Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why the F-35? The crying need to modernize

You might think that it would be obvious that we've been slacking on modernizing our air power for some time.  Certainly there has been innovation, but numbers are down dramatically.

Here's a little "ground truth" from the AEI paper "Mass and Supremacy: A Comprehensive Case for the F-35" that we've been examining this week:
[P]ost–Cold War modernization efforts across the services are moving along at a snail’s pace. While the utility and value of American air power— and the need for it among the services—has never enjoyed as much appreciation as it ought to, invest- ments to maintain the US air-power advantage have slowed dramatically. The first crop of “stealth” air- craft, the small F-117 Nighthawk fleet, has been retired altogether.

Only 21 B-2 bombers of a planned 132 were pur- chased. Similarly, the F-22 program, originally intended to produce 750 jets, was terminated in 2009 with the procurement of only 187 planes. Therefore, the vast majority of the manned aircraft in the US Air Force’s inventory were designed in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
For the most part, we have young pilots flying jets (and technology) older than they are.  We have not done what is necessary to ensure they have the best technology available to them if they are committed to combat.  And it isn't just aircraft.  We're also behind the curve in other areas in other services.  But we're concerned here with our airpower.

And since we're dealing in "ground truth", here's a little more from the paper:
The F-35 was always intended as the largest proj- ect of its era, the “fifth generation” of aircraft and other systems envisioned near the end of the Cold War and immediately after, and is now one of the few remaining opportunities to bring those technologies into use. If the F-35 program is further truncated— indeed, if it is not accelerated and sustained—the United States will essentially have “skipped a generation” of military modernization. This section will show how the F-35 program fits into a larger strategy of military modernization necessary to defeat potential future enemies, how it is uniquely positioned to ensure the continued superiority of American air power, and discuss the importance of maintaining the critical sections of America’s defense industrial base—including the parts of the base associated with the F-35, which would allow America to counter future threats.

There are two important ways in which the F-35 program is critical for the future security of the United States. First, the Lightning II’s capabilities would become the core of emerging US military operational concepts. Beyond the essential functionality that the JSF would provide the US Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy concepts of operation will similarly depend on fielding the F-35 in numbers. Secondly, the many elements of the F-35 project, not just the completed aircraft, but also the many subsys- tems and the tremendous amount of software required, represent an outsized proportion of the US defense industrial base.
Looking at the world today, anyone who thinks we can afford to "skip" a generation of military modernization or scrimp more on fielding adequate numbers of 5th generation jets needs to remove their rose colored glasses.  As explained yesterday, if we falter or waiver in our commitment to the F-35, we can expect our partners and potential partners to do the same.  If that happens, the "core of emerging US military operational concepts" would be rendered incapable of fulfilling its planned role.

Additionally, something the US has worked hard to maintain since WWII will be in jeopardy:
Air Supremacy and American Power. Air power is the signature form of American military power. It is not just that air power is effective on its own; advantages in air power are moreover critical to success in naval and land operations. Air-power theorists have long distinguished between “superiority” (the ability to grab a temporary and local advantage) and “supremacy” (larger-scale and longer-lasting advan- tages that often correlate to a more decisive outcome). 
Anyone who doesn't understand the critical nature of establishing and maintaining air superiority (or preferably, air dominance) over a battlefield doesn't deserve to be included in any discussion of force modernization.   It is a critical component for victory.

By not committing to do what is necessary to modernize our fighter fleet in adequate numbers, we will essentially put that critical component in jeopardy.  No longer will we be able to assume the ability to establish air superiority, much less air dominance, over a battlefield.  As other nations pursue advanced air defense systems and their own 5th generation fighter capabilities, we'll find ourselves behind the proverbial power curve.  And, depending on the crisis, that could mean dead Soldiers and Marines on the ground, killed by enemy aircraft - something we haven't allowed since Korea.

The naysayers and doubters can complain all they wish about the F-35, but like it or not, the key to keeping our dominant role in conflicted air space (as well as low intensity conflicts) rests on the continuing development and deployment  - in numbers - of that (upgradable) aircraft.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why the F-35? Building "Partner Capacity"

One of the past strengths of NATO's old "AirLand Battle" doctrine was the fact that it wasn't just a US doctrine, but it was an alliance doctrine that permitted and encouraged the development complementary capabilities and forces throughout the alliance.  This gave it much more strength than had it been an US only doctrine.

The same sort of requirement exists if the new doctrine, requiring different coalition members in different parts of the world, is going to be successful.  In their AEI paper, "Mass and Supremacy: A Comprehensive Case for the F-35",  Thomas Donnelly and Phillip Lohaus make the case for "building partner capacity" with this end in mind.

In fact, while many look only to the "Pacific pivot" portion of the doctrine, there are really three containment coalitions - the "China Deterrence Coalition", the "Iran Containment Coalition" and the "Limited-War Contingency Coalition".  Each requires partners in different parts of the world who are on the same doctrinal sheet of music and bring complementary weaponry and capabilities to the coalition. 

That is what the F-35 offers such a doctrine.

Here's the problem in a nutshell:
If AirSea Battle remains a US-only initiative, not only will it have less operational utility, but it will introduce a new element of strategic weakness. A coalition whose members fight in very different ways is dangerously vulnerable.
That means, like the NATO of old, common platforms and common capabilities build a synergy and a mass of their own and are critical to the success of such coalitions:
Common platforms and systems make tactical integration much easier as well. Indeed, the wars of the past two decades have underscored the widening gap in tactical proficiency between the United States and its foreign partners. The US introduction of fifth-generation aircraft represents an even larger fork in the road: if America’s allies do not take the same path, the gap in coalition capabilities could become crippling. Conversely, sharing the F-35 would close much of that gap. 

An even greater force multiplier would be logistics commonality. In recent years, small NATO nations have begun to pool resources to sustain their F-16 fleets, and in Afghanistan, the Dutch took on what amounted to a common sustainment mission for coalition F-16s at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, which allowed smaller nations to make larger contributions to International Security Assistance Force air operations.

A common F-35 would allow for both more robust and more flexible logistics and sustainment— and with fixed sites such as airfields and ports held increasingly at risk, these are two keys to a credible conventional-deterrent coalition in East Asia. “Distributed” logistics will not just be efficient, but also militarily effective. Finally, broadening the F-35 defense industrial partnership would cement the bonds of any coalition. Because of the long-term nature of multinational procurements—and the large sums of money involved—they can be even more reliable instruments of security partnership than treaty alliances; the penalties for failing to meet program obligations would be serious across the coalition, and thus the incentive to meet the obligations would be great.
The key here is "interoperability".  The brilliance of involving partner nations (and potential partner nations) in the manufacture of the F-35 is the de facto commitment it engenders in those partners to such interoperability.  And that interoperability is the key to creating the synergy and the mass necessary to make the AirSea doctrine successful.

The success of the coalition-creation process in East Asia depends on the success of the F-35 pro- gram. As evidenced above, America’s most important partners in the region are already part of the program or are poised to become so; nor is it impossible, down the road, to think that India would consider the prospect. Yet, these partner commitments are contingent, most of all because the partners are uncertain about America’s own commitment.
This, of course, is true of all three of the coalitions.  If we show signs of a lack of commitment, especially in tough budgetary times, our partners and potential partners will too.  That's why statements like this, recently made by SecDef Panetta while in Italy, are so important:
“I want to thank Italy for their participation in the Joint Strike Fighter program,” Panetta said at an appearance with di Paola at the Italian Defense Ministry. “I want Italy to know that the United States is fully committed to developing this essential fighter for the future.” 
The future of any coalition and doctrine is going to be found in coalition members being able to bring similar capabilities to the conflict and engaging in true interoperability.  The F-35 provides that key, not only with its advanced capabilities, but through involving coalition partners in its manufacture and deployment.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why the F-35? The China scenario

We mentioned yesterday the new AEI paper out entitled "Mass and Supremacy: A Comprehensive Case for the F-35" by Thomas Donnelly and Phillip Lohaus.  In it they methodically put together a very compelling case for the absolute necessity for a fighter like the F-35. 

They also point out that our history of preparing for the next war isn't a particularly good one.  An example is the belief by many that  our future only holds low intensity asymmetric warfare in the face of an increasingly prosperous and aggressive China who has made no secret of their desire to have more influence in their "near abroad".
China’s growing prosperity and accelerating military modernization have fundamentally shifted the view from the Pentagon. The role of high-technology conventional military power has returned—after more than a decade of sustained irregular warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq and continued emphasis on counter terrorism operations—as the principal focus of US defense planning.
We're only fooling ourselves if we choose to ignore this possible threat and continue to believe small war is all that is in our future.  At some point, our bluff is likely to be called.  That will obviously be when a country such as China - or others - think they can get away with it.
In a nutshell, the Pentagon has concluded that the operational challenge posed by China’s rapid development of advanced military technologies poses a strategic challenge to the United States and, indeed, to the international system. It is also apparent that other potential adversaries such as Iran are studying Chinese developments.
Thus the shift in our battle strategy and the rise of our new doctrine.  The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) summed it up this way:
“AirSea Battle, as a doctrine for the operational level of war, cannot and should not be seen as a ‘war- winning’ concept in itself. . . . Instead it should be viewed as helping to set the conditions . . . to sustain a stable, favorable conventional military balance throughout the Western Pacific region.”
Obviously, however, it must become a doctrine for "war winning".  But the important point is you must set up "conditions" favorable to ensuring that outcome.  And, as the authors of the AEI paper argue, the F-35 is the key to that.

So what would one suppose, looking at the direction of and the systems upon which Chinese military spending is concentrated?  Here's a likely general scenario:
Broadly speaking, the PLA’s expanding inventory of strike systems is creating the potential for a kind of East Asian “blitzkrieg”—a lightning campaign that would present the region and the United States with a fait accompli that might well be limited in scope and scale, but that would be costly and difficult to prevent. The strategic competition is not unlike that of the Cold War: though the probability of a war is low and overshadowed by the danger of nuclear weapons, the correlation of conventional forces is critical.
What do we then have to be able to do?
The first operational principle for deterring China is a credible forward conventional defense that brings critical allies into play from the start. Even without a formal chartering document, a China deterrence coalition must aspire to something functionally equivalent to the Washington Treaty’s “Article V.”
Note that term: "China deterrence coalition".  That too is a critical component of our Pacific strategy.  We have to build "partner capacity".  Japan's decision to buy the F-35 is an example of that.

Here's a specific idea of how a Chinese campaign - a "East Asian "blitzkrieg"- might unfold:
The study describes four characteristics of this notional Chinese campaign:

• “In the opening minutes of a conflict, China would seek to: Render U.S. and allied forces ‘deaf, dumb and blind’ by ‘destroying or degrading’ surveillance and communications capabilities, through anti-satellite and cyber attacks, jamming and other means.”

