“History is a vast early warning system.”
When designing a fighter aircraft – or any weapon – there is a basic question: should one go for simplest solution, or accept a level of complexity in hopes of achieving better performance? How much simple or complex weapon can become before excess simplicity, or excess complexity, harm its performance? Only way to answer that question is to look at the real war, and apply lessons learned through research in designing a weapon.
In Poland campaign in World War II, several Polish pilots became aces in open-cockpit 225 mph biplanes when fighting against 375 mph Messerschmitt 109, clearly showing that pilot skill is more important than weapons characteristics. Later, over the Dunkirk, British pilots did poorly despite using fighters comparable to Me-109, primarly due to inexperienced pilots, unrealistic training (unlike Luftwaffe, 1930s RAF did not practice squadron-on-squadron training) and outdated tactics – such as three-ship “vic” formation, which was far less flexible than German “finger four”. Aside from flexibility in tactics, “finger four” system allowed aircraft to effectively cover each other from surprise bounces.
RAF headquarters’ insistence on close control of fighters proved detrimental, and small number of pilots and fighters avaliable to 11th Group caused fatigue, which when combined with the fact that RAF was still switching to finger four system and that many pilots were grossly undertrained led to heavy losses. RAF did have advantage in that it fought over a friendly territory, which meant that 50% of pilots shot down were safely recovered, compared to 0% for Luftwaffe. Fighter command’s preference for grass fields over actual runways allowed entire squadrons to take off at the same time, and Germans failed to attack 11th Group bases and control systems.
German fighters did not use belly tanks, which limited them to 20 minutes over England. This, plus Goering’s insistence on close escort of bombers, caused heavy losses in aircraft, and more importantly, pilots – aircraft were replaced at an adequate rate, but pilots were not. When Allied started bombing Germany, small P-51 was second longest-ranged fighter in the US arsenal (800 mile combat radius, compared to 900 mile for P-38 and 600 miles for P-47). By spring 1944, P-38 was replaced by P-51 due to huge losses and poor kill/loss ratio, caused by its huge size, low maximum g, poor roll rate and poor dive acceleration; two engines were also a survivability handicap, since aircraft that lost one was quickly finished by German fighters. P-51D, on contrary, could match or surpass turn rate of FW-190A and Me-109G, was far faster and could match them in roll. Similarly, German heavy bomber-destroyer fighters were easily shot down by Allied lighter air superiority fighters such as P-51 and Spitfire. In the end, pilot attrition rendered Luftwaffe ineffective – by September 1944, it was receiveing 3.000 new fighters and 1.000 new pilots per month. Heavy P-47 proved inferior air superiority fighter to P-51 and was pulled from air superiority role alltogether; unlike P-38, it did prove a very successful CAS aircraft.
Me-262 was clearly superior to Allied turboprop fighters, and by March 1945 over 950 have been delivered. Yet shortages of fuel and pilots meant that largest number flown in a single day was 55, and they were in danger of being attacked whenever taking off or landing – and where Me-109 was capable of being road- and open field- -based, with maintenance often carried out under bridges and most infrastructure buried, Me-262 required dedicated runways. In the end, its low numbers meant that it had no impact on war despite huge performance advantage over Allied fighters.
At beginning of the war, Spitfires used 6 .303 caliber machine guns which were ineffective even against fighters. Me-109E carried two 20 mm cannons which were effective against fighters but had low muzzle velocity and rate of fire. Spitfires were later upgunned to two 20 mm cannons and four .50 cal Brownings, providing adequate lethality. US fighters standardized on Brownings, which had muzzle velocity of 885 m/s. German bomber-killer fighters used 30 mm guns, which needed 3 to 4 hits to down a heavy bomber but were inadequate against fighters due to low muzzle velocity of only 534 m/s, compared to 763 m/s for 20 mm installation on FW-190 and 860 m/s for 20 mm installation on British Spitfire.
First German night fighters did not have radar but proved as effective as radar-equipped British night fighters after ground control via broadcast commentary on bomber stream’s position, speed and heading was introduced in 1943. In same year, twin-engined fighters started receiveing radar. Main lessons of night combat were primacy of surprise, necessity to visually distinguish friend from foe (even if fighter needed to approach to as close as 60 meters), and necessity of using single-mission pilots.
In Korean War, F-80 was at disadvantage due to MiG-15s higher cruise speed; it could defeat bounce by MiG-15 if it saw it in time, but entrance of MiG-15 forced faster introduction of F-86 in theater. F-86 achieved 10:1 exchange rate over MiG-15 primarly because only small number of MiG-15 pilots – presumably Russian instructors – showed agressiveness and competence. Still, MiG-15s simple, reliable and sturdy construction meant that while more experienced US pilots easily got into position for a gun kill, F-86s .50 cal machine guns were unable to inflict enough damage to actually shoot down the aircraft, and 80% of kills achieved by F-86 were simply mission kills and not shootdowns; many MiG-15s were quickly back in combat after being “shot down”. One of main disadvantages of MiG-15 pilots, aside from being less trained, was that they were usually under close control. Airframe performance wise, MiG-15 had superior instanteneous turn rate but tendency to spin at higher angles of attack limited its usefulness to average pilot. Lack of hydraulic controls meant that MiG-15 had lower roll and pitch rates than F-86, increasing time to transit from one maneuver to another, and its worse cockpit visibility meant that it was in danger of surprise bounce. While MiG-15 had heavier armament, lower muzzle velocities lead to reduced lethality, though effect was negligible compared to impact that skill of pilots caused.
One of causes of MiG-15’s losses was tendency to fly in large formations. US aircraft flew in smaller formations which entered combat zone separately, reducing possibility of detection. However, war has also shown that while small US formations achieved very favorable kill:loss ratios, in very large engagements kill:loss ratios went towards equality.
After the Korean War, guided missiles started making an appearance on fighters. But in eight Cold War conflicts in which missiles were used (data for ninth, Iran-Iraq war, is not avaliable), only four conflicts saw use of radar-guided missiles designed to achieve BVR kills. These were operations Rolling Thunder and Linebacker in Vietnam, Yom Kippur War and Bekaa Valley conflict.
In Vietnam, F-4 was at disadvantage against MiG-15 and MiG-21 as its large size and smoky engines prevented it from achieving surprise, and MiGs could launch a surprise attack without being identified or even seen due to the smaller size and less smoky engine, sometimes from maximum range of their missiles (which themselves were IR based). In fact, F-4 had kill/loss ratio of 1:3 early in the war and probably 1:1 overall (April 1982 study “Comparing the effectiveness of air-to-air fighters” by Pierre Sprey indicates 2:1 kill:loss ratio fo F-4, and Russian records indicate 103 F-4s shot down by MiG-21 in exchange for 53 MiG-21s lost. As pilots tend to overreport successes due to confusion of combat – mistaking damaged enemy aircraft or one going low to avoid attack for a shootdown, for example – actual exchange ratio was likely near parity). In summer of 1972, air-to-air combat resulted in loss of 12 MiG-21s, 4 MiG-17/19 and 11 F-4s, for a kill/loss ratio of 1,4:1 in favor of Phantom. It should be noted that this was late in the war when F-4s would have better kill/loss ratio than early in the war due to far better dogfight training pilots were recieving late in the war, and thus points to overall parity in exchange rate. But performance of complex weapons was far from stellar. Out of 56 radar-guided missile kills achieved, 54 (96%) were initiated and scored within visual range. In total, there were 597 radar-guided missile shots, of which 61 were made beyond visual range. Total of 56 kills were achieved, of which 2 at beyond visual range – one of which was a friendly kill against unaware F-4. As a result, radar missile kill probability was 9% in the entire war, 3% total at BVR and 2% at best against a competent and aware opponent. Both BVR kills happened in 1971-1973 timeframe; in that time, there were 30 radar-guided missile kills from 276 shots for Pk of 10,9%, of which 2 kills from 28 shots at BVR, for Pk of 7%. Improvement in performance of missiles in that timeframe can be linked to improvement in training, a statistical fluctuation or a mistake in data avaliable to Col. Highby, as Sprey’s study indicates that no radar-guided missile achieved Pk above 10%, with AIM-7E2 achieving 8% Pk, similar to AIM-7D. It is also interesting to note that, despite OV-1B having radars capable of recording imaginery with radar, this capability was never used in the air combat to allow safe BVR IFF.
In 1973 Yom Kippur war radar guided missiles achieved 5 kills in 12 shots, for Pk of 41,7%. There was 1 possible BVR kill out of 4 BVR shots, for a Pk of 25%, according to Colonel Highby.
In both 1967 and 1973 wars, Israeli visual-range Mirage III fighters – a 1950s technology – achieved 20:1 or better exchange ratios against Arab MiG-21s, primarly due to better pilots but also small size and good agility – which made it preferred platform for Israeli pilots. Similarly, in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war, Pakistani visual-range-only F-86s achieved better than 6:1 exhchange ratio against Indian supersonic MiG-21s, Su-7s and Hawker Hunters, in good part due to its small visual signature and good cockpit visibility. Only Indian fighter that managed to match the F-86 was also subsonic Folland Gnat, which had advantage of being the smallest fighter in the war. In earlier 1965 war, Gnat also had advantage over F-86: even Pakistani sources credit it with 3 F-86 kills for 2 losses to the F-86, while Indian sources credit it with 7 F-86 kills.
In 1982 Bekaa Valley conflict radar guided missiles achieved 12 kills in 23 shots for a Pk of 52,2%, with 1 BVR kill out of 5 shots, for a Pk of 20%. In the same year, British Harriers achieved 19 kills in 27 shots (Pk of 70%) with AIM-9 Sidewinder; most if not all launches were from rear against bomb-loaded aircraft with no rearward visibility.
While data for Iran-Iraq war is not avaliable, it should be noted that Iraqi pilots tended to avoid Iranian fighters which means that latter might not have had any opportunities for attack. In any case, Iraqis eventually won air supremacy without firing a single shot once lack of spares grounded Iranian air force. This opportunity Iraqis wasted, never organizing their air force for close support or interdiction missions, and Iraqi air force was a non-factor in the war.
In both Gulf wars, radar-guided missiles achieved comparably good kill probabilities, similar to that in Yom Kipput and Bekaa Valley wars. In Desert Storm, radar-guided missiles achieved 24 kills in 88 shots, for a Pk of 27%. There were between 5 and 16 BVR victories (wording is unclear), but without data on how many shots were made at BVR; whatever number of BVR shots was, it was less than 60. One of BVR kills required 5 shots for a Pk of 20%, and if really 59 BVR shots were made, then BVR Pk is between 8% and 27%. It is known that F-15Cs fired 12 Sidewinders for 8 kills (Pk of 67%) and 67 Sparrows for 23 kills (Pk of 34%), though most shots were made within visual range. Pk for both Sidewinders and Sparrows is almost exactly 4,5 times of Vietnam Pk. Performance of missiles was vastly improved by the fact that Iraqi pilots did not take evasive action once the radar lock occured (even when in visual range). When they did know they were about to be attacked – such as pilots of MiG-25s that illuminated USAF F-15Cs on January 5th 1999 – they were usually able to evade long-range missile shots (MiG-25s managed to evade 6 BVR missiles – 1 AIM-120, 3 AIM-7 and 2 AIM-54). Interesting to note is also that the multirole F-16 performed far worse than purely air-to-air F-15 in the Desert Storm, firing 36 Sidewinders for zero kills; while 20 launches were actually accidental, and F-16C is far cry from the original lightweight fighter, large portion of problem can be attributed to the fact that USAF considers F-16 a bomber, and F-16 pilots spend a lot of time training for AtG missions, unlike F-15 pilots. Supporting this is the fact that Naval/Marine F-18 and F-14, also used by “multirole” pilots, fired 21 Sparrow and 38 Sidewinders, scoring one kill with a Sparrow (Pk=4,8%) and two with Sidewinders (Pk=5,3%).
It can be clearly seen that Yom Kippur war was far closer to Vietnam war than to Gulf War I, and Bekaa Valley war was equally removed from both conflicts. Yet missile Pk in both conflicts was far closer to that of Gulf War I than that of Vietnam war. Further, performance of both Sidewinders and Sparrows in Gulf War I was almost exactly 4,5 times of their performance in Vietnam. As such, reason for this massive improvement cannot be sought in improved performance of radar-guided missiles. There is one important factor which correlates radar-guided missile performance: in Vietnam war, US pilots had advantage in training over North Vietnamese pilots, but NVAF pilots were still well-trained and competent, and used aircraft – such as MiG-19 – with comparably good situational awareness. Arab pilots in all wars mentioned had very little training, and what training was carried out was of low quality; their aircraft also had very bad situational awareness. Therefore it follows that it is these two factors which brought about improvement in BVR missile performance, and not any improvement in missiles themselves, and it is thus unwise to compromise fighter’s WVR performance and cost for sake of improved performance in radar-based BVR combat. Even though some Iraqi fighters did have radar, lack of out-of-cockpit visibility and passive sensors – such as radar warners and missile warners, as evidenced by interviews with F-15 pilots showing that Iraqi fighters failed to react to either lock on or missile launch, and attempted little to no maneuvering, either offensive or defensive – has proven deadly, confirming need for good coverage with passive sensors. In both Gulf wars, US dual-role/multirole aircraft were concentrated on ground attack missions while single-role air superiority fighters provided air superiority; this was in large part enabled by Iraqi failure to generate large number of sorties despite having over 750 aircraft. Iraq had no capability to attack AWACS. Even so, radar-guided missile performance may be suspect (and not only for Gulf War but for all wars after Vietnam): immediately after Yom Kippur war, US claimed that 1/3 of Israelis’ claimed 251 kills were due to the Sparrow; yet Israeli General Mordecai Hod stated that only one kill was achieved by it, and that radar-guided missile was essentially useless.
It is interesting to notice that in four Cold War conflicts, 69 of 73 kills were achieved within visual range. All four BVR kills achieved were specifically staged outside the main combat to avoid fratricide; even so, one of these was a friendly kill, with an F-4E being the victim. In total, BVR Pk was 6,6% (4 kills in 61 shots). As for radar-defeating stealth, both British and French have confirmed that B-2 and F-117 are visible to ground radars; reason they were invulnerable in Iraq was two-fold: first, Iraq had easily the most incompetent military on the planet; second, they both flew only at night, a far safer time than day.
