Wednesday, November 13, 2013

JSF - Any Alternatives At This Point?

In a previous post, The Good That JSF Is Doing, an anonymous commenter, while acknowledging the problems with the JSF program, posed the question, is there really a better option than to see this through?  He then posed the follow up question, if we did cancel JSF, what’s Plan B?

For many people, the program really has boiled down to the sentiment expressed above.  The program is a poster child for how not to run an acquisition program and we can describe a litany of problems but, at this point, it’s too late to change, many feel.  There’s no realistic alternative.  Is that really the case?  Has it reached that sad point?  Let’s look a bit closer.

From a technical and tactical perspective over the next 20+ years the JSF is either inadequate for the high end scenarios (ASB, A2/AD) due to limited range, limited payload, and only moderate stealth or it’s a vast overkill for the low end scenarios where any number of much cheaper aircraft would work just as well. 

With that framework in mind, does it make sense to commit to building 2000 or so aircraft at $150M each for a total cost of $300 BILLION ?!!

To those of you who have already started to pound out your replies telling me how the JSF is going to have 360 degree magic vision, total situational awareness for 10,000 miles in all directions, act as a command and control node for the entire Western war machine, and whatever other promises have been made about it, do yourself a favor and stop reading this post.  You’re the type that believes in Santa Claus and believes that one LCS and one JSF will win any war single-handed (honestly, either one could do it alone, right?).  For the rest of us, the reality is that the JSF will offer modest improvements on the F-16’s dogfighting (maybe), a bit better range and stealth than the Hornet, and will be fortunate to realize half the claims made for it.  The JSF will eventually be a bit better than what we have now but at a crippling cost.

The question in this post, though, isn’t about the JSF’s technical abilities but whether there’s any real option or alternative at this point.  Let’s consider some alternatives.  I’m going to discuss this mostly from the Navy’s perspective while acknowledging that the impact on the Air Force and our allies is equally important.

The argument for continuing the program basically boils down to the fact that the current Hornets are reaching the end of their life and if we stop the program we’ll have a gap over the next 15 years where Hornets are retiring and we have nothing to replace them with.  Similarly, many of our allies are also in the position of needing an aircraft now. 

Is there an alternative?  Can we avoid the gap created by canceling the program?  Do we even need to worry about the gap?

Alternative 1 – Cancel the program and use the $300B that will be saved to start over using the lessons learned and any technology that can be salvaged.  With a better managed program, $300B can buy a lot of airplane!  The thinking under this scenario is that we accept the risk of a 15 year gap.  What better time?  The world is relatively quiet.  There is no high end threat that is considered a likely problem for the next 15 years so an aircraft gap is a reasonable risk.  The lower end conflicts can be adequately handled by existing aircraft.  We can continue to purchase Hornets to simply fill aircraft numbers.

Alternative 2 – The JSF offers only a modest improvement in performance and is not optimized for the ASB, A2/AD scenarios.  Cancel the program and put the $300B towards improved Hornets (conformal fuel tanks, improved sensors, etc.) which the manufacturer has already developed to a large degree.  We can purchase 1.5 improved Hornets for each JSF cancelled.  This will buy us the time to start a new aircraft program at a relaxed and reasonable pace while still improving the aircraft fleet via the improved Hornet.

Alternative 3 – Drop the F-35C carrier version but continue the F-35B buy for the Marines.  Again, the carrier version offers only modest improvements and the Hornet can continue to serve with supplemental new Hornet purchases.  This mitigates the budget damage to some degree while still obtaining an improved STOVL aircraft.

Related Observation:  The Navy is in the throes of a severe and worsening budget shortfall.  It is quite likely that either the number of carriers will be reduced by two or three or some carriers will be placed in long term caretaker mode and their air wings deactivated.  Thus, the aircraft gap that would result from canceling the JSF may well turn out to be nowhere near as severe as predicted.  We may, in fact, have a few air wings worth of surplus Hornets for the next decade or more.  The fact is that the Navy has already sidelined a few carriers and their air wings so this scenario is already playing out. 

None of these alternatives are particularly palatable but we’ve backed ourselves into a corner which has no good solutions.  However, the only thing worse than one of these alternatives is to spend ungodly sums of additional money that will cripple and kill future programs across the military while delivering a platform that is only a modest improvement and may be overmatched before it even reaches squadron service.


  1. Alternative 2: kill JSF, buy the improvered hornet, *and* a dedicated tanker for CVNs.

  2. Remember what Einstein said: The Definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

    The current DoD Program Personnel are incapable of doing anything different. There are NO incentives for them to do anything different. They can't even do prototyping on the new Hornets to get a better longer range aircraft. Use the $300B to burn the current system down and rebuild it, then and ONLY then will you get good products.

  3. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would've said use the money to buy 5-700 F-22s for the USAF, fully fund NGB and/or an FB-22. Fill out the remaining ranks with modernized F-16s and F-15s.

    IMHO, the Navy needs NGAD more than it needs a handful of F-35s, so continue block improvements to the Super Hornet while working on it.