 • “Conduct ballistic missile salvo attacks, complemented by [land-attack cruise mis- siles] launched from various platform types, against U.S. and Japanese air and naval bases,” with the purpose of limiting US air power.

• “Conduct major strikes using land-based anti-ship ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles launched from various plat- forms . . . against all major U.S. Navy and allied warships within 1,500 [nautical miles] of the Chinese coast.”

•“Interdict U.S. and allied sea lines of communication throughout Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.”
 The question then is how do we develop a strategy to deter China from such an attempt, or, failing that, survive it and turn the tables?  Here are the author's thoughts on the subject:
The lessons for any China deterrence coalition could not be plainer: international politics and coalition strategy demand a forward defense and a forward operational posture, backed by both theater reserves and strategic reserves capable of denying the PLA the ability to secure its anti-access goals. This posture is required both to deter China from ever launching such an attack, and to deny Beijing geopolitical leverage from coercive threats. Broadly speaking, this strategy demands that the United States and its allies toughen their defenses, and, especially, disperse their forces.

The F-35 fleet is critical to ensuring that US forces and coalition forces are sufficiently capable at all echelons. It is crucial to understand the F-35 not simply as a uniquely capable platform, but as one of the few, if not the only, sources of operational mass in the Western Pacific theater. Without the mass and flexibility it provides, any first strike by China will fall on an inherently brittle defense.

The first order of business is ensuring that the covering force has the capability and capacity not just for reconnaissance and surveillance—nor simply to die in place—but to “develop the situation” in ways that convince the Chinese high command that it lacks the ability for a blitzkrieg-like campaign. Like the fighter wings and armored cavalry regiments that formed NATO’s front-line defenses, US and coalition forces along the long arc of the Western Pacific must possess organic mobility, firepower, and, above all, flexibility. They must be able to perform many roles to deny Beijing confidence in the PLA’s ability to quickly achieve a decisive result.

Creating an adequate “covering force” for the Western Pacific is a subject that deserves research well beyond the scope of this paper or the analytical capabilities of any single author. As the CSBA’s AirSea Battle and other studies have pointed out, there is a de facto “forward echelon” in the virtual and physical domains (including near-earth space and the electro-magnetic spectrum).

The requirement for a sizeable fleet of multirole, stealthy aircraft to secure these domains is plain. It is true that these aircraft will be vulnerable when parked at theater airfields within range of PLA missiles—but ensuring that Chinese aggression draws blood from many nations is a critical element in raising the bar of deterrence. This is a situation in which the political and strategic imperative for forward presence and quick response competes with—and must overbalance—the operational desire for depth. 
The point, of course, is that 4th generation aircraft, however souped up, will not do.  The bar has been raised.  At the center of our strategy are requirements they simply cannot fulfill (the primary one being "operational mass" which the authors explain in detail in the paper).  As they mention, it is a "uniquely capable platform" that the strategy, if it is to be successful, depends.

The point of spending some detailed time on this particular scenario is it isn't at all implausible and, more importantly, it underlines the folly of believing all our future wars will be low intensity, asymmetrical small war (and we therefore don't need a 5th generation fighter of the F-35's advanced capabilities).  There certainly may be more of those type wars in our future, but the F-35 will play a dominant and important role in those as well.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Why the F-35? Here's why!

One of the best statements we've seen on why the F-35 is so important to our military and country's future.  It comes from Thomas Donnelly and Phillip Lohaus of the American Enterprise Institute who have written an excellent paper entitled "Mass and Supremacy - a comprehensive case for the F-35".
The F-35—as an industrial-scale realization of the “fifth generation” of aircraft and other systems envisioned near the end of the Cold War and immediately after—was always intended to be the largest project of its era. It is now one of the few remaining opportunities to bring those technologies into use. Early-generation stealth aircraft like the F-117 Nighthawk and B-2 Spirit have passed their primes (and, of course, at 21 bombers, the B-2 fleet was tiny), and the Lighting II’s partner, the F-22 Raptor, was terminated after 187 planes were procured, rather than the 750-plus that were anticipated.

The Army has failed to acquire a major new system, and the Navy’s record for submarines, surface combatants, and advanced aircraft is nearly as dismal. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent (albeit not fast enough) for one-off systems like the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected trucks, low-end remotely piloted vehicles, body armor, and other short-term procurements in the post–9/11 wars; these were necessities, but not the foundation for the forces of the future. If the F-35 program is further truncated—indeed, if it is not accelerated and sustained—the United States will essentially have skipped a generation of military modernization.
To put it another way, we're well behind the power curve even as we see other nations, notably China, on huge modernization kicks. Over the years of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, modernization of our tactical and strategic forces has taken a back seat to "necessities" brought on by those wars.  Now we face budget issues.

However, none of that will stop potential adversaries from continued development of their capabilities.

Donnelly and Lohaus also answer the critics who claim to know the future of our conflicts and have decided they'll be asymetric and require UAV's:
It is impossible to predict the precise nature of future wars. Though it is important to build off lessons learned in recent conflicts, America cannot dismiss the possibility of war against a technologically sophisticated state. The value of the current generation of UAVs in such a conflict is unclear, and inventing, designing, and building a high-end UAV fleet would not be cheap—indeed, the most effective future UAV might well be a variant of the F-35 design.
Anyone who does dismiss such a possibility of war against a technologically sophisticated state just shouldn't be taken seriously.  As Gen. Petraeus said upon retiring, we must prepare ourselves for all possibilities.  To pretend to know what sort of war the future will bring is an exercise in folly.