While IR BVR missiles did not have any better record than radar-guided BVR missiles when it comes to ability to kill targets, they do eliminate most of drawbacks of radar-guided missiles such as requirement for fighter to use – or even have – radar; this was not case in Vietnam, which does suggest that modern IR BVR missiles might have kill probabilities somewhere between radar-guided BVR and IR WVR missiles. Also unlike Vietnam, modern fighters can use IRST for relatively reliable BVR IFF (though there are various definitions of “visual range”, I chose to use one where it is range at which a fighter aircraft is visible in clear weather without use of optical sensors. In practice, however, using optical sensors for visual IFF simply extends VID range, and what was once beyond visual range combat becomes within visual range combat, even though it is not dogfight; maybe it should be called “optical range”?). It is also typical in a war for fighters to randomly intermingle, which means that visual IFF is the only reliable IFF.
WVR combat is far from being “Vietnam era relic”: in September 2001, 2 IDF/AF F-15s engaged 2 Syrian MiG-29s in a turning dogfight. This again shows that BVR combat is still not dominant form of air-to-air combat: fighter aircraft designed around radar-based BVR combat are necessarily more expensive and complex than dogfighters, yet so far an effective BVR engagement has required both incompetent enemy and numerical superiority.
As an end conclusion, all fighter aircraft that performed well against a competent opponent had several characteristics in common: a) relatively low cost, b) easy maintenance, c) small size and low weight, d) comparatively good aerodynamic performance, e) good situational awareness with passive sensors (primarly pilot’s own eye). That is, a simple and effective design. Performance against incompetent opponents (Arabs etc.) tends to hide any shortcomings in weapons performance, and indeed in both Gulf Wars expensive and cheap weapons have performed equally well. Moreover, all wars in history have shown that human factor is the dominant factor in weapons’ performance. Yet as cost and complexity of weapons increase, training becomes less realistic, leading to decrease in users’ skill, and completely reversing theoretical advantages of more complex weapons – even if more complex weapon is truly more capable in hands of a skilled user (an assumption that is far from certain), it becomes less capable because user is less well trained. But even when genuinely more capable and used by forces with adequate training, there is no evidence that using complex weapons as a counter to numbers actually works, and lot of evidence that it doesn’t.
While comparing total kill/loss ratios, expensive fighters may seem to be better off than less expensive ones. However, this is not due to fighters themselves but because only nations that can afford expense of quality training can also afford expensive fighters. Thus advantage given to fighter by the pilot is unjustly attributed to fighter’s own qualities. In fact, United States have always relied on numerical superiority and pilot training to win; aircraft quality never played a large part.
In the 1965 Featherduster test, Air National Guard F-86Hs at first achieved superiority over F-100s, F-104s, F-105s, F-4s and F-5s. Even when opposing pilots developed counter-tactics, only F-5s came close to achieving 1:1 exchange ratio. In 1977 AIMVAL/ACEVAL tests, F-5s simulating MiG-21s fought against F-14s and F-15s, achieving close to 1:1 exchange ratio (slightly worse than 1:1 against F-15 and slightly better than 1:1 against F-14); later on, rules were tuned to favor BVR platforms, and F-14 achieved slightly better than 1:1 ratio, whereas F-15 achieved 2:1 exchange ratio. Differences between pilots were in both cases greater than between aircraft types. Exchange ratio approached parity as total number of aircraft in the air increased. Main advantage that F-86 and F-5 had over other fighters was their small size, allowing them to achieve surprise bounces. AIMVAL/ACEVAL tests have also shown that pilots replaced in the F-5 were up to the full proficiency in two or three weeks, compared to the F-15 pilots who were still learning after three months, and that F-15s were more reliant on centralized control. But even if scores achieved after rules were tuned against the F-5 are used, F-5 is still strategically wiser choice: F-15A costs 43 million USD and can fly 1 sortie per day per aircraft, or 23 sorties per day for 1 billion procurement dollars; F-5E costs 26 million USD and can fly 3 sorties per day per aircraft, or 114 sorties per day for 1 billion procurement dollars. This means almost a 5:1 numerical advantage, against 2:1 kill:loss ratio disadvantage. F-15C, being 3 times as expensive as F-15A, faces almost 15:1 numerical disadvantage. F-16A faces “only” 3:1 numerical disadvantage, F-16C faces 7:1 numerical disadvantage, and F-22A faces 60:1 numerical disadvantage against F-5E.
Similarly, in exercises, US Air National Guard pilots have always performed better than USAF pilots despite using hand-me-down equipment up until receiveing F-16. This was because ANG pilots were better trained than USAF ones.
Applying the lessons learned
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
All the lessons discussed above can be summed up by Clausewitz’s statement: “Everything in war is very simple, but simplest thing is difficult. Difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one is experienced war.” Complex weapons and processes tend to have more friction; thus they should be eliminated, as stated by WW2 saying: “Keep it simple, stupid.” Main lesson is that human factor is by far the most important factor determining performance of a weapon; bad fighter with a good pilot is far more worth than good fighter and an average pilot; but increased complexity works in human mind and makes operations more difficult. While centralization is detrimental for weapons’ performance in war, more complex weapons require more centralization – as evidenced by the US reliance on AWACS to enable BVR combat in both Gulf Wars, and F-15s heavier reliance on centralized control compared to F-5s in AIMVAL/ACEVAL.
Modern equivalent of German WW2 bomber-destroyer fighters are heavy radar-based BVR fighters such as F-22, F-15 and Su-27, which indeed are primarly useful as bomber interceptors. But air superiority fighter has completely different requirements.
First is the ability to outnumber the opponent. While entering combat with formation larger than enemy’s is a disadvantage for a superior aircraft, large number of small formations have advantage over small number of small formations, as well as over small number of large formations. Larger numbers also allow attacks on opponent’s support systems, such as tankers and AWACS, as well as coverage of one’s own vulnerable assets – be it CAS aircraft or support systems – at the same time. It should be noted that what matters is number of aircraft in the air: 2:1 advantge in fighters procured is actual parity if fighters fly half as often as opponent’s. In order to lower cost, FLX will use already existing technology where possible.
Due to importance of pilot training, and its impact on all points but first one, aircraft (from now on FLX) will have to be very reliable and cheap to fly, so as to facilitate as many hours spent for realistic dogfight training as possible (realistic meaning outside simulators, with performance of computerized weapons being calculated based on their actual combat performance).
To achieve surprise bounces, FLX will have low IR and visual signatures; also, sensors suite will be all-passive due to catastrophic effects of active sensors on achieving surprise (even if radar signal is not immediately detected, any radar is detectable once it locks on; and even RWRs on old Tornadoes can detect LPI radars). This means that no radar will be carried, except possibly for gun firing solution if surprise attack by using optical gunsight fails, and that missile warners will be IR based. Aircraft will be comparably small, no larger than Gripen A from front, thus giving it very small visual signature. Additional consequence will be low IR signature, which will be improved by adding an external cooling channel to the engine; exhaust of cool air from that channel will surround hot engine exhaust and help hide it from long-range IR sensors. Both BVR and WVR missiles will use passive IR seekers; this is especially important for BVR missiles as they require surprise to be effective, though even a miss can be tactically beneficial assuming that BVR IFF works – and only reliable IFF is optical one, either by Mk.I eyeball or by optical sensor such as IRST, as evidenced by numerous friendly fire incidents in Vietnam (1 of 2 BVR kills was friendly fire incident) and in both Gulf wars. As such, good passive sensors are a must.
In order to avoid being suprised, it will have complete spherical awareness through passive IR sensors, and will not carry any active sensors; deleting radar will also save ~150 kg in weight. Radar warners will also provide spherical coverage and will be capable of providing targeting solutions to attack targets well beyond targets’ own radar range, discouraging use of radar to attack the fighter. Cockpit will also be designed to provide good situational awareness, including good rearward visibility. Equally important in avoiding surprise bounces is a high cruise speed; maximum speed comparision is useless as it can only be achieved for a very short time in a combat zone, no more than few minutes. Minimum cruise speed required is M 0,9, but supersonic cruise of Mach 1,2 or above is desireable. To achieve supersonic cruise, one must have high thrust-to-drag ratio even in dry power; tailless delta-wing aircraft have advantage in this regime due to lack of detrimental interaction between wing and tail.
To maximize lethality of armament, gun will be 27 mm BK-27 revolver cannon. FLX will also carry IR missiles, but no radar-guided missiles as they destroy surprise and cannot achieve kills quickly. Long-range IR missiles may be employed to try and kill unaware opponent at BVR if possible; if BVR identification through IRST is not possible or surprise fails, it will be used to force the enemy to evade the missile and thus put himself into unfavorable starting position in a dogfight.
Lethality of weapons carried is expressed in number of on-board kills. Weapons load should provide enough ammo for several kills, as fuel fraction is sized to provide enough persistence for several engagements. Probability of kill will be taken as 0,3 for gun, 0,15 for WVR IR missile and 0,08 for BVR missile against competent opponent; against incompetent opponent, probabilities of kill are as much as 4 times as large as those noted. Gun will hold 234 rounds; at rate of fire of 28 rps and 0,05 s to achieve full rate of fire, it will fire 13 rounds weighting 3,38 kg in first half of second, and ammo will be enough for 18 0,5 second bursts, allowing 5,4 kills, or 8 1-second bursts for 2,4 kills. With 6 WVR missiles total number of on-board kills will be 6,3 or 3,3; if 2 WVR and 4 BVR missiles are taken, there will be 6,02 or 3,02 onboard kills, and if only 2 WVR missiles are carried, number of onboard kills will be 5,7 or 2,7.
Weapons also have to be resistant to enemy countermeasures; here, gun scores the best, followed by IR missiles. Primary countermeasure to gun is maneuver to defeat a firing solution. Missiles can also be defeated by hard maneuvers, but there are other countermeasures as well. Earlier IR missiles were vulnerable to be decoyed by flares. Missiles with imaging IR seeker are not vulnerable to it, but may be vulnerable to DIRCM. Also, most missiles still use radar-based proximity fuze (including IRIS-T and MICA-IR); this fuze can be jammed, preventing missile from detonating at proper time. Radar missiles are also vulnerable to fuze jamming, as well as jamming their radar signal and defensive maneuvers designed to break radar lock or simply evade them; this plus the fact that they destroy surprise mean that they won’t be used.
If surprise fails, fighter will have to outmaneuver the enemy. During dogfight, weapons must be fired quickly to avoid attack from unseen opponent; this means that radar-guided missiles are out of picture as they warn the enemy and are slow to lock even onto a cooperative target. Maneuvering performance itself can be divided into: a) acceleration/decelleration; b) transitioning from one maneuver to another; c) instanteneous g; d) outlasting the enemy in terms of fuel.
In order to maximize maneuvering performance, FLX will be small, light and will use delta-wing configuration with close coupled canards. This will allow low drag in level flight and turn, as well as low inertia, allowing for quick transient between two maneuvers; usage of delta wing will allow for low wing loading, allowing for good instantaneous turn rate, as well as low span loading which influences sustained turn rate. Pilot seat will be tilted back 30 degrees; while prone position would allow far better g tolerance, it would also create problems with rearward visibility. Shock from LERX will lower drag and thus allow for even better acceleration compared to Gripen C than just thrust-to-weight ratio would suggest; in fact, it will be able to outaccelerate any modern fighter aircraft. Engine will be turbofan with low bypass ratio and low temperature, improving performance, reliability and cost; increased thrust will require large air intakes, which will be used for more optimized canard placement. Wing will have added dihedral, thus reducing canard anhedral required for optimum vertical separation between canard tip and wing and improving roll rate (large wingspan harms roll rate but is required for low wing loading; dihedral added to the wing helps roll rate, as does reduction in canard anhedral). Low weight will be achieved by deleting the radar and increasing percentage of composites.
Outlasting the enemy will be achieved in three ways: having a high fuel fraction, having a low drag during turning engagements by achieving equal or superior turn rate at lower angle of attack when compared to the opponent and having a powerful engine. Wing loading (or more precisely lift-to-weight ratio) has impact on drag, since aircraft with higher LWR does not need as high angle of attack for same turn rate; additions which improve lift, such as LERX and close-coupled canards are also useful in this regard. Close-coupled canards also reduce drag as smaller control surface deflections are required for same response by the aircraft when compared to identical configuration but without close-coupled canards. Lower drag will allow fighter to throttle back and keep outmaneuvering opponent while spending less fuel, thus increasing persistence even more than fuel fraction suggests, whereas higher fuel fraction allows fighter to outlast the opponent even if other characteristics (TWR and drag) are similar. “Go-home” range and loiter time of fighter are also highly sensitive to fuel fraction. While having a powerful engine might seem contradictory when it comes to reducing fuel expenditure, it is not so: afterburner uses fuel at rate several times higher than dry thrust, for maybe 50% increase in thrust. Thus fighter which can stay in dry power for duration of dogfight will usually outlast the opponent even if opponent has higher fuel fraction. Engine will be M88 or M88 ECO. Both offer reduced IR signature, but M88 ECO has higher fuel consumption and thus reduces range at expense of better kinematic performance. It might be possible to increase range by not using full military power in level flight, however.
Also important is specific energy rate of the aircraft, which is thrust minus drag over weight, multiplied by velocity. This obviously favors lightweight aircraft with high thrust-to-weight ratio. But while one usually wants to keep energy level high, in some situations – such as when evading the missile – one wants to bleed off energy quickly. Delta wing with close-coupled canard is ideal for this purpose, as presence of canard means that lower angle of attack required for comparable lift allows less drag, while delta wing can cause large amount of drag at higher angles of attack.
Since fighter aircraft spend most of the time on the ground, where they are vulnerable to attacks, it will have to be able to fly from grass fields and dirt strips, as well as to be easy enough to maintain and supply so that depot-level maintenance is only rarely required, and regular maintenance can be carried out in mentioned open-field/road bases.
