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The Arrow Shall Rise Again!

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Now this is an interesting piece:

What if there was an aircraft that was significantly faster, flew higher and cost half as much in today’s dollars as the F-35? And would the fact it was built and flew in 1958-’59 here in Canada not raise some suspicions regarding the exorbitant price of the proposed F-35 replacement for the CF-18 fleet?

Yes, I’m referring to the tested C-105 Mk 1 Avro Arrow and the designed Mk 2 version that were 50 years plus ahead of their time in 1959 (note to reader — this is not a satirical piece) and the victims of U.S. political pressure on the prime minister of the day who was convinced that U.S. anti-air missiles would be a better solution to North American air defence. Not revealed at the time was the fact that the U.S. did not want the world’s most advance armed interceptor made in Canada cruising around at the same altitudes as the U.S.’s unarmed U-2 spy plane. Result? The Arrows were cut to pieces and consigned to the garbage heap. All documentation, plans, test results, flight records etc. were destroyed — or so most thought.

What if the original Arrow design was upgraded, taking advantage of 21st-century materials and technology? What if the result was an Mk 3 Arrow flying 20,000 feet higher than the F-35 and seeing it disappear in the rear view mirror as the new Arrow hits twice, yes, twice the speed — Mach 3.5 as opposed to the pedestrian F-35 at Mach 1.67? The F-35 is surprisingly incapable of supercruise, that being the capability to fly supersonic speed with a full weapons load without afterburners, thereby dramatically reducing the aircraft’s range, already some 800 kilometres less than the proposed Mk 3 Arrow and over 3,000 kilometres less than the proposed Mk 4 version. Considering the size of our second-largest country in the world, not a bad advantage.

CF-105 Arrow. Canada Department of National Defence; Wikipedia

For those who haven’t the faintest notion of what a CF-105 Arrow is supposed to be, it was an ultra-fast, high altitude interceptor intended to become the mainstay of the Royal Canadian Air Force (when such a thing still existed) in the early 1960s.  The project was cancelled because it resulted in an aircraft that was fast and capable of high altitude, but that was expensive and not particularly maneuverable.  For a country like the Soviet Union, an interceptor with these characteristics made sense because of extant US plans to attack the USSR with high altitude supersonic bombers (the B-58 Hustler and the B-70 Valkyrie, itself cancelled), thus the Tu-28, MiG-25, and MiG-31.  The Soviets preferred ICBMs to bombers, and the bombers that they did build were mostly intended to launch cruise missiles from stand-off rangers.  Surface-to-air missiles were cheaper, so the CF-105 slipped down the memory hole.

I do recall reading a thread not long ago musing whether it would have made sense to give up on fighter frame development after the F-4 Phantom II, and instead concentrate on improving components.  The consensus was “no,”; the F-15, F-16, and to a lesser extent the F-18 represented dramatic improvements on the F-4 that made them much better platforms for long-term service. This was in part because the design of the latter fighter was informed by the work of John Boyd and the Fighter Mafia, resulting in basic airframes that could support and withstand a wide variety of improvements while maintaining much better performance than the F-4.

I’m going to take the “this is not a satirical piece” seriously, even though it’s satirical in effect if not intent. The Arrow can’t do much well beyond high speed, high altitude interception, and Canada doesn’t need a high altitude, high speed interceptor because nobody is attempting to violate Canadian airspace with supersonic, high altitude strategic bombers.  Canada could very probably do without the F-35.  Part of the appeal of the F-35 is the belief that the anti-aircraft environment of the future may not be as permissive for modern, NATO-esque air forces as it has been for the last fifteen years.  Even if that’s true, Canada is extraordinarily unlikely to engage in a major air campaign on its own, and aircraft which are considerably less expensive than the F-35 can still contribute to coalition operations.  I might advise the F-15 Silent Eagle, but then it’s very difficult for me to think like a Canadian.

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