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F-35 - An Eagle or a Turkey?


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#1 GregP

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Posted 04 March 2016 - 02:03 AM

Over in another forum, they have a moderator who is a diehard F-35 fan. Can’t understand why, but he is. Unfortunately, he brooks no criticism of the F-35 and calls “BS” on people who try to put it down. Naturally, I ran afoul of him … it happens.

 

So, for the record, he claims the F-35 will rule all engagements and is hand-down the best fighter ever built. To be fair, it probably IS in beyond visual range (BVR) combat scenarios. I do not object too much to that claim. Since it has yet to be proven, I will only say the ballots aren’t in yet as it has never been in combat.

 

My own stance is as follows:

1.   The F-35 is WAY too expensive. I’d cancel it on that alone.

 

2.   It uses one airframe for all 3 variants. So it is necessarily a compromise in ALL missions because of that.

 

3.   It is too heavy by long shot, probably due to continuous “additions” over the WAY too long, protracted development cycle.

 

4.   The software isn’t even CLOSE to war-ready.

 

5.   It can’t even shoot a gun after some 17 years of development. When and if it ever CAN shoot, the ammunition capacity will be laughably low.

 

6.   It can’t dogfight effectively with current US aircraft when within visual range (WVR). I was shouted down for saying this, but I was around and in the industry when the F-35 was being marketed, and I can CLEARLY recall the claim that after the attack ordnance had been expended, it would be a first-class fighter. It purely isn’t. People who like it today seem to have a convenient amnesia on that one.

 

7.   My main concern is as follows:

      I’m not too concerned about the F-35 in a declared war while in the war zone. But, and it’s a big one … that hasn’t happened to the U.S.A. since WWII.  In a “police action,” the politicians aren’t well known for being smart, and they set the rules of engagement (ROE). I have zero faith the politicians will say, “since the F-35 isn’t a close-in dogfighter, we’ll let it kill intruders from BVR.” Instead, I believe they will require the F-35 in a non-declared war situation to close and identify it as a real “bandit” before authorizing even self-defense, much less engagement from BVR. It was even that way in Viet Nam.

 

8.   So … the F-35, at least in my scenario above, will be required to surrender it’s only real advantage, surprise from all those marvelous avionics and attack electronics. It will have to fly up, confirm the bandit is a bad guy, and engage. All that with exactly 2 air-to-air missiles and a gun that can’t shoot after 17 years, all while being out-turned by older fighters optimized for WVR combat. Add to that it’s legs are shorter than even the “spec” because we are using the fuel as a heat sink, and I see a short-range ambush killer that must lose the advantage of surprise in real-world situations.

 

      If it weren’t so expensive, I might say, “to hell with it,” and just let it go. But we spending BILLIONS for a platform that could win a war, but won’t really be allowed to win while on a patrol. Most of our planes that have engaged in combat for quite a few years now, have engaged while on patrol around places like Libya and the like, or in police type situations. If the F-35 was allowed to patrol the “no fly zones” a few years back and could launch from BVR, it probably would have been wildly successful. If they had been made to close and get a visual ID, I am not so sanguine about it’s chances for survival.

 

The worst claim from the other forum was that we who don’t like the F-35 just don’t understand the new technology and are hopelessly behind the times. Bunk. Once you close to within sight of one another, the fight is on, and no “fire and forget” missile yet has lived up to the hype. In fact, the PK (probability of kill) for all missiles is not really all that good, particularly in difficult weather.

 

Any comments that wander toward discussion are welcome, and I’ll be happy to discuss. If you are wanting to start a fight over it, kindly butt out and refrain from joining. Also, and probably foremost, don’t ask me for sources unless you are willing and able to provide them for your claims, too, every time. The real issue is, the F-35 is new and not yet even cleared for combat, and it’s real-world specs aren’t available for public discussion, as far as I know. If they were and if we discussed them, we’d probably be arrested for leaking classified data. So sources are tough for both sides of the discussion, and we might have to discuss without sources on both sides. The press, especially news media, are generally stupid about combat aircraft, but I wouldn’t, for instance, put Aviation Week & Space Technology in that category.

 

Have at it F-35 fans and foes.


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#2 Ricky

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Posted 04 March 2016 - 11:42 AM

To be honest everything I have read (mostly on forums and the occasional news report) has made me similarly sceptical. The baseline seems to be that so much performance and ordnance has been sacrificed to the twin altars of stealth and feature creap that the (relatively slim) tech advantage it seems to have over the current crop of fighters just isn't worth it.

Even if it can successfully hunt BVR - how much can it achieve with two missiles?