Data would be as follows:
Length: 13,67 m (14,73 m with vertical stabilizer)
Wing span: 9,03 m
Height: 3,31 m
Wing area: 28 m2
standard operational: +9/-3
combat operational: +11/-3,2
Basic version with M88-2:
Empty weight: 4.200 kg
Fuel capacity: 2.800 kg (3.800 kg with conformal fuel tanks)
Fuel fraction: 0,4 (0,48 with conformal fuel tanks)
Weight with 50% fuel + 2 IRIS-T: 5.775 kg
Weight with 50% fuel + 2 IRIS-T + 4 MICA IR: 6.223 kg
Weight with 100% fuel + 2 IRIS-T: 7.175 kg
Weight with 100% fuel + 2 IRIS-T + 4 MICA IR: 7.623 kg
(IRIS-T: 87,4 kg; MICA IR: 112 kg)
206 kg/m2 with 50% fuel + 2 IRIS-T
222 kg/m2 with 50% fuel + 2 IRIS-T + 4 MICA IR
256 kg/m2 with 100% fuel + 2 IRIS-T
273 kg/m2 with 100% fuel + 2 IRIS-T + 4 MICA IR
Thrust: 50 kN (5.103 kgf) dry, 75 kN (7.711 kgf) wet
1,34 with 50% fuel + 2 IRIS-T (0,88 dry)
1,24 with 50% fuel + 2 IRIS-T + 4 MICA-IR
1,07 with 100% fuel + 2 IRIS-T
1,01 with 100% fuel + 2 IRIS-T + 4 MICA-IR
Mach 2 dash
Mach 1,5 supercruise with 2 AAM
Mach 1,4 supercruise with 6 AAM
Mach 1,3 supercruise with 6 AAM + 1 supersonic drop tank
Mach 1,2 supercruise with 4 AAM + 2 supersonic drop tanks
Specific fuel consumption: 80 kg/kNh dry (1111 g/s); 175 kg/kNh reheat (3646 g/s)
42 minutes at dry thrust (M 1,4, internal fuel)
12,8 minutes at afterburner (internal fuel)
57 minutes at dry thrust (M 1,4) with conformal fuel tanks
17 minutes at afterburner with conformal fuel tanks
72 minutes at maximum dry thrust with 2 1.000 kg fuel tanks
87 minutes at maximum dry thrust with 2 1.000 kg fuel tanks and conformal tanks
117 minutes at maximum dry thrust with 4 1.000 kg fuel tanks and conformal tanks
1.200 km at M 1,4 internal fuel
1.629 km at M 1,4 with conformal fuel tanks
1.764 km at M 1,2 with 2 drop tanks (peacetime, drop tanks kept)
1.936 km combat range with 2 drop tanks (M 1,2 before discarding, 1,4 after discarding tanks)
2.364 km combat range with 2 drop tanks and conformal fuel tanks (M 1,2 before discarding, 1,4 after discarding tanks)
2.389 km at M 1 with 4 drop tanks and conformal fuel tanks (ferry range)
386 km with 15 minute loiter time (Mach 1,4, internal fuel)
543 km with 19 minute loiter time (Mach 1,4, conformal fuel tanks)
588 km with 26 minute loiter time (Mach 1,2, 2 drop tanks, tanks kept until return)
645 km with 32 minute loiter time (Mach 1,2/1,4, 2 drop tanks, tanks discarded after emptying)
774 km with 19 minute loiter time (Mach 1,2/1,4, 2 drop tanks, tanks discarded after emptying)
788 km with 27 minute loiter time (Mach 1,2/1,4, conformal fuel tanks + 2 drop tanks, drop tanks discarded)
Version with M88-ECO:
Empty weight: 4.300 kg
Fuel capacity: 2.800 kg (3.800 kg with conformal fuel tanks)
Fuel fraction: 0,39 (0,47 with conformal fuel tanks)
Weight with 50% fuel + 2 IRIS-T: 5.875 kg
Weight with 50% fuel + 2 IRIS-T + 4 MICA IR: 6.323 kg
Weight with 100% fuel + 2 IRIS-T: 7.275 kg
Weight with 100% fuel + 2 IRIS-T + 4 MICA IR: 7.723 kg
210 kg/m2 with 50% fuel + 2 IRIS-T
226 kg/m2 with 50% fuel + 2 IRIS-T + 4 MICA IR
260 kg/m2 with 100% fuel + 2 IRIS-T
276 kg/m2 with 100% fuel + 2 IRIS-T + 4 MICA IR
Thrust: 60 kN (6.123 kgf) dry, 90 kN (9.185 kgf) wet
1,56 with 50% fuel + 2 IRIS-T (1,04 dry)
1,45 with 50% fuel + 2 IRIS-T + 4 MICA-IR
1,26 with 100% fuel + 2 IRIS-T
1,19 with 100% fuel + 2 IRIS-T + 4 MICA-IR
Mach 2 dash
Mach 1,6 supercruise with 2 AAM
Mach 1,5 supercruise with 6 AAM
Mach 1,4 supercruise with 6 AAM + 1 supersonic drop tank
Mach 1,3 supercruise with 4 AAM + 2 supersonic drop tanks
Specific fuel consumption: 77 kg/kNh dry (1283 g/s); 168 kg/kNh reheat (4200 g/s)
36 minutes at dry thrust
11 minutes afterburner
49 minutes at dry thrust with conformal fuel tanks
15 minutes afterburner with conformal fuel tanks
62 minutes at dry thrust with 2 1.000 kg fuel tanks
75 minutes at dry thrust with conformal fuel tanks and 2 1.000 kg fuel tanks
101 minute at dry thrust with conformal fuel tanks and 4 1.000 kg fuel tanks
1.103 km at M 1,5 internal fuel
1.500 km at M 1,5 with conformal fuel tanks
1.646 km at M 1,3 with 2 drop tanks (peacetime, drop tanks kept)
1.793 km combat range with 2 drop tanks (M 1,3 before discarding, 1,5 after discarding tanks)
2.191 km combat range with 2 drop tanks and conformal fuel tanks (M 1,3 before discarding, 1,5 after discarding tanks)
2.268 km at M 1,1 with 4 drop tanks and conformal fuel tanks (ferry range)
322 km with 15 minute loiter time (Mach 1,5, internal fuel)
459 km with 19 minute loiter time (Mach 1,5, conformal fuel tanks)
478 km with 26 minute loiter time (Mach 1,3, 2 drop tanks, tanks kept until return)
690 km with 13 minute loiter time (Mach 1,3/1,5, 2 drop tanks, tanks discarded after emptying)
690 km with 26 minute loiter time (Mach 1,3/1,5, conformal fuel tanks + 2 drop tanks, drop tanks discarded)
Mach 1 = 340,29 m/s
Maximum angle of attack:
100° – 120° aerodynamic limit
40° FCS operational limit
Takeoff distance: <500 m
Landing distance: <420 m
long-range QWIP imaging IRST
3 QWIP imaging “fisheye” short-range IR missile warners / IRSTs (360*360 degree coverage)
1 BK-27 with 234 rounds
6 missile hardpoints
- MICA IR
- R-27P or anti-radiation version of MBDA Meteor
Unit flyaway cost: 25.000.000 USD
Cost per flying hour: 3.500 – 4.000 USD
Sorties per aircraft per day: 3
Sorties per day per billion procurement USD: 120
(Values for FY 2013)
While cost per kg is significantly lower for aluminum aircraft, there does not appear to be any advantage in total cost for aluminum aircraft; as such, composite-based aircraft is superior choice due to higher performance in all areas. Also, FLX is most likely to cost around 25 million USD; Gripen A costs 30 million USD at 6.600 kg, giving 4.500 USD per kg. Allowing for increase to 6.000 USD per kg for FLX (halfway between Gripen A and Rafale Cs cost per kg), it will cost no more than 26 million USD; low-end cost of 4.000 USD per kg would give total cost of 17 million USD. High end estimate of 8.000 USD per kg – similar to far more complex F-16 C and Rafale C – would give 34 million USD. If this last value is taken, result is 29 aircraft and 87 sorties per 1 billion procurement USD; 17 million USD would give 58 aircraft and 174 sorties per 1 billion procurement USD.
10% increase in wing area causes 1% increase in structural weight. Northrop F-5A was 14,3 meters long and weighted 3.667 kg. It had two engines that weighted 190 kg each, two guns that weighted 80,9 kg each and no radar, giving weight without that equipment as 3.125 kg. Increase in wing area from 15,8 to 28 m2 would thus increase weight to 3.366 kg. With 1 M-88-2 (897 kg), 1 BK-27 (100 kg), and 4 IRSTs (~50 kg for primary IRST, ~10 kg each for 3 missile warners = 80 kg), empty weight would be 4.443 kg. This however assumes that same materials are used; usage of composites would lead to major weight reduction, so 4.200 kg empty weight (7% reduction in airframe weight and 6% reduction in empty weight) is not unrealistic.
There is also a possibility for FLX to be navalized; this will likely increase empty weight to 4.800 kg for version with M88-ECO, and increase unit flyaway cost to 29.000.000 USD.
FLX uses FOD (foreign object damage) doors to prevent damage to the engine during rough strip operations. FOD doors form part of the air duct roof; when they are lowered, air gets into air duct through intake on duct’s roof. As doors raise, they open up main air intakes, and close off roof ones.
Comparision with other fighters
Aerodynamically, FLX is most similar to the Saab Gripen and Dassault Rafale. Close-coupled canards and LERX, when coupled with low wing loading, adequate thrust-to-weight ratio and small size will allow FLX to outmaneuver any fighter aircraft in the world. These features will also allow it to take off from and land on very short runways or stretches of road, giving it good survivability in a war; when coupled with low maintenance and fuel requirements, these features will give it excellent survivability and presence on the battlefield. Instead on vulnerable open bases, it will be able to use hidden road bases and road tunnels. It does have a shortcoming in that its wing span is somewhat greater than Gripen’s. Its fuel fraction will also allow it to cruise for longer time in supersonic regime than possible for most other fighters, and to outlast its opponents in dogfight. Roll rate will be better than Gripen’s 250 degrees per second, possibly around 270-300 degrees per second, owing to wing angle.
Second advantage is a situational awareness better than that of any other fighter in the world; only Rafale would come close to it once equipped with additional DDMs to cover area directly below the fighter. In fact, Rafale and FLX would be only fighters in the world with complete 360*360 degree coverage with IR sensors, though FLX would have an advantage in that its own visual and IR signature would be smaller than Rafale’s – or vast majority of other fighter aircraft, possible exceptions being F-5 and Gripen.
If gun bursts are assumed to last one second, FLX can fire 8 bursts, compared to 2 for F-35A, 3 for F-35B, F-35C, Rafale, 4 for F-16A, F-16C, F-22, Gripen, 5 for Typhoon. Standard missile loadout is 2 WVR and 4 BVR missiles for FLX, Gripen and F-16C, 4 BVR missiles for F-35, 2 WVR and 6 BVR missiles for F-22 and Typhoon, 6 BVR missiles for Rafale, 2 WVR missiles for F-16A. This translates into total number of 3,02 kills for FLX, 1,82 for Gripen C, 1,5 for F-16A, 1,38 for Rafale, 1,82 for F-16C, 2,12 for Typhoon, 0,92 for F-35A, 1,22 for F-35 B and C, and 1,98 for F-22.
For 1 billion USD, one can get 40 FLX flying 120 sorties per day, 22 Gripen C flying 44 sorties per day, 33 F-16A flying 39 sorties per day, 13 Rafale C flying 26 sorties per day, 14 F-16C flying 16 sorties per day, 7 Typhoon T2 flying 14 sorties per day, 5 F-35A flying 2 sorties per day, 4 F-35C flying 2 sorties per day, 3 F-35B flying 1,5 sorties per day or 3 F-22 flying 1,5 sorties per day.
This translates into 362 onboard kills by FLX, 80 by Gripen C, 58 by F-16A, 35 by Rafale C, 29 by F-16C, 29 by Typhoon, 1 by F-35A, 2 by F-35C, 1 by F-35B, and 2 by F-22.
As far as older fighters go, FLX would have cost 10 million USD in 1979, providing 300 sorties per day per billion USD; this compares to 2.000 for the F-86, 1.000 for the F-5A, 400-500 for the F-104A and F-5E, 100 for the F-4, 90 for the F-16, 35 for the F-18, 25 for the F-14, 4 for the F-22 and the F-35A. Using low-end estimate of 17 million USD – 7 million in 1979 – would put it at 426 sorties per day; high-end estimate would place it at 213 sorties per day.
Whereas FLX will have supercruise radius of 400 km with 14 minutes of loiter time, F-22s range at Mach 1,5 and 45.000 feet is 813 km, with total flight time of 23,4 minutes; with 14 minutes loiter time, F-22s supercruise radius is 164 km (F-22s fuel consumption at M 1,5 is 25 lbs of fuel per nm). F-16C has radius of 370 km with 10 minutes loiter time, but is incapable of supercruise; this still puts it above heavier (230% of F-16Cs empty weight) F-22 and below lighter (49% of F-16Cs empty weight) FLX.
Combat radius on internal fuel is 600 km for FLX, 1.200 km for Su-27, 700 km for MiG-29, 400 km for Gripen C, 500 km for F-16C, 1.060 km for F-18, 1.100 km for F-15C, 406 km for F-22, 940 km for F-35. With 4 external fuel tanks, combat radius is 1.195 km for FLX and 926 km for Rafale C. It should be noted that even 4 external fuel tanks still leave 2 wingtip missile hardpoints free for FLX and 8 hardpoints for Rafale C; 2 tanks would leave 4 missile hardpoints for FLX and 10 for Rafale C. This does not acount for the fact that one can buy 3 FLX and operate 4 FLX for price of one Rafale. It also clearly shows that large fighters are not a necessity even for larger countries, as FLX has 50% larger combat radius than the F-22 despite weighting 21% as much and carrying 34% as much fuel.
While most larger fighters do have advantage in range, FLX still has range similar to Russian MiG-29, and better than that of any other fighter weighting less than twice as much as the FLX, as well as that of the F-22. As FLXs small size and low weight (less than that of F-86 or F-5) result in low cost, high level of stealth, good dogfighting ability (especially when coupled with low wing loading and high thrust-to-weight ratio) and easy road basing, it is ideal for smaller countries, but also for large countries that already have heavy long-range fighters (such as Su-27 or its variants) for patrols over large swathes of rarely inhabited areas (Siberia or northern Canada) and require a fighter to ensure that their heavy fighters are not hopelessly outmatched by enemy assault when defending critical areas.
