Monday, October 10, 2016

The Strikefighter Myth

We have to build multi-role aircraft today.  Our budgets are too limited to allow the luxury of dedicated fighters and separate, dedicated strike aircraft.  Plus, the flexibility of multi-role aircraft gives us a huge advantage in that we can switch seamlessly between roles and “mass” aircraft for any given task.  A carrier air wing of 40 Hornets can be 40 strike aircraft or 40 fighters or any combination thereof.

In fact, the next generation of aircraft is even more multi-role than just strike and fighter.  The F-35 can be a strike, fighter, electronic warfare, surveillance, intel, UAV controller, and many other roles.  Yes, the future of naval aviation is in good hands and clearly headed down the right path.

Okay, then, let’s all give ourselves a pat on the back and call it a day.  This is just a short, feel-good post, I guess.

Well, come on, now, you’ve been following ComNavOps long enough to know that this isn’t the end of the post.

Let’s look closer at the multi-role aircraft issue.

Let’s start with the easiest aspect which is budget.  We have more than enough money for whatever we want as long as we spend it wisely – which we aren’t doing.  So, budget is not a real justification for multi-role aircraft.  We could build dedicated fighters and dedicated strike aircraft (we’ve done it in the past and we can do it again) if we wanted to and if we would follow the common sense approach that we’ve laid out in previous posts.  We covered this before so I won’t go over it again.  If you’re unsure of how we do this, go back through the archives.

Now, let’s look at the self-escorting myth.  When multi-role strikefighters began appearing, the scenario was put forth that the aircraft would be self-escorting, able to switch from air-to-ground (A2G) to air-to-air (A2A), efficiently dispatch enemy fighters, switch back to A2G, strike their targets, switch back to A2A, and return home triumphantly, probably having bagged a few more enemy fighters on the way home.  Unfortunately, unless we’re fighting an enemy whose air force is barely flight worthy, let alone combat capable, this is simply not true. 

To illustrate the exception clause, a Navy flight of Hornets did exactly this during Desert Storm.  Two F/A-18Cs from VFA-81 on the Saratoga were on a strike mission when they were intercepted by two MiG-21s.  The Hornets shot down the two MiGs and continued on their strike mission.  So, why were they able to accomplish this?  Because the Iraqi aircraft and pilots were hugely overmatched.  The MiG-21 is a 1950’s era aircraft and the Iraqi pilots were found to be exceptionally poor with no understanding of modern jet combat tactics.  The American pilots and aircraft had every conceivable advantage. 

That’s the exception.  Now, let’s look at the peer combat case.  What if the MiG-21s had been, say, MiG-29s flown by pilots as good as ours?  In that case, the Hornets would have been badly outgunned, overloaded with bombs, unable to maneuver, and, basically, sitting ducks.  Of course, they could and would have jettisoned the bombs to regain their air to air maneuverability.  However, jettisoning the bombs means a mission kill for the strike mission and a failure as a self-escorting strikefighter.  Even then, they would be at a disadvantage because they would have only a minimal A2A loadout since most of their hardpoints would have been bombs and fuel tanks.  So, the Hornets would not only be a mission kill but, likely, an actual kill.

Self-escort is a myth.  If you load up on strike weapons you can’t carry A2A weapons.  If you’re up against a competent enemy you’ll have to jettison your bomb load to maneuver – a mission kill at the very least.  Self-escort sounds good on paper but is a myth.

Let’s move on and look at the multi-role myth.  In previous posts, we’ve noted that a multi-role platform can’t be as good as a corresponding single role platform because the multi-role platform isn’t optimized for any single role.  In a head to head match, a multi-role strike fighter will lose to a single role aircraft every time.  Multi-role strikefighters are jacks of all trades and masters of none.  Look at the F-35’s anemic A2A performance – at best, it’s as good as an F-16.  How will an F-35 fare against Russian or Chinese stealth fighters?  Not well.  Or, let’s keep it in house for illustrative purposes.  How would an F-35 fare against an F-22?  No one knows but, presumably, not well.

Okay, so the F-35 is a second rate fighter but what about as a strike aircraft?  Again, it’s a poor fit as a pure strike aircraft, having a very small internal weapons capacity and limited range.

How about the multi-role F/A-18 Hornet?  In A2A mode, it compares poorly to the Su-27, MiG-29, or any of the more modern Russian and Chinese stealth fighters.  The Hornet is a nice peacetime aircraft but would perform poorly in peer combat against even its own generation of aircraft.

As we’ve previously discussed, multi-role is fine for non-combat applications but is a disaster waiting to happen in combat.

Let’s look at other roles within the multi-role spectrum. 

Surveillance is supposed to be one of the F-35’s strong suits.  However, the F-35 radar is miniscule compared to, say, the E-2 Hawkeye or P-8 Poseidon.  It just can’t see very far with any usable resolution.  It even fares poorly in surveillance when compared to a MQ-4C Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aircraft just due to the Triton’s vastly superior endurance and, hence, area coverage even though the Triton would not have a superior radar.

Let’s consider electronic signal intercepts and analysis (ELINT/ESM).  The F-35 is supposed to provide ELINT data back to other platforms.  However, the F-35 would be hard pressed to even match the long since retired ES-3A Shadows of the early 1990’s.  There’s simply a limit on how much equipment you can pack into a single airframe.

Even the most cursory evaluation makes it readily apparent that multi-role combat aircraft are a waste of resources in war.  So many people want to compare the F-35 to legacy MiG-29s or Su-27s when they should really be comparing the F-35 to the Sukhoi PAK-FA and Chinese J-20/31.  These are the opponents against whom the F-35 will be matched and will justify its price tag, if it can, and it is these opponents against whom the mediocrity of a multi-role aircraft will become apparent.  Let’s also be honest about enemy aircraft.  I don’t know the performance characteristics of the PAK-FA, J-20, or J-31 nor am I even sure what their intended roles are.  Perhaps they are being designed as compromised, multi-role aircraft, too.  In that case, it will be an even match.  However, from what I’ve read, my sense is that these enemy aircraft are much more focused on aerial superiority as opposed to our do-everything designs.

One closing note …  My denigration of multi-role combat aircraft and preference for single function aircraft does not mean that a single function aircraft cannot have a secondary function.  The F-14 Tomcat was built as a pure fleet interceptor but was able to be converted into a decent attack plane.  The P-47 was built as a pure fighter but was able to adapt to the low level attack role.  The F-22 was built as a pure air superiority fighter but may be adapted to an attack role as time goes on.  The point is that an aircraft should designed, built, and optimized for one role and one only.  Other roles, if they can occur, are a fortuitous benefit but should, in no way, drive the design.

Strikefighters are a failed myth.


  1. The biggest benefit for multi-role aircraft for the Navy is that they make the most efficient usage of carrier space. Hornets can be configured for either air-to-air and air-to-ground, and they accomplish either reasonably well. So if you have 40 fighter jets onboard, and you're conducting bombing missions, then you have 40 bombers. If you're expecting an attack and you need air-to-air then you can load up those same aircraft with AIM-120 and suddenly you have 40 interceptors. Also, I'm not sure why you believe the MiG-29 is superior. In every almost every conceivable metric other than pure top speed, the Hornet is superior. And you'll find that fighter jets rarely actually go top speed simply because the afterburner consumes so much fuel. It has its uses, but its not the most important thing to consider. I'm even more baffled as to why you suggest the F-35 is only as good as the F-16 for A2A. Frankly, the only real competition for the F-35 in A2A comes from the F-22 Raptor.

    Keep in mind, I do agree that the Tomcat was a better plane than the Hornet overall. It was faster, longer-ranged, more heavily armed, etc. It was also significantly more expensive and budget isn't something that can be fixed with a magic wand. You could argue that the F-35 is more expensive as well, but the benefits of stealth more than justify that cost.

