Sunday, December 27, 2015

Show Me The Money!

Show Me The Money!

How often do our discussions result in statements to the effect that “we can’t afford that” – whatever that is.  It might be a new ship or weapon.  It might be reserve fleet maintenance.  It might be upgrades to keep a ship or aircraft in service longer.  It might be simple maintenance to keep ships functioning and combat ready.  It might be realistic training.  It might be whatever.  Inevitably, though, someone attempts to shut the discussion down with a comment about costs.  Those people are both shortsightedly right and overall stunningly wrong.

Statements that we can’t afford something are correct – if nothing changes.  If we keep doing the same stupid things we’ve done then we’ll have no money for the things we should do.  This blog is partly about the things we actually do but also partly about the things we should be doing.

*whine*  We can’t do xxxxxxxx because we don’t have the money.  *whine*

Well, here’s where the money comes from:  don’t engage in stupid programs that contribute nothing to our national security.  What programs and money am I talking about?  For starters, these:

Zumwalt – This program is going to cost around $30B in production and R&D and will give us 3 ships of highly questionable military value.  Two of the ships are already too far along to realize much savings from canceling them but the third ship should be terminated which would save a couple of billion even at this point.  I would even suggest that the second ship be completed and idled to eliminate operating costs.  The first ship can be retained and operated as a test bed.

LCS –This program still has around 40 vessels to go depending on the degree of construction on current builds.  At $500M per, that equates to $20B for construction.  In addition, 40 modules at, say, $50M each equates to another $2B.

F-35 – The Navy plans to buy 820 F-35B/Cs.  At $150M each, that’s $123B.  Yikes!  Kill this steaming pile of a program.

Ford Class – This program has set new standards for profligate spending.  The Ford will cost $15B+ by the time it’s operational.  The follow on ships, CVN-79 (Kennedy) and CVN-80 (Enterprise) will likely cost $12B or so each.  What will these ships gain us?  Very little.  The EMALS is a nice enhancement from a maintenance perspective, if it works, but it offers no performance improvement.  There are vague claims about less stress on the aircraft but that is backed up by no data and every aircraft we have is fully capable of withstanding those stresses so there is no real gain.  On the negative side, the EMALS is a massive electromagnetic beacon broadcasting the carrier's location for all to see.  Claims of increased sortie rates have been debunked and our carriers are not sortie rate limited anyway since the air wings have shrunk to nearly half their size.  Returning to the baseline Nimitz class would have little or no operational impact and would save several billion dollars per ship.

Burke Flt III – This program will provide a very marginal vessel with insufficient growth margins upon commissioning and a radar that does not meet the desired requirements.  Ten or twenty of these ships at $2B each equates to $20B-$40B.

LX(R) – This ill-considered replacement for the LSDs should be immediately terminated.  The LX(R) will have only half the well deck of the LSD-41 class that it’s replacing.  The dozen or so proposed ships will cost around $2.5B each (at best!) and would save $30B.

SSBN(X) – The replacement for the Ohio class SSBN is larger than the Ohios while carrying several less missiles.  This class should be terminated and redesigned to a smaller size resulting in $0.5B savings per ship for a $6B total savings.

Of course, the cited savings cannot be fully realized.  Many of the programs still need a product.  The LX(R), for example, still needs to be built and the money would come from the savings.  However, if the ships were built to commercial standards with significantly reduced combat capabilities, the savings would still be substantial.

Now, merely canceling these programs and then embarking on equally ill-considered and poorly managed replacement programs would accomplish nothing.  We’ve discussed better alternatives to most of these programs and these would have to be implemented in order to realize the savings.  Further, the replacement programs would have to be well run:  no concurrency, completed design plans prior to construction, well thought out CONOPS prior to design, contracts with massive penalties for quality failings, accountability in the Navy ranks with long term program assignments and firings and courts-martial when costs are exceeded, aggressive use of NAVSEA to ensure quality and firings and courts-martial when failures occur, honesty and transparency towards the public and Congress, and not a penny more beyond the cost estimates with firings and courts-martial if the cost estimates are exceeded. 

I’ve shown you the money.  Now, let’s rebuild the Navy!


  1. The other question is the operating costs of running these vessels versus the benefits that they bring. I bet a lot of these ships are not nearly the cost effective machines that they have been touted as.

    I would like to see some increased scrutiny as well on the R&D spending that the USN has done.

