Sunday, February 25, 2018

Diversity In The Air

A comment was made in a post about the F-35 that has stuck with me and is worth some consideration.  Here’s the statement that caught my attention in the comment.

“The F-35 has monopoly in its sphere and we are led to believe that there is at least a reasonable chance that it will be outclassed by competitors. If air superiority turns out to be a decisive factor in the next war, I would argue that diversification is a sound choice. “ (1)

I believe the author is saying that our monolithic commitment to the F-35 to the exclusion of other fighter types may prove to be a mistake if our assumptions about future aerial combat are wrong and, if our assumptions are wrong, having other fighter types to choose from, each with their own strengths, would be very beneficial.

Consider the lesson of WWII.  From the outset of the war and as the war progressed, we had many fighter types to choose from:  Wildcat, Hellcat, P-40, Mustang, P-38 Lightning, Brewster Buffalo, Corsair, and P-47 Thunderbolt, among many others.  And those are just the U.S. fighters.  There were also dozens of bomber types and all manner of support aircraft as well as dozens of allied aircraft!  It is also important to recognize that the aircraft I’ve listed were just the ones that made it into substantial production.  For every aircraft that made it into production, several were proposed, designed, and possibly prototyped but were not produced.

Each aircraft had its strengths and weaknesses.  We were able to pick and choose which type was suited for which role.  Some aircraft failed at their intended role but were able to adapt and excel in other roles.  The Corsair was not entirely successful as the carrier aircraft it was intended to be but became an outstanding land based fighter.  Others, while not failing at their intended role, had strengths that allowed them to excel in unanticipated roles.  The P-47, for example, was intended as a high altitude fighter but eventually adapted to become a very effective low altitude ground attack aircraft.

As the war progressed, new missions arose.  Short range air-to-air combat gave way to long range escort missions.  Carrier fighter aircraft became reasonably effective bombers.  And so on.

The point is that as the needs of combat changed over the course of the war we had a wide selection of aircraft to choose from and could select the one best suited for the new roles. 

Today, our range of aircraft options is much more limited and, if the F-35 ever makes it into full production, we’ll quickly retire most of our other aircraft.  We’ll essentially be limited to a single aircraft.  If it should turn out that our view of future aerial combat is wrong and the F-35 is not the perfect fighting machine that the military would have us believe, we won’t have any other ready alternatives to choose from.  What if the Chinese figure out how to negate the F-35’s stealth and can detect it easily?  At that point the F-35 is just a mediocre fighter, at best, and we’ll have no other aircraft to turn to.

P-47 Thunderbolt - We Had Choices

While there was an inefficiency in having, supporting, and operating so many aircraft types in WWII, it provided a valuable flexibility and adaptability that we’ve lost today.

Instead of embarking on mega-dollar, once every 40 year, uber programs to produce one aircraft that replaces every aircraft in existence, maybe we should be producing much more frequent, smaller lots of aircraft, each a new design.  I’ve already discussed how that can be done in a very short time frame so I won’t bother describing it again.

War is not efficient.  War is not a business case.  If having multiple aircraft types is the price for flexibility and adaptability in war then it’s a price worth paying.  The only thing more expensive than waging a war with many different types of aircraft is losing a war due to lack of choices.

What would I suggest for some new aircraft types?  How about these?

  • A very long range air superiority fighter for the Chinese theater
  • A medium range, heavy weight fighter with very large missile capacity for the Russian theater
  • A small, short range, very fast, very maneuverable, pure Boyd-like fighter for cheap export sales to allies – this would greatly boost total allied numbers and provide valuable support during war;  this would be aimed at European countries to counter Russia
  • A very long range interdiction fighter for carriers – a modern F-14
  • A very large, very long range missile “arsenal fighter”

Note:  I have no interest in debating the specifics of any particular proposed type.  The point is to have a more diverse inventory so that we have choices when the next war springs its inevitable surprises on us.


(1)Navy Matters blog comment, “I Actually Hate The F-35”, Thursday, April 21, 2016, by username: Eric, April 22, 2016 at 6:50 AM,


  1. If you think procurement of the F35 has been a fiasco, just wait for the sixth generation stuff to begin. Lots of magical systems are desired by those involved.

    1. As stated repeatedly, there's nothing wrong with magical, non-existent systems as long as they stay in the R&D realm until they're ready. In the meantime, we need to build state of the art aircraft in maximum 5 year cycles.