    Unfortunately, the F-22 is out of production and we may be at the point where the JSF is just "Too Big To Fail".

    1. I understand that the military has bet all-in on this program and won't allow it to die and that Congress does not have the political courage or will to pull funding but, for the sake of our discussion, do you see a reason why the program couldn't be killed?

    2. It can't be killed because it's unkillable. Other than that, no, I don't see a reason. ;)

      If the C and/or B models end up with unresolvable issues, the program might lose its shield of invulnerability.

  4. Over on Galrahn's forum last weekend, I hijacked his "Buzz Worthy" thread concerning the possibility that Bob Work might come back to DOD, and I then proceeded to redirect the thread towards examination of F-35 topics.

    If it were up to me, I would vote for a combination of more F-18's plus a higher priority for the task of examining how the Navy's future F/A-XX might carry on where the F-22 left off, while at the same time allowing work on a fully capable unmanned strike fighter to proceed at its own logical and productive pace.

    The F-35 cannot be killed at this point. But it is possible the program might be significantly restructured if it turns out the F-35C is fatally hosed up because of the issue with the location of the tailhook.

    The USAF has bet its future on the F-35A, and I think they will lose that bet a decade hence when it turns out they are incapable of supporting their current commitments with the force structure they will have in the 2020-2030 timeframe because of too few airframes to cover the need.

    I am also beginning to suspect that the USMC's senior leadership is betting the Marine Corps' future on the F-35 program as well, and that supporting forward deployed F-35B operations will replace amphibious warfare as the primary justification the Marine Corps will make to Congress for keeping the USMC fully funded in the face of DOD budget cuts.

    If the USMC is successful in making that case to the Congress, not only will they be America's second major land army, they will also become America's second major land-based air force.

    1. Second major land-based air force AND second major sea-based air force AND THIRD major air force overall. It's the 2-2-3 plan.

    2. I forgot to add "second major land army".

    3. We've seen in previous posts that the Marines do, indeed, appear to be betting their future on aviation and moving away from their traditional role.

      Everyone can see that the reality of the JSF program is that it is extrememly unlikely to be killed but do you see a reason why it can't be? There's plenty of reasons why it would be painful but I don't see a reason why it can't.

    4. Seriously? The location of the tailhook could be unsolvable? The Hubble is the only thing I can think of with a similarly basic problem, but even that got fixed and it's way up in space. Surely this can be fixed...

    5. ComNavOps. the primary reason why the JSF program has acquired a life of its own independent of its basic ability (or lack thereof) to deliver on its performance promises is that it employs a lot of well-paid people in a lot of places around the country in an economy which has a severe shortage of well paying jobs. On that basis alone, Congress would be reluctant to cancel it, regardless of how high the F-35's unit costs climb, as the number of future airframes to be purchased is progressively and systematically reduced.

      JI, the F-35C's tailhook subsystem is mounted well forward of the position is usually occupies in a carrier-capable jet aircraft, and cannot reliably capture the arrestor cable. It is possible that solving the problem will require a major redesign of the C model's fuselage.

      The C model is said to be significantly more expensive than is the A model -- possibly as much as $79 million more than the A model -- and if a major redesign of the C model becomes necessary, the price differential will become even larger.

    6. Scott,

      The F35B represents even greater design challenges, is moreexpensive, and apart from VTOL, is less capable than than the F35C.

      The F35B, really should be a different airframe, that borrows as many components from the F35A & C models as possible, but not influencing the design of the F35A and C.
      The way it worked out, F35B VTOL requirements is one major driver screwing with the program overall.


    7. GAB, to your own knowledge, is the situation with the B model one wherein it is beset with some number of design and performance issues, but it has no single problem similar to the C model's issue with its tailhook which, all by itself, would be fatal to its ability to perform its intended mission if it couldn't be solved?

    8. Scott, I've not read of any single potential fatal flaw with the -B. That said, the combat effectiveness of the entire family seems to rely heavily on the 360 degree sensor fusing tied into the helmet and weapons targeting. Take that capability away and the family sounds like just a slightly stealthier (from some aspects) version of an F-16/F-18. It sounds like the 360 capability is several years away from operational status, yet, if it's even tecnically achievable. What impact does that lack have on the intended use of the -B? I don't know.

    9. CNO, It's not just "slightly stealthier", it's a LOT stealthier. In fact it can honestly say it is "stealth", where the others are not even in the ballpark.

      It's at least VLO across the frontal aspect. Side and rear may be compromised compared to the F-22 and B-2, but still WAY better than the F16/18.

    10. B.Smitty, do you have any actual data on the F-35 stealth as compared to any other aircraft? I'm open-minded on the subject since I haven't seen any data. The "descriptions" I've seen suggest somewhat stealthier frontal and far less so from other aspects. What have you got I can learn from?

    11. This comment has been removed by the author.

    12. Depends on what you mean by "actual data". I only have what I've read on various websites.

      Carlo Kopp did some modeling of the F-35.

      He has also done some of the newer threat aircraft as well.

