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Rivals Target JSF ^ | Nov 30, 2010 | Bill Sweetman

Posted on 11/30/2010 10:49:44 AM PST by sukhoi-30mki

Rivals Target JSF

By Bill Sweetman


With the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program likely to be hit by further delays on top of the 13-month slip in development announced in February, competitors are beginning to see hope for the future despite tight budgets worldwide. The JSF program office canceled an appearance at Defense IQ’s October fighter conference here. People talking about other programs, though, were no longer shy about benchmarking their favorite jets against the ambitious U.S.-led project, now five years behind its original schedule with a sixth in the offing.

Another conference theme was a broader definition of capability, beyond a simplistic “generation” standard based on platform design. Many new or modernized fighters are acquiring a range of capabilities introduced in the last decade, including active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, high-definition targeting pods, the ability to release multiple guided weapons at separate targets in a single pass, and helmet-mounted displays. So-called “non-stealthy” aircraft are using a combination of radar cross-section (RCS) reduction measures and new-technology jamming based on digital radio frequency memory (RF) to defeat RF-guided weapons.

“I don’t know what fifth-generation means, except that when I talk to an F-22 pilot he makes it clear that he flies a fifth-generation jet and I don’t,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Chris Cassem of USAF’s Weapons School, who went on to make the case that his Boeing F-15E Eagle does a lot of things that Lockheed Martin F-22s and F‑35s won’t do, or won’t do any better, even when they reach full capability. The F-15E, Cassem points out, brings long range, a large and diverse weapon load and a two-place cockpit to the joint campaign.

“It’s hard to hang external tanks on a pure-stealth aircraft,” Cassem noted. “If we’re on a close air support mission we can stay 1-2 hr. on station with ordnance to match and we don’t revert to being an ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) platform after one attack.” The F-15E is well matched to other missions in current conflicts, including counter-maritime operations—“the Navy may not have enough assets, or can’t get there quickly enough”—and armed-overwatch missions such as tracking HVIs (high-value individuals) and counter-IED (improvised explosive device) patrols. (A Dutch speaker, by the way, said that the Rafael Recce-Lite pod carried by F-16s was being used successfully for counter-IED missions in Afghanistan.)

Cassem noted the value of a second seat in complex missions, a view echoed by U.S. Navy Cmdr. Steve Comstock from the F/A-18E/F program office. “I was a single-seat pilot with a lot of pride in that accomplishment,” Comstock said. But after the APG-79 AESA radar arrived, “a lot of pride-swallowing went on.” The AESA’s ability to “interleave” different modes is best exploited by a crew of two—for example, with the pilot managing the air picture and the weapon system operator searching for ground targets. The radar itself is running at a mean time between failure of 850 hr., versus an F/A-18 family record of 100-110 hr. for the older APG-73 radar, as supported by Patria for the Finnish air force.

It is increasingly clear, however, that a severe drag on the Super Hornet in the export market is the Pentagon itself, which is still setting a 2030 retirement date for the aircraft. As a result, Boeing is becoming more open about targeting the F-35C—the most vulnerable version of the aircraft, according to company executives—with a pincer strategy, with an improved F/A-18 in the near term and a Next-Generation Air Dominance platform further out.

First discussed at Farnborough, the improved Super Hornet features conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) above the body and a low RCS weapon pod for the centerline station, and would use more powerful (and already demonstrated) F414 engines. These are related: the CFTs restore the fuel lost with the centerline tank—with less transonic drag—and more thrust improves the Hornet’s transonic acceleration, which is not its strong point today.

It will also carry an internal infrared search-and-track (IRST) system, with Boeing calling IRST “the AESA of the 2010s” because of the technical improvements in newer systems. (The F-35 has an IRST function built into its electro-optical sensor, but advocates of a dedicated IRST say a scanning long-wave system outperforms a staring midwave sensor.) Boeing now says publicly that the Super Hornet “could be a bridge to the next airplane.”

That next airplane, in Boeing’s view, will be distinguished by greater range, as a counter to the development of antiaccess and area-denial weapons such as China’s antiship ballistic missile and long-range air-launched cruise missiles. It will also feature more advanced stealth technology than the F-35C—Boeing’s publicly revealed concept is tailless—to offset advanced air-defense weapons and counter-stealth technology.

