Saturday, April 23, 2016

F-35 or Next Generation?

Consider the following seemingly unrelated points – or maybe they are related?

  • The F-35 won’t be fully combat ready for several more years, if even then.  When ready, the F-35 will only be a mediocre aircraft with much of its technology obsolete or easily matched by other aircraft due to the extremely protracted develop period.

  • A few lessons have been learned even by the military.  The Air Force has stated publicly that they have no interest in initiating another multi-service aircraft project.  The Navy has strongly suggested that an overemphasis on stealth may be inappropriate. 

  • The next generation fighter has been under conceptual development for a year or more.

  • We just recently discussed the concept of a five year development/production cycle and found it to be achievable if certain rules were rigidly followed.

Do you see the connection and the logical conclusion?

If we should be able to develop an aircraft and have it production ready in five years and the F-35 is still five-plus years away from being combat ready, logic suggests that if we terminated the F-35 today, we could still have a combat ready, useful, next generation aircraft ready in the same time frame as the F-35 or even a bit sooner.

Of course, the key is the definition of “next generation”.  If we do as we’ve been doing and try to make the next generation aircraft an anti-gravity, invisibility, laser armed, telepathic controlled fantasy wonder weapon then, no, it can’t be ready for production in five years.  But, if we thoroughly understand the aircraft’s mission, narrowly focus on just that role, use only existing technology, define our requirements well, insist on no change orders, limit the aircraft to just the Navy, and manage the project as I’ve described in previous posts (see, "Five Years or You Didn't Know What You Wanted") then there’s no reason we can’t have a formidable, reasonably priced, combat ready aircraft in five years.

We can still pursue the fantasy technology but only in the R&D world, not in production.

Think about it.  We could have a carrier combat aircraft that is superior to the F-35 in production in five years.  The F-35C will probably not be fully combat ready in five years and, even if it is, it won’t be suited to what the Navy really needs.

“… what the Navy really needs.”  That’s the next key, isn’t it?  It’s clear that the Navy doesn’t even know what it needs because it hasn’t got a guiding strategy that would tell it what kind of aircraft is needed.  Recognizing the Navy’s inability to define what it needs, ComNavOps has obligingly told the Navy what it needs.  The Navy needs a long range air superiority fighter and a long range attack plane with the fighter being the top priority.  Of course, there’s no reason the Navy can’t develop both aircraft simultaneously.  We’ve done it in the past and we can do it again by following the guidelines I’ve laid out.  That’s not really the point of this post, though.

The point of the post is that in the same time frame we’re looking at getting the F-35C combat ready, we can have a new and superior aircraft in production – one whose technology isn’t already obsolete after two decades of development.


  1. Very possible, if nothing else, an F18 "Ultra Hornet" leveraging the Advanced Hornet, Growler and F15 "Stealth Eagle" should be easy within 5 years.

    The hard part of cancelling the F35 really is the promises that were made.
    The UK and Italy have built carriers to operate the B, it would be diplomatically difficult to kill. The UK ended up Tridents because of the last US program we invested in and you went on to cancel.
    We might grumble if the US paid to convert the QEs to CATOBAR and sold us Ultra Hornets, but that wouldnt be a solution for Italy, they need something VSTOL capable
    Most of the others will probably be happy to back out.

    "The Navy needs a long range air superiority fighter and a long range attack plane with the fighter being the top priority. Of course, there’s no reason the Navy can’t develop both aircraft simultaneously. We’ve done it in the past and we can do it again by following the guidelines I’ve laid out. That’s not really the point of this post, though."
    We maintain more design teams than we need, in case of emergency, if we run two programs at once, we have a very long gap period.

    I think a fighter with a strike capability is more of a priority really, preferably a long ranged heavy weight fighter,

    1. I don't have any sympathy for the US military over the F-35. It's failings were obvious long, long ago to anyone who cared to look at it objectively. Similarly, I have no sympathy for any foreign buyer who bought this load of fantasy magic dust.

    2. Your basic premise is the development cycle should be identical to historical cycle but yet delivering a superior platform in terms of capability. That makes it an apple vs orange comparison.
      The F-35 development pain is no doubt compounded by concurrency, poor project management initially and in attempting to develop three variant concurrently but the planned capabilities are far different from legacy requirements.

    3. "... planned capabilities ..."

      You say that like it's a good thing. Planned capabilities means the capabilities are currently non-existent. That's one of the major problems with military acquisition programs of late. Production is based on non-existent capabilities. Might the F-35 someday have a functioning, magic, 360 degree sensor vision seamlessly projected to the pilot via a magic helmet? Perhaps, but not in the near future and not yet after two decades of development.

      Planned capabilities always beat legacy capabilities in Powerpoint slides - but not on the battlefield.

      "... apple vs orange ..."

      ???? I don't get how there's a mismatch. We've done this before. We built the F-14 in just a few years and it was as groundbreaking for its time as anything. We built the F-15 starting in 1969 contract award and it entered service in 1974 with full rate production in 1975.

      While I don't agree with the idea of an ultra-Hornet - the basic airframe is flawed - the concept of combining attributes of the F-22/15 to create a new, highly capable aircraft based on only existing technology is quite feasible and ought to be doable in 5 years, as I've previously outlined.

    4. I think the difference is a linear progression of sorts in improvements vs. Fairy Swordfish to X-wing improvements.

      Linear has served us well. The latter, not so much.

      There are some things about the F-35 that seem okay:

      Shaping and the skin does seem to be pretty durable from what I've read. More durable than the F-22's/B2's.

      I'm a little leary about the F-22 because, from what I've read, while it performs well, its antiquated processors, closed architecture, and sensitive skin make it a bear to upgrade and maintain. The skin alone would make it unsuitable for carrier ops.

    5. You're being too literal. I don't mean we should take the actual physical equipment from a 20 year old aircraft. I mean we should take the concept and build it with the best current physical version available. For example, we take the degree of stealth from an F-22 (maybe that uses F-35 skin and F-22 shape?), the range (or more) of an F-15, the best maneuverability of the F-22/15, the best computers and avionics from any aircraft, and so on. Combine those features on the basic design of the F-22 with the latest physical equipment that actually exists and you've got a pretty good aircraft that requires no new development or research - only integration. If we can't do that in five years then we're not competent. Most of the work is already done.

    6. Remember the most important bit of a carrier aircraft is, in reality, going to be launch weight.
      Launching with bingo fuel is a nightmare at the moment.
      The ideal aircraft can launch with a full fuel load, three drop tanks and a proper war load.

      "Similarly, I have no sympathy for any foreign buyer who bought this load of fantasy magic dust."!
      "Go **** yourself" works in theory, but Italy can defend the Alps and Britain can defend the channel, the last time we went off the deepend the US went from no UK nuclear weapons at all to giving us Polaris/Trident.
      Italy could make cleaning up Libya a nightmare.

      There are wider issues than just the US with the F35 program, solveable issues, but issues.

    7. Just a reminder that the Navy has commonly launched aircraft which then immediately join up with a tanker to top off what they used in afterburner during launching. So, to launch with less than a full fuel load is not a crippling evolution.

      Western societies have been steadily losing the concept of accountability and accountability is one of the foundations of a society. When you remove accountability you have anarchy (I'm not accountable so I can get away with anything) at one end of the spectrum and laziness (I'm not accountable so I don't need a job - someone else can pay for my food, medical, etc. via welfare) at the other.

      Accountability holds true and is required whether we're talking about individuals or nations. If a country made a wrong decision then they bear the consequences and should exercise accountability. If they won't, I really have no sympathy.

    8. "We built the F-14 in just a few years and it was as groundbreaking for its time as anything."
      You are asserting the complexities are somehow comparable between building a F-14 vs. F-35. I am saying it is an apples and orange comparison. Since the central theme of your argument is premised on this assumption, I think it is reasonable to ask that you go beyond assertion to support such an argument.

    9. Accepting that the F35 is, as CNOps argues, inadequate for what may be the US's main military mission, an air/sea (but never land) battle against China, does it follow that it is also inadequate for what the British and Italian navies see as their main mission?
      I don't think either have any intention of fighting the Chinese, and I doubt if the US would want them to.
      So what are the British/Italian proposed needs, and does the F35B meet them?

    10. "So what are the British/Italian proposed needs, and does the F35B meet them?"

      Excellent question and one I do not have the background to answer. Maybe one of our foreign readers can chime in?

      It also points out the problem of buddying up on acquisition programs led by a country other than your own. You have little control over the final product and it may or may not meet your needs.

    11. This comment has been removed by the author.

    12. "You are asserting the complexities are somehow comparable between building a F-14 vs. F-35. I am saying it is an apples and orange comparison."

      I think its Apples to Apples in the sense that, like the transition from the F-111 to the F-14, the Navy could, with a specific mission in mind, bail on a multi-service aircraft that doesn't fit their needs and fine tune an aircraft that does.

      This isn't a comparison between F-35 and F-14 compatibility. Its a comparison between being able to build an aircraft in a short timeframe if you have a tightly focused set of requirements that are designed to satisfy a particular mission.

      What mission is the F-35C going to satisfy for the Navy? It seems to be 'everything but COD'.

    13. Yep the F35B pretty much exactly meets the original UK requirement. I cant speak for the Italians.

      F35 was always just a harrier replacment for us. And contrary to pundits the HM Forces official have always only requested the B variant. For auster basing and flexibility.

      We co-funded the project and as the only other tier 1 partner have had more than our fair share of input. ( right down to the name, as if "lightning" is your current fix wing naming convention LOL ) If anything a major reason for A and C being such a pig is proberbly down to the UK rather than the USMC.

      Price isn't an issue for us. And its shortfalls in A2A capability is not really as critical due to our modern missile capability and the Typhoon Tranche 3.

      I cant get into the cancel F35 debate, there are just so many things wrong with that argument. And its been done so many times before. I just haven't got time.

      Frankly I'm surprised to see you seriously run this ?

    14. The B is a separate issue.

      The Navy's C is ill-suited for the needed missions and roles. That's why I want it cancelled. Even if it works exactly as claimed (and it won't be anywhere near that), it will still not give the Navy the capabilities it needs. Not even close. That's why I'm running this.

    15. I always thought Grumman had the right idea with the ASF-14 Super Tomcat, which had a lot more potential than the Super Hornet and would have been a very capable long range air superiority, fleet air defense and strike fighter, all rolled into one package.

      Also, if we are going to consider legacy platforms, I think an updated version of the F-15N Sea Eagle would be worth looking at, especially if we applied elements from the F-15SA and F-15SE programs. I think we should perhaps dust off the plans for the Super Tomcat and Sea Eagle and update them to accommodate technologies that have been developed since they were proposed to fill the gap while we develop a next-gen fighter. Both options would be far more capable than the F-35 or the proposed Advanced Super Hornet Block III.

      I think its painfully obvious to all those who aren't F-35 fanboys that the F-35 simply isn't going to cut the mustard.

  2. Five years is very doable, depending on the type of aircraft that is being specified.

    If it is a Boyd type of smaller single engined craft, 3 years might even be possible.

    For a larger interceptor type of aircraft, 5 might be too ambitious though.

    I personally believe that a Boyd type aircraft should be built immediately.

    The thing is that they have to have clear requirements, and minimal use of pie-in-the-sky technology as you've noted.

    1. Is there a Boyd model for a carrier aircraft? What does that look like in the jet age? A modern version of the F4F?

    2. Jim, the thing you need to understand about Boyd is that he was 100% focused on the aircraft's mission which, at that time and for him, meant air to air dogfighting. With that in mind, he ruthlessly eliminated any feature that didn't contribute to A2A dogfighting.

      So, is there a Boyd carrier aircraft? No and yes. No, Boyd never designed one but, yes, we can easily conceptualize a Boyd carrier aircraft, IF WE DEFINE THE MISSION. If we have a defined mission then a Boyd carrier aircraft would be that which contained no piece of equipment that didn't support that mission. No multi-role, do-everything aircraft. Boyd would design an aircraft that did its one mission supremely well.

      Decide what the carrier aircraft's mission is and then you can easily design the aircraft. I know what I think the carrier's role is and, therefore, what the carrier's aircraft should do but my opinion is not even remotely in the majority. I'm correct, of course, but not in the majority.

    3. Okay; that makes sense to me. I believe I am with you in the opinion of what the CVN's need.

      Did Boyd ever offer an opinion of the Intruder? It seems to have been focused on the ground attack mission and was simple.

      I've read that Boyd didn't like the Tomcat. Why not? It was a purpose built interceptor to fill the roll in the outer air battle. It wasn't (originally) intended to be an attack aircraft. And while it did have complexity, it served the mission (I.E. the swing wings gave it better loitering ability while doing CAP, and made a big monster like that easier to land).

    4. @Jim
      More like a navalized version of the YF-16, only this time with a canard delta leading edge design.

      So perhaps like a single engined Rafale without the radar.

      I share Boyd's view on Tomcats. They are:
      1. Expensive
      2. Very poor flight to maintenance ratio
      3. Rely heavily on radar guided missiles
      4. Hopeless as a dogfighter
      5. Range wasn't good (low fuel fraction)

      All in all, an overrated fighter and quite underperforming.

      Swing wings exact a huge penalty in cost, maintenance, weight, and hinder performance overall.

    5. Alt, c'mon, now, you and Mr. Boyd need to be fair to the Tomcat.

      1. Every new aircraft is expensive so that's not a fair criticism.

      2. The maintenance requirements were bad by current standards but not bad when the aircraft first came out.

      3. The entire concept of the aircraft was a missile truck (an interceptor) for the Phoenix so, yes, it relied on radar guided missiles because that's what it was designed to do! Though never used in combat by the US, the Phoenix/Tomcat pairing was considered hugely successful and was net equaled until just recently with extended range AMRAAMs.

      4. Against the aircraft of its time, it was an adequate dogfighter with the caveat that it was never intended as a dogfighter. It was a fleet interceptor. To call it a poor dogfighter is like calling an aircraft carrier a poor submarine.

      5. Relative to the threats it was designed to counter, the range was more than adequate for its intended mission as a fleet interceptor. At 500+ nm plus the 100 nm range of the Phoenix, a Tomcat had an effective combat radius of 600+ nm - a range that we're still struggling to meet today!

      All in all, it was an extremely capable fleet interceptor that performed its role quite well. Could we have built a better fleet interceptor? Sure, but the Tomcat more than met its intended mission requirements.

    6. "I share Boyd's view on Tomcats."

      Boyd viewed the Tomcat (and every other aircraft he ever met) through the lens of an air to air dogfighter. The Tomcat was designed as a fleet interceptor not a dogfighter. That's like calling the B-52 a poor aircraft because it can't dogfight. Of course, it can't. It's not supposed to!

      Boyd was never able to acknowledge the existence of any mission but air to air combat and specifically close up dogfighting. To say his views were myopic is to put it mildly.

    7. Once the Tomcat got real engines in the -D version, I think it was a good dog-fighter and still had some of the best BVR capability, we would be hard pressed to match it today!

    8. B52 has a few a2a kills under its belt thou...

    9. @CNO
      I agree that yes, dogfights are not everything, but you missed the whole point of my post.

      It is possible to build a bomber-interceptor oriented aircraft that has good dogfighting performance. The variants of the Su-27 family are a good example. Controversially, I'd argue the Eurofighter is a bomber interceptor as well, but with good dogfighting performance (the reason why I say bomber interceptor is due to the long-arm canard design, which is designed for long-range flight versus close coupled canards which do better for dogfights).

      The problem with the concept is that the AIm-54 was not a very reliable missile. It missed in the three instances that it was fired. An analogy might be the battlecruiser - heavy firepower and speed, but in practice they were put in the line of battle. You've got an aircraft that is a missile truck, only with a missile that frequently missed its targets.

