On F-35 export “success”

I have often seen F-35’s export successes being used as a proof of aircraft’s quality. Is it really so? I decided to check situation.

It is known that United States have often used diplomatic pressure – even threats of military invasion – to secure arms contracts. That also seems to be case here. And it is not only a matter of US politicians and generals – who themselves are often led by political concerns – praising F-35.

US State Department memos have revealed that Norway has been persuaded through diplomatic channels to buy F-35. In 2010, Canada has announced decision to buy 65 F-35s for 9 billion USD. In fact, influence of Military-Industrial Complex in United States are such that US embassies lobby for F-35.

In Norway’s case, diplomatic notes have been revealed (excerpts brought by therecord.com):
“We needed to avoid any appearance of undue pressuring … but we couldn’t let stand the view that the choice didn’t matter for the relationship,”
While public US position was that buying F-35 would “maximise” Norway’s relations with United States
“In private, we were much more forceful,”
When F-35s sale to Norway was in danger of being cancelled, US diplomats in Norway have warned that
“High-level Washington advocacy on this issue is needed to help reverse this trend,”

On September 22, 2008, US Embassy in Norway has asked United States to warn Norway that future US-Norway relations may be harmed if Norway does not select F-35.

After winning Norwegian deal, same memo has praised US diplomatic involvement.

While official Canadian position was that F-35 has been chosen due to its capabilities, that must be brought into question, since after Norwegian success, United States have compiled a list of lessons that can be used to help secure future F-35 exports:
 active involvement of local US embassy, including Ambassador
 co-ordinating sales strategy with Lockheed Martin
 creating opportunities to praise aircraft – meetings by people of importance, often on lunches organized by US Embassy in respective country.

Even more damning, US diplomat – Kevin Johnson – who pushed F-35 on Norway is now based in Canada. His name also appears on document which lists lessons mentioned in paragraph above. In the same document, it was noted that SAAB has offered superior benefits for Norwegian industry compared to F-35, and price tag half of F-35s. Moreover, Gripen was also far better choice politically, playing on card of Norwegian neutrality and being a national corporation based in Norway’s neighbour, Sweden. Explaining decision, Norway has scorned Gripen’s performance, something never done by, and in opposing experiences of, other operators of the aircraft.

Later, it has been revealed that pressure has also been made by delaying export lincense for Gripen’s radar until after Norwegian decision.

Canadian politicians have engaged themselves in promoting the F-35. Canadian Department of National Defense has spent over 130 000 USD on tour designed to improve F-35s public image, and Industry Canada additional 55 000. (figures for 2011). There have also been visits by US politicians, as well as attempts to influence public opinion by articles – one, “The truth about those jets”, being written by retired General Paul Manson – also an ex-president of Lockheed Martin Canada. Canadian decision was, officially, based on competition held between 1997 and 2001. While it is true, competition in question was US 2001 competition which determined company to build F-35s. F-35 was also chosen before Canadian military has defined its requirements.

Many Canadian officials responsible for Canada’s decision to join Joint Strike Fighter programme are now lobbysts for Lockheed Martin. Also, over 70 Canadian firms have contracts signed with Lockheed Martin – and Lockheed Martin has said that it will not deal with these firms in future unless Canada buys F-35.

Canada needs to replace F-18s by 2016, yet F-35 will only be finishing its development phase that year.

Japan and Korea, meanwhile, have very strong political and military ties to the United States, and depend on US support in case of invasion by China. Korea has also been subject to pressure by United States: its request for upgrading F-16s radar has been denied.

While Korea has budgeted 120 million USD per aircraft, Air Force version of F-35 now costs at least 199 million USD in flyaway cost; cost difference will be covered by US taxpayers, and later presumably paid by increased maintenance costs.

Japan, meanwhile, has selected F-35 despite Eurofighter offering far better terms – 95 % of work was to be done in Japan, compared to 20 % for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and 80 % for Boeing’s Super Hornet.

