Tuesday, December 31, 2013

F-35: Critic - "F-4s and A-1 Skyraiders would do fine"

Sometimes you read something that is supposedly aimed at objective criticism and you run across something so silly you just throw up your hands and say, "I'm done".  This article was one of them.  It rehashed all the old, stale arguments against the F-35 and then claimed all we needed to do was buff up our legacy aircraft (and in this case, gen 2 and 3 aircraft) a bit.

In fact:
Indeed, for many of the missions associated with the modern practice of airpower, A-1 Skyraiders and F-4 Phantom would perform perfectly well.
This is what I call the 'present conflict' syndrome.  "Thinkers" like this can't or won't look past the present conflict in which we're involved to possible conflicts of the future.  You build your force for the future, not the present.  You do it with an eye on who those conflicts might involve and what it might require to be on at least equal and hopefully superior footing.

Critics like this also tend to tell us how "expensive" a program like the F-35 is, but never seem to realize that maintaining and upgrading a raft of different lines of mission specific legacy aircraft would be prohibitively expensive.  And even then, in a world going stealth, they would be inadequate in almost every way.

Could we use F-4s and A-1 Skyraiders?  Possibly, in very special circumstances, like Afghanistan.  But against China?  Iran?  Any of a host of other hostile nations with sophisticated air defense systems (another of many potential enemy capabilities they usually ignore)?  Of course not.  Nor would we do well with our current crop of legacy aircraft.  So what then?

Warfare evolves.  It moves on.  While a critic may believe the F-35 has shortcomings, they lose all credibility when they make silly suggestions such as we should just keep what we have while other countries move into the same areas of development as the F-22/F-35 programs are involved.  If they had a valid point, I'm sure we'd still be using Gatling guns and muzzle loading cannon.  I'm sure they would "perform perfectly well" in certain circumstances.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The F-35's "very good year"

Well this will make the usual suspects foam at the mouth, I'm sure:
Thirteen is looking like the F-35 fighter’s lucky number. After struggling for a dozen years to make program realities match government expectations, in 2013 prime contractor Lockheed Martin saw everything come together. Technical risks were retired. Flight testing progressed rapidly. The price-tag for each plane continued declining. And a new management team discovered that its government customers weren’t so hard to get along with after all. So when the history of the Pentagon’s biggest weapon program is written, 2013 is going to look like the point at which the effort really took off — the year doubts melted away and the F-35 became unstoppable.
I'd say, as a short synopsis of the year, this pretty much describes it.  Loren Thompson, who wrote it and, as usual, discloses that LM is one of the contributors to his think tank, nonetheless lays out a pretty persuasive case for his lead paragraph in the remainder of the article.

In successive paragraphs, Thompson covers testing, production, cost, teamwork and orders.  In every area both progress and success are undeniable.  Well, except for the critics, who adept at denying reality on a daily basis.

Make sure to read the whole thing.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

F-35: New sortie record

Lockheed Martin public affairs has put out a press release with the following:
The joint-program reached a new single-day record for F-35 sorties Dec. 4 with 45 training missions between all three models of the aircraft. The Marine B- model completed 32 of the flights, the Air Force A-model had 10 flights and the Navy C-model flew three missions.
As you recall, the critics were telling us how unreliable they believed the F-35 would be and it would never be able to accomplish meaningful sortie rates.  It was "too complicated" and would be a "hanger queen".  Especially the "B" model.

So far, it's not working out that way at all, is it?


Thursday, December 19, 2013

The F-35 and the "dogfight" question

I see War is Boring is at it again, this time questioning the abilities of the F-35 in a "dogfight".

It's an interesting attempt to brand the F-35 as inferior to the F-22 while making it clear the F-35 isn't intended to be the F-22 ... or something.

Take this paragraph:
By contrast, there are troubling questions as to how well the F-35 would fare against the new foreign fighters. While the F-35 has air-to-air sensors and can carry air-to-air missiles, it does not have the kinematic performance of the F-22. It’s simply sluggish in comparison.
Well, yeah ... so are most of the fighter aircraft in the world, "in comparison".  And, as they attempt to point out in the article, the F-35 is a Joint STRIKE Fighter.

However, the critics have also said that what we should really be doing is buying more F-18s, remember?  And they will do well against whatever is out there, or so the argument goes.

So what does the F-35 remind pilots of?
U.S. military test pilots say the JSF is similar to the Boeing F/A-18C in speed and maneuverability.
Oh.  Gee, given the critics, I'd think that would be a plus. And it has what else?
The F-35 does have integrated avionics—in some ways more advanced than even the Raptor’s ...
And? Oh yeah, stealth.

So maybe, just maybe, it will be the plane getting the first shot, huh?

Obviously the F-35 isn't an air superiority weapon, but will it be able to defend itself?  Yes.  Will it be able to help establish air superiority?  Most likely, yes:
“You have to have the F-35 to augment the F-22 to do the air superiority fight at the beginning of a high-end conflict to survive against the fifth-generation threats we believe will be in the world at that point in time,” Welsh says. 
 Bingo. That's the point of the net-centric, information sharing advanced capabilities the 5th gen aircraft share.

