Monday, August 19, 2013

F-35: Critics still don't realize that F-35 isn't just a newer 4th gen fighter

Sometimes you stumble across something written that is so poorly done that you have to respond on the off chance that someone would actually take it seriously.  That would be the case with a piece done by someone named David Axe at a site entitled "War is Boring" (Axe tells us he "goes to war so we don't have to", when in fact he goes and watches war, so we don't have to.  It's a bit like a baseball fan claiming he goes and plays baseball when his participation is limited to sitting in the stands watching). 

I've mentioned on numerous occasions how thin the gruel is that critics are offering these days.  Well in the case of Mr. Axe, he's managed to redefine "thin".

His bias is apparent from the beginning and it is also apparent, as one reads further into his article, that he, like many critics, has decided that the F-35 is simply a newer version of the F-16 or F/A 18.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  But it is from this false premise that he and other critics base their criticism.  They seemingly have no concept of what the F-35's advanced capabilities bring to the 5th generation or how it will change the concept of the role of future fighters and shape our future strategy.  None.

As a consequence, you get 4th generation thinking that blurts out silliness like this:
Owing to heavy design compromises foisted on the plane mostly by the Marine Corps, the F-35 is an inferior combatant, seriously outclassed by even older Russian and Chinese jets that can fly faster and farther and maneuver better. In a fast-moving aerial battle, the JSF “is a dog … overweight and underpowered,” according to Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight in Washington, D.C.
Face it, when you're reduced to quoting Winslow Wheeler as a major source, you've effectively screwed any credibility you might have had.  Wheeler is a budget guy.  He knows about as much concerning fighter aircraft and design as does Axe.  And if you remember correctly, Wheeler said that we'd not see reductions in the price of the F-35 in future orders.  He was wrong.  If he can't even get it right in the area of his supposed expertise, why in the world would one even bother listening to him when he spouts off about things he knows little to nothing about?

Axe then compounds the crediblity problem by introducing another "source" which he obviously wants you to believe is credible as well:
“The Harrier was based on a complete lie,” said Pierre Sprey, an experienced fighter engineer whose design credits include the nimble F-16 and the tank-killing A-10. “The Marines simply concocted it because they wanted their own unique airplane and wanted to convert amphibious ships into their own private carriers.”
Pierre Sprey has never "designed" any fighter aircraft.  Ever. He was a PA&E guy. He has no credibility whatsoever to those who actually know his background:
While working on the F-X, Boyd met Pierre Sprey, a weapons system analyst on the OASD/SA staff, whose background was similar to [Alain] Enthoven’s but much less distinguished. By his own account, Sprey was a dilettante with an engineering degree but no military experience. After graduation from Yale, Sprey became a research analyst at the Grumman Aircraft Corporation for space and commercial transportation projects. He came to OSD/SA in 1966, where he declared himself an expert on military fighter aircraft, despite his lack of experience. Sprey admitted being a gadfly, a nuisance, and an automatic opponent of any program he was not a part of. 
Or, essentially, ignore whatever the man says.  He has no experience to back his pontifications.  And, as in the case of the M1 tank, of which he was also a critic, his criticisms were essentially unfounded.

So what is it these people and others like them don't seem to get?  This isn't a fighter like any other fighter we've ever built.  It isn't an evolutionary fighter, it's a revolutionary fighter.   And the missing piece that the critics never mention is well defined here:
The principle of operational versatility applies in spades when it comes to the F-35. The F-35 is wrongly thought of as a strike-fighter replacement for the F-16, F/A-18, and AV-8B Harrier II. It is that, but also much more—its advanced sensors, when networked together, will eventually substitute for the Navy and Air Force fleets of very expensive (and very in-demand) surveillance and reconnaissance and command and control aircraft. When used in combination with munitions-carrying drones, small formations of F-35s will be able to conduct large-scale strikes that remain the purview of large, manned bombers.
And much more, like the ability to integrate with the Aegis system:
Of central relevance not only to the program but to global security, Aegis coupled with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will provide unprecedented modular flexibility at sea for U.S. command authority and our allies as they shape responses to inevitable future crises.
Yes, that's right, Aegis.  Axe relies on a limited and outdated RAND simulation in 2008 on which to base his conclusion that the F-35 is a dog.  Of course, the simulation apparently never considered this:
Upcoming tests will support a launch/engage-on-remote concept that links the Aegis ship to remote sensor data, increasing the coverage area and responsiveness. Once this capability is fully developed, SM-3 missiles––no longer constrained by the range of Aegis radar to detect an incoming missile––can be launched sooner and therefore fly farther to defeat the threat.

