“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 the Winter War of 1939, USSR air force went to war believing that aircraft matters more than pilot; as a result, they ended up with a kill:loss ratio of 1:6 against Finnish pilots flying the Brewster Buffalos, which was one of worst fighter aircraft at that time, despite Soviet air force outnumbering Finnish air force 9:1 and being equipped with modern fighters such as I-16, Yak-1 and LaGG3. Difference was that Finnish pilots flew far more than Soviet ones.
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pilots, unrealistic training (unlike Luftwaffe, 1930s RAF did not practice squadron-on-squadron training) and outdated tactics – such as three-ship “vic” formation, which was far less flexible than German “finger four”.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 – research done after the war points to the F-86 having kill:loss ratio of 1,3:1 against Soviet-flown MiG-15s, and Soviet MiG-15 pilots – wholse procedures for confirming the kills have been more rigorous than US ones – point to a 4:1 ratio against US aircraft. As a result, it can be concluded that kill:loss ratio between Soviet MiG-15s and US F-86s was around 1:1.
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. Robert Dorr, an aviation expert that researched NVAF records (USAF records are well known) found evidence that MiG-21 scored almost 2:1 against US fighters in the aerial combat. 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. Difference was however that Israeli pilots flew in excess of 200 hours per year, and Arab air forces averaged only 70 hours per year – and even that was spent on unrealistic training. Similarly, in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war, Pakistani visual-range-only F-86s achieved better than 6:1 exchange 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. And despite AWACS and advanced IFF systems, only way to reliably tell friend from foe is a visual identification, or identification of enemy’s emissions. For an example, in 1994 two US Air Force F-15s fired on two targets which AWACS had identified as Mi-24 Hind helicopters. It turned out that helicopters shot down were USAF Blackhawks full of US servicemen and civillian Kurds. This is not the only shortcoming either – while AWACS does improve coordination and BVR IFF capability, it would cease to exist few hours into a major war.
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.
And 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.
Tests and exercises
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. In the 1950s and 1960s, USAF and USN held exercises with other NATO members. Canadian F-86 Mk.VI performed better in exercises than USAF-flown supersonic jets. In 1959 competition at Cadeaux, France, at time when many USAF pilots still had combat experience, USAF Central European team participated in competition against teams from Britain, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Canada. Canadian pilots won, with US pilots ending solid last. In 1966 exercise in France involving supercarrier USS America, French pilots decimated US Navy aircraft by using innovative tactics. They started the exercise by engaging US aircraft just as they were recovering, flying low to sneak up on the carrier completely undetected and then decimating US jets and retreating before next wave could launch; and things did not improve for US Navy after that. Against supposedly most capable air superiority fighter in the world, F-22, German Typhoons achieved 4 kills in 8 fights, and French Rafales achieved 0 kills and 1 loss in 6 fights. Primary differences were that, while Rafale is the most capable dogfighter out of the three, F-22 and Typhoon pilots trained primarly for air-to-air, and Rafale squadron that dogfighted with F-22 was oriented primarly towards the air-to-ground work. All of this shows how self-deluding it is to negate the decisive impact of pilot skill on weapons’ performance, thoroughly debunking theory that it was USAF advantage in long-range radar-guided missile that decided the outcome of aerial combat in both Gulf wars.
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. Thus dogfighting missile will be IRIS-T. BVR missile will be MICA IR, though alternative will be discussed later.
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.
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. This will prevent the opponent from neutralizing FLXs in one massive attack designed to close air bases for operation.
Engine will be Eurojet EJ-230 in order to get as high as possible dry thrust-to-weight ratio; EJ-230 is also simple in design and thus more reliable and easier to maintain than M88, which was an original choice, and has superior supersonic performance. Specifically, EJ-200 has 3 first stage and 5 second stage fans, compared to 3 first stage and 6 second stage fans for the M88; despite it, it achieves thrust to weight ratio of 11:1, compared to 9:1 for original EJ-200, and 8,5:1 for M88. Another reason for EJ-200 series advantage in reliability over the M88 is its (albeit marginally) lower turbine temperature (1.800 K for EJ-200 vs 1.850 K for M88). M88 does have advantage over EJ200 when operating at subsonic speeds due to its lower bypass ratio of 0,3:1 vs 0,4:1 for EJ200, but EJ200 most likely reverses it at supersonic speeds, where this fighter is expected to spend most of its time. It will not have thrust vectoring nozzle as TVC offers no advantage for close-coupled canard configuration.
Gun will be BK-27. For sensors, main sensor will be PIRATE IRST, with DDM-NG missile warners, radar warners and laser warners also being used. There will be no radar as it adds weight and complexity for a very limited value, and is mostly useless in combat. Air duct will be curved in order to hide engine face from radars, reducing RCS and allowing more time for EW/ECM suite to solve a firing solution.
Airframe is Aluminium-Lithium, making it easier to carry out maintenance and repairs than it is the case with modern composite materials, while not incurring any weight penalty. Fuselage is of semimonocoque design (both skin and ribs are stressed), allowing it to withstand damage without too great risk of suffering a catastrophic loss of integrity. Canopy is opened and closed manually.
Close-coupled canard configuration will improve maneuverability by increasing maximum lift during dogfight and also by moving center of lift forward, making aircraft unstable even at supersonic speeds (when most aircraft have their center of lift move backwards and render them stable).
Length: 11,3 m (without tail: 10,88 m)
Wing span: 8,37 m
Height: 2,73 m
Wing area: 25,38 m2
Empty weight: 3.237 kg
Operational empty weight: 3.537 kg
Armed operational empty weight: 4.283,64 kg
Fuel capacity: 3.400 kg
Air-to-air takeoff weight: 7.683,64 kg
Air-to-air combat weight: 5.983,64 kg
Dogfighting weight: 5.535,64 kg
Fuel fraction at takeoff: 0,44
Dry thrust: 72 kN (7.342 kgf)
Wet thrust: 103 kN (10.503 kgf)
Specific fuel consumption (max dry): 22 g/kNs
Specific fuel consumption (max wet): 48 g/kNs
Fuel consumption (max dry): 5.702 kg/h
Fuel consumption (max wet): 17.798 kg/h
Fuel consumption (subsonic cruise): 700 kg/h
Installed weight: 1.000 kg
Length: 400 cm
Inlet diameter: 74 cm
Length: 680 mm
Width: 591 mm
Height: 300 mm
Weight: 48 kg
Weight: 100 kg
Bullet weight: 0,516 kg
Projectile weight: 0,26 kg
Caliber: 27×145 mm
Rate of fire: 1.700 rpm
Time to full rate of fire: 0,05 s
Muzzle velocity: 1.100 m/s
Muzzle energy: 157,3 kJ
IRIS-T: 87,4 kg
MICA IR: 112 kg
303 kg/m2 at combat takeoff weight
236 kg/m2 at combat weight
218 kg/m2 at dogfighting weight
1,37 at combat takeoff weight (0,96 at dry thrust)
1,76 at combat weight (1,23 at dry thrust)
1,9 at dogfighting weight (1,33 at dry thrust)
9 g operational
11 g combat operational
12 g override
16,5 g structural
Flight time on internal fuel:
4 h 51 min (4,857 h) subsonic cruise
35 m 47 s (0,6 h) supercruise
11 m 28 s (0,19 h) afterburning cruise
M 1,6 supercruise
M 1,5 supercruise with centerline tank
M 1,8 afterburning cruise
M 0,9 subsonic cruise
M 2 dash
Climb rate: >375 m/s
588 km supercruise
651 km supercruise with centerline fuel tank
209 km afterburning cruise
2.678 km subsonic cruise
Takeoff distance: 150 m
Landing distance: 200 m
1 PIRATE IRST
1 laser rangefinder (coupled with PIRATE, optionally used)
4 DDM NG MAWS
2 RWR arrays (4 receivers each)
1xBK-27 with 240 rounds
6 missile hardpoints (standard load: 2 IRIS-t, 4 MICA IR)
1 centerline harpoint (ECM pod or 800 l (643 kg) fuel tank or ejectable rail with 2 MICA IR)
DRFM jammer (1)
towed decoys (2)
expendable DRFM jammer/decoy (3) (optional)
chaff/flare dispenser (4)
Unit flyaway cost: 25,4 million USD
Operating cost per hour: 2.500 USD
Sorties per day per aircraft: 3
Aircraft weight in kg:
gun: 100 kg
IRST (PIRATE): 48
landing gear: 300
cockpit displays + ejection seat: 120
vertical stabilizer: 46
avionics, navigation, comms: 50
environmental control, pressurization, oxygen: 100
refuelling probe: 50
interferometric RWR / ESM / ELINT (4 receivers): 27 (1) – 2-18 GHz coverage, <1* accuracy
EW suite controller, IR MAWS, laser warner, chaff/flare dispenser: 31 (2)
interferometric ESM/RWR: 18 (3) – 0,5-2 GHz coverage, 1* accuracy
towed decoys: 12 (4)
DRFM jammer: 22 (5)
(IRST: InfraRed Search and Track; FCS: Flight Control System; APU: Auxilliary Power Unit; RWR: Radar Warning Receiver; ESM: Electronic Support Measures; ELINT: ELectronic INTellingence; MAWS: Missile Approach Warning System).
OEW: 300 kg above empty weight
Radar bands entirely or partly covered by RWRs: (0,5 – 18 GHz)
VHF: 0,03 – 0,3 GHz
UHF: 0,3 – 3 GHz
SHF: 3 – 30 GHz
L: 1 – 2 GHz
S: 2 – 4 GHz
C: 4 – 8 GHz
X: 8 – 12 GHz
Ku: 12 – 18 GHz
C: 0,5 – 1 GHz
D: 1 – 2 GHz
E: 2 – 3 GHz
F: 3 – 4 GHz
G: 4 – 6 GHz
H: 6 – 8 GHz
I: 8 – 10 GHz
J: 10 – 20 GHz
Payload weight in kg:
240 gun rounds: 123,84
4xMICA IR: 448 kg
Fuel tanks volume:
Forward fuel tanks (2): 2*[(30*12)*(112+72)/2) = 2*[360*92] = 66.240 cm3
Wing fuel tanks (2): 2*129*302*10 + 323*302*10 = 1.754.620 cm3
Centerline spine fuel tank (1): 11,5^2*pi * 550 = 228.512 cm3
Fin fuel tank (1): 10* [(61*109)/2 + 12*106 + (109*109)/2] = 10 * (3.324,5 + 1.272 + 5.940,5) = 10 * 10.537 = 105.370 cm3
Centerline forward fuel tank: 120*32*80 = 307.200 cm3
Body fuel tanks: 2* [(126 cm * 1.768 cm2 ) + (290 cm * 2.278 cm2)] = 2 * (222.768 cm3 + 660.620 cm3) = 2*833.388 cm3 = 1.766.776 cm3
Total: 4.228.718 cm3 = 4.228,72 l = 3.400 kg
Wing area: 18*352 + 2*169*365 + 365*340 = 253.806 cm2 = 25,38 m2
- DIRCM: 2*20 kg = 40 kg additional weight
- new BVR missile (discussed in the next section)
(Thanks to vstol_jockey, an ex-Harrier pilot of the Indian Navy, for help with calculating aircraft’s weight and providing some of data used for calculations, notifying me that EJ-230 is ready for production if funded and telling me about Elbit Systems Spectrolite).
Operational empty weight is assumed to be 200 kg above basic empty weight.
Cost per kg is assumed to be identical to that of Rafale C (7.853 USD). This is a gross overestimation, since FLX does not use any radar-absorbent or radar-transparent materials, has no radar, and also has metallic airframe.
Naval variant will weight 7% more than land variant or 3.464 kg empty. If cost per kg is assumed to be identical to that of Rafale M (8.140 USD), unit flyaway cost will be 28,2 million USD. Naval variant’s air-to-air combat weight will be 6.211 kg, resulting in wing loading of 244,7 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,69 (1,18 at dry thrust).
In IEEE designation system, X-band radars are standard radars used for fire control radars for fighters. PAK FA however is equipped with L-band radar. VHF radars are not used on fighters but are used on some SAM emitters since they are more capable of detecting VLO aircraft. In order to increase sensitivity, RWRs will normally cover only L and X bands – former are only used on the PAK FA, but can be installed on Flanker family aircraft, while latter are used by every fighter aircraft with radar. In Flankers, L band radar proves to be a very interesting detection solution due to its variety of applications necessitating continuous emissions. These include search, track and missile MFU against radar-LO aircraft; IFF function; high-power active jamming of JTIDS/MTIDS/Link-16 emitters, satellite navigation receivers, L-band search radars (AWACS and surface based) and guided munition command datalinks. This means that L-band radar will be mostly continuously active, and these same functions are shared by Western X-band AESA radars. Its exact frequency coverage is between 1 and 1,5 GHz. Leading-edge L-band radar also has a poor sidelobe performance compared to X-band radar, allowing more opportunity for RWR to detect it.
It also must be noted that increases in range and in angular coverage of radar also mean increases in emitted power as array gain drops off as angle between beam and radar plate increases. As a result, fixed-plate PESA/AESA designs can rarely use minimum power required for detection at certain distance. This problem is solved in swashplate AESA radars, but at cost of greater weight and complexity.
Edit 30.11.2013. 12:14 Central European Time: As vstol jockey has noted after posting this article, FLX will be able to sustain a 9 G turn without using full dry power with air-to-air combat load, and will have low visual and IR signature due to less demand on thrust at any setting and payload. It will also have over 375 m/s climb rate and the fastest acceleration from M 0,9 to M 1,2 of any (fighter) aircraft in history, and he also fixed takeoff and landing distance values which I had originally based on Saab Gripen.
Edit 26.12.2013. 14:48 Central European Time: Radar warning antennas will be located on fuselage in order to avoid reduction in precision due to aeroelastic twist of wings when turning.
BVR missiles development proposals
Problem with modern day BVR missiles is that they loose propulsion far before reaching the target, and even if target is close enough, they are too large, too heavy and too fast to hit an evading fighter-sized target. Thus alternative BVR missile will be IRIS-T WVR missile placed into a carrier vehicle. Best carrier vehicle is in-development BVR Meteor. MBDA Meteor has maximum range of 100 km (54 nm) at high altitude in straight line, or 250 km (135 nm) in ballistic path. IRIS-Ts maximum range of 25 km, flown in a straight line. While having Meteor carry IRIS-T may reduce its range to an extent that will not be offset by IRIS-T itself, its ability to hit enemy targets will be drastically improved – at maximum range, BVR missiles have lost energy and their ability to hit even an air liner is questionable; this missile in its primary stage however will not need to hit target itself, but simply to come close enough for IRIS-T to engage (<10 km). Length will be 5,14 m, and weight around 200 kg.
It will offer a massive increase in both absolute and effective range over the MICA IR, while its passive seeker head, ramjet primary stage and usage of WVR IRIS-T missile for second stage will also be a large improvement over MBDA Meteor in terms of both surprise (Meteor destroys surprise with its active seeker head even if launched passively) and ability to kill evading targets. Only issue is cost, which is combined cost of IRIS-T, Meteor’s propulsion matrix and additional hardware required for successful integration; as a result, total cost may be anywhere between 2.000.000 and 2.500.000 USD, with both values being far in excess of any modern BVR missile intended to kill fighters (as opposed to AWACS-killer missiles, which theoretically at least might be even more expensive, and some of them have range of over 400 km, though they are even less capable of hitting fighters than “standard” BVR missiles).
Its range of 250 km will allow it to be used against radar-using fighters before they become aware of the FLX’s presence, as well against AWACS, and unlike all modern BVR missiles, it will be effective against fighters across its entire range envelope, although large primary stage miss margins might reduce that effectiveness at longer ranges – secondary stage WVR missile will have to maneuver not only to counter target’s movement (including possible evasive maneuvers) but also to compensate for errors in first-stage maneuvering and errors in launch platform’s targeting.
PIRATE IRST uses a Quantum Well Infrared Photodetector technology pioneered by Germany in the 1990s. Its range vs subsonic fighter-sized target at low altitude: 90 km head-on, 145 km tail-on. It can also be, theoretically at least, used for passive target ranging.
Interferometric RWRs have accuracy of 1* or less, while legacy RWRs have accuracy of 15*. Since I could find neither MICA IR or IRIS-T seeker range, I have decided to use generic seeker range of 15 km. Reducing to 1/5 so as to avoid having missile turn too much, it would allow maximum theoretical range of 344 km with interferometric RWRs or 23 km with legacy RWRs. This difference explains why RWR firing solution generation feature wasn’t used until relatively recently. While it is unlikely that theoretical range noted will be usable in actual combat, maximum engagement range of 200-250 km (similar to Dassault Rafale) should be expected, allowing missile to be used at its maximum range.
This missile will replace MICA IR in FLX’s loadout, and will provide for same loadout options. Its higher weight however means that FLXs BVR combat weight (50% fuel, 2 WVR AAM, 4 BVR AAM) will be 6.299 kg, for a wing loading of 248 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,67 in afterburner or 1,17 in dry thrust. Wing loading and TWR for dogfighting weight will stay the same since BVR missiles will have been fired by the time of the merge.
In order to reduce missile’s complexity and thus cost, a replacement SFIR (solid-fuel integrated rocket) ramjet engine might warrant research.
AWACS killer missiles
First missile, useful against both AWACS and fighters, will be ordinary MBDA Meteor but with passive seeker; range and cost will be same as that of Meteor, namely 250 km and ~2 million USD.
Second missile will add AIM-54 propulsion section, increasing range to over 400 km and cost to between 2 and 3 million USD. Weight will likely be just below 600 kg.
Seeker should be capable of both active and passive homing, going into active mode only if both uplink from launching platform and target’s signals are lost. This will also allow both missiles to be used against fighter aircraft, albeit with reduced effectiveness compared to the previously-discussed IR BVR missiles.
For better survivability in a visual-range combat, FLX will use various camouflage patterns; some of these will be used to mask the aircraft, others to make opponent’s orientation relative to FLX more difficult and thus slow down or even break his OODA loop in dogfight (dazzle camouflage). However, effectiveness of any proposed camouflage patterns in their respective roles should be tested in live exercises before adoption.
Comparision with modern fighters
As shown before, measures of fighter aircraft effectiveness are: 1) achieving surprise bounces without being surprised, 2) outnumbering enemy in the air, 3) outmaneuvering the enemy, 4) obtaining reliable kills during any opportunity.
Achieving surprise is done by 1) detecting and identifying hostile aircraft more accurately and consistently than the enemy and 2) denying that ability to the enemy. Big, expensive, easily detected weapons – be they P-38, Bismarck or F-105 – tend to become hunted rather than hunters.
Outnumbering enemy in the air is done by 1) having fighters inexpensive enough for large number to be procured within the budget, 2) sufficiently simple to allow many sorties per day per aircraft.
Outmaneuvering the enemy is done by 1) having better acceleration, decceleration, climb and turn capability, 2) transitioning from one maneuver to another faster, 3) having better fuel endurance than the enemy.
Obtaining reliable kills is done by 1) identifying the enemy accurately, 2) having reliable enough weapon to achieve kills.