"Uh, we tracked the enemy aircraft, fired both missiles but it evaded them. So we went home to reload."
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#3 GregP

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Posted 04 March 2016 - 05:07 PM

I'm thinking that if they needed to have a dedicated fighter patrol, maybe they could come up with a rack in the internal bomb bay that would hold more air-to-air missiles. After the first missile is fired and seen by the enemy, the fact that you are out there somewhere is out of the bag anyway. Most fighter pilots will take alarm when their wingman disappears in an explosion. At that point, a rapid open, eject, fire and close of the bomb bays would seem to be OK.

 

One concern is that the F-35 seems to perform almost exactly like an F/A-18 with less bomb load, in stealth mode anyway, and the current crop of "the other guys" fighters was designed to kill F-18s. So, once they know you are there, you'd best have done some major damage so you can withdraw with at least SOME offensive capability left. Fleeing from a counterattack in a slower, less-maneuverable, unarmed aircraft would not seem to produce a good chance of survival, and the rear aspect of the F-35 is not anyway near as stealthy as the front aspect, so the enemy could probably find you on radar if you fire and then turn around to withdraw.

 

I'd not be happy to have basically one shot and then have to withdraw with one left in case I got caught and needed to defend. The more I look at it, the less attractive it gets, except for the admittedly great sensors and systems. To me, the airframe seems about 15%  - 20% too small for the weight and the installed thrust was never intended for the current weight, either. Since all variants have an aerodynamic compromise due to the STOVL version requirements, they aren't particularly fast, either.

 

From what I read, the helmet is having major issues. Add to that the fact that a heavy helmet is exactly what the fighter pilot doesn't need in maneuvering flight.

 

This entire project seems to have been developed without input from fighter pilots, though I suspect that cannot have been the real case. But it surely looks like it to the casual observer. I know about 5  former F-16 pilots and none of them would care to go to war in the F-35 as yet. That, of course, does not include a few diehard fans that have worked on the F-35 program. I did, too, at one time (for a manufacturer of the actuators, lift fan thrust bearings, etc.). I do not include myself in the fan category.

 

At least one of the political candidates for the US Presidency is a strong foe of the program. I do not wish a political discussion in here, but if that particular candidate wins, the F-35 program may find itself in some difficulty. I'll just make one comment about that and let it go at that. I'm not too sure the F-35s future is solidly assured, even at this late date. It LOOKS like everything is OK, but looks can be deceiving.

 

Personally, I think the F-35 has a place. But I could like it just fine if we halted production at, say, 250 units and then made a good fighter for the fighter missions and a good ground attack plane for the attack missions. Stopping the F-22 production line now seems like a major stroke of idiocy compared with the price of the F-35 and it's capabilities. With the current warload, the F-35 cannot do what the A-10 can do. But it CAN prosecute pinpoint attacks on high-value targets in a hostile sky. I'm sure it has at LEAST the stealth of the F-117 Nighthawk, and the F-117 had fabulous survivability in a sky full of flying projectiles. The thing to remember is, nobody ever proposed making the F-117 our major warplane. It was a specific-use asset; hit defended, armored target with precision guided munitions. The F-35 can replace the F-117 easily. It's the other missions I have major doubts about.

 

On the other hand, the USAF doesn't have a long track record of deploying bad aircraft. Maybe I'm thinking what I'm thinking because the real capabilities of the F-35 are classified and I just don't know what it can do. There are three possibilities there. 1) The F-35 could be much better than the press reports, perhaps on purpose, 2) the people sponsoring it are being paid off by the enormous profits of the plane's maker, or 3) the people sponsoring it have been ordered to support the USAF policy on it and are doing so out of self-protection to avoid being fired.

 

Maybe I missed another possibility or two.



#4 curmudgeon

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Posted 05 March 2016 - 06:50 PM

development has been too long, both the Russians and Chinese have had well over a decade to evaluate counter measures.

 

'Stealth' is relative, distributed radar systems will have no difficulty to locating an F-35 (e.g. the sky is floodlit by 100 microwave towers and the 'radar' passively monitors the sky). A missile which can't itself 'see' the F-35 can be directed to intercept it.

 

The compromise on airframe is rather similar to the original F-111 design, for airforce and navy.

 

We've forgotten Lanchester's rule ... the n squared component dominates. With the price/item then n will shrink.

 

The alternatives (Sukhois) can be bought off the shelf now, the F-35 won't really enter service for another decade (air and ground crew training). The software has become gigantic, flaws will exist that will not be found in testing. Combat, being rare, is the most likely point for a flaw to sneak through.

 

Where is the F-35 supposed to operate? Against limited opponents (= not Russia, not China) much cheaper aircraft can carry a much bigger load, not being constrained by stealth requirements. The 'surgical strike' doctrine depends on the opponent being stupid enough to have a very small number of points of critical weakness.

 

An enormous amount has been learned during the development of the F-35. Now, with what has been learned, take a clean sheet ...


