Tuesday, September 17, 2013

F-35: Vanity Fair trots out the same old tired arguments

There's an extensive article in Vanity Fair that, as usual, has lots of the old news and critical arguments about the F-35, but also as usual, doesn't quite understand what the F-35 is all about.

Sample paragraph:
Take the matter of stealth technology, which helps an airplane elude detection. Charlie explained that while stealth is helpful for deep-strike bombing missions, where planes must remain unobserved while going “downtown” into enemy territory, it doesn’t serve much purpose in a Marine Corps environment. “The Joint Strike Fighter’s forte is stealth,” he said. “If it’s defending Marines in combat and loitering overhead, why do you need stealth? None of the helos have stealth. The Marines’ obligation is not to provide strategic strike. Look at Desert Storm and the invasion of Iraq. Marine aviators did close air support and some battlefield prep as Marines prepared to move in. Not deep strike. Ask the commandant to name the date and time the Marines struck Baghdad in Desert Storm. Sure as hell wasn’t the start of war. Why invest in a stealth aircraft for the Marines?”
No, the F35's "forte" isn't stealth.  I think we've pointed this out any number of times.  It is an advanced capability strike fighter which happens to be stealthy. Very stealthy. And the one operation they don't look at?  Why Libya, of course.  Because with the USS Kearsarge laying offshore, it is quite possible, in a slightly different scenario, that Marine aviation would have flown nothing but SEAD and deep strike missions, at least initially.  As a Marine pilot said:
I would say low observability is a capability set or is an asset to the platform, but the platform as a whole brings a lot by itself. There are situations where low observability will be very important to the mission set that you’re operating in. And then there will be situations where the ISR package or the imaging package that comes with that aircraft, the ability to see things, will be more important; that will change based on the mission set and how you define the mission.
Bingo.  Isn't "Charlie" ("Charlie" a name given to the author's source to keep him anonymous), by fiat, simply limiting the missions that Marine aviation may fly in the future to only a couple?  In a joint environment? That's insular thinking and I don't think that will fly.

If the F-35B's mission was and would only be "defending Marines", he might have an argument that stealth isn't necessary (that assumes, however, that air defenses have been destroyed and we have air superiority or dominance).  But in any number of other very plausible scenarios, it simply doesn't wash.  Stealth has a purpose that is indeed dictated by mission.  What this guy is saying is there is really only one role for Marine aviation in any environment. 


Given that, we're supposed to read all the rest of "Charlie's" guff and nod in agreement?  In essence, as you read this lengthy article, it is just another iteration of the "we need to build cheap, non-stealthy fighters" argument and to heck with keeping a technological edge on our opponents (who, by the way, are working very hard to close that gap - so why don't we help them?).  We even see the usual suspects cited:
Pierre Sprey, who began working in the Pentagon in the 1960s as one of Robert McNamara’s “whiz kids” and spent decades helping design and test two of the airplanes the F-35 is supposed to replace (the A-10 and F-16), contends that, even if designers can deal with latency and jitter, the resolution of the video is “fatally inferior” compared with the human eye when it comes to confronting enemy aircraft.
Pierre Sprey is about as much as "whiz kid" as he was a designer of either jet he continues to contend he helped design.  And anything he has to say about the F-35 simply isn't worth listening too.  But he's apparently sold himself to another critic who doesn't know any better (no real surprise, he listened to "Charlie" didn't he?) and bought his "creds" at face value.  Big mistake.

All this to say that those inclined to not want the F-35 will eat the usual arguments up and those who've looked into the aircraft and "get it" will be shaking their head and wondering how these old tired arguments continue to retain legitimacy in some circles.



  1. In certain corners of the anti F-35 world, this article has critics frothing at the mouth. Vanity Fair did nothing more than serve up the same old lines to the lowest common denominator. Shameful...

  2. Nobody knows what the F-35's "forte" is. The program is twelve years old next month and the plane's combat capability has not been tested. In fact only about 11 percent of its development contract performance specifications have been verified, according to GAO.

    Meanwhile, flight, ground, and lab testing has identified significant technical and structural concerns that, if not addressed, would substantially degrade the F-35’s capabilities and mission effectiveness, and IOC requirements have been scaled back.

  3. The F35 is a low capacity strike fighter with maneuverability characteristics comparable to the F105, the F111 and F15 both outclass the plane in terms of manouverability (range, speed, acceleration, turn rates) and payload deliverability. The F35 is suppose to be a replacement for the F16, yet the F35 is a ground attack plane and the F16 is an A2A plane that has gained significant A2G capacities during its evoloution. According to the recent netherlands contract the F35 Costs over 162M each currently compared to 30M for the korean production varriant of the F16 or about 56M for the GrippenNG package offered to netherlands(with comprehensive support packages and all related equipment provided).

