Monday, August 10, 2015

Hornet Upgrades

As we’re all painfully aware, the F-35 has been in development for two decades and is still years away from front line service in any effective manner (notwithstanding the Marine Corps’ PR stunt proclaiming a fictional IOC).  The danger with such a protracted development is that by the time the aircraft reaches squadron service, its technologies may be obsolete.  Most of us recognize this danger and worriedly track Chinese and Russian aviation developments to see what capabilities they’ll have when the F-35 enters service.  However, there is another F-35 “enemy” whose technological capabilities should have been vastly overmatched by the F-35 but are rapidly catching up and may surpass the F-35.  Who is that enemy?  It’s the F-18 Hornet.  Yes, the lowly, basic, non-stealthy Hornet is rapidly gaining capabilities to rival or surpass the F-35. 

We know about the Advanced Super Hornet with conformal fuel tanks that would add 260 miles to the combat radius according to flight testing, enhanced stealth with a 50% reduction in frontal RCS, longer range, advanced cockpit avionics, and an enclosed weapons pod.  What else is being done to improve the Hornet?  Well, here are a couple of new technologies.

Harris Corp., Government Communications Systems Division, has received a $29M contract for the procurement of 138 Distributed Targeting System (DTS) kits for F/A-18E/F and EA-18G (1).   DTS provides enhanced targeting capability for the Super Hornet. It is part of the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18E/F Network Centric Warfare Upgrades program and the F/A-18E/F Flight Plan, which is intended to ensure that the Super Hornet remains ahead of emerging threats in coming decades.

DTS increases pilot and aircrew situational awareness and precision targeting when engaging air-to-ground targets, in part by using geo-registration technology.  Geo-registration technology compares images taken from tactical sensors with an onboard imagery database to produce highly accurate target coordinates.

From a Flight Global website article (2),

"The distributed targeting system allows you to self-generate GPS-quality mensurated coordinates onboard the airplane autonomously," Morley [Captain Frank Morley, Program Manager for the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G] says.

“That means that the Super Hornet will be able to use coordinates generated by its sensors, for example its Raytheon APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar or its Raytheon AN/ASQ-228 Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) pod, and compare that to a precise onboard imagery database to generate precise weapons quality coordinates.”

Now doesn’t that sound a lot like the F-35’s vaunted sensor fusion technology?  The biggest difference is that the DTS is being produced today rather than being just a never-ending developmental project.

In addition to the DTS, the Hornet has an Infrared Search and Track (IRST) sensor in the works.  IRST is a passive, long-range sensor that searches for and detects heat sources.  The system can simultaneously track multiple targets and provides air-to-air targeting capability.  Being a passive sensor, IRST does not give off radiation and is harder to detect as well as being immune to radar jamming.

“Meanwhile, the Boeing is about one year into a development program to field a new infrared search and track (IRST) pod that should be fielded on the Super Hornet fleet by late 2016, Morley says. Developed in conjunction with Lockheed Martin, the new sensor is an evolution of the Northrop Grumman F-14D Tomcat's AN/AAS-42 IRST camera. Boeing upgraded the Tomcat's camera technology for foreign F-15 sales, Morley says. The variant of the sensor that will be added to the Super Hornet is a further development of Boeing's F-15 developments.”

“For the Super Hornet, the USN opted for a podded-solution. A pod avoids retrofit costs, Morley says. An internal system would require modifications to the aircraft's outer mold-line and avionics hardware changes, which would require extensive testing. Nor does the USN need the pod for every mission, Morley says. The IRST is only required for air-to-air focused missions like fleet air defence or air superiority. As such, the USN will only buy about 170 pods, which it will use only as needed, Morley says.

One of the unique design features of the new IRST pod is that it is built into an external fuel tank. Because the aircraft's centerline station is the optimum position for the IRST pod, it has to take the place of the Super Hornet's ever-present drop-tank.

In order to preserve the Super Hornet's range, the USN opted to have the sensor built into the forward half of the fuel tank. That way, some two-thirds of the fuel is still available for use.” (2)


IRST completed its first flight aboard an F/A-18 Super Hornet in February.

Further planned upgrades also sound like the F-35 sensor fusion (2).