Detecing and identifying hostile aircraft is dependant on sensors carried. However, only optical sensors – usually imaging IRST – can reliably identify the target. If enemy is unwise enough to use his radar, then radar warners can be used to both detect and identify him.
Denying detection and identification ability to the enemy is dependant on having small visual, IR and EM signature. Visual signature depends on aircraft’s size, camouflage painting and smoke produced. IR signature depends on aircraft’s size, speed, engine power and setting. EM signature depends on wether aircraft is emitting any active signals – radar warner can detect enemy radar signals, and allso warn if the enemy has locked on the aircraft, which means impending missile launch, though not necessarily from the same direction as radar signal is coming from due to possibility of data-link usage. Data-links themselves can be detected, though probability of that happening is low when compared to detection of radar. In a 3D environment, number of bounces on the aircraft increases with a square of distance aircraft can be detected in (aircraft have altitude limits which are less than sensor range).
Cruise speed is important for both of these actions: aircraft with lower cruise speed will have a hard time getting to the identification range, while aircraft with higher cruise speed will be able to both catch up with possible target to identify it, and if necessary attack it. Cruise speed will be defined as a speed which aircraft can hold for 20-30 minutes of the time it wants to spend in hostile airspace.
Design of fighter determines both its production (flyaway) cost and sortie generating capability. Calculation for peacetime operations over one year is as follows: Force sorties / day = [ total $ / (unit $ + 360 sortie $ ) * sorties / day / plane]. However, in wartime calculation is Force sorties / day = aircraft procured for 1 billion USD * sorties / day / aircraft. Dollars will be adjusted to FY2013.
Acceleration is dependant on thrust-to-drag ratio. As drag is partly determined by size, which itself determines weight, aircraft with higher thrust-to-weight ratio can be expected to have better acceleration values. This is not necessarily so, however, as aerodynamic configuration has a major impact on drag.
Maximum turn rate is dependant on airframe g loading and lift-to-weight ratio. Lift-to-weight ratio itself is approximated through wing loading. High energy loss rate ecountered during maximum (instantaneous) turns is useful in turns intended to defeat missiles and guns or force the opponent to overshoot. However, aircraft also must be able to recover energy afterwards, necessitating a high thrust-to-weight ratio.
Transient performance is in some situations even more important than standard turn performance. Aircraft can transit from one maneuver to another only by rolling and/or pitching. Thus roll and pitch rates can be used to compare transient performance. Unfortunately, normally measured roll rates are those at 1 g, which does not ensure roll performance during turns. Aircraft must achieve maximum unpredictability while retaining precise control and safety.
Endurance is best approximated by fuel fraction. However, differences in fuel consumption rates can make estimates based solely on the fuel fraction inadequate – aircraft with low thrust-to-weight ratio will use afterburner more frequently than one with high thrust-to-weight ratio, thus reducing its expected endurance.
Aircraft must also be able to obtain reliable kills from all ranges from unsafely close-in (near-collision) range to maximum range at which positive (visual or emissions) identification can be achieved. This depends on probability of kill, frequency of kill, number of on-board kills, vulnerability interval and surprise.
Historically, all Pk estimates based on computer models have proven wrong. This means that only historical Pk values can be used.
Rate of kill depends on probability of kill and time to kill; since modern weapons are fire-and-forget, time to kill depends on time to solve a firing solution. This time is 3-6 seconds for gun, ~5 seconds for IR missile and 10-15 seconds for a BVR missile.
Number of on-board kills depends on amount and Pk of weapons carried.
Vulnerability interval is a measure of how vulnerable aircraft is when using a certain weapon. Times much beyond 5 seconds are dangerous.
Vulnerability of weapon to countermeasures affects kill probability. All weapons – guns and missiles alike – are vulnerable to hard turns. However, turns as well as other countermeasures depend on ability to detect the impending attack. Missiles with imaging IR seeker may be vulnerable to DIRCM, however it is not usually deployed on fighters. Radar missiles are vulnerable to seeker jamming and fuze jamming.
With this basic outline done, following fighters will be compared in these measures: FLX, F-22, F-35, JAS-39C, Rafale C, EF-2000, Su-35 and PAK FA.
Detecting the enemy
While radar may have a very long range even at low power settings, radar warner always has advantage over the radar due to the square distance law – assuming that entire radar signal is deflected back to radar, radar that sent the signal will get the same return as a fighter four times as far away. But most of signal that reaches the target does not get returned: while a family car has an RCS of 100 m2, most modern fighter aircraft have RCS below 1 m2 for not much less than twice the surface. As a result, fighter will get 100 or more times as much energy as the amount that will return to radar at any particular distance; as normal RWR has a far smaller antenna than radar, this translates into a 2-3 times longer detection range.
Radar also requires a lock on time, which is well in excess of 10 seconds even for cooperative target. This gives ample time for RWR to detect its signals and work out firing solution. As a result, primary ways to detect the enemies are passive, by detecting their emissions in radio, infrared or visual spectrum.
In radio spectrum, using radar gives away aircraft’s position; this means that passive sensors designed to detect enemy emissions are becoming more and more important. All aircraft mentioned are equipped with radar warners; however, only Gripen, Rafale and FLX are known to use interferometric radar warners, which might give them an advantage over other fighters mentioned.
This means that radar will not be used for detection. As a result, IRST becomes most important onboard sensor. FLX, Rafale, Typhoon, Su-35 and PAK FA have it, providing them with advantage over Gripen C and F-22 when it comes to detection range. It should be noted that using datalinks also gives away fighter’s position.
Denying the detection
To deny the detection, fighter aircraft must first be passive. In this area, aircraft with IRST have an advantage, though aircraft without it might use offboard sensors (which are then rendered vulnerable unless these sensors are passive) or simply use visual detection.
As with all optical sensors, size of target plays a large role in modern QWIP IRSTs detection range. Due to this, F-22 may be detected at twice the distance FLX will get detected at, reversing theoretical advantage of radar stealth. Also to be noted is the fact that IR reduction measures cannot reduce detection range in a major way, since not only does skin heat but also air in front of, and around, the aircraft. This is especially a problem when supersonic. At supersonic speeds however, aircraft which can cruise without afterburner will have lower IR signature than ones which have to use it. Here FLX is at advantage in both cruise and combat since it has very powerful engine for its weight and size; other aircraft which can supercruise at dry thrust (Rafale, Typhoon, F-22, possibly PAK FA and Su-35) are still likely to use afterburner in combat, allowing unseen opponent (other than one they are attacking) to detect and target them more easily.
Identifying the enemy
There are several ways of identifying the aircraft (IFF identification) but only two reliable ways have been visual identification and identification of opponent’s radar emissions. Proliferation of LPI radars may make emissions ID more difficult, and even if it doesn’t, enemy will likely decide that giving up surprise is not a smart thing to do and thus cease any radar emissions. In such circumstances, only reliable way to sort friend from foe (IFF) is visual identification (visual ID or VID). This does not mean that two aircraft will have to close to less than 1.000 meters required for unassisted ID; visual and IR sensors capable of identifying type of aircraft at ranges that go to tens of kilometers exist and are in use; such sensors are PIRATE, OSF, OLS-35 and EOTS.
Out of fighters being compared, only FLX, F-35, Rafale, EF-2000, Su-35 and PAK FA have imaging IRST. While capabilities of OLS-50 used on PAK FA are unknown, PIRATE used on FLX and EF-2000 has a slight detection range advantage over OSF (145/90 vs 130/80 km) and both have large advantage in detection range over the OLS-35 (90/50 km). Identification range for PIRATE is 40 km, with possibly up to 45 km for OSF. F-35s IRST is optimized for air-to-ground work and covers only lower area, resulting in questionable utility in air-to-air combat.
Denying the identification
To deny the identification, fighter aircraft has to be physically small and completely passive. FLX is the smallest fighter on the list, followed by Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon. Su-35 and F-22 are the largest aircraft and will be identified first, followed by PAK FA and F-35.
Main source of active emissions on a fighter aircraft is radar. FLX, Rafale, Typhoon, Su-35, Pak Fa and F-35 all have IRST and thus do not need to use radar in combat (or in FLX’s case, even have it). F-22 and Gripen however will have to use radar comparably often, allowing more opportunity for enemy identifying them at very long range.
All fighter aircraft except Rafale, F-22, F-35, PAK FA and FLX use radar-based MAWS. This however compromises their stealth since it is active system, and has short range against low RCS targets such as MANPADS; while it does provide distance, it can not provide actual position but only general direction of the missile and is very susceptible to false alarms. F-22 and PAK FA use UV MAWS. These systems are passive so they do not compromise aircraft’s stealth, but can only provide missile warning if missile’s engine is running; this makes them of limited utility against long-range missile shots when missile is flying on intertia alone. It is also not affected by liquid water. IR MAWS such as those in FLX, F-35 and Rafale have better detection range than UV systems at high altitude, but closer to the ground they tend to loose range due to increased atmospheric opaquity in regards to IR waves, caused by increased water content, atmospheric density and amount of atmospheric dust. They also have to separate IR clutter, causing high false alarm rate against surface to air missiles.
Cruise speed, as a definition used here, is a speed that aircraft can keep for at least 20 minutes after discarding the fuel tanks. This requires either a very high fuel fraction (above 40%), avoiding usage of afterburner, or both.
Due to its high fuel fraction, FLX can supercruise for well above 20 minutes, especially if external supersonic fuel tank is carried. Rafale can also likely keep supersonic for comparably long periods of time due to its high fuel fraction compared to many modern fighter aircraft (0,33) which however doesn’t approach that of FLX. F-22 has very low fuel fraction and added drag of weapons bays, however this is partly offset by greater efficiency of its engines at supersonic speeds.
Force presence for fighters will be calculated for wartime situation, with calculation of force presence = aircraft for 1 billion USD * sorties / day / aircraft. FLX gives 1.000 / 25,4 * 3 = 117, F-22 1.000 / 273 * 0,5 = 1,5, F-35A 1.000 / 187 * 0,3 = 1,5, JAS-39C 1.000 / 33 * 2 = 60, Rafale C 1.000 / 75 * 2 = 26, EF-2000 1.000 / 130 * 2 = 14, Su-35 1.000 / 65 * 1 = 15 and PAK FA 1.000 / 100 * 0,7 = 7. Su-35 and PAK FA values are guesses.
As it can be seen, FLX gives almost 2:1 force presence advantage over the next best aircraft, JAS-39C. Against F-22 and F-35, it has 78:1 force presence advantage, 16:1 against PAK FA, 8:1 against Typhoon, 7,8:1 against Su-35 and 4,5:1 against Rafale. It should be noted that Luftwaffe, despite having better aircraft, was unable to establish air superiority during battle of Kursk due to Soviet Air Force having 2:1 numerical advantage, and historically 3:1 was maximum where technological advantage could compensate for numerical disadvantage.
Maneuvering performance consists of turning and transient performance and acceleration. Transient performance consists of pitch and roll performance (in particular, ability to start and stop pitch/roll rapidly as opposed to maximum pitch/roll figures); turning performance consists of instantaneous turn and sustained turn performance; acceleration performance consists of acceleration and decceleration (negative acceleration) performance.
Turning performance is determined by g limit, lift to weight and thrust to drag ratios. Lift to weight ratio is approximated by wing loading, whereas thrust-to-drag ratio can be approximated, albeit not very accurately, through thrust-to-weight ratio. Values will be calculated in combat configuration of 4 BVRAAM and 2 WVRAAM + 50% fuel.
In this configuration, values are 236 kg/m2 and 1,76 for FLX, 276 kg/m2 and 1,22 for Rafale C, 291 kg/m2 and 1,26 for Typhoon T2, 344 kg/m2 and 0,99 for Gripen C, 314 kg/m2 and 1,29 for F-22A, 428 kg/m2 and 1,07 for F-35A, 408 kg/m2 and 1,15 for Su-35, 312 kg/m2 and 1,22 for PAK FA. As it can be seen, FLX has a very large advantage over modern fighter aircraft in both instantaneous and sustained turn capability, regardless of wether maneuvering is done in horizontal or vertical plane. Advantage in sustained turn is increased by the fact that most fighters listed do not have close-coupled canards, necessitating higher angle of attack for the same turn rate, thus loosing energy faster.
Close coupled canards also make fighters equipped with them more responsive to control surface inputs, improving roll and pitch performance; only fighters other than FLX equipped with them are Rafale and Gripen.
Endurance, as noted, is highly sensitive to fuel fraction. In this area, FLX leads by a wide margin: it has a fuel fraction of 0,44 at air-to-air takeoff weight, whereas other fighters do not come close (Rafale C: 0,32; Typhoon T2: 0,29; Gripen C: 0,24; F-22: 0,28; F-35A: 0,37; Su-35: 0,37; PAK FA: 0,35). Its true advantage is even greater: since none of fighters listed have thrust-to-weight ratio at combat weight that is above 1 at dry thrust, let alone approaching FLX’s 1,23 value, FLX pilot can simply fight at military power at force the opponent to spend fuel by using afterburner. Fuel fraction of 30% is minimum required for useful combat endurance.
Obtaining reliable kills
At both beyond visual range and within visual range, obtaining reliable kills is dependant primarly on surprise. Thus aircraft which can obtain kills completely passively have an advantage. It should be noted that “completely passively” means no active sensor usage by either the platform, missile or other platform using the uplink to the missile. This means using either RWR or IRST to target the opponent.
Using RWR for that requires RWR to use interferometric technology, providing accuracy of less than 1*. Many modern Western fighters have such technology, but only F-22 and Rafale (to my knowledge) can attack targets without help from other sensors. FLX will also offer this capability, endangering any aircraft that relies too much on its radar.
Completely passive attack capability will be improved by usage of IRST, allowing FLX to attack even passive targets. While IRST is more range-limited compared to the RWR, it will still bring all other fighters at disadvantage due to FLX’s low IR signature and ability to match or exceed other fighters’ maneuvering capability without using the afterburner which will increase this difference even more. Using dual-stage BVR missile will also offer improvement in otherwise meager BVR missiles’ probability of kill. Further, usage of RWR and IRST as primary BVR sensors will mean that one of bottlenecks in BVR combat – identifying the enemy accurately – will be mostly done away with. Due to shorter lock-on time of IR missiles, they will also offer increased frequency of kill compared to the radar-guided missiles and reduced vulnerability interval of the FLX itself. Only other fighter aircraft with similar passive attack capabilities is larger and more detectable Dassault Rafale.
In beyond visual range combat Flanker variants will have advantage in number of missiles carried. Number of missiles in a salvo has influence on kill probability; US fighters in Vietnam usually launched 2-4 missiles in a salvo for per-missile Pk of 8%. Assuming 10% Pk per missile, kill probability of a 3-missile salvo is 0,1 + 0,1*(1-0,1) + 0,1*(1-0,1-0,1*(1-0,1)) = 0,1 + 0,09 + 0,081 = 0,271, of a 4-missile salvo is 0,1 + 0,09 + 0,081 + 0,1*(1-0,1-0,09-0,081) = 0,1 + 0,09 + 0,081 + 0,0729 = 0,34 and of a 2-missile salvo is 0,1+0,09 = 0,19. Russian Flankers fire a standard of a 3- or 4-missile salvo, and Western fighters carry more missiles than they did in Vietnam so 4-missile BVR salvo may become standard against a competent opponent for them too. Standard number of BVR missiles is 4 for FLX, Gripen, and F-35, 6 for Rafale, Typhoon and PAK FA, 8 for F-22 and 12 for Su-35. This means 1 4-missile salvo for FLX, Gripen and F-35 for a total BVR missile Pk of 34%, 2 3-missile salvos for Rafale, Typhoon and Pak Fa for a total BVR missile Pk of 54%, 2 4-missile salvos for F-22 for a total Pk of 0,68 and either 4 3-missile salvos with total Pk of 108% or 3 4-missile salvos with total Pk of 102% for Su-35. This is a one-on-one comparision, and also ignores missiles’ kinematic performance and factor of surprise.
Another point is that while APG-79 or APG-81 can jam Su-35’s radar, to do so they surrender frequency agility, becoming an easy target for anti-radiation missiles. This is true for any jammer, however using an off-board towed jammer rectifies this disadvantage.
It should also be noted that aircraft’s kinematic performance has a major impact on BVR missile kill probability. Thus supercruising fighters such as F-22, Rafale, Typhoon, FLX and Su-35 will have advantage in BVR combat against subsonic fighters such as F-35 or Gripen C.
Rate of kill
As noted before, rate of kill depends on probability of kill and time to kill; since modern weapons are fire-and-forget, rate to kill depends on time to solve a firing solution. This time is 3-6 seconds for gun, ~5 seconds for IR missile and 10-15 seconds for a radar-guided missile.
Radar itself needs to first find the target, then settle and lock on, before allowing missile to be launched. This process can be interrupted or prolonged by target initiating defensive maneuvers, electronic countermeasures, or launching an attack itself. Passive sensors do not have these problems, and thus provide greater number of actual firing opportunities.
Thus in beyond visual range combat, FLX and Rafale have advantage over most other fighters due to combination of interferometric RWRs, IRST and IR BVR missile. In a visual-range combat, there are likely no major differences between missile lock-on times, with a caveat that “stealth” fighters require missile bay launch doors to open, prolonging the time between lock on and missile launch by up to several seconds. However, while gattling cannons used on US designs require half a second to achieve full rate of fire, Russian and European designs achieve it nearly instantaneously. Stealth fighters (F-22, F-35, PAK FA) also require gun doors to open, prolonging that time and adding a delay between pilot pressing the trigger and first projectile leaving the barrell.
Number of on-board kills
Historically, revolver and linear action guns had a Pk of 0,3 per trigger squeeze, rotary guns had a Pk of 0,26 per trigger squeeze, IR missiles had a Pk of 0,15 per trigger squeeze and radar-guided missiles had a Pk of 0,08 per trigger squeeze. Assuming that all missiles are fired individually and not in a salvo, and that gun bursts last for one second, this yields following number of kills:
F-22: 4,8 gun bursts, 2 WVRAAM, 6 BVRAAM > 2,03 kills
F-35A: 2,6 gun bursts, 4 BVRAAM > 0,996 kills
JAS-39C: 4,2 gun bursts, 2 WVRAAM, 4 BVRAAM > 1,88 kills
Rafale C: 3 gun bursts, 2 WVRAAM, 6 BVRAAM > 1,68 kills
EF-2000: 5,4 gun bursts, 2 WVRAAM, 6 BVRAAM > 2,4 kills
Su-30MKK: 5 gun bursts, 4 WVRAAM, 6 BVRAAM > 2,58 kills
FLX: 8,4 gun bursts, 2 WVRAAM, 4 BVRAAM > 3,14 kills
Vulnerability interval while using the weapon
Vulnerability interval is counted as time from firing opportunity to breakaway, during which fighter is more vulnerable to being attacked. For guns it is 3-6 seconds, 5-7 seconds for IR missile, and 10-15 seconds for radar-guided missiles. Maximum allowable time is 7-9 seconds, which means that radar-guided missiles fall well outside danger limit.