      This thread on has another analysis,

      However these obviously aren't going to tell you the exact properties of the aircraft. Neither person had an actual F-35 to use in their analysis. So a healthy YMMV is in order. ;)

    13. B.Smitty, the Kopp report is some heavy reading and requires background and knowledge that I don't have in order to truly understand it. I note, however, the following statement in his summary of the JSF lower fuselage RCS assessment:

      "In conclusion, of the 48 angular sectors assessed in four bands, only three yielded safe RCS performance, with 58 percent of these angular/frequency extents yeilding poor or very poor results."

      He then makes a similar summary statement about the nozzle RCS performance:

      "In conclusion, of the 48 angular sectors assessed in four bands, only one yielded safe RCS performance, with 73 percent of these angular/frequency extents yeilding poor or very poor results."

      This does not sound like a very positive assessment. It is however, only a partial assessment and I lack the expertise to put it in a relevant context. Still, it leads me to stand by my statement that the JSF is slightly stealthier than a Hornet. Also, remember that the E/F Hornet, while not an inherently stealthy aircraft, does have some design features intended to add a modest degree of stealthiness, the reshaping of the intakes being the most visually obvious change.

      "YMMV" ?? Don't know that one.

    14. The Super Hornet really isn't in the same class. It has some LO features but these really don't move the needle much. It still has to carry ordinance externally.

      True "stealth" aircraft are in the 0.0001m2 RCS class over at least the forward aspect.

      Aircraft like the Super Hornet are still in the 0.1-1.0m2 region clean, and much higher with weapons and tanks.

      If you look at the detection range vs RCS plot here,

      you'll see why it's important.

      Tin Shield (SA-10/20A) detects 1m2 target at ~170nm.

      It detects 0.1m2 targets at ~90nm.

      It detects 0.0001m2 targets at ~15nm.

      The F-35 has this level of stealth at least across the frontal aspect.

    15. B.Smitty, you read the comment, right?

      "... the E/F Hornet, while NOT AN INHERENTLY STEALTHY aircraft, does have some design features intended to add a MODEST DEGREE of stealthiness ..."

    16. I read it. I'm just trying to show what a "modest degree" of sealthiness actually gives you. ~90nm is still a long detection range. You won't be sneaking through an IADS, B-2 style, with that level of stealth. Against an SA-10+ class SAM system, it's no better than a 5-10m2 F-15E. Both will be relegated to standoff shooters, or have to use nap-of-the-earth techniques.

      So I have a hard time calling it "stealth" at all because it in no way resembles the capabilities of true stealth aircraft like the B-2, F-117 and F-22.

      Plus, that 0.1m2 is clean. Load a Super Hornet up with a useful payload and that "modest degree" goes out the window.

    17. Rebecca Grant wrote a great primer on stealth a few years ago.

      It's a good read and goes over many of the benefits of true VLO stealth, and why limited LO measures are not very effective.

  5. Leaving aside political reasons.... I have only one concern. And I'm not sure its a legit one, but here goes:

    Can LockMart survive a cancellation of the F-35? Didn't McDonnel Douglass IIRC had to merge after losing out to the competition initially. Lockmart has alot of its financial future locked in this puppy. Why is that important? If LockMart goes under, or has to merge with Boeing or NG, then we lose one more defense contractor, and the competition in that industry shrinks even further. Also, we lose some industrial capacity.

    1. While I recognize the relationship between defense and the contractor base, I also recognize that it's not the job of the military to keep individual companies in business. There's a dynamic tension at play with this issue but one runs the very real risk of building weapons just to keep weapons builders in business. The self-licking ice-cream cone. I don't have a pat solution for this but I know that moving ahead with a budget busting, marginally useful product is not the answer.

    2. Point Taken.

      I think its more valid for Submarines: If you only have 1 or 2 companies that can build them, you need them, and you can't easily 'recreate' that company if it goes under, then I think you figure out a short term way of keeping it in business (like building another couple SeaWolves...)

    3. CNO, while I agree with you in principle, the country, we are no long in a position were we can let certain key corporation fail. That is because the firms hold our complete store of knowledge and experience on key areas. For example during the last three decades Lockheed Martin has become your sole source of new advanced fight design. HII our sole source of CVNs. etc.

      Given that this is now the condition of what was called the Military Industrial Complex and should now be called the Military Manufacturing Monopolies, letting any major player fail, is not an option.

    4. GLof, as I said, I recognize the dilema and I don't have a solution for this issue. Continuing to pour obscene amounts of money into a program just as a jobs program is not the answer. So, I don't have a good solution but I can recognize a bad solution.

  6. Aside from that... :-)

    I've been thinking about this for awhile, and I like option 2 alot. The Advanced SuperHornet is a fine jet. Its not the Mac Daddy and I know alot of YouTube sites that destroy it vs. The TV Sukhoi, but I think that its capable vs. most threats, and with our pilots very good. The one caveat I have is that it would have to have the increased thrust engines.

    Remember, The Navy was able to fight the Japanese with the F4. We don't have to have the World's Best Jets necessarily. Just ones that work, aren't maintenance nightmares, and are flown by well trained pilots.

