Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Critic: The F-35B is all that is bad about the F-35 ... or something

I've noted any number of times that most of the criticism that you see anymore is warmed over stuff from 2008.  It's as if the intervening years have never occurred.  What that leaves critics with is trying to find a different approach to "freshen" their criticism and make it at least somewhat more relevant than the chorus the usual naysayers spout.

David Axe attempts to do this by going after the F-35B and the Marine Corps as the real problem with the 5th generation fighter.  If it hadn't been for their insistence that they have a STVOL jet, well, everything might have been okay ... or something.  Per Axe, Guadalcanal was the point at which the Marines realized that they needed the ability to have air support not dependent on the Navy.  So:
The Marines wanted a “jump jet” capable of taking off from these helicopter decks with a short rolling takeoff and returning to land vertically, lighter because of all the fuel it had burned.

Besides launching from amphibious ships, the new planes were touted to fly in support of ground troops from so-called “lilypads” —100 foot concrete patches supposedly quickly installed near the front lines.
The concept became known to engineers as Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing (V/STOL) or Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL). It was subject to extensive, crash-plagued experimentation throughout the early years of the jet age — every STOVL or V/STOL prototype from 1946 to 1966 crashed. “USMC interest in a working V/STOL attack aircraft outstripped the state of aeronautical technology,” Kristy pointed out.
Enter the Harrier or AV8B.  Axe declares it a "disaster":
But the Harrier, so appealing in theory, has been a disaster in practice. Fundamentally, the problem is one of lift. A plane taking off vertically gets no lift from the wings. All the flight forces must come from the downward engine blast. Forcing the motor to do all the work results in three design drawbacks: a big, hot engine with almost no safety margin; an unsafe airframe that must be thinly built with tiny wings in order to keep the plane’s weight less than the down-thrust of the engine; and minimal fuel and weapons load, also to save weight.
So how did the "disaster" perform in combat? Uh, not too badly. In fact, the UK's SeaHarriers (SHAR) were quite impressive:
The Navy’s SHARs went on to score 20 kills (none of which was achieved using the famous trick of stopping the plane midair by pointing the jet nozzles slightly forward inducing a 2g deceleration) to no loss in air-to-air combat. However, two were lost to ground fire (radar guided 30mm AA and a Roland missile) and a further two were lost to accidents during the conflict.

The kill-to-loss ratio does not reflect the skill and braveness of the Argentinean pilots who had to face a truly astonishing fighter, which had remarkable slow flight characteristics, even without the thrust vectoring, and a superior radar.
Of course, in Mr. Axe's world, the Harrier has to be a "disaster" so one can imply the F-35B is a disaster as well.  The implication is that the concept (STVOL) is the problem regardless of the plane.  And Axe then goes on to attack the concept and the strategy that drives it.  Of course, on the strategy front, he chooses to live in 1991 in order to claim his attack on the strategy has relevance:
In the 1991 Gulf War, the front-line concrete lily pads never showed up, so the jump jet had to fly from distant full-size bases or assault ships. With their very limited fuel, they were lucky to be able to put in five or 10 minutes supporting Marines on the ground — and they proved tremendously vulnerable to machine guns and shoulder-fired missiles. 
Again, the Falklands experience or the much more recent Libyan experience are totally ignored for a 100 hour "war".  There's a good reason why the "lillypads" didn't show up - given the Marine Corps mission at the time, they weren't necessary.  As for Libya, there's a reason Axe ignores it. Coming off the deck of the USS Kearsarge, the Harriers did precisely what the strategy called for them to do:
The key point is that the sea base, which in effect is represented by the ARG, can provide a very flexible strike package. Given their proximity to shore, the Harriers could operate with significant sortie rates against enemy forces. Not only could they come and go rapidly, but the information they obtained with their LITENING pods could be delivered to their ship and be processed and used to inform the next strike package. Commanders did not need a long command and control or C4ISR chain to inform combat. This meant that Muammar Qadhafi’s ground forces would not have moved far from the last positions Harriers noted before the new Harriers moved into attack positions.15

This combination of compressed C4ISR and sortie rates created a deadly combination for enemy forces and underscored that using sea bases in a compressed strike package had clear advantages over land-based aircraft still several hours from the fight and dependent on C4ISR coming from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. One more point about the ARG’s operations is that the Osprey and Harrier worked together closely to enhance combat capabilities. One aspect of this was the ability of the Ospreys to bring parts and support elements to the Harriers. Instead of waiting for ships to bring parts, or for much slower legacy rotorcraft to fly them out, the Osprey, traveling at 300 miles per hour, could bring parts from land bases to keep up with the Harrier’s operations tempo.
What this capability does is make a ship like the Kearsarge into capital ship.  And, most importantly it allows a flexibility we badly need.  Add the F-35B's capabilities and it ups the game even more.  For instance:
And when “Aegis becomes my wingman” or “the SSGN [guided missile submarines] becomes the ARG fire support” through the F-35 C4ISR-D systems, a combat and cultural revolution is both possible and necessary. Basing becomes transformed as allied and U.S. capabilities become blended into a scalable presence and engagement capability. Presence is rooted in basing; scalability is inherently doable because of C4ISR enablement, deployed decisionmaking, and honeycomb robustness. 
Quite a generational "value added" to those who actually understand the role of the F-35.  An incredible capability which seems to unknown to Mr. Axe.  He, apparently, would have us forgo this dramatic improvement in flexibility and increased capability for old technology and the status quo.

Not very forward thinking. It's a good thing he watches wars instead of actually participating in them.

More tomorrow.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sorry my comment was supposed to be in the previous post.

  3. Axe seems to be channeling old AvWeek nonsense. I took this meme down when Sweetman offered it 2 years ago: