Monday, September 19, 2016

Super Tomcat Today

I mentioned in a previous post that with maintenance upgrades the Tomcat could have stayed around and we could have skipped the entire F-18 Hornet family.

Many people, myself included, have lauded the Hornet but only in comparison to the F-35 train wreck.  As a stand alone aircraft, the Hornet is woefully short ranged for today’s missions and is poorly suited for either air to air combat or strike.  The lack of suitability is a function of trying to be a multi-role aircraft and, therefore, being outstanding at neither.

A far better alternative would have been to perform the maintenance upgrade we previously discussed (see, "Maintenance Upgrades") combined with the Super Tomcat upgrades.  That would have given us a high performance fleet interceptor with vastly improved maintainability.  Let’s take a closer look at what we might have had if the Navy had opted to go the Tomcat upgrade route instead of the Hornet route.

To review, the sequence of proposed Tomcat upgrades (maintenance and performance) was, in order,

  1. F-14D Quickstrike
  2. Super Tomcat 21
  3. Attack Super Tomcat 21
  4. ASF-14 (Advanced Strike Fighter)

The first three modifications would have preserved the basic F-14 to the degree possible while the final version, the ASF-14, would have incorporated new materials and technologies and produced an essentially new aircraft similar to the way the Super Hornet is largely a new aircraft compared to the original Hornet.  The first three versions would have been remanufactured while the last version would have been new construction.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of the various technologies proposed for inclusion in the Tomcat upgrades.

  • GE-F110-129 engines for super-cruise at Mach 1.3 and increased acceleration
  • Upgraded APG-71 radar including an Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar mode and a 20% increase in target acquisition range. (3)
  • Modified and enlarged control surfaces to provide 33% greater low speed lift around the carrier and enlarged all-moving tailplanes. (3)
  • Enlarged leading edge root extensions (LERX) that would house more fuel and enhance the jet's low speed handling capabilities
  • Thrust vectoring nozzles tied directly to a new digital flight control system.  Even without thrust vectoring, the aerodynamic enhancements found on the ASF-14 would allow the jet to reach over 77 degrees of sustained AoA, but thrust vectoring was also to be part of the new design which would have made it the most maneuverable fighter of all time. (3)
  • Significantly greater range
  • The Quickstrike version would have had provision for up to 24 munitions points, fewer for heavier munitions. (3)
  • Modified radar with Forward Air Controller (FAC) mode
  • Integrated Defensive Avionics Package (IDAP)
  • FLIR targeting and Terrain Following Radar housed in front of the Phoenix missile mount's aerodynamic fairings under the fuselage
  • Infra Red Search & Track system (IRST) and Television Camera System (TCS) mounted in under-nose pods
  • Upgraded cockpit avionics including a new wide angle heads up display (HUD) that would be capable of projecting the navigational FLIR's imagery
  • Increase in internal fuel from 16,200 lbs for an F-14D to 18,500 lbs for the SuperTomcat 21. (2)
  • Further increase in internal fuel over the Super Tomcat 21 via thicker wings in the ASF-14.
  • Use of carbon fiber structural components to save weight and volume
  • 1960's era sub-systems that were heavy and complex would be replaced with modular components
  • All of the jet's hydraulic and electrical systems that gave legacy Tomcat maintainers such headaches over the years would have been replaced with greatly simplified systems
  • Many structural components would be made out of carbon fiber instead of aluminum or titanium. This would allow the new Tomcat to be only slightly heavier in gross weight (about 1000 pounds empty) than its predecessor, while gaining 2200 lbs of fuel in each glove area. (2)
  • Some stealthy characteristics would be applied to the ASF-14, this may have included radar baffles over it engines' fan faces and "edge-aligned" gear doors and access points. (1)
  • A mammoth active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar would have been fitted and provided with immense amounts of power for interlaced air-to-air and air-to-ground operations or even standoff electronic attack. You can see how incredible the ASF-14s AESA capability would have matured into by looking at the current APG-63V3 AESA radar upgrade program for the F-15. The APG-63V3 is actually more capable in some respects than the F-22A's APG-77 AESA radar because it is larger in diameter, allowing for more transit/receive modules to be utilized, and it is newer in its design. The Tomcat was built originally for the massive Hughes AWG-9 fire control radar, the largest radar ever deployed on a US fighter, so there is a LOT of real estate up front for the mother of all fighter jet AESA radar arrays to have been fitted. (1)

And, of course, any new technologies that have been developed and incorporated into the current F-18E/F would also have been capable of being added to the SuperTomcat.

In addition, if we had gone the SuperTomcat route, we would undoubtedly have upgraded the Phoenix or developed a new, better replacement – perhaps something like a longer ranged AMRAAM which we essentially now have, anyway.

So, what would be the specs of a Super Tomcat compared to the Super Hornet and F-35?  Obviously, the Super Tomcat’s specs are speculative and are my own assessments.

 Super Tomcat              Super Hornet                      F-35

Combat Radius                     750 (4) nm                   390 nm                       490 nm (5)
Speed                                    Mach 2+                      Mach 1.8                    Mach 1.6
Hardpoints                             10                                11                                2 (6)
Weapons Load                      17,750 lbs(7)               17,750 lbs                   3,000 lbs (6)

(4)Wiki credits the F-14D with a 500 nm combat radius.  Given the increases in fuel and wing area, combined with newer, more efficient engines, I’m estimating 750 nm combat radius.

(5)Wiki credits the F-35 with a 625 nm to 760 nm combat radius which is patently false since the credited range is 1200 nm.  The best possible combat radius is half the range since the aircraft has to fly out and return.  So, to list a combat radius that is greater than half the range is not possible.  When one factors in the combat maneuvering (higher thrust) during the combat mission, the maximum value of half the range becomes significantly less than half.  One of the two numbers is incorrect.  Given all the lies told about the F-35 by the manufacturer and the Navy so far, I flat out don’t believe the listed combat radius.  So, I’ve estimated a combat radius that is likely far more correct.

(6)This is the F-35’s combat capability.  The aircraft has 6x additional hardpoints but those will not be used in combat because of the resulting degradation of stealth.  Further, the aircraft’s combat radius is predicated on a clean configuration (internal weapons only).  Any configuration with external hardpoints would severely degrade the combat radius as well as stealth and maneuverability.

(7)The Super Tomcat would, undoubtedly, have increased its weapon payload from the 14,500 lb of the standard F-14 but how much is a guess.  I’ve seen no published number.  I’ve opted to cite the same capacity as the Super Hornet although I suspect the increase would be much greater.  This is a debatable number.

Now, let’s look at today’s aircraft roles.  The Navy needs a long range fleet interceptor and air superiority fighter.  Given the existence of the Tomahawk-TLAM, there may or may not be a need for a long range strike aircraft – but that’s another post.  Clearly, an upgraded Tomcat would have given us a vastly superior long range fleet interceptor and air superiority fighter as compared to the Super Hornet we have today. 

An upgraded Tomcat is even superior to the F-35 in all ways except stealth.  There’s just a limit to how much stealth you can “fit” on to an airframe that wasn’t designed and shaped for stealth from the beginning.  Of course, we don’t know how much stealth the ASF-14 would have had.  More importantly, we don’t know how much stealth is actually effective or needed.

The two-seat Tomcat would have also allowed a much greater degree of secondary tasking such as surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting, control of other aircraft, etc.

What we see from all this is the possibility that the Tomcat could have been upgraded and the entire F-18 line skipped while providing a vastly superior aircraft.  Going further, the improved Tomcat would, today, surpass not only the F-18 but the F-35, as well, in all ways except stealth.

It is likely that the cost of the overall upgrade path would have been less than the F-18 path simply due to bypassing the basic airframe development.  Of course, the upgrades, themselves, would have cost the same as the upgrades for the Super Hornet.

Having a vastly superior aircraft, today, would allow the Navy to skip the troubled F-35 and wait for the next generation fighter instead of having to accept a hugely expensive F-35 that does not even meet the Navy’s need for a long range interceptor and air superiority fighter.

It’s not as if all this has become apparent only with the benefit of hindsight.  The advantages of the Tomcat upgrade path were well known at the time and the mediocrity of the F-18 Hornet was also well recognized.  The Navy had every opportunity to make an informed, better decision and opted not to.  They have no one to blame but themselves for the current situation.


(1)Foxtrot Alpha website, “Top Gun Day Special: The Super Tomcat That Was Never Built”, Tyler Rogoway, 13-May-2014

(2)Home of M.A.T.S. website, 6-Aug-2016

(3) website, “Advanced Tomcat Variants”, 6-Aug-2016


  1. Fantastic post. This may be one decision that hamstrings, and possibly kills, the carriers going forward. Short legged, heavy, multirole aircraft make the billion dollar ships that carry them less useful and more superfluous. Add in the Ford debacle and its just pouring salt in the wound.

    Not to defend the Navy (they pulled the trigger, also killing the A6-F and earlier A-6's after re-winging) but I thought Cheney had a bone to pick with the Tomcat, and to an extent Grumman? Wasn't he the one who referred to it as '60's technology?' and exerted some pressure on the Navy?

    Finally, this decision I think put Grumman on the downward path. Now we have LM as our only carrier fighter manufacturer, and all the institutional knowledge from the Grumman ironworks died with the shuttering of the New Jersey plant and the retirement of all those guys, without them training follow ons.

    What a mess.

    1. A very good point about the loss of Grumman's institutional carrier aircraft knowledge.

      LM last built a carrier aircraft in the 1970's (S-3 Viking) and would appear to have lost some institutional knowledge as well. Witness the F-35 tailhook failure - that's about as basic a design aspect as you can get and they bungled it.

    2. Good point. And how much weight did they aid to the aircraft to make that right? I think it was north of 100lbs.

  2. Why not purchasing Rafale M's?

    1. The short but complete answer is that it's not made in the US.

      A lesser concern is that no one (certainly not me!) knows what its actual performance is. I've seen manufacturer's claims, which are always wildly exaggerated, but no actual test/performance data so I have no idea whether it's suitable for the Navy's mission. Besides, the post is about the Tomcat upgrade path which would have started before the Rafale was ever a viable option, if it even is.

    2. US Navy needs a Navy fighter/bomber.

    3. "US Navy needs a Navy fighter/bomber."

      We have a fighter/bomber, the F-18. You undoubtedly know this. What's your real point?

    4. With or without Exocets?

    5. The US Navy uses Harpoon instead of Exocet. What are you trying to ask?

    6. Missiles make the eventual difference.

    7. I would agree that the Rafale M is a vastly superior aircraft.

      It could be license manufactured in the US. The software would have to be re-written, but it may be worth considering procuring MICA and Meteor Missiles.

    8. This guy did compare them- F18E v Rafalen as a possible buy for Canada. Im not thinking agree with his evaluations but he seemed to have covered a lot of bases
      One thing he gest wrong is that Canada needs a 'tailhooked aircraft' because of its icy runways but all planes not just carriers can have a vestigal hook if needed for a runway landing. he should be comparing the Typhoon but gets sidetracked on its irrelevant issues.

    9. I"m not against a license build of the Rafale given our options today. I'd really like to see solid range numbers on it though. CNO's reports of its refueling needs over Libya were startling to me.

      Sadly, we'd never get it through Congress.

    10. You have to be very wary of the tendency to think that anything we don't have is better than what we do have. "People" tend to think the Rafale is some kind of miracle aircraft just because we don't have it. We study and see the faults in what we have but we don't study and see the faults in what we don't have. Instead, we just read the manufacturer's claims and, for unfathomable reasons, believe them.

      Maybe the Rafale is a good aircraft. Maybe it's not. I have no idea because I've never seen the equivalent of DOT&E's testing on it. Every aircraft has problems. What are the Rafale's? No one seems to know because no one is looking closely at it.

      The most popular guy in town is the backup quarterback. The "best" aircraft in the world is the one that isn't ours.

    11. Reading Ztev's link the results are closer than I thought. Alot closer.

      I like the idea of a flyoff, CNO. It would be very interesting to see a flyoff between the navalized Flanker, navalized MiG 29, Rafale M, Superhornet, and F-35.

      You'd have to find a way to handicap it because only the Rafale, SH, and F-35 are CATOBAR, as far as I know, but it would be interesting nonetheless.

      I'm guessing the Flanker would have the range advantage, but be more questionable on maintanance. The SH would be the Toyota Camry of the group: Reliable but not particularly great at anything. Rafale M looks like it might be close in there to the SH. MiG 29 might be the best fighter but compromised by its short legs. F-35 is the pig but but likely has the best avionics.

      The Flanker is closest to my personal ideal because of its range. But it would be interesting to see what a fly-off could show.

    12. That would be an interesting academic exercise but the Navy needs a dedicated long range interceptor and air superiority fighter for A2/AD work. It needs to be a new design since no existing design has what we need. What would that design wind up looking like? Maybe a cross between a Flanker and a Tomcat?

    13. Very true, just an interesting academic exercise. It does point out, to me at least, that the options out there aren't as fantastic as I first thought.

      That would be my guess; given my desire for range, carrying capacity, and high cruise speed its going to end up being big. The Flanker proves you can make them manueverable enough with careful design.

      I'd want something that fits the role imagined for the upgraded Tomcat.

      Again, just my opinion.

    14. Tho academic I think with today's Navy thinking and decision progress we would end up with a twin engine F-35 which would be a dud.

      However thinking that out from a different prospective. I know some initial design work has been done on an updated Navalized F-22. Think of the possibilities and combining that with a little leeway regarding a tried and true updated airframe. New Tomcat Potential??

    15. The issue I have with the F-22 is that I've read it has short legs.

      At one point I read they were thinking about the YF-23 as the NATF. IIRC it had had much better range.

      We'll never know because it never got out of its infancy, but in terms of 'Everything else aside man does that look cool' factor that would have been awesome...

  3. I believe that is the better of your most recent posts

    I think that the navy should have first and foremost the requirement for a long range airframe no matter the mission intended for it.

    As for stealth and it's known limitations and not so stealthy results today. Maybe it's time to rethink stealth first, mission as a secondary requirement and instead incorporate stealth as a secondary requirement with mission and range the first requirement.

    Also they need a modular ECM package that can be continuously upgraded through the life of the airframe

    1. You're close on aircraft design. Mission is the only driving force for design. Everything else, be it stealth, range, speed, weapons, whatever, derives from the mission. So, it's not mission and range, it's just mission. The mission will determine the amount of range needed.

    2. Stephen, I deleted your comment as utter nonsense. Feel free to comment if/when you have something serious to say.

    3. Try putting it another way.

      As you have repeatedly and convincingly demonstrated, the USN has been busy committing itself to ships and aircraft which have fundamental defects in range and armament, such that they would be of little use if confronted by a reasonably serious opponent.

      The only likely serious opponent is China.

      There must be some explanation for the USN's apparent decision not to equip itself for the war it is most likely to have to fight.

      I don't know what the explanation is, but I wonder if it is possible that the USN high command has decided that a war against China would be catastrophic and therefore does not wish to prepare for it.

      I don't think that's nonsense. There may well be other explanations: what's yours?

    4. Review your history of Navy decision making. The Navy has been making incomprehensible decisions since long before China was seen as a rising threat. We sank an entire class of the best ASW destroyer ever built, for example, and that was long before China.

      So, none of what you're attributing to a Navy view of China is actually that. The Navy simply has stunningly incompetent leadership. There's no big conspiracy - just stupidity on a mind-boggling scale and it's been going on for several decades, now.

      As Sherlock Holmes says, the simplest explanation that fits the facts is invariable correct. Simple incompetence.

    5. Actually, there's an equally simple explanation. The USN leadership is reasonably competent at the job it actually gets picked and rewarded for. Unfortunately, that job is spending vast sums of money in a way that benefits the companies and politicians who lobby effectively. Any warfighting capability is secondary, at best.

      Indeed, there's a case to be made that the current USN leadership is unusually good at this job, given the cost overruns they're achieving, which benefit the suppliers and their politicians.

    6. I still don't understand the retirement of the Spruances.

      Given our needs, their capabilities, and their proven use.... what a freakin' waste.

    7. I've explained this before. The Spruance/NTU was a threat to the Aegis program that the Navy wanted so they retired and sank them. No more threat. Pretty simple.

      They did essentially the same thing to the Perrys which were a threat to the LCS. Instead of sinking the Perrys, we sold them. Same thing.

    8. Sorry. I know you explained it. I accept your explanation. And I know that this blog is about decisions like this.

      I just don't get it; its so wasteful and stupid, and leaves us in such a lurch. Its like Ford killing the Explorer because it might cost it sales of the F-150.

