Wednesday, June 14, 2017

F-22 And Attrition

A passing remark by a commenter on the SNAFU website prompted the realilzation that we have a potentially serious problem regarding our air superiority capability during war.  What’s the defining characteristic of war?  It’s attrition.  Men, ships, and aircraft will be destroyed.  The key is being able to replace them.

What aircraft is the key to our future air superiority?  It’s the F-22.  The military has repeatedly admitted that the F-35 is not an air superiority fighter.  Various Air Force generals have stated that the F-22 is needed for the F-35 to succeed in war.  Further, those same generals have stated that a single F-22 is equivalent to several F-35s.  I apologize, I don’t have the exact quotes at hand.

The F-22 is out of production.  In a war, where do we get new F-22s to replace those that are lost?  The only combat aircraft that the military wants to produce is the F-35 which the Air Force acknowledges is not an air superiority fighter.  As the F-22s are lost in combat, where do we get replacement air superiority fighters?


  1. If a If a major war were to happen today I would expect that in the face of attrition the only thing we could do is start buying Eagles from Boeing. At least the line is still limping along and could, conceivably, be ramped up.

    That isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Eagle may not enjoy the competitive advantage it once had, but its still a fine plane. Of course, barring new purchases, that option goes away in '19.

    We face another issue, I think, that makes this situation worse.

    From what I've read the airforce pilots are no longer getting the training time that they have in the past. This will lead both to A) Increased attrition with the hardware we have and B) has already led to a smaller pool of pilots as many leave the service.

    What this says to me is that if a major war were to happen today attrition would be higher than we expected, and we'd be in a scramble to both ramp up production of 4+ generation fighters, as well as get trained pilots to fly those fighters.

  2. I've been asking the same question as regards naval ships. Sophisticated aircraft and naval combatants both take more time to build than a modern war will allow. I believe it was Stalin who observed that quantity has a quality all of its own.

    I regret not having a ready solution to the problem.

  3. If we ever get in a war that causes significant attrition to our supply of F-22s (which is highly unlikely), the replacement would be the F-35. The military can say that the F-35 is not an air superiority fighter, and while it indeed may not be the equal to the F-22, it can best any other fighter that isn't an F-22 in realistic combat scenarios.

    The US & US allies are going to enjoy a near-monopoly on 5th generation fighters for quite a while, as it will be some time before any other country starts pumping out 5th generation fighters that can rival the F-22 and F-35 in significant numbers. Russia is only going to be buying a handful of T-50s and China's 5th gen fighters are still in the early stages of testing (as unlike Russia they don't seem to be rushing their programs).

    1. "it can best any other fighter that isn't an F-22 in realistic combat scenarios."

      That's an opinion on your part rather than a statement of fact given that there is no public domain data that supports that statement. On the other hand, there are reports from foreign pilots of highly staged "tests" which suggest the F-35 is nowhere near as capable as supporters would like us to believe. Further, the air to air performance specs leave much to be desired. Additionally, many aircraft around the world are getting IRST and other technologies that would negate much of the F-35's supposed strengths.

      In short, there is more public domain data that refutes your statement than there is support for your statement.

      The F-35 may be superior but we have no data that proves it.

      Please be clear about the difference between statements of fact and opinions.

    2. IRST does not negate "much of the F-35's supposed strengths." IRST is not some wonder technology, no matter how much it is hyped as being a stealth killer. The best IRST systems have a far lower detection range than mediocre radar, let alone advanced AESA radar systems. As radar technology advances, 4.5 gen planes may be able to detect F-35's at a greater range than currently possible, but if the F-35 keeps up with those developments than it too would be able to detect 4.5 gen planes at a greater distance than currently possible, allowing it to maintain a large advantage in detection range. Barring some sort of revolutionary advance in radar technology, the F-35 will maintain a decisive advantage over anything that isn't 5th gen.

      The only way you can seriously believe that the F-35 is inadequate against 4.5 gen rivals is if you believe that the government is lying about the F-35's stealth. They claim that the radar cross-section is little bigger than that of an F-22. If they are lying, then sure, anything is possible. However, I do not think they are lying.