  2. Look at post war aircraft. From the end of the war, to the 1960's we had gone through two generations or technology, working on the third

    Immediate post war jet fighters:

    The century series:

    By 1970 wheels were turning for the F-15, F-111, later F-14, F-16, F-18.

    This doesn't even scratch naval aircraft and attack aircraft.

    Not only are the benefits of diversity in types, but also competition among the defense industry. This in turn lessens the opportunities for corruption - and gives a safeguard should a corrupt project produce a substandard product - just buy one of the two or three competing designs.

  3. Diversity is there if you take the European Rafale, Typhoon and Gripen into account, but there were numerous regrettable delays.
    - only two active radar MRAAM seekers in NATO service
    - no AESA active radar MRAAM seeker in service
    - no DAS equivalent retrofitted to Typhoon and Rafale yet
    - no helmet sight retrofitted to F-22, most Typhoons yet
    - AIM-9X was integrated way too late to F-22
    - CAPTOR-E development took way too long

    1. You make a reasonable point about allied aircraft although that's still not many designs and those aircraft are showing their age. Design periods:

      Rafale - late 1980s
      Typhoon - late 1980s
      Grippen - early 1980s

      The other drawback is that U.S. firms have no design or production experience with those aircraft. Diversity in the U.S. fighter aircraft industry is nearly non-existent.

  4. In the case of the P-51, the early versions were not much to brag about. It wasn't until the aircraft was mated with the Merlin engine did it become one of the best fighters we fielded during the war. Indeed, just about all the fighters listed went through multiple iterations giving them improved capabilities.

    I agree with the concern about putting most of our eggs into a single basket.
    The question is what improvements can be made to the F-35.

    1. Those US fighters came from 7 different makers.
      Now you have two design teams that design 1 or 2 planes in their entire work career you get mediocrity, practice makes perfect etc.

    2. "The question is what improvements can be made to the F-35."

      No, the question, as regards this post, is what alternatives are there if no amount of improvements can make the F-35 a good aircraft when compared to future combat needs? For example, if stealth is largely negated and A2A combat devolves once again into maneuvering, no amount of upgrades are going to change the designed-in aerodynamic performance of the F-35 which, by all accounts, is lackluster.

  5. Not only diversity of air-frames but how stupid was it to prevent GE from offering another engine choice to the F35? recently, didn't they have to ground some F16s because engine defect? I think I saw that somewhere, not like you can't discover problems even after thousands of hours/years of engine usage and then what? Ground the entire fleet or a good chunk of it?!? Just stupid...

    I completely agree we need to go back to smaller, more frequent batches of fighters.

    1. Correct! Diversity extends to engines and other equipment, as well.

      It is true that maintaining multiple suppliers is not cost efficient but war is not cost efficient. We need to abandon the attempt to run the military like a business. Yes, we can adopt certain business practices but the driving force behind our designs, suppliers, etc. has to be combat effectiveness not cost efficiency.

  6. Reading the tea leaves, is the window now closing out on the F-35 after ~ 20 years. The USAF Secretary Heather Wilson said China is without a doubt the “pacing threat” for the Air Force because it is rapidly innovating and that thinking reflected in the USAF FY19 Budget, R&D bumped up 18.8%, $2.7B to nearly $10B over next five years including the Next Generation Air Dominance systems designed to ensure future air superiority and likely include a 6th generation fighter to replace the F-22 and/or F-35 and hypersonic weapons with the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Capability and the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon.

    USAF FY19 budget procurement up only 3.6% and has slowed the build up of F-35 production, only buying 48 a year instead of the 80 Lockheed had pushed hard for, the higher number Lockheed claiming necessary to lower cost per a/c, the service is also finding funding for modernizing its legacy fighters, F-15C-E, F-16 and F-22.

    Question is where is the $Bs to complete F-35 RDT&E (Blocks 4 & 5 necessary to bring online more weapons and 'big' SAR etc) and procurement coming from if R&D has higher priority programs and procurement having to fund B21.

    1. I suspect you're suggesting that the F-35 may be becoming a 'place-holder' aircraft for the next generation - that because it has taken so long to field that its time has come and largely gone without it ever having been widely procured and fielded. Now, we'll buy reduced amounts while we wait for the next generation design.

      If that was your point, that's astute and we may be seeing signs of it, as you point out.

    2. It was and you have clarified as normal.

      Other highlights from USAF FY19 budget and implications applicable to Navy

      1) JSTARS recap finally killed, Air Force stating that the big, large aircraft, RC-135 Rivet Joint, E8C JSTARS & E3 EAWACS are operationally vulnerable and indefensible from current threats (China and Russia), same vulnerability would apply to the new Navy MQ-4C as you have mentioned before.