Comparative performance in many-on-many combat
This scenario will approximate performance in combat of Western aircraft listed against Chinese Flankers; scenario itself is taken from a 2008 RAND study, and will involve cost-equal number of aircraft without regard for their sortie rates. Baseline number will be 76 Su-30MKKs that PLAAF has; at 40 million USD each, total cost is 3 billion USD, allowing for procurement of 11 F-22s, 16 F-35s, 90 JAS-39Cs, 40 Rafale Cs, 22 Typhoons or 118 FLXs. Blue fighters cannot run since doing so would result in tankers being shot down and them being forced to land on Taiwan, whose bases have been destroyed in opening missile barrage; Red fighters can only run if faced by F-35A or JAS-39C, but will not do so until casualties reach 80%. Pk per salvo will be assumed as in section above, 0,19 for a 2-missile salvo, 0,271 for a 3-missile salvo and 0,34 for a 4-missile salvo with BVR missiles plus 0,15 per WVR missile, whereas gun fight will be assumed to result in 1 for 1 exchange ratio.
As noted, loadout is this:
Su-30MKK: 5 gun bursts, 4 WVRAAM, 6 BVRAAM
F-22: 4,8 gun bursts, 2 WVRAAM, 6 BVRAAM
F-35A: 2,6 gun bursts, 4 BVRAAM
JAS-39C: 4,2 gun bursts, 2 WVRAAM, 4 BVRAAM
Rafale C: 3 gun bursts, 2 WVRAAM, 6 BVRAAM
EF-2000: 5,4 gun bursts, 2 WVRAAM, 6 BVRAAM
FLX: 8,4 gun bursts, 2 WVRAAM, 4 BVRAAM
Stealth fighters will get the first shot against Su-30MKKs, while Su-30s will be given the first shot against everything else regardless of sensors, defense suites and RCS, as this scenario tests assumption that very small numbers of stealth fighters can win against hugely superior numbers of non-stealth fighters better than non-stealth fighters. FLX will have two different scenarios, one without and one with centerline missile rail.
76 Su-30s engage 11 F-22s. F-22s fire 66 BVR missiles in 22 3-missile salvos. 6 Su-30s killed. 70 Su-30s proceed and fire 140 3-missile salvos. 11 F-22s killed. Casualties: 6 Su-30, 11 F-22. 70 Su-30s remaining. Red Air victory.
76 Su-30s engage 16 F-35s. F-35s fire 64 BVR missiles in 16 4-missile salvos. 5 Su-30s killed. 71 Su-30s proceed and fire 142 3-missile salvos. 16 F-35s killed. Casualties: 5 Su-30, 16 F-35. 71 Su-30s remaining. Red Air victory.
76 Su-30s engage 90 JAS-39Cs. Su-30s fire 152 3-missile salvos. 41 JAS-39 killed. 49 JAS-39s proceed and fire 49 4-missile salvos. 17 Su-30s killed. 61 Su-30s fire 244 WVR missiles. 37 JAS-39s killed. 61 Su-30s engage 12 JAS-39s in gun fight. 12 Su-30s and 12 JAS-39s lost. Casualties: 29 Su-30, 90 JAS-39. 47 Su-30 remaining. Red Air victory.
76 Su-30s engage 40 Rafale Cs. Su-30s fire 152 3-missile salvos. 40 Rafale Cs killed. Casualties: 0 Su-30, 40 Rafale C. 76 Su-30 remaining. Red Air victory.
76 Su-30s engage 22 Typhoons. Su-30s fire 152 3-missile salvos. 22 Typhoons killed. Casualties: 0 Su-30, 22 Typhoons. 76 Su-30 remaining. Red Air victory.
76 Su-30s engage 118 FLXs. Su-30s fire 152 3-missile salvos. 41 FLX killed. 77 FLXs proceed and fire 77 4-missile salvos. 26 Su-30s killed. 50 Su-30s fire 200 WVR missiles. 30 FLXs killed. 47 FLXs proceed and fire 94 WVR missiles. 14 Su-30s killed. 36 Su-30s engage 47 FLXs in gun combat. 36 Su-30s and 36 FLXs lost. Casualties: 76 Su-30, 107 FLX. 11 FLXs remaining. Blue Air victory.
76 Su-30s engage 118 FLXs. Su-30s fire 152 3-missile salvos. 41 FLX killed. 77 FLXs proceed and fire 154 3-missile salvos. 42 Su-30s killed. 34 Su-30s fire 136 WVR missiles. 20 FLXs killed. 57 FLXs fire 114 WVR missiles. 17 Su-30s killed. 17 Su-30s and 57 FLXs engage in gun combat. 17 Su-30s and 17 FLXs lost. Casualties: 76 Su-30s, 78 FLXs. 40 FLXs remaining. Blue Air victory.
In second scenario, a more realistic situation will be adopted with fighters staying passive; this means that Su-30MKK gets a first shot against F-22, F-35 and Gripen, but not against Rafale, Typhoon and FLX.
76 Su-30s engage 11 F-22s. 76 Su-30s fire 152 3-missile salvos. 11 F-22s lost. Casualties: 0 Su-30, 11 F-22. 76 Su-30 remaining. Red Air victory.
76 Su-30s engage 16 F-35s. 76 Su-30s fire 152 3-missile salvos. 16 F-35s lost. Casualties: 0 Su-30, 16 F-35. 76 Su-30 remaining. Red Air victory.
76 Su-30s engage 90 JAS-39Cs. Su-30s fire 152 3-missile salvos. 41 JAS-39 killed. 49 JAS-39s proceed and fire 49 4-missile salvos. 17 Su-30s killed. 61 Su-30s fire 244 WVR missiles. 37 JAS-39s killed. 61 Su-30s engage 12 JAS-39s in gun fight. 12 Su-30s and 12 JAS-39s lost. Casualties: 29 Su-30, 90 JAS-39. 47 Su-30 remaining. Red Air victory.
76 Su-30s engage 40 Rafale Cs. Rafales fire 80 3-missile salvos. 22 Su-30s lost. 54 Su-30s proceed and fire 108 3-missile salvos. 29 Rafales lost. 11 Rafales proceed and fire 22 WVR missiles. 3 Su-30s lost. 51 Su-30s proceed and fire 204 WVR missiles. 11 Rafales lost. Casualties: 25 Su-30, 40 Rafale. 51 Su-30 remaining. Red Air victory.
76 Su-30s engage 22 Typhoons. Typhoons fire 44 3-missile salvos. 12 Su-30s lost. 64 Su-30s proceed and fire 128 3-missile salvos. 22 Typhoons lost. Casualties: 12 Su-30, 22 Typhoon. 64 Su-30 remaining. Red Air victory.
76 Su-30s engage 118 FLXs. FLXs fire 118 4-missile salvos. 40 Su-30s lost. 36 Su-30s proceed and fire 152 3-missile salvos. 41 FLXs lost. 77 FLXs fire 154 WVR missiles. 23 Su-30s lost. 13 Su-30s fire 52 WVR missiles. 8 FLXs lost. 13 Su-30s engage 69 FLXs in gun fight. 13 Su-30s and 13 FLXs lost. Casualties: 76 Su-30 and 56 FLX. 62 FLX remaining. Blue Air victory.
76 Su-30s engage 118 FLXs. FLXs fire 236 3-missile salvos. 64 Su-30s lost. 12 Su-30s proceed and fire 24 3-missile salvos. 6 FLXs lost. 112 FLXs fire 224 WVR missiles. 12 Su-30s lost. Casualties: 76 Su-30 and 6 FLX. 112 FLX remaining. Blue Air victory.
Few lessons can be seen from these scenarios. FLX was the only Western fighter that was capable of consistently winning against Su-30s regardless of which side got the advantage of the first shot. Second, number of missiles carried by the force (as opposed by the individual aircraft) was a large driver of success or failure at beyond visual range combat, to the point that addition of two missiles to the FLX (a 50% increase in BVR missile capacity) caused a large reduction of casualties in both scenarios (up to 92% reduction). Third, a side which has the first shot holds advantage. In real world scenario, this requires passive sensors and low IR signature, with low radar signature being inconsequential in comparision since using radar allows enemy to engage radar-using fighter at extreme distances.
It should also be noted that differences in RCS and EW suites would likely result in Su-30 having a second shot against F-22, F-35, Gripen, Rafale, Typhoon and FLX even if radars are used.
Suitability to theatres
Fuel requirements comparision will be made on basis of 30 minutes on station + 2 minutes of combat, and will only include internal fuel.
European theatre requires unrefuelled combat radius of 400 nm or 741 km. USAF centers Pacific combat around defense of Taiwan strait. Distances of USAF air bases to Taiwan strait are 460 nm (Kadena), 785 nm (Kunsan), 845 nm (Osan), 885 nm (Iwakuni), 1.230 nm (Yakota) and 1.565 nm (Anderson). Thus minimum combat radius to make half of these air bases viable is 850 nm or 1.574 km.
FLX has sufficient thrust-to-weight ratio to spend entire combat on dry thrust, consuming 190 kg of fuel. 30 minutes on station requires 619 kg of fuel. This leaves 2.590 kg of fuel for flight to and from the combat zone. Reducing to 2.400 kg gives 2.049 km combat radius. This means that FLX is fully suitable for both European and Pacific theatres.
F-18E has a combat radius in required circumstances of 1.050 km. Thus F-18E is suitable for European, but not the Pacific theatre. F-22s combat radius is no more than 1.100 km at subsonic cruise, possibly even lower, making it unsuitable for Pacific theatre even before combat is taken into account.
FLX or FLX-like design would be the first time that a truly revolutionary design appeared since the Me-262. Such thing unfortunately is not likely to happen as long as Western fighters keep being designed by technologists and generals, as opposed to pilots and historians.
Air superiority fighter proposal (original article)
Air superiority fighter proposal (first revision)
Quantity versus quality is not an issue
Reforming America’s overhyped airpower
109 thoughts on “Air superiority fighter proposal 3”
Reading the history,
“In any case, Iraqis eventually won air supremacy without firing a single shot once lack of spares grounded Iranian air force.”
This provides an interesting question – could it happen to a modern Western military? That’s not just air forces, it’s also applicable to navies (where cannibalization of parts is the norm), and armies (tanks and heavy vehicles have high maintenance needs).
Even when facing an enemy that cannot shoot down your forces, complexity in this regard may prevent the weapons from being effective.
“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.”
To be fair, most air forces today would. They would likely go onto strategic bombing once air supremacy was assured. That would get a lot of civilians killed, but not necessarily the targets intended. Plus it would create a lot of hostile sentiment towards the bomber.
“This provides an interesting question – could it happen to a modern Western military?”
In an all-out war, it probably would. Except to Swedes, maybe.
“To be fair, most air forces today would. They would likely go onto strategic bombing once air supremacy was assured. That would get a lot of civilians killed, but not necessarily the targets intended. Plus it would create a lot of hostile sentiment towards the bomber.”
In Kosovo war, US precision munitions mostly hit everything except their intended targets.
Also, separate topic, but in a scenario like the RAND one, would it not make sense to fly some “suicide drones” in front of your attack force?
These suicide drones would be the opposite of what’s wanted in a fighter. They’d have only the simplest guidance, no weapons, and some basic countermeasures. But they would be deliberately made to give the highest possible IR signature. The goal is to:
Try to encourage the enemy to fire some missiles at these suicide drones (forcing them to waste missiles and reveal their position)
Make it hard to distinguish between a real plane and a suicide drone
Give your forces the upper hand
A few other things to consider:
1. China would have the advantage as the defending side (they do have hidden hangars)
2. Losing one air battle may not be the end for China, but losing say, the F-22 force proposed there would be devastating for the US (or the F-35 force, considering the ever growing price tag of that fighter)
3. It’s possible that China may very well field a sort of “high low mix” with J-7s (Chinese derivative of Mig 21s) making up some of the targets
4. Given the episode with the a Chinese submarine surfacing near a US carrier group, it can be concluded that the US’ ASW capabilities are likely inadequate so the USN’s ability to provide support will be limited
In the case of the F-22, F-35, and Eurofighter, given their price tags, would you be willing to commit that many to a single battle? This is a dilemma similar to what battleships faced (and arguably what the US Navy would face today given the price of its vessels). Do you want to commit an enormously expensive fleet into battle?
I believe someone at the USAF once said that the B2 was “too expensive to risk losing”. That means that it’s something that will only ever be committed towards fighting developing nations, which in turn implies yet another question, wouldn’t a B-52 (or something cheaper) suffice?
Of course, how realistic the scenario is could be debated. The reliability of the planes was not taken into account. Whether everyone would want to commit the bulk of their assets like this too is a problem.
Finally, all of this also begs the question why the US would want to pursue a war with China over Taiwan. The wisdom of such a grand strategy seems (to me) to be totally folly given the world situation.
US/Israel has decoy drones in service https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADM-141_TALD
“1. Try to encourage the enemy to fire some missiles at these suicide drones (forcing them to waste missiles and reveal their position)
2. Make it hard to distinguish between a real plane and a suicide drone
3. Give your forces the upper hand”
Eh, it would work against incompetent opponent or USAF, but if enemy has IRST to VID targets at BVR range… though minimum-complexity UCAVs (as in, WWI biplanes controlled from AWACS and armed with a pair of Sidewinders each, just enough to make them worth shooting down) could be useful. “Oh, crap, we’ve got 40.000 Fokkers coming at us.”
“1. China would have the advantage as the defending side (they do have hidden hangars)”
In scenario, China attacks Taiwan. As for US attacking mainland China, it would be stupid – losses would be horrendous, as air bombardment must be followed up with ground invasion if it is to force a decision. Plus bombardment itself wouldn’t be effective.
“2. Losing one air battle may not be the end for China, but losing say, the F-22 force proposed there would be devastating for the US (or the F-35 force, considering the ever growing price tag of that fighter)”
As long as there are enough F-16s, it wouldn’t be a problem. But since scenario takes place after F-16s and F-18s have all been replaced by F-35s…
“3. It’s possible that China may very well field a sort of “high low mix” with J-7s (Chinese derivative of Mig 21s) making up some of the targets”
“4. Given the episode with the a Chinese submarine surfacing near a US carrier group, it can be concluded that the US’ ASW capabilities are likely inadequate so the USN’s ability to provide support will be limited”
Carriers wouldn’t come into closed sea anyway, they’d probably be sitting somewhere east of Taiwan or Japan. And against diesel-electric submarines, USN ASW capabilities are nonexistent… Royal Navy has excellent ASW capabilities, far better at it than USN and possibly best in the world, yet they still lost ships to a pair of 20 years old, badly-maintained Argentine diesel-electric submarines during the Falklands war.
“In the case of the F-22, F-35, and Eurofighter, given their price tags, would you be willing to commit that many to a single battle? This is a dilemma similar to what battleships faced (and arguably what the US Navy would face today given the price of its vessels). Do you want to commit an enormously expensive fleet into battle?”
In this scenario, force is either based on Taiwan or has come there via tanker support so they don’t have the choice. IRL, it would be decided by politics, but US would need to defend the Taiwan as not doing so would make them look unreliable.
“Of course, how realistic the scenario is could be debated. The reliability of the planes was not taken into account. Whether everyone would want to commit the bulk of their assets like this too is a problem.”
Taking reliability into account would make it even worse for NATO, in F-22 and F-35 scenarios at least. Though Gripen would likely profit from it.
“Finally, all of this also begs the question why the US would want to pursue a war with China over Taiwan. The wisdom of such a grand strategy seems (to me) to be totally folly given the world situation.”
“Eh, it would work against incompetent opponent or USAF, but if enemy has IRST to VID targets at BVR range… though minimum-complexity UCAVs (as in, WWI biplanes controlled from AWACS and armed with a pair of Sidewinders each, just enough to make them worth shooting down) could be useful. “Oh, crap, we’ve got 40.000 Fokkers coming at us.””
Take some planes out of places like the boneyard or ones that have reached close to the end of their air frame lives and covert them into drones. Then send them ahead. Even a small number of missiles wasted could make a difference. Of course, it could be argued that the other side could very well do the same.
“In scenario, China attacks Taiwan. As for US attacking mainland China, it would be stupid – losses would be horrendous, as air bombardment must be followed up with ground invasion if it is to force a decision. Plus bombardment itself wouldn’t be effective.”
Let history be the guide. Any strategic bombing would likely result in increased support for the current regime. There will be bombs that miss their targets and fall on civilians. Given that China has many densely populated cities, that could result in a lot of civilian casualties and increased nationalism.
It’s likely in any event that this will be a non-option. If the US were unable to establish air superiority, bombing would simply not be viable.
Under the circumstances:
1. China is likely through sheer numbers to have air superiority to some degree of the mainland
2. It’s likely that approaching within 100km of the mainland by sea would be a risky event
The initial attack from China would likely take out most of Taiwan’s military assets and likely most US based within a couple of hundred kilometers of the mainland. They’d also have a large number of missiles.
In that situation, China could simply rush amphibious landings towards Taiwan. While true that landing at a city is unwise (the Canadian raid at Dieppe being a warning of what could happen), and it’s unlikely that surprise could be achieved, sheer numbers would have to win.
Yeah, the realistic-ness of this scenario again is debatable:
“As long as there are enough F-16s, it wouldn’t be a problem. But since scenario takes place after F-16s and F-18s have all been replaced by F-35s…”
Given the cost of the F-22 and F-35, they simply are not likely to be procured in the needed numbers to replace F-15, F-16, and F-18. Similarly, the Eurofighter and arguably also the Rafale, while acceptable air superiority platforms are simply way too expensive. The Gripen is the only one that may not suffer from this flaw.
“Taking reliability into account would make it even worse for NATO, in F-22 and F-35 scenarios at least. Though Gripen would likely profit from it.”
There’s one more issue, and it’s the most decisive of all. The F-22 and the F-35 pilots simply are not going to get the level of training that they need. Gripen might. How many hours do the Eurofighter operators or the French give their pilots?
The other is Chinese training. How much training do they get? Is it realistic training? (That makes a difference).
Finally, training would have to be weighed heavily against the F-35. Being a “multi-role” aircraft, it’s possible that any training may prioritize strategic bombing over air superiority.
“2. It’s likely that approaching within 100km of the mainland by sea would be a risky event”
Going beyond island chain for USN would likely be impossible, it is not ready to fight in coastal waters where AIP/DE submarines can hide behind every rock.
“Given the cost of the F-22 and F-35, they simply are not likely to be procured in the needed numbers to replace F-15, F-16, and F-18. ”
Problem is that aircraft have limits on how long they can fly. As for supplementing them with UCAVs… they tend to crash. A lot. In long run, buying and operating manned fighters is cheaper and more effective.
“The Gripen is the only one that may not suffer from this flaw.”
Well, if you take a look at scenarios, of all Western fighters, only Gripen and FLX did not get wiped out by initial Su-30 BVR missile salvo. Having 30% more aircraft proved decisive for FLX in both scenarios though.
Also, Gripen C with IRST and Meteor would get the first shot against Su-30, so it would go like this:
76 Su-30s engage 90 JAS-39Cs. 90 JAS-39Cs fire 90 4-missile BVR salvos. 31 Su-30 killed. 45 Su-30s fire 90 3-missile BVR salvos. 24 JAS-39s killed. 45 Su-30s fire 90 WVR missiles. 14 JAS-39s killed. 52 JAS-39s fire 104 WVR missiles. 16 Su-30s killed. 29 Su-30s and 52 JAS-39s engage in gun fight; 0 Su-30s and 23 JAS-39s remaining. Casualties: 76 Su-30 and 67 JAS-39.
