Skip to comments.US defence policy - and F-35 - under attack
Posted on 10/16/2008 6:18:50 AM PDT by Yo-Yo
Decade-old notions about US tactical aircraft strategy and planning have come under a sustained assault from academic institutions closely linked to military and government power structures. The attacks have been timed - perhaps coincidentally - in a period of transition.
Within the last month, separate analyses produced by Rand and the Center for Strategic and International Studies have been leaked or released into the public domain even as long-term plans are due to be questioned and revised by the first new president to take office since George Bush in January 2001.
The Rand and CSIS reports both deliver sharply critical outlooks for the future of US airpower. The first suggests that the superior technology of next-generation US fighters are no match for superior numbers and geographic advantage. The second, entitled America's Self-Destroying Airpower, concludes failures of strategy and planning have made the US military-industrial complex its own worst enemy.
The 80-slide Rand briefing on the Pacific Vision wargame, dated in August and publicly published first by Flight's The DEW Line blog, attacks the US Air Force's steadfast reliance on stealth and technology, showing how a mix of Lockheed Martin F-22s and F-35s could be defeated in the Taiwan Straits by an opposing Chinese force with vastly greater numbers of aircraft and missiles.
The F-35 has so far been the target of intense scrutiny about the Lockheed-led industry team's ability to deliver on the programme's ambitious performance goals. The Rand study, however, appears to challenge whether the performance goals are relevant in a future conflict, even if Lockheed's design and production system can achieve them.
In one Pacific Vision scenario, three regiments of Chinese Sukhoi Su-27s overwhelm six F-22s - the maximum number, according to Rand, defending the Taiwan Straits at any one time - by skirting their defensive screen and shooting down the USAF's orbiting tankers.
In the same briefing, a series of three back-up slides never presented publicly by Rand created an international crisis for the F-35 programme, as government officials in Australia, the Netherlands and the USA were forced to answer highly critical comments that the Lockheed F-16 replacement "can't turn, can't climb and can't run" when matched against even legacy fighter aircraft.
Rand has disavowed the critical remarks about the F-35 as not intended for public release and, unlike the main presentation, not peer-reviewed. Additionally, Rand says: "Recently, articles have appeared in the Australian press with assertions regarding a war game in which analysts from Rand were involved. Those reports are not accurate. Rand did not present any analysis at the wargame relating to the performance of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, nor did the game attempt detailed adjudication of air-to-air combat. Neither the game nor the assessments by Rand in support of the game undertook any comparison of the fighting qualities of particular fighter aircraft."
Maj Gen Charles Davis, programme executive officer for the JSF, also dismissed the Rand briefing as irrelevant to the F-35's actual combat abilities. "We talked to the individuals involved in the wargame, and looked at the scenario. It did not involve an air-to-air scenario," Davis says. "Three days of full-time work analysing the wargame and we found exactly nothing relating to the programme. The exercise involved basing capacity around the Pacific Rim. It was a logistics and deployablility exercise, not a battle."
Despite reassurances from Rand and programme officials, Australian defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon was forced to defend the programme from criticisms based on Rand's briefing. Australia has selected the F-35 to replace its General Dynamics F-111s, but is also considering follow-on orders of Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets if there are further delays.
Tom Burbage, Lockheed vice-president and general manager for the F-35, says: "It is clear [Rand's analysts] don't understand the underlying requirements of the F-35 programme, the capabilities needed to meet those requirements or the real programmatic performance of the JSF team."
Even so, the USAF is likely to face difficult choices about future tactical fighters even if the programme's promises about the F35's performance, cost and schedule are accurate, says the CSIS analysis, which was authored by Anthony Cordesman and Hans Ulrich Kaeser.
"Major questions exist as to whether key aircraft procurement programmes will be 'force shrinkers' rather than 'force multipliers'," Cordesman and Kaeser write. They go on to describe widespread breakdowns across the US military's acquisition system for developing and fielding modern combat aircraft.
"There now are far fewer programme alternatives if any key programme runs into trouble, failed methods of cost analysis are still in play without adequate cost-risk analysis or use of regression analysis, and the pressure to 'sell' programmes by understating cost and risk have all combined to push air modernisation to the crisis point," the authors say.