Imagine this capability linked to an F-35, which can see more than 800 miles throughout a 360-degree approach. U.S. allies are excited about the linkage prospects and the joint evolution of two highly upgradable weapon systems. Combining Aegis with the F-35 means joining their sensors for wide-area coverage. Because of a new generation of weapons on the F-35 and the ability to operate a broad wolfpack of air and sea capabilities, the Joint Strike Fighter can perform as the directing point for combat action. Together, the F-35 and Aegis greatly expand the defense of land and sea bases. 
Name a 4th gen fighter which has these capabilities?  There are none.  Had this capability been mirrored in the 2008 RAND simulation, what would have been the outcome?  Probably much different that the claimed outcome.

When you consider these sorts of capabilities, suddenly "can't climb, can't turn, can't accelerate",  even if true,  seems relatively unimportant, doesn't it?   This isn't a 4th generation fighter operating on its own and it isn't going to be engaging in classic dog fights.  In fact, it will be the fighter, given its capabilities, which will likely get the first shot (or Aegis will) regardless of whether it can climb, turn or accelerate.  And in modern aerial combat, that's usually the decider. 

I'll be looking at a few of Axe's arguments, such that they are, over the next couple of days.  But suffice it to say, the gruel critics are passing out now is even more thin than it has been in the past.



  1. I wonder how long it will be until our resident liar decides to spew his mental refuse all over the comment section of *this* post.

    Somehow, I doubt he'll change his tactics from the time-proven "lie, make illogical arguments, make illogical comparisons, use fanboy logic, post snide comments, post dead You Tube links, and lie some more."

  2. Fair enough, but you already have that capability 24/7 with the Skyhawks or Tritons and the Hornets, Super Hornets and Growlers are already integrated with the Aegis system.

    Maybe that's why Australia is showing the Tritons to complement their 48 Super Hornets/Growlers and 70+ Hornets.

    Here is another dead video I just prepared for you, I hope you enjoy it this time.

    1. Yeah, except for the fact that you seem to have acquired amnesia and completely forgotten about that entire "all aspect VLO" thing.

      Most military leaders recognize the need for all-aspect, full spectrum VLO. It is one feature that is required for future combat. The ability to engage in air to air combat or conduct a ground strike mission without the enemy being able to generate a fire control track is, simply put, a generational leap.

      Maybe that's why the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Turkey, Israel, Singapore, and Japan are all buying a total of over 3,000 F-35s. They realize the importance all aspect VLO brings.

      A Super Hornet or any of the other aircraft you mentioned may be able to link with the Aegis system, but the F-35 can do that AND remain, for all intents and purposes, invisible.

      Of course, the fact that you believe that a country that is buying a surveillance aircraft is, by doing so, reconsidering its purchase of a *fighter* aircraft (or indicating that they believe the fighter's performance is marginal) indicates that your knowledge of military acquisitions leaves much to be desired.

    2. As far as your video is concerned, the only question I have is why you believe that video clips of an aircraft flying prove or disprove anyone's arguments about an aircraft.

      I can create a video of an F-35 flying. Hell, I can piece together over an hour of clips of the F-35 and X-35 flying. I could include shots of the F-35 conducting STOVL operations, flying off an aircraft carrier, conducting maneuvers, firing weapons, and all sorts of other things. Of course, that video would be completely irrelevant to the question of "How capable is the F-35?"

      Likewise, you can create as many fanboy videos of the F/A-18E/F as you want. You can upload cool clips of the plane flying, firing weapons, etc. Of course, anyone with half a brain will recognize that compiling videos of a plane flying has no effect on how capable that aircraft is, nor is it useful for comparing two aircraft. It is eye candy that looks cool. That is all.