“…one of the most important planned capabilities will be better multi-sensor integration (MSI). The aircraft will eventually be able to correlate all of the disparate information generated by the radar, ATFLIR, electronic warfare systems and data-links into one clear tactical picture …”

A Global Aviation website report sums up the Hornet’s development (3),

“Other F/A-18E/F Super Hornet next-generation capabilities included in the flight plan are advanced fused sensors, Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar, Counter Electronic Attack (CEA), Distributed Targeting System (DTS), Multi-sensor Integration (MSI), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), IP-Based Linked Networks and advanced air-to-ground and air-to-air precision weapons operating on an open-architecture backplane.”

Again, the key difference between the F-35 and these Hornet technologies is that the Hornet’s are in production or nearly so and are being fitted to capable, combat ready aircraft.  By the time the F-35 is ready, it may find itself struggling to keep up with the Hornet rather than the other way around.




(2)Flight Global Website, “USN developing new Super Hornet upgrades”, Dave Majumdar, 28-May-2012


(3)Global Aviation Report, “Navy’s IRST System Successfully Completes First Flight Aboard F/A-18”, February 19, 2014


60 comments:

  1. Do a prototype competition to get the best airplane.

    Do not fall for the overpromises of gains like with the last upgrade of the F-18 as documented in the book The Pentagon Paradox.

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  2. The Super Hornet is already more capable than any F-35 will be for quite some time. F-35 doesn't gain parity with SH until the notional Block 4.3 version gets fleeted in the mid-late 2020s. The Block II spiral is almost finished. The question becomes which ASH upgrades can be retrofitted to existing aircraft, whether Block I can be economically SLEPed, and will there be new build Block III aircraft that incorporate ASH features.

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  3. I agree with Charley; the SH is a mature aircraft with alot more capability baked into it at this stage than the F-35.

    The real question is whether the F-35 will have a bigger upside. It *should*, but given the extreme length of its development cycle I don't know if that will always be true.

    We may be reaching the point where add on pods that are in their own, tighter development cycle will work as well or better than the internal stuff on the F-35 that has been stuck or 'frozen' in an attempt to get it to integrate properly.

    Its almost like having in dash navigation on your car; for years the automakers spent millions on these puppies to make them nice; while externally phones became just as good or better at the same thing.

    Now, the SH will never have the F-35C's level of stealth or range just due to the airframe, and that might be a reason to keep the F-35 around regardless.

    But I think that's why OSD has traditionally been so anti-SH purchases for the Navy, despite the fact that just running the numbers on airframe life shows they need them.

    If a SH gets produced with CFT's, these new sensors, and maybe the tweaks for the decrease in frontal RCS, and its all flyable and working.... selling the jet that doesn't do some of that for a 40% increase in cost is going to be difficult.

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    1. A new engine was proposed as well to give the super hornet more thrust.

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  4. That's why I am all for the US Navy in dropping the F-35C and going with the Advanced Super Hornet. The USAF can drop the F-35A and go with the Block 60 F-16 with Conformal Fuel tanks and the F-15's can be upgraded to Silent Eagle. as for the USMC, they should upgrade the Harriers and maybe look into the X-32.

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  5. "We may be reaching the point where add on pods that are in their own, tighter development cycle will work as well or better than the internal stuff on the F-35 that has been stuck or 'frozen' in an attempt to get it to integrate properly."

    What a great comment! CNO Greenert is the champion of the payloads over platforms philosophy. If he truly believes that, he should be pushing for the upgraded SH. Isn't that what the LCS was meant to be? Although, to be fair, the LCS has turned out to be an utter failure.

    I also like your observation about development cycles.

    I do no agree with the underlying principle of payloads over platforms but I can recognize and appreciate an insightful comment. Very nice, Jim!

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    1. Payloads over platforms can work in selected circumstances. Look at P-8.

      We bought what is essentially a mature "van" with tons of SWAP-C margins.

      In case of MPA, sensors, weapon and C3 far more important than speed, acceleration and maneuverability.

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    2. The use of modular systems in non-critical applications, such as this, was covered in a previous post. You've correctly identified the key factor. If the platform's performance is not critical then any platform can perform the task via modules.

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    3. Not sure I agree with "any platform" or what is meant by "non-critical". The van still needs some basic design characteristics.

