Wednesday, May 1, 2013

F-35: Obvious answers to critical questions

One of the more persistant criticisms of the F-35 can be found in these arguments:
But low observability comes at a cost in speed, endurance and weapons load. Some critics say the F-35’s performance will lag existing aircraft, and that its range and payload are too small. 
The answer, for those who think about it, should be pretty obvious as well:
But Lockheed counters the F-35 can carry 18,500 pounds of fuel — far more than the CF-18, for example — and Flynn has said publicly it will outperform fourth-generation jets with a combat payload.

 Plus, Scott adds, it’s versatile: When you need stealth, say, to “kick in the door” and take out enemy air defences, the F-35A can carry 2,400 kg of missiles and bombs internally. When you don’t need stealth, that jumps to 8,000 kg — “as good or better” than “legacy” jets or competitors — by adding six hardpoints under the wings, two of which can take 600-gallon drop tanks. 
One of the apples and oranges performance comparisons we're constantly given is that of a slick 4th gen fighter compared to a combat loaded F-35.  Or a non-combat configured fighter vs. a combat configured fighter.  When the 4th generation fighter is combat configured, suddenly those performance numbers change pretty radically and we see the F-35's performance numbers shine in comparison.  When everything that is necessary to go into combat is hanging on the 4th gen fighter's wings, suddenly it isn't as fast or maneuverable as without those assets.  The F-35, when combat configured, remains "slick" with nothing hanging from it's wings.

Additionally, what is usually left out of the argument is what the external loading vs. internal loading does to the radar signature.  For a 4th generation fighter it simply makes the fighter even more visible.  The F-35, however, maintains the same low visibility because of its internal loading.

The point, of course, is it really doesn't matter how much ordnance a 4th gen aircraft can carry if it can't successfully penetrate denied airspace and complete the mission while the F-35 can.    And, as mentioned, if low observability isn't a requirement, if we have air dominance for instance, then the addition of hardpoints to the wings of the F-35 make it able to carry as much if not more ordnance into combat than can a 4th generation fighter.

Points to ponder and remember the next time you hear these same old arguments trotted out as a critique of the F-35.


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