Monday, July 20, 2015

Hornets Deleted?

Here’s a fascinating little tidbit that almost escaped me.  The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) is asking Congress to remove the 12 extra F/A-18E/Fs that were included in the defense authorization budget bill.  You may or may not know that the Navy included 12 extra Hornets on their unfunded requirements list which is a list submitted to Congress containing “wish list” items if Congress feels so inclined as to provide extra funding.  Essentially, it’s a priority list for unanticipated, extra funding.  Guess what?  To everyone’s surprise, Congress actually funded the extra Hornets and now OSD is trying to remove them from the budget.

So, what do we make of this?  The Navy has extra Hornets on their unfunded requirements list, Congress funds them, and now OSD is asking Congress to delete them.  ComNavOps can see only one explanation.

Someone is nervous about the viability of the F-35 and wants to ensure that there are no viable competitors in the form of the Hornet and that no one gets the bright idea to keep the Hornet production line going.  An active Hornet production line represents a viable alternative to the F-35 and people higher than the Navy don’t want that.  Add in the possibility of the Advanced Super Hornet with some of the F-35’s technology and you’ve got a seriously viable alternative.  It’s easy to see why that would make F-35 program managers nervous.

The Navy tells Congress what it needs.  Congress funds the need.  OSD attempts to prevent that.  That’s a seriously screwed up system.  Is there any further doubt about who’s calling the shots in the military?  I’m looking at you, Lockheed.

The request from OSD to Congress states that,

“…the additional 12 F/A-18E/F aircraft unfunded requirement is not required.”

Well, they’re not needed by Lockheed Martin, that’s for sure!  However, the Navy seems to think they’re needed.  I guess we see who’s running the Department of Lockheed Martin Defense.

(1)USNI, “Pentagon Asks Congress to Reverse Decision to Add 12 Super Hornets for Navy”, Megan Eckstein, July 17, 2015,


  1. The OSD may just want to spend that billion elsewhere.

    There's not ALWAYS a conspiracy. ;)

    1. "There's not ALWAYS a conspiracy. ;)"

      You may be right. However, I've never heard of a funded wish list item be requested to be removed. Is it just random chance that a competitor to the F-35 just happens to be the first? Given the history of questionable dealings with the F-35 program, I'll stick with my theory, for the time being.

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  2. Although I don't consider the Super Hornet a good aircraft (it's more of a bomb-truck than anything else that cannot maneuver well), it's better they spend it on a Hornet than on an F-35 that will probably end up costing more and deliver a worse value for thee money.

    This is why I think they are going to try to sink the Ticos after a premature retirement as well.

  3. I had always thought that the SH's strength was in its maneuverability; its weakness was EM and being draggy.

    I was brainstorming the other day and had two thoughts of what the Navy could do in a post or truncated F-35 world that might not break the bank or be too expensive.

    A) I wonder if they could make the SH even bigger to increase fuel capacity. Same basic aircraft, just bigger. Fix the range problem of our current airwing. Include the EPE engines.


    B) Could they make an 'Air superiority' SH that deleted the weapons stations canted out 5 degrees; to fix some of its drag issues.

    My read on the Hornet is that its the Miata of the fighter world. Its known to be able to point its nose well, but it doesn't have alot of range and isn't particularly fast. It *is* very reliable and takes alot of abuse without killing you with maintanance.

    Of course, it can carry alot more than the Miata so the analogy breaks down, but still.

    The SH is there, has great avionics, has great sortie rates from what I've read, and maybe could be tweaked to give it good range. There are alot worse things in a fighter.

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    2. B. Smitty,

      I don't disagree per se. I just think, especially in our current acquisition environment, that the unmanned platforms are farther off in the future. There's only so much money in the kitty; and airframes are wearing out now. It might be nice to have an interim step that's good enough.

      The Advanced SH is supposed to have better signature reduction than the SH; and if they did a bigger super duper SH they might be able to tweak that more.

      Perfect, no. But it gives us something that might be good enough that we can afford in the interim. If we can get some decent stand off weapons so much the better.

      Ah well. Like I said, just brain storming to find a quick, dirty, and affordable solution to our air wing's range issue. I'm also the guy who also likes the idea of a navalized Tucano to be used as a latter day Skyraider so we can more cheaply plink HiLux's; so caveat emptor!

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    5. I hadn't thought of navalizing the reapers. You might be able to get them off of a 'phib too. It would be useful, I think, if you could have enough of them on an America class off of Syria or Iraq and not have to worry so much about tying down a CVN.

