Thursday, September 16, 2010

The F-35 dissected - and found wanting

I've written before about the US F-35 Lightning II strike aircraft and its manifold problems.

F-35 Lightning II

Now two of the foremost authorities on fighter and strike aircraft development from the 1970's and 1980's, major figures behind the F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II programs, speak out to a Dutch television program, NOVA, about how they view the F-35. They're not complimentary at all.

First, here's Pierre Sprey.

Next, Winslow T. Wheeler.

Of course, we don't yet know whether the F-35 program - designed from the perspective that dogfighting is over, and that beyond-visual-range radar-guided missiles will decide future air-to-air engagements - will be successful in combat. If the visionaries are correct, it probably will be. On the other hand, if Messrs. Sprey and Wheeler are correct - and so far, history has shown in every single air power conflict that they are - then the F-35 is a dog in the making.

Time will tell . . . and our pilots, and those of our allies, will have to find out the hard way. Meanwhile, as a student of history, I'm willing to bet that Messrs. Sprey and Wheeler are more likely to be right than those who have succeeded them in the US defense bureaucracy.



LL said...

My sense is that the vectored thrust will help compensate for the stubby wings. I'm not an engineer and I've never flown the F-35, but since each service seems to have its variant, (VTOL for the USMC) I still wonder what the different flight characteristics will be for each.

Wayne Conrad said...

Those men are members of Colonel Boyd's so-called "Fighter Maphia," the group responsible for the F-16 and A-10 (and for an amazing fighter design that did not make it through the Pentagon bureaucracy). Colonel Boyd was highly opinionated about what makes a good plane, but those opinions were based upon objective metrics. Unfortunately, the metric most important to the Pentagon is that it costs a lot of money and employs a lot of people many congressional districts.

When this "joint" word was first bandied about, I thought back to the F-111, McNamara's folly, also intended to serve all services in all roles. The parallels are pretty good. Like the F-111, the F-35 is overly heavy and large, maneuvers poorly and is too expensive. Both planes are good at keeping people employed, though. I guess that's something.

Sherm said...

Let's see. The F-4 was developed without a gun because the era of dog fighting was over. It's been 50 years and no one else has conceded, taken their ball, and gone home. You can only say something is ended when you can look back and not see it. No one can look forward and see anything. They can conjecture; they can analyze; the can model; they can be wrong. I suspect all four in this case.

Dr. Feelgood said...

I believe the concept of F-35 was dependent on full acquisition of F-22. The doctrine is not that dogfighting is over, it's that we'll have established total air-to-air dominance prior to employing F-35 in SEAD roles (like the F-16). Even the A-10 carries sidewinders, but do we send them up against Mig-29s? We let F-15s and F-22s do that, and send the other packages in afterward.

I'm not convinced about his point regarding CAS missions, either; though I fully agree with his love for the A-10. The future of CAS is in UAVs, not F-35.

F-35 does not have thrust vectoring in flight. The nozzle only moves on the B model for STOVL. It's using High Off-Boresight sensors and weapons to compensate for lack of maneuvaribility, so they say.

Anonymous said...

We had the beyond visual range radar and air to air rockets as armament on the F-4 during the Vietnam war and then allowed ROE to negate this advantage by requiring visual I.D. before firing. Whats the point of having this capability and then ordering it not be used?
Paul in Texas

Anonymous said...

I suspect that the F(?)-35 will be shot out of the air in large numbers by the 5th generation aircraft coming off the MiG and Sukoy production lines. Probably in simlar fashion to the ALL! NEW! F-18 Hornet.

Anonymous said...

There is a reason a new F-35 has that lemon-fresh smell.

Too slow to be a real fighter, too flimsy for real CAS. What happened to the days of the right tool for the job?

Speaking of flimsy, how repairable is this aircraft? Repairing battle damage is one thing, but how do you know if your fix hasn't gone and increased your cross-section?