The F-35: Reading the Entrails

The F-35: Reading the Entrails, by David Archibald.

The beginning of the end for the F-35 started with the Pentagon 2020 budget proposal that included buying up to 80 F-15s to 2024, with the potential to go to 400 F-15s.  Of course, every F-15 bought means that one less F-35 will be built. They cost much the same — US$133 million for the F-15 and US$144 million for the F-35. What the F-15 offers is the ability to carry up to 22 air-to-air missiles, while the F-35 is limited to four. The F-15 can reliably be expected to get in the air every day of the week, while the F-35 might be able to fly every second day.

The second sign that the F-35’s days are numbered was the announcement in August that Lockheed had been awarded a “$62 billion ten-year, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ), fixed-price-incentive contract for new production of F-16 fighter aircraft for Foreign Military Sales (FMS).” So the price of the replacement aircraft has been locked in, before the death of the F-35 is announced.

The initial delivery order is for 90 aircraft for US$4.9 billion, equating to US$54.4 million per copy. This is about one third of the price of the F-35. And the F-16 defeats the F-35 in simulated dogfights, because it can out-turn it:

Western fighter turn rates, compared to the Su-27 and Su-35

A high instantaneous turn rate improves a fighter’s chance of dodging an incoming missile. When the missiles run out, the dogfight becomes a turning engagement with guns. A fighter with a 2° degree per second advantage in sustained turn rate will dominate the engagement. The F-16 out-turns the F-35 by 7° per second. …

Where does this leave Australia? In a very bad hole. The RAAF considers our F-18As to be old and clapped out. It isn’t even bothering to maintain them properly, despite a war with China possibly coming. So far the RAAF has sold 25 F-18As to Canada for $3.8 million each. The rest are to be sold to a Mr Don Kirlin of Illinois, who considers he is getting ‘an air force in a box’. Ultimately, after a massive loss of aircraft in the war with China, the US Marine Corps will requisition the F-18s from Mr Kirlin to help replace their losses.

We have 36 Super Hornets, which we started to buy once it was apparent that delivery of the F-35s was going to be much delayed. The problem with the Super Hornets is that they were designed as light bombers and won’t survive against real fighter aircraft. If the Super Hornets went up against the Russian (or Chinese) Su-35s, it is calculated that eight Super Hornets would be shot down for each Su-35 lost. It is a loser’s aircraft. The best application for our Super Hornets would be for maritime strike, delivering cruise missiles against PLA Navy vessels. They are unlikely to run up against real fighter aircraft out over the deep blue ocean. …

To send the RAAF Super Hornets up against real fighter aircraft is to condemn our pilots to death, like sending Wirraways up against Zeros in WW2. …

The Gripen: Cheap, capable, and available now

The solution to our fighter shortage problem is to buy the 40-odd Gripen C and Ds the Swedish Air Force has parked up and sign with Saab a deal for the production of the Gripen E. There is no need to negotiate — just take the same deal that Brazil signed for production of the Gripen E. We need 300 of them.

For the US, their salvation is the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter, which will replace the F-22. Initial test flights of the NGAD have been promising. Interest in the F-22 has dropped to near zero. A whole lot of bad judgements and corruption left the US relying upon a couple of 50 year old designs in the third decade of the 21st century. But nobody else has to.