      In case of long-range ASW, you still need a van with range and payload capacity. Both of these characteristics are available in commercial airliners.

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  6. "I do no agree with the underlying principle of payloads over platforms but I can recognize and appreciate an insightful comment. Very nice, Jim!"

    Thank you!!

    I agree with you, but I just wonder at this point if we need to maximize what we can get given we might face a real shortage in airframes soon. I wonder too if instead of overhauling all the old ones if it might not be cheaper in the long run to retire old C"s and replace them with SH.

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  7. That's why for any new aircraft, I believe the base platform should be as simple as possible.

    That and incremental upgrades rather than trying to reinvent the wheel each time.

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    1. Alt, that's a good, solid approach. I also have nothing against developing next generation, leap ahead technologies and aircraft as long as the effort is restricted to R&D. This trend of committing to production of non-existent technologies is insane.

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    2. One of the reasons why I have criticized fighter development in the US is that they don't take an incremental approach.

      The Su-27 has seen an incremental approach into the Su-35, and now PAK-FA, with a dozen more variants, some for carrier operations, some for ground attack, some for bombing, etc.

      I'm not saying the Russians are perfect in their approach (PAK-FA may be experiencing difficulties right now), but they experience fewer problems.

      You'll also notice on many of the Russian Navy's ships, they have more than 1 gun and are less technology reliant. They are not perfect (Russian damage control seems lacking), but I think that when you consider the disparity in defense spending, the Russians do get a better value for their money.

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  8. One of the people on the DOD website suggested that the US government funds contractor R&D to just over a dollar for every dollar spent. Does anyone know anything about that?

    The way he described it sounded insane; that it made it easy for defense contractors to pad their bottom line by just having long R&D.

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    1. Jim, I don't know the exact ratio but, yes, we fund corporate R&D. That's completely reasonable. If we want a company to develop a unique product just for our use, we have to expect to pay a substantial amount of that development. That's the dark side of the lack of competition that we've created. If we had several companies competing for DoD sales, we'd be much more likely to have the companies foot more of the research bill. We don't have much competition so they have little incentive to internally fund huge amounts of research.

      All in all, though, there's nothing inherently wrong with paying for the specific research you want. Yes, R&D can be a bottomless money pit if not carefully monitored - and we're doing a very poor job of monitoring.

      This also ties back to concurrency. At the beginning of the F-35 saga we should have said, "Here's a little seed money to develop a magic helmet. Let us know if and when you have a working version and then we'll talk about production." Instead, we committed to production and now have no choice but to pay any amount the manuf asks for to cover development. We're already committed.

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  9. On another forum, I asked a question concerning the F-35 which elicited no responses from F-35 critics and advocates alike, because it was too hot to handle. Here is some background to my question, which will be forthcoming shortly:

    The F-35's most vocal advocates are claiming it will be the most competent and capable multi-role fighter airplane in the history of military aviation; and further, it will remain so for decades into the future. One of several reasons SECDEF Robert Gates gave in 2009 for terminating F-22 production at ~180 airframes was that the F-35 could handle all of the F-22's missions, assuming sufficient numbers of F-35s were bought.

    If both of these arguing points are taken uncritically at face value and are applied to future airpower force planning decisions, it would seem that there is no fundamental reason why the F-35A could not replace all versions of the F-15 and the F-22; or why the F-35C could not replace all versions of the F-18, including the E, F, and G versions.

    So here is my too-hot-to-handle question: "Is there a case to be made for completely retiring all legacy USAF and US Navy TACAIR fighter aircraft -- i.e., all models of the A-10, the F-15, the F-16, the F-18, and the F-22 -- in favor of an all F-35 TACAIR fleet, doing so by 2030 at the latest, or possibly even by 2025 if F-35 production could be ramped up quickly enough?"

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    2. One could also ask, is there a case to be made to drop the F-35 entirely and proceed with upgraded Hornets (and Eagles/Raptors/Falcons for the AF)?

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    3. I wonder too if it would be possible to just buy some more Eagles with all the latest bells and whistles; in conjunction with an effort to either make the AIM-120 the best missile out there and/or a purchase of the meteor.

      The Eagle is arguably still a better pure air superiority fighter, and it can take on the Flanker if its upgraded. It also is cheaper and we could get some fresh airframes on the flight line.