      In practice, you need an aircraft that can at least hold its own in a dogfight for intercepting bombers - simply because enemy bombers often have escorts and because you need a backup if your missiles miss (the Pheonix was quite unreliable). The Su-27 is arguably not the best possible design for this, but it's a better design than the Tomcat. I'd argue a large tailless delta would have done better. It might bear a passing resemblance to the Mirage 4000, but likely would look unique.

      Alternatively, you need an aircraft that can run away fast enough - another weak point of the F-14. It has a low cruise speed due to its swing wing design. That requires a very good thrust to drag and a very high fuel fraction, which at 0.25 the F-14 did not have.

      The swing wing is actually a serious weakness. Although it does lead to a lower take off and landing speed, along with significant fuel savings, the problem remains that it exacts a penalty on mass of about 10-15%, a lower cruise speed, higher manufacturing costs, and more maintenance.

      Plus the range could be better with a higher fuel fraction. Granted the swing wing did somewhat address the low fuel fraction, but at the expense of cruise speed (important for intercepting high speed bombers).

      I'm not against the idea of spending a lot of money for something, but it has to be worth it. The F-14 was not a good aircraft. It's just that the US is lucky that it never fought a competent enemy or its weak points would have been seriously exposed.

    10. I should clarify my point on the fuel savings - they are only during take off, climb, descent, and landing.

      Cruise speed will not see fuel savings and in most cases, neither will dogfights.

    11. I think you're letting your bias for and against certain aircraft cloud your objectivity a bit.

      To call the Phoenix unreliable based on three firings is to draw a conclusion from an extremely limited data set. Also, to be fair, that generation of missiles (early sidewinders, Sparrow, Phoenix) were uniformly poor by comparison to today's missiles. There is no evidence that Phoenix was any worse (any may well have been better - or not) than any of the others.

      Further, Phoenix was only fired three times and was not continually upgraded. Sparrow was terrible but was continually upgraded until it became better. Same for Sidewinder and, eventually, AMRAAM. Phoenix never had the chance to improve.

      Lastly, Phoenix was designed to intercept large bombers, not fighters and was not expected to do well against fighters.

      As far as running away, the Tomcat could achieve Mach 2+ under the right conditions. That seems plenty for a brief run-away period.

      Saying that the range could be better is a statement that is true of every aircraft ever built. The Tomcat's range was perfectly suited to its intended role which was out zone defense. It had an effective range of 600+ nm. Further, than that, and it would have outrun its Hawkeye radar support and its effectiveness would have dropped drastically. You're criticizing the range in a vacuum. In the context of its mission and supporting elements and weapons, its range was good.

      Regarding dogfighting, again you're taking the Tomcat out of its context. Russia had no fighters that could escort bombers to their carrier attack range so dogfighting was not a design requirement. Also, remember that the Soviet aircraft that were contemporary with the Tomcat were largely Mig-21/23/25 and such. The Mig-29 and Su-27 appeared only late in the Tomcat's career and, as I said, would not have escorted Soviet bombers.

      In summary, you're doing two things wrong:
      1. Comparing the Tomcat and its weapons to today's standards.
      2. Taking the Tomcat out of the context of its actual mission.

      For its time and in the context of its mission, the Tomcat was an excellent aircraft. We're still struggling to match in many ways, even today.

    12. I'll grant that the USSR did not have any good aircraft to match it.

      But I would argue that was more due to the failures from the USSR's procurement, which was far from perfect (and Russia's still is far from perfect).

      You could make the case though that by the late 1980s, particularly with the long ranged Su-27 family coming online, the F-15 had a seriously challenger.

      I guess the way to describe it would be, had the USSR not collapsed (ok fantasy world here, where the mismanagement of the Soviet economy does not collapse - but bear with me), I think that the weak points of the F-14 would have been far more severe and exposed.

      On the note of using the afterburner, depending on the situation, that's not always viable. That is one reason why I put a strong emphasis on a high cruise speed on aircraft - it's far more important than burst speed (which only happens for a fraction of a fighter's life).

    13. On the note of what I think would be an ideal interceptor for most bombers:

      It would resemble the Su-27, but instead of the tailed delta, I'd recommend either a compound "double delta" (cranked arrow) or alternatively a canard delta.

      Like the Su-27, such an aircraft would spawn a family. Perhaps one could be a long-arm canard (better for distance), versus another which could be more close coupled (better for dogfighting). If canards are used, this would be combined with leading edge extensions.

      The Su-27 airframe was very advanced when it came out, and superior in that regard to the F-15, even if Western avionics were better.

      The big changes I would make are to make the engines more tightly spaced together. The dual engine design on the Su-27 is in theory more survivable (useful for a ground aircraft), but also less maneuverable, and that exacts a performance penalty for air superiority. It should lead to better dogfighting performance and better acceleration (along with cruise speed), which should be good for taking on bombers.

      Another controversial idea of mine would be to consider getting rid of the radar altogether and going for an all passive design. Such an aircraft would have a large IRST aperture, giving it long range passive detection. The radar adds a lot of weight, so its deletion could result in an increase in fuel fraction or better performance. The reason being that I think that radar will always have the lower hand compared to radar warning receivers because of detection ranges.

      Also, fuel fraction as I've emphasized is a big part of the Su-27's abilities, which are over 0.35. I think the Su-35 (one of the variants anyways) may be as high as 0.42. Higher is better for fast aircraft. A Mig 31 has 0.45 IIRC. For a comparison, the Concorde was about 0.55.

      The other good factors about the Su-27 are the rough field capability. It was designed with landing on dirt strips. Mud guards, FOD, and using larger tires to distribute weight.

      This would spawn a family of interceptors, kind of like the Su-27 did. It's an aircraft that would be agile, could hold its own against dogfighters, yet have a longer range and likely a faster cruise speed than any other fighter aircraft. Subsonic aircraft would have a better subsonic acceleration, but this aircraft would have a better supersonic acceleration.

      For intercepting the truly high speed bombers, a Mig-31-like analogue would likely be needed.

    14. Again, let's be fair and objective. You say had the SU not collapsed, the F-14 weaknesses would have been exposed (I assume you mean in combat since it's unlikely the Tomcat would have many direct real world matchups against an Su-27 or Mig-29. They operated in different realms and on missions that rarely overlapped. Let's be fair, the weaknesses of the Su-27 and Mig-29 would have also been exposed had they been used more (quality control, poor maintenance, pilot training, poor reliability, crude avionics, initially poor missiles, etc.).

      The failure of the Soviets to produce aircraft that would have been a better match for the Tomcat is not a failure of the Tomcats!!! The Tomcat was designed for the enemy aircraft and missions of the time. I guess we could have designed the Tomcat to some non-existent, theoretical aircraft that the Soviets should have produced but that would have skyrocketed the cost and gained nothing in the real world since the Tomcat was already more than adequate for its mission.

      As far as run away speed, sure, I guess you can concoct a scenario where the Tomcat can't run well but for the intended mission it had all the speed it needed and then some. It bothers me when people (not just you) assemble unlikely scenarios to prove a demonstrate a weakness in a plane, ship, or weapon. No system can be affordably designed for every possible scenario. All designs are tradeoffs. To condemn a system because a single, unlikely scenario might prove challenging is unfair and unrealistic in the extreme. Although I fall prey to the same tendency, I always try to relate back to the intended mission/role when I evaluate a system.

      The Su-27 range was/is good but not good enough that the Navy or Tomcat would ever encounter them in the types of missions the Navy would have performed and the Soviets would have performed. Now, the Su-27's range in the overland battlefield may or may not have been of value - I can't address that. You're suggesting that the Su-27 had superior range that allowed it to do wondrous things but from the Navy's perspective in the Cold War, it did not.

    15. As far as the Su-27 as the basis for a naval interceptor, it may well have had characteristics which would be of use. As would the F-22, F-15, etc. That's the design philosophy I've been pushing. We can build a better aircraft than the F-35 simply by combining attributes of the F-22, F-15, maybe Su-27, etc. - all existing technology and ready to go. Five years for integration (zero for development of technology) and we would have an aircraft superior to the F-35 for the Navy's needs.

    16. True, Russian engines were less reliable, and their avionics would have been a drawback, but that doesn't mean that the Su-27 design was not a very good design, despite a few drawbacks.

      The airframe design was arguably a generation ahead of the West - and this is coming from a nation (or what was a nation anyways) that was a lot poorer than the US.

      It also leads to the uncomfortable question as to why the US has not built something vastly superior to the competition - again that brings us back to the broken procurement.

      I'd argue that the Su-27 was that superior aircraft overall. The weaknesses would have resulted in higher peacetime losses due to engine failure, but in actual combat, I'd say the SU-27 would have been a better aircraft.

      As far as the pilot hours go, remember that the high flight to maintenance ratio works against the F-14 as well.

      The big problem with having a poor flight to maintenance ratio is that first, your aircraft cannot be assuredly available when you need it the most. Sadly equipment does tend to fail when you need it the most.

      The other is that it's hard to train pilots up to get the hours that they need. There have been claims that F-22 pilots only get 10-12 hours of air training per month - far from adequate. 40+ is generally accepted as the necessary, with the Israelis at their peak going as high as 60 hours. It would be like having a ship that could only go for 1 month a year and be stuck in drydock for 11 months, while a competing ship could said for 3-4 months a year and be at port for 8-9. It generates 3-4x as much presence.

      The problem I have with your argument on cruise speed is that cruise speed is not some "unrealistic scenario". It's very important for air to air combat. It is not everything, but a slower cruise speed is a MAJOR disadvantage. It means that your enemy can surprise you from your rear. When you are faster in cruise speed, it makes it that much harder for the enemy to sneak up on your rear and kill.

      Historically, the majority of air to air kills have been by surprise. In fact, that is why the advocates of stealth push so hard for it. I personally don't because I think that IR sensors have advanced to the point (particularly with QWIP IRST) where radar stealth (and not even total radar stealth at that - high frequency radar stealth) loses its great advantage. In that case, the most aerodynamic design wins.

      The other is that a lower fuel fraction means that even if you fire up the afterburner for that maximum speed you speak of, it's harder to sustain that speed for long because an afterburner is very, very fuel intensive. They are very inefficient for the extra thrust they produce. If the enemy can sustain a faster average for longer, they might be able to catch you.

    17. Another thing about flight to maintenance is your sortie rate in wartime.

      Let's assume that you have aircraft 1 with a 20:1 flight to maintenance and aircraft 2 with a 10:1 flight to maintenance.

      For a given fleet size of aircraft 1, you'd only be able to have 1/2 as many aircraft in the air as aircraft 2.

      If aircraft 2 is a cheaper and simpler aircraft, then the gap is even bigger. Let's say that aircraft 2 costs 1/2 as much. Then in that case, at any given point for an equal amount of dollars, there will be 4x as many of aircraft 2 in the air.

      Aircraft 1 must be 4x as good as aircraft 2 in that case to win.

      It gets worse. It will be much harder for aircraft 1's pilots to get the training they need because their aircraft will only fly half as much. They will be much more simulator dependent.

      Actually it may be even worse than that. Remember that study from RAND on China vs US over a fictional Taiwan scenario? It argued for Lanchester squared. If that's the case, then aircraft 1 must be 16x as good as aircraft 2 to break even, because it will be (2 times fewer sorties x 2 times fewer planes)^2.

      That's why flight to maintenance is hugely important. The RAND paper argued that 10:1 ratio would be nearly impossible to close (Ex: when outnumbered 3 to 1).

    18. "... doesn't mean that the Su-27 design was not a very good design, despite a few drawbacks."

      Here's your bias that I mentioned, showing through. You acknowledge the Su-27 has its own set of problems but assess them and the aircraft as minor "drawbacks" and an overall very good design. On the other hand, the Tomcat (or F-15/22) you find drawbacks and assess the aircraft as poor and flawed.

      The Su-27, Mig-29, F-22/15/14 are all, overall, nice aircraft for their intended roles. Yes, they all have drawbacks and, yes, they all have strengths. In hindsight, each one could have been better but, on the other hand, every "better" feature probably compromises another feature or, at the very least, increases cost. Every design is a balanced compromise.

      I enjoy your aircraft discussions but I would give them much more credence if they were more objective and less biased. Maybe I'm misreading your assessments but there seems to be a clear bias in your analyses. I have no problem with having a favorite aircraft and promoting it but when that favoritism affects analyses, credibility suffers.

      Consider, objectively, your assessment of the Tomcat. In our discussion, you've not acknowledge a single strength of the aircraft other than a backhanded, very limited recognition that the swing wing has certain limited usefulness, followed immediately by all the problems that the swing wing carries with it. That's not a credible overall assessment. The Tomcat could have been better so you rate it a failure (or disappointment, at least) where as the Su-27 could have been better and you rate it highly successful. See the bias?

      Just my observation for what it's worth.

    19. "... cruise speed is not some "unrealistic scenario". It's very important for air to air combat. It is not everything, but a slower cruise speed is a MAJOR disadvantage. It means that your enemy can surprise you from your rear."

      You're concocting a highly unlikely scenario. You're assuming that an aircraft is cruising along, completely oblivious to any enemy aircraft and that by doing so the enemy closes from the rear and shoots the aircraft down. Most aircraft cruise at 450 kts or so. For an enemy to close from behind requires a speed of well over 450 kts - probably Mach speed. That's obvious. An overtake speed differential of 10 kts would never allow the pursuing aircraft to catch up before it ran out of fuel - you know this very well. So, even a typical cruise speed, obliviously, of 450 kts is difficult for a pursuing plane to catch unless it started very, very close in which case our aircraft has made a fatal mistake by turning its back without clearing the area of hostiles.

      With all that said, a higher cruise speed of 500/550 isn't really going to change the situation. An enemy would still have to employ Mach speed and would probably run out of fuel before catching up. As the Navy says, a stern chase is a long chase.

      While the F-22, for example, has supercruise, it's my impression that it would not routinely use that capability but would fly throttled back. I don't know what an F-22 combat flight profile is, do you?

      So, is a higher cruise speed nice to have? Sure. Would it prevent the scenario you've set up? Rarely. I think your bias is leading you to conjure unlikely scenarios to support your bias.

      Just asking you to consider whether you may have a bias affecting your assessments.

    20. The reason why I see very few advantages for the F-14 is because I see in many ways like you do the JSF. An expensive, ineffective aircraft for the money.

      Actually, I view the F-35B and F-35C as a sort of second incarnation of the Tomcat. That's an interesting analogy because the TFX F-111 interestingly enough was originally designed to be the tri-service aircraft in a way not entirely dissimilar to the F-35. The F-111B's failure developed into what became the VFX and ultimately the F-14.

      As for the swing wing, I guess I see it kind of like stealth. ON paper, it does have some advantages, but it's overshadowed by the drawbacks - weight, cost, reliability.

      So what advantages does it have? The AIM-54 was an unreliable missile. It would be ineffective against a maneuvering, aware enemy target. Even a modern one might not do much better. Remember that as missile technology gets better, so do countermeasures. It's an arms race.

      On super cruise: You'll notice that in many of my posts about aircraft, I put a very, very strong emphasis on fuel fraction.

      The reason why is because it allows for supercruise. You are correct to suspect that F-22 cannot supercruise for long. It's fuel fraction is either 0.28 (some source say 0.29). Either way, that's pretty low.

      The USAF doesn't publish the statistics for supercruise speed of the F-22, just saying it's Mach 1.4+, but it's probably between Mach 1.5 - 1.7. Let's assume that its supercruising at Mach 1.5 and Mach 0.9. Assuming you'll want 2 minutes of fuel on full afterburner (for combat), the fuel consumption is on the order of about 20 minutes worth of supercruise over enemy airspace (about 196 nautical miles worth).

      But the thing is, an aircraft with an even higher fuel fraction would have the choice of maximum speed or a larger combat radius. Tactically, you'll want at least 0.35 for a quasi-supercruiser and 0.40 for a "true" supercruiser.

      You'll notice that when I attack the F-35, I never attack the fuel fraction, which is actually pretty decent. The problem is the range and performance still suck on the F-35 because of the draggy fuselage, leading to a terrible L/D ratio. That leads to a mediocre range, despite having a good fuel fraction.

      One of the strengths of the Su-27 series has been the high fuel fraction. That was originally made for patrolling Siberia, but it would be an advantage in any place simply due to the longevity of the aircraft.

      A 450 vs 550 cruise speed if an aircraft ever found itself in a dogfight would be a considerable advantage for the 550 one, by the way. Unless the 450 aircraft has another advantage, like lower wing loading or transient performance, the pilot on that slower airplane is at a drawback.

      Most aircraft designed only reach supersonic speeds for a small proportion of their lives. Two noteworthy exceptions:

      - Concorde (0.55 fuel fraction, although due to the high taxi fuel consumption, it was often 0.52 by takeoff)
      - SR-71 Blackbird (fuel fraction is about 0.56).

      The big difference is that these aircraft are designed to spend most of their lives at supersonic speeds. Likewise, the higher the fuel fraction, the higher the percentage the time you can spend at supersonic - provided you have an airframe that suits it anyways.

      You could make the case that although it has drawbacks, the F-22 does have some advantages and if the cost was reduced, it has potential, especially if a future incarnation can get the flight to maintenance down. The thing is, my question is, what does an F-14 variant bring to the table that a large delta winged interceptor does not do better? You could make a more reliable and better performing interceptor.

    21. Now regarding the 450 to 550 knot thing - the point I should clarify, the point I was trying to make is that the swing wing is what is responsible for slowing a swing wing aircraft down. It is basically 10-15% of weight that is not helping you once you take off and are at cruising speed.

      I'm critical of the Russian bomber designs for similar reasons.

      Also, if an aircraft is cruising along, it is probably going to be a squad of the same aircraft, engaged by a squad of the enemy's main fighter. Each of the fighters is going to share the relative advantages/disadvantages in that squad.

    22. Sorry for rambling on, but in regards to the main drawbacks of the Su-27 that I've noted, the avionics and the widely space engines, you could change the design to have the engines more closely spaced together, the way they are on most Western double engined fighters (F-14 though is an exception).

      The other avionics - can you not see the potential for a Western equal to the Su-27 that takes important cues that would resolve this deficit?

    23. I fear we're combining discussions that shouldn't be combined and that you're trying to counter an argument I'm not making.

      I get the impression that you think I'm arguing for a new F-14 and that you think it compares poorly to modern aircraft. Good grief no! I'm not suggesting we bring back the F-14 unchanged. I'm stating that the F-14, for its time, in the context of its intended mission/role, and relative to the threats of the time, was a pretty good aircraft. You seem to think that means I'm suggesting it would be a good aircraft today. It would not although a few of its characteristics like long combat radius, we're still struggling to equal or beat today.

      You keep wanting to compare the F-14 to today's aircraft and standards. That's not what I'm discussing. Remember, this discussion started from my example that we built a complex (for its time) F-14 from start to production in five years and should be able to do so again within the constraints I've laid out in previous posts.

      I also fear you're combining a discussion and comparison of the F-14, F-22, and Su-27. Those are three different aircraft, designed and built in three different times for three different roles. That makes comparisons difficult and you're coming up with scenarios intended to highlight the one you favor.

      You seem to be criticizing the F-14 for a slow cruise speed. In its time, there was no supercruise capability so that's hardly a fair criticism. No enemy aircraft had supercruise at that time either. Again, you're picking faults out of context and out of their relevant time period. The Sopwith Camel couldn't supercruise either so I guess it was a crappy aircraft, too!

      If you compare the F-14 to its contemporaries and within the context of its mission/role, it was a good aircraft. That's an objective assessment.

      I have no particular problem with your theoretical interceptor comments. The Su-27 might well make a suitable starting point. Of course, the US would undoubtedly start with the F-22 but characteristics of the Su-27 would be welcome additions.

    24. To be fair, the F-22 should probably be compared to the Super Tomcat 21, which never came to be (cancelled for the F-18 Super Hornet due to costs). Even then though I'd weigh the F-22 as a better aircraft.

      Fair enough - we'll agree to disagree.

    25. @Com Navy Ops

      Sorry bro. The f-14 tomcat can take down f-15 eagle and both of those jets would gun each other down constantly at a pretty equal ratio, not sure if we'll ever really know. But the f-14 tomcat performs pretty much the same as the f-15 but it can out turn the f-15 in dogfighting.

      The f-14 can in fact turn 9g sustained radius just like the f-15. There is nothing the f-14 cannot do, and in fact the much stronger frame with the f-14 will last much longer than the f-15 frame.

      The problem with 9gs is that it hurts the pilots no matter what jet they are in. Grumman created the first modern jet, the f-14 tomcat. They said the design was for 7.5g pulls, but in fact most of its pilots know very well it can performed much higher sustained Gs. At the time 9gs was considered simply too harmful to the pilots and that's why the f-14 tomcat was the last one to be rated at 7.5gs.