    As to a long range plan... The Superhornet was a 'derivative' jet designed to make the Hornet what it was always supposed to be, and designed to fix its problems. The design was well thought out, the scope limited, and the plan well executed, I think in part because they weren't trying to make the next Uber Jet. And I think we had a history of doing things like that with older jet designs.

    Could we do that with the Superhornet? Come up with a Block II Superhornet, or an F/A 18 G/H that is a near redesign of the E/F? I'm thinking of continued marginal increases in stealth; a larger sized, less draggy body to increase fuel load, wing size, radar size, and the ability to carry things (A designed for weapons pod?); and a much more powerful jet to maybe get it to supercruise/ hit Mach II.

    I guess I'm thinking a bigger superhornet with medium increment increases in everything. So it would have incremental stealth increases/ speed increases/ keep manueverability the same/ range increases/ drag decreases.

    We also need to figure out a way to create a tanker (C2? Osprey? Revive S3's from the boneyard to act as tankers?)

    With a Block II Superhornet you have a jet that maximizes all the good stuff of the SH and reduces the bad stuff.

    You cut down on design cost because you are going for incremental increases. A polishing of the cannonball, rather than trying to create a brand new explosive shell.

    You have a jet that can do fleet defense with its speed, or can be loaded down to do long strike missions, especially in F form with tanker support; thereby increasing the range and lethality of your air wing. Moreover, you can buy enough of them to be able to use.

    In the end, I think our training, doctrine, and pilots can take us a long way with a good servicable aircraft. I'm more and more skeptical of stealth, especially as computing power and sensor power increase.

    1. The Super Hornet wasn't "polishing the cannonball". It was building a larger cannonball that looked exactly like the original to the casual observer, so as to pass it off as minor upgrade. ;)

    2. LOL. Excellent point. I wasn't clear. What I meant to say was that it was building a larger cannonball that was totally new... but it wasn't trying to make it a SuperStealth SuperSensor Flys vertically monstrosity. It was simply using generally accepted methods and incremental improvements to make a better jet. That, at its heart, is what I'm proposing. If it only has 90% commonality with the E/F version, so be it. But you can make a better SuperHornet that fits the fleets needs admirably without betting the bank and your future on an X-wing.

    3. Are there any more ideas on what to do if we do cancel the F-35? Or don't use the C model?

      What would your follow on jet be like? How do you keep costs down developing it?

    4. Jim, you know the answer to this. You keep costs down by not trying to build a Star Wars aircraft. Instead, you define actual tactical requirements that build on existing technology with some modest improvements. You also don't try to combine several functions in one platform. That always costs huge amounts of money and usually fails. Want a fighter? Build a fighter. Want a bomber? Build a bomber. Want a CAS? Build a CAS. While the accountants will say we should build multi-function aircraft, the cost in the long run is going to be greater than building single function aircraft. We could afford to build an improved A-10 and an improve F-16 for the cost of single F-35B, I'd wager.

    5. I'd bet you are correct. I'd be curious to see what would come up if we came up with an RFO asking for a high fighter and low ground attack; but each type has incremental improvements. In the meantime we purchase Advanced SH.

      I wonder if the Grumman half of Northrop Grumman still has its Carrier Aviation skills.

      The Russians have seemed to do wonders with the Sukhois; and their budget problems dwarf our own.

    6. CNO,

      I completely, but respectfully, disagree. :)

      Multi-function aircraft are the way to go, unless there is a specific niche that is important enough to design a specialist. The life cycle cost of adding a new type for each role is far higher than having a more expensive multirole aircraft. Most countries agree with me. Only us rich countries develop specialists these days, and we are trying to get away from it.

      Multi-role aircraft are also far more flexible. They can shift mission sortie by sortie.

    7. B.Smitty, this is an easy one to disagree on, I'll give you that! Further, my opinion is clearly in the minority. Your view is based, I think, on the unstated premise that a single function aircraft will be as expensive as a multi-function one, or nearly so. If that's the case, why would anyone build a single function aircraft? Even I wouldn't do that. My premise is that we can build single function, non-Star Wars aircraft for far, far less than a Star Wars multi-function aircraft. As I suggested, we could build at least one improved A-10 and one improved F-16/F-18 for the cost of a single multi-function aircraft. If that's not true then my entire premise falls apart. However, if it is true, we don't need to worry about shifting missions around a single aircraft which is not truly optimized for either mission because we'll have an equal number of specialized aircraft for whichever mission we want. I'd rather have two specialized aircraft than one sub-optimal aircraft. My two aircraft can be in two places performing two missions at the same time.

      The multi-function aircraft is fool's gold that has lead us down a path of $170M planes and ever-decreasing numbers.

      As I occasionally say, some things are debatable and this IS one of them. I have no problem with disagreement on this!

      Let me ask you, and answer as honestly and objectively as you can, if the costs were as I described, would you rather have one improved A-10 and one improved F-16/18 or one F-35?

    8. CNO,

      The F-16 and F-18 are the epitome of multi-function aircraft. They are also relatively inexpensive, as fighter aircraft go. So they don't fit well in your example. ;)

      Single function aircraft aren't necessarily less expensive. There are many other factors that drive cost. An F-15C costs more than an F-16. But it's also much larger, has twin engines, a larger radar, and so on.