Over the next week or so, we'll be working our way through the paper by Donnelly and Lohaus and examining their arguments.  But their statement above provides a very real "bottom line".  We're at a "fish or cut bait" moment in our defense strategy.  We need to understand the ramifications of not completing or cutting the F-35 program to our future. 

This paper provides a excellent point with which to begin that look.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

F-35: First dual refuel (F-35C)

For the first time, two Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT]  F-35C Lightning II carrier variant test aircraft refueled together with a Lockheed Martin KC-130 Hercules in the sky above Patuxent River, Md. recently. The CV aircraft, known as CF-1 and CF-2, completed the milestone as part of an F-35 flight test program that will accomplish more than 1,000 flights in 2013.  Later this year, Eglin AFB, Fla., will receive its first CV aircraft joining the F-35 pilot and maintainer training program there.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

F-35: 2012 put the F-35 program ahead of the curve

And for the naysayers that doubt it, here are a list of accomplishments for the year as outlined by Aerotech News:
  • U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the end of probation for the F-35B STOVL, nearly one year ahead of schedule.
  • The first two international F-35s were delivered to the United Kingdom.
  • The first three operational F-35B STOVL fighters delivered in November marked the beginning of tactical operational training at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.
  • 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., completed its Operational Utility Evaluation (OUE) and Air Education and Training Command (AETC) officials announced that the wing is ready for pilot training in 2013. The wing flew more than 700 sorties in 2012.
  • Norway procured its first F-35 commencing the largest public procurement project in its history. The event was marked by Minister of Defence Espen Barth Eide authorizing the order for the first F-35A for the Norwegian Armed Forces.
  • Luke AFB was selected for F-35A U.S. and international pilot training. The base will receive 72 aircraft for three fighter squadrons.
  • Major flight test accomplishments included the first aerial weapons release for the CTOL and STOVL; the F-35A reached maximum high-angle-of-attack milestone in four flights; the first night flight and night refueling missions were accomplished and both the CTOL and STOVL completed air-start testing.
  • F-35 program surpassed 5,000 flight hours.
Additionally, the 33rd Fighter Wing piled up some significant accomplishements:
  • Jan. 11- VMFAT-501 received the first two F-35B aircraft, tail numbers BF-6 and BF-8
  • Feb. 24 – VMFAT-501 conducted the F-35B rollout ceremony. Florida Representative Jeff Miller, Mr. Stephens, Lockheed Martin CEO, and Gen Dunford, Assistant Commandant for the Marine Corps attended as guest speakers
  • March 6 – Lt Col Eric Smith, 58th Fighter Squadron, Director of Operations, flew the first F-35 sortie in tail number 08-0750, after the 33 FW was issued Military Flight Release and all flight certificates.
  • April 10 – Pilots flew first F-35A Lightning II formation flight.
  • April 16 – Academic training center begins formal F-35 maintenance training
  • May 1 – Navy squadron VFA-101 reactivated at the 33 FW.
  • May 22 – VMFAT-501 accomplished the first local flight in an F-35B.
  • May 31 – First non-test pilot in the Air Force checks out in F-35 flight operations.
  • July 11 – 33 FW accomplished 100th sortie: 74 in F-35A and 26 in F-35B
  • July 16 – Maj Jay Spohn became the Air National Guard’s first F-35 pilot and instructor pilot
  • July 23 – The first United Kingdom joint strike fighter arrives
  • Sept. 10 – Air Force F-35A Operational Utility Evaluation begins
  • Sept. 10 – 33rd FW maintainers certify on F-35A engine runs
  • Oct. 15 – Air Force Chief of Staff visits F-35 integrated training center
  • Oct. 15 – The 33rd FW completes the 500th sortie
  • Nov. 16 – Marine Corps Air Station Yuma receives first F-35B
  • Nov. 20 – First two Marine Corps Yuma pilots complete F-35 training at Eglin
  • Dec. 17 – AETC declares Eglin ready for training
Finally, a review of the totals for the year:
Lockheed also said the goal for their 2012 flight test plan called for 988 flights and 8,458 test points by Dec. 31. For the year, the SDD program flew 1,167 flights and tallied 9,319 test points. The F-35A Flight Science test aircraft flew 291 flights and accomplished 2,573 test points. The F-35B Flight Science test aircraft accomplished 396 flights and 2,443 test points. The F-35C flew 239 flights and tallied 2,247 test points. The Mission Systems test aircraft accomplished 241 flights and 2,056 test points. The F-35B also executed 102 vertical landings.
In fact, the program exceeded its plan in all areas.   The flight test program is now one-third complete (with the A variant at 43%).  Software block 2B will begin flight testing this year.  And, as mentioned yesterday, the plan is to finish development by 2016.

Not exactly the faltering, foundering program critics would like you to believe it is, is it?


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

F-35: 2013 will be showcase an ambitious test schedule

You probably saw a short story or two on the recent DOT&E report that found stress cracks in an F-35B bulkhead at the 7,000 hour mark and other problems it cited.

Lockheed Martin has responded:
Lockheed Martin says it is not disputing the facts laid out in the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test Evaluation (DOT&E) report on the company's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), but says that many of the issues raised have already been addressed.

