The shilling for the F-35 is absolutely breathtaking in its scope and inaccuracy. “Experts” of all varieties are regularly trotted out to talk up the aircraft and explain why it is the greatest flying machine ever built or that likely ever will be built. Careful analysis invariably demonstrates the falsity of the claims.
Recall the Marines declaration of IOC after a stunningly successful operational test? Of course, after we read the DOT&E report we found out that the mission availability rate was 50%, at best, and the evaluation relied on spare parts and even spare aircraft being flown onto the ship during the test.
We have the Red Flag exercise in which the military claimed the F-35 achieved a 10,000:1 kill ratio or maybe it was only 20:1. When you’re making up numbers, it doesn’t really matter what they are, does it? Of course, we have no actual data and conditions upon which to assess the validity of the claim and given the history of lies associated with this aircraft, I flat out don’t believe the claim.
Rather than tediously list all the exaggerated claims that have been made and disproved, let’s just skip ahead and look at the latest. SNAFU website gets the credit for the heads up on this story about F-35 dogfighting which was posted on Business Insider website (1).
“But according to retired US Marine Corps Maj. Dan Flatley, who helped design the training syllabus for F-35 dogfights, the F-35's lackluster performance against legacy jets had more to do with old habits of the pilots and a weapons system in its infancy rather than anything wrong with the F-35 concept itself.”
Right off the bat, let’s note and acknowledge that Maj. Flatley is as biased as it is possible to be. Anyone who helped design the training syllabus for the F-35 has a huge stake in the game and a clear bias. However, let’s also be fair and recognize that merely having a bias does not mean that what he has to say is wrong. What it means is that what he has to say has to be taken with a huge grain of salt until proven. So, moving on …
The problem, according to Flatley, is not the aircraft but the bad habits of the highly trained fighter pilots. Now that sounds like an excuse for a poor aircraft. Again, though, to be fair, any weapon system has to be used to its strengths to be effective. The Major, then, appears to be saying that the F-35 is not a dogfighter, which confirms the well known “secret” that we’ve heard for some time, but that it can be an effective aerial combatant if flown to its strengths. Okay, let’s accept that for the moment and keep going …
“If you try to fight it like a fighter it isn’t, you’re going to have terrible results,” Flatley said of the F-35.”
“Flatley stressed that dogfighting, where the close range diminishes the F-35's stealth and sensor fusion advantages, is certainly not the purpose of the Joint Strike Fighter … “
Again, confirmation of the well known “secret”.
And now, the key part where Flatley explains how the F-35 can effectively engage in aerial combat.
“Unlike dogfighters from World War II, the F-35 mainly focuses on flying undetected while using its array of fused sensors to paint a clear picture of the threat environment for miles out and to engage with targets before they're ever seen.”
According to Flatley, the F-35’s aerial combat role is to be a sniper around the periphery of a battlefield – unseen but seeing all that is around it and sniping unsuspecting enemy aircraft who will never know what hit them. I have no problem with that, whatsoever. In fact, it’s kind of the ideal goal of aerial combat – to achieve that position and gun down the enemy before they know you’re there. Of course, with modern missiles, the position isn’t necessarily required but it conveys the concept.
Do you see the problem – two problems, actually – with this concept?
The first problem is that the concept assumes that the F-35 can remain far enough away from the aerial battlefield to remain undetected and yet still be able to see all enemy aircraft. If the enemy has nothing but early legacy aircraft, this will work and work wonderfully. MiG-21/23/25/27’s will be toast, without a doubt, as will early Sukhois. However, what happens when recent legacy aircraft that are semi-stealthy are in the air? Modern, updated, late series MiGs and late variant Sukhois are moderately stealth, highly maneuverable, hard to detect, and harder to kill. What happens when those aircraft don’t stand out like radar beacons and the F-35 doesn’t see all of them or has to move closer to the battlefield to get viable returns and images? And – you can anticipate this coming – what happens when the F-35 encounters peer stealth fighters like the Russian T-50/PAK FA and Chinese J-20/31 on the near future battlefield? What happens when the F-35 can’t see the enemy aircraft or, at least, no better then enemy aircraft can see the F-35? In fact, enemy aircraft seem somewhat more advanced in IRST capability so they may actually possess the detection range advantage over the F-35! How does the F-35 concept work when the F-35 can’t see the enemy aircraft? The short answer is, it doesn’t!
“As exciting as dogfights are, it's been decades since a
an enemy in a turning dogfight, and the F-35's design reflects that new
That leads us directly to the second problem which is, how many times, now, has the era of the dogfight been declared dead? The first few times, it was over due to the advent of missiles. Of course, that proved to be wrong and we had to scramble to relearn how to dogfight. Now, dogfighting is over due to stealth. Is it? Or, will we wind up having to relearn how to dogfight, yet again? When two stealth aircraft meet in combat and neither can reliably lock missiles on the other, the combat will, inevitably, devolve into a close range, guns-only, high-g, turning dogfight. Recent anecdotal evidence from exercises suggest that this is exactly what happens. Now, you have no choice but to dogfight and, according to Maj. Flatley, the F-35 is extremely ill-equipped to do that.
What happens when you can’t see the stealthy enemy but he, with his superior IRST, can see you and the F-35 is now the hunted? Again, you’re going to be forced into a dogfight for which the F-35 is not designed and not capable.
Let’s put this in terms we can all understand. Can an F-35 employ the peripheral sniping concept against another F-35/22, successfully? If not, then the F-35 is a failure on the future aerial battlefield and is relegated to fighting only older legacy aircraft. That’s a hideously expensive aircraft to be able to engage only older legacy aircraft. Heck, we have F-15/16/18s that can already do that!
Had the F-35 made it to squadron service ten or twenty years ago, as intended, it would have been successful as an aerial sniper because there were no enemy stealth fighters. Now, however, that advantage has been squandered due to the obscenely long development time of the F-35 and the near future battlefield is going to be populated by stealthy and semi-stealthy enemy aircraft. The F-35’s design combat concept is already obsolete. Once again, our unwise assumption that technology makes dogfighting a thing of the past will prove disastrous in combat.
Ironically, Major Flatley, in his attempt to praise the F-35, has told us all about the failing of the F-35.
(1)Business Insider website, “Here's why the F-35 once lost to F-16s, and how it made a stunning comeback”, Alex Lockie, retrieved