      Empty weight is a reasonably good determiner of price. Stealth adds on a percentage but it's less than you'd expect. The F-35A is almost as heavy as an F-15E, and they're both in the $100-120 million price range. The F-22 weighs around 40% more than either aircraft, and is, roughly, that much more expensive.

      If you plan to build an aircraft that can perform the counter-air mission, the additional cost to make it multi-role is not that high.

      You ask which would I rather have, but that's a difficult question to answer without knowing my strategic needs and budget. Flying and owning two aircraft will be more expensive than flying and owning one. The F-35 will be more survivable than the A-10 and F-16 if I need to fly it in an enemy IADS. It also has greater range. On the flip side, I can generate twice as many sorties with two aircraft.

      If I'm a country who just wants to protect my relatively safe borders and not spend a lot, then I'd rather have two F-16s. If I may have to fight a hostile nation with a sophisticated IADS, then I'd much rather have F-22/35s.

    9. The A-10 is a CAS system and should operate together with attack helicopters. It's a system that best serves in massed strikes.
      Strike fighters with multirole capability enable to reduce the amount of aircrafts for a strike package, thus lessen overall maintenance issues. Using them for CAS makes them a redundant capability with the A-10 and the Apache, but they can do much more.
      You could argue that CAS is best a separate system that is easy to repair, cheap to replace and relies on electronic warfare instead of stealth for defence against hostile observation.
      By contrast the strike fighter bombs infrastruture such as roads, railways, command centers, radar stations, runways and so on. It does not carry out CAS in order to protect a system with very low observeability that can penetrate deep behind enemy lines. The F-16 and F-18 are not suitable strike fighters any more due to lack of stealth.
      The A-10 is a suitable CAS system and should be mixed with utility and attack helicopters and flying EW-systems for large combined arms attacks.
      The F-22 is a suitable strike fighter, but way too expensive. The JSF was meant to be cheaper, but sacrificed much of the fighter capability. The strike bomber component of these aircrafts will in part be replaced by very low observeable UAV that can penetrate deep into defended airspace. Thus the strike fighter is a medium range bomber, leaving the short range bombing to the A-10 and the long range to UAV, each of them a better optimized system for these demands. That allows to define an affordable design of a low observeable high utility fighter with secondary medium distance bombing capability. In the bombing capability it will partake with EW protected dedicated large bombers that profit from guided bombs. For bombing the most important component will be the high grade observation and targeting sensors with adequate communication to other aircrafts for common target solutions. A high bombload per fighter is not necessary if it cooperates with a dedicated bomber for the tasks where maximum bombload is rerquired. The US will have these very large bombers anyway and have them integrated with non-stealthy EW systems.

  7. One final thing... :-)

    I've also been thinking about the LCS. ITs here to stay. I'd like to try to do something with it. For both the advanced SH and the LCS I'd like to have the LRASM.

    Its not perfect, but it gives the fleet a missile with a shot of doing something and extendint our surface fleet's range beyond 13 miles (when not a carrier).

    In the meantime, while making the Block II SH, design, or buy, a hypersonic AShM. I think the Brits have one in the works that is quite nice.

    LCS with 2 4 cannister tubes of LRASM becomes an interesting ship in some circumstances. In a 'China starts to invade Taiwan' they might be small enough and numerous enough to launch 8 a piece. If you have 15 on station in the pacific that's 120 missiles in the air.

    Also, give it the MFTA and install a 'mission module' with the software to run it. Maybe an 'ASROC' missile module.

    1. Don't overlook the targeting aspect. An LCS with 1000 nm anti-ship missiles can only detect and target around, what, 20-50 nm? Maybe a bit further if it could get a helo out that would survive long enough to provide targeting out to 100 nm, perhaps. The same considerations apply to air launched missiles. Someone/something has to provide targeting and that's not easy. It's why the Chinese "carrier killer" is an overblown scare story.

      We all tend to get wrapped up in ranges and speed without considering the targeting aspect.

      Just something to think about as you consider your modified designs.

    2. (Honest question, not being snarky) What's the detection envelope for a 'Burke? It launches Harpoons and Tomahawks, or could, beyond 20-50NM (I'm assuming that's the horizon?). Or with a Tomahawk way beyond its radar targeting ability. How do they do that?

      I guess that's why I thought the LRASM. Its supposed to be more autonomous, and have the ability to get (from Satellite, I thought) in flight redirection.

      Finally, that's why I was hoping for cannister launchers. It wouldn't be *that* radical of a design change. Indeed, there is the oft cited international version with cannister harpoons.

    3. Jim, fair question. You're lumping two totally different weapons together. The Tomahawk is a land attack weapon launched against targets with a fixed, known location like air bases or port facilities or military headquarters. The Tomahawk is supplied with fixed co-ordinates and simply flies to the spot.

      In contrast, an anti-ship missile is launched against a moving target whose location is totally unknown at any given instant unless a targeting sensor can find it and maintain a lock long enough to get the weapon in range where the weapon's on-board, very short range sensor can find the target for itself.

