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F-22 Agonistas

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Earlier this year Stephen Trimble stopped by the Patterson School and gave an excellent talk on the F-22 and F-35.  He spoke quite a bit about this:

The F-35 reportedly has similar issues, although it’s still in the test flight phase and has some characteristics that may make it easier to find and resolve the issue. Nevertheless, there might well be something to the idea floating around the Navy to simply skip the F-35, buy more Super Hornets, and wait for the next generation of manned fighter. Then again, there might well not be a next generation of manned fighter after the F-35.

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  • fasteddie9318

    Robert, any thoughts on Winston Wheeler’s piece in FP about the F-35? How, according to his reporting, it doesn’t do air-to-air as well as the F-16, doesn’t do bombing runs as well as the F-15E, and doesn’t do close ground support as well as the A-10, but costs orders of magnitude more than any of them?

    Beyond the fact that the defense contractors want it and their money is law in Congress, what’s the rationale for throwing hundreds of billions at planes that look like they’re a step backward in performance and that are, even in the best case scenario, designed to fight a kind of war that isn’t very likely to occur again?

    • As I recall, the F-16 jibe was something of a cheap shot. He said it didn’t turn like an F-16, which while true is probably irrelevant to the modern air defence environment. This isn’t 1972 over Route Pack 6 any more. The rest is accurate, though. One of the few aces the F-35 can play is its ability to weave through threat rings that might deter older aircraft.

      The interesting thing here is the consequences of a cancellation on those nations already building force structures around the aircraft. For example, the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers for which metal has already been cut.

      • Robert Farley

        Lee is right. The F-35 doesn’t do dogfighting and close combat nearly as well as some Gen 4 or 4.5 fighters, but it’s not really designed to; it does much better at fighting and managing combat in a BVR (Beyond Visual Range) environment where pretty much everything is deadly for a traditional F-15 or F-16. The F-22 does both, but the latter not as well as the F-35. One of the groovy things you can do in an F-35 is shoot at somebody behind you without actually illuminating the target, using the datalink with a friendly F-35 that is radiating.

        Wheeler got those bits from some folks in the old Fighter Mafia who think that BVR combat is effectively impossible and that thrust-to-weight et al remains the key feature of your fighter aircraft. This isn’t an insane position to hold, but it’s controversial. The problem is that there’s just not much you can do to improve on the 4 and 4.5 fighters (and the F-22) as long as you have to manage the problem of a human pilot.

        • fasteddie9318

          Alright, I’m admittedly a neophyte about such things, but this sounds reasonable. The F-35 doesn’t dogfight as well as the F-16 because in essence its capabilities render dogfighting irrelevant. But what about its other planned uses, which (in my again neophyte opinion) are more important for the kinds of conflicts we’re likely to find ourselves in? Why are we scrapping the A-10, for example, in favor of a much more expensive aircraft that doesn’t perform the mission as well?

          • Robert Farley

            F-35 isn’t as good as an A-10 for close air support, but it can do as well as the F-15 or F-16 with less risk of being shot down. The Air Force argues that the nature of CAS is changing, with drones taking a much bigger role and eliminating the need for a low, slow, tough plane like the A-10. If you wanted to kill lots of tanks would be different, but not many people care about that any more.

            And so that’s what the Air Force says. The Army and the Marine Corps are both pretty skeptical, and tend to prefer the idea of the A-10 or similar aircraft, but not enough (in the former case) to fight very hard for one. And the USMC loves the F-35B.

            • fasteddie9318

              Thanks for taking time to educate me on this. I was really discouraged after I ready that Wheeler piece.

            • Daveinjax

              I wouldn’t bet the farm on drones. There isn’t a connected computer that can’t be hacked, see Iran bringing one of our drones down. We will need manned aircraft for the foreseeable future.

          • Daveinjax

            The A-10 is being retired in favor of drones. This is fine against a primitive enemy but I worry about using them against an advanced power. If the control link is compromised we could be in real trouble without manned aircraft.

        • bph

          To be fair to the lightweight fighter mafia, BVR kills are very rare. The stats for Iraq War Part 1: Bush the Elder are something like 20 missiles for a kill.

          Maybe the new systems will work, but I am skeptical of most tests done by contractors.

          • Robert Farley

            I think the big issue is political rather than technical. I suspect that in any kind of field test the BVR capabilities are going to work really well, and even in some notional war against Chinese Gen 4 fighters you’d see an insane kill ratio.

            But the issue is with pilots actually firing on targets that they can’t see, with the concern that the targets might be something other than what the computer tells them, like a friendly or a 747. This’ll be especially a problem when the Chinese are able to spoof such that they can make their fighters look like 747s or make 747s appear out of nowhere.