Wikileaks documents have shown that pressure by US diplomacy was important in securing F-35 deals in Turkey and Italy.

That hardly reveales decisions brought purely on basis of military concerns. Actually, since all F-35s export customers have close ties to United States (especially Israel), and many are not likely to see any situation where they might need it, not a single F-35 export order was made on basis of performance.

However, even traditional US allies – such as Japan and Korea – are saying that they might cancel F-35 order if costs rise further. F-35’s export costs are, as seen before, actually already below its actual flyaway cost, with difference being covered by US taxpayers. Even then, cost might turn out to be too high for Korea. Canada and Netherlands are also thinking about cancelling F-35 buys, and UK is looking at Naval Typhoon for their carrier, an aircraft that will be superior to F-35 by all possible measures.

As for F-35’s performance, it is nothing to praise. It is large, heavy, has high wing loading and low thrust-to-weight ratio – and that despite its huge engine. A such, it is sluggish in both turn and acceleration, and very easily spotted by modern-day IRSTs such as PIRATE, at distances of 100 kilometers or larger – even from front, where its IR signature will be smallest.

Decade into programme, only 21 percent of developmental testing has been completed – and even in full testing plan, many factors will remain untested. Ben Freeman has rightly called the Joint Strike Fighter programme a “phenomenal idiocy”. Even now, F-35s built are basically prototypes. Only 4 % of systems required to run airplane are a final version; and depending on wether F-35’s issues with helmet mounted display are solved, and what is causing them, it might end up without high off-bore capability; a sitting duck for almost any other fighter out there.

Low cost promise – an utter oxymoron when it comes to stealth aircraft – has relied on large US orders. United States, however, will be forced to reduce their order due to mounting costs. If US reduce quantity substantially – they already have and they will reduce it even more in future – per-aircraft costs are going to increase, calling in question export orders.

Only good thing for the West that may have come from programme is that Typhoons and Rafales will have easy time dealing with at least some Chinese aircraft, as Chinese stealth fighters will have similar problems as US stealth aircraft: large size, high weight, high cost and low sortie rate, as well as limited payload.

It isn’t just F-35 exports that are being pushed via threats. In 2003, Poland chose US F-16 deal over Eurofighter and BAE bids due to US threats of blocking Poland’s participation in NATO, EU and its relations with US.

(expansion of original article follows)

Reasons for situation described above are multifold. First, large F-35 exports will harm competition, particularly European firms (Eurofighter, Dassault, SAAB) which are offering cheaper and more capable aircraft. Second is, as already explained, long-term profit; while F-35 sales will cause a short-term losses to US (but not to Lockheed Martin) due to US Government subsidizing cost difference, in long term it will provide profits – United States are unwilling to share detailed knowledge of the system required for maintaining it, which means that aircraft have to be shipped to United States for upgrades and maintenance.

22 thoughts on “On F-35 export “success”

  1. Wrong again..its true that the USA made a lot of pressure for Poland to buy the F-16…but what would they choose?The Typhoon and the Rafale lacked(and still lack)true multirole capabilaty(in Lybia they droped bombs but the target were designated by Mirage 2000 and Tornados) and cost more than the F-16…The only choice was the Grippen…more expensive,but it had some nice features…true multirole,the offer of co-development whith Poland…but the offset agreement by Lockheed,political pressure AND the fact that the Grippen wasnt fully developed back then assured the victory of the Viper.And the french offered the Mirage 2000 that(it was a good fighter)was neering the end off production


    1. Rafale never lacked true multirole capability, Typhoon did. Rafale, however, is expensive. Gripen (not Grippen), OTOH, is not more expensive than F-16 (excepting NG variant) and is cheaper to operate.