It is also interesting to compare it to several proposed light fighters. First one is Pierre Sprey’s air superiority fighter (America’s Defense Meltdown, pg 161). Sprey’s fighter has a unit flyaway cost of below 40 million USD, gross weight of 8.400 kg and 14.700 kgf of thrust. FLX has unit flyaway cost of below 30 million USD, empty weight of 4.200 kg, gross weight of 7.200 kg and up to 9.200 kgf of thrust. Thus FLX is lighter and cheaper, but has lower TWR (1,28 vs 1,75 for Sprey’s fighter). Using EJ-230 instead of M-88 variant would increase gross weight to 7.300 kg, thrust to 12.250 kgf and thrust-to-weight ratio to 1,68. HAL Tejas is projected to cost 34 million USD in FY 2013 USD, empty weight of 6.500 kg, 2.458 kg of fuel 8.600 kgf of thrust, giving it a comparably low fuel fraction and thrust-to-weight ratio when compared to the FLX (fuel fraction 0,27, TWR 0,96 with 100% fuel but no weapons; compare to FLXs 0,4 f.f. and 1,1 TWR in the same configuration). Combat radius for Tejas is 300 km, 1/2 of FLXs. While it does have lower wing loading, it also has lower positive g limit (+8 operational) and inferior aerodynamics.
Thanks to its reliance on proven approach of surprising the enemy and avoiding surprise through usage of passive sensors and low visibility to the same, FLX will invalidate radar stealth at very low cost. Even in one-on-one combat it will be far superior to any existing or planned fighter; it will also offer superior force size and reliability for cost, allowing for realistic training – and as shown before, pilot is far more important than the aircraft. High supercruise speed and high level of actual stealth will allow it to achieve surprise against almost all fighters in the world except Rafale and possibly F-35 (if all its systems work as advertised, which is still far from certain), and to achieve first detection against both Rafale and F-35. At the same time, excellent coverage with passive sensors will make FLX itself almost completely safe against being surprised. If fighter like this is ever put into service, it will render all other fighters in service obsolete through combination of low cost, easy maintenance and unparalleled combat performance. Only shortcoming when compared to heavy fighters such as Russian Su-27 is its relatively short range on internal fuel; this can be mitigated through usage of external fuel tanks and tanker refuelling.
Air to air weapons effectiveness
Usefulness of thrust vectoring
Symmetric and assymetric counters
67 thoughts on “Air superiority fighter proposal”
This is a superbly written blog.
The F-4 deployed in Vietnam originally did not have a gun. The gun was added latter via a pod and latter still via an internal mount. So the statistics are affected by this.
The data from airborne AA radar guided missiles should take into account that Vietnam era missiles relied on the aircraft illuminating the target and the missile picking up the reflection.
On the Yom Kippur war is very interesting. This was a combined arms war where in its initial phases the Israelis did not have an adequate ground force that could threatened the Egyptian channel crossings or SAM batteries so it was entirely up to the airforce who then had a very predictable air mission; attacking the channel crossings and succoring the troops in the ground. So the Egyptians knew the Israeli’s airforce was coming and where they would be coming and they where ready for them.
And one final note… air crafts last many-many years. Sometimes fifty years. One develops and aircraft that flies low to avoid radar and the enemy deploys a look down radar and that advantage is denied. You are threatened by high altitude bombers and you design a very fast and high flying aircraft with missiles to deal with that and then the enemy switches to delivery by rockets and now your aircraft is obsolete. Today we have stealth and that will last so long before some one figures a way to deal with it too.
Over the years the USA has had in its inventory aircraft that where developed for enemies that faded away but the aircraft was so durable and there was so much money sunk into it that the USA kept using it even if it was a relic or better said a legacy. The old ineffective aircraft will hang around until their useful life is expended like the F-4 did or until it is made obsolete by losses like the F-105 was.
Political bosses in congress share a big part of the blame for this. They have been searching for the Holly Grail of not just multi-role but also multi-service aircraft with all the compromises that brings along. Something that will serve both the airforce and the navy and of course, the marines. And industry is guilty too. They lobby Congress relentlessly and politics for more money. This is the part that is really hard to fix.
I still think that some measures against radar stealth would be useful like shaping where it wouldnt affect performance and canopy treatment…
You didnt mentioned DIRCM and Radar Jammer will FLX have them?
I think for FLX it would be much better to have not just RWR but full fledged ESM system with interferometers geolocation Direction Finding
If you read it more carefully, RWR is intended to provide a firing solution. And yes it will have DRFM jammers and DIRCM, though they’ll be used as little as possible; especially jammers, since jamming gives away aircraft’s position.
It would need a full set of ECM, RWR, and EW if it is to survive on the modern battle field, basically it would need the entire ECM set the euro-fighter has, and this costs 40% of the entire aircraft, so at 130 million per aircraft for the euro-fighter, which would cost almost 50 million just for the ECM, RWR and EW…. Plus the R&D to develop the aircraft plus the cost to actually build the aircraft, So the FLX would have to cost at least 75 million. It then would also need to be the same size and weight of a euro-fighter to have a full ECM, hard to get around it.
Other things that would really come in handy include DIRCM, sensors and MAW all over the body, QWIP based DAS, and a 360 degree QWIP based IRST… That would add at least another 10 million per aircraft, so now we are at 85 million. And to work all this and take info from all the sensors and give the right info to the pilots little mind at the right time from the right sensor then to deploy the right countermeasure at the right time, now you need super computers and a great deal of sensor fussion at the 5th gen level. Now this all adds weight which now means it needs bigger engines and larger wings, which adds even more weight which now means it can’t turn that well, it all adds up fast.
If it does not have these things I just mentioned it would not get the chance to show how well it can move or turn and a fighter (call it fighter b) with a powerful radar will be able to see FLX with no stealth from 400km away, and direct other fighters through data links to attack and ambush it from sides and back at standoff distances, from both radar and IR based missiles shot in combo’s and if FLX has no ECM, FLX could not survive the sniper and ambush like attacks from longer ranges. Sure FLX might be able to detect (fighter b’s) radar from a long range away but as long as (fighter b) stays over 125 km away not much FLX could do but keep taking sniper like attacks and ambushes from fighters being directed at it from all sides through data links from (fighter b)
This is why Stealth and large powerful aesa radars is the next generation of the air game…. And not all fighters need them that you have, they are not perfect in every case but if you use the right tactics in combination with stealth and AESA with data links, IRST, modern and ECM used sparingly it is a tough nut to crack.
This is why the next generation fighter will have to have pretty good stealth, a powerful AESA radar for some cases, 360 degree QWIP IRST, 5th gen sensor fusion, long range, super cruise and and a full set of ECM, and EW…. And it has to be able to be super maneuverability with high thrust to weight ratio’s for dog fighting to boot, basically it has to have to be the total package to rule the skies. Anything less is a compromise at least for the air dominance air superiority role.
And it’s coming soon.
FLX would be great as a secondary fighter, low cost direct ground attack, trainer, or dog fighter supported by other top tier fighters with powerful AESA radars that can direct and control them.
Cost per kg is assumed to be similar to Gripen’s, if not somewhat greater, so cost-wise it should have EW suite even though I forgot to add it to the list; if you assume that it has no EW suite, it should cost around 15-17 million USD. But anyone trying to use radar to find or attack it is automatically going to get shot at, so I don’t think EW capabilities will be used that much.
“sensors and MAW all over the body, QWIP based DAS, and a 360 degree QWIP based IRST”
Already included, check the design again. Missile approach warners are QWIP IR based with complete spherical coverage and also act as a short-ranged IRST.
“That would add at least another 10 million per aircraft, so now we are at 85 million.”
Wrong, as noted.
“If it does not have these things I just mentioned it would not get the chance to show how well it can move or turn and a fighter (call it fighter b) with a powerful radar will be able to see FLX with no stealth from 400km away, ”
Even if you assume that FLX has no EW suite, maximum useful distance for BVR missiles is such that enemy fighter will get attacked before managing to endanger FLX, forcing it to break radar lock. If it does try to shoot it down beyond MICA IRs maximum range, it will get disappointed as BVR missiles are easy to evade even WVR, let alone near their maximum range when they have expended energy.
“This is why Stealth and large powerful aesa radars is the next generation of the air game….”
Wrong. Fighter that does not fly is useless and stealth fighter can fly only one sortie every two or three days. And radar can get detected’ while radar stealth is irrelevant when dealing with fighter that can attack you completely passively by using its IRST and/or RWR.
“FLX would be great as a secondary fighter”
Which would kick ass of all “primary” fighters, just as the F-16 in its original configuration was far superior to the F-15.
“low cost direct ground attack”
It is not a ground attack aircraft.
“dog fighter supported by other top tier fighters with powerful AESA radars that can direct and control them.”
No such fighters are necessary. If enemy fighters use radars or any other active systems, FLX can find them through that, if not, FLX can use IRST.
I did a more precise calculation:
Basic cost: 14 million USD
IRST: 1 million USD
3xIR MAW: 3 million USD
Remaining for EW suite: 7 million USD
Note: highest possible cost is 33 million USD. This assumes that cost per kg is same for FLX as it is for Rafale C; however Rafale C is a twin-engined aircraft with radar and radar-transparent fin. Radar alone costs several million USD.
Vary illuminating post. Brings a couple of things to mind… one of course is how war is made by different countries. Complex aircrafts need airports and airports can be struck first by Tomahawks and follow up attacks from USA or its NATO friends.
So for the sake of furthering the discussion let us assume that two aircrafts go into a coliseum type environment (I heard this phrase in a talk!) and slug it mano-a-mano who will win? Probably Picard’s choice.
The problem is that in real war these types of one-on-one battles do not decide much. The party who takes out the enemy’s airports first typically wins as well as the party with the AWACS and the airborne refueling capacity who can stay airborne the longest, the Tomahawks, the Special Forces, etc.
While the F-35 costs a lot and that is a problem… if it could cost less a lot of its problems could go away over time and its lack of maneuverability might be a problem in a coliseum but maybe not in the environment it is intended to fight in.
There is a similar discussion raging on the Navy side about the LCS and it is fueled by equal misunderstandings. There they would like the Navy to buy Frigates which are completely different ships designed to fight completely different foes.
Gripen doesn’t need air ports, and neither would FLX. You strike air field, it can operate from roads, just like German fighters (excepting Me-262) did during the World War II. But if air field F-35 is operating from is struck – by cruise missiles, for example – it is stuck, as it is too complex to operate in a road basing environment for long.
The airfield problem is a huge problem. You made some analogies and I will make one here… during WW2 as the Flying Tigers started to impact more-and-more the battle field Stilwell warned Chennault that the Japanese could neutralize his fighters by simply using their ground forces to move against their airfields and depots. Chennault ignored the advise and Stilwell’s warning became a prophesy when the Japanese did exactly that.
The Gripen operating on the field is subject to the same problems the Marines have with their Harriers and are expected to have with their F-35 which by the way will probably not be deployed in the field because of logistics and vulnerability to ground attack.
So I go back to the issue that in modern fighting the airfield or the aircraft carrier is the most vulnerable link and that has been proven in combat. And airfields even makeshift airfields are vulnerable to air attacks of course but also to raids by ground forces, tomahawks, etc.
You can’t change that, it has always been that way and even during World War II there were regular commando raids on one another’s airfields – British commandos raiding German air fields, for example. During Vietnam war, major US forces were tied in protecting the air fields, yet Viet Cong still destroyed large numbers of aircraft. But it was ability to operate from road bases that allowed Luftwaffe to remain a fighting force until lack of fuel (due to loss of Ploesti oil fields to the Russians) and trained pilots (due to insufficient training efforts, also caused by lack of fuel) grounded it.
Those are the problems with operating even a small amount of aircrafts from roads, etc. These roads are not hardened sites and are vulnerable to attacks plus in a war environ the aircrafts that will be returning from a sortie might be battle damaged and require a larger area to land safely than a narrow road can provide or vehicles and supplies to combat fires, etc. hospital and infirmary, or aircraft might have to be turned around or maintained in inclement weather or at night making the site impractical. So the base must be hardened and some facilities provided that are not available in a road.
The Navy would like to get the Marines off their ships and move the latter to the safety of the open ocean. That has proven increasingly difficult to do for the same reasons that operating off a road would be too. So now they operate from Amphibious Ships close to shore and pray nothing happens to them.
And in WW2 the British operated their fighters from grass strips. That was WW2. They could not do it now.
Roads are not hardened sites, true, but even hardened shelters can be destroyed; aircraft are only really safe deep under the mountain, wether it is road tunnel or a shelter, doesn’t matter; in fact, road tunnels may be better as they are less conscipious and don’t have large doors that can be jammed.
And Su-27 and MiG-29 can operate from grass strips, it’s just that Western militaries (mostly) got brain-dead.
OK. It is better if the air craft can operate from both grass and concrete specially since concrete runways can be damaged. But I think my point is that it is getting harder to operate modern aircrafts from sites that can’t accommodate battle damage, injuries, have adequate storage of parts or substantial fuel depots. The Marines are going through that.
Just like there is no reason for an aircraft not to be as maneuverable as possible which is why I find perplexing that the F-35 is no more so unless there is a good reason for that.
So… in my own amateurish way I have been giving some thought to the why the F-35 only has one engine. The Navy last one engine fighter was the F-8. It was replaced by the F-4 which was a twin engine aircraft and then all the others after (F-14, F-18) have also been twin engine aircrafts. Twin engines in a Naval role is a safer aircraft.
So I wonder if the single engine decision has anything to do with the fact that the Marine’s version takes off vertically and that would have been to too difficult to do with two engines?
And then if you only have one engine then the larger wing areas might have slowed it down too much and speed was thought to be more important.
Do these speculations make any sense?
Single engine is due to the STOVL requirement. Small wing was selected because of the STOVL requirement, but also because, as the ground attack aircraft, it would have often had to fly very low and very fast, which requires comparably high wing loading – F-35 was never intended to fight other fighters, it was always intended to be a light bomber.