            • Lurker

              One of the things that must be taken into account when fighting against a modern, large airforce in enemy airspace is that the enemy aircraft may be actually hidden. They may literally sprout up from nowhere, within the visual range, if the enemy aircraft are located in small field bases instead of a few major bases. Especially, the Russian-origin-designs are designed to operate from road bases.

              The enemy fighters may be located almost anywhere, even on large parking lots, and you cannot fully guarantee that the satellite reconnaissance identifies all the field bases.

        • The biggest argument in favour of the F-35 is that it should ease the requirements for supporting assets, such as dedicated EW and SEAD platforms. To go into a non-permissive IAD environment requires a lot of backup for older-gen aircraft. Just look at the way the EA-6 fleet burned up its airframe hours over the Balkans and pre-invasion Iraq.

          The lack of agile ACM capability does not worry me. I don’t believe we’ve seen any examples of WVR ACM since the late, ’80s, the rest of the engagements being BVR or non-manoeuvring WVR kills. Low observables definitely gives the F-35 an edge on paper.

          However, range and payload size are definitely problems for the F-35. Readiness rates is something I’m on the fence about. I recall the readiness issues with the teen series fighters were eventually dealt with, though it took a long time and a whole lot of new skills and training to improve readiness levels to those of older types such as the F-4.

      • Daveinjax

        The F-35 is an over priced , under performing example of how not to design an aircraft.I say kill the f-35.Buy some new F-15’s and F/A 18 Superhornets to buy time and start over on the next gen aircraft.

      • Aaaaand… Britain decides to go back to the F-35B in place of the C.

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18008171

    • Robert Farley

      The other argument is that the F-35 sidesteps some of the issues with the SAM vs. bomber competition in a way that the F-15 and F-16 will never be able to do. And the SAM vs. bomber is something that likely will happen again, even if the US has managed to avoid direct attacks on countries with sophisticated air defense systems for a while.

      • fasteddie9318

        Will it sidestep them better than the F-117 did against fairly primitive Yugoslav air defenses? It seems to me that talk about how stealthy an aircraft is only gets you as far as the first time it actually sees combat against actual air defenses.

        • Let’s put the F-117 shootdown in context–it was the result of a fairly carefully planned and executed missile trap. A single loss did not worry me, and can be attributed to exceptional skill and/or good fortune. Multiple losses would have done.

          • Also, from many things I’d read, help from the Chinese, which is why we blew up their embassy, where the help was coming from.

          • Daveinjax

            What the Serbs did was shoot the hole in the background radiation. It was very easy to do and that’s why the F-117 is retired.All the new planes do is minimize radar return.They are not true stealth aircraft and none would survive over a modern air defense network. The F-35 is a gold plated POS. Again the one platform to do everything is being pushed. We learned nothing from McNamara.

  • Heron

    Haven’t they had trouble with the avionics on these getting jammed over heavy cell phone coverage areas, or was that the F-22, or was that just some urban legend?

    • Robert Farley

      I haven’t heard anything about it, but I’d be a bit surprised to find it wasn’t an urban legend.

    • Some Guy

      That makes no logical. Avionics in mil craft are largely identical to those found in commercial craft, which spend plenty of time in high cell usage areas.
      I suppose it’s possible that AESA systems, in general, could be more prone to going wonky in high cell zones, but I wouldn’t think that would be a problem unique to the F-35/22.

      I suspect a UL concoction, mixing the “half-baked military boondoggle” with “your cell phone will crash the plane”.

  • Then again, there might well not be a next generation of manned fighter after the F-35.

    Isn’t it just a little suspicious that these engineers designing crappy planes are doing their crappy designs on computers!? Computers that stand to gain the most if these planes suck!?

    Supporting the F-35 may be the only thing we can do to prevent the extinction of the human race.

    • rea

      It’s going to be hard to compete with our robot masters in air combat, though, given that machines can take accelerations that would turn a human pilot into jelly.

      • Hanspeter

        I for one welcome our new jelly eating overlords.

      • Murc

        You seem strangely obsessed with tubs of jelly.

        • Some Guy

          You seem way to uptight.

      • Daveinjax

        The linked computer control is the fatal flaw. The Iranians ( not the most advanced enemy in the world ) just brought one our best down.Do you think the Chinese and the Russians can’t do the same.I’m sure they a bundle of zero day hacks ready for us.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Any thoughts on the current mess regarding the F-35 in Canada? That’s been dominating the CBC headlines for a while now.

  • Jeffrey Beaumont

    Let us be clear, what is really at stake here, at least for the Navy, is Top Gun 2. The F-18 is ugly and uncharismatic compared to the old F-14 or the new F-35. How can they possibly expect Ridley Scott to work with such garbage?

    • Daveinjax

      Do you know what it takes to make a Superhornet as good as an old F-14…Two tankers and a C-130 full of spare parts ! To borrow a line from Tolkien…And one…ring…plane to doom us all.

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