      As to the missiles, it seems we've sold the farm for BVR, so we might as well buy the best farm implements.

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  10. Is there a case to be made? Yes and no.

    No, if we use current costs, production numbers, planned variants (none), and capabilities (limited compared to the scenarios and opponents).

    Yes, if we want to hypothesize greatly increased numbers, several variants, substantially lower costs due to the greater numbers, specialized versions (CAS, ISR, A2A, ECM, etc.), and greatly improved performance specs due to ongoing upgrades.

    So, theoretically, a case can be made but not a realistic one. Not sure why this would be a too hot to handle question. It's a fairly straightforward exercise in logic.

    Take one of your specifics - that the F-35 could handle all of the F-22's missions. Yes, it could, if sufficient extra aircraft were procured. I've seen people suggest that anywhere from 4-8 F-35s are the equivalent of 1 F-22 in A2A. So, if you're willing to buy 4x-8x as many F-35s as we currently have F-22s then, sure, the F-35 could replace the F-22, in theory. Quantity can and does compensate for quality if the quality mismatch isn't too large. Again, though, is anyone going to seriously consider buying several hundred extra F-35s to take over the F-22's role? Of course not.

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    1. Scott's 'too-hot-to-handle' (exercise in logic) question: "Is there a case to be made for completely retiring all legacy USAF and US Navy TACAIR fighter aircraft -- i.e., all models of the A-10, the F-15, the F-16, the F-18, and the F-22 -- in favor of an all F-35 TACAIR fleet, doing so by 2030 at the latest, or possibly even by 2025 if F-35 production could be ramped up quickly enough?"

      ComNavOps: " ..... Take one of your specifics - that the F-35 could handle all of the F-22's missions. Yes, it could, if sufficient extra aircraft were procured. I've seen people suggest that anywhere from 4-8 F-35s are the equivalent of 1 F-22 in A2A. ..... "

      CNO, it is my speculation that in three to five years, questions like this one will be put onto the table for serious study and analysis as budget pressures put ever greater stress on DOD's ability to keep TACAIR supplied with adequate numbers of serviceable aircraft.

      DOD will be acquiring some number of F-35s in the 2020s and 2030s regardless of where the program and the airplane itself stand in relation to the program's original expectations for cost, schedule, and performance.

      One option that will likely be under study in 2018 or 2019 will be the option of gambling the entire TACAIR ballgame on the F-35, even if there is evidence that the 2019 incarnation of the F-35 still falls short in the areas of affordability and combat performance.

      Is it beyond the pale even to be thinking about doing this kind of thing after 2020; i.e., retiring the F-15Es, the F-18 E/F/Gs, and the F-22s by mid decade in addition to retiring the A-10s, the F-16's, and the F-18 C/Ds?

      It depends on how acute the TACAIR shortfall of the 2020's is perceived to be as 2018 or 2019 rolls around and as assessments are being made at that time as to where the shortfall appears to be headed.

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    2. Scott, I'll match you with another too-hot-to-handle question. Have we gone down the wrong path of multi-role aircraft? Should we revert to single function aircraft?

      The F-35 is the poster child for what happens when multi-role is the driving factor in design. Costs explode. A pretty good argument can be made that we could have designed and built three separate aircraft for the AF/Navy/Marines cheaper, quicker, and with better performance than the single, multi-role F-35.

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    4. I'm sorry. I wasn't very precise with my terminology. I was using the term multi-role to encompass both multi-service and multi-function. The F-35 is an abject lesson in the folly of both multi-service builds and multi-function. The multi-service issues are obvious. The multi-function issues are the attempt to make a single aircraft an A2A, A2G, ISR, mini-AWACs, fighter director, weapons reprogrammer, CAS, and I don't know what all else. The costs to add all those functions have driven up the cost compared to any single function. As an example, review the recent post about what the F-35B might have been to what it is. We could have had a B for far less and it would have been far more effective.

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    5. Multi-role can make sense in non-tactical applications.

      If you were to draw the "ven diagram" of characteristics required for ASW, ISR and SUW, you get something that looks like P-3.

      Multi-role doesn't make a lot if sense in tactical applications. A strike-fighter will almost always lose out to a contemporary single-role fighter. The compromises made in speed and maneuverability (fighter) to get range and payload (bomber) are simply too severe.