"The challenges that are identified in the report are known items, normal discoveries," says Steve O'Bryan, Lockheed's F-35 business development director. "When you look at it from a holistic sense, when you really talk about beginning OT [operational test] in 2017, these are known discoveries, known challenges, and the kind of normal discoveries you'd see in a flight test programme of this size and complexity." Despite the problems highlighted in the report, O'Bryan says 2012 went very well for the stealthy tri-service fighter. "In my humble opinion, it was our best year on the programme," he says.
Or, "old news".  When government reports finally get to the compiling, approving and, finally, issuing stage, the information is often quite dated.  That's the case here.

More importantly, this is a "developmental aircraft" - you're going to find problems with it as you test and you're going to have to fix them.  Testing is precisely where you want to find them.  Read the round up of what LM is doing to fix the problems cited (including an update on software).

What  you don't want is show stoppers.  What DOT&E reports about are normal and routine finds that are being addressed or have been addressed.

What's just as important, if not more important, is what will is on the horizon for the program.
For 2013, O'Bryan says the company's goals are to deliver more than 30 aircraft, complete a flight test plan of 1153 flights and 7689 test points, releasing Block 2B to flight test, and releasing Block 2A to the training fleet at Eglin AFB. Lockheed also hopes to complete the first lifetime of durability testing on the F-35B and C, and the company hopes to start delivering guided weapons from the aircraft. There will also be a second round of sea trials for the F-35B on the USS Wasp and operational testers at Nellis AFB, Nevada, should start to receive their first jets. Additionally, the Italian final assembly line should start delivering jets this year, O'Bryan says.
That's ambitious, but if 2012's results are any indication, certainly achievable.  And, assuming all goes as planned:
O'Bryan adds that at this point, the F-35 is more than one-third of its way through its flight test programme. "We are on track to finish development in 2016," he insists. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

F-35: 2012 in review

Nice video that takes you through the year of testing for the program and the progress it made:


Thursday, January 17, 2013

F-35: Despite naysayers, program progress is obvious

There's  a long and interesting article about the F-35 in yesterday's Telegraph (UK).  It also has a very good interactive graphic of the F-35B that you'll enjoy.

A key line that was interesting in a fairly balanced article:
No one doubts that there are development problems to overcome, yet even the most vociferous naysayers have tended to go to ground as F-35s have taken, increasingly confidently, to the air. 
That is exactly the situation as the program continues to make steady positive progress.  We increasingly hear ... silence from critics.  Or, we here the continued use of old and dated arguments that are no longer valid.

This is a developmental program, just like any other jet fighter program, where a concept is built and then tested.  If it were possible to build the perfect jet without testing it and fixing problems discovered during the testing, I'm sure we'd have done that by now, wouldn't we?

That's why I mostly get a chuckle from the hyperbole critics are fond of using when describing problems with the F-35.  You'd think that we'd never built one without problems before.  In fact, we've never built the perfect jet and we never will.  That's why programs have a testing period.

Acknowledged, the F-35 program got off to a slow start, but that seems to be behind it now.  The good news is we're seeing more and more of the media take a fairer look at the program now that has begun enjoying success (and the critics arguments continue to fall as they're proven wrong).

One other point to bring out that often gets lost in the critics "complexity" argument (i.e. this plane is way too complex and we should be building much simpler jets):
Everyone I meet involved in the F-35 project talks lyrically about the computer wizardry of this digital-era aircraft. I ask the same analogue question, over and again, of the test pilots: so what’s it like to fly?

'A no-brainer,’ they chorus.

They talk so fervently about the Star Wars aspects of the F-35 partly because it is the easiest aircraft any of them has ever flown: pilots are free to manage the weaponry while the F-35, more or less, flies itself.


They include the RAF’s quietly spoken Sqd Ldr Jim Schofield, who flew 70 hours in Harriers in combat in Iraq in 2003. He learnt to fly, on a Piper Super Cub, before he could drive.

'I’ve flown 10 frontline fighters,’ Schofield says. 'The F-35 is by far and away the easiest. I’ve flown the aircraft up to Mach 1.6 and pulled up to 7g. The helmet gives me a God’s-eye view. And when you press that hover button it’s as if engineering and electronics have overcome the laws of physics.’ 
Who are you going to listen too - the critics who've never flown the plane, or a combat pilot who has flown many jet fighters and finds this one by far the easiest ever to fly?  The complexity of the aircraft, in terms of flight, has apparently rendered a fighter that is actually easier to fly than it's predecessors.

And what does that mean?  It means the pilot can concentrate on the other aspects of his job in the air that doesn't include flying the plane.  If you review the last two posts here, you'll understand why that's so important.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The F-35 and the "Combat Cloud"

Yesterday, we covered Lt. Gen David Deputa's article on the importance of the F-35 to the future of our warfare strategy.

Today we'll highlight an interview Deputa had (along with Dr. Robinn Laird) with Gen. Michael Hostage, the head of the Air Force's Air Combat Command in Langly, VA.  In it they further discuss the concept Deputa layed out in yesterday's post and the critical importance of the F-35 to its functioning:

Laird & Deptula: How important are the 5th generation aircraft to shaping the "combat cloud" which you see as essential to the next phase of air combat capabilities?

Hostage: They are central to the transition. We are operating in contested airspace and need to shape a distributed air operations capability. The F-22s aggregated in appropriate numbers can do some amazing and essential tasks, and with a significant number of F-35s, we can reshape the operational space.