  2. Oh,I almost forget it…the F-35 IS THE FUTURE,thats why every country in the program is buying it…


    1. F-35 was already outdated when it flew for the 1st time and F-22 was so the day it entered service. Rafale is stealthier than both, thanks to its more advanced systems.
      Moreover, Rafale now is less expensive than Super-Hornet and on par with Gripen-E while even if LM has lowered its prices, there will be so much re-work to do on F-35 there is no way to hope F-35A under $130M.
      IOT&E tests were postponed to allow suckers to et some more and allow LM to sell at least 452 ones and surely get the T-X contract to avoid the Feds having to save the company again which this time may end MUCH more costly than USA buying 390/452units but preferably less. This already happened with the F-104/L-1011 scandals. The fact that on one side DoD promotes F-35 as the ultimate do-it-all aircraft and on the other side, DOT&E publishes incendiary reports and you end even with the infamous warmongering Sen.McCain ending telling the truth about this technical fiasco is a clear sign about this manoeuvre.
      Anyway, the original conceptor of F-35 is Yakovlev. Have you ever seen either Lockheed or Yakovlev being able to create a really efficient jet fighter? You may say F-22 but a jet fighter that flies for a single hour every other day, anyone with brain calls it a hangar-queen.
      Moreover, no active cancellation of radar-waves, no very long range SWIR-IRST (and F-35 has only MW-IRST and 3 gen behind EOTS), no IR stealth while, according to the F/A-XX wishlist, Rafale is absolutely very likely to be able to enter the Gen.6 of fighters through upgrades, F-35 is not the future, it’s simply a colossal error and well, the nastiest trick the KGB has done to USA is definitively havin sold ’em the Nazi pseudo-stealth technology and you can even ask yourself in which camp LockMart is : had Russia attacked during the F-104-only era, NATO would have collapsed easily!


  3. The Rafale still couldnt designate its on targets in 2007(from wikipedia:In 2007, after a “crash program” enhancement six Rafales were given the ability to drop laser-guided bombs, in view of engaging them in Afghanistan. Three of these aircraft belonging to the Air Force were deployed to Dushanbe in Tajikistan, while the three others were Rafale Marine of the Navy on board the Charles De Gaulle.[74] The first mission occurred on 12 March 2007, and the first GBU-12 was launched on 28 March in support of embattled Dutch troops in Southern Afghanistan, marking the operational début of the Rafale.[75] Between January 2009 and December 2011, a minimum of three Rafales were stationed at Kandahar International Airport to conduct combat operations in support of NATO ground forces .)Only a few of these aircraft are getting the upgrades (software and hardware) needed this year.
    No,the F-35 is a stealth multirole fighter…whith normal payload it can outmaneuver any 4th generation fighter…


    1. 1) Multirole version began testing in 2004.
      2) F-35 can outmaneuver a transport, but not a fighter aircraft. Take a look at wing loading and thrust to weight ratio.


  4. T/W F-35-1,07 F-22-1,26 PAK FA-1,19 SU-35-1,19 SuperHornet-0,93 Rafale-1,10
    Gripen-0,97 Typhoon-1,15 F-15-1,12 J-11-1,04 F-15E-0,93 SU-34-0,68 SU-30-0,98
    SU-33-0,83 F-14-0,92 ….it actually looks pretty good…
    as for wing loading…YOU CANT MESURE THE F-35 LIKE A 4th GEN…is belly generates lift so…it will mess your math..his wing loading(real one) is much inferior to the one you claim.
    Oh and check out todays video of AoA testing on the F-35…and the fact that it can(not supercruise i know)cruise at mach 1,2 for 150 ml


    1. You are wrong, sir. F-22’s 1,26 TWR value is for an aircraft with 50% fuel and AtA loadout, whereas Typhoon’s 1,15 is for aircraft with full fuel. At 50% fuel and AtA loadout of 2 Sidewinder and 4 AMRAAM, Typhoon’s TWR is 1,26.