The F-35 is not a dogfighter, but then we don't want the F-22 to be one either.  We want them to be "first shot, one shot, fight over" aircraft.  Working together, there's no reason they can't be.  And that's Gen. Welsh's point.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

F-35: A couple of milestones

First, the manufacturer is set to deliver the 100th F-35.  The breakdown:
The first 100 F-35s include 44 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variants, 42 F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variants, and 14 F-35C carrier (CV) variants. The U.S. Department of Defense will receive 95 of the first 100 jets from the F-35 assembly line here. The remaining five jets were delivered to two of the program’s partner countries. The United Kingdom received three F-35B aircraft and two F-35As have been delivered to the Netherlands.
Deliveries are ramping up as more orders come in.  Yup, that's right, we should see those economies of scale begin to kick in big time soon.

The other milestone?  A pretty important one I'd say:
An F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) fighter aircraft successfully employed a Guided Bomb Unit-32 (GBU-32) Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) weapon from the F-35B's internal weapons bay against a fixed ground test target on Dec. 6, completing a successful flight test and verification year for weapons integration. The latest series of weapons tests was accomplished with Block 2B software. The GBU-32 JDAM is a 1,000 pound "smart" bomb with high accuracy, all-weather, autonomous, conventional bombing capability that is guided by a Global Positioning System (GPS)-aided Inertial Navigation System (INS) to its target upon separation from the jet.
The significance?
The test was a major milestone in the F-35 program for the Marine Corps' F-35 Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2015 (employing the 2B software), Air Force IOC in 2016 and Navy IOC in 2018.
Onward and upward.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Norway orders 6 more F-35s

This is addition to those they recently ordered:
Norway's parliament authorised the government to purchase another six Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets for about 4 billion crowns ($654.7 million), the parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee said on Wednesday.

The six jets, to be delivered in 2018, bring the Norwegian order to 16 planes ...
Good news for the program and an indicator that any hesitation by Norway about the F-35 seems to have passed.
Norway plans to buy a total of 52 F-35s by the end of 2024, but purchases for each year have to be separately approved by parliament.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

US sees strong interest in F-35 among Gulf states

An interesting dilemma for the US:
Strong demand from Gulf countries for Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter jet has prompted Washington to grapple with the thorny question about releasing the jet to the region sooner than expected, a senior U.S. defense official said.

Washington has already approved sales of the new stealth fighter to a range of allies, including Turkey, South Korea, Japan and Israel, but sales to the Gulf require a deeper review given U.S. policy guidelines that call for Israel to maintain a qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

Talk about selling the plane to the United Arab Emirates and other U.S. allies in the Gulf came into the open during the Dubai air show last month, with potential buyers weighing whether to buy existing planes or wait for the U.S. government to release the new radar-evading F-35. 
Obviously the F-35 is an export model, given the sales outside the original partners in the program.  However, one of the pillars of US foreign policy in the Middle East has been to ensure Israel has a qualitative edge in weaponry.  So selling to other Gulf states requires some decision making that has to take that into consideration.

On the plus side, of course, is that more sales means a lower cost per aircraft for everyone.
Decisions about releasing sensitive technologies for sale to foreign countries are made by the State Department in consultation with the Pentagon and other government agencies.

"Eventually we're going to have to make a decision. We have a very structured process in place for doing that. And it takes a little bit of time," said the official. "But we are going to have to make decisions on a tighter timeline than we thought."
Israel gets their first F-35 in 2016.  My guess is there won't be a decision on sales to the Gulf states anytime before that.

Why the sudden interest?
"The interest in the airplane is coming about simply because it's getting more mature and people are finally realizing that it's really going to happen," said the official. 
Which means that future sales outside the Gulf states remains a solid possiblity as well.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

F-35: Interview with PacAf Gen. Hawk Carlisle

Gen. Hawk Carlisle outlined the emerging Pacific strategy in an interview.  And he was clear on what the deployment of the F-35 and F-22 mean to the success of that strategy:
He sees this reshaping approach as central to shaping the distributed operations approach emerging as the F-35 fleet is deployed over the decade ahead.

“The F-35 is the finest sensor-enabled aircraft ever built. The F-35 is orders of magnitude better than the F-22 (which is the greatest air to air fighter ever built) as an electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich aircraft. We already are working synergy between F-22s and fourth generation aircraft to provide greater fidelity of the information shaping air combat operations. With the F-22 and F-35 combination and the folding in of on-orbit information and surveillance systems, we will be able to generate more synergy across the fleet,” the general told us.

The other advantage of the F-35 is its commonality across the services. “We are already working on greater synergy among the air power services; with the F-35 and deploying common assets in a dispersed fleet, the efforts we are making now for today’s conditions will only lead to more effective capabilities for tomorrow’s crises as well.”
"Synergy", of course, is the key word here.  That synergy will take away much of any enemies potential advantage with superior numbers.  And the speed and accuracy with which battlefield intel is shared may remove the remainder of a numerical advantage.
“When you bring Raptor and F-35 into the mix you make every one of the platforms better in terms of its performance for the joint force,” he told us. “And referring back to your concept of S Cubed (Stealth, Sensors, and Speed), when you put those two together with long range strike the synergy unleashed by S Cubed will be significantly enhanced as well.”
 Make sure to read the whole thing.