    9. This is where I get lost. I see what the Navy did (sinking the Spruances, for example) and I understand why (idiotic as it was). What I don't get is the mind-numbing stupidity of it.

      I understand that the Navy wanted Aegis and NTU/Spruance was a threat to that. But, if Aegis was that much better, it would have become evident and there was no need to sink the Spruances. If Aegis wasn't that much better than we should have kept the Spruances. Either way, we should have come out of it with the Spruance class intact. All I can figure is that the Navy was so insecure and uncertain about their choice of Aegis that they felt they had to take action to make sure that their choice was the only choice. In other words, they were not even remotely sure that Aegis was the right path and rather than let the facts develop and speak for themselves, they removed any possible alternative.

      Consider Rickover and nuclear power. He was confident about nuclear power and felt no need to destroy other technologies. He didn't advocate sinking conventional powered ships. He knew what he had and was confident that it would speak for itself.

      Today, we have incompetents who aren't sure and the only way they can be right is to remove all alternatives. Either that or they work for the Chinese and Russians!

    10. No, they work, sort of, for the shipbuilders. By disposing of the Spruances, they ensure that new ships have to be built, and thus the shipbuilders make more money. This is supported by the politicians whose constituencies benefit from shipyard orders, since the first duty of US politicians is to bring money home. It's fairly simple and logical, if you're sufficiently cynical.

    11. Your statement makes a depressing amount of sense.

  4. May i ask,
    Are you aware of the issues facing the AF F-15 fleet?
    The entire fleet is grounded, except for emergencies, and the ones that are allowed to fly are limited to Mach 1.3 in a Mach 2.5 craft, and limited to 5G manurers in a craft cable of 8+.
    A couple folded in half mid flight.
    Are they bad aircraft?
    Nope, likely one of the best ever built, but, they were built in the 80's to fly 8,000 hours, they've now flown on average considerably more, some over 12,000 hours.
    The F-14 is even older, coupled with the fact that they've had a much harder life, living their whole lives doing carrier ops...
    I just dont see a refurb on such an old airframe, not to mention such a complex one, being a cost effective measure.
    Never mind the lack of development funds to advance aircraft development, etc, etc, etc...
    I just dont think its that good a plan.

    1. The single incident that I believe you're referring to occurred in 2007. I've heard nothing since. I don't know what the current status of the F-15 fleet is.

      As a carrier aircraft and as a Grumman aircraft, the F-14 was built stronger than the F-15 or just about any other aircraft. The kind of upgrades I discussed would, of course, involve structural upgrades if needed.

      You also noted in the post that we wouldn't be flying actual 1970's F-14s today, right? I stated that the final iteration of upgrades would involve new manufacture aircraft. You read that, right? So, we'd have brand new aircraft with superior capabilities in the fleet right now.

      I addressed cost and logically concluded that it would have been cheaper in the long run, overall. If you'd care to disagree, do so with facts and logic. Simply saying you don't think it would be cost effective has zero credibility without some kind of supporting data or logic. Lacking such, my conclusion stands.

      "Lack of developmental funds"???? You're kidding, right? You read the post, right? The premise was that we could have skipped the entire F-18 and Super Hornet program. There's your funding!

    2. I think at the time this was being considered the flight hours on the D models were relatively low, and in fact had just ended production.

      According to Wiki, Production ended in '91
      "Dick Cheney described the F-14 as 1960s technology, and drastically cut back F-14D procurement in 1989 before cancelling production altogether in 1991"

      The first deployable F-14D's were delivered in '92.

      Again according to Wiki, That was right around the time they were looking at the SH, and the same year Grumman offered the Quick Strike. "The Super Hornet was first ordered by the U.S. Navy in 1992."

      The SH first flew in '95 and deployed in the early 2000's.

      If they had gone through with the Tomcat Upgrade path I believe the line would still be running (like the SH's) and the aircraft would be about as old. But with far greater capability.

    3. Nate, normally this would be a valid argument, but the upgrades listed here are specifically tied to rebuilt and new manufacture aircraft. All older aircraft that are upgraded would go through a SLEP or similar maintenance, although most upgrades would have been done to new build F-14D models until replaced by a new build Tomcat 21 aircraft.

      Not only that, but most F-15A/Cs are roughly the same age of the B/D Tomcats that were manufactured. (D models production started in 1990). That, and the Air Force has been heavily criticized for not having a SLEP in place for the C/D F-15 fleet and has hastily scheduled one once the in-flight emergencies and groundings stared taking place.

    4. Jim, first flew in 1995, deployed in 2000, so the oldest would now be 16 years old operationally.
      Thats the SH, fleet of legacy Tomcats, even with the 100 million per craft upgraded CNO has suggested, would be an average age of some 30 years old now... and thats only if you include craft but after 1980. The average age of the AF craft is 23 years old, was 8 years old in the 60's.
      These things wear out. They just do.
      I'll go as far as reserving judgement on this, i'd like to hear from a naval aviator that worked with Tomcats (if any are reading here) what it was like to maintain a swing wing aircraft, ready rates, etc.
      I know they built the tomcats tough, they still lived in briny air, and launched and landed hard. Not to mention lots of moving parts in the airframe (swing wing, read heavy, etc).

      Yes CNO, i read your post.
      I just see lots of idealised wishful thinking, every big ticket item you proposed sounded like dollar signs.
      And what you have in the end, is a very expensive, upgraded, very old airframe. At least when you buy new, even if you did go way over budget, you can say that we'll likely have these assets for decades to come. No one would be saying that over an F-14 built 25 years ago.

    5. Nate,

      with respect, the Grumman was throwing out the ideas for the QuickStrike in '92, the same year that the Navy agreed to the SH. Yes, the original F-14D rebuilds would be out of service, but had they gone with that options the new ones would have roughly the same timeline as the superhornet:

      First flight in '95, fleet acceptance around early 2000's, likely still in production today.

      So no, they wouldn't be 30 years old. That was never the intent.

    6. "No one would be saying that over an F-14 built 25 years ago."

      Did you read the part about the latest version of upgrades being entirely new construction? The Tomcats that would be flying today would be around 15 yrs old to brand new, assuming the production line was still operating.

      You've got to read the post and comprehend what you're reading.

    7. "I just see lots of idealised wishful thinking, every big ticket item you proposed sounded like dollar signs."

      Did you understand the premise of the post? It was that we could have totally bypassed the entire Hornet/Super Hornet line. How much money would that have saved for use on Tomcat upgrades? I don't know but it would have been far more savings than Tomcat upgrades would have cost. The upgrades were all incremental improvements and new components. The Hornet family was an entirely new design and cost far, far more.

      By the way, idealized wishful thinking is the definition of every acquisition program!

      Read and understand!

  5. You know where I stand on the F-14, and as the other person noted, a cheaper option may be to procure the Rafale M (which would save on development costs).

    Another option would (and my preferred) would be a mix of very light weight Boyd-type fighters with bomber interceptors (a tailless delta large aircraft, about the size of the Su-33).

    In regards to thrust vectoring, I'm not at all fond of it - it adds weight and complexity. In air to air combat, using it would be extremely risky. The energy loss in combat is extremely bad and unless you are assured a kill, would render you a sitting duck.

    1. "Another option would (and my preferred) would be a mix of very light weight Boyd-type fighters with bomber interceptors "

      How do those aircraft match with the Navy's missions? I've stated what I think the Navy's missions are and those aircraft don't mesh with the missions. What do you see as the Navy's aviation missions and how do those aircraft support the missions? Genuinely curious!

  6. I think you are underestimating the development costs of this platform. It would be certainly better than the Super Hornet, but it would be very expensive to develop - perhaps high enough that a ground up design might end up being a better value in the long run. Or it would be an incremental development, kind of like what the Su-35 was for the Su-27.

    Certain systems would have to be developed from ground up. IRST for example is something the US has limited expertise in. Either that or license an existing system, like PIRATE IRST.

    The US has not developed a QWIP IRST system on any fighter so far, so it would have to be developed from ground up.

    The other changes are so large that they may very well constitute a new airframe.

    1. "I think you are underestimating the development costs of this platform. ... it would be very expensive to develop - perhaps high enough that a ground up design might end up being a better value in the long run."