European fighter producers are also pushing back against U.S. assumptions of superiority. The Rafale’s low production rate (11 per year) may seem risible in U.S. terms, but as Lt. Col. Fabrice Grandclaudon, program manager at the French DGA arms development agency, pointed out, Dassault has delivered 93 aircraft out of 180 on order.

By comparison, the F-22 program, launched around the same time, has delivered 120-plus deployable aircraft out of 187 ordered (with 47 early jets relegated to training and test). And although the F-22 is conceded to reign supreme in air-to-air, the Rafale has delivered air-to-ground weapons in anger and is operationally capable of hitting six independent ground targets in a single pass with the Sagem SBU-38 Hammer rocket-boosted bomb (the F-22, so far, can release two weapons on predetermined coordinates). Rafale is also cleared with conventional and nuclear cruise missiles (the last on July 1) and is testing the Thales Areos multiband long-range oblique photography reconnaissance pod. Future upgrades identified as F3+ include AESA radar and improvements to the frontal sector optronic system.

Likewise, Eurofighter’s conference delegation was there to talk about production and upgrades as well as to explain some of the once-classified early history of the program. One of EADS-Cassidian’s ancestor companies, Germany’s MBB, was well advanced with stealth research as today’s Typhoon was being defined in the 1980s, designing a stealth interceptor named Lampyridae.

The project was stopped abruptly under U.S. pressure. Eurofighter veterans now say it was instrumental in a decision to design the Typhoon with an emphasis on nose-on, X-band RCS reduction, because a combination of high supersonic speed and agility combined with wide-aspect, wideband stealth would result in an unaffordable aircraft nearly twice the size of Typhoon. With the Pentagon’s decision on the F-22 last year, they now believe that was the right call.

Eurofighter is also reminding people that upgrade programs are still funded despite potential cuts in orders from primary customers and a tight export market. The SRP-14 radar software upgrade arrives in 2014 and includes the two-way data link for the Meteor ramjet-powered air-to-air missile. Development is also under way on the Selex Captor-E AESA upgrade, being pushed by Saudi Arabia and (like the Vixen 1000 for the Gripen NG) equipped with a two-bearing “repositioner” that allows it to cover a wide field of regard.

Eurofighter says that a conventional fixed-antenna AESA was considered some years ago and rejected by the customer and the manufacturer because of its limited field of regard—since an AESA “squints” to look off-boresight, its range diminishes at the edges of its scan envelope. The Typhoon is designed to exploit its maneuver performance by an aggressive “f-pole” turn, launching a missile and then turning away to avoid the target’s counter-attack, so its effectiveness demands good radar performance over a wide angle. “With a fixed AESA we ended up with less effectiveness in combat,” one engineer says.

Adding Meteor alone doubles Typhoon’s combat loss exchange ratio against a mixed fighter/bomber threat (the reference is the Sukhoi Su-35 and Su-34) and AESA increases it further, as does the addition of the EJ230 engine upgrade, a 15% thrust boost with no major changes.

USAF is working on upgrading the F-22, but the process has been slow and costly—the Fiscal 2011 budget request included almost $1.3 billion for the program. Maj. James Akers, chief of the F-22 branch in Air Combat Command’s Requirements Directorate, gave a briefing on a program that is years behind the schedule set in 2008 and under fire in Congress.

Increment 3.1, a hardware and software change which includes improved central processor cards, is nearing operational test and evaluation, due to start at Nellis AFB, Nev., next month. It focuses on air-to-ground capability. Currently, the F-22 can only release one bomb type, the GBU-32 1,000‑lb. Joint Direct Attack Munition, on pre-loaded or externally supplied coordinates. Increment 3.1 includes a synthetic aperture radar mode, integration of up to eight GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs)—although only two can be guided at once—and new electronic attack modes in the APG-77 radar.

A newly defined upgrade, Increment 3.2 Accelerated, brings forward some software elements from the full 3.2 package. It is focused on electronic protection, including resistance to emerging jammer technology, but also includes better combat identification.