Makes sense now. So it is a Marine Corp aircraft. With the way its exhaust can shift directions this version of the aircraft should have decent handling.
And the Navy version has larger wing area that is meant to give it a slower speed of approach to the carrier and in theory improve its maneuverability over the air force version which is the one discussed the most here.
And this web site clearly indicates that the F-35 will replace capabilities lost when the A-6 was decommissioned in 1997,
You could not compare the A-6 that is mentioned on the link above to any air force aircraft. Naval aircrafts have to make compromises that air force do not have to make. The air force would never have bought an aircraft like the A-6 yet that was a very successful Naval aircraft.
So for the Navy and the Marine Corps this aircraft is an “Attack” aircraft or like you said a light bomber designed to strike ships at sea or support Marines on shore. So far so good.
So this is primarily an attack aircraft and works well for the Navy and the Marines. That must be why there is little controversy in those quarters. Controversy is mostly from Air Force types.
If you’re thinking about VIFF-ing, I don’t think F-35 can do it. As for the Navy version, yes it has lower wing loading so it will have better turn rates; however, it can only pull 7,5 g operationally, whereas Air Force version can pull 9 g, so it’s not entirely clear-cut.
If you fight another major power like Russia or china for example major air fields are gonna be wiped out as well as all the aircraft of them, Russia is increasing it’s precision cruise missiles by 30 fold over the next while and they already had a nice size ares-anal.
This is how the me-262 were destroyed, that is one the ground, and there is only so many bases that can have the f-22 for logistical reasons, plus it has a short range of 250 miles 400km for combat, which means you know all the bases it is coming from..
alot of countries are now getting standoff weapons, bunker busters and or cruise missiles, which makes keeping planes on airfields a fools errand… they once having bought these weapons alo will have the technology to clone then as well, so now the genie is out of the bottle., In the future there will be in the next 10 years alot of countries having these types of weapons.
what does it mean, it means and air-force that has to operate from traditional air fields is simply not that survivable against countries that have these weapons, imagine exchanging .5 million dollar standoff missiles for 425 million dollar f-22’s, it is a nice exchange rate if you are the country with the standoff missiles.
This is why the entire Russian air force which can operate from high ways, grass fields etc, is an enormous advantage since you cannot find them to target them, and if you can’t find them, you get hit them. So western planes will easily be destroyed on the ground against a major power.
During the first gulf war the allies spent 1,000’s of sorties trying to find the scud launchers of iraq that were located in a small part of the open desert, and in the end it looks like they could not even find one of them and they kept moving around. In a larger area with tree’s and decoys, it would be very very hard
The reasons western aircraft cannot work on secondary airfields is due to the jet engines picking up foreign materials like pebbles, that would blow them up, Russia engines are designed from the start to be immune to such things (through design and blockers) and also have stronger landing gears etc.
In in the pacific, allied airfields will likely be totally destroyed with all the equipment on them in short order…
It is a massive advantage to be able to have an airforce that can take off from almost any flat service, no matter were it is, then hidden or camouflaged after landing, imagine working from thousands of farmer fields for example.
Right on the money. Though technically F-22 takes 270-some million USD to produce, 425 million USD is a program unit cost and includes R&D; also, Gripen can operate from roads, and though I doubt its ability to operate from fields like the Russian aircraft can do, it can operate even if roads are snow-covered so it may be capable of grass field operations too. This is a speculation, however, so don’t take it for granted.
George, the PDF presentation is phenomenal. So the F-35 is an attack aircraft after all. If the USA fights as this PDF predicts, mano-a-mano in the air then this is right. This is a great resource and from 2008 no less.
But the China scenarios that the PDF is considering assumes a single arms combat. Not combined arms. Big flaw. There is a reason why in the USA a strong Navy is equaled to National security. In a war against China the USA would strike by sea at China’s logistic chain that runs through the Indian Ocean, the strait of Malacca and the Myanmar’s port that feeds the pipe line there. It would strangle the country. China would be left with its domestic production of oil and what ever it could bring in from Central Asia.
Taiwan would be ravaged by war and with out possibility of supplies would soon loose its ability to fight in the air but not at sea and land. It would take a considerable effort to bring Chinese troops in any number acros 100 miles of water. Amphibious operations are not easy when the enemy knows where you are landing as it would here.
The “secret” to successful amphibious operations is that they need to have many alternative targets so the enemy cannot prepare itself against all possibilities. You strike the weakest. In Taiwan there are probably not that many choices for a landing in force.
More realistic Chinese scenario is what is going on now. They set up a base in Philippine waters (they have one!) and encroach on the latter’s sovereignty or send troops into India’s territory to camp for weeks (just did) which while alarming will not warrant a full blown reaction by either. We are doing the Pacific pivot now to deal with that sort of mischief.
But all these scenarios might not matter with China soon. They have a crazy one child per family policy that will create a huge drop in population and vast numbers of people living below sub-Sahara African standards as well as substantial portions of real estate populated by non-Hans who are itching to do something about it. They have their problems with out having to look for more elsewhere.
To see the truth about Russian aircraft and why they are such an advantage in a real all out war against a competent airforce and how they can take off on land even with junk lying around on the ground you need to watch this video from 8:00 to 17:00 and then 34:00 to 39:50 here you can see that you would not want to tangle with the top tier Russian fighters pilots in a dog fight, as all they do is train the dog fight.
Top Gun Over Moscow!
OK, I squeezed the video into my work day. Not bad reporting and certainly impressive.
You know, the F-35 is worth X number of dollars but a huge amount of that is sunk into the software and electronics that the aircraft designers felt it needed. In their day the A-4, A-6 and A-7 where all capable aircrafts and none could fight anywhere close to how this one can so I do not see why the F-35 should be maligned for not being as good a fighter as this one Russian aircraft or that other one European one.
In my humble opinion the real problem is its cost. Other things can be fixed with time.
Problem is that F-35 is a deep strike bomber that has been pushed into roles it was not designed for. That, and it was supposed to do too many things from the outset (stealth tri-service CTOL/STOVL bomber! No way this can go wrong!).
Just finished watching it… and excellent docummentary.
For those of you to see and learn the history of BVR warfare and why it is not likely to work in combat in the future you have to read this document I posted above. But I will put here as well.
Click to access 2008_RAND_Pacific_View_Air_Combat_Briefing.pdf
Just having semi stealth aircraft like F-35 that can’t turn, and has little ECM and cost 250 million is not the answer… Having 10 low cost FLX but high maneuver with ECM against 1 F-35 is a turkey shoot, f-35 would have no chance. Also the pilot and his experience is more important than the machine and maybe 80% of the entire equation, in f-35 if you can only train once every week due to maintenance and high per hour flying costs how good can you get? With lower cost you can train all the time due to low maintenance and low per hour flight costs. And an expert pilot flying anything is almost always better than a so so pilot flying something more expensive.
I really think you need some top tier jets than can do it all, stealth, powerful AESA radar, dog fighting etc, PAK-FA comes to mind as the only one that I know of that can do this at such a top level once operational. But you also need more FLX to do dog fighting and all around fighter work, as well as anything that requires lots of sorties, it would be handy for all air forces. Even doing the direct bombing missions the F-16 is doing in places like Afghanistan would also be really economical to do to it’s low costs, maybe by dropping 250 pound precision bombs due to it’s smaller size still would be a handy thing to have, even as a trainer it would be great to since most western trainers cost 35 million these days alone. while the F-35 is useless for all the missions I mentioned above due to purchase costs and high maintenance.
A fighter with a powerful radar, that can work like a mini AWACS, but still be fast to get away from other fighters would really come in handy working with FLX, as it can be the eyes for FLX, one that comes in mind that is more cost effective is the Su-35, it can spot and track 32 fighters from 400km away, yet unlike AWACS, cannot be easily caught or over taken by other fighters due to it’s ECM, maneuverability, long range and high dash speeds. It then could give the radar picture to the FLX with Encrypted data links, and the FLX could remain silent and only be in receive mode receiving the encrypted data links. The FLX could then use then use the radar picture from the SU-35 and it’s own IRST in the last 100km to swarm and attack the prey from sides and back in an ambush like style. This is what the Israels did in the their air wars, hence there large kill ratio’s
Another strategy, is for the SU-35 to use it’s powerful radar to spot the prey, then use that same radar to jam the enemy, blinding their radar, so that the FLX can get in unseen to finish them off from sides with IR missile cued from QWIP IRST. And as long as the SU-35 stays at least 100km away from the prey, they could do nothing against SU-35 either due to it being outside any BVR missile kill box. SU-35 would be the new AWAC, just one that could survive against a top tier opponent unlike regular AWAC which would be easily killed, this way FLX would not need radar to keep costs and weight down and also location not given away by using their own radar..
So maybe 50 PAK-FA or Su-35 working with 250 FLX would be a handy and cost effective fighting combo.
Then again if FLX has RWR and opponent is dumb enough to keep the radar on, FLX could find them like that to, but you can’t always count on this.
There is also Lt.Col. Patrick Highby’s Promise And Reality: Beyond Visual Range Air to Air combat. I may have linked it in “links” section of the blog.
FLX has PIRATE IRST which can detect average aircraft (say, F-18) head-on from 90 km, and tail-on from 145 km, even if aircraft in question is subsonic. From side, range would likely be around 120-150 km. Compare this with radars: Rafale’s RBE2 has range of 139 km vs 5m2 target (or 93 km vs 1m2 target), Gripen’s PS-05/A has range of 120 km vs 5m2 target (or 80 km vs 1m2 target) or F-16Cs AN/APG-68 has range of 70 km vs 1m2 target (or 105 km vs 5m2 target). Whereas SPECTRA for example can give you a firing solution against radar-using aircraft that is 200 km away.
George, always read your posts with great interest. A few comments… see this quote:
“October 25, 2013: Over the last few years the U.S. Air Force has developed a novel way to make the most of the few (180) F-22s it has. This particular solution comes in the form of an F-22 QRF (Quick Reaction Force) that consists of four F-22s and a C-17 full of weapons, maintenance gear, maintainers, specialized pods, weapons, and spare pilots ready to fly to any of hundreds of airports or bases in the world that can handle four F-22s and a C-17. When there is a need for a few stealthy fighters somewhere on the planet, the QRF can be off and set up within a day to provide seventy-two hours of F-22 air support and a dozen or more sorties.”
The hundreds of bases mentioned is an interesting contrast to the few bases that you believe will be available.
But it also demonstrates the USA reliance on these air-lift aircrafts as well as aerial tankers and AWACS. They are ALL part of a system.
I think that being able to operate from a small country road is a nice capability to have but no substitute for a fixed base. I say this because I still do not see an answer to how they are going to handle battle damage, pilot casualties, inclement weather and major maintenance to the aircraft if they are operating in a road environment or in grass fields. What type of turn around can be expected on non damaged crafts working in the field like that?
And by the way, the weight of these aircrafts and those tiny wheels… how do they work on grass? Can’t be very well when the PSI of surface contact is so high. I am positive that when loaded with a full complement of fuel and weapons the average cow field will not work for aircrafts weights 30 or 40 thousands pounds-plus when you load them up. The surface must be hard to do that.
I am more pleased with the F-35 as a replacement to an A-6 type and Harriers and less worried about the g’s than you guys are. I think that for that role it is a fine aircraft that offers more than others did in the past including a high degree of self defense. An A-6 could not defend itself; it had to be escorted. And the big worry of the F-18’s short range when operating in the Pacific is now a small worry.
This comment is for Picard who has spoken at length on this subject…. just yesterday I was listening to one of those programs on history about the Falkland wars and an Argentinian pilot commented that the Argentinians where sending aircrafts loaded with bombs hunting for the ships with no fighter escort. That they where sitting ducks for the Harriers. The Argentinians had 200 aircrafts and the British 20. That the Argentinians could have sustained a negative 5:1 exchange ratio and given the scarcity of Harriers that would eventually had handed them air supremacy and the ability to ravage the invaders at will. Of course, had they also sank the carrier with its fuel and repair facilities that would also have handed them air supremacy but the carrier was hard to find where the harriers where there protecting the landing. There are two or three ways to deal with this and dog fighting might not be the most predictable since stand-off weapons seem to be the “mode”.
I am now convinced that the F-35 is not a bad aircraft. It was just not designed for dog fighting. I am sure the Navy will be glad to have it and since the F-22 was deemed to be too secret to share with others and was produced in small numbers it had a high unit cost. The F-35 will be cheaper.
I don’t see how fixed bases are going to handle serious air attacks and cruise missile strikes. If I remember it correctly, Gripen has 10 minute turnaround on a road base, engine can be equally quickly changed on a road base as in a full air base (if spare engine is avaliable) and most maintenance can also be carried out in a road base environment.
And yes I know about Argentinian aircraft. Harriers were also using the Sidewinder, so Argentine pilots often did not know they were fired upon (that being said, I’m not sure they even had RWR so it may not have mattered).
In theory the Marine F-35B could operate from any strip. They are not planning to do that for completely different reasons but it could.
I am not a big reader of aviation (until now) but there is no question that an F-35C is a fine substitute for an F-18 being used in an attack role. The comments about the Navy not having anything like the old A-6 and how nicely the F-35 will be able to do some of those tasks that the old A-6 could do is true too.
I think the problem is the F-35A. The air force version. And there is something going on with the way it is being sold to countries. The USA will have both the F-22 and the F-35 but the other countries will only have the F-35.
I have to believe that in due time the USA will make a cheaper fighter.
USA will not make a cheaper fighter because F-22 and F-35 were never intended to be militarily effective, they were intended to be profitable for contractors. And F-35 can’t operate from “any strip”, even Marine STOVL variant needs takeoff strip as it is STOVL and not VTOL, and its fan kicks up so much debris that even in vertical takeoff configuration (minimal to no weapons and not entire fuel load) lift fan may get damaged if it takes off from anything but concrete/asphalt runway or carrier’s deck.
Very well said! – “USA will not make a cheaper fighter because F-22 and F-35 were never intended to be militarily effective, they were intended to be profitable for contractors.”
The air force has a long history of doing the right thing when they are forced to do something they do not want to do! Specially if it is for others… like the ARMY.
HGR that is ok if you are just starting to learn about air power..