      I am aware of the body lift, but wings are still the largest and the most efficient (per unit of area) lifting device… besides, body lift is more important during level flight than during turn, in which Typhoon may have advantage due to its strakes, which help energize vortices, increasing body lift. Of course, F-22 has LEX.


      1. Picard
        1) a Typhoon on 50 % fuel , a F-22 on 50 % donot have similar combat radius
        2) Body lift actualy have negligible effect in level flight and significant effect in turn because aircraft body doesnot generate lift at 0 AoA


      2. 1) They don’t have identical combat radius, but Typhoon with a centerline 900 l fuel tank has 1.389 km combat radius. I have also found a claim of 1.100 km combat radius for internal fuel. Compared to that, F-22 has 1.166 km combat radius on internal fuel. I would say that 6% difference is not major.
        2) Agreed, though aircraft is not at 0*AoA even during level flight – IIRC, body lift even in modern air liners accounts for cca 10% of lift during level flight. F-16 has some 45% of lift from body, though I don’t remember wether it is a level flight or a turn condition.


      3. 1) the problem is you dont know whether the 2 listed combat radius are of similar missions profile or not , some combat missions required low altitude flight , some require loiter time on station , others require time on afterburner , so it not as clear as days and night , even TSFC value varied with altitude and speed.
        2) Max available AoA depend on altitude and speed , however body lift are mostly generated at decent AoA , thus they contribute little in level flight and mostly in turn condition. For the F-16 the LERX doesnot generate vortex in level flight so it quite obvious


      4. “the problem is you dont know whether the 2 listed combat radius are of similar missions profile or not”

        They are both for air superiority, with no loiter time noted, so mission profile is not too dissimilar. And TSFC does vary with altitude and speed, but variances in thrust itself have far greater impact than TSFC.

        “Max available AoA depend on altitude and speed , however body lift are mostly generated at decent AoA , thus they contribute little in level flight and mostly in turn condition. For the F-16 the LERX doesnot generate vortex in level flight so it quite obvious ”

        That depends, F-15 can remain in level flight after losing a wing due to body lift, though I’m not sure about the AoA necessary for that.


      5. 1) all missions profiles either have loiter time or afterburner time , just because it isnt public does not mean the requirement isnt there , the main problem when compare the radius of Typhoon and F-22 is that they donot have similar cruising speed .

        Thrust are varied with speed and altitude too.
        also for a fighter that can generate lift enough to sustain 9 times it’s weight then level flight is really nothing


      6. IIRC, “standard” afterburner time in the West is similar in most air forces. As for combat radius, Typhoon and F-22 actually do have similar cruising speed – maximum combat radius, values of which I listed, is achieved at cca Mach 0,9 for most fighters (exception are swing-wing fighters, which have standard cruise speed of ~Mach 0,7). F-22s top cruise speed is higher than Typhoon’s, but values I used are for subsonic cruise, not supercruise.


      7. It more complex than you think , even for USA alone , the standard CAP profile of USAF and USN arenot even remotely similar .
        about the F-22 , as far as i know standard A2A profile include subsonics leg of 600 nm and 200 nm for supercruise at mach 1.7 , if fly at lower speed then obviously the range will get higher .
        also optimum cruising speed are around mach 0.85 if you want max range


      8. “about the F-22 , as far as i know standard A2A profile include subsonics leg of 600 nm and 200 nm for supercruise at mach 1.7 , if fly at lower speed then obviously the range will get higher .”

        That is correct, but as I said, combat radius is based on subsonic cruise only.

        “also optimum cruising speed are around mach 0.85 if you want max range ”

        For F-22? Because optimum cruise speed varies, from Mach 0,7 for variable sweep wing aircraft to Mach 0,9 for tailless delta planform fighters.


      9. There is no combat profiles that includes subsonic cruise only unless you talking about recon loiter missions.
        optimum cruise for F-22 is around mach 0.85 , yes . mach 0.9 is very near sonic barrier when drag start to increase significantly


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