“There’s one more issue, and it’s the most decisive of all. The F-22 and the F-35 pilots simply are not going to get the level of training that they need. Gripen might. How many hours do the Eurofighter operators or the French give their pilots?”
“Going beyond island chain for USN would likely be impossible, it is not ready to fight in coastal waters where AIP/DE submarines can hide behind every rock.”
That and the USN does not have much of a brown water navy so to speak.
Finally, there’s the issue of mines. China I recall has the largest inventory of naval mines in the world. They could effectively use a sea denial strategy and perhaps force an engagement at a location of their choice.
2 articles to read:
Anyways, I do not believe the USN has much of an anti-mine capability (only a handful of boats). Maybe some of the Allies might, assuming they were dragged into the conflict.
Also, note that I do not consider the Littoral Combat Ship to be a credible brown water presence nor an effective anti-mine vessel.
“Problem is that aircraft have limits on how long they can fly. As for supplementing them with UCAVs… they tend to crash. A lot. In long run, buying and operating manned fighters is cheaper and more effective.”
UCAVs are merely suicide targets in a war with a credible air force.
The only reason why I suggested sending them was to act as decoys. The only reason why the US can credible use the drones they way they do right now on the War on Terror is because the types of opponents they face have no fighter capability whatsoever. The minute you get into an area with contested air power, large drones become target practice.
In that type of an environment, the only drones that may be useful are really small drones that can be used mostly for recon. If it’s lost … they’re intended to be expendable.
Also, consider the costs of operating a drone:
“The actual cost for a Reaper unit is $120.8 million in 2012 dollars. Given the newly announced reduction in Reaper production rates, the elements that Reaper uses but charged to other programs (summarized in Part 1) and the statement that some additional ground control stations may be bought, the $120.8 million unit cost is an underestimate; however, the data are unavailable to know by how much.”
The price tag will limit how many can be procured. That and it would mean cannibalizing money away from much needed other aircraft.
The more complex the drone, likely the more expensive it would get. There’s a report from the GAO that Global Hawk was over $220 million a unit (http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/653379.pdf) before cancellation.
“Reaper’s infrastructure necessitates at least 171 personnel for each CAP: these include 43 mission control personnel, including seven pilots and seven sensor operators, 59 launch, recovery and maintenance personnel (including six more pilots and sensor operators), 66 Processing Exploitation Dissemination personnel for intelligence and its support (including 14 more maintenance personnel) and three “other equipment” personnel.”
It takes 171 people per combat air patrol. That is an immense amount of resources in personnel to be diverting to a plane with relatively modest capabilities.
Basically, unless a full autonomous drone comes into reality in the future, at the moment, drones for the money give very modest capability and are not the money saving tools that their advocates claim.
“Also, Gripen C with IRST and Meteor would get the first shot against Su-30, so it would go like this:”
It will come down to who has the better IRST. If the Russians make relative gains, that could make it completely up in the air. Rumor has it that the OLS-50 is a big upgrade. We can expect future OLS from the Russians. Whether they end up in Chinese hands or if they make their own is open to debate though.
That said, against FLX and Gripen, the Su-27 variants are at a disadvantage. A big, heavy, dual engine plane like an Su-27 is going to have a larger IR signature. On the other hand, against the larger 2 engine Western jets and the F-35, well, those plans too are pretty big in IR signature.
That’s something I’ll look into later. As indicated, that’s going to make or break more than anything else, namely, the amount of training and the quality of training both sides get.
“Also, note that I do not consider the Littoral Combat Ship to be a credible brown water presence nor an effective anti-mine vessel.”
Any ship can be used as a minesweeper once.
“In that type of an environment, the only drones that may be useful are really small drones that can be used mostly for recon. If it’s lost … they’re intended to be expendable.”
Agreed, there are small hand-launched UAVs which can be useful for infantry units.
“It will come down to who has the better IRST. If the Russians make relative gains, that could make it completely up in the air. ”
Not entirely, it depends on quality of IRST and aircraft’s IR signature. With older IRSTs, detection range depended on how hot were hottest points on the aircraft, with newer ones, it mostly depends on how large aircraft is physically and how good IRST is.
“That said, against FLX and Gripen, the Su-27 variants are at a disadvantage. A big, heavy, dual engine plane like an Su-27 is going to have a larger IR signature. On the other hand, against the larger 2 engine Western jets and the F-35, well, those plans too are pretty big in IR signature.”
Agreed. Additional point is, you want to be supersonic when launcing BVR missiles. Which means that supercruising aircraft get advantage against non-supercruising ones.
“Any ship can be used as a minesweeper once.”
That’s a bit of a stretch isn’t it? Of course, you lose the ship and crew if that were to happen. Compounding that, how many Littoral Combat Ships can you afford given their price tag? Or for that matter, the other costly ships that dominate the USN’s inventory?
Dedicated minesweepers will be needed to detect and destroy mines. And that’s true regardless of who your opponent is. Mines are a decidedly cost-effective, low-tech strategy for sea denial. But history shows that they do work and that any sides on the opposing side will need substantial anti-mine capabilities.
“Not entirely, it depends on quality of IRST and aircraft’s IR signature. With older IRSTs, detection range depended on how hot were hottest points on the aircraft, with newer ones, it mostly depends on how large aircraft is physically and how good IRST is.”
In this the West may have an advantage in IRST quality, but again, it’s possible that with time, China, Russia, and the other nations will make some gains in this area.
Plane size and IR signature though – as indicated, if the West opts to go for FLX or Gripen sized aircraft (which most are not), they will have an advantage. If not, then that advantage fades.
Yet another possibility is that an opponent opts for a lightweight fighter, in which case the Chinese have the advantage.
“Agreed. Additional point is, you want to be supersonic when launcing BVR missiles. Which means that supercruising aircraft get advantage against non-supercruising ones.”
There is that. It will help the missiles’ range and somewhat increase the Pk.
Basically, it’s going to come to,
if they’ve seen you, fire missiles. If not, try to get behind them for a gun kill
If the enemy has detected you and returns fire with their own missiles, you’ll have to maneuver
Once missiles are expended, close in and dogfight
Getting 1 will be harder the larger the plane you’re flying is and the less training you get. Similar thoughts on winning 4, although the Su-27 variants’ maneuverability will somewhat negate the advantages (but it’s still a bigger target).
I wonder if it would be possible to fit a 40mm gun on an Su-27 variant (I know this subject has been talked about before). For a larger plane, hypothetically, they could hold more ammo and with a heavier airframe, be better able to absorb the recoil forces of that larger gun without any issues.
There’s also the fact that over and near Chinese airspace, China will likely have the numbers advantage.
“Agreed, there are small hand-launched UAVs which can be useful for infantry units.”
Maybe as well from fast attack craft for recon purposes as well.
As said, heavy attack drones, at hundreds of millions per drone are not really the “bargain” that they are claimed to be.
“Dedicated minesweepers will be needed to detect and destroy mines.”
Yes, multirole never is a good idea.
“In this the West may have an advantage in IRST quality, but again, it’s possible that with time, China, Russia, and the other nations will make some gains in this area.”
AFAIK, PAK FA and J-20/31 are supposed to have QWIP IRST.
“For a larger plane, hypothetically, they could hold more ammo and with a heavier airframe, be better able to absorb the recoil forces of that larger gun without any issues.”
There were planes in WWII (Mosquito variants I think) which held 57 mm cannons for ship killing. So it is possible, but is it necessary? With larger gun, you sacrifice rate of fire and ammo capacity.
“Yes, multirole never is a good idea.”
Same logic should hold true for ships. Build 1 ship class for 1 task and build it to do very well at the intended task.
I suspect that poorly defining ship purpose may be a reason for exploding ship costs and fleet sizes diminishing since WWII. Weapons and systems should be defined first, then ships designed around that – these days, the reverse is happening with hulls defined and then weapons/systems being put on hulls.
That and a MICC hungry for profits.
“AFAIK, PAK FA and J-20/31 are supposed to have QWIP IRST.”
My guess is that if there’s a gap, it will diminish with time.
The Chinese have been working hard to get domestic engine capabilities for their aircraft (so that they are not as reliant on the Russians).
I suspect that the only good thing that the F-22 and F-35 will do is cause the Chinese to spend resources on stealth fruitlessly. Similar story with the Russians. Or perhaps not … there is speculation that the T-50 is only somewhat “stealthy” apparently – and a good dogfighter. It’s possible that the Chinese may do something similar.
Without any formal specs though, we cannot say. Need wing loadings, thrust to weight, fuel fraction, etc before making a guess.
“There were planes in WWII (Mosquito variants I think) which held 57 mm cannons for ship killing. So it is possible, but is it necessary? With larger gun, you sacrifice rate of fire and ammo capacity.”
Yes. There was even a 75mm gun on some B-25 variants. There was one bomber crew that took the time to familiarize themselves with it and did very well with the gun. Most though did not and as such, the weapon was not as good as it could have been.
My guess is that for each airframe size, there may be an optimal point between gun size and capability for a specific mission.
I am going to step in for a minute and on the naval side correct a misconception; modern ships cannot be built around a weapon system.
The ship’s hull expected useful life is about 30 years. That assumes at least one major up-grade. But modern weapon’s life expectancy is much shorter. The main reason that ships are retired early is that up-grading them to accommodate new weapons and sensors is too expensive OR that the ship lacks the volume or surplus weight to accommodate the new system.
But besides the major up-grade there are many evolutionary up-grades to weapon as well as changes in threats that force ships to evolve beyond what ever weapon they first had install in them. So the ship has to posses energy generation, space and weight capacity to accommodate upgrades.
This is backed by experience which has shown that weapon carrying ships like the aircraft carriers and the amphibious ships are far more useful than specialized single purpose ships. The much malign LCS is more useful than the frigates that it replaces, etc.
Another thing that you need to keep in mind is that long range weapons that ship carry are very often autonomous vehicles themselves. Aircrafts, helicopters, the unmanned underwater vehicles, etc. Other than the heavy missiles the rest of the weapons that you see built into a ship’s deck are actually last-ditch defenses to be used only if all else has failed.
New USA ships will be large hulls with flexibility to accommodate new weapons as they are developed and given the range of existing defenses they will be built to easily deploy off-board vehicles that can extend their range.
To the Navy an aircraft with stealth is useful. That is because in Naval warfare the radar will be the main means of locating this aircraft at a distance and coordinating a defense. So the stealthy aircraft has a better chance of traveling towards its target undetected than one that is not stealthy. So this useful in this context. It also has a better chance of ambushing a bomb-loaded enemy aircraft that might be approaching a ship.
The USA Navy can’t be compared to foreign Navies. Not even to the British which is the closest there is in terms of needs. It is unique in its scope. Remember that when Britannia ruled the waves they did so with the benefit of a vast colonial empire that served as a base for their operations all around the world. USA can’t guarantee access to ports and shores so their ships need an immense amount of endurance and capability to keep station.
Now, the F-35 with in the context of a budget military or in a dog-fighting or straight attack role will suffer in comparisons and I agree that something needs to evolve here to meet certain needs. But we can’t stretch those arguments to condemn everything.
Single role =/= upgradeability.
Ships can’t be strictly single purpose. If you have single role ships they could be picked off singly by an enemy. Say a single role Anti-aircraft ship would be vulnerable to submarines and attack ships. A single role submarine hunter would struggle against small surface threats as well as aircrafts. I can go on and on but the short is that the ship must handle a diversity of threats and can’t be just single role.
And if you combine them say one anti-submarine with one anti-aircraft the loss of one means the loss of all the single role capabilities.
Single-role ships are primarly used as a part of the fleet. And being cheaper, you can have more of them for the same price which offsets problems you have mentioned.
It is not as easy. Single purpose ships and specially small ones have such vulnerabilities and limitations that even in large numbers they tend to be far less effective than their larger cousins. A helicopter armed Frigate can do a quick meal of sever patrol boats or a small submarine. And any time that you talk about helicopters you are also talking about having two of them and a hangar; these types of ships invariably hover at right about 3000 tons in size and are expensive.
The USA ships designed for area protection anti-air roles are invariably huge. They need a lot of space for the antennas, electronics and for the missiles. And they are multi-role with ASW capabilities as well as anti-ship as well so just four or five ships are needed to protect a carrier with a corresponding lower logistic tail.
Also, if you notice most smaller foreign ships that are used as examples carry six or eight launchers for Harpoons; this is enough for a few salvoes and then back to port to re-arm which is a luxury if you are 3000 miles away. So they can’t be realistically compared to USA ships that are operating around the globe.
The only place where small ships do well is in what we call Littoral Waters and in those areas they are under an air umbrella from shore bases plus their small size is advantageous because the shallow and constrained waters would bog down a bigger ship. Those waters are also much riskier than open waters and the ships are more prone to be lost so another argument for small size goes like this; if a small ship is lost you only loose a small fraction of your fighting capacity. But this advantage of small size evaporates once you are in open waters or far away from your own shores which is the case for the USA practically all the time.
And helicopter carrier would, by that logic, make a quick meal of said frigate while not necessarily being larger than it.
As for rest of the post, most US naval operations since World War I were in coastal waters, area in which United States are seriously deficient.
Right about the amphibious ship. It is a very powerful vessel which is erroneously pigeonholed as strictly amphibious when in actuality it can patrol, launch aircrafts, clears mines, deploys off board vehicles including submergibles, runs special operations, has a well appointed command center and does all kinds of other things such as humanitarian work as well as giving the Navy the ability to project force on land through its on-board marines. They represent a “pocket” size task force that can be used against many threats or better said against most threats other than those from a handful of countries.
Yes, the USA littoral operations are not what they need to be just yet. A major problem is that you are talking about operating not on the USA littoral waters but on Koreas’, Japan’s, Taiwan’s, the Philippines, Vietnam’s, Malaysia’s, Singapore’s and Australia’s costal waters. And often do that with out creating political waves or accusations of excessively cooperating with the USA. But they are slowly building up those capabilities.
Chris, you can’t take an antic like surfacing a submarine close to a carrier in waters next to Okinawa as meaning anything. The carrier might have known all along that the Chinese submarine was in the vicinity but pay no attention to it… The Chinese submarines are very noisy and easy to find. This sort of shenanigans are common in cold war and can lead to crazy things like when the Kitty Hawk rammed a Soviet Submarine of Korean waters in 1984.
The Unites States has very good anti-submarine technology… their problem is that they do not have enough ships. They used to have a specialized destroyer to do anti-submarine work, the Spruance. Those where decommissioned ahead of the end of their useful life The Burkes are pretty good antisubmarine platforms but they too are being decommission before their useful life is over. Something has to happen here soon.
By the way, the LCS is and anti-submarine platform. In many ways better suited for that than the Spruances and the Burke’s. It has a few problems but the Navy is working on them and I believe they will do very well.
On the Taiwan scenario… it is a 100 mile strait. There is not an overabundance of landing locations in Taiwan so the likelihood of finding an undefended beach is zero. All landing zones are defended. And to overwhelm the defenses you will need to land massive forces and when they are concentrated for the landing they will be vulnerable to a diverse array of weapons.
An air campaign will be met with stubborn resistance by air. If the Chinese launch long range missiles those will target things that have a significant foot-print. Things that are mobile will not be hit… so the landing will still be facing terrific defenses.
And then there is the USA Navy and its drones. Not the ones that we have now but the ones that we will have then.
China invading Taiwan is hopeless unless the country is first weakened by other means… like embargoes, etc. and China has a plan to avoid predatory attacks elsewhere and to survive world opinion and consequences.
And I do not know about the other services but the Navy and Marine Corps will be flying F-18 and Harriers alongside the F-35 for many more years… it might be 10 more years and maybe more they switch to just one aircraft.
“An air campaign will be met with stubborn resistance by air.”
That bit won’t last if all Western fighters are replaced by F-22 and F-35 as Lockheed Martin wants.
“Chris, you can’t take an antic like surfacing a submarine close to a carrier in waters next to Okinawa as meaning anything. The carrier might have known all along that the Chinese submarine was in the vicinity but pay no attention to it… The Chinese submarines are very noisy and easy to find. This sort of shenanigans are common in cold war and can lead to crazy things like when the Kitty Hawk rammed a Soviet Submarine of Korean waters in 1984. ”
Given that in the majority of major military exercises, USN CVBGs have repeatedly been sunk, I think it’s fair to assert that there are some serious deficiencies in their ASW capabilities.
“The Unites States has very good anti-submarine technology… their problem is that they do not have enough ships.”
If this is the case, then what makes you think that there will be suddenly enough ships to perform sufficient ASW work in the event of a war?
True, the existing LA, Virgina, and Seawolf classes would be deployed offensively, but at the same time there still does need to be at least some protection for the surface ships. I should also mention that coastal exercises have also revealed that they tend to favor SSKs.
“On the Taiwan scenario… it is a 100 mile strait. There is not an overabundance of landing locations in Taiwan so the likelihood of finding an undefended beach is zero. All landing zones are defended. And to overwhelm the defenses you will need to land massive forces and when they are concentrated for the landing they will be vulnerable to a diverse array of weapons. ”
Numbers do favor China in this case. Yes, achieving surprise will be difficult. But do the Taiwanese have the numbers to defend all locations? There will be attacks from the mainland in all 3 forms, plus missiles.
Actually, they may not even need to do that. A simple sea denial strategy may very well be effective.
“An air campaign will be met with stubborn resistance by air. If the Chinese launch long range missiles those will target things that have a significant foot-print. Things that are mobile will not be hit… so the landing will still be facing terrific defenses. ”
May I ask how much resistance realistically, if the F-16, F-15, F-18, and A-10 are actually replaced?
There will be a number of F-35s and F-22s, which currently suffer from poor flight to maintenance ratios, and given their exploding price tags, they will not be bought in enough numbers. In order for a plane to have a substantial impact, they need enough of them. There’s less than 200 F-22s.
“And then there is the USA Navy and its drones. Not the ones that we have now but the ones that we will have then.”
Unless drones become totally autonomous, they will continue to suffer the disadvantages that they do now. That and they need to come down substantially in price at this point.
Remember, an air superiority drone that is controlled at a base in North America will suffer delays. And split seconds are critical in air superiority battles.
“China invading Taiwan is hopeless unless the country is first weakened by other means… like embargoes, etc. and China has a plan to avoid predatory attacks elsewhere and to survive world opinion and consequences.”
I anticipate that the area along the Straits of Malacca will be heavily contested should a war occur, which is critical given that China is a net importer of energy. But at the same time, consider how reliant the US and the Western world has become on Chinese imports. It could go either way.
Remember, we are not talking about China today. We are talking about China a couple of decades from now, where it’s probable that the PLA will likely have better force projection than it does today.
Truth be told, I consider it unlikely that China would invade Taiwan for the foreseeable future. Equally unwise though, would be the Western world trying to provoke China as well.