      That's silly. No upgrade program, however extensive, is going to be as expensive as a ground up new design. We saw exactly that scenario play out with the Hornet/Super Hornet upgrades versus the new design F-35. The new design costs dwarfed the Hornet upgrade costs.

      You also got the premise of the post that the entire Hornet program would have been skipped so there would have been plenty of money for upgrades.

    2. "I think you are underestimating the development costs of this platform. It would be certainly better than the Super Hornet, but it would be very expensive to develop - perhaps high enough that a ground up design might end up being a better value in the long run. Or it would be an incremental development, kind of like what the Su-35 was for the Su-27."

      With respect, it may have been the perfect time to do a ground up rebuild. Or we could have gone the route of the Rafale M. But that's an assumption made in a political vacuum. This was the early 90's and we were all basking in the glow of the peace dividend; with Congress clashing fork to knife getting ready to redistribute that money from defense to their own pork.

      There was no way Congress was going to go for a brand new fighter program to deliver something fairly quickly; that's why the SuperHornet was listed as an 'upgrade' despite it being a new aircraft. Similarly Congress wasn't going to go in on the Rafale. And had they done so, from what I'm seeing now it wouldn't have moved us that much farther past the SuperHornet than we are now. Better certainly. What we need? Not so much.

      The entire idea of the 'upgraded Tomcat' course given by Grumman was that it was something that could be sold to Congress in the same way the Superhornet was, and would, had it worked, given the Navy a usable aircraft that would improve the airwing today dramatically by making incremental improvements on the existing airframe, then making incremental changes on the airframe over time to improve its performance.

      Saying 'We should have done a brand new plane' or 'We should have bought Rafale' is nice, but it would have never happened. Its in my mind a different conversation.

  7. Will your Boyd fighters have the range needed? Would they have radar? (Honest questions, not being snarky).

    1. The closest thing to a Boyd fighter is the F-16. It has limited range, limited weapons payload, and a small radar (limited range compared to larger radars). These are not characteristics that the Navy needs in an A2/AD penetrating A2A/A2G aircraft.

    2. That's what I was wondering. In my opinion of the Navy's needs, I question the utility of a low range *anything* flying from the carrier deck, unless you're talking a helo.

      But I dont' know the Boyd model well enough to say if you can get a lightweight fighter to have long range. It seems you are facing a race between fuel/weight/size.

      The only way to cheat that might be to go high bypass turbofan, but IIRC that isn't in the Boyd model and they have performance limitations.

    3. Range would be much better than the F-16 for two reasons:

      1. Very high fuel fraction >0.40 (a land based variant would be could be as high as 0.43; navy variants will be lower due to the strengthened airframe and landing gear).

      2. Very good lift to drag ratio because of the very small fuselage.

      Although the aircraft would be small, it would be very aerodynamic.

      Actually, in regards to the F-16, Boyd and the Fighter Mafia opposed what happened between the YF-16 to the F-16. They opposed the addition of the radar and the enlargement of the nose gear. It led to a heavier, less agile, more expensive, and shorter range aircraft.

      Actually, the aircraft I want is not a modernized YF-16. The YF-16, although a very good design in many regards does not have a good fuel fraction (0.28). That and its small size limits its range, although it would be a very good point-defense interceptor.

      A close-coupled canard delta aircraft would do much better in that regard. The large delta wing would give much more room for fuel, and contribute to a much lower wing loading. Plus the reduced wingspan could also improve transient performance, especially when combined with the lower wing loading.

      As far as radar goes, this aircraft will not have a radar. The savings will go to increased fuel capacity (hence the high fuel fraction) and by extension, range.

      The aircraft will rely entirely on its QWIP IRST system to detect long range enemies.

    4. "Although the aircraft would be small"

      You're developing an aircraft concept in a vacuum, divorced from any mission requirements. The Navy needs an aircraft that can compete in the today's very low probability-of-kill arena. That requires lots of weapons to achieve a single kill. A modern A2A aircraft will need 12-16 missiles. That's going to be very difficult to fit on a small aircraft without severely impacting range and speed.

    5. "The aircraft will rely entirely on its QWIP IRST system to detect long range enemies."

      Now that's fascinating. IRST has significant limitations, as you well know. Rain and clouds degrade IRST performance. IRST does not provide instantaneous range though that can, in some circumstances, be compensated for.

      IRST is highly useful as an complement to radar but I don't know if it's capable of being the only detection and targeting sensor.

      I'd like to think that the military has performed tests of IRST-only aircraft versus radar-only. If so, they haven't shared the results publicly, as far as I know. The fact that they haven't leaped on the IRST bandwagon and changed over all our fighters to IRST-only suggests that IRST-only is not yet feasible.

    6. The evaluations I've heard of IRST are mixed. In the proper environment it works. New technology works in more environments. But the 'cone of detection' is very very small. One article I read described it as 'looking through a straw' even on the newer European models.

      The claims are that IRST equipped aircraft are going to go up and easily spot and kill radar stealthed aircraft, and I just don't see the facts to back up the claims yet.

      AESA is very good, and I think realistic 'stealth detecting' sensors are going to be AESA mixed with ever higher processing power that can tease out the return signature of a radar stealthed aircraft.

    7. "Very high fuel fraction"

      You understand that fuel fraction is not the be all and end all of aircraft design, right? You can fly a suitably designed plane with a lawnmower engine and a 1 gallon fuel tank for thousands of miles.

      Fuel fraction is one of many desirable characteristics but it is hardly the determining characteristic of an aircraft's "goodness" as you've repeatedly suggested. Weapons quantity, stealth, radar, speed, maneuverability, etc. are all equally important, depending on the intended mission.

      For example, if the intended mission is to provide aerial protection in a 500 mile radius around a carrier group and you have a 100+ mile A2A weapon, then fuel fraction is almost irrelevant.

      Even if maximum endurance is the goal, fuel fraction is still not the only design parameter of importance. It may not even be the most important. Lift/drag characteristics may be more important - honestly, I'm venturing outside my area on this but the point is straightforward enough.

      You have an obsession with fuel fraction that doesn't seem to be warranted. I'd really like to see you focus a bit on mission requirements over just fuel fraction.

      Fuel fraction is like speed. It's nice to have and no one would turn it down but it may not be all that necessary to mission accomplishment and, hence, aircraft design.

      Aircraft design starts with mission definition not fuel fraction.

    8. @CNO:

      What you are proposing defies the laws of physics. If you want range, then fuel fraction is the deciding factor. Or one of the biggest.

      I don't get your criticism. First, you disagreed with my Boyd idea on the basis that the F-16 was short ranged. I counter-argued that a high fuel fraction/high lift-drag ratio variant would have much longer range. What's it gonna be? Either range matters (then fuel fraction is very important) or it doesn't (then fuel fraction doesn't matter as much).

      Laws of physics:

      Range = velocity x ln (fuel fraction) x Lift/Drag Ratio x Specific Fuel Consumption

      Simple as that.

      Fuel fraction we've discussed at length, so I will leave that. I personally believe that an aircraft will need at least 0.40 and ideally closer to 0.45.

      Lift/drag - the aircraft that I've proposed has a very high L/D ratio. Probably the highest you can get out of an aircraft, save perhaps a flying wing (which has other compromises, but if were technologically feasible, a flying wing fighter would be very desirable). A Boyd-type aircraft would have a very high degree of wing-body blending and a very thin fuselage, giving a very good L/D ratio.

      Specific fuel consumption is geared by the amount of fuel the engine consumes.

      1. Your velocity
      2. Your aircraft's aerodynamics
      3. Efficiency of your engine

      1. Is simple - the faster, the more drag. It's not a linear function either. It's like a ship - to go 20 knots, you need x amount of fuel per hour, but to go say, 40 knots, you need more than double x. It's a geometric function. The bigger the fuel tank, the longer you can go or the longer you can sustain a very high speed.

      2. Aircraft with a bad L/D ratio are double screwed because the engine has to work harder and L/D ratio directly affects range. Your weight will also affect the engine fuel consumption. Heavier means more fuel (hence my call for the deletion of the radar). A variable swept wing fighter is penalized here because they are about 10-15% heavier than a conventional aircraft.

      3. Affected by technology and engine design. I'd argue for a turbojet (rather than a turbofan) for a supercruiser aircraft.

      I'm saying that the Boyd type of aircraft is the best compromise the laws of physics will offer you.

