Sunday, December 2, 2012

F-35: About those loss/exchage ratios

About all those claims that 4th generation and the Chinese and Russian 5th generation fighters will be able to shoot down F-35s, let's get serious for a minute and look at the probable reality of future air combat.  Will it be a dogfight or will aircraft be fighting at a distance (in many cases, Beyond Visual Range - BVR).  If it is at a distance, the F-35 should hold a decided advantage:
Because it was designed to maneuver to the edge of its envelope with a full internal combat load, the F-35 will be able to run rings around most other fighters, but it probably won’t have to—and probably shouldn’t.

"If you value a loss/exchange ratio of better than one-to-one, you need to stay away from each other," said O’Bryan, meaning that the fighter pilot who hopes to survive needs to keep his distance from the enemy.

He noted that, in a close-turning dogfight with modern missiles, even a 1960s-era fighter such as the F-4 can get into a "mutual kill scenario" at close range with a fourth generation fighter. That’s why the F-35 was provided with the ability to fuse sensor information from many sources, triangulating with other F-35s to locate, identify, and fire on enemy aircraft before they are able to shoot back.
The F-35’s systems will even allow it to shoot at a target "almost when that airplane is behind you," thanks to its 360-degree sensors.

According to O’Bryan, the F-35 also can interrogate a target to its rear, an ability possessed by no other fighter. 
The key here is using the capabilities of the F-35 via its fused sensor information and ability to talk with other F-35s to take out the enemy.  And that leads to the next key for success - getting the first look.  That leads to the first shot and the first kill.  The vast majority of successful air-to-air confrontations go to the fighter pilot who locks on first and fires.   As O'Bryan points out, that loss/exchange rate goes down the closer you get, because the "mutual kill scenario" goes up.

So the F-35 is designed to have a small radar signature that is very difficult to pick up while having the ability (in conjunction with other F-35) of identifying targets first and having a missile on the way before the other guy is able to lock on (or in some cases, even knows the F-35s are in the area).

To empahized LM VP Stephan O'Bryan's other point, something you'll see critics ignore or pretend isn't true, a clean F-35 is going to outperform a 4th generation aircraft with all of its fuel and ordnance carried externally.  It isn't a matter of wishing and hoping, it's a matter of physics.

However, the preferable use of the F-35 is definitely at an extended range in order to maximize its advantages and to maximize the loss/exchange ratio in favor of US forces.


1 comment:

  1. Per the Australian committee testimony that happened early this year (2012):

    Starting at the top of page 5(9)

    ACTING CHAIR: It was in February 2009. What I am asking is: was that the understanding at the time in terms of the analysis that Lockheed Martin conducted?

    Mr Burbage: We do a lot of analysis at Lockheed Martin. We use validated and accepted air force detailed campaign-level tools. We also put loop in simulations and high-fidelity cockpit type simulations. I do not know where that data came from—Gary may have a better feel for it—but that is not what the current assessment shows. Again, you are pulling information from before we had the full definition of what this airplane can do.

    Mr ADAMS: These guys need to know where we are getting this—

    ACTING CHAIR: I told them Aviation Week and Space Technology.

    Mr ADAMS: Okay—sorry.

    Mr Liberson: Our current assessment that we speak of is: greater than six to one relative loss exchange ratio against in four versus eight engagement scenarios—four blue at 35s versus eight advanced red threats in the 2015 to 2020 time frame.

    ACTING CHAIR: What are those advanced threats?

    Mr Liberson: I cannot get into the specifics of those advanced threats. They are classified.

    ACTING CHAIR: This says Su27. My concern with that is that Su27 is an old aeroplane. You could be analysing it against camels. How are we supposed to take this when you are saying, 'We're not going to tell you what threats we're analysing'?

    Air Cdre Bentley: Doctor, I think I have already answered that. We have provided that analysis to all the participating nations and to all their officials. They have all of the details of those threats and all of the details of those analyses. Each of those nations, each of those experts in those nations, have taken that analysis and have done analysis of their own and have come up with an agreed position, that the F35 is the best aeroplane for them.