    1. Quite right. I addressed only the procurement costs in the post but operating costs are the other half of the issue. Thus far, the Navy's solution to operating costs is, essentially, to suspend maintenance to the point of hollowing the fleet. There must be a better way.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The Marines need a replacement for the Harrier and with no viable alternatives, the F-35B has to remain in the budget. And, killing the F-35C would leave the Navy short almost 500 aircraft, which would have to be replaced by F-18E/F's and maybe some G's too. Killing the F-35C would be a nice boon to Boeing.

    1. Walter, I fear you may have missed the key, here. I listed programs that should be cut but I then noted that many/most of those programs would need functional replacements. I'm not remotely suggesting that the F-35C be cut and nothing take its place. Instead, I'm suggesting that a better alternative to the F-35C should be initiated. At the moment, that might be the Advanced SH pending a new design naval fighter. And so on.

    2. I'm going to (again) expose my ignorance...

      but the way I see it, what the fleet needs out of its air wings are:

      A) Numbers
      B) affordability (both fly away cost and maintanance)
      C) range (!)
      D) the ability to carry good weapons (which implies good weapons are available).

      Is there a way to affordably 'evolve' the SH the way the SH was 'evolved' from the Hornet? Make it bigger and faster, maybe sacrifice some turning, but give it mach 2 capability and/or the ability for supercruise. Allow the size to give it more fuel fraction and allow for EPE engines; or even something like the F-110. Keep the same level of SH stealth, give it Advanced SH upgrades in avionics. Delete the draggy weapons station. Set it up to carry LRASM and Meteor and IRST. Go for Rafale type ranges.

      Yes. I"m talking about creating a fleet interceptor with Bombcat like capabilty.

      I'm wondering if using just evolved current technology to fill needs we have instead of F-35 type stuff could help keep the flyaway cost to around $110 million. The same philosophy as the hornet could keep maintanance costs down. (Yes, I know $110 is expensive, but to me it seems realistic for a new jet, and its still cheaper than the 35-C.

    3. Does the Marine corps need jump jets? (Ducks and covers).

      Have they ever used them in the fashion they propose (rough airfields, cactus airforce style)?

    4. To the best of my knowledge, they've never been used as envisioned. So, do they need jump jets? No. Besides, the F-35B can't be used that way so the question is moot.

      Now, do the Marines need jets, period? That's debatable and depends on the force structure of the overall military. My personal opinion is that I would give them basic ground support aircraft, not 17th generation wonder planes. If 17th gen magic capabilities are needed, that should be the AF's realm.

    5. "... what the fleet needs out of its air wings are ..."

      Jim, beware of designing an aircraft in a vacuum. You're assembling a set of requirements independent of tactical and operational needs. Or, maybe you're not, in which case preface your design with a statement of need.

      Do we need range? Do we need weapons payload? Do we need stealth? ... Why, to any of them? What do we NEED the aircraft to do that SUPPORTS our strategy (not that we have a strategy, but ...)?

      I've stated I think the Navy needs to provide very long range air superiority which supports my vision of how to fight against modern A2/AD zones (China) and, specifically, my strategy for fighting China (which I have not publicly stated). This, then, dictates the design of my naval aircraft (and surface forces and everything else).

      So, back to you. What strategic need does your aircraft fill?

    6. "... $110 is expensive, but to me it seems realistic for a new jet, and its still cheaper than the 35-C."

      Oh, this is so sad that we think $110M is acceptable. Not a criticism of you, Jim, just an observation on what decades of out of control costs have done to our concept of "acceptable" costs.

      The Marines and Navy don't need to build a 17th gen, magic technology aircraft. Leave that responsibility to the AF. The Navy just needs a solid fighter. Start with a good, long range design (F-15-ish) and add the readily available improvements and call it a day. If we can't build such an aircraft for $50M (or less!) then we're not doing it right.

      A basic, good aircraft is just a frame and sheet metal. That's just an automobile, for crying out loud! Add a good, basic engine (no hypersonic, adaptive, self-diagnosing, warp engine - just a good, basic engine) for a couple million. Toss in a decent radar and EO/IR sensors (no sensor fusion, virtual reality helmet, magic view) and avionics. Add whatever stealth you can achieve through simple shaping (no exotic coatings). That will give us a good, solid aircraft that can do what the Navy needs and should be buildable for $50M or less. ALL EXISTING TECHNOLOGY!!!

      We need to ruthlessly design to that spec and cost, not accept a starting point of over $100M. Again, no criticism of you, Jim. Just pointing out how warped our mindset has become concerning aircraft costs.

    7. I've got an idea knocking around in my head, so I'll go ahead and throw it out there. I think my tools fit my idea, but maybe the whole idea is off. Caveat Emptor, I'm writing down on the fly so if there are truck wide gaps its because I'm doing this nearly stream of consciousness at the 10,000 ft. level.

      The navy to me has two roles; control the blue water, and influence events on land.

      Recent tech, and our lack of coherent vision, make this more difficult that in the past.

      To control the blue water:

      We need aircraft for range, numbers of surface warfare ships, and weapons. I'm going to skip the surface warfare ships for now. We need aircraft to be able to patrol SLOCS and attack enemy ships. They are very flexible in that regard.

      For both blue water, and land attack, one of our biggest weaknesses has been the lack of range of the air wing, and the senility of our weapons systems.

      SH's are generally, IMHO, decent aircraft for the Navy. They are reliable and easily maintanable. But they are short legged. They have other issues, but for the most part they work.

      For whatever reason, the Navy didn't seem to value range all that much. IN the 90's maybe it didn't matter. Now we are facing new weapons (Brahmos) and adversaries (China) that can hit us from alot farther out.

      My solution to this is to try to greatly extend the range of the carrier air wing. Make a bird that has long range combat radius. Rafale like.

      It has two jobs; 1 is to defend against other aircraft and ships. That's where the interceptor carrying meteor/LRASM combination comes in. Shoot the archer, not the arrow.

      The 2nd is to provide a long range platform for a long range stand off weapons for defeating A2/AD environments. The carrier then has the option of using its long range aircraft like a boxer would use his reach. Jab, jab, jab, soften the defenses while you move around. When they are softened enough, you can move closer and conventional SH's can add their weight, much like A7's or A4's did back in the day.

      For fleet defense you don't need killer turning ability necessarily; but the ability to loiter for a long time and move quickly from one place to the other is very needed. Hence an aircraft with long range and high sprint speed or supercruise. Its going to be big.

      During an aircraft or missile raid it can be used as a tool for an outer air battle.

      The carrier gives us flexibility, the long range aircraft gives the carrier greater flexibility.

      That is the role I see this aircraft fulfilling, in short. It would be a latter day Tomcat with modern avionics, better reliability, and better weapons. Its the long range punch of the fleet, giving the fleet the ability to move around and make enemy targeting that much harder.

    8. One more thing, this just handles what I think of as the offensive capability of the carrier.

      Defensively... we really need to spend a ton of time on ASW. A ton. The subs out there now, and the weapons that they can carry, scare the heck out of me.

    9. Operation from an amphib ship constitutes a stovl use of harriers ( and F35C) by the marines.
      Im surprised you guys have made such a fundamental error.

    10. Ztev, no, the context of the question was the use of jump jets from austere bases and that has not been done.

    11. Austere bases are actually much easier than a short amphi deck as you will often have more than a few hundred feet of deck.
      Anyway its beside the point of your option of doing away with F35C, which is no stovl means no operations from amphib decks.
      You dont provide any evidence marines arent doing operations from 'cactus strips', but I will

      "The Expeditionary Airfield Capability: A Core USMC Competence for Global Operations"
      We decided to build a runway called Dwyer 20 miles away from Marjah. We built that thing right in the middle of the enemy’s battle space, right there in the Helmand River Valley...

      They even have MOS for it
      " The 7011s are the expeditionary airfield military occupational specialty marines. The 7002s are the officers."

      AS I said guys you are doing basic errors here. Not checking your assumptions, building your pictures to match your required outcome.

      As the general said : Expeditionary airfields are a core competency for USMC.

    12. Ztev, amphibious assault is claimed to be a core competency for the Marines but is complete fantasy. The Corps can claim any capability they want. It doesn't mean they can do it.

      I also stated that I'm unaware of any austere basing ever having been used by jump jets as envisioned by supporters. Do you have an actual example?

      That aside, the complexity and overwhelming maintenance requirements of the F-35 preclude austere basing.

    13. Camp Dwyer was a full fledged Marine base hosting various battalions and regimental combat teams at various times. Hardly an austere base! Also, I can find no evidence that the base was ever used by Harriers which was the question that was posed. Do you have any evidence of jump jet usage of the base?