      It's not perfect, but it's the best compromise. It's long ranged, can fly very frequently, and unmatched if it gets into a dogfight.

    9. @CNO and Jim

      In regards to radar, the reason why I want to delete radar is because I see it as not just a way to find enemies, but a way for enemies to find you.

      Consider in submarine warfare submarines. Submarines usually operate with their sonar on passive. The reason is because the range of detection of active sonar is much lower than the range that the target using active sonar can be detected. Emitting noise gives away your position. Active sonar is of limited use in undersea warfare (such as avoiding underwater terrain in shallow waters).

      The same works with radar. Only radar has no passive option (well technically it does, but only very short range). Radar warning receivers are very widespread and can detect an enemy using radar at a range further than you can detect them with radar.

      In fact the ALR-94 RWR on the F-22 is regarded as one of the most advanced sensors on the F-22 for that reason.

      It gets worse. You are familiar with anti-radiation missiles? The Russians have some pretty good anti-radiation air to air missiles. That means that you will have to spend a lot of your time with the radar off, especially factoring in the enemy will have radar warning recievers.

      The problem is that if you turn it off, then you've got a useless piece of deadweight in the nose that adds mass (and hence makes your aircraft less agile, while consuming fuel), adds cost (because costs money to buy), adds maintenance requirements (need people to make sure it is working), and means you cannot fly as often.

      Hence, I call for the deletion of radar. Note that I delete radar on the Boyd type aircraft. Optionally the large aircraft could keep it (could have variants with and without them). You could rely on the larger aircraft to spot for the smaller one. If the enemy has a lot of anti-radiation air to air missiles, then only a small percentage of the air fleet has a radar weighing them down.

      As far as IRST, perhaps it is because this blog is American-centric, but the US is years behind the competition in IRST as I've noted.

      A bit about the F-18 IRST (keep in mind of course that the US is a few years behind the Europeans too in IRST technology):

      Some reading:

      IRST may not be the end all be all, but radar isn't either and unlike radar, it's a passive sensor and won't be a double-edged sword.

    10. "What you are proposing"

      I didn't propose anything!

    11. Alt, you completely missed my point. The point was that you're designing an aircraft with no consideration for the actual mission!

      You also seem to think I'm suggesting that high fuel fraction is a bad thing or that good lift ratios are unnecessary. I'm not! I'm saying that aircraft design needs to start with mission definition. From that will come the necessary fuel fraction, L/D, size, etc. Your design concept is neither good nor bad. It's nothing. There's no mission to compare it against.

      The Navy designed an entire class of ship (LCS) without consideration of mission (a CONOPS) and the result was a disaster.

      The Navy (the military) designed an aircraft (F-35) without a mission and the result has been disastrous.

    12. I'd be very nervous about eliminating radar. Everything I've read suggests radar is much farther along its development path than IRST. Just going to IRST, simply to eliminate the weight of the radar set, is a huge risk. Sure, its extra weight. But this isn't the 50's or even the 80's. Eliminating the radar could have you end up with a nice, manueverable plane with crappy situational awareness.

      Should we eliminate the radio too? Just have a reciever so that E2's can tell the planes where to go?

      Relying on just IRST at this point to me is akin to the Phantom relying on early radar guided missiles and not having a gun because 'dogfights don't happen' anymore.

      "The fact is, even with some of the best IRST in the world, there is no way a Typhoon would know where to find the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

      "You still have to know where to look," said Bronk, which would be "almost impossible.""

      "But even on a good day, looking for fifth-generation aircraft in the open skies with IRST is like "looking through a drinking straw," said Bronk.

      "The [IRST] field of regard is quite small... and it's much much harder to perform a wide sector scan in a way that a radar can," said Bronk."

    13. @Jim
      As I said, I've heard the opposite - perhaps it is because the US does not have a QWIP IRST system due to underinvestment (there was actually a plan to build one on the F-22, which was eliminated, I think for budgetary reasons). That was a foolish decision IMO.

      In regards to the PAK FA, you are right - the Russian economy is not going to sustain a lot of fighters. But the thing is, that doesn't mean that they didn't do some aspects better than the US did.

      There is still the matter that radar as I noted is a 2 edged sword. If the enemy points their radar at you, you will know so in that regard, you won't be taken by surprise. So long as you have a radar warming receiver.

      Both radar and IRST actually have a pretty small detection field - directly in front of the aircraft (aircraft with multiple radar excepted of course). IRST is considerably narrower, but I still maintain that as a passive system, it has an advantage for achieving surprise.

      Detection range of IRST is probably on the order of 50-100 km, which is well within missile effective range (which is usually a fraction of max range).

      @ Jim

    14. "radar as I noted is a 2 edged sword"

      What isn't? You persist in looking at these things in isolation. A soldier's gun is a double edged sword - when he shoots it he gives away his position. Should we disarm soldiers? An aircraft's missile is a double edged sword - when fired, it reveals the aircraft's location. Should we remove all armaments? An aircraft's radio is a double edged sword. Should we remove it? The pilot's seat is a double edged sword - it adds weight. Should we have the pilots crouch in the fuselage? And so on.

      IRST is a double edged sword - when used, it severely limits the aircraft's situational awareness (and adds weight and drag).

      If we remove everything from an aircraft that is a double edged sword, there won't be anything left. It's all cost benefit yet you're persisting in saying that anything with a double edge is bad.

      Under the right circumstances, IRST can be an effective tool. Under the right circumstances, radar can be an effective tool. Right now, radar is much more generally useful. Ideally, an aircraft would have both. Sub-optimally, an aircraft would have only one.

    15. Because for the IRST, the benefits outweigh the costs. An IRST system weights about 50 kg. The drag penalty is minimal. The optimal position is actually not underneath the nose, but above it just below the cockpit, as fitted on the Eurocanards and Russian jets.

      By contrast, radar weights a lot more. Hundreds of kilos. They also need a lot of power. In the case of the biggest of fighter radars, the Russian Irbis E for example has a peak of 20 Kw (average is about 5 Kw), which needs to be supplied by burning fuel.

      Even worse, the radar dictates the nose and fuselage size. Widening of the nose limits angle of attack. There is also the fact that the radar leads to dictating the fuselage size. A larger fuselage is of course, more draggy. It's a drawback not just for range, but when an enemy shoots a missile at you (the more agile, the better your ability to dodge an incoming missile) or worse, if you get into a turning dogfight.

      IRST certainly adds weight, but it's a net gain. Radar ... I'm in favor of its removal.

  8. As an aside heres the Natops Flight manual F-18 E & F

  9. CNO,
    Good post.
    You forgot to list number of engines in your table comparing airframes. F35 is always in an emergency configuration.
    Stealth is overrated. Even CNO Greenart stated that "Stealth may be overrated." In an analog world, stealth might be overwhelming, but in a digital world, you just need the processing power to break the signal from the noise. The signal is there, just gotta see it; and I realize that EW has effects, but those effects can benefit non-stealth as well, ie an upgraded F-14.

    1. Very good comment and good point about stealth.

  10. So, what magic enables the upgraded F-14 to be good at both air-to-air and strike, when it was built for air-to-air? Meanwhile, the F/A-18 was built for swing-role and is good at neither. Is it just that the F-14 is bigger and carries more fuel? What are the drawbacks of that?

    1. No one is making the claim that the F-14 would be a fantastic strike aircraft. Where did you get that?

      That said, the F-14 Bombcat was found to be a pretty accurate bomber (before the days of laser guided precision weapons) and has good range and payload so it would make a passable strike aircraft.

      The drawback to bigger is less maneuverability and easier to detect. Remember, though, the Tomcat was built to be an interceptor, not a pure dogfighter.

    2. You seemed to be saying that the upgraded F-14 would make the F/A-18 unnecessary. Would the USN have needed a dedicated strike aircraft as well? Would that have been perceived as the case from 1991 onwards?

    3. Yes, the upgraded F-14 would have eliminated the need for the F-18. The F-14 would have been at least as good a strike aircraft as the F-18 and probably a bit better due to better range and, possibly, payload.

      The Navy needs a dedicated strike aircraft to replace the A-6 but, realistically, that would never have happened.

      The Navy can easily afford both a dedicated A2A and A2G aircraft if they design them wisely and control the costs as we've described in previous posts. The Navy has plenty of money. They're just spending it unwisely.