      I wish they'd do the meteor for the SH. Coupled with its AESA radar and front aspect stealth, I think it would do alot to deal with SU-30 series fighters in BVR.

      Add in the conformal tanks and the EPE's and every little bit helps.

      Also, if the F-35 buy is truncated and you bought some of these new hornets with moderate or more extreme (making the plane bigger to add fuel fraction) it fills out the air wing for later stages of a war with a peer with a capable, versatile fighter.

      I also agree we need to start looking at unmanned. I also think that this might be a good time to start reforming our acquisitions process. But that's me being wildly optimistic.

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    7. Wrote reapers. Meant predators.

    8. "The SH will never have sufficient signature reduction to be a long-term player."

      Smitty, you seem to want to compare the SH to an F-22/35 and/or insert the SH into the same role. Our military, in their infinite wisdom has designated the F-22 (and maybe F-35 - not a lot of clarity on this) as the air superiority fighter, not the SH. As Jim alluded to, the SH is meant to be a multi-role, jack of all trades. You can agree or disagree with that intent but it is what it is. So, how much stealth does a jack of all trades need? Not a lot. This is the aircraft that will fly attack runs in an already established zone of aerial superiority. The SH is in the same tech realm as the Su-27/MiG-29. Don't compare the SH to Chinese F-22s and say it comes up short. That's not its role.

      One can make a very good argument that for the role the Navy sees for its aircraft the SH is quite adequate and an ASH would be beyond adequate. Note, this is not the role I see but it is the Navy's vision.

    9. Navalize Predator??? To do what? It's slow, not very maneuverable, and has no useful payload margin.

    10. Jim, stop backing down from your ideas! Stand your ground. An ASH is an absolutely viable option. Heck, simply adding conformal tanks to a standard SH would be a good step.

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    13. You want to create a new aircraft that will take up carrier spots just to plink pickup trucks??

    14. "I'm judging the SH in as the current and near-future Naval air superiority aircraft against your favorite boogieman. In this mission, it will face Su-30s+ as well as possibly J-20s and the like."

      I can't believe I'm hearing this! As you're fond of saying, if we haven't got air superiority then we don't belong there. If the AF's F-22/35s can't establish air superiority, we'd be idiots to send SHs!

      Now, if want (as I do) to build a true naval air superiority fighter then that's a different story.

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    17. "It may actually make financial sense if it doesn't cost that much and saves hours on our fighter aircraft."

      Now that triggers an interesting thought which we've touched on before, at least indirectly. I've opined that a two-tier war-peace fleet would make sense. Similarly, a two-tier war-peace air wing may make sense. A cheap, pickup truck-plinking air wing for peace time and a high end, F-18/35 air wing for serious war. Of course, the challenge is how to maintain pilot proficiency for high end combat during peace time. We barely (arguably, don't) manage it now with an all F-18 wing.

      Still, worth some thought.

    18. My thinking entirely hinges around my concern that we are burning the hours out of our jets with mission overkill. If you could figure out a way to launch reapers and recover them cheaply, you could put their control center on or under the deck of the CVN or 'phib and let the drone drivers burn time on their much cheaper air frames going after the HiLux's.

      The other alternative to me (my original thought) was the skyraider.

      The fact of the matter is the vast majority of our Navy's combat has been against non peer actors, and a low intensity aircraft (That's rugged, we don't want guys getting shot down if they can help it) would do just fine I think.

      As to the ASH; I think its a fine thing. If you fit it with meteors and maybe make an E version without the draggy weapons station and with the EPE and the CFT's, I think that you have a pretty decent poor man's interceptor if you hang AIM 120D's or even Meteor's on it.

      Its also here and alot more affordable.

  4. Oh, FWIW, I wish we could get something like the Rafale for our air wings. But I discount that because its just not going to happen.

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    2. For most stuff I totally agree. The biggest thing with rafale with me is its combat radius. I read somewhere that it was ~800 miles; well over the SH.

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    4. If nothing else I don't understand why the Navy wouldn't buy the CFT's for the legacy SH's.

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    6. L/D is more favorable with the Rafale IIRC.

      That and it doesn't have the wing drop issue. It's a pretty agile aircraft, at least for a double engined aircraft (that's one of the reasons why I prefer single engined planes - less boat drag from two engines).

      But it's all academic at this point because the US probably will not buy/license build the Rafale, nor design something similar.

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    8. "But it's all academic at this point because the US probably will not buy/license build the Rafale, nor design something similar."