Chris, I just saw your other two posts. You need to slow down a bit and think this through… how many USA battle-ships or carriers where lost to submarines in WW2? None. In open waters and at the speed they would be traveling a diesel submarine will have a hard time catching them. Keep in mind that the other ships that where lost to submarines where being used in riskier areas but not as part of a fast moving carrier group, etc.
Naval exercises are interesting but what you do not consider is that they are made to test capabilities and that the carriers can be placed in an unfavorable situations on purpose to see if it can handle them. That is not the way they will be fought in real life. And the Chinese submarine service is far from good.
The comment by Picard about any ship can do mine sweeping is not as outrageous as you think. There is a large number of mines that can we neutralized by helicopters and all US ships from frigate size up carry helicopters. Plus the USA has used their catamarans as minesweepers and those only have a lily-pad. And amphibious landing ship with a dock would be excellent for mine sweeping resource but unfortunately it is too expensive and valuable for other things.
With regards to the drones and I am risking getting fried in this forum for saying this but I suggest that you think that one through… when was the last time that the USA had a fighter ace? Vietnam. Air combat has been dominated by Tomahawks and the attack plane. So the drones that the Navy will have in the future will not dog fight. They will be attack aircrafts. Just remember history a bit; the American torpedo and dive bombing attacks of Japanese carriers during the first day of the battle Midway took place with out fighter escort. No fighters. They sank three capital ships.
It is not just about fighting ships. Since before WW2 all Naval exercises have always pointed to the same thing… the carrier fleet that found the other first would always win. Always. Even when outnumbered and outclassed. In Midway the USA flying boats found the Japanese first and the Japanese reconnaissance aircraft plane that found the USA fleet had a broken radio and could not report their position until it landed. That information gap decided the battle. We just moved two P-8 Poseidon to Japan last week and will be patrolling these waters with them. The P-8 is a formidable submarine hunter and maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
The Chinese invading Taiwan will be very hard. Very costly. And now the Chinese society might not be as tolerant of high casualties as it was before. And they will pay a serious diplomatic and economic price if they try to blockade it. Not as easy.
Your comments regarding Taiwan need to be placed on perspective. In a forum like this one they tend to see things from an air-force centric perspective. But defense of Taiwan will be accomplished by means of Naval resources as well as aircrafts. Simple things like mines will make transit of bulk military equipment almost impossible. To clear a mine field is a slow and arduous task and very dangerous if done under fire. Quiet diesel/electric submarines in that environment are deadly and shore batteries of Patriot missiles that can fire PAC-3 will pose such hazard that troop transports will not be able to get close. And Taiwan also has first class patrol boats in large numbers armed with missiles that can extend the defense perimeter further out still. The entire shore-line will be defended and all landings contested and troops that do manage to reach shore will face potentially annihilation. In short, an invasion of Taiwan would be a daunting task even for the USA Navy.
But you need to think strategically. The Taiwanese submarines could move to waters around the strait of Malacca and have a turkey shoot of Chinese tankers and cargo ships sending the entire Chinese economy into a panic. You need a persistent blue water Navy to hunt for submarines there and the Chinese do not have that. The submarines could also make appearances close to Shanghai diverting naval assets… they can sink a single cargo ship there and that would force the dislocation of a large number of Chinese vessels in order to protect the port. Ditto for the Indian Ocean… they could prey on Chinese shipping there and no one will find them in those waters. These submarines would be good for the one way mission since they would be returning to a ruined country.
The reason that Taiwan will loose is not some fantastic technology or strategy bur more mundane… the war will devolve into one of attrition and main-land China has more resources to replace losses. But they would win at a huge cost and conquer something who’s value has been completely destroyed. It is also possible that will loose… remember that Chinese weapons are good on paper but have never been tested in combat… so who knows if they work as advertised or not.
China also has ballistic missiles pointing at Taiwan. But if the USA can sneak an AEGIS cruiser close to Taiwan it might be able to stop enough of them to deter their use.
It is also possible for China (if it attacks Taiwan) not to attempt any landings, but to simply block any US/NATO naval operations in the area by taking control of the air and sea (former as described, latter by churning out hordes of diesel-electric submarines).
“It is also possible for China (if it attacks Taiwan) not to attempt any landings, but to simply block any US/NATO naval operations in the area by taking control of the air and sea (former as described, latter by churning out hordes of diesel-electric submarines).” – That is their strategy right now.
The future that China envisions is breaking out to the first string of islands and turning the South and East China Sea into a Chinese lake as well as breaking their dependence on the strait of Malacca. To do that they are aggressively and predatorily making claims to islands from weaker neighbors, developing ports and relationships with Pakistan (port) and Burma (pipe-line) that will allow them to by-pass Malacca and diminish their risk from that. It is a big and expensive game that relies on their economy continuing on track which is not a forgone conclusion.
Navy written articles and web-sites need to be read with an eye to the Navy’s mentality. Any closing of a technological gap is an alarm for them even if they have technology in the pipeline that will more than expand that gap in just a few years… so in their mind any closing of any capability or technology gap is bad even if they are still ahead. And of course they always sing the Navy praises on what ever they do which tends to obscure errors they make. But if you read these articles with these thoughts that I just mentioned in your mind they can be informative.
If you expand this discussion beyond aircrafts and into other issues like the economy China’s success to date is based on very cheap labor and the massive accumulation of foreign currency reserves to force a favorable trade balance. These devices have inherent risks. Growing demand for labor will raise its price and make Chinese goods less competitive… this is already happening with Mexico for example presently recovering markets that where lost to China 10 years ago. And the foreign currency holdings are potentially devastating since they can be held hostage on any war and if they are spent the trade balance will be reversed… for example if they inundate the currency market with the US Dollars that they now hold in reserve the Chinese currency will soar and even if their labor was worth nothing they still would not be able to sell a thing abroad. And then the biggest problem of all… they are not an innovative economy… that is reflected everywhere including their military.
While no country is truly self reliant for all their military technology the Chinese are a special case. They do not innovate and make second rate copies of everything. Their submarine technology which has been discussed amply here is an excellent example. It is based on Russian’s but not as good. If this will ever change is doubtful given the example of other countries that have followed their economic model.
The USA has a huge challenge maintaining alliances and credibility in that part of the world given Chinese mischief but it is not impossible. For an example just look at how Russia was handled by its northern Europe neighbors in and around the Baltic… so the locals will have to shoulder significant self defense cost while the USA adds a little more to their back-bone by furnishing some of the bigger ships and aircrafts. F-35 which is a frequent topic in this blog is being considered by Korea, Singapore, Malaysia. So is Taiwan who is interested in the Marine’s version. Japan and Australia are already buyers. Because of the capital intensive nature of fighting at sea weaker economies are the real problem… like the Philippines who need to get their act together in a hurry. The USA will not have to fight China with out help in most instances except maybe in defense of the before mentioned Philippines.
“But you need to think strategically. The Taiwanese submarines could move to waters around the strait of Malacca and have a turkey shoot of Chinese tankers and cargo ships sending the entire Chinese economy into a panic. You need a persistent blue water Navy to hunt for submarines there and the Chinese do not have that. The submarines could also make appearances close to Shanghai diverting naval assets… they can sink a single cargo ship there and that would force the dislocation of a large number of Chinese vessels in order to protect the port. Ditto for the Indian Ocean… they could prey on Chinese shipping there and no one will find them in those waters. These submarines would be good for the one way mission since they would be returning to a ruined country.”
Indeed so. The Straits of Malacca do indeed represent a critical choke point.
But if China were to do the same? We could see a major battle at that point.
Remember, we are not talking about the China of today. We are talking about perhaps 20 years from now, where there’s a good chance that China, as a result of it’s growing economy, it may very well have better force projection.
“If you expand this discussion beyond aircrafts and into other issues like the economy China’s success to date is based on very cheap labor and the massive accumulation of foreign currency reserves to force a favorable trade balance. These devices have inherent risks. Growing demand for labor will raise its price and make Chinese goods less competitive… this is already happening with Mexico for example presently recovering markets that where lost to China 10 years ago. And the foreign currency holdings are potentially devastating since they can be held hostage on any war and if they are spent the trade balance will be reversed… for example if they inundate the currency market with the US Dollars that they now hold in reserve the Chinese currency will soar and even if their labor was worth nothing they still would not be able to sell a thing abroad. And then the biggest problem of all… they are not an innovative economy… that is reflected everywhere including their military.”
Yes, China does have it’s share of issues.
Long term ability to sustain economic growth
Any bubbles that may exist
Social issues (male to female ratio, aging population, and 1 child policy)
Ability to get natural resources
Long term competitiveness
Will these hinder China’s growth? It’s hard to predict. I think that they will to some extent. Will they prevent China’s ability to achieve say, the standards of South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, or Singapore? Perhaps. I don’t know.
Second, China’s strategy. Here I agree that they’re making some pretty big mistakes. They seem to be isolating themselves with their foreign policy right now.
“While no country is truly self reliant for all their military technology the Chinese are a special case. They do not innovate and make second rate copies of everything. Their submarine technology which has been discussed amply here is an excellent example. It is based on Russian’s but not as good. If this will ever change is doubtful given the example of other countries that have followed their economic model.”
This is a dangerous misconception.
In the aftermath of WWII, Japanese goods were of very low quality compared to what was produced in the West. Japan has since improved in this regard, although since the mid 1990s, they seem to have entered national stagnation (not, by the way, caused by the quality of goods that they produced).
Similar arguments could be made about South Korea. China seems to be following the same path in this regard. Gradual improvement.
“For an example just look at how Russia was handled by its northern Europe neighbors in and around the Baltic… so the locals will have to shoulder significant self defense cost while the USA adds a little more to their back-bone by furnishing some of the bigger ships and aircrafts. F-35 which is a frequent topic in this blog is being considered by Korea, Singapore, Malaysia.”
It’s a different geopolitical situation, so it’s hard to make a direct comparison. For one thing, you make the assumption that if war were to break out, that these nations would automatically side with the US. They may very well opt to remain neutral (which is not by the way, an unwise decision on their part, as a war could go either way). There isn’t that capitalist vs communist sort of fight going on.
Regarding the F-35, again, it remains to be seen whether it can even deliver on the promised capabilities.
The innovation part is not one that lends itself for comparison with Japan. Japan was a first rate Naval power and it had defeated the Russians, prior to WW2 and after the start of WW2 it bit-off a huge chunk of China and then swallowed the Dutch, French and English colonies in the area while sweeping the USA out of the Philippines. No comparison between China and Japan prior to WW2 or right after. not the same.
Japan has a lot more social cohesion than China does and it is a far more organized society than the Chinese. There are really two China’s: the Han and all the others. The others are a source of instability and chaos.
And talent does not emigrate from Japan like it does from China.
The Chinese are not allowed into the international space station out of fear that they will steal technology.
Chinese submarines are based on the Russians and so are their jet engines. Neither are as good as the Russian’s originals.
And if their economy stalls so will their military. It is an export driven economy who’s main competitive advantage is low labor cost… not innovation.
I personally believe that we might be witnessing something close to China’s high water mark for its foreseeable future. The problem with maintaining competitiveness with out significant innovation rests on the sacrifice made by large swats of its society and it leads to instability.
All these new comments… I need a little time to read them all. Drones that mimic aircrafts and missiles have been around for a long time. One of them hit an Aegis destroyer by mistake the other day. If drones can be employed as decoys that would confuse the hell out of the battlefield for a short while. IF it came to that. The reason that I say “if” are the Tomahawks.
Picard and Jarred, below is an article from Strategy page. Not technical but you might enjoy it.
Murphy’s Law: Gripen Competes On Price And Being Good Enough
December 1, 2013: The 2013 sale of 22 Swedish JAS 39E Gripen jet fighters to Switzerland was the last act in a very contentious competition between the Gripen, the French Rafale and the Anglo-German (mainly) Eurofighter. Most of the secret evaluations of the three fighters were recently leaked to the media and provided some interesting insights on all three aircraft. The Gripen won the competition not because it was the best fighter but because it was OK on all counts and it was the cheapest. The fact the Sweden is, like Switzerland, a long-time neutral in European politics also apparently helped.
The evaluations found the Rafale to be the best combat aircraft. Actually, all three met the basic requirements set by the Swiss. The Gripen only excelled in initial and long-term (life cycle) costs (as the least expensive aircraft). The Eurofighter was the most expensive and time consuming to maintain. What particularly impressed the Swiss about the Rafale was how well all the active and passive sensors were integrated to give the pilot a very complete and real-time picture of what was out there. The Rafale and Eurofighter both had two engines and that provided an edge over the single engine Gripen. But Switzerland is not a large country and a single engine aircraft has sufficient range to do what needs to be done. Moreover the smaller Gripen was more suited to existing Swiss airfields and aircraft facilities, which were based on an older generation of aircraft that more the size of Gripen than the larger Rafale and Eurofighter.
The 22 JAS 39Es cost $3.3 billion or about $150 million each. The cost includes training, spare parts, technical support, and so on and amounts to more than the actual cost of the aircraft. So it’s no wonder Sweden is willing to move some of the aircraft production to the nation buying the aircraft and all the accessories. That also helped Gripen get the sale.
The Swedes have always had to scramble to sell the Gripen in the face of intense competition from new and used American (especially used F-16s), Russia, and European jet fighters. EADS, the manufacturer of the Eurofighter, is threatenws to upset the Swiss Gripen deal by offering 22 second hand Eurofighters for half of what the new JAS 39Es cost. This sort of thing is possible because several nations are cancelling orders for Eurofighters, an aircraft designed at the end of the Cold War. With the Soviet Union gone, orders for Eurofighters were cut and continue to be cut. This has created a market for used Eurofighters, which compete with used F-16s. While the new Gripen may be more suitable to Swiss needs, a 50 percent discount was very attractive. The Swedes had to sweeten their deal to handle the threat of second-hand Eurofighters.
Formerly known as the Gripen NG (Next Generation) fighters, the JAS 39E is heavier (17 tons) that the existing 39C, has better electronics, a heavier payload (over four tons), and has a two seater version better able to handle ground attack and electronic warfare duties. The Swedish Air Force already has 134 JAS 39Cs in service and the prospect of more defense budget cuts made the purchase of 60 Gripen NGs (at a total cost of nearly $5 billion) seemingly impossible. But the JAS 39E excited several export customers and that made all the difference.
Sweden is describing the 39E as a “new aircraft” compared to the earlier JAS 39 models. There’s some truth to that, as the 39E is a little longer and heavier but still looks like a Gripen. The 39E is full of more expensive, and capable, electronics, but that’s not obvious by just looking at the new model. The first 39E is expected to fly this year and enter service in 2018.
The Gripen has already undergone one major upgrade for the JAS 39C model. Improvements included inflight refueling, better electronics, and improved ground attack capability. The C model was also compliant with NATO standards for warplanes. This was necessary for export sales. There was also a two seat D model for training.
The 14 ton JAS-39C is roughly comparable to the latest versions of the F-16. The Gripen is small but can carry up to 3.6 tons of weapons. With the increasing use of smart bombs, this is adequate. Often regarded as an also-ran in the current crop of “modern jet fighters”, the Swedish Gripen is proving to be more competition than the major players (the F-16, F-18, F-35, Eurofighter, Rafale, MiG-29, and Su-27) expected. Put simply, Gripen does a lot of little (but important) things right and costs about half as much (at about $35 million each) as its major competitors. More importantly, Gripen also costs about half as much, per flight hour, to operate. In effect, Gripen provides the ruggedness and low cost of Russian aircraft with the high quality and reliability of Western aircraft. For many nations this is an appealing combination. The Gripen is easy to use (both for pilots and ground crews) and capable of doing all jet fighter jobs (air defense, ground support, and reconnaissance) well enough.
The JAS 39 entered active service in 1997, and has had an uphill battle getting export sales. Sweden does not have the diplomatic clout of its major competitors, so they have to push quality and service. Swedish warplanes and products in general have an excellent reputation in both categories. Nevertheless, the Gripen is still expected to lose out on some sales simply because politics took precedence over performance.
The bulk of the mines would be employed by Taiwan and not China. They would be defensive in nature. Offensively China could try to mine Taiwanese seaports and Taiwan could do likewise to the Chinese. You can lay mines with a submarine and modern mines are more like torpedoes.
As far as a blockade of Taiwan… that will require air supremacy. Can’t be done with out control of the air. And Taiwan has a decent airforce that could be more so in the future. Keep in mind that to placate China the USA has not been selling aircrafts to Taiwan. That can change.
The LCS is a misunderstood vessel. It has credible mine sweeping capabilities but it would not be employed in waters around Taiwan if an air war is raging above. No mine sweeper of any kind would be able to operate in that environment; they all need air superiority. The LCS is actually a little better able to sweep mines in contested areas than an old fashion mine sweeper because of its speed and because it uses off-board vehicles including submerged ones. An LCS can race in-and-out to place and recover the off-board vehicles, etc. while watching out for submarines and a regular minesweepers would not be able to do this. But it will still be very risky. LCS will probably see duty in the outer island chain where air threats are more manageable.
War with China over Taiwan will be like war with the old Soviet Union in the Baltic would have been; Tough. Many ships will be lost. The smaller Taiwanese Corvettes and Patrol Boats provide effective deterrence and are better suited for these types of waters than larger ships are as long as they stay under the air umbrella from the island.
If you want to get a flavor for the difficulty of this type of warfare you can read the following Wikepidia article… this was an attempted invasion by the People Liberation Army of some islands off Taiwan that was repulsed. It happed in 1949 and PLA was utterly defeated. The USA would have had huge difficulties too. Anyone would. Taiwan would be an even tougher nut than these little islands.
“The bulk of the mines would be employed by Taiwan and not China. They would be defensive in nature. Offensively China could try to mine Taiwanese seaports and Taiwan could do likewise to the Chinese. You can lay mines with a submarine and modern mines are more like torpedoes.”
China currently has the largest inventory of naval mines in the world.
Truth be told, both sides will likely use them. Any amphibious attack has historically needed surprise. There aren’t that many landing sites in Taiwan. And as you note, they are likely to be mined. That will indeed make any invasion difficult.
“As far as a blockade of Taiwan… that will require air supremacy. Can’t be done with out control of the air. And Taiwan has a decent airforce that could be more so in the future. Keep in mind that to placate China the USA has not been selling aircrafts to Taiwan. That can change.”
Sheer numbers favor China in this one. That and if this scenario by RAND where all F-18s, F-15s, F-16s, and A-10s are replaced by F-22s and F-35s (along with an inventory of drones), that’s going to be tough for the US and Taiwan.
Remember, China is likely going to try to use missiles to crater Taiwan’s airfields. That will impair the ability of the Taiwanese defenses somewhat. Note of course Picard’s emphasis on the ability to operate on roads, dirt strips, and grass fields for his designs. There are good reasons for this.
“The LCS is a misunderstood vessel. It has credible mine sweeping capabilities but it would not be employed in waters around Taiwan if an air war is raging above. No mine sweeper of any kind would be able to operate in that environment; they all need air superiority. The LCS is actually a little better able to sweep mines in contested areas than an old fashion mine sweeper because of its speed and because it uses off-board vehicles including submerged ones. An LCS can race in-and-out to place and recover the off-board vehicles, etc. while watching out for submarines and a regular minesweepers would not be able to do this. But it will still be very risky. LCS will probably see duty in the outer island chain where air threats are more manageable.”