The ability of the planes to work with each other over a secure distributed battlespace is the essential foundation from which the air combat cloud can be built. 

And the advantage of the F-35 is the nature of the global fleet. Allied and American F-35s, whether USAF, USN, or USMC, can talk with one another and set up the distributed operational system. Such a development can allow for significant innovation in shaping the air combat cloud for distributed operations in support of the Joint Force Commander.

That highlights the critical importance of the F-35 about as succinctly as you're likely to see it.
Laird & Deptula: Historically, the evolution of aircraft has been described in terms of change in the form factor [i.e. their visible, physical size and shape, rather than their invisible, internal electronics]. This is really changing with the F-35. What is your thinking on the impact of this change and the introduction of software-upgradeable aircraft?

Hostage: The 5th generation aircraft will enable the air combat cloud and allow me to use my legacy assets differently. Many of my 4th generation fighters can be used to extend the network of linked systems, providing reinforcing fires, and I can focus on the 5th generation assets as the core nodes shaping distributed joint capabilities.

And when we come to the evolution of "next" generation systems, the form factor could stay quite similar as we evolve the capabilities within the planes or in terms of how the flying systems can interact and operate together.

Rather than thinking of 6th generation aircraft in form factor terms, we can operate the new air combat cloud and leverage that moving forward.
So we're not just talking about an "evolution" in fighter jet technology, but instead a "revolution" in the way we conduct war with the 5th generation fighter as the center of the strategy.  And note, too, that Gen. Hostage envisions the 5th generation fighters, particularly the F-35, to allow him to "extend" the use of 4th generation fighters, making them even more capable than they are today.

Finally, two more critical points pertaining to the F-35:
Laird & Deptula: How important are numbers for the F-35 from this perspective?

Hostage: Very important. It is not a boutique aircraft. The full impact of the F-35 aircraft comes with its fleet operational capabilities for the enablement of the air combat cloud.

Another advantage of the F-35 is that is built to evolve over time as the environment evolves. Software and hardware upgradeability will allow changes over time to the fleet, not just individual aircraft. 
Gen. Hostage, in a few lines, is able to outline what the critics don't seem to understand or grasp.  The advantages and capabilities the 5th generation aircraft bring to the game completely change the concept of how it is played.  They change the way it will be planned, how forces will be distributed, how they will fight.

This isn't just about a new airplane ... it's about fighting and winning the next war by redefining "joint operations" with the F-35 at the center of the strategy.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

F-35: Key component of future strategy

If you haven't seen LTG David Deputa's piece on why the F-35 (among other systems) is critical to our future strategy despite budget constraints (entitled: New Capabilities, New Constraints Call For New Concepts In 2013) you need to read it. Key points:
To attain superior U.S. warfighting capabilities at less cost in the future will require more than new technology, adjusting manpower, or altering the number or type of widgets we operate. It will require applying concepts of operation enabled by information age capabilities in new ways. Information-centric, interdependent, and functionally integrated operations are the keys to future military success. This will require an agile operational framework for the integrated employment of U.S. and allied military power. This will entail a shifting away from the conduct of warfare segregated by the separate domains of land, air, sea, space and cyberspace-while still retaining those competencies-to truly integrated operations based on the functions of global situational awareness, strike, maneuver, and sustainment.

 Linking operations across all domains with accurate information can be the basis for an omnipresent security complex that is self-forming, and if attacked, self-healing. This kind of complex could deter war where possible and win it where conflict is inevitable. The central idea is cross-domain synergy, the complementary rather than merely additive employment of capabilities in different domains such that each enhances the effectiveness, and compensates for the vulnerabilities, of the others. An example would be F-35 Joint Strike Fighters used to cue Aegis missile defenses to engage adversary anti-ship ballistic missiles launched against US aircraft carriers.
The F-35, as noted, is a critical and key component in this strategy that changes how we approach war.
For some, the image of network-centric warfare suggests an overreliance on digital systems and centralized switching and focus. The reality is the opposite. It is about enabling disaggregated, distributed operations over a fluid operational area. It is about combining digital tools with effective distributed decision-making. It is more akin to a honeycomb than a network.

This kind of "complex" is not just about "things." It is about integrating existing and future capabilities within an agile operational information framework guided by human understanding. It's an intellectual construct enabled by technological infrastructure-and it's eminently affordable. It simply requires application of what has historically been the linchpin of American military success: military leadership that encourages innovation, prudent risk-taking, and foresight. 
But it has to have "enablers" to allow that "linchpin" to be applied.  Thus the F-35 which becomes a key node in this new concept of "enhancing the effectiveness" and "compensating for the vulnerabilities" of other systems.  Call it the "linchpin" for the "linchpin".  It is one of the critical pieces that enables this strategy to work and, as LTG Deputa notes in his piece, considering the synergy it helps create, it is "eminently affordable" even in this era of limited budgets. 

Without it and its capabilities, the integration of "existing and future capabilities within an agile operational information network" becomes very difficult if not impossible to stand up.


Monday, January 14, 2013

F-35: Budget cutters may drive cost of F-35 up

One of the more interesting things consistently left out of the discussion the cost of an F-35 concerns the fact that many times the reason costs remain high have to do with DoD, not Lockheed Martin. And when it is not DoD, it is Congress.
With more fiscal battles looming in Washington, the Fort Worth-made Joint Strike Fighter will be a large target for those seeking to cut government spending, the Dallas Morning News reports.