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    7. Pretty much everyone in the world disagreed with Galileo.

      Not saying I'm as famous as Galileo ... ... ... yet.

      C'mon, unless you're just looking to argue for the fun of it, we've been through this. Single function doesn't preclude a secondary function, it just means that you're optimized for a primary role.

      Multi-role does cost more. How much depends on the roles and the degree to which they're implemented. It can be quite a bit. Again, if you're serious and not just arguing for fun, respond to the F-35B What Might Have Been example. We could have built a B that would have met every Marine need for LOTS less than what the B actually costs. Multi-role hugely inflated the cost.

      You're also taking liberties with the designation of multi-role. The F-22 was designed with a primary role, as was the F-15 and F-16. Again, a secondary function does not mean multi-role in this context. I don't know about the design intentions of the foreign aircraft.

      As far as pretty much everyone in the world, I've spoken to pretty much everyone in the world and pretty much everyone in the world agrees with me that the F-35's multi-service, multi-function design has turned out to be a mistake (costly and decades overdue). Pretty much everyone in the world agrees that you just enjoy getting up in the morning, grabbing a cup of coffee, and having a leisurely argument with ComNavOps! :)

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    8. "Multi-role can make sense in non-tactical applications."

      Anon, we've covered this in previous posts. You might want to check out,

      Master of None

      The Myth of Modularity

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    10. If you want to call add-on capabilities, multi-role, that's fine. I'll repeat for the umpteenth time, I have no problem with a SECONDARY function. If a secondary function can be added, later, especially at a relatively small cost, that's great.

      Ask yourself, though, was the Tomcat's add-on bombing capability optimized? Was the F-15E's bombing capability optimized (actually, I don't know that much about the F-15E so that's sort of an actually inquiry).

      If we had started out to make a pure attack aircraft, utterly optimized for that role, would it look like a Bombcat or F-15E? I doubt it. Hence, the add-on capability is sub-optimal. You can get away with sub-optimal in an uncontested environment, like we've been flying in for the last few decades, but you'll see the problems when high end combat comes. At that point, we'll see that the cheap add-on capability maybe wasn't that great a deal. Worse, we'll realize that the cheap add-on capability kept us from developing the real, specialized aircraft that we actually need and now don't have.

      You continue to assess things through the lens of the past and the low end - it worked, passably, against no opposition, therefore it will always work in any situation. I assess things through the lens of the future and the high end - will it work against a peer? In essence, you're fighting the previous wars and I'm trying to prepare for the future.

      I invite you, join me in the future!

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    11. "Single function doesn't preclude a secondary function, it just means that you're optimized for a primary role."

      I'll go back and read up, but it sounds like what you are arguing for is something like the current iteration F-16, Strike Eagle, or the old Bombcat. i.e. air superiority aircraft that have been given a strike role because they can, but which are primarily designed for and retain air superiority capability.

      To me, I guess, that's always what multirole has meant. But it also always seems to go one way: I.E. you can make an F-4 a bomber, but its hard to make an A7 an effective air superiority aircraft.

      In some ways the F-35 makes me think 'what if' they'd kept up with the philosophy of the day and made the missileer and evolved it into a strike aircraft.

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    12. "Single function doesn't preclude a secondary function, it just means that you're optimized for a primary role."

      I'll go back and read up, but it sounds like what you are arguing for is something like the current iteration F-16, Strike Eagle, or the old Bombcat. i.e. air superiority aircraft that have been given a strike role because they can, but which are primarily designed for and retain air superiority capability.

      To me, I guess, that's always what multirole has meant. But it also always seems to go one way: I.E. you can make an F-4 a bomber, but its hard to make an A7 an effective air superiority aircraft.

      In some ways the F-35 makes me think 'what if' they'd kept up with the philosophy of the day and made the missileer and evolved it into a strike aircraft.

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    13. Here's an interesting thought exercise. Conceptually design the ideal strike aircraft for the future given both the worst case requirement to fight China/Russia/Iran/NK and to low end stuff we do today. How would such an aircraft look compared to what we're using for strike today? What would it cost?

      Here's a start - and maybe we can approach this as a collaborative effort rather than argumentative and we can build on each other's thoughts?

