported to most foreign customers — will be 45 percent of the way through all its flight tests.

That’s very impressive.  Yet virtually unknown to this point.

Most likely you’ve heard all the “concern” about the software.  Again, a mostly unknown fact that disputes the concerns:

Another concern has been delays in software; however, as of today 95 percent of the plane’s airborne software is either being used in flight tests or being tested in labs.  No show-stoppers in sight, either in the hardware or in the software.

Thompson also hits the cost “problem”.  Hint, rising costs aren’t the fault of the contractor and could be easily remedied:

The factor that usually trips up new weapons programs is cost, because while nobody in Congress understands how to measure the stealthiness of an F-35, everybody thinks they understand a price-tag.  Pentagon leaders have thoroughly confused this issue by making it sound like the cost of F-35 is going up while actually taking huge amounts of money out of the program each year.  In 2011 they cut 122 planes and $10 billion from near-term spending plans for the program; in 2012 they cut another 124 planes and $9 billion; and now in 2013 they have proposed cutting 179 planes and $15 billion.  Cutting the rate at which F-35s are produced definitely increases the cost of each plane, but during the Obama years the program has become more of a piggy bank than a money pit for Pentagon planners.

He goes on to point out that even with these continual cuts by Congress, by the 10th production lot, the aircraft’s unit flyaway cost will be comparable with that of an F/A 18 or F-16.

Another canard is that foreign partners are souring on the F-35.  Yet it appears precisely the opposite is true:

Norway’s defense minister stated in March, “We remain confident that the F-35 represents the best capability for the best value possible.”  Australia’s air force chief said last week that the 100 F-35s his nation needs are “still affordable” within a budget range established in 2003.  The United Kingdom has shifted the variant it plans to buy while remaining dedicated to the program.  Even Italy, the country which faces the direst financial circumstances among the original partners, has said that while it will trim its purchases of the plane, it still intends to build them indigenously for its military.

Meanwhile, Israel, Japan and Singapore have all indicated an interest in purchasing the F-35, while Asian observers say South Korea may soon become its newest customer.

Israel is negotiating a second squadron in fact.  What does Israel, a country that always does its homework before it commits to a weapon system, know about the F-35 that the critics seemingly don’t know?

That the F-35 is developing into the game-changer it was touted to be.

Not that you’d ever be able to convince the critics.  But then, the Pentagon could do a little better job of making all of this clear too, couldn’t it?

Update: No surprise, critics don’t agree with Thompson and attempt to refute what he says by casting aspersions instead of facts.


Friday, June 8, 2012

If the F-35 is so bad, why does Israel want a second squadron

Well obviously that’s because the F-35 isn’t at all as bad as the critics would like you to believe.

Most people who know anything about Israel know that the Israeli Defense Forces are very astute when it comes to their military equipment.  The reality is that the entire future existence of their country might hinge on what they fly in the coming years.

The Israelis understand that economics mean a shrinking force structure in the future and so it is important they find the most capable weapons system available. 

"The shrinking force structure problem points us toward fewer, but more sophisticated, platforms," former air force commander and chief of the defense staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz observed recently. "The F-35 fits this trend exactly."

Originally the plan was for a single squadron of F-35s in Israel, but it has now increased to two squadrons:

Israel ultimately wants to acquire 75 F-35s, to replace Lockheed Martin's F-16I and Boeing's F-15I to form the spearhead of its strategic air power, particularly in terms of long-range strikes against Iran.

Israel has obviously concluded that while it’s 4th generation fighters are still viable for right now, even with future upgrades, they don’t provide the air power necessary for Israel’s future national security.

Of course delays here in the US could obviously impact the Israelis.  But, confident in their new purchase, they are moving ahead with the hope their order will be expedited:

"According to initial plans, the (air force) would place the order for the second squadron in late 2012-early 2013 and begin receiving the planes in 2020," The Jerusalem Post reported.

"It is possible, however, that the United States would attach the new squadron to the one ordered in 2010 and expedite the delivery if the order is placed soon."

Their pilots would begin training in 2016.

Critics constantly claim the F-35 is a “flying elephant”, or “too costly” or “too complex” and should be “scrapped”.

Yet here we have a nation which has a track record of ensuring they have the best available equipment in their inventory and they’re seeking more F-35s than they originally desired.

You decide which side has more credibility.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

How well is F-35 testing going?

Time for an update as to progress in F-35 testing.

All numbers and events are as of May 31st.

Monthly flight and Test Point actuals again exceeded plan.


Year To Date cumulative flight and Test Point (TP) actuals again remained ahead of plan.  Of the 3737 actual TPs, 3146 are baseline points against a baseline plan of 2818 and 591 are added points.


