Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Easy Day at TT

It's easy at ThunderTales when all I have to do is respond to a comment. Flying Barrister asks about F-35:
The F-35 program was in the news again last week, and is coming under fire. I expect it will become discussed with greater frequency as plans to reduce military forces and spending continue to unfold.

I don't recall seeing you comment on that plane. What are the forces giving up in terms of useful payload by making them all jumpers? Would it make since to simplify it and make some of them non-VTOL? The Brits and/or others have expressed concern that they are single engine aircraft and lack the twin safety feature they like for over water patrols. 

Air superiority is an essential component in US strategy. We and others are banking on the F35 with no updated F15's, 16's, or 18's underway to fill any gap created by delays and potential cancellations in the F-35 program. Is it smart to bank exclusively on expensive stealth craft?
Let's start by noting that F-35 is concurrent development of 3 versions. Only the B model is a VSTOL, i.e. "jumper". The A and C model are conventional take-off and landing. The difference is that the C has a larger wing and therefore more endurance and payload.

The essential fact is that most of the planned production is already A and C model with the B-version, aimed at USMC support being a very small number. If you were to handicap the programs to bet on which will survive, the odds are longest against the very complex B model remaining in the mix.

Regarding single engine vs two engine, I'm one of the folks that have tried combat both ways. I never had an engine failure in 23 years of fast jet flying, so reliability doesn't rank very high in my worry list for normal ops. In combat flying, where engine loss is the result of enemy action, I never saw an instance in which a two-engine jet took a hit that cost an engine and survived on the remaining engine. The usual scenario is that destruction of one engine would lead to destruction of the second as various components came apart.

Updates to the teen-jets have been continual since adoption. A Block 50 Viper C-model may be a single-engine F-16, but it is considerably different than an A-model or even a Block 25 C-model. Upgrading those systems further would be a stop-gap and waste of funds in the long term, particularly after the research and development investment already sunk costs in F-22 and F-35.

The Raptor is the undeniable air superiority asset and should fill the high/low mix role which the Eagle did so well. The -35 is the Viper replacement with vastly upgraded systems and still retains a respectable self-defense capability against enemy air. Remember at all times that we operate as integrated weapons systems, not as single aircraft. Total situational awareness is provided by the integrated package.

Stealth is a major capability. Reduction of signature to allow first detection of enemy assets is a force multiplier. It is not an exclusive, but it is a necessity.


hitman said...

Yeah, that and purge Leftfoot's posts. lol Some good video of the B model doing ship suitability testing on the USS Wasp here: http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=Ki86x1WKPmE&feature=colike

immagikman said...

Unfortunately the O administration is all about the Unmanned drones :P

FlyingBarrister said...

The problem that I see is the national debt, the deficit, and fools on the left that only abhor one type of spending, and that is on defense.

The F-22 was way over budget, they curtailed the size of the fleet, and production stopped on it in December. About the day or the day after the announced last jet to roll off the line, I was up near Lockheed's facility and saw and F-22 shoot off the runway into the clouds. It made an impressive showing. I wondered whether I was witnessing the last F-22 ever made. In addition to numbers, the maintenance-flight time ratio has purportedly proven to be bad, much worse than expected.

The F-35 program has a lot of negative similarities to the Raptor program, but is bigger, international, and is worse because it involves more dollars. Some Republicans, like RINO McCain, are attacking the program.

I realize that the F-15, 16, and 18's have all been updated since hitting the squadron, but the services keep saying that there is no "Plan B." Thus, with huge delays, cutbacks, and then termination of the program, we could end up with very few F-22's that are in service at any time, very few F-35's, and a significant number of older generation fighters that have not been updated for a decade or more. It looks to me that a lot of things could go wrong with three different groups of fighters and none of them in sufficient numbers or up to date. Those teen fighters' airframes are getting old and tired.

immagikman said...

Is it just me or is the USA committing the same mistakes it made in the Pre-World War I and Pre-World War II years....moving toward letting our Defense/Military head toward second rate dreaming that we have fought THE war to end all Wars?

Ed Rasimus said...

FB: The RFP for the Advanced Tactical Fighter involved a promised contract for more than 800 jets produced over a period of roughly 6-8 years. The parameters were stealth, supercruise, integrated data, single seat, compatibility with both a GE and P&W engine. Dimensionally sized to fit inside a standard NATO Tab-Vee shelter.

Over time, the requirements went up, the production decisions were delayed, the production run was repeatedly reduced and the total program cost was rolled into an artificial, but politically inflammatory number labeled cost per aircraft. True cost per aircraft is the cost of an additional unit after all sunk costs. That means the $200M Raptor really costs about $55M.

Maintenance hours per flight hour are always high during acquisition and until operational experience is amassed. Raptor Mx hours per fight hour are very similar to systems entering service since the Century series.