    1. You completely missed the point of the post. I'll make one more try. Efficient usage of carrier space is utterly without foundation. The air wings are approaching half of the carrier design capacity so space is simply not an issue.

      The inadequacies of multi-role aircraft was the point of the post - ... master of none. For peacetime, third world scenarios, multi-role is fine. Of course, a WWII aircraft would be fine for those scenarios and far cheaper. In high end combat, multi-role aircraft are sup-optimal for whatever role. I demonstrated that in the post and in numerous previous posts. Peruse the archives.

      In terms of pure A2A (dogfighting) the F-35 was only designed to be as good as an F-16 and given the downgrades to some of the performance parameters, even that may be questionable. Contrary to your statement, the competition for the F-35 is its likely enemies which include the Russian and Chinese stealth aircraft and the various MiG and Flanker legacy aircraft. Those matchups are not looking good though, of course, none of us know for sure.

      Consider one small (well, actually it's quite major!) aspect of A2A: weapons load. The F-35 appears capable of carrying 4 A2A missiles internally. If it carries additional weapons externally, it forfeits much of its stealth and performance. So, an F-35 has 4 A2A weapons versus Russian/Chinese aircraft which all carry many more weapons. The F-35 cannot carry enough internal weapons for a stealth fight and cannot match up performance/stealth if it carries external weapons. This is, as I pointed out in the post, the problem with a strikefighter. It can't do either role very well.

    2. 4 BVR missiles is a pretty standard A2A weapons load for an F-16. The fact that the F-35 can carry that same load-out internally is a positive, not a negative. And you're ignoring the F-35's biggest advantage: stealth. It is a huge advantage to be able to see the other side before they can see you. This alone puts the F-35 ahead of most potential threat aircraft that it would be likely to encounter.

    3. By the time the F-35 is combat ready it "would be likely to encounter" Russian PAK-FA (T-50), Chinese J-20 and J-31, and various MiG-29 and Su-2x/3x variants.

      The F-16 has 9 hardpoints available for A2A weapons.

    4. The F-16 may have 9 hard-points but most of them are going to be used for fuel pods or targeting pods. And some hard-points are going left empty just to save weight. 4 missiles is a pretty standard load because an F-16 loaded to maximum capacity would handle like a slug. That's another huge advantage for the F-35. It has a large internal fuel supply so it won't need external fuel pods for most situations, and it can carry weapons internally so it doesn't suffer drag penalties.

      Another thing. Do you imagine that those J-20 and J-31 that you're so concerned about can hold 12 or 15 missiles? That's not possible. They'll have 4-6 missiles just like the F-35. Same applies to the Su-50. I'm not saying that those aircraft will never pose a threat. I'm just pointing out that they are limited in the exact same ways that the F-35 is. They won't have any advantage that the F-35 doesn't already have.

    5. There's a big problem with that, and that is technical training. You need hundreds, ideally thousands of flight hours to make truly awesome pilots. The problem is that it takes thousands of hours to train in one skill.

      You'll need to train that amount of time per skill to get it right. Air to air is quite different than air to ground.

    6. @Anon, if it comes to a dogfight, the F-35 is at a serious drawback.

      Plus the PAK FA and the F-22 have more missiles in their internal bays.

      F-35 may have a decent fuel fraction, but range won't be awesome. The DOT&E reports say that the fuel consumption of the engine is very high and the L/D ratio isn't too good.

    7. If it comes down to a dogfight then the F-35 is guaranteed to win. All the pilot as to do is look at the target and the helmet will automatically lock-on. Then all he has to do is press a button and the other guy is history.

    8. "If it comes down to a dogfight then the F-35 is guaranteed to win."

      Sure, cause the enemy aircraft don't have helmet cuing or high off-boresight missiles. You have to include a little bit of reality in your comments if you want to be taken seriously!

    9. So what you're basically saying is that the F-35 can only be defeated by another F-35.

    10. I'm saying that potential enemy aircraft not only have the same helmets and missiles but they have better maneuverability, better IRST, bigger weapons payloads, possibly better stealth, and so forth. I'm saying that modern dedicated Russian/Chinese fighters are better air superiority platforms than the F-35.

      I'm not going to continue to belabor this.

    11. But there are no "dedicated" modern Russian/Chinese fighters either. The Su-35 is a multirole fighter. The J-20 is a multirole fighter. The Su-50 is a multirole fighter. So explain to me why it is okay for all of those aircraft to do both A2G and A2A but if the F-18 or F-35 does those same things it is not okay?

    12. Since neither the Chinese nor Russians have shared the details of their aircraft with us, I'm pretty confident in stating that you have no idea what their aircraft are primarily designed for. Let me quote FROM THE POST,

      "Let’s also be honest about enemy aircraft. I don’t know the performance characteristics of the PAK-FA, J-20, or J-31 nor am I even sure what their intended roles are. Perhaps they are being designed as compromised, multi-role aircraft, too. In that case, it will be an even match. However, from what I’ve read, my sense is that these enemy aircraft are much more focused on aerial superiority as opposed to our do-everything designs."

      There is nothing wrong with an aircraft being designed for a primary purpose but also having a secondary function. That applies to our aircraft or theirs. The F-22 was a pure fighter. It may also acquire a secondary A2G role but it remains a pure fighter. As I stated in the post, my sense of all the readings I've done about Russian and Chinese aircraft is that they're designed for pure fighter roles though they may have secondary A2G capability. Nothing wrong with that.

    13. The F-22 already has A2G capabilities. That's why they retired the F-117, because they realized that they could accomplish the same types of missions with the F-22. And we know from infographics that Russia has put out regarding the Su-50 that the plane is capable of deploying a variety of A2G weapons in addition to a variety of A2A weapons. Futhermore, the initial version of the Su-50 is supposed to be using the same avionics as the Su-35 which are able to handle A2G.

    14. You just read what I said about secondary functions being perfectly acceptable, right?

    15. Then there is nothing wrong with the F-18 or F-35 have secondary functions either. Why is there this double standard where the F-14, F-15, Su-35, etc can be used as multiroles but the F-18 and F-35 are considered "compromised" for doing the exact same thing?

    16. Now you're just being obtuse. I'm terminating this discussion.

  2. Of much greater concern is the training requirement for multi-role aircraft that is rarely seriously addressed in professional venues.

    Adding missions ought to add training time to achieve the required proficiency: if a fighter squadron requires its pilots to fly 30-hours per month for proficiency (our people never get that much flight time), then adding an air-to-ground proficiency requirement ought to increase the flight hours by a substantial amount - say 20-hours, or 50-flight hours per month.

    Of course this never happens and one mission or the other gets short shrift, general dependent upon the personal whims of leadership, and often without the realization that there is weakness in given area.


  3. OK so interesting post. Thanks.

    Difficult to argue from standard routes.

    I think the only point I can put forward at the moment is the A2A isn’t just about the airframe.

    Now I’m going to get a little UK here. BUT …..

    ASRAAM was designed when we realised the SU27 was going to dramatically outmatch Tornado in close range dog fight. This short range lock on after launch missile is capable of over 90 degrees off boresight capable and highly manoeuvrable. In short the missile will kinematically outperform anything in a close range dogfight,

    METEOR is very long range throttlable ram jet powered data linked active homing radar missile. It’s designed to fire on an intermittent stealth contact, get there first find the target when at 150km away from the launch platform and prosecute that target whilst still under its own Mach 4 power at close range using its own on-board radar.

    In both the above examples we have air superiority without dependence on the airframe.

    This doesn’t get round all the arguments in your post, yes, I know this, it was a good post ;)

    But I think the above warrants some thought?


    1. Are you aware of who developed the first off boresight A2A missile? The Russians. So, while you take comfort in your missiles, you should know that the Russian and Chinese aircraft will have the same. If both sides have identical performing missiles, that brings us back to the airframe (and pilot, training, tactics, etc.). All else being equal, the better airframe will win and a multi-role aircraft is never the better airframe.