      Alt, quite true. At this point, a combination F-22/35 aircraft that is "stripped down" of magic technology would be the best solution. An F-22 airframe with modernized F-35 stealth (supposedly less maintenance intensive - we'll see), a competent radar, a good weapons load, and that's it. Essentially, an F-15 with stealth. Just a pure air superiority fighter but producible today, without any magic, just-around-the-corner, Star Wars tech.

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    10. "Just restarting the F-22 line would take years and billions. Creating a navalized F-22 is likely not a trivial exercise."

      But a navalized Predator would be easy and cheap?

      A restart of the F-22 line with a navalized version would be immensely less expensive than a brand new design aircraft.

      Hey, if the Navy can build a F/A-XX with my philosophy, I'm all for it!

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    12. I'm not married to the F-22 or F-15. They're just examples of good air superiority fighters that could be the basis of a solid naval air superiority fighter. If it makes more sense to do a clean design, that's fine by me.

    13. What any existing design has going for it is that the aerodynamic problems have been worked out and the structure is sound (notwithstanding the need to beef up for the controlled crash of carrier landings!). An F-22 design, for example, would seem like a decent starting point, even for a new design. On the other hand, if there is some sort of inherent flaw that makes an F-22 totally unsuited for naval use no matter what kind of modifications are made, then pass on it. I don't think that's likely, though.

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    15. This is strictly a hypothetical exercise.

      Strictly as an air superiority aircraft, the Rafale is quite a bit better than the F-18 Super Hornet, as it's very agile - probably the most agile aircraft right now in service anywhere in the world (and yes that includes the F-22, although it does have a TW advantage).

      As a bombtruck, yes, B Smitty has a point that the Rafale would be somewhat weighed down, but the thing is, if it finds itself in trouble, it can jettison the bombing payload and fuel, then defend itself. The F-35 could only jettison the cargo, but still has a large draggy fuselage.

      Flyaway cost for Rafale M was US$108 million in 2011, so perhaps a bit higher now with inflation. On the other hand, if the USN were to replace it, it might actually fall under $100 million simply due to volume (the USN would buy many more than the French).

      The advantages would be:
      - Tools already exist for the Rafale
      - The R&D is already done
      - It's the most agile fighter (or one of the most agile) on earth right now
      - Can be operated on existing carriers
      - Cheaper than F-35 on a per unit basis

      - Compatibility with US munitions
      - I'm reluctant to put this one down, but the Rafale was not designed with radar stealth

      Of course, it's not happening, but it's a worthy thought exercise.

      @ComNavOps, given the cost of the F-22, I'm not sure whether or not it'd be possible to navalize it. There's a lot of figures of the real cost, anywhere from $150-$250 million USD for the F-22, and it's $412 million (2011 USD) with R&D factored in. A naval version would likely cost more and have a shorter range (the fuselage needs to be able to stand up to carrier operations, which means it has to be strengthened).

      Now the R&D costs for a navalized variant might be somewhat less, but whether or not the stealth skin would stand up to carrier conditions remains to be seen. Maintenance to flight ratios would not be good either (probably comparable to F-14).

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    17. "Strictly as an air superiority aircraft, the Rafale is quite a bit better than the F-18 Super Hornet, as it's very agile - probably the most agile aircraft right now in service anywhere in the world (and yes that includes the F-22, although it does have a TW advantage)."

      Alt, you're making a claim that has little supporting data that I can find. I'm not saying you're wrong, just that I can't find reports or data supporting your claim of Rafale superiority. You're basing your claim, as best I can tell, on a few pieces of peripheral data like fuel fraction and the like. You're also basing the claim on characteristics like maneuverability that may be applicable in a pure, guns dogfight but may not be as relevant in the overall air superiority role. For example, the F-22 is hoped to be more of an aerial sniper (both long and short range) due to its stealth than a pure dogfighter. Aerial superiority involves radar, stealth, detection ranges, and support like AWACS. Could the non-stealthy Rafale function effectively in this role? I don't know.

      So, I'm not saying you're wrong but your contention may be overly limited. The F-22 strikes me as an excellent air superiority aircraft - more so than the Rafale. Honestly, though, I just don't know enough about the Rafale. If I were looking to buy an aircraft for air superiority, someone would have to prove to me that the Rafale has the characteristics for the role rather than just maneuverability for a one on one dogfight, although that is certainly a part of the overall assessment.