      So, a Burke can, indeed, launch Tomahawks from hundreds of miles away but can only launch Harpoons 20-50 nm unless some sensor supplies targeting.

      As we develop weapons with more autonomy we may be able to launch missiles to a vague area with a search-and-destroy function. That, however, carries both a bigger price tag (wouldn't you hate to launch fifty $2M missiles to an area only to have them find no targets and just crash after a while - there's $100M gone for no return) and a risk of friendly fire or non-combatant collateral damage. Harpoons have a bearing-only launch mode but that carries the risk I just described.

      Does that help?

    4. Satellites are not the magic, all-seeing eye that many people believe. Exercises have shown repeatedly that ships are still very difficult to find. How many ships of all nations do you think are in the South and East China Seas at any given moment? Distinguishing military from civilian and friend from foe is an enormous task. Even if a satellite IDs an enemy ship, remember that it's always moving. The challenge is to get the targeting info from the satellite through whatever agency/operator controls the satellite and to an individual ship or plane in time to launch before the ship has moved outside the detection window. While it might be possible to dedicate a satellite to tracking a single ship, I think you can quickly see the mismatch between how many enemy ships there are versus how many satellites we have available. Lastly, most observers expect that military satellites won't last long once war starts.

      Make sense?

    5. BVR targeting for AShMs could be via organic helo or UAV; offboard sensor such as an MPA, UAV, ship, sub or satellite; ESM bearing; or sonar range/bearing.

    6. Jim, where do you put the LRASM or ASROC launchers? Neither LCS really has a good place for them. I don't believe the locations reserved for NLOS-LS are big enough.

      The LCS-I proposals shrank the hangar to accommodate 8 Mk41 cells. Not sure if that's a great trade though.

    7. Since we are already talking about LRASM here:

      CNO, LRASM is a bit different than current AShM in that the targeting phase to autonomous. That means you need only a general area intercept to fire an LRASM and the LRASM is fully capable of in flight updates. This means that the realistic range of an LRASM in an actual war is significantly BVR as all it needs are a general target area. My understanding of the autonomous targeting range of LRASM is pretty large.

      B.Smitty, given the size of LRASM, it should be possible to put them at least on LCS-2 at the same location as the NLOS-LS area either in a diagonal box launcher or more ideally in a SDLS length MK41 VLS. The SDLS MK41 VLS would likely require some additional height beyond the current NLOS-LS deck height but should be viable and would also allow the LCS-2 to equip ESSM. Another 4-5 feet above deck should be enough to accommodate an SDLS or Tactical length 16 cell VLS block.

      But yes, the LCS-2 design has significantly more space to support VLS cells than the LCS-1 design. The LCS-2 International variant mounts a 2x4 cell diagonal Harpoon box mount at the same location as the NLOS-LS block and the Harpoon and LRASM have similar lengths. In addition the LCS-2 International variant went from a double hanger to a single hanger to add 32 MK41 VLS cells.

    8. Also live fire Mk41 VLS LRASM flight tests are scheduled to start in the new year. Along with F-18 E/F integration tests apparently, so far all live fire air launch tests have been B-1B based.

    9. Even if the LRASM is just a more survivable version of the Harpoon, I'd be for it. I think that with the almost inevitable drawdown in carriers its more and more likely we'll have ships out there without the CVBG close by for support.

      I read an article on information dissemination talking about how our Navy easily trumps any other nations Navy (he was he was using that point tomake another). I'm not sure I buy that. Sure, the Chinese Navy is smaller, and doesn't have air assets like we do, but they aren't going to come out and face us in the open ocean. It would most likely be our ships trying to interdict an invasion of some island somewhat close to them. And I don't know if in that situation if our Navy is up to facing theres. First, they'll have the DF-21; which may not be the silver bullet its advertised to be but its definitely a threat against which we have indeterminate countermeasures. Second, they have lots of land based AShM's that they might use. This might keep the CVBG at arms length, and with our limited strike range limit its effectivness severely. Finally, they are building more and more nuclear and diesel boats. And our ASW capacity is far below what it used to be.

      My point with all this is that while we have a bunch of beautiful ships in the battlefleet, I don't think they are up to the way they might be used in the future. And I'd like to see us upgrade our capabilities towards that potential use.

      Of course, that requires we design a national strategy.

    10. Hmm, yes, it may be possible but you may still have weight, size and exhaust venting issues. Harpoons are smaller and much lighter than LRASM.

      A smaller missile like NSM/JSM might be preferable, but getting another weapon through the procurement process seems unlikely. Heck, LRASM is still just a DARPA program.

    11. Harpoon and LRASM are pretty close in size. Both are roughly 1 foot in diameter with LRASM being 14.ft long and Harpoon being 12.6 ft long, both in air launch config. LRASM is about 50% heavier than Harpoon but Harpoon isn't exactly light at 1500 lbs.