  11. *sigh*. Along with the new built/upgraded Tomcats, Grumman had this in the pipeline:

    With the F404's it would have been more efficient. It had better avionics, the ability to fire the AMRAAM....

    Keep on doing avionics upgrades and give it some stand off missiles and it gets really interesting.

  12. There is one other huge drawback of the F-14 that I've alluded to in my criticisms of the F-14 elsewhere.

    A very poor flight to maintenance ratio:

    " The decision to incorporate the Super Hornet and decommission the F-14 is mainly due to high amount of maintenance required to keep the Tomcats operational. On average, an F-14 requires nearly 50 maintenance hours for every flight hour, while the Super Hornet requires five to 10 maintenance hours for every flight hour."

    Let's say that the Super Hornet needs 8 hours per flight (which is a bit more than half the range of the 5-10 hours of maintenance - the exact middle being 7.5 hours).

    That means that if I have a fleet of 1000 Super Hornets and a fleet of 1000 Tomcats, then the F-18s will be able to sustain about 6.25x as many sorties over enemy airspace.

    I believe that the Rafale gets a flight to maintenance of 8 to 1, which is comparable I guess to the Hornet.

    It gets even worse for air superiority - because of Lansing squared.

    1. You got the basic premise of the post that the Tomcat would have undergone maintenance upgrades to eliminate high maintenance components, right?

      After a round or two of upgrades, the Tomcat maintenance would have been the same as the Hornet.

      Your analysis, while interesting, is completely invalid in the context of this post.

    2. @CNO:

      That's not possible to eliminate the high maintenance components. If that were possible, then why does the F-22 have a very poor flight to maintenance ratio?

      If the Navy's article is correct, you are talking about an improvement of a factor of 6. An improvement of a factor of 2, I could believe (maybe, but that's pushing it - most likely 30-50%), but an improvement of 6?!!

      Swing wings add a lot of mechanical maintenance.

      See here:

      Also, if technology could improve flight to maintenance on the F-14, then it would be able to do so on other airframe models too.

    3. It's not technology too that is the main driver, but complexity.

      A 1980s F-20 could pull off a 5.6 flight to maintenance ratio.

      It was 11.1 with the indirect support, but keep in mind, all flight to maintenance figures here are without the indirect support.

    4. "That's not possible to eliminate the high maintenance components."

      Of course it is. The Hornet is proof of that. We eliminated the high maintenance components of the Tomcat and created the low maintenance (by comparison) Hornet.

      The Tomcat upgrade path discussed in the post would do exactly that. It would have eliminated the high maintenance components in favor of low maintenance ones as they became technologically available. In a sense, it would have been a Hornet inside a Tomcat body.

      We've discussed the swing wing and there is absolutely no evidence that it presented any unwarranted maintenance burden.

    5. It would still need to carry several times the payload to make up for the reliability difference.

      To me it's simple - the F-18 and F-14 were both terrible aircraft for different reasons. F-14 because the swing wing concept was fatally flawed from the start.

      The F-18 was derived from the YF-17, an aircraft that lost the Lightweight Fighter Competition to the YF-16. They took the YF-17 and made it bigger, less agile, which became the F-18. They then made it even bigger and sadly, even less agile in some ways, the Super Hornet.

      Actually, there is one aircraft of similar age - the F-15. The F-15 has not seen a huge increase in the flight to maintenance ratios. Neither have newer generations of F-16. When you consider that F-14, F-15, and F-16 all come from a similar era, and that none of them has radically become more reliable, despite advancing technology, it would suggest that a "Super Tomcat" wouldn't either.

      What might be upgraded is the quality of electronics and the engines (newer and more efficient engines).

    6. "it would suggest that a "Super Tomcat" wouldn't either."

      The premise was that the high maintenance Tomcat could, with upgrades, achieve the same level of maintenance as the low maintenance Hornet. Given that the Hornet components actually exist, this is demonstrably 100% achievable.

    7. The problem is that the "high maintenance" component is the swing mechanism itself.

      The only way to get rid of that is to go for a conventional wing aircraft. The wing mechanism is a very complex part of the aircraft, difficult to maintain, expensive, and adding a lot of weight.

      It does lead to optimizing the wing sweep angle for a given speed (up to a point anyways), but at a huge cost.

    8. You continue to make this claim about swing wings. I've seen nothing to support that and you have offered nothing in the way of references to support your claim. The photos I've seen of the swing wing mechanism in the Tomcat are actually pretty simple, mechanically. I've never read that they require any undue maintenance. I've already debunked the weight claim. I've seen nothing to support a claim of any hugely additional cost.

      Please stop making this claim unless you can support it. I'll delete future comments with this claim unless you can provide some support for the claim. I won't allow false or unsupported information on the blog.

  13. It's also another reason why I am against stealth aircraft - they do very poorly on flight to maintenance ratio.

    There are some pretty serious flaws in the F-22 stealth coating and as a result, maintenance to flight is in excess of 30 to 1:

    One thing the article did not mention is that Tom Christie was the DOT&E director:

    I've heard elsewhere (need to find links later) figures on the order of 45 to 1.

    1. "It's also another reason why I am against stealth aircraft - they do very poorly on flight to maintenance ratio."

      You're taking a single case and extrapolating to all stealth aircraft, current and future. That's a mistake. Stealth was still in its infancy when the F-22 was conceived. At that time, special coatings were needed to achieve the desired level of stealth. Now, that same level seems achievable without coatings. For example, the F-35, for all its failings, does not seem to have any great difficulty maintaining its stealth - or at least not that has been reported publicly. We've now begun applying stealth to missiles and UAVs without resorting to high maintenance efforts. Thus, the future of stealth aircraft, as regards stealth related maintenance, seems quite acceptable.

      Also, the article you cite notes that stealth maintenance "only" accounts for around half the total maintenance hours per flight hour. Not good, by any means, but your comment seemed to lay all the blame for high maintenance on stealth and that's not the case.

    2. No but, it's a huge amount of flight to maintenance. 15 to 1 flight to maintenance dedicated to the stealth coating.

      Could be higher if the statistics are 45 to 1 (22.5 to 1 in the case).

      The B2 also has a terrible case.

      Worse, consider the B2. What does this mean about the pilots being able to spend enough time to get their training?

      See this report from GAO:

      actual B-2 maintenance man-hours per flying hour at Whiteman Air
      Force Base averaged 124 hours over 12 months ending in March 1997. A
      major factor in maintenance of low-observable materials is the long
      time required to repair the damaged materials and aircraft surfaces.
      During operational testing of the interim configuration,
      low-observable materials took from 30 to 80 hours to repair and cure,
      and the processes require a shelter with a temperature and humidity
      controlled environment for proper curing. "

      It is a pathetic 124 hours per hour of flight. I've actually read elsewhere that it is 150 (it may be now perhaps due to the age of the airframes).

      An excerpt from a book about F117 maintenance per hours of flight:

      Hint: it's not good.

      I'd say this represents a trend. F22, B2, F117.

    3. The trend is that stealth is slowly but steadily maturing. I pointed out that we're now producing missiles and UAVs with decent stealth and very low maintenance due to the stealth. Therefore, stealth is not a drawback to aircraft design.

      You're preferentially picking out the earliest stealth aircraft as examples of stealth related maintenance issues while ignoring the more recent examples. Be fair and objective. Go where the facts lead.

    4. The thing UAVs generally do not perform at very high speeds and at high G maneuvers (they cannot or they would risk losing their vulnerable satellite connection, which sometimes happens even with low G maneuvers).

      What I haven't seen is, a very long-ranged, supersonic, high performance stealth aircraft that is reliable and has a very low flight to maintenance ratio. That may be because Radar Absorbent Materials will always have a weight, cost, and maintenance penalty.

      Stealth itself has various trade-offs.

      - A larger fuselage for one. Small fuselages reflect radar shapes. That will hold true unless flying wing technology becomes practical in smaller aircraft. Until then, we will have to settle for a blended-wing body. Even then I suspect that an optimal flying wing for performance would be differently shaped than one for maximum stealth (likely a trapezoidal wing or a shape with minimal reflections back to source).

      - Wing shapes are restricted. Again because the wing will be a dead giveaway.

      Both of these mean that there are trade-offs in maintenance and performance. The biggest part of stealth is not the coating but the shape of the aircraft.