      2) Cancelled the Space Based Infrared satellites 7 and 8 which monitor incoming missiles, Air Force saying not survivable against the new anti satellite threats, shifting to smaller and agile satellites. Mention of “steerable” and jam-resistant GPS satellites. Again puts the Navy Distributed Lethality and Concepts of Future War operational policy into doubt as it depends on the large comms and GPS satellites if taken down, another subject you have highlighted.

      3) Spending money on AOA for both "Advanced Battle Management System Analysis of Alternatives (ABMS AOA) to consider the best ways forward in light of the much changed threat environment" and $500 million to finish the AOA on Penetrating Counter Air, the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) with the new 6th generation fighter?, manned / unmanned? FY20 RFP? The comparison to the Navy stands out as no AOA was carried out for the FFG(X).

  7. I am constantly amazed (and DIS-mayed) at how people in DoD just cow-tow to the bean counters stupid ideas that do not fit how the world works.

    We specialize that is how we accomplish so many great things. We specialize in the jobs and in equipment.

    How many Captains can drive the ship, fight the ship, train the crew, fix the engines, weld the hull? Yes one person could adequately do all of these things after years of experience in each field. A VERY few people could do all of them well. But for the rest of poor mortals we need specialization to make a complex thing like a ship work. A good leader is aware of each of those fields and knows enough to tell if they are being done correctly.

    Same with equipment. For the capitalists that think the markets are uber efficient. Why do we not have one type (not style) of automobile that carries 6 people, hauls 2 tons of bulk cargo, cruises smoothly on highways, goes off-road, has 4 wheel drive, gets great gas mileage and has high torque to carry the cargo and haul a trainer? Because it is more efficient to specialize!

    I have no idea what we teach the Flags/SESs at their charm school. But is time to take away their Kool-Aid and teach them about the real world. SO they can stand up against the bean counters.

  8. Did we not have a similar situation in the 60s and 70s with the F4 phantom for a while the brainchild of Robert McNamara quite a few aircrew paid the price for that great decision when faced with taking in the simple cheap Migs over Vietnam history does seem to repay urself at times doesn't it

    1. The F-4 was not a bad plane to begin with (unlike the current breed of F-35) and was immediately winning against Migs when it went into service. Lessons learned turned it into an exceptional plane that would likely still be a good second-string plane with modern upgrades to avionics and engines. By all indications the F-35 has a much steeper hill to climb, most concerning is that they are 100% reliant on BVR missiles in the air-to-air role as they cannot turn well or have the excess power to run in a short range fight. F-4 combat pilots commonly stated that the F-4's speed and acceleration let it pick and choose when to fight.

      The F-4 is better compared to the P-47, started out OK and became exceptional as the design matured.

    2. "The F-4 was not a bad plane to begin with ... and was immediately winning against Migs when it went into service."

      Uh, no. Or, maybe, depending on your definition of good/bad and winning.

      The F-4's initial combat service in Vietnam saw it achieve a kill ratio of somewhere between 1:3 (a losing ratio from the Air Force) and 1:1 - 2:1 for the Navy. Exact kill ratio reporting varies widely depending on sources but it's safe to say that the kill ratio was, at best, around 1:1 initially. If that's what you mean by 'winning' then, yes, but compared to WWII and Korean War performance that's losing.

      Now, was that due to the F-4 being a poor aircraft or due to poor A2A tactics by the pilots?

      Well, the F-4 had some A2A drawbacks: smokey engines, limited maneuverability, and no internal gun. It also had strengths, chief of which was powerful engines. In addition, the missiles were poor but that has nothing to do with the aircraft.

      The Navy's Top Gun program suggests that tactics played a major role in the F-4's initial poor performance.

      So, depending on your definition of 'good/bad' the F-4 wasn't bad but it wasn't good, either and it certainly wasn't a winner initially.

  9. Having one fighter also risks block obsolescence.

    I think in the 50's we had a sweet spot, for lack of a better word, of the military industrial complex. It lasted maybe 30-40 years, slowly declining the whole time. But while it lasted we had many contractors who could develop technology and field aircraft. Vought; Grumman; Douglass, Curtiss, Boeing, North American, etc. etc. etc.

    When the 'peace dividend' days hit it neutered the defense industry and forced a ton of mergers. Now we have, what, 3 domestic manufacturers capable of creating a new fighter? And when they compete only 1 wins a contract because they lobby the shit out of Congress with their 'all in one' mix, thus aggravating the situation more because the other two will have zero fighter contracts for the next few *decades*?