    The F35s stealth doesn't work, not only is it much less stealthy than the F22 but its stealth is only Xband optimized, the new Russian planes are comming out with other low frequency bands to mitigate this, the new russian Air-defence systems have very powerfull, very large low frequency radar systems that will probably easily see these planes. The F35 cant run, turn or climb as well. It only has 2 A2A missiles, competing planes have methods to defeat missiles (down to manouver if needed). It cant even cruise above mach1, and in simulations is slaughtered really badly. The USAF already has doctrine to defeat these air-defence system, it is called SEAD. Why does a bomber with a low A2A payload and manouverability need Xband stealth that only works against some Fighter planes.

    1. Coming to a blog titled 'Why the F-35' with that spiel is a less than well thought out strategy.

    2. I see you have no counter argument.

    3. I don't make it a habit to feed the trolls.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. 7) "its stealth is only Xband optimized"

      The RCS of an aircraft varies based upon the frequency of the radar that is used, but the idea that there is some kind of magic low-frequency radar that can defeat VLO aircraft is a myth. In order to make "stealth" ineffective, one would have to use an extremely low frequency, VHF radar. The problems associated with such a radar system include:

      a) VHF radars are 2D (so you don't get any kind of altitude information)

      b) VHF radars have pitiful resolution. Most VHF radars have resolutions on the order of several kilometers, and OTH radars have resolutions greater than ten kilometers. This means that they will only be able to determine the target's location to within a few kilometers, or more than ten kilometers, respectively. Good luck trying to vector a SAM intercept based on that.

      c) VHF radars experience a lot of clutter. Being able to see VLO aircraft means that a VHF radar will be able to "see" every VLO object in the sky. This includes clouds, terrain features, etc. If you're operating a OTH radar, there's also interference from radio signals. This means that a VHF radar operator will find it difficult to determine whether the radar return he's looking at is an F-35, a cloud, or an AM radio signal from hundreds of miles away. Of course, there are methods to reduce clutter, but VHF radars still have a lot more clutter and interference than higher frequency radars. Also, clutter can mask an aircraft, so that its radar return "blends in" with the radar return of the cloud/terrain feature, and the VHF radar dismisses the aircraft as clutter, even if it is able to differentiate between clutter and aircraft.

    6. A few quick bits of information:

      1) The F-35 is only "challenged" in terms of T/W ratio and wing loading if you assume it will enter a dogfight with a full 18,000 pound fuel load. Any pilot who engages in a dogfight with 100% fuel, especially in an aircraft with as massive a fuel ratio as an F-35, has done something terribly, terribly, wrong.

      2) The F-35 has both A2A and A2G capabilities. It can carry A2A weaponry such as the AIM-9X, AIM-120D, and its autocannon, and can carry A2G weaponry such as JSOWs and JDAMs. It's a *multirole* fighter. That means it's designed to complete a large variety of missions.

      3) Those cost estimates are apples-to-oranges comparisons. One tactic F-35 critics love to use is the false comparison -- they compare the URF of other fighter aircraft against the F-35's total operating cost. In other words, the costs they quote for the F-35 include operations and support, spares, development costs, etc., whereas the costs they quote for other aircraft don't. They also quote the cost of the F-35 during early LRIP runs, when costs are much higher than they will be during full-rate production (to provide an example of how economies of scale work, think of this: how much would a "cheap" car cost if they made at a rate of a dozen per year?).

      4) "It only has 2 A2A missiles"

      The current F-35 can carry four A2A missiles internally, and ten externally. The Block 5 upgrades will increase its internal A2A missile carriage to six.

      5) "It cant even cruise above mach1"


      6) "in simulations is slaughtered really badly"

      Really? Last I checked, the F-35 achieved a 400% increase in A2A combat ability over legacy fighters in USAF simulations. In other simulations, it has achieved a 6:1 loss exchange ratio, even when outnumbered two to one.

      The "simulations" you are most likely talking about are the mythical RAND study and the AirPowerAustralia computer game "study."

      A couple of years ago, it was reported that RAND had conducted a study of the F-35 where the aircraft was defeated. Not only was there no evidence whatsoever to back up such claims (no study of that type was ever released), but RAND made an official statement that the rumors that such a study had been done were false -- they never conducted the study. Of course, because this is the Internet, where anything that anyone says MUST be true, the RAND study rumor is still alive and well.

      The other "study" was conducted by AirPowerAustralia, and basically consisted of... a computer game. Kopp decided to plug incorrect numbers (GIGO) into what is basically a computer game for aircraft enthusiasts, and called it a "study."

  4. Its worth noting, Rand went out of their way to distance themselves from that 'study. Rand released a public announcement discrediting the supposed analysis carried out by two employees who were in fact policy focused employees. I could go on and on about how TAC Brawler was not used, but that would go over the heads of many critics.

    When you point out the idiocy of their insistence on pointing to that 'study', the peanut gallery loves to plug their ears, while making gurgling noises.