      Modern air-to-air combat is fought BVR. As much as people like to cite Vietnam as an example of why missiles are overrated and close-in dogfights are still a reality, the Gulf Wars pointed to BVR combat being the norm. Missiles are just too good nowadays. No matter how maneuverable your airplane is, you can't pull higher Gs than a good missile can. Your only hope is to not be detected - through stealth technology, which the F-35 incorporates - or to defeat the missile with countermeasures - which the F-35 incorporates to a higher degree than the F-22.

      I've read various tests, and they tend to focus on how F-35s would perform in close-in dogfights against 4th and 4.5 generation planes whilst quietly ignoring BVR. F-22 utterly trounces the competition in BVR engagements thanks to stealth, and the F-35, with similar stealth features and more advanced radar (AN/APG-81 vs AN/APG-77) and countermeasure suite. The F-22 is kinematically superior to the F-35, but kinematics are hardly the be-all and end-all of aerial combat.

    3. Please read comments carefully. My statement was not that IRST, alone, negates much of the F-35's supposed strengths but that "IRST and other technologies" do. The "other technologies" include advances in radar, use of different radar frequencies, passive detection, backscatter detection, radar networking, etc. The combination of "IRST and other technologies" does, indeed, negate much of the F-35's strengths.

      The degree of useful stealth that the F-35 possesses is unknown in the public domain. What is the radar return signature from the side? Rear? Below? Front? Signature as generated by what radar? By Russian and Chinese radars? How stealthy is the F-35 to a networked, ground based system? And so on. If you have the answers sufficient to make an overall, authoritative assessment then you have access to classified data. If you don't, then you have no better idea than anyone else.

      You might want to find the 2016 letter/report by the Danish pilot for a description of the kind of limited and staged tests the F-35 is doing and you might want to consider the kind of staged tests the Navy constantly runs and is documented in this blog. It is quite likely that the F-35 does not perform anywhere near as well as proponents claim based on staged tests. I take the Danish report as just one data point. It doesn't prove or disprove anything but it does correlate with what I know of the spin that has been coming from the F-35 program for many years.

      As I said, the F-35 may be highly effective but there is no open source data to support that conclusion. You're engaged in speculation.

      Regarding BVR, you might want to check the archives and read the post on BVR. BVR has been and will continue to be far less effective than theoretically possible due to ROE's and the US military's near-requirement for VID.

  4. J.T. ...

    I want to believe in the F-35. It certainly, if nothing else, brings much needed legs to the fleet.

    But between its cost, its numerous issues, and the issues with ALIS I worry that it might not ever make a good front line airplane that the Navy can field, train, and maintain in numbers. Further, I'm skeptical of the entire premise by which it will 'sweep the enemy from the skies'. Its relying mainly on missiles and BVR, but with its max loadout of missiles (4 in clean mode) and the Pk of those missiles it stands a very good chance of having to dog fight. And if it has to dog fight its in trouble against a peer/near peer.

  5. USAF is considering building a new plane called PCA (penetrating counter-air) which would be more like the F-117 program with a rapid fielding in the mid to late 2020s. Will this happen while USAF is already having problems paying for existing programs and trying to complete B-21, KC-46, and F-35 development do F-35 Block 4 upgrade package, ramp up F-35 production, and start GBSD, T-X, LRSO etc. ?

    Oddly the Air Force doesn't want the next fighter aircraft to take 15+ years to become operational.

    With BCA still in place and the first Trump budget lacking in dramatic DoD growth, any PCA like program will likely slide to the right still further.

  6. If the F-22 suffers severe attrition during a war, I shudder to think of what the losses to the other side will be. No country has the ability to quickly replenish aircraft/ships/tanks, and a long conventional war (let's go on a though experiment and assume this happens some how) would result in countries refurbishing boneyard/stockpiled equipment with whatever electronics they could scrape up. If you also posit the entire modern supply chain would be ruined, you'd end up with erzatz configurations of new/old platforms and new/old electronics.

