Friday, May 24, 2013

F-35: An evolutionary fighter jet

Great article on the F-35 that begins with this bit of truth:
It is difficult to discuss the F-35 without actually knowing what the aircraft is and how F-35 fleets will reshape combat. But this is precisely what the budding negative commentary on the F-35 is built on – a lack of knowledge.
Having watched this "debate" for a while, I can only say, "amen, brother".  We've all seen commentary that is founded in a distinct lack of knowledge about the aircraft.  Or as I liken it, "4th generation criticism in a 5th generation world".

Dr. Robbin F. Laird is one of the people who "gets it".  I've called the F-35 an "evolutionary" aircraft, and he does as well.  It is all about what it can do above and beyond the limits of 4th generation critique.  And it is what it can do beyond that which makes the 4th generation criticism so uninformed.

Laird points out the following:
I have had the opportunity over the years to interview many F-22 and F-35 pilots, maintainers and builders as well as the subsystem suppliers of the F-35. Much of the capability of the aircraft, including its multiple integrated combat systems are evolutionary steps forward, and low risk systems, such as the active electronically scanned array (AESA) built by Northrop Grumman for the F-35.

What is radically new about the F-35 is the fusion of data in the cockpit and the shaping of a new decision making capability within the aircraft and the fleet. The aircraft permits situational decision-making, not just situational awareness. It is a C5ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) aircraft, which allows the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) alone to replace three aircraft, including an Electronic Warfare Aircraft with the F-35B. This is also why Singapore has referred to the F-35B as a “cost effective” aircraft.

But understanding the real value of the F-35 one must consider its operation as a fleet, not simply as an individual aircraft. The F-22 was built as an aircraft, which flies in 2, and 4 ship formations, but unlike the F-15, the “wingman” is miles away and not anywhere to be found in visual range. As one pilot put it to me: “When we take off together that is the last time we see each other until we land.”

The F-35 also has the capability to operate miles away from one another, but with a major difference. The individual airplanes are interconnected, operate in 360-degree operational space, and the machines pass the data throughout the network. Each individual plane can see around itself for significant distances in 360 degree space, which has already underscored the need for a new generation of weapons, for existing systems such as Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) operate in half or less of the space which each F-35 can see beyond itself.

 It is the interconnected C5ISR delivered by the fleet, coupled with the ability to work with the off-boarding of weapons, which shapes a new way forward. Target acquisition does not have to be limited to weapons carried on board. This means that classic distinctions between tactical fighters doing close air support, air superiority missions or air defense missions become blurred. The fleet as a whole identifies targets for the various mission sets and can guide weapons from any of its elements to a diversity of targets. The reach of the fleet is the key to the operation of the fleet, not the range of individual aircraft.
These are the parts of the equation and their implication that the 4th generation critics never seem to be able to grasp.  The F-35 works differently and will be deployed and used differently than any other fighter aircraft we've ever had.  And it will have an inherent flexibility to "shape combat capabilities the next decade out" per Laird.  It will also help our side shape the future battlefield, especially in the Pacific where we are now focused.

So as the naysayers wail (see comments to Laird's post - the same old uninformed nonsense), the most evolutionary fighter jet in our nation's history continues to take shape.  Thank goodness for those among our military leadership who, like Laird, also "get it."



  1. And what?
    That have have already Gripen done from start and can F-35 show what ground radar see?

    1. ????

      The Gripen C/D is flying and not the E/F (aka Gripen NG). I'm not sure what you mean by "done from start".

      As far as what the "ground radar see", do you mean SAR images?