The report cited recent aircraft inventory figures reported by the International Institute of Strategic Studies. The combined US tactical fighter inventory - including USAF, US Navy and US Marine Corps fleets - declined from 5,783 in 1992 to 3,542 in 2008 - nearly 39%. The sharpest fall was during the first eight years, as the inventory plummeted 31% up to 2000. Several aircraft types, such as the EF-111 and Lockheed SR-71, were retired during this period and not replaced. The report also notes that similar reductions took place for transports, tankers and helicopters.
"Current plans for aircraft modernisation are not affordable unless aircraft costs are sharply reduced, deliveries are delayed years longer than planned, or funding shifts to lower cost variants or upgrades of older types. The only alternative is a major increase in real defence spending," Cordesman and Kaeser write.
"There is an ill-concealed struggle to solve the problems in a failed procurement system by either raising the defence budget or somehow getting more funding at the expense of other services and programmes. The US defence procurement system has effectively become a liar's contest in terms of projected costs, risk, performance and delivery schedules," they add.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has introduced a different set of priorities for modernisation of combat equipment across the board. Rather than emphasising next-generation fighters capable of defeating "near-peer" threats, Gates has tried to shift the focus to a range of current threats, especially counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism missions. If a new USAF leadership heeds Gates' call, unmanned air vehicles might take budgetary priority over air dominance assets, such as more F-22s.
"The current focus on the counter-insurgency wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Gates's emphasis on irregular warfare and increased intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability, either requires major trade-offs within current aircraft and other procurement programmes or major increases in the size of the entire defence budget and future defence programmes," the CSIS report says. "His 'strategy' is not really a strategy. It is a mix of concepts and doctrines unrelated to a clearly defined force plan, a modernisation and procurement plan, any form of programme budget and cost analysis, and any measures of time and effectiveness."
The report adds: "The debate over seeking the most advanced systems possible to deter and defeat any peer threat versus giving priority to irregular warfare and IS&R has not been resolved, and is certain to be revived when a new administration takes office."
The F35 may be dead anyway. With Congress’ never-ending bailout list, the USAF will have to hold a bake sale just to keep the lights on.
The F-35 has a gearbox just behind the pilot that turns a rotating shaft carrying 15,000 hp through a 90 degree angle.
As an engineer, this alone makes me doubt the whole thing. I’m sure there are L-M people here who will say I’m worrying about nothing, but still.
I agree with the assessment. FEWER numbers of more capable aircraft is NOT the answer. If I were planning an attack on a squadron of F-22’s, I would send up two squadrons against it while a third went after the refueling A/C. Even if the F-22’s shoot down every one of the enemy aircraft, they have to land to refuel where they become sitting ducks. All the capability in the world does no good sitting on the deck refueling. Just ask the Japanese about Midway.
It is better to have a mix of stealth and non-stealthy, high capability aircraft.
For years I have advocated that instead of designing aircraft from scratch and taking 15 years to develop, why not institute a series of modifications to existing aircraft to make them more fuel efficient, more stealthy, more maneuverable?
Take the F-16 and FA-18, add newer engines, thrust vectoring, canards, and modify the shape for better stealthiness and for a fraction of the +$300 million per plane F-22 and F-35, you have a much better aircraft.
Did you ever see the video from where Obama himself stated that he will not weaponize space, cut our nuclear arsenal, stop the development of Future Combat System, missile defense, and pull out of Iraq?
What you said sounds absurd to many, but it's actually spot on and he has repeatedly stated this in his own words, although when pinned down in debates, he of course says that he is pro-defense, just like he's not anti-gun, or pro-Israel........... An Obama presidency will like like the Carter years reference national security matters.
More sophisticated, more expensive, and smaller numbers. How long before we have a single “deathstar” AF aircraft that can be taken out by a bunch of F-16 era fighters?
Correction: The F-35B has a gearbox just behind the pilot that turns a rotating shaft carrying 15,000 hp through a 90 degree angle.
There are three different variants of the F-35. The F-35B is the only one equipped with the SDLF.
I think that is the plan. The problem is that the legacy force has a lot of miles on it. A related problem is that the new stuff competes with the old stuff for funding.