      Missiles are better in that regard, since they are one-time use and have their own guidance, but again, there are tradeoffs. Cost, for one. That means you cannot afford as many missiles. The other is that if a missile moves at high speeds, it will be more detectable on IR sensors.

      The question is, is the trade-off worth it? I personally believe it is not, given the immense costs and decreased reliability.

    5. "A larger fuselage for one. Small fuselages reflect radar shapes."

      Alt, do you have any references for that? I don't disbelieve you but it does run against everything I've read; namely that missiles themselves can have very low RCS just being tubes with small winglets, and that the wide body of the F-35 developed for the lift fan was something to overcome, not a stealth enhancement.

      I'm curious about the mechanism and would like to know more.

    6. "I don't disbelieve you but "

      I flat out don't believe it. In fact, your statements are contradictory. You claim (rightly, I believe) that the best stealth is achieved with no fuselage - a flying wing. Logically, the next best stealth is a very small, rounded fuselage. The next best after that would be a medium size fuselage and so on up to a very large fuselage.

      The smaller the fuselage, the smaller the radar return.

      The smaller the *anything*, the smaller the radar return.

    7. It's not possible to have a small fuselage with stealth ... unless you don't want any payload but a gun (and even then with limited ammo).

      A larger fuselage with the correct shape would not reflect much back to the source (at least for fighter frequencies anyways). You'll notice that the F-22 does not for example have a small fuselage. It can't.

      A small fuselage would mean that it would have no room to carry missiles. You'll notice that the F-22 and F-35 carry their missiles in internal bays. If they carried them externally, they lose their stealth ability.

      For an aircraft to be stealthy, it has to carry the missiles in internal bays. The problem is that if you carry missiles (or bombs) externally, that reflects the radar signature. Non-stealthy fighters aircraft of course, carry their missiles externally.

      But it gets worse. Once you fire your missiles, the large fuselage that carried your missiles is now a deadweight. Not only does it have a weight penalty, but it also has a drag penalty.

    8. Another problem is that the space internally dedicated to the payload means that you cannot dedicate as much to carrying fuel - hence the limited range of the F-22.

    9. "A larger fuselage for one. Small fuselages reflect radar shapes"

      So, your contention is that a Sidewinder missile (nothing but a small round fuselage) has a larger radar return than a Boeing 747? You're losing credibility fast!

    10. You ignored my response.

      Let me ask you a question. Why do all stealth aircraft have their weapons stored in internal bays when in stealth configuration?

      If they didn't, the missiles would return the signature. A 747 is not fighter radar stealthy. Neither is carrying weapons externally. Physical size is partly related to radar cross section, but it's only 1 aspect. Of course, all other things being equal, smaller = better for stealth, but the problem is, the missiles have a high radar cross section.

      A sidewinder doesn't take much space. But the F-22's standard air to air configuration is 6x AIM-120 and 2x AIM-9.

      Small fuselage:
      + Better for dogfighting
      + Weighs less and cheaper
      - Must carry weapons externally (not stealthy and worse performance when not flying "clean")

      Big fuselage:
      + Has better performance when carrying weapons (because of the shape)
      - Worse for dogfighting and getting home after payload is dropped due to heavier fuselage
      - More expensive to buy and maintain

      It's the extra space in the fuselage that allows for the missiles to be carried internally and allows for stealth, but it doesn't come without a cost too.

  14. Alt,

    Though I'm told the F-35 does much better in its stealth skin, I think we have to see what the maintenance is for it in a marine environment.

    I think a certain amount of stealth will be needed in the future, but I think of it less as 'stealth' and more as signature control. I.E. just like today we don't have turbojets that smoke like the old Phantoms, new build jets won't have things like naked turbofan faces. We wont (or shouldn't) be actively compromising flyability and performance for stealth.

    1. Yes and no.

      The F-35 JSF doesn't have the stealth coating, so it won't take as much maintenance in that regard, but it is also less stealthy.

      I suppose in terms of stealth, the F-35 is where you want it.

      Actually, the PAK FA does a better job since it is relatively aerodynamic yet moderately stealthy.

      In terms of reliability, the F-35 hasn't been doing so well either:

      It is literally the LCS of fighter aicraft.

    2. "It is literally the LCS of fighter aicraft."

      The F-35 has lots of problems but there is no evidence that stealth is particularly one of them.

    3. From what I've read the PAK is a tire fire that likely will never actually get produced in any numbers. Its numbers are a mess, and its RCS is questionable with its large, exposed engines.

      The F-35, mess that it is, *could* be much better aerodynamically, and more stealthy, if you eliminated the lift fan from the design early on.

      I've seen nothing that suggests its aerodynamic issues stem from its stealth.

    4. PAK FA probably won't. Not sure if my earlier comment was deleted.

      But that doesn't mean that some of the concepts the Russians made were not outstanding ideas.

      F-35 was a combination of 3 traits that are not compatible:

      1. Supersonic
      2. VTOL
      3. Stealth

      Jack of all trades is the master of none I'm afraid. You can have an aircraft that does 1 that is outstanding, 2 that is so-so at those 2, but 3 is not possible in a "good" airplane.

    5. PAK FA is not as stealthy as F-22, but will be more agile.

      It's a trade-off of stealth vs agility. The F-22 erred more on the stealthy side, the PAK FA will be more on the agility side for less stealth.

      There are other trade-offs. The F-22 engine nozzles you'll notice are not round. There's an efficiency loss of about 15% with that, for a moderate gain in radar stealth and slightly lower IR signature. Again, a different set of trade-offs.

  15. While Im a believer in the F14 Tomcat having a lot of unrealised potential theres one major thing overlooked when considering it for strike or attack duties. Essentially it isnt designed for low level high speed flight into the target area. Yes you can put all the electronics in the nose which will allow it to locate and or guide bombs or missiles on target but to do this in the modern age requires ability to travel for reasonable distances within 200ft of the ground. We can see the changes that did happen with the F15 when the F15E version was developed for the low level strike role, apart from targeting sensors you need a terrain following system and crtically the whole airframe restressed and upgared for the low level role. if this is not done the low level speed is reduced and the fatigue will shorten the useful life ( it does this to some extent anyway)
    Much the same happened to the B52, which was designed in the early 50s for a high level role. By the mid sixties this was untenable so that the B52 later models were taken back for an extensive rebuild and with the appropriate sensors in the turrets just below the nose to allow a reasonable capability down to 400ft or less. As it turned out the B52s havent operated in this mode keeping to the high level, which goes some way to explaining why they are still around, the fatigue life is hardly used up fast at high level.

    1. The Navy, and military in general, doesn't do low level strike. In fact, the trend is exactly the opposite. We're moving to high level, long standoff strike. I'm trying to recall the last attempt at low level strike and I can't. The British tried it during Desert Storm with the Tornado(?) and quickly abandoned it. Vietnam may have been the last low level strike by us aerial forces?

    2. This F15E pilot has his own Youtube chanell ... with his low level flying. The TFR is the AN/APN-237A
      As you always say , and correctly , train as you fight.
      Heres one with the F18F coming in low in a classic Strike from the Sea training mission to continue overland. he recommends full screen !

      The Brits had a strange aversion to decent guided bombs such as the paveway series for a long time. They seemed to think toss bombing was still effective into the 80s and along with that the idea that they could fly low and level with the runways to spew out a stream of cratering munitions. Too predictable.

    3. As an aside, the Soviets developed the SU-27KUB as a naval 2 seat side by side trainer from the basic Su-27K naval fighter.
      The front section with side by side seating was also used as the much heavier land strike fighter the Su-34 ( with tandem main undercarriage).
      The F-14 could have gone down a similar path if the USN really wanted a suburb carrier strike aircraft alongside its fighter cousin.

  16. There is one other problem with a stealthy variable swept wing aircraft - it's not possible without further weight and maintenance penalties.

    The swept wing would reflect back radar signatures, as would the box that holds the swinging mechanism.

    1. See here:

    2. "The swept wing would reflect back radar signatures, as would the box that holds the swinging mechanism."

      So? Stealth was never a claim for the Tomcat upgrade path beyond some minor improvements. You're attempting to create and win a non-existent argument.

    3. Earlier you argued:

      "Some stealthy characteristics would be applied to the ASF-14, this may have included radar baffles over it engines' fan faces and "edge-aligned" gear doors and access points. (1)"

      It wouldn't make a big difference when the swing wing itself is a dead giveaway.