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#5 Armand

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Posted 05 March 2016 - 09:51 PM

My humble perception of the case is that historically any new development will only have it's advantage for a short time and as soon as the stealth is countermeasured the F-35 will be a useless piece of shit wich any opponent will be able to outfly :-|
"Not ment to operate in dogfight-range" why the hell then fit a cannon (wich BTW have been reduced in cadence to fit internally behind the shield)?

About the dogfight comparisons: It could be interesting to get it opposed vs. an outdated fighter as fx Mirage, but that belongs under the 'what if' postings ;-)

#6 GregP

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Posted 06 March 2016 - 04:09 AM

Good points guys.

 

At least I find out I'm not the only person with serious doubts ...



#7 flying kiwi

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Posted 06 March 2016 - 11:29 AM

I haven't heard much good about the F-35. I think Australia is making a huge mistake buying them. It seems more like a subsidy for the Pentagon than anything else. 
There was a segment on the local 60 Minutes about them which was basically company advertising. The reporter was flown in an F-16, which took off and gained height noticeably faster than the two F-35s. The F-35 rolled out for the Australian pilot wouldn't even start. The flying segment consisted of the F-16 doing aerobatics while the reporter went "Woo, woo, woo." The two F-35s didn't deviate from straight and level flight until the end, when they gently peeled off. 

I was underwhelmed.



#8 GregP

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Posted 06 March 2016 - 06:01 PM

Unfortunately, that's my impression, too.

 

I believe it will be a real winner in BVR combat unless it is greatly outnumbered (ya' think?). It might even have a good chance in BVR combat if greatly outnumbered if it had some armament ... but it only has 2 air-to-air missiles. If it had, say, 6 air-to-air missiles when configured for air-to-air combat, that could be a good thing.

 

But if it is made to close to within visual range, methinks it is a turkey of the first magnitude.

 

As I stated earlier, if they employ it correctly, it may be just fine. If they don't, you're looking at a loser of an aircraft, as far as I can tell at this time. It could be that the plane is much better than they are letting the public know. If so, we'll know when it generates a real-world combat record rivaling the F-15's record. If it turns out not to be able to do that, then it really isn't any better than the press thinks it is.

 

I have high hopes, but low expectations. When I am getting things for myself, I don't spend premium dollars on things that I have such low expectations of ... I opt not to play. Unfortunately, we bought them untested and with "concurrent development." Concurrent development means the maker gets big profits while trying to invent the aircraft. The opinions of the public aren't taken into consideration, and that is maybe OK. But they don't seem to take the opinions of fighter pilots into consideration, either, when they buy fighters. The decisions are made by politicians who aren't qualified militarily in any way.

 

There is a fundamental flaw in there somewhere.

 

I could like a new plane with all the FA-35's avionics features that can dogfight when required, but the F-35 seems to me be a bad choice as a major warplane. As something like the F-117 it might be fine. But to base an Air Force on it seems idiotic. To expect one airframe to be able to handle ground attack, strike, and air superiority was shown to be not possible in the 1950's and again with the F-4 Phantom. It was decent in most areas, but not the best anywhere. We seem to keep trying to make that happen instead of flying the best aircraft for the mission.

 

I can see different planes for ground support, recon, strike, air superiority, and bombing. You might be able to combine air superiority with recon, but an air superiority aircraft is never going to be an optimum strike plane. Hanging a giant gun on a fighter doesn't make it a good ground attack plane, and taking something like the A-10 and trying to fly escort missions with it isn't optimum either.

 

We're trying to do that with a plane that has a gun that has never shot, has pitifully small ammunition capacity if and when it CAN shoot, and only needs to flip a switch to change flying modes. Whoever bought this flying video game should be fired. The capabilities it is supposed to have are wonderful. The execution of the total package is badly flawed, again, unless we all just don't know what it can really do. There are issues with the actuators, issues with using the fuel for cooling, issues with software, issue with the helmet, and issues with the gun. There are more issues not stated. In fact, I can't think of ONE system without issues. That might be OK in early development, but we are 17 years into the project with no end to the issues in sight.

 

The AIr Force and the maker keep saying we are "on track" for development. If I were in office and had the power, the next person who told me that we are on track after 17 years, but aren't ready to deploy it would be fired along with the entire staff responsible for the program. I'd then cancel the program, get up a decent specification, and open the bidding to all comers except the people making the F-35. If that's their best effort, they would NEVER get another tender from me. I'd let all contracts with them expire and put them on a "no new order" list."

 

There comes a point when you have to stop throwing good money after bad, and we're past that point. The avionics, though, could be fitted to decent airframes, particularly since the government very probably owns the avionics.



#9 Ricky

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Posted 07 March 2016 - 01:33 PM

I do wonder if they have signed a contract like Britain did with our aircraft carriers - a bigger cost to cancel than continue.

#10 GregP

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Posted 07 March 2016 - 10:47 PM

I'm not really up to speed on the carrier thing. What, praytell, is the story?






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