    18. Strictly from a WVR standpoint, the Rafale is very agile.

      In BVR compared to an F-22:
      - The F-22 does have radar stealth and the APG-77 is a stronger radar
      - Whether that will be an advantage though is open to debate, as the Rafale does have an IRST (an IR sensor that can detect at long range)

      - The F-22 can supercruise faster than the Rafale (due to the higher thrust to drag at the supersonic boundary), but for shorter distances
      - Negating this somewhat is the fact that the F-22 is a larger aircraft, which gives a larger operating radius, but it becomes a drawback in a dogfight

      - The big drawbacks the F-22 has is cost (could be 1.5x-2.5x as much, possibly more for a navalized variant) and how often it can fly (F-22 is very much a hangar queen).
      - Rafale's flight to maintenance is reportedly (8:1), and at one point, the F-22 was over 30:1 flight to maintenance - in other words, if I had a fleet of 100 Rafales and 100 F-22s, the Rafales would be able to fly more than 3.75x as often as the F-22s

      - Big drawback of the Rafale is the fact that it's a bit slower on at max supercruise (and possibly at supersonic acceleration)
      - No radar stealth as indicated

      I believe you are familiar with the 2008 RAND study?

      The reason why I brought that up is because historically BVR missiles have been very ineffective, and these were fired against pilots without adequate training, so the odds of a dogfight are very high.

      The other the RAND report mentioned was Lancaster Squared. That favors the cheaper aircraft. For the F-22 to win, it would need to be between (1.5 to 2.5)^2, so 2.25x to 6.25x better than the Rafale to win. That's not even taking into account the flight to maintenance ratios.

  5. Forget about the F35, just build something decent from scratch, around existing engines, or slight improved derivitives if required (i.e. super cruising capable, adaptive engines). Just like the Pakfa, it was developed around what was bassically the existing engine slightly improved, and they are going from there with their new engine they are developing.

    Just build something decent like that, for air superiority, and also another as a multirole, and add a hook in it's rear, and a latch for catobar on the front landing gear....

    I am sure they can whack out some concepts fast, prototype them, and design and field them in a few years, if it wasn't about the money from lucrative development contracts.... Just like they did in WW2, the inter war and the post war, pre cold-war period. And design the engines, and the new sensors and stuff independently... Just build out the airframe... No one needs the platnium plated gizmos, infact much of the F35 tech is grossly outdated now because development has taken so long, the targeting pods on the newer F18s/15s for instance are superrior.

  6. “just build something decent from scratch” LOL.

    Air superiority takes something, well … superior.

    And unfortunately what you need is NOT something superior today; you need something that will still be superior in 25 years’ time with upgrades.

    If it was that easy to “JUST” nock something up, everyone would be doing it wouldn’t they. Then no body is superior. If you want superior, by definition, in short, it needs gold plating, unless they are gold plating too, in which case platinum plate it. That’s why they call it the arms race.

    I find it vuagly amusing that the “F35 tech is grossly outdated now” but your advocating using F15 and F18 tech.

    CNO, I really can’t see the F22 as being a great starting point, well for so many reasons, not least because it’s so huge, I guess you could stack them on their edge, but that’s going to scratch the paint work.

    F22 is just phenomenally expensive, unspeakably, and I suspect the running costs are likewise.

    The nature of a modern carrier bourn fighter is that it has to be multi role, unless want to move to 500,000 tonne carriers with N kinds of fighter. Therefor it never going to be the best we can produce at ALL aspects.

    Luckily due to the nature of carrier warfare, it doesn’t have to be. Carriers get to pick and choose their fights (and tactics) more than the USAF, get in, get out, keep moving. They get to ensure attacking fighters are stretched to reach them, and have complex and shifting defensive structures to favour their fighters.


    I do think its weird the F18’s got dumped.

    I think its extremely likely it’s a strategy to force commitment to F35C. The Navy has so far been very luke warm on the whole subject, and the powers that be are starting to look embarrassed. I don’t necessarily think that means LM either. ( they have been embarrassed for quite a while ! )


    1. We are talking about an aeroplane, a vehicle built for a specific purpose, and equipped with all the tools and equipment (the sensors and weaponry) to achieve that purpose. Sure much of the design of this vehicle is limited to our technology, and the performance is greatly effected by what sensors and weaponry you put on that platform.

      What I am talking about however is designing an aeroplane (something that the US aeronautics industry has done very well in the past), not making breakthroughs in material science to achieve some arbitrary objective, or designing all it's systems and components from scratch. Frankly I am saying the opposite, just build the best AEROPLANE that can be built now, build it with room for growth and around incrementally improved subsystems like the PAKFA (specifically the engine example).