    14. Wrong again.It was built as a temporary 'cactus strip' for a FoB but then was upgraded to a permanent facility.
      Im sure they didnt expect to be around in Afghanistan for more than 12 years so temporary stuff was used for years instead of months.
      This description is perhaps the definition of an expeditionary location...
      "Its location of Helmand River Valley is often referred to as “Hell man” by the American troops because of its unforgiving weather conditions with temperatures frequently reaching 120 degrees and above. During certain times of the year there are continuous unrelenting sand storms. Camp Dwyer is in a desolate region without any inhabitants nearby, most likely because of these cruel weather conditions.

    15. I repeat, do you have any evidence that jump jets ever operated from it?

      Also, please keep the discussion impersonal and respectful. Argue the points not the person.

    16. You are right I was pushing the edge, which I apologise.
      However, back to Camp Dywer.
      "VMA-231 LANDS AT DWYER"
      and another part of a book on AV-8B Harrier II Units of Operation Enduring Freedom give this text pg66
      "...MWSS372 tied in the last length of matting that increased the length of runway to 6000ft..."

      "This was harrier IIs design concept at its best, the jet operating at a forward base close to the fight, in order to maximise the sorties"

      Apparently in 2010, Bastion was very crowded and they used dywer as a FOB to re arm and refuel. Obviously the long term effort in Afghanistan has meant places that might have been expected to be used 6 months were used for periods longer than US involvement in WW2 and gained a certain permanency.

      The overwhelming evidence is that the harrier ( not really called a jump jet any more) was used at austere bases in Afghanistan, and the marines then as now have units which train and are equipped to lay down an austere base with metal matting, and put in all the things such as ground defence, radar control and air traffic control to operate their dedicated ground attack aircraft and not forgetting the much more numerous helicopters.
      However Im wondering if the F35B ( the marines are buying 60+ F35C models to operate with CAW) is a bit complicated to be operated like the harrier at remote locations. Some photos seem to show wings being removed from a harrier as a complete section at Camp Bastion, which was better equipped than Dywer but still is a lot of maintenance to do at a remote location. Cant see that happening with a F35B

    17. Ztev, no problem.

      OK, you seem to have evidence of Harriers operating from Dwyer. I'll accept that! Thanks for sharing. I still note that the base was quite a bit larger than what most of us would consider "austere" with a 6000 ft runway and multiple battalions stationed there!

      I think you're also on the money with your doubts about operating F-35Bs even from a Dwyer-like base.

      Thanks for jumping in and contributing! Now, I wonder how the situation changes as the Marines retire the Harrier and convert to the F-35B? Do they lose their expeditionary capability? Have any thoughts?

  3. There is another matter.

    As your post for radar notes, how much are these upgrades costing versus what is actually being delivered for the money spent? I think that there are undoubtedly a lot of upgrades where the contractors have given the military a poor value.

    I wonder what else has been overpriced.

    Something is not quite right here. The infamous $400 hammer comes to mind.

  4. "Further, the replacement programs would have to be well run:..."

    How do you propose to get Congress to vote for measures that will actually have that effect? Their paymasters in the contractors will, correctly, see that as an attack on their profits.

    1. John you bring up a valid point.

      But if we start with the premise that none of this is changeable then CNO might as well close up the blog.

      It would be difficult, but I don't think its impossible.But to work on the political end is a completely different blog, IMHO.

  5. Does anyone know of a study conducted by either the Navy or a commercial firm that addresses why new ships are so expensive? The cost of everything else is dropping, oil rigs, pipelines, commercial ships, etc. I am at a loss finding a QUANTIFIED reason why ships cost $3B. This is probably the MOST important thing for the Navy to address, but I see or hear nothing about it.

    Why are sending so many officers and civilians to business schools? There is the REAL lack of return on investment.

    1. I'm with you in that I'm completely baffled. There is no single reason. Things like concurrency, building before a design is done, over-designing, constant change orders, build volume, overuse of mil-spec, regulatory costs, program instability, etc. all contribute to the costs.

    2. I think we have a combination of all of those things. Not the least of which is the constant change orders and concurrency. But we won't know till we get an audit. That will be difficult because I think most of the parties don't want an audit.

      Our defense budget is what, 600 billion? If the navy just gets 200 billion That's a ridiculous amount of money.

    3. I don't think an audit will answer why a ship costs what it does. We know what a ship costs and where the money goes (though an audit would be helpful!). What we don't know is why components costs what they do. Why does the $300 pump motor in the civilian world cost $3000 (or $30,000!) in the military? We need to backtrack the component prices and find out why the differences from the civilian world.

      Some of the military tech has no civilian counterpart and would, therefore, be expected to be expensive but the vast majority is readily available. Are we asking for minor and largely useless tweaks to commercial products for the military which just drives up cost and delivers little benefit? Are we paying for federal regulations (the paperwork associated with military purchases is staggering)? Are we inappropriately applying mil-spec? Again, probably a combination of many factors including gouging from single source suppliers. The military needs to greatly streamline its purchasing procedures and aggressively expand the supplier base.

    4. Fair point. I'm not a business guy so I might be using the term improperly.

      I do mean a business audit. I want to know where the money the Navy is spending is going. If I remember correctly it wasn't too long ago the Marines admitted they'd lost several millions of dollars. But I also want exactly what you propose: "Does pump X at $30,000 really deliver a 10x increase in capability, or mission critical capability, that the $3000 pump Y doesn't?"

      Other questions would be much tougher; like "Does the F-35 really need its production spread through 48 states?"

    5. You're asking for more a business case analysis. Nothing wrong with that but the military should be divorced from such considerations. Whether the F-35 is produced in one state or 50 should mean nothing to the military. The military should be evaluating the F-35 strictly on performance and final procurement cost (and operating cost and maintainability and other factors but let's keep this simple). Where and how the manufacturer builds the plane is a business issue for them not the military.

      Unfortunately, the military has become integrated into the political/business process and is now making its own judgments that take into account politics and business. The military needs to get back to dealing with Congress on just the military aspects. Let Congress do the politics and business. If Congress tries to prop up a poor performing aircraft for political/business reasons then the military needs to have the integrity to simply cancel the program. They don't need Congress' approval to cancel a program. Of course, Congress could mandate procurement of an asset but then that puts the responsibility 100% (and quite visibly) on Congress. I don't think they have the institutional courage to do that!

      So, does the F-35 really need to be spread through 50 states? The answer should be, "it doesn't matter".

    6. I hadn't thought of it that way. Good point.

  6. "Now, do the Marines need jets, period? ... My personal opinion is that I would give them basic ground support aircraft, not 17th generation wonder planes. If 17th gen magic capabilities are needed, that should be the AF's realm."

    The problems with that are political. If the Marines don't buy F-35s, the number bought goes down, and the price (it is believed) goes up. If you cancelled the F-35B entirely, the price of the total project might go down, but the British would no longer have an aircraft to buy and would not be the slightest bit keen to reduce their share of the overall production, leaving the US government with a horrible industrial-political problem.

    Second, the USMC simply wouldn't trust the USAF to be present with high-tech aircraft when they were needed. The cure for inter-service rivalry, incidentally, is poverty. When there's so little money around that splitting up the work is clearly necessary to everyone, you can get some co-operation. The US isn't there yet, but if the equipment carries on getting more expensive, it may be managed on a budget measured in hundreds of billions.

    1. John, you didn't get the point of the post. The premise is not to take away the Marine's F-35s. The premise is to cancel the entire F-35 program and use the savings to give the Marines a basic ground support aircraft (might be a Tucano and/or light jet?).

      At the same time, we would replace the F-35C with a new design, focused, straightforward naval aircraft at a substantial savings. We would replace the F-35A with a new design, top end air superiority fighter or perhaps a F-22 restart.

      Where the British would choose to come in on any of that, if at all, is their concern. Designing an aircraft whose price depends on foreign buy-in was one of the many mistakes of the F-35 program.

      As far as politics, again, the premise is that we do what's right not what's politically expedient on the military side and sell Congress on need, not jobs. You can certainly believe that that's totally unrealistic but that's the point of this post - what we should do, not what's currently done.

    2. John,

      I would say the problem is philosophical. Marines don't need air support from the F-35 when it can be provided by the F/A-18. And Marines aren't going ashore anywhere hostile without CVN support.


    Not quite on topic but I think it's interesting to think a little outside the box after Jim Whall mentioned we should AUDIT the Navy. Saw this on SNAFU blog and it does make you wonder if USN is building the right boats, costs of manufacture, manning numbers,etc....

    I couldn't find the price tag for this ship, the nearest I could find for the next largest ship is $140 million dollars. So let's assume this ship costs $200 to $250 million dollars, ok, it's cheap because it's made overseas and not in a US shipyard but it does make you wonder why the hell a USN ship goes for $ XX billions....ok, radar is expensive and ECM gear too, weapons fit, yeah, that's expensive too but it is interesting to see a ship this big cost so much less with such a smaller crew.....

    Also, how many hits could a boat of this size take? If it does get hit, at $250 million, it's pretty much expendable. This isn't WWII, I really wonder if USN isn't operating in some bygone way with manning and how crew can survive a modern naval war with ASMs. If a USN ship gets hit today, you are happy to limp back into port and that's it, you're done fighting. You pretty much can scratch that boat. So, do really need the boats as currently constructed today and with such high manning ratings? It would say it's almost criminal on the part of USN to put so many sailors on a boat, aren't we just putting more sailors in danger today?

    How can civilians operate this ship with 26 people?

    For the same price tag of an LCS, what could we fit on this with the remaining $400 million after spending $250 million on the hull and propulsion?

    Are we building the right ships as ComNavOps mentioned and are we really taking advantage of what the civilians are doing?

    1. NICO, let's start by noting that that commercial ship is mostly empty space so comparing its size/cost with a warship is invalid.

      Similarly, comparing a civilian cargo ship crew size to a warship crew size is invalid. Commercial ships don't operate multiple advanced sensors, weapons, RHIBs, sonars, mine detection sonars, laser warning devices, laser rangefinders, IFF, conduct tracking of surface, subsurface, and airborne threats, conduct surveillance, gather intel, monitor enemy transmissions, and a thousand other things. Commercial crews also don't go on 6-12 month deployments and conduct shipboard maintenance. If they did all of that they'd have much larger crews.

      That said, are we building the right ships? No. But, let's be fair and recognize that a warships is hugely more complex than a commercial ship, is going to be much more expensive and require a much larger crew. All of that said, we're still building the wrong ships and for ridiculous prices.

    2. Civilian ships also aren't expected to take hits from serious weapons, and have enough crew left in action to control the damage and have a good try at returning the ship to action rapidly.

    3. While I agree CNO, one area where Commercial ships have excelled in is automation. Even when included the Navy refuses to use installed remote operators.

  8. @Jim Whall,

    The requirements you state cannot be done with the F-35B or F-35C.

    On the B variant: There's no way to make a VTOL aircraft with good range I'm afraid or good performance.

    The problem is that to take off, you have to have a large lift fan. That means by design a point of vulnerability that will be very vulnerable to damage, increased maintenance, and likely increased logistics demands.

    The aircraft will also not perform very well in air to air combat against a traditional aircraft due to its smaller wings (needed for VTOL). Unfortunately it also means higher wing loading and the thick fuselage will induce drag. To give an example, look at the F-35. Note how thick the fuselage is compared to the sleek shape of say, the French Rafale or even the F-16 (although the thick nose on the F-16 makes it less ideal for high angles of attack).

    The ability to take off in the field won't happen either. The logistics of supplying an F-35B will make that very difficult and if you read the reports, the problem is that the aircraft needs carefully prepared lift pads. In combat against a competent enemy, that isn't happening.

    Actually, one of the good points of the A-10 that is often not acknowledged is that it has the ability to take off from relatively poorly prepared airfields. That's important in war as I fully expect that in the opening stages of war, the enemy will likely launch missiles at any stationary airbases, which are large and clearly visible.

  9. Alt;

    I know. When I was doing my aircraft requirements I was thinking more fleet defense interceptor; a role for which the F-35 is wholly unsuited. In my little plan, the F-35 is severely truncated and used just as an attack jet like the A7 or its just cancelled outright.

  10. Your best bet would be something like a navallized Su-27 if you want range. Maybe with tightly spaced engines though.

    If you want affordability and force presence, then something like a small lightweight fighter would be the way to go.

  11. I hope this thread isn't dead yet. First time I've been able to get on in awhile.

    Alt, the navalized SU-27 would be great. I really like the jet.... but for the logistics. We don't have anything to support its engines, weapons, or anything else.

    Further, I also want to look at life cycle costs. One of the things the Hornet does really well is be cheap(ish) to maintain. From what I've read the Flanker, at least the export version, has big engine issues that make it more expensive, and less reliable, to fly.

    Finally, we are (rightly, I think) trying to get away from the RD-180 because its a bad idea to source our engines from a power that isn't all that keen on working with us. This would be so much more so for the FLanker.

    We have a good aerospace industry; lets use it. We could make our own version of the navalized Flanker, using modern, mature technology, and make it reliable and long legged.

    As to the lightweight fighter... heck, that's the Hornet. Setting fuel fraction aside its a fine jet. But hordes of lightweight fighters that can land and take off from a carrier aren't going to give us the range we need, I believe.

    1. We'd never make a navalized Flanker. We might make a Flanker-sized fighter-bomber, but it would be a unique design.

    2. I think Alt was making a generalized statement not suggesting that we buy Flankers and navalize them. He was suggesting that many of the characteristics of a Flanker might be suitable for a naval aircraft that Jim was talking about. Apologies if I've put words into anyone's mouth.

  12. Smitty;

    That's the point I'm (trying) to get to. I don't think I'm being clear.

    I think we need a fighter like the Tomcat, or Flanker, or rafale (if the combat radius I've read is real). It would likely be big like a flanker.

    I don't per se mind the idea of buying a foreign jet at this point; but you'd have to solve the infrastructure issue. And the congress issue. Infrastructure alone might make the whole thing unrealistic; especially for a non-NATO country like Russia.

    1. Rafale's internal fuel fraction isn't any better than the Super Hornet or F-35C. So its effective range (with stores) won't be much, if any, better.

      The F-35C can fly clean with internal ordinance, so it should have a significantly higher combat radius in that configuration.

      Super Hornets with conformal tanks will have a higher radius as well.

      YMMV, of course.

    2. Smitty,

      this is where my own lack of knowledge/sources come in.

      I'm going off of what I can get from the internet. Its also confusing to me the way specs are listed. For example, I can get a combat radius for the SH, but when I look at the flanker it just says 'range'. If I googlel 'Combat Radius SU 27' I get a few different numbers. Is Range combat radius? Something different? I dont' know.

      Here is my understanding:

      Range: How far can this plane fly in a clean configuration with a full load of fuel.

      Ferry Range: How far can this plane fly with everything stripped off, topped to the gills with gas and drop tanks/CFT's.

      Combat Radius: How far can this plane fly with a full load of fuel/weapons, non clean configuration, and return.

      I may be incorrect in all those; I don't know. But, given that:

      Wiki gives the following information:

      Combat radius: 1,852+ km (1,000+ nmi) on penetration mission

      Combat radius: 390 nmi (449 mi, 722 km) for interdiction mission[152]
      ** This is 10 miles less than a C/D Hornet CR on an air to air mission; so I'm assuming that the SH is carrying a hell of alot more stuff; as I know the SH carry's more fuel.

      Range: 3,530 km (2,193 mi, 1,906 nmi) at altitude; (1,340 km / 800 mi at sea level)

      ** Range, not combat radius. Also, there is only one range, so I don't think its the navalized version.

      Combat radius: 500 nmi (575 mi, 926 km)


      to confuse things further... fuel fraction. I'm taking fuel weight and dividing by loaded weight. For the Tomcat that is 16,200/61,000, which gives me a 26% fuel fraction.

      SU-27 is 20724/50650, or a 40%(!) fuel fraction.

      SH is 13550/47,000 or 28% (Better than the Tomcat, but worse range... weird...)

      finally, Rafale is

      10,360/33,000 or 31%.

      Where am I going with all this? :-)

      I guess I'm throwing out my data because my calculations for fuel fraction != what I'd expect for range.

      Why does the Tomcat with a 26% fuel fraction have a 100 mile range advantage on the SuperHornet in combat Radius?

      Why does the Rafale with a 31% fuel fraction have a ~600nmi (!!!!) advantage over the SuperHornet when it only had a 3% greater fuel fraction?

      And the range for the Flanker is monsterous, which is in line with its 40% fuel fraction. But I'm at a loss for getting a combat radius.

      I have no answers for these questions.

      What I'd want for my fictional big bird carrier air craft is a 1000nmi combat radius. The ability of this plane to carry 2 LRASM's or 2 long range stand off cruise missiles or gliding mines that it can use to 'box' with an A2/AD and soften it up. Or carry more, lighter, meteors to fence with home defence fighters from a distance, or for fleet defense, and I'd want supercruise. Front aspect stealth is nice, but don't break the bank on it. This thing will be the fleet's jab; and allow the Carriers to have the range needed to move around and make targeting on them far more difficult.

      Yes, it will be big.