F-35 is dimensionally smaller, production at 2500 units (the promised buy) would keep costs reasonable, but that isn't where the administration wants the picture taken. Technology of the A and C models place the jet far ahead of anything the latest Eagles or Vipers can do.

Stealth factors make it a much better jet than Eurofighter or Typhoon.

FlyingBarrister said...

If it is necessary to store all weapons internally to create the desired stealth profile, how much payload is lost?

That seems particularly of concern for a fighter that is intended to be an attack aircraft capable of bombing targets with various bombs.

Ed Rasimus said...

For air dominance, internal carriage is essential for stealth. Detect first, shoot first and survive.

For A/G, early operations require stealth and precision. That means internal carriage of smart weapons. You don't need a lot of throw weight but you do need to get deep into Indian country without being detected.

Later, the value of stealth goes does and external payload goes up.

Which brings us back to the "B" model VSTOL F-35, which will never be able to operate very effectively with heavy payloads and with all of the internal plumbing for the lift-engine, doesn't really overwhelm with internal carriage either. But at least you don't have much range...

Robman said...

A dissenting voice:

Stealth planes are great, but VERY expensive. They are not foolproof. You can bet that the Russians, Chinese, and others are burning the midnight oil to come up with ways of overcoming stealth and detecting these planes as easily as any other. New types of radar could appear that could do this. Open source materials indicate that the British came up with a method of determining the approximate location of stealth aircraft by the way they interfere with communications between cell phone towers.

Then, there's the "poor man's stealth". The Israelis have EW systems such that if they know the radar frequencies of the enemy's IADS in advance, they can achieve the effect of stealth with their jammers. They accomplished this in September of '07 when they hit that Syrian nuke reactor that was under construction. These were F-15I Strike Eagle-class aircraft (the Israelis call these "Ra'am", which means "Thunder). These jets would normally have a RCS the size of a barn, but got in and out undetected.

On the day that detection systems can overcome stealth, then these planes will have to earn their keep the same way other fighters do: flight performance, range, payload, avionics, pilot skill. Planes like the F-35 cost so much (now estimated to be $150 mil/copy), that we can't afford to buy that many, nor can our allies, never mind "planned" production.

I note that the Russians and Chinese are also developing stealthy fighters, but these are direct counterparts to the larger, heavier, longer-legged and faster F-22. No one is building an equivalent to the F-35, not yet. The Russian and Chinese counterparts to the Raptor won't be in service for at least several years.

If Obama is re-elected - and as things stand now, I consider that more likely than not (see post on Feb 1 installment of TT) - I expect that he'll cancel the F-35 altogether.

I thought it was criminally negligent of him to cancel the F-22. While the F-35 continues to experience cost overruns and problems, the F-22 was our "bird in the hand". What a dumb move!

Even I could live with cancelling the F-35; not enough range/payload, and too expensive, and if stealth is compromised by new defensive technologies, we wind up banking on a very expensive pig in a poke.

What I would do instead is re-start F-22 production and go ahead and build the fleet of 700-800 the USAF originally wanted. We could have these long before the Russians or Chinese could build anything comparable in those numbers, and it is a more capable airplane all around than the F-35.

Otherwise, I'd be fine with the Navy basing their fleets on the SH - a perfectly good aircraft once they put a planned stronger engine inside. I'd also like to see the Air Force buy a bunch of new-build "Hyper Vipers", in the same class as Israel's F-16I, which is a superb aircraft; they are also much cheaper than the F-35.

Marine Aviation should also get the Super Hornet; I know they are highly resistant to this, as they were the original F/A-18, but the USMC seems blinded by enthusiasm over VSTOL, which has not proven to be objectively important in combat.

The SH could perform the Marines' roles of CAS/BAI and battlefield air superiority just dandy, being very survivable, maneuverable, and with a good payload...and it is also a heck of a lot cheaper than the F-35.

Hippo said...

IMHO, stealth does not equal "invisible." Optical devices -- including the Mark One, Mod zero eyeball -- can still locate and track the "black jets" in day VFR conditions. And the trouble with internal carriage is that sooner or later you must open the doors to release the very non-stealthy bombs inside. So one probably will carry standoff smart weapons. Well, if the standoff range is great enough, why bother with stealth in the first place? An interesting condundrum...

Ed Rasimus said...

Hippo, the answer to the conundrum is "defense in depth" which necessitates Romulan cloaking until within photon torpedo range.

The "open door" issue is minimal, since that period is extremely short and unless the enemy sensor is coincidentally on target in its sweep, you won't be detected.

During multi-player sim exercises against YF-23 profiles, a defender might get a momentary blip (they were generated as little spiders on our displays)--just long enough for an "Aw sh**!" before "You Are Dead" popped up on your display and controls froze.