      So, you don't have air superiority if the other side has the same weapons and better airframes. What you have is air inferiority.

      You're showing that all too common tendency in the West to think that only we have sensors and weapons. Honestly, I think many people (don't fall prey to this!) must believe that the enemy flies in unarmed aircraft!

    2. Actually the first off boresight missile was a South African: the V3B.
      It's design was stolen by a Russian spy.

    3. Yes, I take your point, and it’s important.

      We must try to be objective.

      But testing of ASRAMM with RAAF F18 has literally destroyed targets behind the plane. Coupled with F35 360 continuous sensor lock this is as far as I can tell pretty definitive.

      I have found no equivalent evidence of the Russian equivalent doing this, in fact , just recently they were trying to use a aft pointing missile to achieve this goal.

      There is nothing quite like Meteor at the moment.

      You can argue the same thing for air to ground in terms of SPEAR3 and BRIMSTONE.

      The details aren’t necessarily important; the concept really was just that superiority in a domain does not necessarily come for an airframe alone.

      Straight away you see I have to say the debate is a bit skewed, the nature of carrier warfare is to ensure you stack the odds in your favour right from the start. You strike the lowest defended assets at a time and angle of your choosing with overwhelming force, custom fitted for the job. You have the flexibility to pick and choose your fights, the idea that you should ever go toe to toe in a fair fight as a carrier commander is just ridiculous. If that ever happens, you have f*cked up badly !

    4. I'm detecting a definite UK bias here! That's okay, the US has their own bias, too.

      As you know, the ASRAAM was a joint development effort and has been a candidate in multiple foreign selection competitions. Germany, the US, and other countries have evaluated the missile and found it lacking. On the other hand, Australia selected it. So, a mixed bag. The point being that it's obviously not the overwhelming consensus choice.

      Consider the single over the shoulder test you mentioned. You've seen me document the utterly unrealistic testing the US does for its weapons. Do you think the over the shoulder test was a realistic test with maneuvering aircraft and countermeasures or do you think it more likely that it was a highly scripted, carefully contrived, one time test done more for publicity purposes than combat evaluation?

      The over the shoulder test was also not exactly that. The only writeups I can find describe it as a "behind the wing line" shot at a target 5 km away. "Behind the wing line" suggest to me exactly that, that the target was aligned just barely behind the wing of the launch aircraft (3 or 9 o'clock position) rather than directly behind (6 o'clock). This is still a nice capability but does it really have a significant combat advantage? I don't know but I suspect not that much when aircraft are violently maneuvering and filling the sky with decoys and flares.

      Finally, the Russian R-73/74 family of IR missiles have 75 deg off-boresight capability, reportedly, coupled with helmet designation. That effectively duplicates all or most of the ASRAAM engagement envelope. In the "behind the wing line" example, if the enemy plane simply turned its nose a few degrees, it would also have a shot. So, the ASRAAM offers, at best, a few degrees of advantage - nice, but not a world beater - AND THAT'S ONLY IF THE ASRAAM ACTUALLY PERFORMS LIKE THAT IN REAL COMBAT and I highly suspect that it doesn't or else we'd be hearing about behind the aircraft shots all the time.

      Have you thought about the A2A tactics of taking a behind the aircraft shot? If you find yourself in front of an enemy aircraft so that a behind the aircraft shot is possible, you're probably already dead from the enemy's forward firing, 75 deg off-boresight missile!!!!! It's kind of like that "cobra" aerodynamic maneuver the Russians made famous at airshows - it's eyecatching and impressive but has little combat application.

    5. "The details aren’t necessarily important; the concept really was just that superiority in a domain does not necessarily come for an airframe alone."

      Neither does it come from the missile alone. There are many factors. Consider stealth. It doesn't matter how good a missile you have, if you can't see the enemy aircraft you can't launch at it. A stealth aircraft with a previous generation, simple Sidewinder can kill your "greatest missile the world has ever seen" aircraft if you can't see it. Stealth also renders that 10,000 mile range missile useless if you can't detect and target the aircraft until it reaches 5 miles. Stealth has the effect of reducing missile ranges.

      Numbers also matter. Even if every one of your wonder-missiles achieves a kill, if the enemy still has aircraft left over then you're dead and the enemy has achieved air superiority.

      I can go on but you get the point. You're suggesting that A2A dominance is just about the missile and that's totally wrong. The missile is a part of the equation but nowhere near the most important part.

    6. "the nature of carrier warfare is to ensure you stack the odds in your favour"

      In theory, yes. In reality, you don't always get to choose the fight - sometimes the fight chooses you.

      An aircraft carrier is not some magic ship, immune to detection, able to appear and vanish like a ghost. The enemy has aircraft, satellites, subs, and sensors, too. If they find the carrier, the carrier will find itself fighting on the enemy's terms. Surface ship and carrier engagements were often forced on the US during WWII. Even Midway was forced on the US and the outcome was decided by a lucky decision by the air strike commander when he had to guess which way to look for the Japanese carriers. If he had guessed wrong, Midway might have been a disaster for the US.

      The point is that given modern detection ranges, carriers are likely going to be forced into fights they haven't chosen. At that point, numbers (of aircraft and AAW ships) will be vital. That's one of the problems with the RN's idea of carriers. 20 or 30 aircraft in a wing are not sufficient for large scale battles - battles that you may not get to choose. But, that's another topic.

    7. I honestly think that the idea of the strike fighter, and subsequent small airwings, is going to eventually kill the US large CVN.

      We have strike fighters, and they are in relatively small numbers, with limited range.

      IIRC the F-18 was originally a replacement for the A7. And in that role, on a multi aircraft carrier deck, it's fine. It didn't have quite the range, but it was okay.

      But now the F-18 has taken over for everything. And its made our CVN's one dimensional.

      If a CVN has to close within 300 odd miles of the coast of a peer in order to launch a strike, its now open to land based air. They'll have their own stand off weapons, and alot more planes than the CVN is likely to have.
      The strike fighter concept seems to imply we have less planes on deck because they can multi task. So instead of having X to attack the target and Y to defend the carrier/escort you just have X to attack the target *or* Y to defend the carrier. You could end up in trouble quickly it seems.

      In the 'you fight a battle you don't choose' the 30 odd Hornets that are capable of doing actual combat may not be enough. So what will happen is that as different nations up their anti ship game, we'll see the carriers pushed farther out and/or used less because as the risk rises no politician or admiral is going to risk the X-billion dollar CVN and its 5000 sould crew.

      Eventually it's just not going to be economical to have a multi billion dollar CVN supporting a ? dollar airwing for only non peer situations.

      If that is what we are going to do, then we'd be better off making our carriers fit the mission. Make the smaller, cheaper, with Camry like aircraft that are reliable but not complex, but just fine for non peer air strikes.

    8. The F-18 took over everything because it was cheap compared to the Tomcat and reasonably effective. The Tomcat was the better plane, but that performance came at a dollar value the Navy could no longer afford after the Cold War ended. When Reagan was president, the Navy got everything they wanted. This is no longer the case.

    9. "This is no longer the case."

      Just to note, the F-14 cost $38M in 1998. Adjusted for inflation to 2016, that's $56M. Compare that to current F-18 prices which are around $70M.

    10. I'm not sure what your point is. The Tomcat would have experienced the exact same type of price growth if it were still on the market.

    11. The point was that the Navy supposedly wanted an aircraft that was easier to maintain. Purchase price was not the reason why the Tomcat was terminated.

    12. Purchase price and operating cost were both factors. A fixed-wing aircraft is inherently cheaper to maintain than a swing-wing aircraft. Congress wasn't willing to pay for a new round of Tomcats to replace the older models. They opted for a smaller, cheaper replacement aircraft instead. Keep in mind, I'm not denying that there was a clear reduction in performance. I'm just pointing out that the hornet was a sensible choice for a reduced-budget environment.

