Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Does Syria make the case for why we need the F-35?

That's the argument Loren Thompson makes in Forbes.  Thompson, of the Lexington Institute, points out that Syria is likely more typical of those sorts of military situations we'll face in the future than is Afghanistan or Iraq.  Syria's airforce isn't so much of a concern as is it's soon to be top of the (export) line integrated air defense system based on the Russian S-300 air defense system.  This is a system Russian does indeed export to various states like Syria and they are a cause for concern when talking about penetrating them and taking them out.  Why? There are multiple reasons:
It would also be hard to use unmanned aircraft or cruise missiles to take out the system, because it has been designed to track and target them even if they are flying close to the ground. Because the S-300 is highly mobile and only takes five minutes to set up, it would probably have to be taken out by manned aircraft receiving continuous target updates while conducting search-and-destroy missions. But such planes would have to be highly survivable, because the S-300 can track up to 100 targets at the same time from a hundred miles away, simultaneously targeting a dozen.
However, in order to impose air superiority, air dominance or even a no-fly zone, those type systems need to be neutralized.  Thompson goes on to explain that existing airframes within the 4th generation of fighters simply are no longer up to the job - at least not without prohibitive loss.
Which brings me to the subject of fifth-generation fighters. Over the years, U.S. fighters have gradually evolved to assimilate new technologies like smart bombs and digital flight controls that would keep them useful and survivable in a world of diverse threats. The latest, fifth generation is defined by advanced stealth features that make the aircraft very hard to detect; high maneuverability enabled by new propulsion technology and materials; fusion of on-board sensor collections; and high-capacity datalinks facilitating comprehensive situational awareness.

What these features mean when flying into hostile airspace is that friendly pilots can see the enemy, but the enemy can’t see them. The radar returns and other “signatures” such as heat and radio signals emitted by fifth-generation fighters are so faint that they typically can target defenders before their presence has even been detected. When you combine advanced stealth with the accuracy provided by precision-guided munitions and awareness afforded by fused sensors and secure datalinks, you have a prescription for suppressing enemy air defenses within days.
The key, of course, is who is able to detect who first.  The chances of that with 4th generation aircraft, who are anything but stealthy (regardless of how many "stealthy" components have been added) compared to the F-35.  As Thompson points out and many critics seem unable to comprehend, stealth - or low observability - has to be designed in from the beginning.  There's really no such thing is "add on" stealth.  It has to be an integral part of the initial aircraft design.  Otherwise you're fooling yourself if you think any 4th generation fighter has the low observable capabilities of the F-35 or can be "upgraded" to that point.

Then you add all of the other advanced capabilities on top of that and it should become clear as to which fighter has the best chance of successfully executing a SEAD mission in the near future and surviving it.  It certainly won't be found in the 4th generation of jets.


1 comment:

  1. All you need are advanced decoys to fool the russian or chinese air defences, After they lunch their missiles you can even jam their radras with more advanced new jammers of the Growlers.