      As far as another program, it probably should be pointed out that LM is the prime for LRASM and a partner for NSM in the JSM guise and its somewhat likely that JSM will eventually be adopted by the US (as the only internal carry cruise and anti-ship missile for the F35). So at least from the airforce perspective, NSM/JSM will be fully integrated and operational, whether we buy them is a whole different thing, but development cost would be zero.

    12. JASSM is 14 feet long and 50% heavier, does LRASM need a booster when surface launched? That will add to the weight and length.

    13. both the lengths I gave are the air launched versions, both LRASM and Harpoon require a booster when surface launched. The boosters add about the same length to both.

      Also, most of the weight differential between LRASM and Harpoon is in warhead weight. The weight differential is 1523 lbs vs 2250 lbs while the warheads weigh 488 lbs and 1001 lbs respectively.

    14. Why is that? ( That its difficult to get through procurement? Again, honest question). We already imported the Penguin. The NSM isn't a bad missile. And I thought that the Taiwanese had a supersonic AshM (HFIII) on some of their Perry's. Is it 'NIH'? political pressure from domestic defense contractors? Great difficulty in integrating it with our stuff?

      I'm just thinking a missile like the HFIII (Mach 2, 130km range) exists on frigate sized ships, and we don't have to pay massive development costs, wouldn't it make sense to buy a mature product from an ally when we are budget constrained?

    15. ATS,

      The JSOW-ER is another cruise missile that can be internally carried.

      I'd like to see a middle-weight AShM added that can handle <4000 t ships but can be carried easily by helos or surface-launched. NSM/JSM is getting a bit large for that. Something like a turbojet Sea Skua or Marte-ER. It would be nice if it could quad-packed in a SDLS Mk41 cell or singly in a Mk56 cell.

    16. Yeah forgot about JSOW-ER but I consider that more of an extended range glide bomb than an actual cruise missile. Thing barely has enough power to stay aloft!

      Well the NSM is about as small as you can go and actually do damage to 1000-4000T ships. The warhead in the NSM is about the same size/weight as the warhead in a Small Diameter Bomb, so you really cannot go much smaller and still be effective.

      Sea Skua and Marte are fairly small at roughly 1/4 and 1/2 the warhead of NSM, respectively. They are only effective on smaller ships in the <500t and <1000t range, respectively. And Marte is only marginally lighter than NSM.

      The NSM at 1000lbs should be able to be carried by the SH-60. For smaller targets we have hellfires.

      Also anything that can be quad packed into Mk41 and be quad-packed into Mk56, FYI.

    17. NSW/JSW would be a nice option for the MH-60, but is too heavy for smaller helicopters like MQ-8C. I'm thinking something more like MALD-V with a warhead. Maybe take the seeker from JAGM/SDB-II.

      I think you're confusing Mk56 with Mk57. The former is a light weight Sea Sparrow/ESSM launcher, the later is the much larger Mk41 replacement on the DDG-1000.

  8. 15 years is a FANTASTIC weakness.
    Is today 1900? 1924?
    I cant rule out it being 1912!!!

    That said.

    Cancelling the B is a none starter.
    The US will never export a weapon again, too many nations have built their forces around the B. The last time the US pulled development project like this, it went from selling the UK Skybolt, to (practically) giving us Polaris and Trident.

    At the very least, the US is going to be building SOME b's. or its going to be facing a world where Europe isnt passive aggressive, its outwardly confrontational
    (my usual example is "what if the UK sold Typhoon, Astute and Daring to China")

    The A can be cut, thats just a clean sweep. Its the least compromised of the three, but its also the least necessary.
    The B can be cut, but only if the US wants to completely crush every relationship it has. At least some of those need to be built

    The C
    I dont know.
    It looks like it offers "some" capability.
    6 Navy squadrons and 12 Airforce?

    Total build of 500 Bs and Cs?

    1. They only countries who have a committed interest in the B are the UK and the Italians. The rest plan on buying the A.

      Italy also has interests in the A, so the bridge won't be completely burned there. The UK is another story.

    2. Spain and Australia both have light carriers that could only operate the B or the Harrier.
      But you are correct, it is just the UK and Italy who have signed anything.

      Japans "through deck destroyers" are also B only options.
      But again, no contract signed.

      Still, it would look VERY bad if the UK and Italy built useless carriers because the US pulled their planes. And that sort of stuff gets remembered.

      My point with the A was poorly explained however, anyone who plans on operating A's, could use C's in the same role.
      The A cant act as a stand in B or C.

      To my mind, the C is better than the A, perhaps not as nimble, but bigger fuel tanks.

    3. TrT, I totally missed your reference to the 1900's. That aside, bear in mind that if we drop the total purchase from 2400 (or whatever the latest production number is) to 500, the unit price will skyrocket (triple, quadruple ???) and none will be purchased. This is very nearly an all or none situation because of that factor. The JSF is already almost priced out of existence and reducing the buy from 2400 to 500 would absolutely kill it. Not that your idea is bad, in concept, but don't forget the impact of cost and scale.

    4. I think I would rather PAY the Brits to convert their carriers to CTOL than tie our hands to the F-35B, if we are going to make major changes.