So how does that break out per each aircraft type?  And what are the percentages over requirement (FS = Flight Sciences  and MS = Mission Systems): 


May major program achievements:

· MAXIMUM FLIGHTS and HOURS:  Highest number of F-35 flights in one day, 11, achieved three times this month:  May 10 (9 SDD + 2 LRIP), May 17 (7 SDD + 4 LRIP) and May 22 (5 SDD + 6 LRIP). AF-7 flew for a total of 35.6 hours (14 flights, 176 TPs) in May, setting a new individual record for the most flight hours in one month.

· PROGRAM TO DATE FLIGHTS:  BF-1 200 flights (Thurs 10 May).  BF-3 200 flights (Thurs 3 May). CF-2 100 flights (Fri 11 May).  STOVL variant 750 flights (Thurs 31 May).  CV variant 300 flights (Tues 29 May).  The SDD fleet (including AA-1) 2000 flights (Thurs 31 May).

· PROGRAM TO DATE FLIGHT HOURS:  AF-7 200 flight hours (Fri 11 May).  BF-1 200 flight hours (Fri 18 May).  BF-3 300 flight hours (Mon 7 May).  The SDD fleet (excluding AA-1) 3000 flight hours (Mon 7 May).

· PROGRAM “FIRSTS”: AF-6 flies at the highest altitude for a Mission Systems jet, 39Kft, Thurs 10 May.  CATB demonstrated Electronic Attack (EA) Against Eglin Range Emitters with Block 2AS2.5 Software, Thurs 17 May.  

CATB achieved integrated MADL communications with the OASIS lab, Tues 22 May.  CF-3 performed a total of 18 successful roll-in arrestments [MK-7 (6 with risers and 4 with no risers) and E-28 (8 arrestments)] at Lakehurst from 80 to 100 knots ground speed.  AF-7 (LRIP1), first production F-35 to fly supersonic for over 2 minutes at EDW, Tues 15 May.

LRIP jets:

49 total flights (19 at FTW, 30 at Eglin).  Three production deliveries to Eglin (BF-9, BF-10, BF-11).  Three first flights (AF-16, AF-17, AF-18).  Program to date, LRIP achieved 200 flight hours, Wed 9 May (at month end, approximately 250 hours).


For the Mission Systems software, 8.1M of 9.3M Software Source Lines of Code (87%) flying today. Conducting Radar, Electronic Warfare, Electro Optical sensor employment. 95% of airborne software now operating in flight and ground labs

Signature testing on open air test range has been conducted on F-35A and F-35C with results meeting all Key Performance Parameters.

And that’s your May update on F-35 testing progress.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

First non-test pilot trained on F-35 compares it to the F-16

Recently, the first non-test pilot was certified on the F-35A.

USAF Lt Col Lee Kloos, commander of the 58th Fighter Squadron, is the first non-test pilot to start his transition over to the stealthy fifth-generation machine. Kloos, a former 2000 hour F-16 pilot and Weapons School graduate, has already completed four out of six cadre checkout flights needed to qualify him to fly the F-35A.

Kloos has now finished all six qualification flights and is the first of a cadre of flight instructors who will help other pilots transition into F-35.

Kloos had some interesting things to say about the characteristics of the F-35 in comparison to the F-16:

The veteran F-16 operational tester and Weapons School grad shared some of his impressions the F-35. The jet is powerful, stable and easy to fly.

"One of the things this aircraft usually takes hit on is the handling because it's not an F-22," Kloos says. "An F-22 is unique in its ability to maneuver and we'll never be that."

But compared to other aircraft, a combat-configured F-35 probably edges out other existing designs carrying a similar load-out. "When I'm downrange in Badguyland that's the configuration I need to have confidence in maneuvering, and that's where I think the F-35 starts to edge out an aircraft like the F-16," Kloos says.

A combat-configured F-16 is encumbered with weapons, external fuel tanks, and electronic countermeasures pods that sap the jet's performance. "You put all that on, I'll take the F-35 as far as handling characteristic and performance, that's not to mention the tactical capabilities and advancements in stealth," he says. "It's of course way beyond what the F-16 has currently."

The F-35's acceleration is "very comparable" to a Block 50 F-16. "Again, if you cleaned off an F-16 and wanted to turn and maintain Gs and [turn] rates, then I think a clean F-16 would certainly outperform a loaded F-35," Kloos says. "But if you compared them at combat loadings, the F-35 I think would probably outperform it."

And, of course, it is with combat loading where the comparison should be made, since that’s the configuration that will go into “badguyland”, as Lt.Col Kloos calls it.  It sort of puts a dagger in the heart of the argument critics like to use about the F-16s maneuverability and performance advantage.  It’s coming from someone who knows the F-16 pretty intimately with over 2000 hours in the aircraft.

Before the critics try to twist that argument, Kloos adds a little ground truth to the debate:

The F-16, Kloos says, is a very capable aircraft in a within visual range engagement--especially in the lightly loaded air-to-air configuration used during training sorties at home station. "It's really good at performing in that kind of configuration," Kloos says. "But that's not a configuration that I've ever--I've been in a lot of different deployments--and those are the configurations I've never been in with weapons onboard."