      It would just add to the cost.

    4. Yes, some stealth characteristics were suggested for the ASF-14. That doesn't make it a stealth aircraft but any reduction in signature is potentially worthwhile. This is the same as the stealth characteristics that were added to the Hornet. They didn't make the Hornet a stealth aircraft but they reduced the signature.

    5. Where do you get that a swing wing is such an enormous radar signature? I've found nothing that suggests that.

    6. Laws of physics.

      It's like asking why does a bulbous bow improve fuel efficiency.

      For radar to work, it stealth:
      1. Absorb incoming radar
      2. OR deflect the radar signature in a direction away from the source when not absorbed

      Absorbing only works over a limited wavelength, hence, it is not possible to make an aircraft completely stealthy. The F-22 is only stealthy to fighter radar and lower frequency radars can detect it.

      The reason is because of course, radar works like active sonar. It is to bounce a wave to the target and back. So I guess an analogy would be to shape the aircraft in a way that reflects the wave away from the source (radar receiver versus sonar). I guess radar absorbing materials, an analogy might be anechoic tiles.

      Look at the pictures of a stealth aircraft. They are all very smooth, very flush, and where there are angles, they are serrated for their bay doors. Even many non-stealth aircraft have sawtooth designs (look at the Dassault Rafale for example).

      Parallel alignment of edges is used very extensively to achieve that shaping. The problem is that the mechanism that makes a wing swing prevents all of this.

      The boxy mechanism that holds the swing is not compatible with stealth. The angle of the wing as it swings would reflect back to the radar source like a mirror at certain angles.

      The USN actually thought about an idea for a stealthy swing wings. It was called the Navy Advanced Tactical Fighter. It was cancelled - the likely take-off weight would have exceeded the take-off weight limits of most carriers.

    7. "Look at the pictures of a stealth aircraft. They are all very smooth, very flush,"

      Not necessarily. There are multiple ways to achieve stealth. Look at the F-117. It's the opposite of what you're claiming!

    8. The defining characteristic of stealth is the absence of right angles (to prevent the radar signature from being returned). That's why they are smooth and flush right now - no right angles.

      The F-117 was designed when computers were very primitive. You would not design a stealth aircraft like that today (the F-117 has huge compromises to its aerodynamic performance).

      The principles though are the same on the F-117 - the angles are designed in such a way that they reflect the radar signals away from the source and of course, Radar Absorbent materials.

      If you were to look at the F-117, it has the saw-toothed openings and no right angles like in modern stealth aircraft - just more primitive with the sharp edges.

      Let me ask you a question - since the 2000s, why have there been no aircraft that looked like the F-117? The answer is computer power has allowed for better designs.

    9. It works the same way on the Zumwalt too:

      "Right angles and surfaces perpendicular to the axis of EM radiation bounce back energy—boosting an object’s radar signature. Accordingly, the DDG-1000 design includes few right angles. Everything slopes."

      You would not want everything to slope on a fighter (due to the effect on drag), but at the time of the F-117, they had no choice. That's a matter of computer power.

    10. "The defining characteristic of stealth is the absence of right angles "

      No, it's the absence of surfaces perpendicular to the incident radar wave. A round surface, which has no right angles, gives a relatively large radar return because no matter what angle the incident radar wave arrives at, their is always a perpendicular surface. This is why the Navy abandoned round railings on ships. My understanding (I'm out of my field so I may be wrong) is that the B-2 has a large radar return when targeted from directly above or below because the entire aircraft is perpendicular to the radar wave. That's OK because that kind of radar orientation would be unlikely.

  17. Australia, Canada, Japan and the U.S. Navy need planes with long range. I wonder if this market is big enough to attract some wealthy investors to place an order for ASF-14 on spec?

    Also, what would the ASF-14 be like if it used F119 or F120 engines? I know it's just fantasy and mental masturbation but that's all I can do about it.

  18. Oh dear, I was really quite enjoying that until you brought the F35 into it and discredited yourself with the weapons stats. Very disappointed.

    If your going to compare apples to pears at least look at them bottom on so they kinda look similar.

    "Hardpoints: 6 × external pylons on wings with a capacity of 15,000 lb (6,800 kg)[283][289] and two internal bays with two pylons with a capacity of 3,000 (1,360 kg)[289] for a total weapons payload of 18,000 lb (8,100 kg)[268] and provisions to carry combinations of: " that's 11 hardpoint, counting the centreline gun pod. (Lets not get into quad packed SDB)If the F14-18 can be non stealth so can the F35, you are after all dismissing stealth in later comments.

    I find no corroborating information that performance or manouverability is effected MORE SO on F35 than any other loaded platform. In fact given f35 can jeteson its pylons upon weapons expenditure I would think it does slightly better then legacy loaded platforms.

    We really don't care about any of the above because the F14 was undoubtedly a great plane ( eventually after development hell ) and died before its time, I think anyway. I just love the idea.

    And a lot of what you said about F14 enhanced AESA is 100% true and would offer a formidable capability. ( I would think well ABOVE your stated estimates )

    But lets try to be fair. :)

    1. I thought I was pretty clear in footnote 6 about my reasoning. In this post, I'm looking at each aircraft in their EXPECTED combat configuration. If the F-35 is flying with external ordnance then it's not in its designed and intended configuration. Sure, for plinking pickup trucks it can carry more ordnance but then for that mission we don't need a Super Tomcat or Super Hornet, either. A Tucano will do. The post is about high end combat. The Super Tomcat and Hornet will fight with external ordnance because that's all they have and it's how they were designed. The F-35 will fight with no external ordnance because that's how it was designed.

      That rationale aside, you can't have it both ways with the F-35. If you want to include external ordnance then you have to cut the combat radius in half, the maneuverability (already subpar) becomes significantly degraded, and the stealth becomes non-existent, as I explained in footnote 6. At that point, the Super Tomcat becomes VASTLY superior to the F-35. With external ordnance, the F-35 has nothing going for it.

      Do you appreciate just how superior a Super Tomcat is to an F-35 with external ordnance?

      Now do you understand why I cited the specs that I did?

    2. Yer, I read your notes.

      And I'm just not sure where your getting all this ?

      There is no evidence that hanging 2 Paveway II, and a gunpod suddenly turns the F35 into a 1920's Biplane ? with the radar cross section of a London bus. Its just idiotic internet chatter, and frankly below you.

      Clean F35 is listed only for SEAD\DEAD, that's about it. Seems a massive over investment to plonk 6 superfluous hardpoints on a plane that cant use them don't you think ? Not to mention the development of stealth compliant composite pylons ?

      I mean you listed only 2 hardpoints ( internal ) not 4, And adjusted the carry weight accordingly. That's pretty basic "mistake".
      any one might think you don't really like the F35, LOL

      I hate to accuse you of "cooking the books". But .. here we are ;)

      I'm not contending your F14 or F18 stats, all true and verifiable. But you have to admit, both airframes are ALSO performance limited by external ordenance. And pods the F35 doesn't need like IRST, targeting, and EW.

      Now having said that I think we all accept that F14 was an acceptional Bomb truck, for the time and proberbly today too.

      There is no doubt that a next generation "FA14" would augment massively any future airwing for the reasons you state.

    3. From Wiki: "... two internal bays with two pylons with a capacity of 3,000". It that's not right, give me a better source.

      Of course other aircraft are hindered by external weapons. HOWEVER, their calculated combat radii INCLUDE the effects of external hardpoints because that's the only way the fly. NOW, LISTEN CLOSELY CAUSE THIS IS THE KEY POINT ... The F-35's claimed combat radii, maneuverability (such as it is), stealth, speed, etc. are with clean configuration. If we load up on external ordnance then all those parameters have to be significantly reduced. This is pretty straightforward.

      I'm not skewing the post one way or the other. To the best of my knowledge, everything I stated is factual and, more importantly, LOGICALLY CONSISTENT. If we're going to credit the F-35 with external ordnance then we have to "dis"-credit all its other parameters.

      Turn it around. Would you consider it fair to list a combat radius for a Hornet with no external ordnance like an F-35? No, you wouldn't, because you know a Hornet would never fight in that configuration. Similarly, an F-35 will never fight in an external ordnance config unless it's something like plinking pickup trucks in which case we don't need any of these aircraft and the entire discussion is pointless.

      Are you starting to get it?


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