The JSF, also known as the F-35, is made at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth plant and the program's $400 billion price tag makes it a prime target as budget writers look for ways to trim government spending, the Morning News said.
 We mentioned many times, that the cost of the aircraft will come down as production goes up. Econ 101. They're called "economies of scale". However, if you insist upon cutting back on production and limiting the number of aircraft bought, the price will remain higher.

It remains a mystery as to why this doesn't seem to be understood. Mark my words, if indeed the cuts are made, the critics will again be hollering about the fact that the price of the aircraft isn't coming down.

It is a sure as the sun rising in the East.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

F-35: Speaking of high AOA

Here's a great shot of the high Angle of Attack testing that's ongoing.  It is also the "first intentional departure from controlled flight" in that testing:

Lockheed Martin test pilot David Nelson is at the controls of F-35A AF-4 for the first intentional departure from controlled flight as part of the high angle of attack testing being performed at the Air Force Test Center at Edwards AFB, California. This first departure test sortie occurred on AF-4 Flight 148 on 4 December 2012.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

F-35: Critics provide contextless arguments

When it comes to the F 35, there's one thing you can count on like sunrise in the east. A certain critic is going to make groundless and misinformed accusations regardless of the facts.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter aircraft is an under-performing plane, according to Winslow Wheeler, Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information, a part of the Project on Government Oversight.

According to Wheeler, the F-35 is a mediocre aircraft because its “varied requirements force it to make compromises” and says that the aircraft should be boxed. Wheeler alleges that “manufacturer Lockheed Martin used a pricing vocabulary that masked the exorbitant costs”. “There is only one thing to do with the F-35: Junk it.

America’s air forces deserve a much better aircraft, and the taxpayers deserve a much cheaper one. The dustbin awaits,” he told news website Foreign Policy. While not as expensive as F-22 Raptors, which cost upwards of $678 million apiece, the F-35 is the most expensive weapons program, with the total cost to buy and operate all F-35’s estimated to be more than $1.5 trillion, according to Foreign Policy.
Locked in old thinking and studiously blind to the aircraft's advanced capabilities, Wheeler is sure that the aircraft must be "mediocre" because it has so many roles - without a scintilla of evidence to support his claim.

He also loves to trot out the trillion dollar cost without ever giving a context. Of course the context as the trillion dollars will be spent over 55 year and includes every cost associated with operating the  F-35 to include basing and pilot salaries. Wheeler likes to use this figure to claim that the aircraft is the most expensive Defense Department program in history without ever pointing out the fact it is also the first program in Defense Department history to be costed out over 55 years.

And of course, Wheeler's reputation is based in being an "budget hawk", so there are few Defense Department programs he likes.

New year, same old tired song,


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

F-35: 2012 puts program on track

So, with all the critical press, hyperbole, handwaving and teeth gnashing, despite all the program delays and snags, how is the F 35 program doing now? Well it can likely be summed up in this statement by U.S. Air Force Col. Andrew Toth, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base where all the F 35 training takes place:
In his two years at Eglin, Toth said he has been amazed to see the team of airmen, marines, sailors, contractors and civilians come together to focus on the single goal of running safe and effective flying operations.

 “I couldn’t be prouder of the team and the way they’ve responded to the challenges that have been put before them,” he said. “Just to be a part of that makes me so proud.” 
The point? The pride of accomplishment is evident in Col. Toth's remark. The program is on a positive track, and beginning to gain real momentum. It is one reason the critics and become a little less vocal. It is also the reason that they mostly pursue their questionable cost arguments.  They really don't have much else.

Look for another year of positive accomplishment for the program in 2013.


Monday, January 7, 2013

F–35: how "stealth" is done

One of the things we said on this blog is that stuff does not define the F–35. Stealth is simply one of its tools, one of its capabilities.

However, critics will tell you, or at least try to, that stealth is overrated. In fact, it's not. It is just over-hyped. But it is a critical capability.
In short, the four most important aspects of stealth are "shape, shape, shape and materials," to quote Lockheed Martin analyst Denys Overholser, whose pioneering work resulted in the F-117 Nighthawk, the world's first operational stealth warplane.

But in addition to shaping and RAM, the Pentagon's current stealth planes -- the B-2 Spirit bomber, the F-22 Raptor fighter, the RQ-170 Sentinel drone and the in-development F-35 Joint Strike Fighter -- boast other, lesser-known qualities that help them avoid detection. ...

These other stealth enhancements include: chemicals to eliminate telltale contrails; sophisticated, untraceable sensors and radios; specially designed, hard-to-detect engine inlets; radar-canceling paint; and cooling systems for reducing a plane's heat signature.
Of course what those three paragraphs mean, is that anyone or any nation can claim to have  a stealth aircraft, however claiming it, even making one that looks like a stealth airplane, doesn't mean it has the same capabilities as the F–22 or the F–35. There's a lot more to stealth than just a paint job.

 For instance:
Radar is like long-range eyes in the sky for modern warplanes. Without this sensor, a plane is more or less flying blind. The problem is, radar works by emitting energy -- lots of it. And that can be detected by an enemy's own passive radar receptors in the same way that someone standing in a dark room can track the movements of another person carrying a flashlight.

