The Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability Office Shoots Down The F-35
by David Archibald
2 February 2021
Largely overlooked in the tumult of the time is that the then Acting Secretary of Defense, Christopher Miller, in a press conference on 14th January, called the F-35 “a piece of shit.” It seems that Mr Miller had been given reports on the F-35 that spoke to its combat effectiveness, which is near zero. And he spoke the truth, because he was the power at the time with only a few more days left in the role.
That view is supported by a document produced by the USAF’s Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability office. That office was created in early 2018 to provide input on the total USAF force structure. It duly produced a report saying that the future USAF fleet of F-35s should be reduced from 1,763 to 1,050. More damming was the role allocated to the F-35s in future combat. As reported by Aviation Week:
By the end of 2018, the AFWIC’s team of analysts had adopted a new fighter road map, according to a source. The road map envisioned a “great power” war. The principal role for each F-35A was to launch two stealthy cruise missiles — Lockheed AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) — from just inside defended airspace.
So the USAF sees the F-35’s role in battle as dropping a couple of cruise missiles on the edge of the danger zone and then running away. The AGM-158 cruise missile has a 450 kg warhead, a range of 975 km and costs US$1.37 million per copy. At 4.27 metres long, it won’t fit in the F-35’s bomb bays which are 3.65 metres long. So all the compromises in the F-35 design to make it stealthy, and the tonnes of radar absorbent material it is spackled up with, are all for nought. Because the F-35 loses its radar stealth with those things hanging off its wings.
F-35A: “A piece of shit” — US Secretary of Defence
The USAF is also unhappy with the F-35’s operating cost of US$44,000 per hour and wants it down at US$25,000 per hour, which is what a new F-15 would cost to run. But the pace of cost reduction to date suggests that the target won’t be met, and the F-35 will remain unaffordable. By comparison, the B-1 bomber can carry 23 tonnes of bombs and costs US$60,000 per hour to operate. The recent chief of USAF acquisitions, Will Roper, said of the F-35:
I think it’s a long way from being an affordable fighter that we can buy in bulk.
So what can the USAF afford? They have flagged that it may help fill the gaping hole in their force structure by buying more F-16s. Like the F-15s the USAF is buying, the F-16 is a design that is two generations old — as in human generations. Not that that matters too much. The bloke Australia will be selling the last of our F-18As to, a Mr Kirlin of Illinois, owns some copies of an even older jet fighter, the F-5, which entered production in 1959. Mr Kirlin has an interesting observation on stealth:
Kirlin hopes to fit their F-5s with Infrared Search and Track Systems (IRSTs), which will be a huge force multiplier for other aggressors flying alongside them and a real threat to stealthy “blue air” jets, like the F-35, F-22, and B-2.
By fitting a few kg of IRST system on the nose, the F-5 can become a real threat to the F-22 and F-35? Neither the F-22 or the F-35 have a forward-looking ISRT, so they just can’t see beyond the pilot’s line of sight. Using their radar just advertises their location to everyone else on the battlefield.
Nevertheless, buying more F-16s is less than ideal because it is now outclassed by far more capable fighter aircraft. There are four Western fighters that can out-turn the F-16 by a wide margin. A fighter can dominate an engagement if it can out-turn its opponent by 2° per second. The relative turning ability of fighter aircraft is shown by this graphic:
The Gripen, for example, can out-turn the F-16 by at least 6° per second. The two aircraft weigh much the same and cost much the same, but the Gripen is far better value. Both have an operating cost of around US$7,000 per hour.
Once a reduction in planned numbers of an aircraft starts, it tends to gather momentum. Beyond the production lots of F-35 already signed for, production of the F-35 could end at any time. The USAF will park up their F-35s because of their high operating cost. The RAAF will be left with handfuls of two light bombers: the Super Hornet and the F-35. Even in that role they are likely to be replaced by the Loyal Wingman, currently under development in Queensland with Boeing. If all you want to do is fly to a particular set of coordinates and release a cruise missile which will fly on to another set of coordinates, the Loyal Wingman is likely to be able to do that at one tenth the cost of the F-35.
Loyal wingman: Delivers missiles much more cheaply than the F-35
And there is a regional development that will force Australia to buy the Gripen. Indonesia is talking to Dassault Aviation about buying 30 Rafale fighter aircraft. The Rafale is about as effective a fighter aircraft as the F-22, besting it sometimes in mock combat. India has started taking deliveries of the Rafale and may build to a fleet of 100 or more. The Rafale’s problems are its cost and the fact that all its weapons are not NATO-compatible, which is a showstopper for us. We could likely build or buy three Gripens for the price of one Rafale. The Typhoon is also a highly effective fighter, but even more expensive than the Rafale. Both of those are twin-engine designs and so their operating cost is 40% higher than that of a single-engine fighter. So if you opted for a single engine fighter you could operate a force that is 40% larger on the same budget.
Gripen: Cheap, effective, NATO-compatible, and available now
The F-15 was designed to intercept Soviet bombers, so it flies fast in a straight line — which explains its lack of turning performance. The F-16 was designed as a cheap fighter with a short range because it wouldn’t have to fly far in central Europe to encounter Soviet fighters. The low amount of fuel carried gave it better turning and acceleration performance. The designers of the F-16 deliberately reduced the internal volume of the F-16 so that the USAF wouldn’t be able to repurpose it as a ground attack aircraft, but that happened anyway.
Australia supposedly operates on the basis that its military platforms will be superior to those of other operators in the region. These are the sums on Indonesia’s purchase of 30 Rafales. At a loss/exchange rate of 3.8:1 (3.8 RAAF F-35s shot down for each Indonesian Rafale lost, the Indonesians could shoot down our future force of 72 F-35s and lose 19 of their Rafales in doing so. They could shoot down our 36 Super Hornets for the loss of 3 more of their Rafales. After the battle was over they would have 8 Rafales left and dominate the skies over northern Australia. We would take a decade to train the replacements for our dead pilots.
Indonesia’s Rafales would massacre Australia’s F-35As and F/A-18Es
The Gripen from Saab in Sweden is the only option left to us. It is not a bad option; it is a great option. We could afford to outnumber and outclass everyone in the region up to Taiwan’s airspace. Our pilots would be happy because we could afford to give them plenty of time flying real aircraft at US$7,000 per hour, instead of being stuck in F-35 simulators.
We don’t have much time left and every moment’s delay puts the country at risk.
David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare