NGAD: Australia Got Shafted On The F-35

NGAD: Australia Got Shafted On The F-35, by David Archibald.

Nigh on two years ago, this article on the Wentworth Report contained this sentence:

It is rumoured that the reason the US military is so sanguine about the F-35 is that it has a proper fighter aircraft coming out of the USAF black program.

And so it came to pass.

The USAF announced that it has test flown a new fighter aircraft design called Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD). The program had been taking about US$1 billion per annum. No details of the NGAD have been released apart from the fact that the “test flights have been amazing”.

With respect to what the NGAD might look like, the UK’s Tempest program and Dassault’s Future Combat Air System both have elements of the design of the YF-23, Northrop’s design that lost out to Lockheed’s YF-22. There would be an optimum shape for a large, twin-engine fighter and there will be convergence towards that. …

 

The Tempest fighter jet at the Farnborough Air Show, July 2018

 

The F-35 was designed around carrying two 2,000 lb bombs to destroy enemy SAM batteries, and to maximise cash extraction from the air forces that owned it. It may be stealthy, but it has a high operating cost and is effectively defenceless. It needs to be escorted by the F-22 to survive in combat. Australia signed up for 72 of these little bombers. The RAAF pilots of our F-35s are certainly brave, because they will be on suicide missions against real fighter aircraft such as the Su-27 and its derivatives. Modelling suggests are our last F-35 will be shot down by day three of a war. Then the enemy could bomb our navy and army at will.

But the appearance of the NGAD could save us from our own stupidity. It seems that Lockheed was promised a minimum economic quantity of F-35s built, possibly 500. So the US Department of Defense (DOD) signed up for production from Lot 12 but not from Lots 13 and 14 which all went to foreign buyers, including Australia. The US DOD would have known that the NGAD was coming and the foreign buyers of the F-35 were shafted to make good the minimum order promised to Lockheed. …

With the appearance of the NGAD, US military interest in the F-35 will drop to zero. …

There will be no interest in making parts for the F-35. Parts will be very difficult to find, and without a flow of spares, the thing doesn’t fly. Australia will be forced to find a different aircraft. We have spent billions in making special hangers for the F-35, and a whole lot of other stuff — largely wasted. It will be no big deal for the USAF to park up several hundred useless F-35s. They have signed with Boeing for up to 400 F-15s to fill the gap. But Australia will be left with a handful of F-18s that the RAAF is not bothering to maintain properly. …

The F-35 is a rerun of the F-104 Starfighter, also produced by Lockheed. The F-104 first flew in 1954. The USAF only took 296 of them with the last flight in service in 1969. But most F-104s were in foreign air forces; Germany alone took 916 of them. Of those German F-14s, 292 crashed with the deaths of 116 pilots. Back in the 1960s, Lockheed bribed foreign officials to take their aircraft. In 1976, a United States Senate investigating committee led by Senator Frank Church determined that Lockheed had paid US$10 million to the German Minister of Defence Franz Joseph Strauss for West Germany’s purchase of the F-104 in 1961.

The future of air combat:

Australia has benefited from the fact that both the USAF and the US Navy have been captured by their staff — that is, that they are run as pilots’ unions. The development of unmanned fighter aircraft in the US has been delayed because they would compete with manned aircraft. The USAF awarded a contract to Kratos to develop the Valkyrie, which has only stubby little wings allowing it to fly straight to drop a bomb.

Boeing had in mind a far more capable unmanned aircraft with large-enough flaps to be highly maneuverable. Boeing couldn’t get traction in the US so they came to Australia and partnered with the RAAF. The Loyal Wingman project has the promise of producing a quite cost-effective system. …

 

Loyal Wingman: the future of air combat

 

The solution to Australia’s F-35 problems remains the same — sign up with Saab to produce the Gripen E in Australia. Just copy the deal that Brazil did with Saab to produce the Gripen E in that country.

The F-35 is a great computer and a modest light bomber, but it’s an awful fighter.

The obvious way forward is to stick the F-35’s computers in a decent fighter air-frame, which is what NGAD has done.