The Rafale program is working in this area too, and French documents specify the work involves dealing with RCS-treated aircraft. It is likely that head-on RCS treatments invalidate the jet engine modulation technique for non-cooperative target recognition (NCTR), which relies on the characteristic return signal of a target’s spinning compressor blades.

Combat identification is a vital element in beyond-visual-range engagements, particularly for a stealth aircraft. Historically, rules of engagement have required the target to be identified either visually or by multiple means (for example, by radar NCTR and electronic surveillance). But if those means are degraded, a stealth fighter may be forced into its adversary’s detection range before launching weapons, which negates the advantage of stealth.

Funding for the full F-22 Increment 3.2 package—“very large and very expensive”—should start in earnest in Fiscal 2012. It includes integration of the AIM-9X and AIM-120D missiles, another combat-identification upgrade, better ground target geolocation and the ability to target eight SDBs in one pass. It will not be operational before 2016.

As recently as 2008, these modifications were to be fielded by 2013. Moreover, one major element of 3.2, replacement of the old intra-flight data link by a multifunction advanced data link, was removed from that package this year. The result is that the F-22 will not be able to communicate with the rest of the force in a low-observable manner until the late 2010s at best, except possibly by using the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node package installed on Block 20 Global Hawks.

One issue highlighted by the progress of the F-22 upgrade program is a tendency among planners to underfund the initial development of major platforms to improve their chances of political survival, deferring essential capabilities to post-service upgrades. The problem is that these programs in turn may be underfunded and slowed down, ultimately costing far more than it would have to provide the same capabilities in the initial R&D phase. This problem is exacerbated when the work is done piecemeal—the $1.3 billion for one year’s upgrade work on the F-22 is considerably more than the entire cost of Sweden’s JAS 39C/D Gripen upgrade, including all R&D and delivery of 100 modification kits.

TOPICS: Extended News; Foreign Affairs; Germany; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: aerospace; boeing; eurofighter; f35; gripen; jsf; lockheedmartin; saab; superhornet

1 posted on 11/30/2010 10:49:46 AM PST by sukhoi-30mki
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To: sukhoi-30mki

Step 1. Disband all government unions and end all government union contracts.

Step 2. Scrap F-35.

Step 3. USAF and USN announce a competition for a new all-weather, around-the-clock dedicated strike aircraft. Contract to be awarded to the designer who combines best overall design with best cost control and highest use of off-the-shelf components.

2 posted on 11/30/2010 11:56:41 AM PST by snowrip (Liberal? You are a socialist idiot with no rational argument.)
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To: snowrip

Scrapping the JSF would be the most idiotic thing the US can do right now. Despite its issues, it’s still better than most of its rivals in the strike role and would be invaluable as a first-day-of-war weapon. Besides too much has been invested in it domestically and internationally for it to be scrapped.

Any new design would take close to a decade to come close to trial stage. And the F-15/F-16 fleets are’nt going to stay young for ever.

The problem with step-3 is that the ‘joint’ part of the JSF is significantly responsible for its problems. The services should go their own ways.

3 posted on 11/30/2010 12:32:25 PM PST by sukhoi-30mki
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To: snowrip

Because the last joint fighters have worked out soooo well. Remember the F-111? It was supposed to be a carrier-based fighter for the Navy as well as an interceptor for the Air Force!

F-35 looks to be going the same way.

But unfortunately, it’s all we have now that the F-22’s been cut.

The other thing is that while strategic stealth may be questionable now, the F-35 still has tactical stealth. It’s pretty hard to shoot down an airplane with a missile when your missile can’t see what you’re trying to shoot it at, and that’s something that none of the other ‘rivals’ can boast. The F-15 is still one huge radar and IR target even with the “Silent Eagle” mods, the Super Hornet is much the same.

4 posted on 11/30/2010 1:07:30 PM PST by Spktyr (Overwhelmingly superior firepower and the willingness to use it is the only proven peace solution.)
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To: sukhoi-30mki

I didn’t mean a competition between the two services, I meant a competition for private industry design sponsored by the two services.

Look at the design and development of the F-16 program as an example.

5 posted on 12/01/2010 7:03:29 AM PST by snowrip (Liberal? You are a socialist idiot with no rational argument.)
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