At the moment, the LCS is a very costly (for the capabilities) vessel with several technical issues. Whether these can be fixed and the intended capabilities delivered remains to be seen.
I hate to say it, but right now, it’s looking like the defense death spiral is working against it. If it can be salvaged, it might turn into a decent vessel. But again, whether that can deliver in terms of capabilities relative to the price tag >$400 million USD and counting is open to debate.
“War with China over Taiwan will be like war with the old Soviet Union in the Baltic would have been; Tough. Many ships will be lost. The smaller Taiwanese Corvettes and Patrol Boats provide effective deterrence and are better suited for these types of waters than larger ships are as long as they stay under the air umbrella from the island. ”
There will be high casualties for all parties involved.
It’s a difficult environment to operate in, even for the defending side.
But hence, my emphasis on trying to avoid it as much as possible.
I could talk a great deal about the LCS. Right now it is a far more capable warship than the Perry where towards the end of their life. The Perry first lost their missile capabilities including AA and Anti-Ship when its launcher ended up being broken more often than it was operational. So it was stripped of all its anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles. When the missiles went away on some (not all) they where replaced with a 25MM cannon. That then became its main gun because the Perry’s never had a deck gun. None.
It did have a few last ditch defense weapons. At the end you had a very lightly armed frigate who’s main weapon was its helicopters. The helicopters carried out the ASW and its anti-ship weapons (Penguin) but the ship itself was armed for point defense and then poorly at that. That is what the USA relied on for Frigate duty until the LCS came about.
Perry’s could not bee easily upgraded because of cost and because the ship could not add the weight of certain weapons with out shedding others to make space.
You never heard of a Perry having a mission bay, a rear hatch to deploy boats or off-board submersibles, or of it being capable of clearing mines like an LCS. And the LCS have a huge helicopter pad.
By comparison the LCS is better armed than the Perry’s and will be more so in the future. It needs a short range missile and that will probably be a navalized version of the Griffin. The Griffin has just been successfully tested on the Cyclone patrol boats and I believe the LCS is next.
They are still searching for a beyond the horizon missile for the LCS. They thought they where going to develop one jointly with the Army but the Army bailed out on the last minute. Bit it is just a matter of time.
And it will be more capable still very soon because development in anti-mine warfare is progressing nicely.
The key are the modules. They will prevent the LCS from going through what the Perry’s did as things where removed and others added weighted more. For all their problems modules will make these ships more capable through out their life-cycle than any Perry or for that matter any other similar ship.
“They do not innovate and make second rate copies of everything.”
I wouldn’t dismiss them so lightly, as United States and Russia started that way too. All major powers did, in fact…
“Chinese submarines are based on the Russians and so are their jet engines. Neither are as good as the Russian’s originals.”
That is true, but unless US have support from NATO (not a given) then US will not have avaliable any diesel-electric submarines with competent crews… considering how dangerous modern DE/AIP submarines are, such situation will likely result in US being unable to establish naval superiority.
“That and if this scenario by RAND where all F-18s, F-15s, F-16s, and A-10s are replaced by F-22s and F-35s (along with an inventory of drones), that’s going to be tough for the US and Taiwan.”
My scenario is not a duplicate of RAND one, it is based on the RAND scenario but RAND scenario has only F-22s participating in defense of Taiwan and is markedly different:
Click to access 2008_RAND_Pacific_View_Air_Combat_Briefing.pdf
“At the moment, the LCS is a very costly (for the capabilities) vessel with several technical issues. ”
It has many tactical issues such as insufficient crew for damage control, too short-ranged missiles to tackle modern ships, inadequate capability for defense against aircraft and submarines.
“Second, China’s strategy. Here I agree that they’re making some pretty big mistakes. They seem to be isolating themselves with their foreign policy right now.”
Their foreign policy seems to be subservient to domestic policy.
“There isn’t that capitalist vs communist sort of fight going on.”
No, both sides are extreme capitalist pigs…
The question is what could the Perry frigates do and what can the LCS do. By comparison the LCS is far more capable. A lot of the critics are disgruntled Navy officers that would like to see more Burkes. They do not really want more Frigates… they want more destroyers with what now seems to be a 2 billion to 3 billion dollar price tag and inability to operate in constrained waters.
And I am not discounting the Chinese submarines but certainly will not make them seem something that they are not. They are not on-par with European submarines or with Russians. Right now the USA can track Chinese submarines and their continuous development is contingent in not having any changes on their economy.
Non survivable comment by Admiral Perez has to be understood with in the context… Ships survivability when hit by a missile hit is always low. In a NATO exercise a Turkish frigate was hit by a SAM by mistake and the damage was so extensive that it had to be scrapped. The SAM is a relatively small missile compared to an big Harpoon. But its war head, the unspent fuel and the maze of electronics that are damaged in the ship all conspire for a total loss. Now imagine if that frigate had been hit by a real anti-ship missile? The only saving grace is that if the target is ready missiles are vulnerable to passive defenses and often miss. You typically need to fire several volleys.
That is why most vessels that seriously think they will need to use anti-ship missiles carry at least 4 and there is big problem… you are talking about adding 4 to 8 missiles to an LCS occupying deck and weight in the ship that is needed for other things that are more important. And those are missiles that it will likely never use. The Griffin, the Pinguins, they will be used.
LCS is going to be more survivable in the sense that it can defend itself from attacks that big ships can’t. It is designed to carry smaller missiles with smaller war heads and less range but that are very effective against fast moving boats. The helicopters can carry Pinguins and I am sure the Griffins will be added soon. The Griffin could have the potential of being used by the ship as well as the helicopters simplifying logistics. For surface action the LCS is a ship designed to face patrol boats, corvettes, etc. missile boats, swarm attacks, etc.
To give you a flavor for this sort of warfare… the Iranians have a submarine… it is less than 3000 ton. It operates in the Indian Ocean. It does not operate in the Gulf because waters there are too shallow… that is right, not deep enough. The USA recently had to break up and destroy a mine sweeper that got stuck in a Philippine water shallow. Not deep enough. The LCS with its water jets would probably have managed to pry itself loose. Regular warships can’t maneuver well when crossing into the Gulf waters… they are sitting ducks. The are escorted by Cyclone patrol vessels. The LCS would be able to power right in with out escort. Look at the 8 minute mark of this video to see how it turns… no other Navy ship can do this.
You can’t always believe the Navy critics. Most of the time they have an agenda.
“You can’t always believe the Navy critics. Most of the time they have an agenda.”
True. But are their criticisms about this platform necessarily inaccurate?
“They do not really want more Frigates… they want more destroyers with what now seems to be a 2 billion to 3 billion dollar price tag and inability to operate in constrained waters. ”
Perhaps so. I do not think that the critics are necessarily right about their ideals for procurement either.
“The question is what could the Perry frigates do and what can the LCS do. By comparison the LCS is far more capable. A lot of the critics are disgruntled Navy officers that would like to see more Burkes. They do not really want more Frigates… they want more destroyers with what now seems to be a 2 billion to 3 billion dollar price tag and inability to operate in constrained waters.”
What is needed in my opinion are light, fast attack craft, probably no more than a couple of hundred tons in displacement and some cheap corvettes, probably about 25-50% lighter than this vessel.
There are several issues I have with the LCS
1. Price, which is $500 million for the Freedom and $700 million for the Independence
Many of the modules are untested. At this point, if they were needed (and a quick module swap was needed), would they be ready in the event of action? Would they be swappable in a short time period? Would they function as advertised?
The capabilities delivered:
The ASUW has a pair of 30mm guns and a couple of shorter ranged Griffin missiles
There’s an anti-mine platform
There’s also an ASW platform
Permanently, there’s a 57mm gun IIRC, and a helipad, which can accommodate some drones and a helicopter or two. Reportedly though the helicopter is deficient in ASW capabilities. Finally, there’s an anti-missile system and some machine guns.
There’s some pretty serious technical issues that need to be worked out on both hulls. Cracks in one of the vessels for example. What will be the price after these are worked out? Will the advertised abilities get delivered?
For the money, you really have to ask, is this the best that can be done for the cost? This entire project was not intended to fight blue water navies, I get that, but for a “littoral” vessel, does it really need to be so big and costly?
“And I am not discounting the Chinese submarines but certainly will not make them seem something that they are not. They are not on-par with European submarines or with Russians. Right now the USA can track Chinese submarines and their continuous development is contingent in not having any changes on their economy.”
Submarine improvement is always a long costly process. It will be decades before the Chinese get anything near the abilities that the West has. That does not mean however, there is no potential for any Chinese submarine to do damage to Western naval assets.
Chris, the critics of the LCS take small issues and inflate them to the level of deal-breakers. The truth is that if you ask any sailor he will tell you that the first couple of years of any ship are full of problems. With the LCS the rusting was a design error; galvanic corrosion is well understood and should have been anticipated. There was a crack on another that was quickly repaired and was probably a construction deficiency. A problem with the power-plant that has not repeated since was taken care off, etc. Teething issues.
The helicopters (it carries two and a drone) are deadly ASW weapons. They did not have a problem with anti-submarine but with one of their anti-mines warfare module; an anti-mining sled that the helicopters pulled. Apparently the helicopter was not powerful enough to pull the sled or when it came to brake the mooring cables it could not generate enough force to shear them; that is being addressed. After a slow start the underwater anti-mine vehicles are showing a lot of progress. So things are moving a long on those two critical fronts.
You can’t make these ships into 200 ton patrol boats. Many reason including that a small boat can’t stay on station in rough seas and would not have enough endurance to participate in operations 3000 miles away from mainland. Another big reason is that besides its on board weapons the ship needs to be able to carry its off-board weapons and those will not fit in a small ship including its two helicopters and a their corresponding hangar. The helicopters will also be used for surface action since they are very effective against patrol crafts.
The above two articles should give you a flavor for the importance of helicopters in these type of warfare and how effective they are against small boats and patrol boats. Also for the importance of being able to clear mines with off-board vehicles instead of exposing the ship itself.
The LCS would have been able to accomplish many if not all of these tasks on those two operations instead of risking a billion, or two billion or maybe three billion dollars with a cruiser or a destroyer. and the LCS is built to do the boardings, deploy small boats and seal teams, has the right size weapons, etc.
You simply can’t do these things with tiny ships.
But cruisers and destroyers carry Aegis, 90-or-so LARGE missiles, do antisubmarine warfare, have two helicopters, etc. and are much more powerful and have 300-plus sailors instead of 50 or 60 sailors in an LCS so many Navy officers dream of commanding one. That is a big reason they are opposed to the LCS.
I am moving on to the next string that Picard posted this morning.
“Chris, the critics of the LCS take small issues and inflate them to the level of deal-breakers. The truth is that if you ask any sailor he will tell you that the first couple of years of any ship are full of problems. With the LCS the rusting was a design error; galvanic corrosion is well understood and should have been anticipated. There was a crack on another that was quickly repaired and was probably a construction deficiency. A problem with the power-plant that has not repeated since was taken care off, etc. Teething issues.”
The problem I have with this program (along with the F-35 and F-22) is that it’s not the typical issues that you get when you launch a new class of ship or in the case of the fighters, aircraft.
It’s that there seem to be more fundamental issues. The other is that the cost seems to be exploding, which is leading to a reduction in the number of orders. Earlier you said that this was an air force focused website and that things would be looked at from an aircraft perspective. The issue I have is that well, these programs seem to all be suffering from some very common problems:
Unrealistic or unspecific design expectations
In the case of the F-22, threat intended to counter arguably not in it’s original form and utility of fighter open to debate
In turn, this fuels declining orders
Contractors seem to be making a lot of money, not just from the order, but from fixing the many issues
Some capabilities are reduced (ex: the very rapid ability on the LCS to swap modules is now 15 days)
You mentioned that this ship would be the direct follow on to the Oliver Perry class. The question I have is, could a better ship be designed for the money? And the size of this vessel?
“You can’t make these ships into 200 ton patrol boats. Many reason including that a small boat can’t stay on station in rough seas and would not have enough endurance to participate in operations 3000 miles away from mainland. Another big reason is that besides its on board weapons the ship needs to be able to carry its off-board weapons and those will not fit in a small ship including its two helicopters and a their corresponding hangar. The helicopters will also be used for surface action since they are very effective against patrol crafts.”
200 ton? In theory, if there are rough seas, well, the enemy’s smaller craft (and a lot of non state actors have a lot of small, fast boats) will also be limited. But at the same time, with 200 ton boats, as a state actor, the ability to outnumber, to get a ton of firepower (in missiles) is very much in favor of the state actor.
The reason why I want numbers is because of the nature of ship to ship missiles. They miss. A lot. So you need a lot of missiles to be fired (Lancaster squared laws). That and for effective anti-mine work, you need to cover a lot of area. Assuming the LCS remains in excess of >$500 million USD a copy, it will be hard to buy more than a couple of dozen (which is the current plan).
Another possibility is perhaps a vessel in the 1,000 to 2,000 ton range. A corvette. Such a vessel would easily be able to carry comparable armament to the LCS (perhaps even outgunning it), at a fraction of the cost, although it won’t have the high burst speed potential. Yet another is to build something like the Russian Steregushchy class, which I would argue is the most comparable vessel to the LCS. It’s slower, but it’s better armed.
I do agree that helicopters right now are very extensively used on many navies’ warships. They are very useful for many functions as you’ve noted. They too have their own issues – rotary wing aircraft have always suffered from high maintenance to flight ratios. Sea planes might be a possible area for exploration here. We’ll have to wait and see whether the issues with the LCS helicopters and their ASW abilities are resolved.
“LCS is going to be more survivable in the sense that it can defend itself from attacks that big ships can’t.”
I must admit I fail to see why that is. It’s smaller sure (and that’s always a plus), but what capabilities does it have that say, a corvette or frigate in another navy (any navy in the world) does not offer?
“I personally believe that we might be witnessing something close to China’s high water mark for its foreseeable future. The problem with maintaining competitiveness with out significant innovation rests on the sacrifice made by large swats of its society and it leads to instability.”
Regarding the Chinese, it’s really hard to say how they’ll end up. They’ve got their challenges, social, political, and environmental, along with a government that is corrupt. At the moment though, the Chinese economy is growing and it’s projected that they’ll exceed the US and EU GDP in the next 10 years.
I think though there’s a high probability that the long term results will be like that of Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan. That means that in a couple of decades, more high tech exports are going to be produced from China. It’s also possible that China may even exceed the West in certain areas if that happens.
“FLX or FLX-like design would be the first time that a truly revolutionary design appeared since the Me-262. Such thing unfortunately is not likely to happen as long as Western fighters keep being designed by engineers, technologists and generals, as opposed to pilots and historians.”
I resent that affirmation. While I love history, I’m an engineer and I dreamed of designing something like FLX long before I read your articles. My design was an advanced trainer with a secondary mission of point defence instead of light attack. I designed something with a lower empty weight then FLX (I assumed heavy use of composites because I was thinking of a forward swept wing with close coupled canards) a non afterburning turbofan or two turbojets and slightly less speed at supercruise. Payload was supposed to be somewhere bellow 1000 kg which would have allowed for 6 missiles and gun ammunition.
Unfortunately the generals and admirals in my country are not only not interested in locally designed and produced next generation advanced trainers, they are not even interested in buying anything that is not second hand and at least 30 years old (aircraft, SAMs, SPAAGs, ships etc). So my design will probably remain a dream for the foreseeable future.
“I resent that affirmation. While I love history, I’m an engineer and I dreamed of designing something like FLX long before I read your articles.”
I wasn’t talking about jobs in that sentence, but about mindsets. That being said, I see that I have included “technologists” in a sentence so it’s kinda department of redundancy department type of statement.
Which country is that?
It is going to be tough.
What is going to be though?
Because it is a crowded field and Rumania is a small country and everything that has to do with military aircrafts is so expensive and there seems to be so much competition. And those for whom the low end aircrafts are designed for sometimes seem unable to afford them.
Before you dive into this the first thing you need to understand is how these ships will work together. The first are the afloat forward staging bases. These are floating bases that will support a number of smaller ships. They are already being built. See links.
They are like little islands that will support “street-fighter” type ships. See link below for examples of what the Navy has been doing with the smaller ships.
And the LCS blend themselves into that mix as an in-between size type.
All of the above will be fighting in the Littoral environment. The Ponce which is a 40 year old hull that used to be an amphibious assault ship has served as an experimental ship for this concept.
The Catamaran are in use ferrying troops and working in mine warfare. They are also experimental, commercial type hulls. The future in this type of warfare will be the off board vehicles. They are developed enough that one can see their potential right now.
The carriers will serve as an overarching defense from afar.
No, I do not think the LCS are too expensive because for one we will see those prices drop to about $400 million and two they where subject to many changes on the go that spiked their price up.
No, Frigates can’t do this sort of work. Neither can larger ships.
The LCS is one of the most important links in the above chain.
“Weapons and systems should be defined first, then ships designed around that”
First thing that should be defined is role, only then systems can be chosen.
“I suspect that the only good thing that the F-22 and F-35 will do is cause the Chinese to spend resources on stealth fruitlessly. Similar story with the Russians. Or perhaps not … there is speculation that the T-50 is only somewhat “stealthy” apparently – and a good dogfighter. It’s possible that the Chinese may do something similar.”
It is true with regards to China, J-20 and J-31 are bombers and strike aircraft, they’re not air superiority fighters – basically, F-35 equivalents.
“Without any formal specs though, we cannot say. Need wing loadings, thrust to weight, fuel fraction, etc before making a guess.”
True, though aerodynamic configuration can provide a fairly good indication of performance.
“First thing that should be defined is role, only then systems can be chosen.”
Agreed. I presumed that the role had already been defined.
“It is true with regards to China, J-20 and J-31 are bombers and strike aircraft, they’re not air superiority fighters – basically, F-35 equivalents.”
I’m not surprised. I suspect that these strike planes will not be procured in large quantities either.
Check this out:
“It didn’t take Sweetman long to decide that the J-20 ‘looks like a stealth F-111,”
I am going to add a link to a recent news about the Gripen. I was not aware that it shared the same engine as the F-18.
Brazil was looking at buying Rafale under the prior president but according to the article it switched to F-18 and Gripens because of financial pressures. It quotes the prices and operating cost as follows,
F-18 $55 millions / $11,000 per hour
Gripen F $45 million / $4,700 per hour
It finally settled on the Gripen which will be a lot less expensive to operate.
A few questions:
What made you opt for the 27mm and not the 30mm GIAT gun?
On the other side of the scale, a “stoner” could be made, a 12.7mm gun with perhaps >1300 m/s firing tungsten rounds. This I think was suggested originally by Boyd and Sprey, although they recommended DU at the time.
Another idea on the camouflage. Have you considered painting a picture of the cockpit underneath the plane? Apparently that is often done on Russian aircraft in an attempt to confuse people. Combine this with a dazzle camouflage and it should be confusing. I think that the “dazzle” should be painted in a sort of a bluish grey color (namely the same color as the sky). I’ve always had reservations about dark green camouflage – especially in the case of the US in Iraq, what were they thinking painting their aircraft dark green in a desert?