    1. That old MiG-21 could end up being the king of the sky!

  7. I think that it's a near inevitability that the United States will lose the next long war it fights. The loss won't be catastrophic, but it will dramatically reshape global politics.

    The reason I think we will lose: political failure, combined with a chronic failure of the military establishment to correctly structure the military to engage in great power conflict.

    1. America and its military has problems, to be sure. However, every other country has their own set of problems that are just as serious, if not more so, than ours. I trust you're also considering China and Russia's inherent problems as you draw your conclusion. We too often tend to focus on our problems and paint a bleak picture without recognizing the potential enemy's problems and how they impact their ability to wage a war.

    2. I think there are unique, systemic vulnerabilities with the United States that have emerged after ~25 years of mismanagement both politically and militarily, basically the entire post-cold war period.

      That said, the only opponent I believe could reasonably defeat the United States in a conflict is China, Russia is far too small economically and too vulnerable to political disruption to challenge the United States.

      There are things I don't know, obviously. I'm really unsure re: China's ability to sustain production in the face of disruption of supplies. If they harden production facilities and plan effectively, I think there's a non-trivial chance they could achieve realistic war aims (taking over Taiwan and the Senkakus).

    3. We need enough spare parts for F-22s to prevent operational attrition. Op attrition is when a piece of equipment is out of service for maintenance due to higher than planned operations tempo. With sufficient spare parts and enough maintenaners, it is like having a much larger F-22 fleet.

    4. "That said, the only opponent I believe could reasonably defeat the United States in a conflict is China"

      China has its own problems. The biggest is their highly centralized political and military command structure which absolutely discourages creativity and initiative among the officers and ranks. US individual motivation is much greater. The centralized command structure greatly slows the pace of decision making and action - that's a huge weakness in modern, fast paced combat.

      China also lacks the years of institutional military knowledge needed to effectively operate high tech weapons and systems. It's one thing to steal the plans for a supercarrier or stealth fighter but it's another to understand how to effectively operate them. China has no base of tactical and operational knowledge of high tech warfare to draw on. This is compounded by the centralized command structure. If the central command doesn't know how best to utilize the technology, the entire military is disadvantaged.

      China lacks allies. In a global war, the US will have many allies. They may not all be active participants but they will contribute with things such as procurement and shipping of raw materials, intelligence, political pressure, and a host of other factors. China will be essentially operating alone and their recent rampage through the South China Sea and abuse of other country's claims and sensibilities is only exacerbating the situation. Russia may or may not stand with them but that's it and, as you pointed out, Russia is not a challenge, even in concert with China. Note, if Russia got actively involved, that would be enough to get the rest of the world (Europe, in particular), to commit to active combat and I don't see Russia willing to risk that. China stands alone.

      China has severe raw material vulnerabilities. To be fair, so does the US. China, however, will face severe shortages due in large part to the "standing alone" aspect I mentioned.

      I can go on but you get the idea. The US has problems but China has more and more serious ones.

      One final thought. As multiple world wars have proven, when faced with a serious threat, America comes together and many of our current problems will disappear. In other words, America has another "gear" in its engine to call on. China, due to their governmental system has no other "gear". What they have is all they'll have. We can dig deeper - China cannot.

      You really need to re-evaluate your thinking on this!

    5. I agree. China is utterly dependent on its sea lanes remaining open and the procurement of billions of tons of raw materials for their production facilities every year. The majority of those raw materials come from countries either allied to the US (australia, canada etc.) Or countries at least politically closer aligned to the US than to China (Brazil, Argentina, Chile etc). They would quickly be cut off from much of the materials they would need to sustain production during a long war. Even if some african nations were to continue to attempt to supply china in the face of US political and economic pressure, it wouldnt be that hard for the US and her allies to essentially put the African trade routes through the indian ocean on lock down. Only Russia would be in a position to resupply china, and what they could offer would be limited to mostly natural gas. Russia could never supply the iron, copper, coal and petroleum china needs in sufficient quantities. China still has little ability to project military power outside its immediate naval approaches and land borders. It could potentially drive the US and her allies out of the east and south china seas. But that's really the limit of their ambition at this stage.