So that’s certainly not the configuration by which the two aircraft should be compared. It is an apples to oranges comparison.  Instead, it is a much better comparison with the usual configurations Kloos and other F-16 pilots used in combat.  And in that configuration, per Kloos, the F-35 outperforms the F-16.

And that’s without even mentioning the stealth component.


Monday, June 4, 2012

F-35A surpasses sortie goal

The F-35 A recently reached and surpassed its sortie goal (Inside the Air force – subscription required):

Col. Andrew Toth, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, told ITAF that last week, the wing conducted a successful "surge" in an attempt to carry out as many F-35A flights as it would need to launch during the OUE. Toth said the evaluation requires at least eight flights per week to complete the analysis in its scheduled 65-day window. Between May 21 and May 24, his command scheduled 12 CTOL flights with the intention of getting eight off the ground, and in the end, 11 of the 12 went off as planned, well above the required rate. The one remaining flight was aborted on the ground on May 21.

"Last week was a really big week for us in the fact that we conducted what we call our surge week in preparation for our operational utility evaluation, which will hopefully come up here later in the summer," he said. "With that, we were attempting to get eight of 12 F-35A sorties airborne and in fact we got 11 of 12, so we exceeded our goal in the F-35A."

Toth added in an email provided by Eglin AFB spokeswoman Maj. Karen Roganov that on two of those days, the wing conducted what it calls a "2-turn-2," meaning that two F-35As flew in the morning, went through necessary maintenance and then flew again later in the day. Being able to turn aircraft around and have them ready to fly again in that short time is a sign of aircraft maturity and maintainer experience, program personnel said.

The goal was 8.  The squadron was able to turn 11 of 12, easily surpassing the goal.

Many critics were skeptical the F-35A could turn that many sorties, mostly because of the assumed maintenance problems that would keep them from such performance.  But it appears the maintenance was minimal in the case of this test:

Asked what aspects of the F-35A have required frequent maintenance, Burkhart said program personnel have not had to deal with any in-depth problems. Instead, he mentioned "normal" procedures like changing tires, relieving wear on aircraft brakes and touching up the low-observable materials on the fighter jet's wings as the simple types of repairs needed to keep the wing's sortie-generation rate high.

Good news as the F-35 continues to develop and prove itself in testing.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Experts trying to invent problems for the F-35?

The well known problems with the oxygen system in the F-22 have been in the news for some time. 

But the F-35 has had no reported oxygen system problems. That hasn’t stopped the critics of the program from trying to invent one, or at least imply that there are likely problems with the F-35’s oxygen system.

An example:

Given the recent allegations by F-22 Raptor pilots that the aircraft has potentially deadly oxygen-system problems, it’s not surprising that questions are also being raised about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—which has strikingly similar design elements. Lockheed Martin, which makes both aircrafts, has recently said that “the F-35 and F-22 have common aircraft oxygen system suppliers, but the systems are very different.”

But a ‘concerned’ POGO commenter asked us if there’s any chance the F-35 could have the same oxygen problems, anyways. Not content to simply parrot Lockheed’s answer, we decided to pose the question to two defense experts: Winslow Wheeler, the director of POGO's Straus Military Reform Project and Pierre Sprey, who co-designed the F-16 and A-10 jets.

The two “defense experts”?  Both outspoken critics of the F-35 program (no attempt to balance this by bringing in an opinion from an “expert” who is for the program).  And of course, the fact that there hasn’t been a single incident with the F-35’s oxygen system seems to be of absolutely of no concern to them.  Since the systems are by the same manufacturer the assumption is it must have problems even if Lockheed Martin makes the point that there have been no problems to be found in the F-35 system to date.  Obviously believing the manufacturer is “parroting” them – a nice way of saying they don’t believe a word they say.

Amusingly, the two “experts” use their opportunity to wander off into a condemnation of the toxicity of the stealth coatings and groundless assumptions about how the manufacturer and the Air Force might handle any potential oxygen system problem in the F-35.

Or said more succinctly – a whole lot of nothing.

All variations of the F-35 have flown over 40,000 feet (the F-35B at 49,000, the F-35C at 45,000).  The jet is routinely flown over 10,000, the point where oxygen is required in a non-pressurized cabin.

Not a hint of a problem.

Lockheed Martin has been pretty clear about this:

"They are different systems," Lockheed spokesman Michael Rein says. "The F-35 and F-22 have common aircraft oxygen system suppliers but the systems are very different...The two systems each utilize a similar approach and architecture, but they are packaged and implemented differently.

"The F-35 program continuously monitors issues present in other aircraft assessing applicability to our current design," Rein says. "The program has leveraged the lessons learned from F-22 development to enhance the F-35 across all subsystems, including the Onboard Oxygen Generating System."

It is one thing to confront a real problem.  It is another to try to invent one.  Given the rambling, unfocused answers the “experts” gave to the "possible oxygen system problem” in the F-35, they’re trying very hard to invent one in this case.