Anyways here’s an example of a Russian aircraft painted in blue:
A final issue to address is the pilot training. History shows that with attrition, you tend to run out of good pilots (and I emphasize the “good pilots”) before you run out of aircraft to fly. A system needs to be devised to allow veteran pilots to train newer pilots and to take their front line experience and use that to teach new pilots.
“What made you opt for the 27mm and not the 30mm GIAT gun?”
More ammo for same weight. I did think about using GIAT, but considering that my fighter is smaller than Gripen…
“This I think was suggested originally by Boyd and Sprey, although they recommended DU at the time.”
It was, it is in one of documents I linked to on the site.
“Have you considered painting a picture of the cockpit underneath the plane?”
If I recall it correctly, I did do it in one of dazzle camouflage designs.
“History shows that with attrition, you tend to run out of good pilots (and I emphasize the “good pilots”) before you run out of aircraft to fly.”
To be fair, last time that happened was World War II, when average great power could produce thousand or so fighters per month.
“A system needs to be devised to allow veteran pilots to train newer pilots and to take their front line experience and use that to teach new pilots.”
Like the F-16 did (if only temporarily), this has the potential to reverse the declines. The only other designs I’ve seen that are also worth looking at are:
A modernized, but smaller and lighter version of the F-5 with an enlarged wing.
A modernized version of what the YF-16 should have been. Additional weight savings may be possible here as well.
Apparently the latest F-16V will weight 2.5 tons more than the F-16A. Not quite the plane that Boyd would have wanted.
“If I recall it correctly, I did do it in one of dazzle camouflage designs.”
It does not appear that way, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not a big deal.
“To be fair, last time that happened was World War II, when average great power could produce thousand or so fighters per month.”
If it comes down to a major conflict, I think that there will some serious flaws in the current training system exposed. Most air forces aren’t set up to produce good pilots in large quantities. This is mostly because the of the careerism endemic in most armies, but the high cost is also a major factor for training and there seems to be a trend of increasing dependence on simulators.
“To be fair, last time that happened was World War II, when average great power could produce thousand or so fighters per month.”
If a war breaks out between 2 “great powers” and it becomes a prolonged conflict then attrition could be a deciding factor.
“Not quite the plane that Boyd would have wanted.”
Definetly not the plane that Boyd would have wanted. He didn’t even like the F-16A.
“but the high cost is also a major factor for training and there seems to be a trend of increasing dependence on simulators.”
And this is where the greatest danger of overly complex fighters lies. Simulatos aren’t enough.
“If a war breaks out between 2 “great powers” and it becomes a prolonged conflict then attrition could be a deciding factor.”
“Definetly not the plane that Boyd would have wanted. He didn’t even like the F-16A.”
It’s the direction things are going. Unfortunately.
I mean passive sensors are needed, as are countermeasures, and some IR missiles, but beyond that, most of the aircraft have a lot of well, electronics that are not needed. I think I once read that 40-60% of a cost of an airplane is now in the electronics. Exception to that rule are the planes like the F-22, whose stealth coating is probably half the cost of the plane.
“And this is where the greatest danger of overly complex fighters lies. Simulatos aren’t enough.”
52% simulators for the F-35, so I guess the real costs to fly the F-35 are higher than the services are willing to admit.
I mean right now, the US is mostly facing small nations with poorly trained air forces. Iraq is an example.
Against a semi-well trained air force, we’ll have a repeat of Vietnam (North Vietnamese pilots were not very well trained)
Against a competent foe, things will turn out very badly
chris and picard, do you realize that the USA has no anti-ship shore batteries? No need for them since their forward defenses are right there on China’s doorsteps. With this sort of posture where will an aircraft with limited range be used? There is no place in the Pacific that they could use it. That is not to say that some of their allies can but not them.
Here again how would the enemy reach USA bases with out using missiles? If they try to use aircrafts would the USA use air superiority types or would they try to stop them half way there? Would the attack aircrafts arrive with any fighter escorts? If the fight takes place at night how will visual range aircrafts fight?
I think conceptually you need to refine the reasons for your complains about the F-35 or the F-22. Simply saying that they will underperform with in visual range against dissimilar aircrafts might be apples to oranges.
By the way, you also forget all the Cold War legacy F-16 and F-15 will still be flying alongside the two new aircrafts and would perform in other roles. The only aircraft that there is “talk” of retiring is the A-10 and we will see about that since the Army has a vote too.
So in my mind both of you need to think through where such an aircraft that you advocate will be used. A small country with what type of neighbors, etc. Or a larger country doing what?
“With this sort of posture where will an aircraft with limited range be used?”
FLX has greater combat radius than just about any other fighter flying. Its supersonic combat radius is greater than Gripen C’s subsonic radius.
“Here again how would the enemy reach USA bases with out using missiles?”
ANd what about missiles? Air strips get blown up or covered with submunitions – viola! USAF rendered impotent.
“If the fight takes place at night how will visual range aircrafts fight?”
FLX is not a visual-range aircraft. It is more than capable of blowing up enemies before they detect it, even during day.
“Simply saying that they will underperform with in visual range against dissimilar aircrafts might be apples to oranges.”
They will underperform at both within visual range (maneuverability issues) and beyond visual range (no ability to passively engage passive opponent) combat. Surprise was always most important in winning battles, especially at beyond visual range. But if you lit up opponent with radar, how are you expecting to gain surprise?
“By the way, you also forget all the Cold War legacy F-16 and F-15 will still be flying alongside the two new aircrafts and would perform in other roles.”
For how long?
“So in my mind both of you need to think through where such an aircraft that you advocate will be used. A small country with what type of neighbors, etc. Or a larger country doing what?”
It is designed to be used by all NATO countries.
“I think I once read that 40-60% of a cost of an airplane is now in the electronics.”
Modern fighters are more of corporate welfare projects than actual weapons.
A few other things I wanted to bring up:
Will the aircraft be all aluminum-lithium? By that I mean, how much composites (percentage wise in the body) are you planning to use? Also, how much titanium and nickel will be used (if any)?
The inlet – will it be a fixed inlet design or a movable inlet design?
Only other thing – I suppose you are going to try to minimize the number of joints and rivets for structural strength?
I envisaged a standard composite airframe (composition similar to Dassault Rafale), aluminum-lithium was brought up by a pilot who helped me calculate weight (and few other things).
Inlets are fixed, only things movable are FOD doors.
““By the way, you also forget all the Cold War legacy F-16 and F-15 will still be flying alongside the two new aircrafts and would perform in other roles.”
“For how long?”
To be fair, F-16 and F-15 will likely need to remain in service simply due to the excessive cost of the F-22 and F-35. No way are they getting replaced at a 1 to 1 ratio with the newer planes.
There’s already talk of extending the lines for the F-15, there’s the F-16V, which we discussed gained 2.5 tons over the F-16A.
Anyways, early specs are likely to be in excess of 10,000 kg (F-16E block 60 weights about ~9,980kg empty). Compare this to the YF-16 which weighs 6,170 kg empty.
There’s also the F-15 Silent Eagle, which Boeing has been trying to market. Apart from these designs, I think that by necessity, the current USAF inventory (and likely the USN’s F-18s) will need to get lifespan upgrades for their airframes.
“It is designed to be used by all NATO countries.”
The political climate prevents this from happening.
Ironically it will likely be used by a medium sized nation more likely than anything. There have been quite a few “fan” projects I’ve noted here in Canada as well. Apparently, a lot of Canadians don’t like the F-35, which is why LM is trying so hard to win us with good PR. Anyways, it’s become an official embarrassment for the Conservative government here.
Interesting article to read:
The Canadian government’s procurement system is pretty broken but it would seem as though it’s not as bad as the US one?
“1. I envisaged a standard composite airframe (composition similar to Dassault Rafale), aluminum-lithium was brought up by a pilot who helped me calculate weight (and few other things).”
Here’s a layout of the Dassault Rafale:
Go to post #2124
“ANd what about missiles? Air strips get blown up or covered with submunitions – viola! USAF rendered impotent.”
In the China-war scenario, you have to remember that China has a lot of underground bunkers. The US airbase at Kadena will be saturated with missiles from mainland China. Many of these will miss their targets, but only a few of them need to hit to crater the runway and to damage the airfield enough to be unusable. Imo, the US should move all major assets back to Guam.
Now the big issue is that American fighters are short legged. That means they’ll be reliant on refuelling tankers, which are vulnerable.
“They will underperform at both within visual range (maneuverability issues) and beyond visual range (no ability to passively engage passive opponent) combat. Surprise was always most important in winning battles, especially at beyond visual range. But if you lit up opponent with radar, how are you expecting to gain surprise?”
Pretty much this.
– F22 has the 20mm Vulcan which has a long spinup time. That and it’s behind stealth doors. Plus the specs indicate that it’s not so great a dogfighter.
F35 is pretty hopeless in WVR combat. And I mean HOPELESS. High wing loading, and low thrust to weight ratio. No rear visibility either.
Eurocanards though should be decent though in WVR combat.
“The political climate prevents this from happening.”
“Now the big issue is that American fighters are short legged. That means they’ll be reliant on refuelling tankers, which are vulnerable.”
Yes it’s quite an embarassment that my 4-ton fighter has greater combat radius than F-22.
“- Eurocanards though should be decent though in WVR combat.”
Especially Rafale and Gripen.
I still remember a time whn only a couple of aircrafts where able to perform in all weather and at night. When the F-111 and the A-6 came about they where a game changers. It seems to me that you guys are glidding into a romantic past instead of a balanced look of the present. While the F-22/F-35 might have many faults including its price such one-sided view of the aircrafts seems a little too much in particular given the endorsements that it has received from several countries.
That Korean aircraft / trainer we just spoked about. If all one needed was basic then that one would be more than enough. It is moderatelty priced and would fit the bill. If that was all that was needed…
” While the F-22/F-35 might have many faults including its price such one-sided view of the aircrafts seems a little too much in particular given the endorsements that it has received from several countries.”
F-22 is good air superiority fighter but it is too expensive and too hard to maintain to be useful in a war. F-35 gets exports due to US political clout and effectiveness of propaganda touting it as F-22/F-16 mix, other than that it is piece of crap.
I don’t think you quite understand what Picard is saying, nor the purpose of his blog. He (and I) are not against technology. We’re against weapons and systems that don’t work, that are not cost effective, and a corrupt political system that enables this to happen.
If a new technology rendered existing technologies obsolete, we’d embrace it provided it was reliable, cost-effective, and represented a legitimate upgrade over existing technologies.
Case in point:
“When the F-111 and the A-6 came about they where a game changers. It seems to me that you guys are glidding into a romantic past instead of a balanced look of the present.”
The F-111. When it first arrived, it was dictated by McNamara to be the bomber, strike craft, air superiority fighter, and EW warplane, all-in-one. In many ways, it emulates the TFX emulates the current JSF issues. It was suffered from numerous cost overruns. It was overweight, so much that it could not land on a carrier and this led to the USN’s VFX program which in turn led to the F-14. The F-111 suffered from a lot of structural problems. There were multiple crashes, not due to enemy fire, but due to the problems encountered on these aircraft. There were also issues with the TF-30s that powered the F-111 aircraft, which in turn affected the F-14 (later F-14s got a new engine).
Although many of these issues throughout were addressed and the aircraft was eventually turned into an acceptable bomber (and the EF-111 an acceptable EW warfare aircraft), it was only through great expense, and unneeded loss of life. It’s also worth noting that the plane never made good on it’s multirole promises. It was too heavy to be a fighter and too heavy to land on a carrier. There were also reliability issues that were never truly addressed lasting up until the retirement of the aircraft.
“While the F-22/F-35 might have many faults including its price such one-sided view of the aircrafts seems a little too much in particular given the endorsements that it has received from several countries.”
The problem is opportunity cost.
Is an F-35 a better aircraft than the alternatives? At say, 3 times the cost of other aircraft to buy (and likely to operate)? Because if 3 aircraft of the leading competitor (and likely 4 or 5 for the Gripen) can do more things (ex: perform more sorties) than the F-35, then it’s cost effectiveness is negative.
If 100 JSFs cannot defeat 300 of the leading competitor, than the JSF is again less effective, at least at the air superiority mission. If 100 JSFs cannot do what x number of the leading competitors cannot do then again for ground CAS, the JSF is inferior at that mission too.
That’s the point – getting the most “plane” for the money, because money is a finite resource.
The F-111 and the B-1 where made obsolete by Soviet advances in look-down radar. The A-6 was made obsolete by the demise of the Soviet Union and the arrival of the F/A-18.
But the F-111 was capable of bombing Libya from England. The A-6 participated on that raid on Libya too. And of course the A-6 worked in Vietnam in all sorts of poor tropical weather. What other aircraft could do this at the time?
The F-22 and the F-35 are not battle tested so we are all speculating about their worth (both the negative and positive aspects of it). It could be that a technical advance will make them less useful than they are projected but right now we are seeing people that have tough neighbors looking at the F-35. You can’t compare the level of risk the South Koreans live in with the Swiss’. So I think they must bring to the table an advantage. And also remember they will not fly alone… there will be F-16 and F15 around.
“But the F-111 was capable of bombing Libya from England. The A-6 participated on that raid on Libya too. And of course the A-6 worked in Vietnam in all sorts of poor tropical weather. What other aircraft could do this at the time?”
The thing is, it can work, yes, but is the F-111 the best possible aircraft for this job? The most cost effective? For ground attack on Libya? Would a jet powered long range CAS work better for this type of job?
And I’m not talking about what the USAF had in it’s inventory. I’m talking about the aircraft that should have been built based on the lessons of Vietnam. Projects like the Blitz fighter.
“The F-22 and the F-35 are not battle tested so we are all speculating about their worth (both the negative and positive aspects of it).”
I’d argue that based on their technical specs we can get a reasonable idea:
For example, we can get a reasonable idea of the operating range of an aircraft by looking at the fuel fraction and air frame design. Sometimes not accurate (ex: some F-15s were known to keep afterburners on to prevent flameouts, which shortened the range).
We can get a reasonable idea of how maneuverable a fighter is by looking at wing loading at combat/clean, looking at thrust to weight on take-off with combat/at pre-dogfight, and so on.
I’m the first to argue that pilot exceeds any technical specs in outcomes, but based purely on technical specs, we can get a good idea. Remember where I said the F-35 was hopeless. I meant that – no matter what radar stealth capabilities it had (and it’s physically not possible to make a fighter that is both invisible to the lower frequency ground radars and higher frequency fighter radars), if it gets detected (or finds itself in a situation where it has fired all of its missiles and is attacked), it’s in serious trouble.
“You can’t compare the level of risk the South Koreans live in with the Swiss’. So I think they must bring to the table an advantage.”
The question then becomes – who are your enemies?
Against the North Koreans, I fail to see how stealth aircraft brings anything to the table. Something like the A-10 or Picard’s CAS airplane brings far more on the table in terms of air capabilities.
Japan too is a political rival of South Korea and the Koreans hate them for the wrongdoings that they suffered under Japanese occupation. I’m not sure that the F-35 is the best choice for a war against Japan (short ranged fighter that will struggle to make it across the Korea Strait and back), plus it may not survive the IADS that Japan would implement.
China too is a long term geopolitical rival of South Korea. They have historically been rivals too. Again, the value of a short-legged fighter is in serious question as any attack on China would have to cross the Yellow Sea.
Against either China or Japan, a fighter with much longer range (ex: more aerodynamic, much higher fuel fraction) has more to offer. Pretty much the only thing the F-35 offers is the political warmth of the US.
“ex: some F-15s were known to keep afterburners on to prevent flameouts, which shortened the range”
It were F-15As and it was done in combat. I don’t know wether newer F-15s have that problem, probably not.
“We can get a reasonable idea of how maneuverable a fighter is by looking at wing loading at combat/clean, looking at thrust to weight on take-off with combat/at pre-dogfight, and so on.”
More or less yes, but aerodynamics still play a large role. F-15C and Rafale C have similar wing loading at combat weight, but Rafale has far better instantaneous turn rate. Why? It has better aerodynamics, plus it is smaller and lighter.
“It were F-15As and it was done in combat. I don’t know wether newer F-15s have that problem, probably not.”
Yes. But in a dogfight that could consume much higher fuel than the paper specs would otherwise suggest.
I do not believe it is still done. Older F-15s had F100-PW-100. The newer F100-PW-220 has since replaced it. While in service, the TF-30 engines on the F-14 also gave the fighter some serious issues. General Electric F110-GE-400 replaced it and the issues went away.
“More or less yes, but aerodynamics still play a large role. F-15C and Rafale C have similar wing loading at combat weight, but Rafale has far better instantaneous turn rate. Why? It has better aerodynamics, plus it is smaller and lighter.”
Agree. Close coupled canards, leading edge, and a few other things all make for a better fighter overall on the Rafale.
“Agree. Close coupled canards, leading edge, and a few other things all make for a better fighter overall on the Rafale.”
Canards, LERX, wing-body blending, aerodynamic instability…
F-111 and the A-6 best aircrafts? No… that is an ideal. But for the time they where built, for the purpose of getting behind enemy defenses which required you to fly low and in all weather because if you did not then they would ALWAYS attack you in bad weather then for that yes… they where the best we could built for the money, technology and what management the airforce had at the time. They where not close air support aircrafts because they where designed for interdiction. They worked well for a long time and kept doing their job in environments where no others could.
If you want to see how a light close attack aircraft of those days looked like see this one…
Technological advances coupled with the demise of the Soviet Union brought a water shed of changes with well armed rogue states that used to be under Soviet thumb all of a sudden becoming independently minded and aggressive. Those two factors AND the cruise missile changed things a lot… the B52 was back.
With regards to close air support you need to separate the task of placing a position under direct fire with the task of bombing in general.
Bombing something that has a large footprint or hitting a group of moving armor or vehicles will not be the challenge for any bomber including the F-35. When people are concealed or entrenched and in small groups or protected areas you need direct fire into that position. For example having a group of Marines pinned down by an enemy in concealment or hiding among civilians and needing an attack aircraft or helicopter to dislodge them. When I read about the Marines it is the latter what worries them because there are no solutions to this IF the enemy has missiles.
If enemy has MANPADS, helicopters are unsurvivable. With high-altitude aircraft being impotent, A-10-type solution is the only possible.
“Against the North Koreans, I fail to see how stealth aircraft brings anything to the table. Something like the A-10 or Picard’s CAS airplane brings far more on the table in terms of air capabilities.” – The F-35 brings deterrence. That even if there are tensions and they are ready this aircraft can still get through and bomb critical targets such as ballistic missile sites. Taiwan, S. Korea and Japan are all very clear about this.
I am going to say something about aircraft performance. In the Falklands the Harriers’ victories in the air where archived against mostly aircrafts loaded with bombs. Any “limited” attack by China to anyone will require bombers too placing them at a similar disadvantage.
In during WW2 Chinese aircrafts that where not very maneuverable where able to best Zeros in air combat. So clearly many of these postulates that are made about maneuverability are in a way like those “exercises” that take place in Alaska… they are idealized.