    13. I've had this discussion with others. There is absolutely no data to indicate that the swing wing itself required any significant additonal maintenance compared to a conventional folding wing. If you have any data that shows otherwise, please share it.

      That aside, you get that the premise of the post is not purchase price, operating costs, or maintenance. If those were our goals we'd buy gliders. The premise of the post is that strikefighters are not as good as dedicated, single function aircraft.

      Combat equipment should not be selected on the basis of cost. That's a good way to lose a war. Combat equipment has one criteria and one only: combat effectiveness. Once that's established and maximized then we can worry about cost.

    14. Combat equipment unfortunately has to be chosen with cost in mind. The Navy is a branch of the Department of Defense, a government agency which only has as much money as Congress allocates to them. The Navy was unable to convince Congress that new Tomcats were worth the price in a post-Cold War world.

      Now we keep talking about multirole fighters vs singlerole fighters, but I get the impression that what you really want is simply a fighter that is bigger and beefier compared to the Hornet. You've already pointed out that the Tomcat was in fact treated as a multirole fighter near the end of its term, yet you don't seem to see this as a problem.

      So then what we're really talking about is the proper size for a carrier-based fighter. You want a bigger fighter able to carry more missiles/bombs and with more powerful engines. There is nothing inherently wrong with that except the increased complexity (and thus higher cost) associated with that.

    15. "but I get the impression that what you really want"

      Your impression is completely incorrect. I've plainly stated what we need.

    16. Looking at the numbers, a Superhornet is very close in size to an F-15. Even the engine thrust numbers are close (the Superhornet is heavier). I don't think 'bigger and beefier' is the issue. The Superhornet was designed around, at least partially, A2G, and has certain compromises built in; I.E. the canted pylons that were installed for proper bomb separation.

    17. The Super Hornet (or any strikefighter) is not only a collection of what was designed into it but what wasn't designed into it. The SH was designed without pure fighter maneuverability, acceleration, speed, sensors (IRST, for example), stealth, etc. So, the compromises are not just what it has but what it doesn't have for either role.

    18. I won't deny that there are some weight additions to the design that are there specifically to accommodate A2G and thus are useless when in pure A2A configuration. But if you didn't have the ability to drop bombs from the Hornet, then you'd need another completely separate strike aircraft onboard to make up for this.

      Now despite what you may think, I'm not completely opposed to the idea of having a dedicated naval strike aircraft that ignores the concerns of A2A in favor of longer range, higher max payload, etc. But this would be a supplement to the multirole fighters, rather than a replacement for them. The F-35C is the navy's best bet for a penetrating strike aircraft right now, and I would not do anything to jeopardize that.

    19. "The F-35C is the navy's best bet for a penetrating strike aircraft right now, and I would not do anything to jeopardize that."

      "Best bet" is not the same thing as "good bet". The F-35 does not fill the operational and tactical needs of the Navy in high end combat. The Navy needs a very long range, pure air superiority fighter in addition to a very long range, pure attack aircraft. I've previously documented how to achieve this within the current budget.

      It's that simple.

    20. Exactly how much range do you need? The F-35C has very good range, even in comparison to the Tomcat.

    21. So you want a fighter with a combat radius over 1200 nmi? I'm not sure that's even physically possible unless you sacrifice all speed and maneuverability to make it happen. Even the A-6 Intruder maxed out around 1000 nmi depending on the exact load-out being used.

    22. You don't think we've been able to come 200 more miles from the time of an A-6? The point is that we need the maximum range possible and the F-35 doesn't give us that. It's compromised - the whole point of the post.

    23. At that point, you might as well just call up the Air Force and ask them to send a B-2 if it is that far away. Either that or fire a cruise missile at the target. I really don't think that trying to send a carrier-based aircraft that far away from the carrier is possible without aerial refueling. It might make more sense to just develop some kind of carrier-based tanker to extend the range of the F-35C.

    24. "At that point, you might as well just call up the Air Force and ask them to send a B-2 if it is that far away. Either that or fire a cruise missile at the target."

      Are you reading the comments? We're talking about fighters not attack aircraft. A fighter's range is used not only for distance but for endurance. A long ranged fighter has greater endurance at shorter ranges.

      Pay attention!

    25. For a fighter to have a combat radius of 1200 nmi or greater is simply impossible unless you make it completely subsonic and even then it would still be quite a challenge to get that kind of range without aerial refusing. I used the A-6 as an example because I assumed that you were talking about a subsonic attack aircraft for that kind of range. But getting that kind of range out of a supersonic fighter? That's just flat out impossible. It cannot be done, at least not without aerial refueling.

      Or let me rephrase that. You could make such a fighter, but it would be too big and too heavy to take-off from a carrier. Think about what happened when the Navy tried to make a carrier-variant of the F-111. You'd run into the exact same problems. The aircraft would simply be too big. Right now, the longest range fighter jet is the MiG-31, which maxes out at about 900 nmi. So you're asking for an increase in range of 35% over the largest fighter jet in the world and some this thing is still going to be small enough to take-off and land on a carrier?

      Keep in mind, the MiG-31 requires a 1200 meter runway for lift-off and an 800 meter length for landing.

    26. And in 1903 the longest range of an aircraft was 852 ft and people said it wasn't possible to go further.

      This is tedious.

  4. We need to the Marine to bring back VMO squadrons using T-6Cs. This is not only for COIN, but also helo transport escort, and even naval recon, looking for and engaging small boats. The details are here:

    Should we send $100 million F-35s for these mission, or $6 million props?

    Imagine these flying from Okinawa or Bahrain to provide regional support. They'd be heavily employed in Syria and Iraq right now!

    1. As a "cheap" COIN aircraft, sure: any number of two seat trainer aircraft can do the job.


    2. "Imagine these flying from Okinawa or Bahrain to provide regional support."

      While I understand and agree with your general point, the reality is that an aircraft with this range (400-500 miles max combat radius) would do little flying from Okinawa. At best, it would cover Taiwan but would be incapable of covering the South China Sea which is where most of the tension resides, at the moment.

  5. I cannot agree enough with your assessment.

    I'd like to add one more, though. If we are going to fight low intensity conflicts, I am more and more convinced we need a cheap, low intensity attack plane.

    Burning hours on $80 million dollar planes flying off of 4-8 billion dollar CVN's is a great way to lose the financial war.

    1. You should understand, and I think you do, that this post does not apply to low intensity conflicts. For those, multi-role is fine and, in fact, any aircraft is fine. The requirements just aren't very demanding. Want to try something interesting? Look up the specs on a WWII F6F Hellcat. They, and many other WWII aircraft, would be more than adequate for low intensity conflicts and, in some respects (check the combat radius) are better than an F-35!

    2. "Burning hours on $80 million dollar planes flying off of 4-8 billion dollar CVN's is a great way to lose the financial war."

      Simplistically, this is how the Soviets lost the Cold War. They spent themselves into oblivion trying to match or exceed arbitrary technologies when simpler, cheaper, effective capabilities existed.

  6. That's funny, I was thinking precisely of the Hellcat and an Essex when I wrote that.

    I did understand that. Sorry if I wasn't clear.

    What I was trying to say was that the strike fighter may be fine for those conflicts, but its way over kill. Spending millions on a hornet and its ordinance to kill goat herders and Toyota HiLux's is budget suicide.

    MANPAD's would be an issue for low end aircraft, but it seems one we could handle more economically than a fully laden Superhornet.

  7. The Navy has created this myth and fostered it since the F-18 was adapted.

    First in the Post WWII DoD naming convention there are no F/A designators. There are F for Fighters and A for Attack. These indicate the PRIMARY mission of the platform. In the definition of Fighter it states that attack can be a secondary role of a FIGHTER.