      Joe "Hoser", probably the most famous pilot was able to continuously pull 8.5gs with the underpowered, crash prone TF-30 engines. When the planes finally recieved the engine they were designed for, in the form of the GE F-110 turbofan jet engines, some pilots reported doing almost 10gs of sustained turning.

      The top speed of the f-14 tomcat probably is about 2.5 mach with the f-110 engines. It's about 2.4 mach with the tf-30s.

      The tomcat is also the only platform that can fire the pheonix missile, and fire all 6 of them simultaneously, and the APG-79 radar in the F-14D super tomcat still is unmatched to this day I believe. With IRST pod to help track stealth targets, it could shoot down 6 f-22 raptors while it's APG-79 tracks 18 more of them. IN a pure dogfight within visual range, forget radar, the f-14 will beat the f-22 raptor hands down because it's more manueverable. Thrust vectoring will only slow the f-22 raptor down and the f-14 will trap the f-22 raptor in a circle by flying around it.

      The f-14 tomcat is simply more capable than anythign we have today, in dogfighting, BVR and WVR combat, and also as a superior strike platform. The bombcat does that, the F-14B.

  3. Maybe we ought to build a modern version of the A-7 instead. The proposed A-7F from the late-1980's was capable of supersonic speeds with a greater bomb load and longer range than the F-35C.

    While the A-7 lacks stealth, the Navy needs a general purpose work horse to complement the Rhinos and Lightning II's.

    1. The only problem I have with the A7 is that it was another light attack craft. We have plenty of those with the Hornets and SuperHornets. We need, IMHO, more something along the lines of the Intruder, and something that can escort it.

  4. Great idea, but...

    With US military procurement as broken as it is (could it be more broken?), they will barely scope out the problem in the first five years.

    I think you have to burn it all down then start again with a clean sheet. Each time 'reforms' have been imposed of late, they have added more bloat to the system. More reports, more points of congestion in the bowels of the Pentagon/Capitol, etc.

    Lately, we've been procuring (to use the term loosely) war materiel the same way we've been fighting wars. No consistency, no defined end state, no acceptance of what really is and what the best solution might be.

    How else can you explain the utter waste since 2001? Why did it take a decade and a half to get a handful of Super Tucanos into Afghan hands? Why didn't we buy a couple hundred for Iraq and Afghanistan - and a couple hundred for ourselves? [Or something similar] To use in permissive areas where stealth, or huge bombs (or a pointy nose) aren't needed. We could have saved many tens of billions when compared to the airframe fatigue accrued by the Strategic Bombers and fast jets since things stabilized after 2001. Once it became more 'air policing' than 'invasion', in other words.

    I've got no faith that the Pentagon - or the MICC - could bring anything meaningful into service in 5-years or less.

    The modern USN Destroyers are essentially toothless for ASuW. We can't even replace Harpoon - or fit it to a VLS. I'll believe in the miracle LRASM when it is actually proven and purchased in more than token numbers.

    We haven't replaced Tomahawk, despite the push to close that production line.

    Perhaps if the program was black, if it could be kept away from the usual suspects? And requirements limited as you say. Maybe then, the timeline above would be possible.

    To put it in perspective, my country committed to the F-35 around the turn of the millennium (2001/2002). We won't have even IOC before 2021, and that's being generous.

    Two decades, wasted.

    1. Don't mistake my proposal for faith in the US military's procurement competency! As things stand, they would have zero chance of doing what I've proposed. On the other hand, if they implemented my previously outlined methodology, it could be done easily. Of course, that's tantamount to burning it all down, as you suggest!

  5. Another excuse to piss away billions more in search of minor improvements. Our numbers are way down, we need aircraft. If extra money is found, but more FA-18E/F/Gs! I want at least 100 new ones in a wartime storage facility.

    1. You're missing the central premise which is obtaining an aircraft that is far more suited to its intended role than the F-35, doing so in the same time frame, and doing so for less money. This is not about creating an F-35 with minor improvements. You caught the paragraph about "what the Navy really needs", right?

      You're correct that numbers are vital and this approach would give us many more aircraft than the F-35 because the cost would be significantly lower.

      Do you really want 100 extra F-18s that aren't really any better suited to the Navy's operational needs than the F-35?

      I wish you would you consider this comment and maybe re-read the post and then reconsider your comment and let me know if you truly want 100 extra F-18s.

    2. Our Pentagon and Admirals and the "system" has become too corrupt to produce a new aircraft in five years. We'd end up spending billions of dollars and may be a prototype that is marginally better than the FA-18.

      Focus on munitions, not platforms! Missiles kill aircraft, not fighter planes. So work on better missiles and get the inventory numbers up. Think innovation. The E-2D can guide AMRAAMS, why not mount some on the aircraft too! Why not mount Tomahawks on FA-18s?

    3. The slothfulness of the system is due less to corruption and more to a decoupling of authority and accountability. AT&L finds that the Program Manager can expect decision-making on his program to come from 4 orgs at the PEO level, 22 at the SAE, and 30 at OSD! Further, the contracting officer and plant representative do not answer to him.

      The future of technology is often imagined as what is added to our environment and not what is removed, but innovation is often the latter. Radar added the ability to pull back the fog of war while stealth returns us to our more natural state. Effective stealth, I believe, implies missiles and avionics are marginally less important and old-style dogfighting capabilities marginally more.


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