While no doubt he'd try, in the end, his own party would never go for it in congress. Way way way too much money and jobs back home for them. The voters in their districts would be screaming for heads to roll if it happened and Nancy P would have a revolt on her hands.
Likewise, Block 50/52 F-16s are being given HCMS, and two competing companies are developing a retrofit AESA radar system for the F-16. They too will be around past 2025.
I would like to see an F-15 developed that included limited 2-D thrust vectoring and canards, and includes F-35 style of avionics including it's sensor system and HMDS, to supplement the tiny number of F-22s.
I'd also like Boeing to develop an EF-15E similar to the EA-18G that they developed for the Navy.
And finally, I'd like to see funding restored to add JHMCS to the F-22, which it sorely needs for WVR dogfighting. Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air is all well and good until you get another idiot in the White House that imposes stoopid Rules of Engagement that include requiring positive visual ID before a target can be attacked. That's what gave away our advantage in Vietnam, and it could give away the F-22s advantage against Su-30s in the future.
The mix of stealth, tech, legacy and total numbers, has a way of being distorted by budget and political considerations, but we should never forget that numbers matter, and enemies are generally flush in the numbers column. They may not be as flush in the pilot experience, or high tech aircraft, columns but their tactics will make up for that to a large degree by overwhelming force.
As another reply has pointed out, only one variant of the F-35 has the fan box and that model is made to replace the Harrier, which is already a fairly dangerous plane. So the question isn’t whether that model is more reliable than all other aircraft but whether it’s safer and more reliable than the Harrier.
Seems simple enough:
Make stealthy refueling tankers.
Even simpler: Arm refueling tankers with beyond visual range AMMRAMs. Those suckers could carry dozens!
I envision a very different aircraft concept in the future: ultra-cheap, expendable unmanned aircraft. They don’t have to be stealthy, or fast, or have more than a single weapons system. There just has to be a lot of them. Price per unit of about $10,000, mostly for the engine. Mass produced on an assembly line.
Much like the V-1 “Buzz bombs” of WWII, except with a conventional jet engine, or even a prop engine. Fixed wheels or no wheels. Modular, plug-in computer guidance system. Crude fly-by-wire guidance and directed by GPS or pre-programmed flight path and terrain approximation or remote control.
The basic aircraft could either be just a flying bomb, or have a machine gun for anti-aircraft use. Even if it faced the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world, it would win, because even if that fighter took out 8 or 10 of such UAVs, the rest of the swarm would take out the fighter or the target just by sheer numbers. If the fighter had to retreat, they could follow it home.
And at that price, armadas of such aircraft could be made that would overwhelm enemy offense and defense. The only practical defense would be to create an opposing armada, and in that case, the advanced, manned aircraft would operate in the 2nd echelon, to take out any enemy UAVs that penetrated the main attack.
The F-35 costs about $85 million. For the same price we could build an armada of 8,500 cheap UAV aircraft.
How about we keep building F-35’s by the boatload.
Then ... for every one we sell to an ally, we can buy 8,500 uav’s. :)
Isn't that essentially how a helicopter works? Perhaps not that much HP or torque, but a horizontal turbine coupled to a vertical shaft.
And I still think it was a mistake to retire the F-14 and cut them up. Damn shame. Even if they just retired them from carrier service and left them as land based. If it wasn't required to land on a carrier, I bet even the AF guys could fly one ;)
“Take the F-16 and FA-18, add newer engines, thrust vectoring, canards, and modify the shape for better stealthiness and for a fraction of the +$300 million per plane F-22 and F-35, you have a much better aircraft.”
The F-16 has had numerous experiments conducted to improve manuverability to include CCV (Control Configured Vehicle), SFW (Swept Forward Wing), ATFI (Advanced Fighter Technology Integration), “Agile Falcon”, VISTA (Variable-stability In-flight Simulator Test Aircraft), MATV (Multi-Axis Thrust-Vectoring), LOAN (Low-Observable Asymmetric Nozzle), F-16AT Falcon 21, and the F-16X Falcon 2000.
The Agile Falcon, Falcon 21, and the Falcon 2000 were each offered as a low cost alternative for the ATF (F-22).