In real combat those bombers will come in at night, no visibility. And given the range of land and airborne radars today they will have to do something about that… stealth?
So the picture is not as clean as you think.
“That even if there are tensions and they are ready this aircraft can still get through and bomb critical targets such as ballistic missile sites.”
Nothing a far cheaper Growler can’t do.
“So clearly many of these postulates that are made about maneuverability are in a way like those “exercises” that take place in Alaska… they are idealized.”
No aircraft is invulnerable, Me-262 with IR missiles can shoot down F-22, it comes down to pilot quality and luck.
“And given the range of land and airborne radars today they will have to do something about that… stealth?”
Stealth doesn’t work against over the horizon and VHF radars.
‘In real combat those bombers will come in at night, no visibility. And given the range of land and airborne radars today they will have to do something about that… stealth?”
Stealth is not effective versus the lower frequency ground based radars. It works against the higher frequency fighter radars (at least in the forward quarter anyways), but not versus the ground based ones. It’s also not very effective versus IR sensors.
Historically, ground based radars have been able to coordinate effectively with fighters to intercept bomber raids. And in the event of war, the last thing that the Koreans (or the US) should be doing is to try to win by strategic bombing China. Such a move would unify support for the CCP, just like the Blitz did for the British.
“I am going to say something about aircraft performance. In the Falklands the Harriers’ victories in the air where archived against mostly aircrafts loaded with bombs. Any “limited” attack by China to anyone will require bombers too placing them at a similar disadvantage. ”
Truth be told, neither side should be strategically bombing each other.
“So clearly many of these postulates that are made about maneuverability are in a way like those “exercises” that take place in Alaska… they are idealized.”
I will be the first to admit that exercises cannot tell everything. In fact that’s why we should have exercises as realistic as possible. That’s something that the US has been repeatedly unwilling to do in many cases because well, it may make the weapons they want supported (namely the weapons that make contractors a lot of money and get generals a cushy job after retirement) end up not living up to their promises.
But if we do not have exercises, what do we have? Lockheed Martin’s marketing materials?
I said earlier that we can estimate the capabilities of the fighters by looking at their technical specifications, albeit pilot skill is by far the most important thing. The other way is through exercises, provided that they are realistic.
One thing I would very much like to see is squad on squad exercises with realistic settings of fighter groups of equivalent cost.
Truth be told, neither side should be strategically bombing each other.
By that I mean, neither side should be attacking each other’s cities. That will only rally support for the opponent and put the moral warfare struggle on the target’s side.
The only real use I see is destroying air fields, but missiles probably do that more effectively.
Picard compared the A-10 to the F-111 and the A-6. Those are incomparable. The A-10 has a very short range compared to the latter two as well as having different uses.
Then this post seems to indicate that major countries will lob nukes at each other or take out their airfields just like that.
Chris, I do not know where to start but fighting is not likely to take place like that. It will be a series of skirmished or small time invasions of Islands creating tensions and leading to small scale wars. Deterrence will be important as well as the ability to keep them out of your sovereign space if they encroach into it.
Then costs are misleading too. The A-10 cost $12 million in the 1970’s but with inflation you can expect that same aircraft to cost say $30 million plus today. Any small prop light-attack plane costs $6 million. If the F-35 comes in at $70 million like some say it will look good.
“Then this post seems to indicate that major countries will lob nukes at each other or take out their airfields just like that. ”
Taking out airfields immediately would be a very prudent course of action for both sides to do, particularly for the Chinese. Remembering American weak points from here.
Ok, let’s expand from your statement about Korea to a dispute between the US and China. To begin with, many of the nations that the US has allied with may opt to remain neutral in the event of a war (and this is assuming that a war even happens, which I hope it does not).
Also, remember, that it’s been suggested that by 2025, China’s GDP may exceed that of the US. Now I will be the first to acknowledge the flaws of GDP (more of a measure of activity than real wealth), but at the same time, there’s no denying that China has been getting wealthier. There are some signs that there may be a slowdown coming, but it’s only a matter of time before China (and in the long run likely India) overtake the US in economic power. This is simply population at work here.
“Picard compared the A-10 to the F-111 and the A-6. Those are incomparable. The A-10 has a very short range compared to the latter two as well as having different uses. ”
To be expected. The F-111 is a bomber. It must operate far behind front lines. By nature, CAS must operate near front lines to be effective. Actually, an interesting note, a high fuel fraction is highly desirable for a CAS aircraft (loiter time).
In 1973, the F-111F cost $10.3 million. In 1994, the A-10 cost $11.8 million.
Given this cost disparity and the performances of the aircraft, I think it would be reasonable to conclude that the A-10 was a far more cost effective aircraft.
For example take this quote:
Although obvious, it may be worth recalling that, in terms of total
program unit costs, a single F-117 costs about as much as about 9
A-10s; a single F-111F equals 3 F-16s with LANTIRN pods. “
Couple of comments… the F-4 used to cost $2.5 million each in mid 1965 so just 8 years latter this F-111 was 4X more expensive.
I believe you miss the point… today’s cost of developing, building the production line and then the production run would make that F-111 cost maybe $50 million or more even with the obsolete technology that it had when these costs where calculated. With up-grades who knows what it would cost. The F-111 as well as the Panavia Tornado are unique aircrafts that had the ability to carry out deep interdiction and disruption of follow up the echelons of a fast moving attack keeping the front lines from being reinforced and making up their losses. We are not planning to fight a battle in deep any longer because there is not Soviet Union and no Warsaw Pact but at the time these aircrafts where conceived and for that threat they where meant to address the aircraft provided a solution to how a smaller force could defeat a larger one.
The Navy at the time was already operating aircrafts that where at the limit of weight that aircraft carriers could handle and the F-111 was even heavier plus I believe it might have been slightly underpowered for carrier operations. They went their separate way with the F-14 that was slightly less heavy and had more power.
One thing that bugs me with the US Defense is their lack of interest in weapons to perform sundry missions. One thing is to think about national survival missions which while VITAL is not LIKELY but another one is to ignore all other missions. The likely confrontations in our future will not be a matter of national survival but rather constabulary type operations keeping law-and-order. Things that Marines and light airborne troops will be involved in and those are being neglected. No one pays attention to them even though they themselves (the Marines for sure) know they will be called to action in just such environments and they wished someone was listening to their needs.
US defense procurement is designed to keep money flowing into the MICC. That is where all problems originate from.
There is a lot of pork in all political spending and defense is not an exception.
Plus the defense establishment has to be keep economically viable in order to guarantee its survival so you must spend to make sure they are there tomorrow. Here I do not mean to endorse the thought that waste and unnecessary spending in defense are not a problem and that the F-35/F-22 by extension do not share some of those problems but rather face the reality that those types of manufactures are perishable skills that will be lost if not used. That is why the government supplies those industries with predictable income.
I also think that besides the corporate welfare that you describe the services have an infatuation with technology that cripples the every day needs of the military… so things that are high technology but that will not likely be used get a lot of money and things that we will likely need but are low tech are starved, i.e., the A-10.
Not every war is a war of national survival.
“but rather face the reality that those types of manufactures are perishable skills that will be lost if not used.”
That is true, but it doesn’t mean there can’t be some design discipline. Dassault and Saab are best examples, I can only recall one less than excellent design for each.
“I also think that besides the corporate welfare that you describe the services have an infatuation with technology that cripples the every day needs of the military… so things that are high technology but that will not likely be used get a lot of money and things that we will likely need but are low tech are starved, i.e., the A-10.”
“The A-10 has a very short range compared to the latter two as well as having different uses.”
Yes, but contrary to what USAF wants you to think, neither of these two can replace the A-10.
“Then this post seems to indicate that major countries will lob nukes at each other or take out their airfields just like that.”
You can take out air fields without using nukes…
“Then costs are misleading too.”
A-10s unit flyaway cost is 16 million USD, adjusted for inflation. F-35 will come at above 150 million USD.
I have seen video of the airforce’s generals testimony to congress saying exactly what you said… the F-35 can’t do all that the A-10 does and will not be as good a close support aircraft as the A-10 is now.
Here we have pentagon double speak… the AF does not like what in their mind is the distraction this plane brings to the service, they do not like to allocate for it in their budget either but they do not want the Army taking over that role and bumping them out of all tactical work.
I believe the Army has a vote and they will force the AF to keep the A-10 or threaten to lobby congress to allow them to operate aircrafts.
Also, the cost figures that you quote for the A-10 are 1970’s vintage. The A-7 which was a very decent aircraft fir the 1960s cost just less than $3 million back then and the A-10 in the 1970s was $12 million aprox. For comparison I believe the minimum wage was $1.25/hour in the 1960s and $2.10 in the 1970s. Today’s minimum wage is $7.25 and about to bumped up to $10.
By the way, the USA minimum wage is a conservative indicator of cost increases because it has never kept up with inflation.
It is not realistic to think that we can built aircrafts for those prices any longer. A new close support aircraft that similar to the A-10 in functionality will be 3X more expensive than it was when the A-10 was first built.
Having said all this I do think that the F-35 will find a place. The $150 million dollar price tag is very high and if true it will be a problem but we are still waiting to see over what number of aircrafts will the fix costs be amortized.
“I believe the Army has a vote and they will force the AF to keep the A-10 or threaten to lobby congress to allow them to operate aircrafts.”
That is exactly what has happened every time USAF tried to kill the A-10 before, since it is well known in the Army that neither F-15E or F-16 can do CAS. Now USAF is trying to convince people that F-35 can do CAS, in hope that it will be able to retire A-10s for good before lie is discovered.
“Having said all this I do think that the F-35 will find a place.”
It will, but in a fairly useless set of missions (bombing kindergartens and embassies from 10 kilometers up, for example).
And 150 million USD is unit flyaway…
“Here we have pentagon double speak… the AF does not like what in their mind is the distraction this plane brings to the service, they do not like to allocate for it in their budget either but they do not want the Army taking over that role and bumping them out of all tactical work.”
Victory through air power alone has always been the core of the USAF’s DNA and indeed the make-up of most air forces around the world. To that end, it’s part of their culture to hate aircraft like the A-10 and what the YF-16 would have become. They hate the A-10 because it makes them feel subordinate to the Army and because as an effective, cheap, easy to operate fighter, it doesn’t increase their share of the budget.
“Now USAF is trying to convince people that F-35 can do CAS, in hope that it will be able to retire A-10s for good before lie is discovered.”
Hopefully there will be a couple of hundred still in the boneyard. The other issue though isn’t the planes – it’s the people. Once the A-10 is gone, the skills of CAS pilots will atrophy. There isn’t going to be a culture of FAC-CAS-Ground Force cooperation.
“Having said all this I do think that the F-35 will find a place.”
It will, but in a fairly useless set of missions (bombing kindergartens and embassies from 10 kilometers up, for example).”
For the MICC, that is not useless. It gets civilians killed, which gets more anti-American sentiment, which in turn means more money for the MICC. Similar story with drones.
“Once the A-10 is gone, the skills of CAS pilots will atrophy.”
That indeed is the main problem.
“For the MICC, that is not useless. It gets civilians killed, which gets more anti-American sentiment, which in turn means more money for the MICC. Similar story with drones.”
Yes, but when it comes time when they have to win the war…
“Once the A-10 is gone, the skills of CAS pilots will atrophy.”
That indeed is the main problem.”
Let us consider the implications of this. It means that when there is a need for future CAS:
They will only have bombers (B1, B2, the F-35), multi-role fighters (like the aging F-16s and F-15Es), and attack helicopters to call on.
These are ill suited for CAS (can’t go in the weeds low and slow, thin skin, no loiter, etc)
Worse, the pilots are not trained for CAS, and the culture of ground force-air force collaboration isn’t there
Once they learn they (hard way) and that’s if they learn as, it would seem that in Iraq and Afghanistan, all of the lessons of Vietnam and Korea were unconscionably forgotten, they will have to start from scratch
Many unnecessary casualties will occur
A competent enemy who has CAS (although granted not many use CAS today) could inflict a lot of damage
“Yes, but when it comes time when they have to win the war…”
For the MICC, peace is ruinous. Options are to:
Develop effective policy (that’s more important than weapons) to win wars, which in turn dictates the procurement. That means shorter, therefore less profitable wars. It also prevents other agendas such as militarism in civilian culture.
Develop ineffective expensive policy, which leads to the status quo. That means long wars, preventable casualties, etc. Eventually the public will lose patience and/or financial realities will force a withdrawl. But it’s still much more profitable than 1.
That I think is the fundamental issue at hand here. There is an environment where it is rational and desirable even, to seek a sub-optimal solution.
Chris, the B-1 which is hardly used and the Peacemaker that was decommissioned in 2005 rank among the worst excesses in Pentagon spending. Both legacies of the Reagan rearmament years when too much defense money was thrown around.
The biggest lesson to be learned is that maintenance and operating costs do count. The weapons that are still in service decades after being conceived are those that have low cost of operation and can do the job cheaply even if they do it just good enough. High maintenance cost can render a weapon obsolete quicker than any enemy countermeasure.
I do not believe that the Air Force will follow through with decommissioning the A-10. I think both the Army and Congress might already have laid the cards on the table to the Air Force about that. I am not very knowledgeable about aviation and this web-site has been a god sent to me in that respect. Having said this the comments that where made about the A-10 vulnerability to AA missiles, etc. appear to be correct. When these where present the A-10 was allowed to dive below a certain ceiling only for so long or else it would become vulnerable to small portable missiles. Another problem is that it is too slow and when called to action it often takes too long to reach a position and by then the target is gone. These are real drawbacks and not excuses not to use the A-10.
I am still trying to waddle through all the information on the F-35 which at the present does not look as negative as it did at first. For one the F-35 carrying more fuel internally than most of its competitors as well as carrying the weapons internally too means that its turns and g-pulls are real and usable for comparisons vs. the data available from others which needs to be adjusted if they carry ordinance and tanks externally. The other piece of information that is interesting to me is that sustained turning advantage is more important when using guns than when employing missiles so if the aircraft is employing the latter sustained maneuverability advantage might not be so important as it is to an aircraft that relies more on the former. It is up-gunned to 25mm from 20mm in the F-16 which is interesting which might imply a certain inadequacy about the 20mm gun’s performance. And of course that situational awareness trumps all others because those being shot at are almost always unaware that they are being targeted and that the F-36 is the best of that. And while the trust to weight ratio seems low at first the large amount of fuel that it carries internally might have something to do with that; at 50% fuel the trust to weight ration is very decent.
But you still have these lagoons about things that they plan to use the F-35 for that are clearly a stretch including of course direct fire on a concealed position, etc. for which you need something like the A-10 or a helicopter or even a propeller aircraft. And it is not an air superiority fighter but rather a bomber that can fight too. And it is too expensive to risk in certain missions… I think we will see some other things come along specially for the marines. Maybe something like what is shown in this video.
Nice design of the FLX drawing with traditional camouflage colour schemes. How did you design this aircraft?
“How did you design this aircraft?”
I took a look at what characteristics have been important historically, and then I designed a fighter to achieve these characteristics.
Compare to a close coupled canard,I do prefer more a Eurofighter type canard or a Sukhoi T-50 type voltex generator, primary due to its induced drag during high sub-sonic, trans sonic and super sonic flight. It reduced range and cruise speed, thus decreasing its CAP footprint and increase is time to target since the loitering time is crucial for close support aircraft, a continuous presence of CAP or timely assistance when under opposition fighter attack are vital.
Its benefits far outweight increase in induced drag during level flight, especially since latter is offset easily by increase in fuel fraction, but there is nothing which can offset for all benefits of close-coupled canard.
And this aircraft is meant for air superirotiy, why do you bring up CAS? My CAS design has no canard.
To provide fast reaction for CAS under attack, and provide constant CAP.
Question out of my ignorance in this subject. My understanding was that canards where desirable when you had a tail-less Delta wing. CAS aircrafts have near straight wings or do they not? How does this work.
It depends on the shape of the canard. Canards interact with the wing. They also add drag, but depending on the shape, they can be used for creating lift or as control canards, just like they do on delta wing aircraft.
Even tailed planes often have canards – look for example at certain Su-27 variants, which are tailed delta canards. There’s no law that says it only applies to high speed fighters either, the B1 for example has canards as do some civilian aircraft.
Canards are best used with delta wing, but they will reattach air flow to the wing at high angle of attack, no matter the planform… it is just that natural characteristics of delta wing combine themselves very well with those of close-coupled canard.
An interesting article comparing single and twin engined aircraft, although civilian:
Actually, Picard, one potential suggestion:
Like the missile proposals, do you think it may be worth considering a turbojet proposal? As indicated earlier, I feel that a fighter of 0.44 will be spending the bulk of it’s time near or beyond the sound barrier (namely at a point where a turbojet would exceed a turbofan in efficiency).
Other benefits would be simplicity and likely reliability.
I don’t think I know enough about engines to design a turbojet.
EDIT: I might try to do it though.
Whilst this article is in many ways excellent and the blog as a whole fascinating for Defence analysts such as myself, there are some obvious factual errors that ought to be fixed since they mean that one instinctively distrusts figures that one cannot verify that are used in the arguement since ones that are well known and incorrectly stated…
“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.”
– Spitire Mk1a, Mk2 used 8 x .303 Brownings not 6.
– Spitfire Mk 2b, Vb, VIII, IXb and c all used 2 x 20mm Hispanos as stated but 4 x .303 Brownings, not 4 x .50 cals. Towards the end of the war, some Spitfires were equipped with 2 x 20mm and 2 x .50 cals.
Sounds like a very pedantic quibble but if technical details such as this which are comparatively well known are obviously wrong then it detracts from the credibility of the detailed aerodynamic and technical figures and analysis laid out in the main body of the article.
Mark I Spitfire had 4 .303 Browning machine guns, Mark Ia was follow-up to Mark I and it had 8 .303 machine guns. Spitfire Mk.IX had .50 cal guns and it appeared in early 1942. Mk IXc had 2×20 mm cannons and 4 .50 cal MG.
Wrong about the Mk.1! All Mk.1’s apart from the abortive Mk.1b (the first to feature 2 x 20mm cannons and 4 x .303s) were delivered with 8 x .303 brownings. Even the prototype Spitfire K5054 was fitted with a wing containing 8 x .303 Browning guns in 1936. This was standard until the introduction of the 20mm + 4 x .303 with the Mk.1b, Mk.IIb etc.
Spitifre Mk.IX had 2 x 20mm and 4 x .303 until the Mk.IXe which featured 2 x .50 cals and 2 x 20mm cannons. This was standard ‘e’ wing armament fit and fairly common from 1943 onwards. letter suffixes denote ‘a’ = 8 x .303 brownings, ‘b’ denotes 2 x 20mm cannons, 4 x .303s, ‘c’ denotes 4 x 20mm cannons, ‘e’ denotes 2 x 20mms and 2 x .50 cals.
Justin, your comment is well received and appreciated for its exactitude but I think the point is that the aircraft was being up-gunned as experience showed the original armament was not as effective. I think that is the overriding message.
Yes, Spitfires were indeed always intended to have eight Browning machine guns but first deliveries were made with only four guns installed due to shortages of parts. Some of the early aircraft were also delivered without any armor protection.