      The actual time from drawing board to the first few flights of the F35 aeroplane was not that long, the problem they have had is not designing the plane, but designing all it's subsystems from scratch, validating all these new systems and technologies, then getting them all to work together... They have off course had very little incentive for doing this quickly, they have been making large amounts of profits out of the development due to the way the government contracts are designed....


      What I propose is to just design new airframes, use the technology and sensors and weapons we have now, it should not take an overly long time to integrate these already perfectly functioning systems together, into a new AIRFRAME. This gives you all the advancements in AEROPLANE design and MATERIAL SCIENCES and STEALTH DESIGN that have occured over the last several decades, with the performance of the sensors, weapons, and powerplants available now. Those sensors, and weapons and powerplants, they can be further incrementally improved or replaced in the future...

      Getting new airframes out there, and getting them out soon, will provide real improvements in the capability of the USAF and USN, and will prevent the massive decrease in numbers that is going to happened if these systems do not start getting replaced, soon and before they need to be retired....

      And yes, when you take decades too develop something, and run so far beyond schedule, sometimes you come out with products that are not as good as what the competition has developed in the meantime. Believe it or not, military technology did not stop development when the F35 program started, nor is there any such thing as 'fXX' technology, there simply isn't, there is no fixed 'level' or 'generation' of technology with each of these fighter designs.

      Much of the technology in the F35 is very old, because the plane is old, because it has taken so long to develop. And most of it is pretty bad, from the landing hook which for some reason was only recently redesigned to actually reach the retention wire, to the engines which crack, catch on fire, and explode, to the helmets which don't work and impede head movement. The list of 'F35' technology is something that I wouldn't get that impressed by.

      Meanwhile so called 'legacy fighters' many of which are vastly supperior in many ways, are constantly being upgraded, and having upgrade paths proposed, which utilize modern technology, to get the most out of these platforms, I am refering to upgrades like the ASH program for the F18. Indeed the F15SE with it's vastly superior availability, cost, better flight charachteristics, similar stealth capabilities is arguably better as both an air-superiority fighter, and as a ground attack bomber.

    2. "The nature of a modern carrier bourn fighter is that it has to be multi role, unless want to move to 500,000 tonne carriers with N kinds of fighter. "

      I'm an advocate for the Navy. I think that sounds like a great idea! :-)

    3. "The nature of a modern carrier bourn fighter is that it has to be multi role, unless want to move to 500,000 tonne carriers with N kinds of fighter."

      Ben, how do you figure that? We can double the current size of carrier air wings and they'll fit comfortably on current carriers. We had specialized aircraft for decades (Tomcats, Intruders, Vikings, etc.). We could still do that, if we wanted.

      The current air wing has nominally 40-44 combat aircraft, meaning Hornets. Subtracting out the half dozen that are used as tankers leaves 34-38 combat aircraft. We could easily build an air wing of 40 dedicated air superiority and 40 dedicated strike aircraft along with dedicated tankers, ASW, and AWACS support aircraft. We've done it before!

    4. Yep it’s been done before, but the Sky Hawk is relatively tiny. And just don’t cut it today.

      You are defiantly NOT going to fit 40 F22 and 40 (shall we say F18 for strike?) + Spares \ repairs \ engines crews etc. etc. etc. on a 100,000 tonne carrier.

      Yes, if you have ground up designs with foldable everything. But my point is if you want THE best air superiority, the best strike, you’re going to get yourself in trouble.

      The trend in carrier bourn fighters since the swordfish and the seafire has been and ever increase in size, complexity and stall speed.

      You want good strike you’re looking at a 14+ tonne strike package + range 500nm + and low speed performance etc. etc. etc., you’re looking at a big plane.

      You want a Mach 2+ air superiority fighter with better than 1:1 power ratio, super cruise and at least 8 AMRAAM + short range missiles with a CAP capacity of several hours + low stall speed and robust landing gear, your probably looking at an even bigger plane.
      Now consider where we are putting the spare engines and bits for these planes and the double supply chain and the specialists, and the volume and expense REALLY starts to ramp up.

      Realistically you be lucky to take to 38 F18 air wing and chop that down the middle for your 2 types.

      You can cram more on (I’m terms of neat space), but your sortie rate plummets. And I think that’s the crux.

      Either lets go for a truly massive carrier, or an optimal multirole air wing designed for availability and sortie rate.


  7. just curious do you know super hornet got it's own boardgame ?

    from DVG

  8. In the next war, we really should demand Lockheed executives pilot a few F-35s with our boys and go into battle. See how comfortable they are having their butts just covered by stealth and sensor fusion. If their children were the ones flying the F-35s, every F-35 would be designed better than a F-22.


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