  8. No air force in the world has attacked our troops on the ground since WW2/maybe Korea. That came about only because we had fighter aircraft that could turn any enemy. That is called air superiority/air supremacy and is essential to any US operation. It is simply accepted as "done" nowadays. Well that may seem true to US Army/Marine Generals, that isn't necessarily as easy as it seems. If you will remember it took about 5 weeks in 1991 until the Air Superiority battlefield conditions were acceptable to take down Saddams Army via land maneuver... How soon we forget.

    All this only came about since Korea is because we fielded purpose-built "Fighter aircraft" optimized as interceptors or dog fighters that often blended the two "fighter" aircraft roles. Since the late 1980's we have acquired only F/A designated aircraft beginning with the F/A-18 that replaced the A-7... Ask any turkey driver (F-14) how good a dog fighter or interceptor the Hornet was. Heck we even back-fitted the Turkey into a Bombcat role to stick their noses in it.... So it goes.... Even the USAF went w/200lb smart bombs on its F/a-22 after 2001 in order to keep the production line going. As we know that tactic didn't work and we are stuck with only 175 F-22's vice the original 350...

    Why is this? How did this happen? It is because we keep fighting the last/existing war against bearded AK/RPG/IED toting "savages" and as a result, arm ourselves inappropriately for conventional war. In 2004 buying 350 F-22's seemed wasteful when all we needed was more F/A aircraft. It wasn't just Rumsfelt it was every Army/Marine general (all JCS since Gen Meyers in 2000) wanting more troops on the ground... To them, aviation fixed wing is just another form of " fires support" if they see them at all.. They forget they haven't been attacked on the ground like them old WW2 movies...

    CNOPS, at least the "F"-15 and "F"-16 (Boyd jets) which have since been turned into Fighter-Bombers (F/A) are still deadly as interceptors and dog fighters, if we reconfigure them. We probably can make do with them until we get this issue straightened out. I am concerned that the training and flight time required to have real fighter pilots that can win (not just talk) isn't there unless that button is pressed also and funded asap.

  9. "CNOPS, at least the "F"-15 and "F"-16 (Boyd jets) which have since been turned into Fighter-Bombers (F/A) are still deadly as interceptors and dog fighters, if we reconfigure them"

    As far as equipment, I 100% agree with this. If you have a plane dedicated to attack, it may do the attack role well, but if it can't reliably get air superiority then you won't do the attack or troop support role well.

    But if you have a fighter/interceptor that you later configure for bombing, maybe its not as good of a bomber, but you can get air superiority and that gives you the leeway to take more time in the bombing role.

    From what I can tell in my reading the F/A-18 Superhornet was derived from the idea back in the 90's that we'd always be superior, and we needed to save money on maintenance and increase efficiency with improved sortie rates.

    None of that is bad, per se. But by itself its not enough. And the choice of the SuperHornet (which I don't hate) as our sole fighter/attack aircraft hamstrunk the super expensive CVN's with their short legs.

    And now we are stuck. The F-35 *might* improve things with its range. But I'd prefer a Tomcat follow on.

    Something fast, with enough fuel fraction to have long range/loiter times. If we can get decent ACM out of it that's ideal.

    But all that should be primary. If we can establish air superiority with such a craft we then might be able to have cheaper attack aircraft. And if we want to add on a bombing capability to an air superiority fighter we can do that later. It won't be as good as a dedicated attack aircraft but I don't think it will matter.

    1. I was with you until the last paragraph.

      "If we can establish air superiority with such a craft we then might be able to have cheaper attack aircraft."

      No, emphatically no. Take the lesson of Vietnam. We had absolute air superiority but we still needed the world's premier attack aircraft, the A-6 Intruder, to have chance of effective ground attack. Remember, that
      air superiority does not ensure ground superiority. In Vietnam, our aircraft suffered from ground flack and surface to air missiles. The A-6 was needed to provide all weather, day/night, long range precision attack with a chance if effectiveness and survival.

      Air superiority does not obviate the need for "attack superiority".