    Second a 3 star Navy Admiral decided unilaterally to change the F-18 designation to F/A-18. Why no one objected indicates to me that it was for budgetary maneuvering.

    Third the A-12 Fiasco and Fraud occurred which killed the follow-on attack A/C to the A-6.

    Fourth the Navy Management has NOT (since the F-18 & A-12 programs) issued separate requirements for a Fighter and an Attack aircraft. So they are happy muddling along a misnamed F/A-18.

    In Acquisition you get something that resembles what you ask for. If you ask for a F/A-XX you will get something that tries to do both, which as CNO points out will do neither well.

  8. Well the point with multi-role aircraft as i have understood it (could of course be national thinking) is that they were not supposed to be self escorting or trying to down the enemy while in A2G configuration.

    The idea was that example 4 aircraft would have A2G and another 4 would have A2A acting as the escort. The A2G aircraft would then be able to if needed drop the bombs and have a small chance to escape or help if the A2A fighters are in trouble.

    The biggest benefit would be that after a bombing run or anti-ship mission quickly rearm and then act as a Fighter. In essence you would always have the "right" aircraft for the mission ready at the base.

    My personal preference is to design the aircraft for pure Fighter and then later if needed/possible convert the airframe to bomber, much like the F15.

    1. I don't understand why we don't just allow fighters to be fighters and tack on the A2G later.

      The P-47, F-15E, and Bombcat all prove that purpose built fighters can be configured for bomb duty later with different stores and maybe upgraded avionics.

      It might not be as good as a pure A2g plane, but might be just as good as an 'F/A'; and is better than both at A2A.

      So just build the fighter to be a fighter; the attack aircraft to be an attack aircraft, and if you need it later you can make the fighter do some bombing.

    2. That is why the definition of F means primary Fighter, secondary Attack. F/A is redundant and a marketing ploy.

    3. Well, that was what I was saying, build good fighters and you will at least get a decent bomber.
      However when you try to sell the aircraft design to the ppl paying, that is not a good argument, which is really sad because what you end up with when you try to combine to much is aircraft like F-111 or F35 that really cant do any A2A. Maybe can do the other roles... Tornado ADV is another example of this, but atleast it was considered a interceptor and not a Fighter. Something could have been achieved with the F22 but that was not to be.

    4. "The idea was that example 4 aircraft would have A2G and another 4 would have A2A "

      You've missed the point of the post. Yes, you could split the 8 aircraft that way and configure them accordingly but they won't be optimum for either role. If the 4 escorts encounter 4 enemy aircraft that are pure fighters, all else being equal, they will lose. Similarly, the 4 A2G aircraft will not be optimized for that role. They will suffer proportionally greater losses and deliver fewer munitions with less accuracy under more restrictive conditions than specialized attack would. That's the point of the post.

    5. "I don't understand why we don't just allow fighters to be fighters and tack on the A2G later."

      Why do you think we veered away from the traditional separate roles?

    6. I do agree with you, I just tried to give an example of the thinking that prevail in the western world when aircraft started to get frightening expensive.
      With the price and development times for new aircraft these days there would not be enough money for dedicated aircraft. Even though each model would be lower price and fast development if there was only one role to fill.
      already in the 70-80 Col Boyd warned about price of new aircraft was getting to high. its even worse now....

    7. "If the 4 escorts encounter 4 enemy aircraft that are pure fighters, all else being equal, they will lose."

      I'm not sure that is the case. My understanding is the F-35C can carry 6 AMRAAMs and 4 Sidewinders internally. In terms of missiles, that seems to be a good match against they may come up against. However, the F-35C lacks an internal gun.

    8. There is no such thing as a "pure" fighter anymore. Every single recent fighter jet has built-in air-to-ground capabilities. A fighter lacking A2G would be difficult to sell because it has become a standard feature and countries would likely not be interested in it. Even newer versions of the F-15 "Not 1 pound for Air-to-Ground" Eagle have extensive A2G capabilities.

    9. "With the price and development times for new aircraft these days there would not be enough money for dedicated aircraft."

      Don't fall into the trap of thinking that the current costs for aircraft like the F-35 are necessary costs. The current costs for aircraft like the F-35 are the costs for a horribly mis-conceptualized, mis-designed, and mismanaged aircraft acquisition program. There is no inherent reason why an aircraft has to cost that much. We've covered how to build an affordable aircraft in previous posts. Check the archives.

    10. "My understanding is the F-35C can carry 6 AMRAAMs and 4 Sidewinders internally."

      I've not seen that. Do you have a reference for it?

      There have been discussions about somehow squeezing an extra weapon in each of the two main bays but that's just future speculation. Are you counting this, perhaps?

    11. "Well, that was what I was saying, build good fighters and you will at least get a decent bomber."

      No, you'll get a half-assed bomber. That may be fine for low intensity operations but not for high end combat.

      The factors that would make a truly great attack aircraft too often conflict with the factors that make a great fighter. I'm not an aircraft design expert but things like wing shape to maximize payload, ground sensors and designators, speed, number of aircrew, terrain following, armor, countermeasures, etc. are different than what a fighter needs.

      Look at how different the last dedicated Navy attack aircraft, the A-6, was from the fighters of the day. There's a reason for that. The two roles require two different designs.

    12. "A fighter lacking A2G would be difficult to sell"

      Since when is selling an aircraft to foreign countries a design requirement? Actually, that has become a design requirement (possibly the most important one) for the F-35. Let me restate. Since when SHOULD foreign sales be a design requirement? We haven't sold the F-22, we didn't sell the A-6, and so on. We tend to sell only our less successful, more mundane aircraft, at least until the F-35 flying abortion came around.

    13. The F-15E Strike Eagle Variant was specifically created to give the air force a new strike fighter that would be able to fight its way past any opposing fighter that it would have been likely to encounter at the time. It was not intended for "low-intensity" situations. Quite the opposite.

    14. ""I don't understand why we don't just allow fighters to be fighters and tack on the A2G later."

      Why do you think we veered away from the traditional separate roles?"

      --- with the caveat that I have no idea---

      I think that for budget reasons people bought hard into the multi role idea. I'm thinking of a timeframe around the early 90's.

      For example, with the Navy, the constant complaint about the other aircraft, from A6 to F-14, was increasing maintenance times and cost due to age, use, and a complexity that wasn't as big deal when the mission was fighting the Soviets.

      At the time the Navy seemed overwhelmingly concerned with two things: Sortie rate and maintenance hours. And no peer was then around, really. Both those concerns were about saving money, IMHO.

      I think the theory went that if you go to the F-18 and the smaller maintenance footprint allows increased sortie rates, so you can get the same mission done with less aircraft overall. Less aircraft with fewer maintenance hours really saves money; and when you're bombing Kosovo you can get the mission done.

      Further, by saying the SuperHornet could handle all the roles, they went from a logistics line including multiple aircraft (A7, A6, F14, F18, S3) to arguably one and a half (F18 A-D, F18 E-F).

      That does save alot of money, and makes logistics simple. That argument does have some power.

      But it only works in an environment where we are the only superpower and super A2/AD doesn't exist. Time has moved on, and with it our enemies abilities and resources.

      In the meantime, we are left with a 90's era strike fighter that fits the Kosovo role nicely; but isn't so good for penetrating multi layered A2/AD zones of peers or near peers.

      So, for the Navy at least, I think it all revolved around dollars.

    15. Fair enough analysis as far as it goes.

      Now, what is the Navy's main mission/goal? I'm not asking what it should be but what it actually is. I've stated this numerous times throughout these pages. Let's see if you absorbed the lesson.

      Then, having recalled the main mission, go back to your analysis and see if/how the main mission factors in.

      Let me know what you come up with.

    16. A test!

      I'll do my best, but I'll be buried in work projects for the next few days so it might take a bit before I can do the research.