      For an example of how dumb your "posting videos" strategy is, let's try this logical exercise:

      Wow! Look at that Sopwith Camel and Spitfire! They look so cool! And the video is of them FLYING! This *proves* that these aircraft are superior, and should be bought over all other aircraft!

      After all, they're cheap, very maneuverable, and easy to manufacture! They don't waste time with any of that "stealth" technology! So, let's buy the Spitfire and Camel, because those are obviously the best aircraft! After all, I have a VIDEO of them flying!

  3. I don't believe my video proves anything, is just the way the USNavy operates today with their long range EO/IR sensors at very high altitude in the Tritons, fusioned with the SH/Growlers/Aegys sensors. The USNavy is asking for more advanced EO/IR sensors for their Super Hornets and Aim-9X with extended range.

    There is not such a thing like invisible airplanes,all you have is Low Observable and Very Low Observable airplanes to high frequency radar systems. that's it. You can even hide your heat emission from your frontal view, but you can't do it if the Tritons or similiar are loocking at you at very high altitude from long distances.

    That's why the USNavy commander mentioned last year that he would prefer to invest in unmanned systems and jammers, with a more aggressive approach to combat rather than invest in passive and expensive stealth technology that it's becoming rapidly ineffective with the advanced sensor fusion and detection technologies.

    1. You've made several errors in your assessment of all-aspect VLO. I'll outline them quickly:

      1) All-aspect VLO aircraft aren't low observable just from high frequency radars. The argument that VLO aircraft can be tracked by C-band radars is based upon the assumption that the aircraft will only use a simple RAM coating, which does fail to absorb low-frequency radar signals. To rectify this problem, VLO aircraft use a multilayer honeycomb structure, which allows them to absorb lower frequency radar signals.

      2) EO/IR sensors aren't as capable as you believe them to be. Typically, an IRST system can only determine ranging information about a target when it is closer than ten kilometers to the sensor -- essentially within visual range. Furthermore, IRST sensors have an extremely small field of view -- they have been described as "looking at the sky through a straw." This is a problem found in all optical sensors: the field of view that can be scanned decreases rapidly as the distance to the target increases. So, if you want to actually find a target at any kind of range, you have to look through a ridiculously small field of view (IRST systems such as the one on the Su-27 typically have a FOV of around seven degrees). So, in summary, with an IRST system, you can't receive ranging information about a target (and thus can't engage the target, and can't even determine where exactly it is) until you get within visual range of the target (<10 km). Even if you were able to get ranging information, IRST systems are virtually useless for long-range searching (they're better for focusing on targets that have been found by another sensor system to provide better targeting information), because finding an aircraft with a sensor that has a seven degree field of view basically depends on the target aircraft flying in a perfectly straight line, right at the aircraft with the IRST sensor, just happening to be in the particular seven degree patch of sky the IRST sensor is searching, and not making any attempt to frustrate the IRST-carrying aircraft's attempts to detect the VLO aircraft by flying out of the seven degree region that is being scanned.

      Somehow, I doubt that situation would represent a standard combat engagement.

      Furthermore, you are making a completely false statement when you suggest that the F-35 does not incorporate IR signature reduction. The F-35 utilizes ceramic engine nozzles, heat sinks, cool air bypass, a buried engine, S-curved inlets (to prevent the heat from the engine from being visible through the front of the aircraft through the intakes), and an IR reduction topcoat.

      The topcoat is a particularly interesting technology. During the 1970s, Lockheed Martin tested an IR signature reducing topcoat on an testbed aircraft, and found that it reduced IR emissions from the skin of the aircraft by 90%.

      In summary, what you've just said is entirely incorrect. VLO aircraft are VLO when viewed by lower-frequency radar, IRST systems are far from useful for actually searching for an aircraft, and the F-35 incorporates significant IR signature reduction.


  5. Thanks for the link to the Fred Reed piece! I had missed that one in my research.

  6. I don't know how long this advantage will last since the Russians and Chinese are developing their own stealth fighters. It may well end up in a dog fight in can't win considering that the Russians and Chinese do have superior vector thrusts. The F35B on the other hand can only use it to float in the air - which could be a possible advantage too if it can maneuver quickly at a stationary position towards the target. We'll see.

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