    2. Fair enough. I sit corrected.

      After I ponder my stance a bit I think what I'm getting at is that we are (again) realizing that Attack and Air Superiority are two different things; and require two different designs.

      You can make an air superiority craft a bomber: See the Bombcat; Viper, etc. It might not be a great one but its one that you can use in a pinch.

      I don't see any good way of making an attack aircraft an air superiority fighter. There's too many compromises.

    3. "You can make an air superiority craft a bomber: See the Bombcat; Viper, etc. It might not be a great one but its one that you can use in a pinch."

      You can, but you'll pay the price in combat when non-optimized attack aircraft suffer higher losses and deliver lower performance.

      Consider the Bombcat. During peacetime or in uncontested scenarios, it would be perfectly acceptable - no one would be shooting at it and it could come back as often as necessary to kill the target. But, in combat against a peer, even if we had air superiority, the Bombcat would be at a disadvantage. It was a much bigger target (about 8 ft longer, 10 ft wider, and with a very large central body) and, for that reason alone, would suffer greater losses. It lacked the A-6 attack computer and would be less accurate and effective in attack. It's ground attack payload was around 4000 lbs less. The Bombcat lacked the Intruder's belly armor. I can go on but you get the idea. Against a contested (ground defenses) target, the Bombcat would have suffered higher losses than the Intruder, would have required more aircraft to achieve the same results (causing even more losses), and been less effective and accurate. The A-6 is the only aircraft of the era that we didn't export - I'll leave you to ponder why.

    4. Very true. I'm not (trying) to argue against an attack aircraft, just that if they are going to go multirole as they *always* seem to do, it doesn't bother me as much if they tack bombs onto an aircraft already optimized for air superiority. You can always take the bombs off and have a good aircraft for air superiority.

      "It's ground attack payload was around 4000 lbs less."

      The intruder always amazes me in terms of bomb load and durability.

      Not going with the A-6F (I think that was the one) with the F-404 engines was a huge mistake. No, it wasn't stealthy, but I still think it has a use, especially if you could put stand off weapons on it.

    5. Yes, I'll agree with you that it's marginally less bad to convert a fighter to attack than the reverse.

      One more note on the Bombcat. It was "good" compared to the F-18 which was, itself, a compromised, multi-role aircraft that wasn't good at anything. The Hornet is/was fine for peacetime and low intensity work but, for the reasons I've outlined, would be a poor high end fighter and poor attack aircraft. By attempting to be a money-saving, multi-role jack-of-all-trades, the Hornet has saddled us with a 2nd rate fighter and 2nd rate attack aircraft for our entire air wing! The Navy has no first rate aircraft - that's a horrible indictment of Navy leadership. The Navy sold their combat soul for a fleeting peacetime accounting break. That's fine as long as peace lasts but you're betting the safety and security of the nation on a 2nd rate aircraft. That's a bad bet.

  10. As far as the training goes, this is alarming:

    With the T-45 fleet hampered by the OBOGS issue, and some pilot training pushed off to the Fleet readiness squadrons, we have a major issue.

    With the training issues are combined with the fleet aircraft readiness issues and the general problems with the aircraft types described by b2, I think its possible to say that Navair is in crisis.

  11. The sky ain't falling ...yet.
    If we can't solve this OBOGs issue or at least mitigate it out of existence we have totally lost our mojo...
    We were discussing a land based USAF fighter, the last of its kind built not Navy blue water AAW. Even with our Hornets, E-2 and AEGIS/DDGs no Chicom or rooskie dare challenge us today. We just need more stuff and have a serious discussion about the next generation after this F-35 buffoonery plays out.
    This MQ-25 unmanned swiss army knife that seems "easy" and is about to be competed will tell us all we need to now about how serious our leadership is to actually "improve"....

  12. If war breaks out today, just on 5th-gen planes alone, the US has 200 F-22 and 200 F-35; China has 20 J-20; a 20:1 in plane&pilot ratio. While 'attrition' is an issue in absolute term in itself; however, relative to Chinese/Russians, the magnitude of the issue is less so IMO. Also, while LM can probably produces 3 F-35 a week (or 150-200 a year), Chinese production is probably still struggling with 20-40 J-20 a year for some years to come. So this is the reality both the US and China are staring at now, and planning forward.