    17. I am in general agreement that the best way to build a multirole fighter is to start off by designing a "pure" fighter and then modify the design to accept whatever A2G capabilities you desire for the aircraft. Both the F-16 and F-18 came about in this way. Both began their lives as part of the Lightweight Fighter program and then were modified afterwards to accept certain A2G capabilities. Air-to-Air is always the more challenging job so it makes sense to make that the priority in the initial design phase.

    18. You could not be more wrong. The compromises that designing in the secondary function entails will ruin the primary function. The F-18 is living proof of that.

      There's nothing further to be gained from this. I've led you to water. It's up to you to drink.

    19. I still don't understand what exactly you think is wrong with the F-18. The performance compromises for the F-18 compared to the F-14 have far more to do with the weight and cost differences between the two aircraft rather than multirole vs single-role. Even if the F-18's core design had never been modified to accept A2G then it still would not be able to match the capabilities of the Tomcat because it would still be a much smaller fighter with smaller engines and a lighter payload.

      And if we went back and "fixed" the Hornet by removing hard-points and such to reduce weight, you'd see an increase in aerodynamic performance, sure, but it probably wouldn't be a big enough improvement to justify the lack of A2G options.

      You can look it up yourself. The initial version of the F-18 before A2G was added to the design was called the F-17 Cobra. This version was definitely faster, but it was lightly armed and lacked any hard-points other than small hard-points sidewinders on the wing-tips. At that point, you're giving up a lot of capability just to look slightly more impressive at airshows.

    20. You seem to have become focused on a comparison between the F-18 and the F-14. That's an irrelevant comparison. That's like comparing the F-18 to a Fokker Triplane and concluding that the F-18 is an awesome aircraft and that multi-role aircraft are justified because the F-18 is better than the Fokker pure fighter.

      The comparison you need to make is between the F-18 and the threats it will face. The F-18 won't fight an F-14 (well, there's Iran, I guess). It will fight PAK-FA, J-20/31, Su-3x, Su-2x, Mig-29, etc. and all indications are that it will come up short.

      This is getting tedious so I'm going to cut it off here unless you haven't something new and relevant to offer.

  9. When the Navy finally goes into receivership over the F-35, and writes a requirement document for the next AFFORDABLE Fighter AND Attack Aircraft, I hope we do a serious mission analysis to substantiate the requirements. Particularly for an Fleet interceptor.

    I am worried that folks will just want to do an F-14 reborn which would be a terrible idea. The F-14 was big, too fast, and too complex. Plus, according to Wiki, the touted missile/weapon system did work in the 2 times it was fired in combat situations.

    If we need separate specialized aircraft (and I believe we do) then lets build the right ones based on solid mission analyses.

    1. "the touted missile/weapon system did work in the 2 times it was fired in combat situations."

      So, you're condemning the Phoenix because of two misses? Do you know how many misses the Sidewinder or any other missile has had? I don't know but I'm guessing the Sparrow and Sidewinders missed many times before their first kills. Sidewinder had around a 5% kill probability in its initial years.

      That said, your point about a mission analysis is on the mark and critical to the success of the next aircraft we design.

    2. "The F-14 was big, too fast, and too complex"

      Okay, too complex is a potentially valid argument; though not a foregone conclusion.

      Too big and fast? It was a fleet defense interceptor designed around the outer air battle. It needed to be big and fast to fulfill is mission.

    3. Too fast means the requirement for a fighter to go Mach 2+. That has never been substantiated in ANY dog fight. Also no one has shown that speed helps in the fleet defense mission.

      If you get caught with your pants down not much is gonna help you. But the cost of a "safety" attribute is not worth it. Better to have a fighter that only supercruises and has a long on station time at the edge of the fleet. You can then have enough fighters to cycle the edge CAP and protect the Fleet.

    4. That sort of speed might actually be a liability simply because of the massive fuel consumption required to go that fast.

    5. Speed is vital for an interceptor/fighter. The ability to reposition quickly across the vast distances of the outer layer of a carrier group is mandatory. The faster an aircraft can reach intercept firing position the more shots it can take and the more likely it will be shooting at archers rather than arrows.

      You need to gain an understanding of basic naval aviation needs if you'd like to continue commenting.

      I expect better of my readers.

  10. There is another factor at play here: the size of computers and other electronics. During most of the Cold War, electronic systems were heavy and took up a lot of space, so you have to be very selective about what systems to include in your air-frame. A fighter jet would likely omit targeting systems associated with A2G to save weight and increase aerodynamic performance. But now? Adding A2G systems to an airframe barely adds any weight at all.

  11. The jack of all trades is the master of none.

    Gotta build single role aircraft for maximum effectiveness in each mission.

    A couple of years ago, RAND did a study:

    Another problem is that they lead to design problems (hence my comment about the jack of all trades). It's like trying to build a vehicle that acts as both a pick-up truck and a race car. You'll end up with a compromise that does neither well.

    1. There are no more single-role fighters. Sorry, but that ship has sailed. There will never be another single-role fighter because who would buy it? You'd have to buy almost twice as many fighters just to accomplish the exact same types of missions.

    2. Judging by the RAND study, it would be cheaper to do exactly that.

    3. Actually, you won't even need double the aircraft. Remember, the aircraft are multirole, which means they can be (although not optimally in either role) be used for either role.

      The problem is, you don't need every mission to do every role. That and based on the RAND study, single role aircraft are far more capable (and cheaper) at the roles intended.

    4. Buying twice as many fighters would not be cheaper, and you would have to buy nearly as many fighters if you decided that you were going to have 1 type of fighter that only does air-to-air and a different fighter that only does air-to-ground. One of the best fighters the Navy ever had was the F-4 Phantom, a jet explicitly designed as a dual-role fighter-bomber.

    5. "One of the best fighters the Navy ever had was the F-4 Phantom"

      No. For starters, the F-4 was an interceptor, not a fighter. It was intended to carry long range missiles and fight from standoff distances. As a fighter, it lacked the maneuverability of the Soviet aircraft of the day, it handled poorly, it lacked a gun (added in later versions), and had engines that smoked noticeably (fixed in later versions). All in all, a mediocre fighter. The Navy has had some good fighters but the F-4 was not one of them.

    6. I'm afraid you are misinformed. The F-4 was a fantastic aircraft for its day. The only reason it gets a bad reputation is because the Air Force didn't bother to train it's pilots to use the aircraft properly. At the time, the USAF would ruled by Curtis LeMay and he didn't want to spend money on anything that wasn't a bomber, so fighter training was nonexistent. The results of this became very clear during air combat over Vietnam. Air Force F-4's struggled whereas Navy F-4's dominated. All a matter of training. There was nothing wrong with the plane itself.

    7. The F-4 wasn't a horrible plane, it just wasn't a great fighter. That's the point of the post!

    8. Compared to the F-14, F-15, F-16, and F-18 jets that came after it, the F-4 was not particularly agile, you are correct in that, but for its day it was a very capable fighter. Hell, Korea still uses them to this day alongside newer aircraft like the F-15K Slam Eagle.....another multirole fighter.

    9. "Compared to the F-14, F-15, F-16, and F-18 jets that came after it, the F-4 was not particularly agile"

      The F-4 was not agile compared to the Soviet era aircraft that it faced.

    10. Whenever the F-4 was in the hands of pilots who knew had to use it, it had no problem against the MiG's at all. The Navy never had any issues with the F-4. It was the Air Force where the F-4 struggled. LeMay did not want to spend money on any aircraft that was not a bomber so fighter training in the Air Force was non-existent at the time. Hell, the only reason the USAF even had the F-4 is because McNamara demanded it. LeMay would have been perfectly happy to retire all fighter squadrons and spend every dollar on the bombers.