Firstly The f-35b cannot takeoff and land from any surface, one little pebble or other small foreign object would get into the engine and blow it up, and with only one engine, kiss the whole thing goodbye. Again watch the Video I posted above called “TOP GUN OVER MOSCOW” starting at 8:00 it is an American made Nova documentary to see why all American planes can’t take off and land anywhere like you suggested. I think it is a massive flaw and short coming of western jets, but it is what it is.
Second the F-35 c is not a good replacement for the F-18 super hornet for many reasons which I and picard578 have mentioned numerous times on other places on this website.
The F-35C real cost is perhaps as high as 260 million per copy compared to 55 million for the F-18, with all R&d in for both. The F-35C can do only a sortie every 3 to 5 days, were the F-18 can do 1 or 2 sorties every day, so if you add it up for the same cost and amount of planes you can buy with amount or sorties you can do the F-18 can do like 20 to 32 times sorties more, and if it can carry 4 times the pay load per sortie if the f-35 keeps any amount of stealth and does only internal loads, now you are looking at 80 to 138 times more tonnage of bombs dropped per cost, the differences are truly staggering. Also what if you need all the the planes in next 4 hours to protect the carrier, well the F-35 might need 3 more days of maintenance. Also the F-35C is probably the worst maneuvering jet fighter developed any where in the word in the last half century so it is totally incapable of top tier air to air combat…
I posted this before, but look here on pages 75 to 81 to see for yourself how bad the F-35C is at maneuvering, what you will also notice is the PAK-FA is the tops here as well.
Click to access 2008_RAND_Pacific_View_Air_Combat_Briefing.pdf
Honestly I would need to write a book to tell you how it is not a good replacement for F-18 super hornet.
Before I go watch these video’s on my utube channel, the guy is wrong about the cost of the F-35 as it is a lot more expensive then he even thought since this video was done, but you will see more reasons why the F-18 has advantages over F-35.
Watch this whole channel of mine as you will see a lot of the short comings of the F-35 on my other video’s as well, It is worth the time to watch them all HGR, I know you will enjoy them all.
opps, so sorry guys I made a mistake, somehow I posted the wrong video’s above, please remove them if you can Picard….
It was suppose to be this one which is a 3 part series called “RICHARDO TRAVEN DEBATE IN CHOOSING F-35 VS F-18 SUPER HORNET”
I hope it works this time, must have got my video’s mixed up. If it still does not work just search my utube channel for this series, it is also the last 3 video’s on the play list in the above video’s.. thank you.
Well here goes again.
George, excellent videos. This Hornet with all the add on pods and the likes is starting to look like the old phantom F-4s did towards the end of their life. They really need to evolve the design again or say they are done with it.
I am seeing more and more countries upping their orders for F-35 so something is going on there.
I just wanted to show you this HGR, a 50,000 pound fighter can land in fields, and I will show you far more extreme examples even. A C-17 has a weight of up to 600,000 pounds, yet here it is Landing and taking off a short grass strip.
C-17 – Kicking up a (grass) storm
And here is the C-17 Landing and taking off on a make shift dirt strip
Here is a 168,000 pound C-130J landing on a grass field..
pilots practice landing on grass in Poland
And here is the C-17 Landing on sand, I kid you not…
C-17 american air force landing in sand
AS you can see it is not the weight of the aircraft alone that determines were it can land, but rather how the aircraft was designed.
Which is why my airlift aircraft (I’m working on proposal right now) will likely use tracked landing gear.
HGR? upping orders of F-35? Everybody is ditching this dog…
Just reading about Navy stuff it looks like the F-35 they and the carrier ones the Marine Corp are getting has have a tail-hook that is not stealthy.
They have been unable to develop a stealthy tail hook yet.
And of course the gun is mounted in a pod (not internal). We knew that but not about the tail hook problem.
I like what you’ve done here, and for the most part I agree with your suggestions.
The issues that I see are, a plane like this would never get built. The F-16 only got built because the USAF had to be dragged into it kicking and screaming.
If this were built, then the following:
1. Under the best of circumstances, it would meet the same fate as YF-16. It would be modified to be a bomber (at least partially).
2. Throughout the life of the plane, the weight would creep up. Now a bigger engine may offset some of it, but never all of it. Plus the wing loading will get more and more heavily loaded. Over the life, the same fate as the F-16.
3. Now granted, this would be a better fighter than anything else the MICC could build, but the issue is that the MICC will never build something like this until a cultural reform comes.
If the worst happened, the same thing that is happening right now to the A-10 would happen to this fine jet. First time in combat, it proves itself as a worthy, cost-effective bird. Then the top brass freaks out and tries to get rid of it.
There’s something intensely pathological about many air forces right now:
They are in love with high tech, very costly planes, viewing it as their greatest advantage.
They seem to view bombing as their primary mission. In particular, they seem to detest CAS.
Fighters are looked on a secondary objective and only a concession to “defense”.
None of this of course bears any resemblance to what a nation really needs, or what the capability of the purchase in question is relative to the price.
The real question is, given the political environment, what’s the best plane that could be made?
“The issues that I see are, a plane like this would never get built. The F-16 only got built because the USAF had to be dragged into it kicking and screaming.”
I know. And BTW, I have found some shortcomings in this design so I made a complete redesign. You’ll see it posted next Saturday, new design is smaller, lighter, with somewhat higher wing loading but also higher fuel capacity, higher thrust-to-weight ratio, improved aerodynamics and increased range.
“1. Under the best of circumstances, it would meet the same fate as YF-16. It would be modified to be a bomber (at least partially).”
And in process suffer a 25% increase in weight and 25-50% increase in cost.
“2. Throughout the life of the plane, the weight would creep up. Now a bigger engine may offset some of it, but never all of it. Plus the wing loading will get more and more heavily loaded. Over the life, the same fate as the F-16.”
“3. Now granted, this would be a better fighter than anything else the MICC could build, but the issue is that the MICC will never build something like this until a cultural reform comes.”
Agreed. I usually get a WTF? at best when I suggest that Rafale is better air superiority fighter than the F-22, followed up by a list of characteristics as long as my arm, but without any explanation what tactical and strategic significance these characteristics have. Same mentality is at work in US MICC for reasons of profit, they believe that more loaded with technology = better (thus more expensive = better) and completely forget about strategic side of things.
“If the worst happened, the same thing that is happening right now to the A-10 would happen to this fine jet. First time in combat, it proves itself as a worthy, cost-effective bird. Then the top brass freaks out and tries to get rid of it.”
Which is why I’d delete USAF and give its duties back to the US Army. And I mean Army, not just a different USAF like WW2s USAAF.
“1. They are in love with high tech, very costly planes, viewing it as their greatest advantage.”
That. And problem is that many ordinary people are like that too.
“2. They seem to view bombing as their primary mission. In particular, they seem to detest CAS.”
Correct, all MICC-designed aircraft are either strategic bombers or strategic bomber interceptors. YF-16 is the first and last air superiority fighter designed by United States. P-51, F-86, F-15 and F-22 did end up as good air superiority fighters (speaking from platform, not battlefield, level) but only because, as bomber interceptors, they needed to fly at high altitude. High altitude flight = need lot of lift = low wing loading = good turn performance. F-16 is the first and last US fighter designed primarly with maneuverability in mind.
“The real question is, given the political environment, what’s the best plane that could be made?”
Maybe something like Rafale… even Rafale is too optimized for dogfight in USAFs view, but it is complex and expensive enough that it just might cut it. If not, there are Typhoon and PAK FA; same problem about being too good at maneuvering applies to them, too, but to far lesser extent, and they are good enough bomber interceptors that they might get adopted.
I think that if the US actually made something like the Su-27, it would be a net gain.
It’s quite maneuverable for it’s size (which is quite a Russian feat in and of itself)
Of course, as you have noted, the Su-27 did have a dogfight in mind
The range on that fighter is very good (less need for internal fuel tanks), and it would be able to supercruise
If it were as rugged as the Su-27 or A-10, that would be a huge leap forward (see 4 though below).
In the case of the US, if they carried an IR sensor like on the Russian fighters, that in turn is another step forward.
Some things I’d be worried about:
Will they use that 20mm Gatling gun all over again, the Vulcan? They did on the F-22, although the F-35 does not. That gun needs to be changed with something better, ideally something that can burst to maximum rpm very quickly. The Russians I believe on their Gsh-6-23 used a gas operated Gatling design, which could spin up faster, although I think it also had a poor muzzle velocity.
In fact, I think it’s worth making a post on what makes a “good” gun for a fighter airplane (high burst, ability to get to max rpm very quickly, and high muzzle velocity, with some degree of “scatter). Seeing that many air forces do not think this is very important (I think the British too wanted to get rid of their gun for the Eurofighter).
There would be a strong temptation to put things that are not needed, especially when it comes to electronics. Such a fighter would likely spawn derivatives (like the F15E) and weight creep over time, like your fighter proposal.
That of course in turn will affect the performance of the fighter.
That brings to the point of, could they keep the project from exploding in budget? Could they keep it to say, $100 million USD (2013 dollars) a copy for flyaway cost? Probably not.
The MICC is not capable of making a fighter with the rugged reliability of many Russian designs nor the as simple maintenance as possible. Witness the amount of maintenance that needs to be done on today’s fighters, which in turn influences the amount of time that it will be able to fly, and it’s ability to use rougher landing strips.
Any such fighter would likely be compromised by the MICC’s love of stealth. I mean, building a fighter with the lowest radar cross section as possible while not sacrificing aerodynamics makes sense. Sacrificing performance though for stealth makes little sense. In that regard, perhaps it’s not possible given the current environment for stealth.
There is one possible advantage I could see of a big fighter. It would have the ability to carry a very impressive IR sensor, especially if the radar was deleted. That might be an advantage, although that will be somewhat offset by the larger size (2 engines especially), and of course, the cost. Smaller fighters, but more of them is a better choice.
Basically a somewhat “less bad” F-22, but still a lot bigger and more complex a fighter than it needs to be. Whether it would be enough to win against a “good” enemy though is another matter entirely.
Su-27-like aircraft would be quite superior to any US fighters in service, but I prefer smaller aircraft. OTOH, you are correct that it would be more acceptable to USAF than my aircraft, so in that way it might be a better choice.
Gattling gun is in line with US bomber mentality: it is good for attacking ground targets and strategic bombers, but suffers a heavy dogfighting penalty due to poor acceleration.
Modern fighters gain weight at an appaling rate; simple reason is that Western militaries are dominated by technicians, not tacticians, and more technology-heavy service is, greater the domination of technicians. That being said, European militaries are in far better shape than US military, though things are rapidly getting worse in Europe too.
100 million USD flyaway is expensive, just above the limit of what I consider acceptable cost for a fighter aircraft.
If something is overloaded with technology, it is not going to take kindly to rough fields. And US designers apparently don’t understand that technology is not an end in itself, but just a tool to achieve a certain goal.
VLO is useless. Fullstop. If you decrease RCS, you have just increased your visual, acoustic and IR signatures, there is no way out of it. Design should be primarly for aerodynamics and simplicity, if you can reduce RCS without sacrificing these two (like the F-16 did, possibly even accidentaly) fine… if not, tough luck. Problem is that US military can’t tell “enough”.
IR sensors usually aren’t very large, and I don’t think that Su-27s sensor is any larger than that on Rafale for example. Larger aperture size is advantage for a larger IRST, but it is offset by higher IR signature and cost of larger aircraft required to carry it.
The issue Picard, is not so much what the MICC should build, which of course is a lightweight fighter. The issue has always been what it is likely to build and given the current political environment, what the best fighter it could build are. To that end, for points 2-5, I think they’re fair. It’s not about whether or not say, VLO is useful or not. It’s about how much money it can send to the MICC and whether it would approve of a fighter without some sort of stealth ability (which it will not). I don’t think the MICC will approve of an aircraft being that cheap.
For point 6, I was thinking a larger passive IR sensor, not any active sensor, which would be detected long before you could detect more with it. I don’t suppose this has ever been tried. How much heat though does an existing IRST system give? Surely a lot less than an engine?
The issue is that air forces are heavily bomber centric. To that end, I suppose a bomber interceptor is what they “want” because if we take this logic, to them, letting the enemy “bomb” would also be anathema to such a bomber centric doctrine.
That’s something I think we should keep in mind. It’s not about the aircraft that is ideal. It’s about an aircraft that makes compromises to please the MICC so that it is willing to build it. I must admit, I do find this situation to be troubling, that the political environment is hostile to getting the aircraft that are needed.
Witness for example the F-35 replacing the A-10. Crazy talk, but it’s what the MICC wants. It’s not about what is going to be effective. It’s all about what the MICC is willing to support.
Problem is that MICC is, as I have stated before, into heavyweight bomber interceptors, and since 1980-1990 it has went into stealth craze in addition to heavy, complex platform craze. F-22 is absolutely most effective platform it would accept at this point, I’m afraid, and it is not very effective due to cost, sortie rate and lack of passive sensors.
As for bomber-centicity, problem with it is that it is not strategic bombers which are most useful on the field, but fighters – close air support fighters primarly, then air superiority fighters needed to allow CAS fighters (and other assets) to do their work without being shot down by enemy fighters. Strategic bombardment was never decisive short of using nukes, and even that is questionable. So bomber-destroyers may have their place, but should not be primary tactical platform. But to this reality, USAF is blind.
My proposals would never get accepted by USAF (and even other NATO air forces, with possible exceptions of AdlA and Flygvapnet, are quite iffy) but I’m trying to see what an effective, not MICC-friendly, air force would look like. And problem is that effective platforms are usually cheap. One needs to understand what works and what doesn’t, and understand why is it so, in order to find an effective solution. Same requirements are for finding a relatively cheap solution, and indeed simplest (and thus cheapest) solutions are usually the most effective – complexity simply means more things that can go wrong in war, and Murphy’s laws state that everything that can go wrong, will. But USAF wants to have expensive, complex solutions, and it is precisely this complexity which prevents weapons from being truly effective. So you can either have effective or MICC-friendly air force; not both.
F-35 is a perfect example. It relies on very complex technology to do a very complex task. Of course it is going to fail.
I suppose it’s the tradeoff. I choose effective. So do you.