The Agile Falcon had a 25% greater wing surface area, uprated engines and other improvements, some of which found it’s way into the Block 40 production aircraft.
Falcon 21 was a improved version of the older F-16XL with trapezoidal wings as opposed to the “cranked arrow” of the original XL.
Falcon 2000 had a delta wing planform like the F-22, and had a stretched fuselage that offered an 80% increase in internal fuel. This design was also offered as a alternative for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
As far as trying to change the shapes of the aircraft, that would be too cost prohibitive due to the need of expanded flight testing and engineering not to mention retooling of production lines.
The best thing to do would be to incorporate RAM coatings, and retrofit other components such as redesigned tail fins using radar transparent carbon composites, canopies, inlets, etc. This will require a fraction of the engineering and flight testing.
They have identified the aircraft with the thinned longerons and have established shorter inspection intervals for those aircraft. They have developed a Depot level longeron replacement kit that will replace those thinned longerons as necessary during depot-level maintenance.
And they will phase out those aircraft with the highest number of flight hours a bit early.
Answer: All of the above.
“Even simpler: Arm refueling tankers with beyond visual range AMMRAMs. Those suckers could carry dozens!”
Or have them carry an air launched varient of the Navy SM-2, and have a nearby Burke or Tico class ship handle the terminal guidance.
Another thing is to use HARM’s that are dialed into the radars of the Su-30’s
That is basically what I meant. There are numerous "add-ons" and small, non-airframe related changes that can be made to increase capability and decrease radar cross section. But I would not think that an F-16 could withstand the abuse that an aircraft designed for carrier landings does without major modifications.
You’d be surprised as to what’s being worked on.
They are already developing the follow on the the F-22, and it’s going to be unmanned.
They’re also working on other UCAV’s that are going to be totally autonomous and will network with each other and each will be able to take out 6 air or ground targets before going kamakazi.
Ok, I was thinking along the lines of new airframes.
LM actually offered a carrier capable variant of the F-16.
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or buy a eurofighter.
I’ve no doubt about projected UAV tech. However, I’m thinking outside the box. For example, if you ran a 3rd world country and had a small automobile plant, the ultra cheap technology might be your ticket to challenge a bigger player who has much better quality tech.
The only two technical problems would be the small computer you plug into it to run it, and its software; and having some guidance system other than GPS, if GPS stops working. The old buzz bomb carried an almost 1800 lb bomb, but even a 1000 lb would do a world of hurt.
A different kind, remote controlled, as an anti-aircraft weapon, would just need to mount a couple of 50 cal machine guns, and close to within maximum range. Any hits on a high performance bird and it would be done. If you really wanted to reach out and touch someone, just mount a single standard A2A missile on it. Getting target lock from multiple aircraft at once would be disturbing.
Being able to take out 6 enemy aircraft is good. Unless their are 12 enemy aircraft gunning for you. If you are outnumbered by 20 or 40, you’d better not play.
“Being able to take out 6 enemy aircraft is good. Unless their are 12 enemy aircraft gunning for you. If you are outnumbered by 20 or 40, youd better not play.”
The UCAV’s I was talking about operates as a swarm and are networked with each other.
And a advanced UCAV for a third world country would cost more than a B-2 costs us by comparison. But for us, UCAV’s are cheap.
1. Sweep it's wings
2. Trade the turbo prop for a turbo jet
3. Trade out the optical/infrared stuff for a small AESA radar
4. Give it an internal AMRAAM or 2 AIM-9’s
5. Network them all together
The original Buzz bomb was built of welded sheet steel and plywood. Distance to target was based in the amount of fuel on board.
If I was to design a low cost modern version, I would design the front so that an off-the-shelf Mk-83 1000lb iron bomb could be lowered into it and secured, with a fuel tank and an engine. The tricky part of the computer to run it would be far less complicated than a laptop. Just a small box inserted into the fuselage. Physical guidance hooked to the computer would be so wires going to the wings from a simple winding reel.
Fuel the tank, insert the computer, start the engine and launch. Next.
I figure a team of 10 personnel could launch perhaps 10 an hour.
The air to air combat UAVs would be a lot more complex.