    Now the contracts are so big, and the stakes so high, there are zero incentives to make multiple aircraft because you only have one contract. And both Congress and the Contractors like the bundling because it's a beautiful piece of pork to divvy out. The Congress critters get wined, dined, lobbied, and guaranteed retirements and the defense contractors can get a guaranteed income for the next few decades. How's that going to look on the street? It's like investing in a utility; the company can't lose money on a contract even if it executes poorly. It just imposes more costs (there is an upper limit on this, but its far higher than it should be).

    Without some serious guts from Congress, and maybe some break ups of the defense manufacturers, I don't see this changing.

    Maybe Space X can get into the fighter business.


  10. Realistically, the only new fighter that could be developed in the short term is something based on Boeing-Saab T-X competitor, that jet has light weight fighter DNA all over written on it .
    Besides the USAF is gonna need a new jet for air policing and aggressor training thats about 200 new jets.
    I hope the T-X goes the path of the T-38 / F-5.
    The other thing that could become a next A-37 is of course the Socrpion jet.

    Anything else would be buying more F-18E's and F-15's - thats the short therm, think 5 to 7 years.

    All the cash goes in to the F-35 , and hey if we're talking F-35 whats not to say that after 5 -7 years there wont be a better version say a F-35D that is improved over the F-35A?

    1. I'm not quite sure what your overall point was, if any? Maybe try again?

      "whats not to say that after 5 -7 years there wont be a better version say a F-35D that is improved over the F-35A?"

      Aside from the F-35's glacially slow history, you mean? The history of this aircraft suggests that a significantly improved F-35 in 5-7 years is highly unlikely. In fact, it may be around 5 years before we have a software version for the F-35 that has the full combat capability!!!!

      I've already described how we can build a state of the art fighter aircraft and have it in production in 5 years - inside of your time frame to 'hope' for an improved F-35! I'd much rather have a guaranteed state of the art aircraft in 5 years than a 'hoped' for improved F-35.

    2. My point was simple, the only new combat aircraft the US can produce soon is a combat version of the T-X trainer. All the money is going into the F-35 program, so why not try to make that jet better.

  11. Oh, and about all those comments that the F-35A can't "dogifight".

    I would like to see a specialized dedicated experimental version witch is modified for air to air combat.

    So whats the easiest way to make a jet more maneuverable, take all the unnecessary systems out of it and make it as LIGHT as possible, tweak the engine for extra power.
    If possible modify the weapons bays so that each holds four AAM's, making a total of eight, a decent load in "Stealth" mode, If more AAMs are needed adapt those dual launchers for external carry giving you an extra eight/ten missiles externally.

    It would not be that expensive if we are talking just one experimental aircraft, and see how it goes.

    1. The F-35 is acknowledged by everyone to be a lackluster aerodynamic performer. That's not surprising since it was designed to be roughly equivalent to an F-16 and, in the result, may not even be quite at that level. While your suggestion for a stripped down version as a pure dogfighter is interesting and reducing weight would certainly help, I strongly suspect that the inherent design just does not lend itself to superior aerodynamic performance. Still, testing along the lines you've suggested might be something worth doing.

      As far as modifying the weapons bay, it's not really possible to increase the bay size. Everything in the aircraft is already pretty tightly packaged. Plus, adding more missiles increases the aircraft weight and decreases aerodynamic performance - the opposite of what you're trying to achieve!

    2. It has been suggested that a regular F-35A could easily cary six AMRAAM's internally if there is a dual launcher.
      If you have a new or a modified missile you could probably squeeze in four per bay with minimal modification.

    3. "lackluster aerodynamic performer"
      They could modify the wing a little bit, for example how it was dome with the YF-22 and F-22A

    4. "modify the wing"

      You fail to mention the one thing that apparently can't be improved and that is the software. It is simply too immense, all-encompassing, and complex to ever be reliable and effective. We need to go back to the K.I.S.S. system and hugely simplify the software and software update process. The uber-software control of the aircraft program is an utter failure. It's going to be another several years before we even get to what was supposed to be the baseline combat software version?????!! Yikes!

    5. So ... a new wing, tweaked engines, a new weapons bay, remove avionics, and develop a new missile that can fit in the weapons bay? And with no guarantee that would make a significant difference for an aircraft with designed in lackluster aerodynamics?