    5. TrT,

      The fact is, many more countries are committed to the A than the B. None are committed to the C. The C is more expensive, doesn't have an integral gun, and doesn't perform as well (other than range). So countries who change from the A to the C will get fewer aircraft for the money, with different performance characteristics.

      I'm concerned about the Brits, but frankly 30 Italian F-35Bs are not something I'm going to lose sleep over. We're talking about a $500 billion US program. We need to do what's right for us. Restructuring our air power just to suit their desire to have a mini-carrier just doesn't make sense.

      OTOH, the Brits are planning to buy two real carriers, and are among our closest allies.

      Those other countries may or may not ever buy Bs for their LHDs and DDHs. Also not anything i'll lose sleep over.

      The USAF is, by an order of magnitude, the biggest customer for the F-35. We need to worry about how this affects them first.

    6. ComNav
      Sunk costs
      The US has spent a vast sum of money designing the F35. That money is gone.
      The current flyaway cost is $150mn - $200mn

      That price might come down on a run of 2500 jets, but the costs so far are in the past.

      It'll cost, but 500 B/C costs $100bn, it saves $200bn, for the new F18s and the F45 research project.

      "I think I would rather PAY the Brits to convert their carriers to CTOL than tie our hands to the F-35B, if we are going to make major changes."
      "I'm concerned about the Brits, but frankly 30 Italian F-35Bs are not something I'm going to lose sleep over."

      That would work.
      But the Italians would need some sort of pay off as well, possibly a lot cheaper than keeping the B operational, but something.
      They cant take you court and send round debt collectors, but if you **** them, it'll be remembered by everyone next time around.


    7. "Sunk costs
      The US has spent a vast sum of money designing the F35. That money is gone."
      Money spent on research is not badly spent, but in its current guise, the JSF does not warrant the cost to put into production.

  9. Cancel it altogether and the USMC can do without fixed wings operating from amphibs. In a situation that requires fixed wing support? It will fly from a CVN.

    Yes, the loss of organic fixed wing sucks, but F35B sucks, and its detracting from other initiatives.

  10. Cancel the F-35. It is siphoning so much money away from other programs, that it is ruining the Army's and the Corp's ability to procure badly needed systems. The Navy seems to have had a "plan B" all along and will be fine in the interim. Use the money saved to GIVE the UK two US carriers with CTOL systems or at least put CTOL on the Queen Elizabeth Class like they should have in the first place. Or, force Lockheed to let NorthrupGrumman and Boeing build different versions and try and drive the cost down. There is no way in hell that one small jet can cost as much to build as a 747, even with all the systems factored in. If it truly does then it just isn't worth the demolition of every other weapons program in the US military. Let it go.

  11. What really the point is that the US cannot afford such a heavy concentration of expenditure on one late overweight over- complex project.
    Why do they not look at reopening the Harrier production line to keep the Marines flying?- you could upgrade etc.
    How many 10000 foot runways would there be on day two of a major conflict with Russia or China for the gold plated F22s and F35s in 2021? If the Afghans have Had stingers what defence their against current man piortable systems?

  12. I will concede that the lack of a WSO in the F35 is to me a huge concern, but the A10 gets away with it.

    Its easy to say the F35 has funky sensors, but no pilot can dog fight at 20,000ft and strike at once. You just cant enter co-ordinates in to a bomb and evade an incoming ARAAM.
    You can dodge that missile whilst squirting off a few cannon rounds.

    I remember France altering its mix of one and two seat Rafales for that exact reason.

    1. This was supposed to be on the A10 thread.....
      My bad

  13. Two things - first off, I am extremely that cancelling the F35 at this stage and starting a new fighter design competition/order would save money considering how the government works. And second - what about all of our allies who have invested billions, and geared their entire future air and naval force compositions around getting the F-35 in the coming years. Diplomatically, it would be a disaster. Strategically too - some nations have for all intents and purposes *gutted* their existing air forces to pay for the F-35. The Netherlands, for instance.

    1. Jrggrop, yeah, there are no good choices left at this point. Canceling the JSF would have profound implications for many countries. The only thing worse would be to proceed with a program that is so expensive that countries reduce their buys to the point where their overall defense suffers and that produces a product that my be a second-tier aircraft compared to Chinese and Russian offerings before it even reaches squadron service.

      Further, the JSF is gutting the US military. That's not good for any country.

      No good choices.

  14. The JSF-B version is irreplaceable. None has a better STOVL aircraft.
    The C-version could be replaced by the B-version that takes off via catapult and lands vertical. There is no better system to put ordnance on a target than CATOVL that merges the high take off weight of catapult with the fastest possible shipborne landing for rearmament and relaunch (catapults can go all non-stop).

    Both the A-and the B- version could copycat useful features from the F22 for an affordable and more air combat worthy redesign. Similar cheap redesigns were carried out with other aircraft such as the F-18 to the Super Hornet. Increased wing area would greatly enhance agility, even canards might be worth considering for that purpose.
    The F-22 is too expensive, using some of the development results and the cheaper units JSF program to develop an air combat worthy single engine strike fighter with a STOVL variant would be more productive than relaunching that expensive manufacture.


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