      As one design aspect, a strike aircraft needs to be survivable. That means on ingress and egress but not on maneuvering. Thus, frontal and rear stealth are important rather than all aspect. I'm thinking, particularly, in the visible spectrum. Thus, a flat shape to minimize visibility to EO systems would be desirable. Moderate front/rear radar stealth, of course. Good IR suppression. The planform can be large and non-stealthy, if necessary, since it's less important. I guess this is somewhat the B-2 shape or the old Avenger. I wonder if a mirror'ed front finish would hinder EO detection?

      Thoughts?

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    16. "Let's say I buy 50 A2G aircraft and 50 A2A aircraft for the cost equivalency of 90 multirole aircraft. I find myself in a war with a country with 50 A2A aircraft.

      At BEST, i have 1:1 parity in A2A numbers with the split A2G/A2A fleet.

      I can have a 1.8:1 numerical advantage in A2A numbers with the multirole fleet if they all fly A2A sorties. "

      You miss the key concept in this. If we build a pure A2A aircraft that is exquisitely optimized for the role, we don't need as many. If we build a multi-role aircraft that is only OK at A2A then we need many more.

      So, your example is wrong. You should have said that against an enemy with 50 A2A aircraft, I need 25 specialized A2A aircraft which leaves me with plenty of resources (money) to build the specialized A2G that I also want.

      AF leaders have stated that it would take 4-8 F-35s to equal the A2A performance of 1 F-22. That's the savings that specialization provides.

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    17. I don't see a future pure strike aircraft doing the direct overhead weapons release. I see the aircraft using standoff weapons so that there is no need to penetrate the absolute heart of an air defense system. Hence, no need to all aspect stealth. Just frontal stealth to get within range and rear stealth to run.

      Do you see a closer penetration being required that would justify all aspect stealth?

      The front/rear condition also suggest the desirability of extreme speed - get to the launch point before the defense can respond and get out the same.

      What do you think?

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    21. I, more than any, understand and support numbers. However, I also support wise allocation of budget. The logic of one F-22 over 4-8 F-35s is inescapable from a monetary viewpoint and a performance viewpoint.

      Let's say that the 50 A2A aircraft can each kill one enemy (conveniently wiping out the enemy force). If we need 4-8 (let's use an average of 6) multi-role aircraft to achieve the same single kill that the F-22 gets, our 90 F-35s will only kill 15 out of the 50 enemy aircraft. The logic of this is pretty obvious. Specialized aircraft are cheaper in the long run.

      If we continue this logic, our planned buy of 2400 F-35s means we'd only need to buy 400 F-22s to get the equivalent A2A effectiveness. That's a TON of savings that can go towards a specialized A2G aircraft - an A2G aircraft that would be HUGELY cheaper than the F-35, by the way.

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    23. "Yes, I see close penetration being necessary and doable. Close enough at least to use glide munitions (~40 mile standoff). Even base JDAMs can be released 6-8 miles away."

      We're saying the same thing. I call that range standoff and you call it close. Just terminology. Anything more than that would call for UAVs or Tomahawks.

      Now, you see that standoff distance as requiring all aspect stealth. I see it as front/rear combined with high speed. How do you see the all aspect stealth being required from a tactical perspective? A strike aircraft won't be doing A2A so I'm not seeing the need for all aspect other than the generic rationale that it would be nice. However, for a realistic budget we can't just pile on "would be nice" features or we won't be able to afford this thing. So, what am I missing that requires tactical all aspect stealth?

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    26. "The problem is, the 4-8:1 ratio is imaginary."

      Ah, that's from AF Generals. Now where the underlying data, if any, comes from is an open question. Still, it's what the AF is saying.

      I would hope the AF has already done some F-22 v F-35 testing. Maybe not.

      Here's the thing. If you'd like me to not believe that statement then it calls into question every statement. A-10? CAS? Need for bombers? And so on. We need an AF version of ComNavOps to question and analyze the AF!

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    27. The F-22 is not multi-role according to my definition. It was designed as an air superiority fighter, pure and simple. I believe they planned from the start to add an A2G function at some point (not sure about when that was planned) but it's most definitely an add-on function. The F-22 is a fighter in the purest sense. It has a secondary function and probably isn't very good at it.