The F-22, F-35 and B-2 work around this problem by practicing what Aviaton Week stealth guru Bill Sweetman called "emission-control principles." With the Raptor, emissions from the jet's APG-77 radar "are managed in intensity, duration and space to maintain the pilot's situational awareness while minimizing the chance that its signals will be intercepted." In other words, the plane's software is smart enough to use just enough energy to find and track targets -- and no more. The B-2 and F-35 have electronically-scanned radars that are similar to the Raptor's and probably employ the same tactics.

Plus the Raptor and Joint Strike Fighter both have non-emitting backup sensors that can fill in the gaps in the radar coverage. The F-22's ALR-94 radar-warning receptors are among the most sensitive ever designed and can accurately, and "silently," detect most radar-using targets at long range. The F-35 boasts a powerful set of cameras that achieve the same effect.
So when you see the claims that all stealth planes are equal, and that being the case, the F–35 is inferior, it is highly likely those making the claims don't know what they're talking about.


Friday, January 4, 2013

F-35 pushes the envelope

Great article in Aerotech News about the high AOA testing the F–35 has undergone recently. Of course, the critics haven't had much to say about this. However, it has gone very well. That's not to say that things were perfect. That's the point of testing. Discover, define and tweak/fix things that are correctable.

Here is what one of the test pilots had to say about the ongoing testing.
“We are significantly matching models and it gives us good confidence in the aircraft and how to polish the flight control systems so it’s even better than what we started with. Going into this unknown area of High AoA, we really like when things match. It makes you feel very safe, although we will remain cautious all the way though,” said David Nelson, F-35 chief test pilot from Lockheed Martin.
“We don’t want a first lieutenant going through F-35 school to be the first person to see something. We, as a flight test community, feel this is a protection and a promise we must deliver to the warfighter,” he continued.
The significant point here is that the flight characteristics are matching models and simulations and, as Nelson says, giving the pilots "good confidence" in the aircraft. And, just as significant, is the fact that testing progressed quickly to the 50° high angle of attack threshold.
As a result of the success, the F-35 ITF has also gained momentum in delivering an envelope in 2014 to the program office to the design limit o 50 degrees AoA, along with the ability to pull 7gs throughout the envelope, and also ensuring that the jet can fly out to 700 knots and 1.6 mach. “This is a huge milestone for the program. This is so important because in 2014, the F-35 program has made a commitment to deliver a flight envelope to the U.S. Air Force.

But more than that, we are doing this so we put test pilots like “Doc” Nelson in a position where we hope no other pilot ever has to deal with. But, if they find themselves in that position, we will have seen it and have verified that they can recover the aircraft,” said Lt. Col. George Schwartz, 461st Flight Test Squadron commander.
 So again, the aircraft continues to show marked progress in its development, and appears it will be on track to deliver the promised flight envelope to the U.S. Air Force in 2014.

That is progress in anyone's book.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

F-35: New year, but same old tired song from the critics

Here at the beginning of 2013, it will be nice to see critics at least update their criticism to reflect reality. Instead we are still treated to outdated criticism of the F-35 program by the usual suspects. And of course, the journalists reporting the story do very little digging themselves. For example:
But many budget hawks and defense geeks say the problem is that this plane just keeps getting more expensive. Right now, the cost of the Air Force version is nearly $130 million a plane. The Marine version, which flies like a jet but can land like a helicopter, is more than $160 million.
 Except, contra the claim, the plane does not keep getting more expensive, despite the nonsense put out there by so-called "budget hawks and defense geeks".

For instance, we reported recently that the latest batch of Air Force F-35's cost $107 million per copy, down from $111 million per copy.   These facts aren't hard to find. But you have to be willing to research your story. That seems to be a lost art among many critics. And then there's this:
"Flyaway costs, non-recurring and recurring costs. Lots of gobblygook and they'll say that comes to a number like 60, 70 million dollars, and it's complete baloney," he says.
 Except, that's how fighter costs  have been measured for decades. It is only "gobblygook" when it doesn't fit your agenda. The Unit Recurring Flyaway cost is coming down. The entire premise of this article is wrong. It claims that costs continue to go up, but they aren't, are they?

After completely fumbling the cost question, this particular critic then says:
Wheeler says the result is a plane that is mediocre at everything.
And of course despite the high praise pilots who've actually flown the aircraft have given it, we should believe this joker.

This is the state of the program's critics today. Stuck in 2010 with the same lame arguments and baseless claims as the program continues to flourish and prices continue to come down, just as supporters of the program and said they would.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

F-35: Pacific "pivot" may mean more F-35s

 As the North Korean and Chinese threats continue to grow, the aircraft many of our asian allies are looking at seriously is the F-35:
The highest-profile U.S. offering now is Lockheed Martin's radar-evading F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, whose three variants make up the Pentagon's costliest arms program.
Japan already has selected the F-35 to replace aging F-4s as its next mainstay fighter, a deal valued at more than $5 billion.
The F-35 is being considered by Singapore and South Korea, which is also weighing rival bids from the Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing's F-15 Silent Eagle. The Korean competition is for a 60-plane order valued at more than $7 billion.
U.S. arms sales to India, now at a cumulative $8 billion from near zero in 2008, are expected to keep on booming. India plans to spend about $100 billion over the next decade to upgrade its arsenal, partly as a counter to China. India and China fought a brief, high-altitude border war in 1962.
As sales are added and the aircraft continues to mature, the price will also continue to drop.  Neither of the 4th generation fighters under consideration come near offering the capabilities of the F-35.

As these capabilities become more fully appreciated and understood, look for more sales in Asia.