Given the situation, we can only hope that there are major cuts in the procurement budget to force the military to look at effectiveness first.
I like to think of bombers as the battleships of the sky. Big and costly, but it’s hard to justify their price relative to what you get.
In fact, situation reminds me of Col. Burton’s proposed CAS fighter, when the answer he got (by Pierre Sprey, I think) was: “This is an excellent aircraft, but it will never get built unless you increase the cost by at least 50%”. I’ll try to find an actual quote.
Here, at around half the page:
“Russ Murray was receptive and pledged his support if my Blitzfighter proposal ever officially got to his level, but he doubted that would ever happen. In his view, the Air Force senior leaders would kill the idea as soon as they heard about it. “The airplane doesn’t cost enough,” he said. “They might buy it if you jack the price up two or three times.” It turned out that he was correct.”
This is the entire article:
Meanwhile, the intelligence community was claiming that the Soviets had adopted the German blitzkrieg tactics from World War II and would swiftly and easily “blitz” western Europe if war broke out. (It is no coincidence that the intelligence community began using the term blitzkrieg after Boyd’s briefing became popular.) The Soviets, according to intelligence reports, had a tremendous advantage in numbers of tanks and infantrymen at their disposal. When these superior numbers were combined with blitzkrieg tactics, the Soviets were portrayed as being almost unbeatable. Exaggerating a threat to justify new wonder weapons was, and still is, a common practice.
[EDITOR: watch the Soviet General Played by Steven Berkhof in the 1983 James Bond movie, “Octopussy” for an excellent visual depiction of this alleged threat]
The Air Force’s answer to this bloated Soviet threat was a new fighter-bomber called the Enhanced Tactical Fighter [ETF], a proposed night all-weather interdiction aircraft. In the view of the Air Force, the word enhanced referred to the new technologies planned for the plane. In my view, it referred to the costs. This plane was being designed to destroy Soviet tanks deep behind enemy lines and destroy them before they could get to the front and exploit any breakthroughs that would occur (night, all-weather interdiction). The price was a mere $50 million per airplane.
As it happened, I was putting together my proposal for a new airplane at that time (March 1978). My proposal was exactly the opposite of the $50 million plane. I prepared an advocacy briefing that called for the development of a small, simple, lethal, and relatively cheap airplane that would be designed solely for close support of the ground troops who would be engaged with Soviet tanks and armor. Because the intelligence community was making such a big deal about how difficult it would be to stop the Soviet blitzkrieg, I named this airplane the “Blitzfighter”. Rather catchy, I thought.
Everything about my proposal, including the plane that would be used, was diametrically opposed to the prevailing philosophy relating to the new wonder weapons of the Air Force [bureaucracy]. I wanted an airplane in the 5,000- to10,000-pound class (one-tenth the weight of the Enhanced Tactical Fighter), one smaller than any combat airplane in the inventory (one-fourth the size of the A-10), and one that cost less than $2 million. At this price, we could flood the battlefield with swarms of airplanes [AKA Killer Bees].
The airplane would be designed around a four-barrel version of the same [30mm] cannon that was in production on the A-10, which used a seven-barreled cannon that fired shells costing only $13 apiece. This was a far cry from the guided missiles on the Enhanced Tactical Fighter that cost several hundred thousand apiece. The Blitzfighter would have no high-tech bells and whistles and no wonder weapons. Essentially, it would contain the engine (an existing commercial one), a pilot, a titanium-armored bathtub for the pilot to sit in, a few flight instruments, a radio for the pilot to talk to the ground troops, and a cannon for killing tanks. Nothing more – no radars, infrared sensors, guided missiles, or any of that high-priced junk being installed on every other airplane – was needed.
With the ability to operate from grass fields, the Blitzfighter did not demand fixed, expensive airfields that would probably cease to exist ten minutes after a war started. Squadrons of Blitzfighters would pack up, move from pasture-to-pasture overnight and follow the flow of battle. [Just like WW2 grasshopper planes!] Pilots would receive only verbal orders that identified the main points of their effort and left the details of execution to them, a notion that was consistent with Boyd’s theories. The plan was in direct contrast to the standard practice of using excruciatingly detailed orders published by higher headquarters [bureaucrats] for each mission. The orders dictated how much fuel went on board, which weapons were loaded on which wing, the exact route that would be flown to the exact target that had been assigned, and even when the pilot would be allowed to relieve himself. Such rigid orders did not always match up to what was happening in a fast-moving situation.
Finally, the Blitzfighter would be operated at treetop level so that pilots could use their eyeballs to find tanks that were trying to hide. To survive at this level, the plane had to be extremely agile and dart, twist, turn, accelerate, and decelerate far better than any airplane we had.
I presented this advocacy to General Toomay and asked his permission to make a formal request to our design bureau at Wright Patterson Air Force Base for design studies. He nearly gagged. [boo-hoo!] He was a high-tech advocate. Everything I was proposing was anti-high-tech. Naturally, we got into an argument.
He said, “You have to put a radar on the plane; you can’t find tanks without a radar.”
I responded, “You can’t find tanks with radars; radars can’t see through trees, over hills, and when you do see something, you can’t tell whether the blob on the scope is a friendly tank, an enemy tank, or a Volkswagen full of refugees; no sir, you can’t find tanks with radars.”
He said, “Yes you can.”
I said, “No, you can’t,” my voice rising.
Then, standing up, he raised his voice, “Yes you can.” General Toomay was a large man, over 6 feet 8 inches tall (His son, Pat Toomay, who took after his father, was a defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys at the time.) At this point, the argument was over. We had been through this routine many times.
Even though he disagreed with me, General Toomay permitted me to proceed without making any changes. He knew my proposal was going to stir up a hornet’s nest once the word got out, and he really enjoyed making the system react to unconventional ideas.
I immediately fired off a teletype to John Chuprin, chief of our design bureau at Wright Patterson. John and I performed thousands of design trade-off studies on the lightweight fighters for Boyd a few years before. He and his staff went to work and, within a month, reported back to me that it was entirely feasible to build the airplane I wanted – like I wanted it. He then gave me the preliminary designed for three possible configurations.
Armed with this information, I hit the briefing trail. My intent was to quietly build a network of support at various key agencies within the Air Force and within the Office of the Secretary of Defense before the establishment could react and kill the idea – much the same way the lightweight fighter had been ushered in.
One of the first places I went with my briefing was the A-10 program office at Wright Patterson, where Boyd arranged for me to meet Col. Bob Dilger. Dilger was in charge of producing the 30mm cannon and the ammunition used on the A-10. Because that equipment was such a key part of my proposal, I was anxious to get his reaction.
Dilger was an eccentric character. He was a fighter pilot in Vietnam and was credited with one MIG kill. After firing his radar-guided missiles at his opponent and watching them all miss, he literally ran his opponent into the ground. Bob can be quite aggressive, and he loves a good fight. I liked his style. We quickly became friends. We would join forces a few years later, to discomfort the army.
Dilger was very excited about my proposal and pledged his support. While I was there, he also briefed me on an unusual program he was running. The normal way to test ammunition coming off the production line was to select samples at random and fire them in a laboratory environment to measure muzzle velocity, trajectory, and other factors to determine if they meet the specifications of the contract.
Dilger did it differently. He put some realism into the tests. He scrounged up a bunch of old army tanks and about a half dozen Soviet Tanks (T-55s and T-62s), loaded them up with fuel and live ammunition as though they were in combat, and deployed them in typical Soviet tank formations on the Nevada desert. He then talked operational A-10 fighter units into attacking the tanks. Using their combat tactics, they fired Dilger’s production line samples of ammunition.
These tests gave pilots valuable training experience. They also revealed, for the first time, major inconsistencies in the computer models that were used to predict the lethality of U.S. weapons. It seems that the test results differed by a factor of two from the model predictions on the lethality of the ammunition. The Soviet tanks were easier to kill than predicted, and the old U.S. tanks were more difficult to kill than predicted. The models were not only off by a factor of two, but they were off in two different directions. This really caught my attention, and I would pursue this subject with great vigor in the years to come.
I next slipped into the Pentagon, and quietly briefed Boyd, Spinney, Christie, and the other rebels in the TAC air shop. It was like preaching to the choir, for this whole crowd had become disenchanted with the direction things were headed in the tactical air forces of all three services.
Boyd arranged for me to meet and brief Pierre Sprey. I heard much about Pierre and was anxious to meet him. He became extremely excited over the Blitzfighter concept, not just the airplane itself but the whole philosophy and concept of operation. He offered suggestions to improve my briefing and put more bite into it. Pierre is very good with the editing pen, as I would learn in the years to come. He would become my chief editor during my running battle with the army over the Bradley. His pens are shaped like fangs, and his finished product drips with blood, usually Army blood.
Christie then ushered me into a secret meeting with Russell “Russ” Murray II, director of Program Analysis & Evaluation (PA&E). Murray was the defense secretary’s chief analyst. Over the years, this position has been one of great power and influence – one that the secretary has turned to for advice on what weapons systems to buy. That advice, in the past, was usually contrary to the wishes of the services and led to a long-standing adversarial relationship between the director and the various services. In my view, that relationship was healthy, for it sharpened the debate over the appropriate choice of weapons. Under the Reagan administration, unfortunately, the position was completely neutered so that it was no longer a force to be reckoned with.
Russ Murray was receptive and pledged his support if my Blitzfighter proposal ever officially got to his level, but he doubted that would ever happen. In his view, the Air Force senior leaders would kill the idea as soon as they heard about it. “The airplane doesn’t cost enough,” he said. “They might buy it if you jack the price up two or three times.” It turned out that he was correct.
My career suddenly took on a new life. For some strange reason the Air Force promoted my to full colonel after passing me for two straight years. Historically, the chances of being passed over twice is less than 3 percent. General Toomay surprised me one night when he called my home to give me the news. This promotion meant that I would be able to stay in the Air Force for many years to come, rather than leave the service within he next year. (This is known as the “up or out” policy. Any officer who is passed over three times must leave the service.)
Another promotion was important to my future. My favorite three-star, General Infamous, who had so kindly asked me to leave the Pentagon three years earlier, was promoted to four stars. You guessed it – he was immediately assigned to Air Force Systems Command Headquarters at Andrews. He would again become my boss and General Toomay’s. I will never forget the day he arrived. He came to Toomay’s office to greet us. In front of the staff, he actually wrapped his arms around me and greeted me like a long-lost brother. I thought to myself, “What’s wrong with this picture?” I soon found out – Within weeks, I was shipped out again.
Meanwhile, Pierre was busy spreading the Blitzfighter story throughout the defense industry and on Capitol Hill. The concept was stirring up a lot of excitement in the design bureaus of various companies. Early in June 1978, a large group of designers met in a hotel conference room in Springfield, Virginia, about 10 miles south of the Pentagon, to explore the concept in some detail and trade ideas on design approaches. Unfortunately, the press was also there.
Aviation Week ran a two-page story about the conference and treated the Blitzfighter like it was an officially sanctioned Air Force program. The story cited the design studies that I had asked Wright Patterson to do and even showed sketches of the designs. The Air Force senior leaders were shocked and horrified. The story broke about two weeks after my favorite four-star, General Infamous, had arrived on the scene, and he went ballistic.
Undoubtedly, he got many calls from his fellow four-stars. Like many of them, he was an Enhanced Tactical Fighter advocate, and he was not going to let this Blitzfighter nonsense continue. He directed that I stop briefing. I was not even allowed to show him the briefing or explain the concept to him in any fashion. His closed mind had all the answers, and the Blitzfighter was not one of them. He pronounced to the world that the Blitzfighter idea was dead, by fiat, and then he arranged for me to be transferred out of his hair – again.
But the Blitzfighter was not dead. It would raise it’s ugly head numerous times during the next few years as one of several symbols of the Reform Movement. Each time it surfaced, the senior leadership went berserk.
My first attempt to “Make them work for it” came shortly after I returned to the Pentagon in June 1978 as military assistant to Air Force Assistant Secretary for Research, Development, and Logistics Dr. Jack Martin. By law, the Air Force cannot negotiate and sign a contract to produce or develop a weapon system unless it has it’s civilian master’s signature on a document that permits it to do so. Called a Sectarian Determination & Finding (D&F), that document represents the instrument of control over the military’s plans to buy new weapons – no signature, no program.
Dr. Martin, as the acquisition executive for the Air Force, would sign literally hundreds of D&Fs a year. My job was to make sure he knew the implications of what he was signing. Once he had signed, he became an equal partner to the venture (or crime).
I shall never forget that Summer day in 1978 when Brig. Gen. Richard “Dick” Phillips and his team of briefers marched into the Dr. Martin’s office to seek his signature on the D&F for the Air Force’s new fighter, the Enhanced Tactical Fighter. The rationale for developing this new airplane was so full of holes and the arguments presented by Phillips were so misleading that I could not remain silent, as I was expected to do. I must admit that as a newcomer in this arena, I was apprehensive about speaking up, but I did. In the middle of the briefing, I interrupted Phillips and blurted out three questions.
“What is the mission of this airplane?”
“Night, all-weather deep interdiction,” the answer came back.
“General, would you give me an example or two from history where deep interdiction has actually influenced the outcome of a battle or campaign?”
The silence was deafening. Phillips scowled at me, but there was no other answer. So I quickly moved on to my last question.
“Is this airplane going to cost $2 million apiece, or $50 million?”
Answer: “Well, we don’t really know because we haven’t gotten that far in the program yet.”
I knew this was untrue, because I had talked to the cost analysts at Wright Patterson air force base the day before the meeting. The $2 million figure was a subtle reference to the Blitzfighter, which was at the other end of the spectrum in both cost and mission.
The meeting broke up in disarray. Dr. Martin asked me to remain as the others filed out. He asked me what was going on since this was the first time I had become an active participant in one of his meetings. I explained to him that the Air Force was intentionally misleading him [It’s called LYING] on this proposed program, and I gave him names and telephone numbers he could call to confirm if he had any doubt.
Dr. Martin picked up the phone, called Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James Hill, and asked for an immediate private meeting. He then walked next door and handed the unsigned D&F to the Vice Chief, and told him to forget about the program. Who says there is no justice in this world? The mighty Enhanced Tactical Fighter had been shot down in flames by the Blitzfighter. (During the Reagan administration, the Enhanced Tactical Fighter had been resurrected and put into production.)