    3. One more one more thing.

      The numbers I have for the F-35A are interesting.


      It comes out to a 37% fuel fraction.

      I'm not a fan of the F-35 for a raft of reasons, but it is interesting the the AF seems to be upping fuel fractions a bit. That's nearly Flanker territory.

      Of course, the B and C series will be different, but I have no data on those at this time.

    4. Jim,

      It's tough to take the range and radius figures from the manufacturer at face value. They are extremely dependent on mission parameters and payload. Rarely do you see a comparison that's apples-to-apples (i.e. same payload, same mission parameters).

      BTW for loaded fuel fraction on an Su-30MKM I have,

      Empty weight: 40,565lbs
      Fuel weight: 20,943lbs
      Notional payload: 2,170lbs

      Loaded weight: 63,678lbs

      Fuel Fraction: .329

  13. I don't know why you guys talk shit about the F-35
    It's a fifth gen stealth fighter, everyone else wishes they had the F-35
    And the costs of it are very comparable to any other modern fighter.

    They need to buy a new fighter anyways to replace the old ones, F-35 gives a huge jump in capabilities.
    It seems more like the marines are being a "third airforce" with the F-35, which is fine.
    So it's not about what the marines need to perform their mission, more about increasing total numbers of F-35's.

    1. Oh nevermind, nimitz cost less.

    2. blare, I don't recognize your name, so welcome! Please keep the comments clean and respectful.

      The F-35 is considered quite expensive. Cite some figures to support your statement that the cost is comparable to any other modern fighter.

    3. blarg, we've documented the F-35's problems in this blog. Please read through the archives. It's probably safe and fair to say that the F-35B represents a pretty significant increase in capability over the Harrier. The F-35A/C, on the other hand, are losing whatever capability gains they may have had as each additional year of development goes by. Other aircraft are being upgraded with equivalent or better sensors (Litening pod, for example), helmet mounted display systems, comms, links, AESA/low probability radar, etc. By the time it reaches squadron service in another five years (we hope!), the F-35A/C will be very marginal improvements over what will be already available.

      Your statement about the Marines as a third AF being fine is at odds with most people. That's an opinion on your part and that's fine. You might want to back it up with some logic. Why is the Marines as a third AF fine given the huge drain on resources from their primary mission that this has caused? As a third AF, the F-35B is quite limited in range and capabilities compared to conventional aircraft. How does a quite limited third AF help the overall military effort?

    4. One more thing about the entire F-35 series....

      commonality isn't what they'd wanted originally. And ALIS is a mess, with lots of false positives and millions of lines of code yet to go... even if you could say that the F-35 is 10% better overall when it hits the fleet, the cost numbers to support the thing are going to be a nightmare.

      Add to this that the C2-s are getting retired, and that the V-22's can carry 1 F-135 in a special case, but at far shorter ranges, and the logistics for the fleet just got alot more complicated and expensive.

    5. Other 4.5th gen aircraft like the eurofighter or the rafale or the silent eagle are more expensive, lack the stealth, avionics, helmet, sensors, etc.
      The price of the F-35 will continue to decrease as it hits full production.
      "The price of an F-35A with its engine was $108 million"

      Perhaps the F-35 had it's problems in development(which was more to do with too optimistic predictions than anything else), but it has turned into quite a fighter at a reasonable cost.

      The marines being a third airforce is fine because that's more a "how do we get this money out of congress" thing.

  14. "It's tough to take the range and radius figures from the manufacturer at face value. They are extremely dependent on mission parameters and payload. Rarely do you see a comparison that's apples-to-apples (i.e. same payload, same mission parameters). "

    Ugh. That seems like it makes it a bear to compare extant aircraft.

    On the upside... if you know your mission, and know the parameters, it presumably makes it easier to engineer the aircraft.

    "We want X amount of range, Y speed, carrying Z amount of payload" and you know what X, Y, and Z are because you are designing for a military that gave you the mission parameters and you know what the payload is.

    Of course, that's where the devil gets in the details I suppose, and halfway through designing the wing they tell you they want it to carry 2000lbs more...

    1. It is a bear. You can sometimes get decent, somewhat comparable numbers from the USAF or USN or another US Gov agency for aircraft in the inventory.

      However, comparing non-US aircraft to US aircraft is much harder. Manufacturers are in natural competition with each other, so they want to show their product in the best light.

      This is a good resource for looking at the differences in mission performance/payload for historical aircraft,


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