    11. The F-4 certainly did have problems! The F-4 (and other) loss rate was why the Navy had to start its Topgun program.

      Initially in Vietnam, when neither side had well trained pilots, the F-4 performed poorly. Later, when the Navy enhanced its training and the NV did not, the balance swung. That does not make the F-4 a good fighter. It just proves that a mediocre aircraft can be effective in the hands of a well trained pilot going against a better aircraft flown by a poorly trained pilot. Training overcomes a lot of aircraft performance problems.

    12. My point is that the issues in Vietnam were a result of poor training. The plane was fine. The poorly trained pilots would not have been successful even if they'd had been using F-15's or F-16's because their non-existent training still would have handicapped them. This is why the USAF has Red Flag now. And I simply don't agree with the notion that the F-4 was somehow "mediocre." It was the best fighter in the world during its day.

    13. You're welcome to your opinion!

    14. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, but it should be an informed opinion. The issues that the F-4 had in Vietnam were purely a result of training failures by the USAF. The fact that the F-4 Phantoms operated by the Navy performed far better despite being the same aircraft armed with the same missiles is proof of this.

      Actually, that's not true. The USAF Phantoms typically had guns whereas the USN Phantoms never had guns the entirety of the war. So even though the USAF had guns, they were still not able to match the level of success that the Navy had with the F-4 Phantom.

      And despite the issues associated with the USAF Phantoms, there was still not a single air-to-ground causality from enemy action for US ground forces during the war. So despite the challenges, the Phantom was still able to keep the skies clean enough that US ground troops never had to worry about getting strafed by a MiG-21.

  12. Is it really so hard to figure out? You're complaining that most fighters are multirole but you don't even seem to understand what changed to make that possible. So I'll explain it again. In the past, electronics were bulky and heavy, so you have to be very careful about which electronics you'd pick for an air-frame.

    So if you were making a fighter, you'd include avionics associated with A2A but leave out A2G to save weight. And if you were making a strike/attack aircraft, you'd include avionics for A2G and leave out avionics for A2A to save weight. However, modern computers are much lighter, so it is possible to fit all the avionics associated with A2A and A2G into the same aircraft without sacrificing performance.

    1. There are still some minor penalties - even empty pylons cause a drag penalty. A sharply swept leading edge would somewhat mitigate this, but I doubt such a pylon would be able to carry very many bombs (at least not without warping after a short period). It's mostly for an air to air platform.

      An even bigger problem I hinted at is training. To make a pilot good at air to air combat needs months and months of training at more than 40 hours per month of realistic combat training.

    2. "Is it really so hard to figure out?"

      Keep your comments polite and respectful.

      What does this have to do with the premise of the post?

    3. You may need to do more training for a multirole aircraft but you end up needing fewer pilots so it balances out in the end.

    4. No, it doesn't "balance" out. As you just acknowledged, we wind up with fewer and less capable aircraft. That was the point of the post.

    5. How are the aircraft less capable if they can perform more missions than previous aircraft?

    6. I'm not going to keep repeating this. A multi-role aircraft is not as effective at any role as a dedicated, single function aircraft.

      It's not the number of missions you can perform, it's the number of missions you can succeed at.

      I will not repeat this.

  13. I would suggest its the attitude of do what you can with what you can afford.

    So, during cold war, budgets were enormous, and the prospect of a near peer that was truly remarkably powerful and produced interceptors that could go Mach 3.5 and could counter your long range bombers over land
    meant that you built aircraft that could also do remarkable things, like an F-14 that could engage targets hundreds of k's away at hundreds of k's from your CVN.
    Those days are done. Its purely down to cost. Spend vs benefit.
    Russia isn't really capable of conquering Europe any more, so the US no longer needs the ability to defeat Russia on the other side of the world.
    So, like everything, its down to cost. To keep exerting hegemony over weaker adversaries, you spend the least amount while still maintaining some capability.
    Yes, it means the US can't defeat China in China, nor Russia in Russia. Up until the last decade, there was a long gap when you didn't need to. From end of cold war, until mid 00's the nearest peer had fallen a long way short of the Soviet Union.
    Now that China is ascending, budgets are once again growing, in the next 2 decades, they may reach equivalent levels again, as the US gears to being able to face off a potential rival.
    Agreed, the compromises that are coming on line and in existence aren't to your liking. But look at it like this, current capabilities have been over match for every mission US forces have been given to date, and frankly speaking, this is about the US's most bellicose period in its 300 year of history.

    1. Please fact check yourself. Today's military budget is approximately 30% larger in inflation adjusted dollars than during the peak of the Cold War/Reagan years. That renders your entire comment invalid. Please do some research.

    2. Look at the budget as a percentage of GDP.

    3. I honestly think that the Pentagon could really really use an outside agency of defense minded, security cleared auditors to look at their books with an eye towards stupidity and waste.

      While we are fighting wars, its distressing that you hear different parts of the military 'lose' tens of millions. Its more distressing to have programs started, moved along, then cancelled with nothing to show for it.

      I think our level of financial waste in the DOD has literally become a national security issue.

      To (heavily) paraphrase Cicero, the sinews of war are money. No matter the size of our budget, stupidity and waste can end up hamstringing us.

    4. "Look at the budget as a percentage of GDP."

      Utterly irrelevant. The only thing that matters is actual dollars spent. GDP goes up and down as a function of the economy. Actual dollars spent are what matters. You should intuitively understand this. Don't look for an argument - just understand the simple logic.

    5. "look at their books with an eye towards stupidity and waste. "

      There is waste, without doubt. However, there is "true" waste and "necessary" waste. Huh???

      Waste is the expenditure of money on things that are not needed. A gold plated toilet seat is waste if a regular seat will do. Time spent on paperwork that does not contribute anything is waste. Money spent to add the last few knots of speed to the LCS when there is no tactical justification is waste. Money spent to fix concurrency issues is a waste because it didn't need to happen.

      There is also "necessary" waste. The LCS NLOS system was a waste but a necessary one in that we had to take the NLOS development to a certain point in order to know that it wouldn't work. Prototypes are a waste in that they will never perform a useful military function but they are a necessary waste in order to further technology. Redundant equipment on a ship is a waste but a necessary one in the event of combat damage.

      So, your example of starting programs and then cancelling them is "necessary" waste.

    6. Fair point.

      I can maybe see that with NLOS. (I'd argue designing a ship around their non existent capability was a waste...)

      But the Army's future combat system and ground combat vehicle programs were pretty far along and the cancellations left us with nearly nothing in return. Similarly, the Commanche program got pretty danged far without delivering.

      I realize its almost impossible to avoid. It's always happened. Look at MBT70. But now it seems to be happening *alot* and tens, if not hundreds, of millions are spent with the end result being some upgrades to our existing equipment.

      From my (admittedly) inexperienced perspective it seems like there shouldn't *be* a program till we've tested the component parts of that program and know they have a chance of being functional and affordable.

      Had the LCS just been a 2 ship 'class' designed for just testing and evaluation, then cashiered because the technology didn't work out, that would be a necessary waste. But I could easily live with it.

    7. Quite right. Many programs are taken too far before cancelling. The "too far" portion is waste. The LCS is possibly the ultimate example of too far. They're actually in production and have no useful purpose!

    8. I deleted your post because it failed to rise to the standards of this blog.

  14. "Look at the budget as a percentage of GDP."

    Honest question: Why does that matter?

    If in the 80's I had X, and now in the teens I have X + 30% *when adjusted for inflation* my buying power has increased.

    If I can't buy as much hardware the question then becomes where is the money going?

    Firms like Halliburton in order to support our continuing low level war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria? Wastage at plants? Increased cost of platforms due to lack of competition and concurrency? Don't know.

    1. I deleted your post because it failed to rise to the standards of this blog.

    2. "Honest question: Why does that matter?"

      It doesn't matter.