Needless to say, General Phillips was not happy with me. I was soon braced up against the wall of the “E” ring. With his forefinger pounding my breastbone like a jackhammer, and his nose about one inch from mine, he let me know that I was dog meat and that several other generals would have a feast when I came back into the “blue suit” Air Force.
Then, the paranoia surfaced: “You’re not going to ram that F___ing Blitzfighter down our throats like your friends did the F-16!” They were still smarting over that coup.
Although the Blitzfighter never got off the drawing board, either as a weapon system or a concept, it continually haunted the Air Force senior leadership. As a symbol of the Reform Movement, it would not go away no matter what the generals did. Every time the Blitzfighter surfaced, the generals went to “red alert”.
Someone on the OSD staff (whose identity is still a mystery to me) had inserted into the Air Force’s Fiscal Year 1980 budget the funds and directions for the purchase of 400 F-5E fighters. The F-5 is a small, low-cost fighter version of the T-38 trainer, the plane in which U.S. Air Force pilots learn how to fly. Thousands of F-5s have been sold to Third World countries because they are relatively inexpensive. The U.S. Air Force, however, considered it a second-rate fighter; it was beneath the dignity of the Air Force to have the plane in it’s own inventory. This is the same fighter that had embarrassed the Air Force and Navy in the in mock combat tests in 1977, when it fought the vaunted F-15 and F-14 to a virtual draw.
When the Air Force leaders saw the F-5E entry in the budget plan, they came unglued. The vice chief of staff called a special meeting with the secretary of the Air Force and all of the civilian and military leaders. (I attended the meeting. The conversations of the participants below are related below in accordance with the best of my memory.)
At the meeting, the vice chief explained to Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Hans Mark that the OSD action was a ruse and that the money was secretly going to pay for the Blitzfighter, not F-5Es. The vice chief added that this evil act was being perpetrated by the reformers and it had to be stopped.
Dr. Mark asked, “Who are these Reformers?”
Gen. Jasper Welch, the No.2 man in charge of research and development on the Air Staff, gave a long speech about this gang of rebels and mavericks that gathered every afternoon in the TAC Air Shop. He quickly reviewed the reformers’ philosophy and their preference for simple, low-cost weapons instead of the more technically advanced weapons the Air Force prefers. The other generals began their customary round of snide remarks aimed at the reformers and openly chuckled and laughed at the stupidity of the reformers’ ideas.
As General Welch began to reel off the names of John Boyd, Pierre Sprey, Chuck Spinney, Chuck Meyers and the other reformers, Br. Mark interrupted him: “Wait a minute, I know these guys, and they are very smart people. Maybe we should listen to them.”
This was not what the generals wanted to hear. Suddenly, they were no longer interested in getting Dr. Mark involved in stamping out the secret Blitzfighter raid on their budget. Dr. Mark was a strong-willed, hands-on secretary. When he became involved, things were done his way. Before coming to the Air Force, he had been director of one of NASA’s laboratories.
It turns out the generals were all excited over a tempest in a teapot. The reformers had nothing to do with the F-5 showing up in the Air Force’s budget. In fact, they were more surprised than the generals. Someone else in OSD placed it there as a lark, simply to make the Air Force mad – which it certainly did. The next time the Blitzfighter surfaced was for real.
The National Guard is a vital part of the overall defense of the nation. The peacetime relationship between National Guard units, who work for the president, is somewhat fuzzy. National Guard units receive their equipment from the regular forces, that is, the units do not buy their own airplanes. When the Air Force buys new airplanes, it puts them into the active force and sends it’s older airplanes to either the National Guard units or the boneyard at Tucson. Whether the boneyard or the National Guard gets the better deal is not clear. Therein lies the rub.
In early 1982, a committee of Army and Air National Guard officers, mostly generals, published a report titled VISTA 1999. This report, which had a definite flavor of “Alsatian cuisine,” called for two unprecedented actions. First, because the Air Force had, in essence, turned it’s back on the concept of close air support, the National Guard wanted to assume the responsibility for that mission for the Department of Defense. Second, the National Guard did not want any more worn-out, hand-me-down aircraft from the Air Force. The repair costs for these old planes were much too high. The National Guard wanted Congress to give it permission and the funds to buy it’s own airplanes – and the airplanes it wanted were Blitzfighters!
This was an act of open rebellion. The National Guard was asking for it’s own budget, and permission to spend the money as it saw fit. Charles Mohr, in an article for the New York Times, stated, “The report angered and stunned many regular officers and Pentagon officials because of the degree to which the committee accepted major arguments of the ‘military reformers’.”
When Vice Chief Mathis learned of VISTA 1999, he virtually exploded. The National Guard Bureau, located on the second floor of the Pentagon, was the headquarters of all the guard units. The bureau was run by a two-star National Guard general. According to an aide, when Mathis saw a copy of VISTA 1999, he jumped up from his desk and shouted, “I’m going down there [to the bureau] and punch that general’s lights out.” He had to be physically restrained by his aides. The battle lines were drawn.
Even though they had old, tired equipment, the Air National Guard units always performed better than the regular Air Force units. At every turn, the National Guard units and their individual pilots were winning fighter competitions against the regular forces. Of course, such victories stuck in the Air Force’s collective craw. These victories also added ammunition for the reformers, who publicly argued that pilots’ and mechanics’ skills were more important than the technological sophistication of a weapons system. With motivated and skilled people, the National Guard units produced superior performance, even though their equipment came from local Air Force thrift shops. Imagine what they could do with equipment of their own choosing.
When the National Guard stood up and said it was tired of being treated like a poor country cousin, Congress had to listen. Hearings were called. The Air Force scrambled to call in all of it’s markers to fight off this unusual and unprecedented request by the National Guard to buy it’s own airplane. After a heated debate on Capitol Hill, the Air Force prevailed.
The National Guard, however, did produce some good results through it’s efforts. The Air Force began to send the National Guard better equipment, including F-16s and A-10s, instead of worn-out F-4s that were difficult to maintain. Of course, senior Air Force leaders were glad to be rid of what they considered low-end-of-the-spectrum systems. They felt they were “purifying” the regular force because of the reformers’ favoritism for the F-16s and A-10s.”
That’s an illuminating article.
It’s also very troubling. I can only imagine that if someone were to bring up your proposal to the MICC, the resistance today would be even greater.
Somewhat OT, but have you ever heard of the Vought ATLAS project?
Click to access LTV%20Atlas%20Concept.pdf
This was a concept I believe from the late 1970s. It had some interesting ideas.
Looks good, almost too good to be true, and I have seen several problems:
– stealth. If they mean “radar stealth”, which they apparently do (radar-absorbing structure), it is no good, since CAS fighter will have to fly down low and slow, where everyone can see it, and constantly maneuver. These two factors render radar stealth useless. Visual and IR stealth is more important, which means jinking and terrain masking – and this automatically makes it stealth to radar too.
– 30 mm gun is podded. If it is Gattling gun, then vibrations could render it useless (ref. F-35s problems in that regard)
Other than that, it’s excellent design.
It was a concept, so I imagine that when reality came, some things would have to be changed. I guess in a way it’s kind of like how car companies make concept cars these days.
I agree that stealth was not a realistic idea and the need for guns mounted in the fuselage rather than on the wing. But otherwise, a solid idea. Small, easy to maintain too, and although not fast, they would be fairly potent in large numbers if they swarmed the enemy.
Of course, all of this has the issue that was indicated above – the MICC would react to a modified version of this like it did to the Blitzfighter.
The small “Atlas” aircraft… the fact that it is transportable makes it an excellent choice for low intensity conflicts. It would need a decent loiter time and good cockpit visibility but if so then it would be like a AV-10 on steroids… does unimproved means grass fields too? You can actually designate one of them to carry jamming equipment or reconnaissance a couple more to cannibalize for parts and the others would be designated for the mission. So a group of twenty or so aircrafts transportable by air or sea to an un-improved location could free up a carrier or amphib from those duties… and their expensive aircrafts. It would actually be a force multiplier and better than helicopters.
Thank you for posting this article. Read it completely.
There is a Navy concept called street-fighter that is based on this same concept;
“The Streetfighter would be a smaller, very fast ship (part of the more general Streetfighter concept), that could compete successfully with the enemy for control of coasts and littoral waters. These ships are envisioned as costing less than 10% as much as current Battle Force ships, while comprising more than 25% of the total number of surface combatants [that is at least 25 but no more than 50 units].
The President of the Naval War College, Admiral Art Cebrowski, and others such as Capt. Wayne P. Hughes, have advocated the deployment of larger numbers of smaller ships to operate in “harm’s way” in littoral waters. Cebrowski and Hughes talk of “tactical instability,” where a navy is unwilling to risk its ships because the fleet is constituted principally of small numbers of expensive ships. They propose “re-balancing the fleet” by supplementing the currently planned large surface combatants with the procurement of smaller ships”
Reminds me a bit of my US military proposal, or was it US Navy proposal, I don’t remember… anyway, it called for 22 fleet diesel carriers as opposed to 11 nuclear ones.
I just read today that two of the cruiser versions of the Zumwalt destroyers will be Nuclear powered; cost 3.5 billion $.
These ships will do duty as ballistic missile defense which is one thing that submarines can’t do.
But none of these vessels can do sea control. They can destroy things but if you aim at controlling a sea lane or littoral areas all of these fancy gadgets can’t be used to stop and search or be risked in a heavily fortified coast. They are too big and too irreplaceable.
Submarines are modern capital ships. Surface ships are irreplaceable if you need to support troops on the ground from sea, or hunt pirates. But if you want to deny enemy control of the sea, to interdict his supply lines, you use submarines.
Even factoring in the additional costs for aircraft for double the amount of carriers, it’s a better buy for the conventional carriers. Of course, you’d probably want to put aircraft according to what the navy actually needs, rather than say, the F-35, the “Super Hornet”, or in the past, the expensive F-14.
Regarding the $3.5 billion, it’s pretty staggering to be honest that a single destroyer could cost $3.5 billion. That reminds me of the B2. I mean for $3.5 billion, what could be built? A small fleet.
Hi Chris, these new destroyers are earmarked for the Pacific. They will be with out peer there and in the words on the Navy “calm” things down. The price is crazy but any significant ocean going war ship will cost at least $400 million and a lot more when you make it capable of air-defense beyond the horizon.
With the aircraft carriers is not as easy as changing them to conventional power. Nuclear propulsion gives the carrier the ability to sustain cruise speeds of over 30 knots. This speed is by itself one of their best defenses against submarines plus it allows the ship great endurance which in turn is very important in the Pacific or the Indian Ocean. I do not think they will switch.
The Navy’s amphibious ships are small carriers onto themselves… essentially the same size of a WW2 carrier but unable to launch aircrafts that need a catapult and therefore unable to handle jets of the size that you mentioned. If they had an aircraft that could take off from them and carry a decent load that would help the Marines.The helicopter is OK for direct fire but it does not carry a lot of weight and can’t provide the fire support that the Navy’s old propeller attack aircrafts used to. This is one of the problems the Marines have is an over-all lack of fire-power from either ship or air. A small pocket air-plane like the one you showed but with a little more payload might be perfect specially for activities that do not involve another modern Navy/Air Force; most wars are constabulary in nature keeping local tyrants from misbehaving and you do not need top-notch equipment for them. The Middle East where very well equipped when compared to say Africans or South Americans so a notch below the most advance would still be more than adequate.
Forgot to add that a major contributor to US ship cost are radars and the need for helicopters. That is also the reason why US Navy Ships are hard to compare with other countries Naval components. The helicopters are arguably the most powerful anti-ship and anti-submarine offensive weapon that a Frigate size ship will carry and they require a hangar and a flight deck. Destroyers and cruisers have sophisticated anti-air and anti-ballistic-missile radars that take space and drive their cost up.
And like I said earlier you do not want to risk an expensive ship with out a reason to do so. So for highly defended littoral areas you need a much cheaper ship… but if you add two helicopters and a hangar it is hard to build them cheap.
Why you need helicopters? Turboprop aircraft can likely be equipped with same systems, except one turboprop will likely cost no more than 5-10 million USD, compared to 30-60 million for helicopters, and come with far better loiter time. So build fixed-wing turboprop aircraft, then convert some tankers for aircraft carriers if necessary, and problem solved. Carrier can stay on distance and turboprop aircraft, with their long range and loiter time, can cover ships operating in littorals.
And BTW, I’d say that possibility of replacing ship radars with passive optical systems merits an investigation.
For carriers yes. And the amphibious ships too. The problem is the rest of the mayor surface ships.
All cruisers, destroyers, frigates and LCS have helicopters. Most operate two helicopters. That adds to their volume but does so disproportionally so to the smaller vessels. The helicopter is their most valuable anti-submarine and in most instances it is their most important anti-ship weapon.
But getting back to the carriers and amphibious ships you are right. In particular the latter could benefit from a prop plane that could operate from their deck (no catapult) and carry a substantial load. The A-1 was a plane that has never been truly replaced. And the OV-10 is another light attack plane that disappeared with the arrival of helicopters but in reality was a better in permissive air locations. The people in the ground miss them and like you said they could also do other things besides attack roles.
Or they could add floats to fixed-wing aircraft so it can take off from sea surface. Though I imagine there could be problems if sea is rough.
WW2 vintage battle ships used float-type airplanes for spotting targets, etc. but that required a good size floor crane to lower them to the water and retrieve them.
The two aircrafts that I have mentioned, A-1 and OV-10, could take off from an amphibious ship today and carried either 8,000 Lbs. or 3000 Lbs. of armament respectively. They could operate on any environment that helicopters operate today but had more endurance and carried bombs and rockets. The OV-10 carried sidewinders too and was an excellent recon aircraft that could take off from grass strips. This is an example of loss of capacity where the new is not as capable as the old.
And like Jarred mentioned, the future might require aircrafts to fly still higher than they do today to stay above the small missile range and helicopters have a problem with that as well as with endurance and of course as you mentioned cost. The USA uses Russian helicopters in high altitude missions in Afghanistan because the USA ones can’t fly in the thin air.