      The F-35 was multi-service and multi-role from the start and has paid the price, literally.

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    28. "An all-aspects stealthy aircraft can pick a path through the defenses with far less chance of being detected and engaged."

      That's certainly true but is it necessary? While an aircraft may have to pass through many miles of enemy airspace, most of that will be fairly empty and intelligent route selection will minimize the detection probability. I'm of the thought that if we can't have a reasonable chance of penetration with front/rear/speed then we need to be thinking seriously about unmanned/cruise/ballistic missiles.

      Do we really want a manned, deep penetrating, uber-stealth strike aircraft when can use Tomahawks? I ask that not in an argumentative way but in an operational/tactical way? The money we can save on not going overboard on stealth can pay for a lot cruise missiles! This thought combines with the standoff concept. We both seem to agree that there is a penetration point beyond which we don't want to send a manned aircraft. I'm suggesting there's a detection probability point beyond which we don't want to send manned aircraft.

      It's kind of like those last few knots of speed in a ship. You pay a big price for it. Those last bits of all aspect stealth come at an increasingly steep price when there are alternatives (missiles) available.

      What do you think?

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    29. "... four 2000lb class munitions ..."

      Nice. Do you think that's the max possible? One of the nice things about the A-6 Intruder was the large payload. Admittedly, a different time and different weapons but the point that a strike aircraft carry the max possible payload is still valid. Heck, that's one of the criticisms of the F-35, that it doesn't carry much of a payload for a strike aircraft.

      This brings up the closely related question, how big do you think this aircraft will be?

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    35. We may be losing sight of a couple of things as we try to design a strike aircraft.

      First, we're talking about a Navy strike aircraft, not AF. This goes to roles and likely scenarios. We're not talking about deep penetrations against the Chinese mainland. If we have a carrier in range to conduct deep penetration strikes then we've already won the war! Carrier strikes will be around periphery, the first island chain, anti-shipping strikes, and such. Against Iran or NK the penetration will be greater but that's balanced by the threat being less.

      Second, we need to recognize that we have both needs and budget. While I can't argue with an uber-stealth aircraft (who wouldn't want that?), I also recognize that we need sufficient numbers to fill the fleet. We can't design an aircraft that we can't afford to buy.

      Third, you're suggesting a huge emphasis on stealth which is steadily losing its effectiveness. What will stealth be worth thirty years from now when this aircraft would flying? I see EO/IRST and similar systems making up more of the defensive sensing system and negating the value of radar stealth. Hence, the suggestion that optical and IR stealth be emphasized as much or more than radar. How does this matter? If achieving optical/IR stealth requires that radar stealth be compromised to some degree, that's acceptable. We're looking for a reasonable balance of stealth characteristics, I think, rather than a total commitment to radar stealth at an unaffordable price.

      Finally, some of what you're describing sounds like it is more suited to an AF stealth bomber than a Navy strike aircraft. Penetrating hundreds or thousands of miles of the most heavily defended enemy airspace does not sound like a Navy strike role. It sounds like a cruise missile and AF bomber role.

      The kind of uber-stealth aircraft you seem to be describing sounds an awful lot like a B-2 bomber and is going to cost an awful lot like a B-2 bomber. We could only afford to build 21(?) of those. For a naval strike fighter we a few hundred or so.

      With all that said, do you still hold to the uber-stealth approach and, if so, how do you balance or achieve the EO/IR stealth that will be needed and not compromise radar stealth?

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    37. All right, let's leave stealth for the moment.

      I'm afraid I know where this is going to go but I'll ask anyway. What kind of sensor package do you see a strike aircraft needing?

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    39. "Aircraft price isn't driven by just stealth ..."

      You continually state each item (stealth, sensors, payload, whatever) adds only a small incremental cost to the aircraft. The mystery, then, is why the overall aircraft turns out to be so expensive. The jump from F-15 to F-22 was hideously expensive. The jump from B-1 to B-2 was beyond belief expensive. Unfortunately for us, stealth isn't broken out in a line item cost accounting so we're left to speculate. The facts are pretty clear that the jump from non-stealth to stealth was very costly. If it wasn't due to stealth, what was it? I'm sorry but the evidence is pretty clear.

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