      The military budget is simply dollars spent. It's not dollars spent per left-handed, blonde haired men. It's not dollars as a percentage of GDP. It's simply dollars spent and the dollars spent are at an all time high even after adjustment for inflation. The premise in the comment that led to this was simply and obviously wrong. I won't allow incorrect statements to appear. The standards of this blog are higher than that.

  15. Part1/2
    Sorry to be late to this great discussion. You are spot on beginning to end.
    I have been part of NA for 40 years and acquisition for half of that. I've been associated with a loser platform program for most of that. I don't think its hard to figure out which one. Basically, I want all to know I wouldn't grind my axe if there were no trees begging to be chopped down……
    A little background and anecdotal history:
    “Hornet Sharia” as I call it, has been ascendant since the mid to late 1990's but really went into afterburner when Jay Johnson selected the SuperHornet over the other offering in 1998. The Hornet program had everything in NA then, all the budget which had been eviscerated by Bill Clinton to obtain the peace dividend.
    Facing further cuts leadership reacted. Based on questionable/faulty data re “R&M projections”, "legacy" aircraft service life projections, and existing threat (minimal and last of course) questions like, "who does ASW?" amongst the upper echelon can often be heard in meetings. Basically from my perch, it was simply a business decision to replace the Tomcat and yes, the Tom fast running out of Shlitz fatigue-wise, but other, more egregious business decisions were made that simply did NOT consider the effects of those decsions nor the the world situation carefully. Remember, I am talking pre-911, post USSR world of the boom soon to bust. IE- “2000 AD.
    First went the role/platforms of medium attack (A-6E), then the Tomcat to Rhino transition commenced, and then the dumbest of all- the vertical cut of the S-3B Viking, the Swiss Army knife of the carrier airwing was “sundowned” (as they called it) from 2004-2008. This third leg of these changes was supposed to be predicated on three "Pre-Cursors" as they were so named: 1- P-3C AIP which would assume the S-3 mission (at the time we had 250 P-3s before results of their life came out in 2005), 2- The IOC of the H-60R (took 10 more years to even start...) would assume the S-3 mission and 3rd and lastly the introduction of the F-18E/F SuperHornet tanker which would assume the S-3 ASUW/overhead tanker missions. AsuW has been ignored somewhat from lack the use during the last decade War on Terror but performing the organic tanker role as overhead tanker was/is literally killing the SuperHornet fatigue life much earlier than all the plans laid out in the late 1990s. …
    After 2000, once the decision was made to executer Sundown, they were supposed to evaluate the Viking retirement every year based on the “Pre-Cursors” progress or lack of progress. Surprise! That never happened because the S-3 accounts were zeroized and distributed for other programs. Meanwhile developments such as the S-3 service life was established in 2003 ran contrary to expectations by over 100% (fact) and the cost per flight hour of the S-3B was established as the cheapest amongst the F-14, F-18, E-2 and EA-6B fixed wing aircraft by 2004 (fact) also showing vast improvement. Did any of this matter? No, of course not, someone might look stupid. The S-3B went away on time, on schedule because a business decision had been made to reduce the variety of the T/M/S aircraft aboard the airwing. All sounds good, get rid of a few CV/CVNs while we are at it….

  16. Part2/2

    Basically, what didn’t change between 2001 and 2008 was who was perceived as “the enemy” to apply the resources to. Conventional war was now the abstract and hazy future, where as fighting Jihadis was the only game in town… As a result, and to put 8 years ago in perspective, ASW/ASuW was ignored until very recently, the Pacific pivot was but a fantasy, and the Rooskies weren’t flying Bears near Key West….. As a result and for a bunch of reasons, we could accept the new normal of 65 aircraft in an airwing vice 95, the USAF tanking over the gulf, and talk about grand new ISR efforts and drones, etc….. Plus, the F-35C was coming, right? NOT.
    The “best laid plans of men”, eh? Consider where we are today as ComNavOps has laid out all the shortcomings in various posts. How could this happen? I remember being told by my flight instructors 40 years ago that all that detailed pre-flight planning we do means nothing once you get airborne, it will all change. Same thing applies with visions and acquisition planning. The problem here is that they readily gave up the inherent basic tenets of the US Navy since WW2 through the Cold War and beyond for short term decision making that you can’t really pin down to one Admiral or another- No, they made these decisions by committee. Nobody notices the problem it doesn’t exist, right?
    Yes, I wholeheartedly agree the Hornet T/M/S aircraft are and always were a “jack of all trades, master of none” platform by certain standards and that Yes, we need to accept the fact that Naval Aviation requires purpose built naval aircraft, but I submit that the Navy culture that has led us to where we are today will never change. Despite all this, the reality is the SuperHornet is a “bird in the hand vice an F-35C in the bush”, if you can follow my point. My opinion on other aircraft in the air wing today or contemplated? IMO, this MQ-25 is just more of the same faulty thinking as far as I am concerned, the E-2D formerly called Hawkeye 2000 was late in coming and really is not that big an improvement over its predecessor, and the F-18 Growler is just an EA-6B (minus) in many ways re power projection. Oh yeah the H-60R is finally being fielded but it can’t fly at 400Kts like an S-3, shoot heavy weapons like SLAM-ER/HARPOON for real ASuW/ war at sea, nor can it perform standalone ASW in the middle to outer zone of the CSG.

    We have what we have….Can anything change for the future? Methinks not but I certainly hope so.

    1. Very nice comment. Thanks for the effort it took to write that.

      "the reality is the SuperHornet is a “bird in the hand vice an F-35C in the bush”"

      Indeed, I've advocated the Hornet upgrade path rather than the F-35 - not because the Hornet is hugely superior but because it actually exists and would be orders of magnitude cheaper while providing 80%+ of the F-35 capability. The F-35 may turn out to be a better aircraft eventually but the price is the gutting of the rest of the military. How many other programs have been cut or indefinitely delayed to pay for the F-35. The F-35 is not, and never will be, good enough to justify what it is doing to our overall military.

    2. "Can anything change for the future? Methinks not but I certainly hope so."

      You are dead on about the culture. Nothing will change until we are hit with a war. The same phenomenon occurred at the start of WWII. The sad part is that the same phenomenon occurred at the start of WWII so we should be cognizant of it and able to avoid it. Sadly, that has proven not to be the case. That is what I most fault our current Navy leadership for. They are the problem and can't see it. That is true and epic incompetence.

      This blog is an attempt, in my own small way, to try to promote change. If no one tries, nothing will change. If we all try, maybe nothing will change but at least we'll be trying.

    3. ComNav,

      Aye. Nothing like a flaming datum(s) to get attention and precipitate wars- IE- Lusitania, etc.

      Only difference is in 1916 communications were slow, the thinking/decision making were deliberate and nuclear weapons did not exist....
      Which may make it OBE because capitulation or annihilation can occur shortly thereafter. One would not have the luxury of lend-lease like preparations and debate in congress


    4. "Nothing like a flaming datum(s) to get attention and precipitate wars"

      You have a point to make but I've completely missed it. Try again?

    5. My point was in today's world a war at sea scenario is not a good place to display any weakness based on not having all the combat power to overwhelm an adversary. Excuses for not having the right ships, subs and aircraft or enough of them entering combat won't be a valid if you lose and there will not be time to design and build fast enough after the fact. The world today is not 1939 where we had the geographic advantage to base our strategy on. Nuclear weapons make that impossible.

  17. This very interesting docu-film from the mid-1970s entitled, 'The Job of the Prowler'. It highlights how differently the US Navy was thinking compared to nowadays.

    At 36 seconds in:
    "The aircraft are specialist too. The best of teir kind for the job they've been assigned in the upcoming mission."

    E2C = high altitude platform for command & control.
    A6 = deliver the ordnance
    F14 = fly barrier
    A7 = handle flak suppression
    EA6B = providing an electronic shield


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