    If I'm the Chinese, I'm looking at the fact (or educated guess) that PLA will have hard time catching up on both planes and pilots, in both quality and quantity, since mil.industry is one industry the US had not let atrophied, and never will. Therefore, a battle of fighter-to-fighter attrition will be a lost cause for the Chinese. Instead, PLA looks to double down on asymmetric a2ad warfare by targeting runways(land and floating)/tankers/AWACs, not fighters (therefore, not fighter attrition on the part of US).

    AI pilot: Now, this is probably quite a few years out, and the US will arrive early in its maturity. What we know today are: AI beat best Go players (a strategic/tactical game), and AI beat USAF instructor pilot on simulator (a hardware/expert pilot facsimile). Can we take a educated leap that 10-20 years from now: human is a backup co-pilot, and a see-all-see-first AI/plane/network will dictate the outcome? If the USAF/N is predicting such future, can/do we still want to use the F-22 (idea/technologies conceived in the early 1990s) as the metrics?

    What I'm saying is: 'F-22 attrition' might not be a foregone concern (or path USAF/N must go thru) today or tomorrow.

  13. If war broke out today, I would be more concerned about our stock of Tomahawks and how quickly they can be supplied.

  14. The F-35 was designed as a multi role strike fighter. Essentially like the F-16 or F-18, it was designed to go undetected in enemy airspace, bomb its targets while being able to put up an adequate fight against most aerial adversaries. Contrary to popular belief, The F-35 actual has a numerical superiority over a lot of its adversaries ( at least currently). As of march their are 231 F-35's and only 73 SU-35 type aircraft.

    And plus, I don't think our adversaries will have a lot of stealth aircraft in the air.

    Let's assume for the sake of arguments that the information regarding the PAK FA/SU-57 presented in this article is correct. If the information is correct and Russia is only buying 12 SU-57's then these new Russian jets are vastly outnumbered. If war likely brake out it seems far more likely that the Russians will deploy SU-35's and Mig-29's instead of these jets. If a scenario like this is to happen then these less stealthy Russian jets will be easy targets for F-22's (and the occasional F-35). Not to mention that American pilots are far more experienced flying stealth aircraft than the Russians or Chinese.

    1. And regarding the final part of your statement, If F-22 losses are to high and the F-35's are out only option then we'd better hope it's a good jet!


  15. “You have to take advantage of the things that work for you and don’t work for him. He can out-turn you, he can out-climb you, but he ain’t going to be able to do it for very long. You can see him from a long distance, so you can get your shots off without him even seeing you. If that failed, it would be best to remain unseen. You wouldn’t voluntarily get into a turning gunfight with a Lightning, as you’re probably going to lose.”

    Yes, this is a pilot talking about the Lightning against...a Phantom. The Phantom is the one that can't turn and can't climb, and the Lightning is the 1950's British jet. The pilot also says that the Phantom couldn't even turn as well as a Hunter (the previous generation of RAF aircraft). If the internet was around back then, do you think people would have been incensed about replacing the latter with the former?

    Another lesson that could be drawn from this is that there are paradigm changes (I think the term is actually appropriate in this case) every generation or so that make previously important factors less important. So in the 60s, missile load and good radar were seen as more important relative to manoeverability. The USAF sees a similar paradigm change occurring now, with stealth and sensor fusion/connectivity becoming more important relative to manoeverability and missile load, and believe that recent Red Flags have borne this out. Some don´t agree, but then some probably wouldn´t have agreed with the Phantom replacing or supplanting the original Lightning either.

  16. If you read down, the pilot also mentions that the Lightning had supercruise whilst the Phantom did not.

  17. ´it was just a large beast with a very high wing loading. I think it was about 85 pounds per square foot – so it wouldn’t turn like a Hunter.´

    A large beast like a pig, say?

    1. Some F-4E's were modified under the agile eagle project. They gained leading edge slats that allowed them to turn tighter than non slatted phantoms. IMO all F-4's should have gotten this modification.


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