      You're essentially building a new plane. Wouldn't it be better to put the money toward a proven, state of the art design that could be in production in five years?

    6. "It has been suggested that a regular F-35A could easily cary six AMRAAM's internally if there is a dual launcher."

      All kinds of things have been suggested - few have happened. At some point, we have to give up on hope and face reality - this is a badly flawed aircraft for the current needs.

    7. "You're essentially building a new plane."
      If one has been following the history of the F-117 and F-22 you would know that there have been suggestions of a lot more radical proposals based on those two airframes, just because a fighter jet is "stealth" it does not mean that you cannot change its aerodynamics.

      For example: F-117N, FB-22 and F-22N ;)

      What i suggested above is way less radical than those three, and doable.

    8. And another thing, Its not the airplane it self its keeping the the Production Line going!
      People don't understand the production line itself is worth a lot more .
      It would be a lot more easier and faster to modify a F-35 to roll off that existing production line (and i include the already streamlined chain of suppliers of course).

      Instead if you cancel that process you lose valuable time and money.

    9. "What i suggested above is way less radical than those three, and doable."

      It's also less radical than making and E-2 Hawkeye into a fighter plane but that doesn't make it a good idea.

      The point was that if you're going to significantly rework and, essentially, build a new aircraft from an existing one, why not start with a clean slate and design an aircraft that is optimized for its role right from the start? That's the logical thing to do, not try to force a bad design to be less bad.

      What the Navy needs is a very long range, pure air superiority fighter with a very large weapons load. I'm pretty sure you can't get to that from an F-35 no matter what you do to it so why waste money trying. Let's do the research, pick an existing airframe type that gives us the desired performance, add the EXISTING "goodies" that we want, and build it. I've described how to do this in a previous post. We'll wind up with a state of the art aircraft that is optimized for the intended role instead of a force fit that will never really be what we want. It's time to cut our losses on the ill-suited F-35.

    10. "Instead if you cancel that process you lose valuable time and money."

      What's the point in keeping a production line going that produces inferior products? We can set up production lines quickly relative to the 5 year time frame of producing a new aircraft. There's nothing magic about setting up a production line especially if the product aircraft uses purely existing technology. The supplier base ALREADY EXISTS FOR EXISTING TECHNOLOGY!!!!

    11. I wasn't kidding when I thought about having a Space X type company design a fighter plane.

      In my opinion, in addition to the contractor issues I mentioned, we are falling into the same trap some of the German designs did towards the end of the war. A plane to do everything. Why does it take an F-14 6 years to get on flight decks and an F-35 20? Because we want the F-35 to do everything. And there are constant change orders and bug fixes as we rush to production. I won't even touch concurrency here.

      I'm not anti multi role.... so long as one role is optimized and the other is 'hey, if we have to it can do this as well....' I.E. an A6 carrying a sparrow for Oh Shit situations, or the Bombcat.

      And asking new companies to design to a specific spec might get us some interesting innovations that work in a real world environment.

      I'm not a huge fan of musk in some areas (Tesla is a mess) but it's been interesting for me to see how having Blue Origin, Space X, and others in the game have made Boeing and AR step up their game with new, useful tech that is evolutionary and cheap.

      Opening up bids to say 'we want the following:

      A small, short range, very fast, very maneuverable, pure Boyd-like fighter for cheap export sales to allies – this would greatly boost total allied numbers and provide valuable support during war; this would be aimed at European countries to counter Russia
      •A very long range interdiction fighter for carriers – a modern F-14'

      and make other, hard specifications: X price. X timeline. No change orders from us. Designed for reliability and ease of maintenance'

      and see what happens. I bet you we could get some cool designs.


      That would be true if you wanted to build a fighter jet with existing technology, but as you suggested above :
      "A very long range air superiority fighter for the Chinese theater
      A medium range, heavy weight fighter with very large missile capacity for the Russian theater"

      Just this two would require a totally new design hence
      a whole new supply chain.

    13. "Just this two would require a totally new design hence a whole new supply chain."

      No, no, no! I've laid out how to produce a state of the art aircraft in five years. We use EXISTING technology. That it might be arranged in a new way doesn't make it new technology.

      The airframe for, say, a long range air superiority fighter is just sheet metal formed in the most advantageous shape and size. There's no new technology. Pick the best EXISTING engine for the task. Add the best EXISTING avionics, radar, weapons, etc. and you're done. All with EXISTING TECHNOLOGY - just arranged in a new package. No new supply chain because no new technology.

      Seriously, this is a very simple concept that seems to elude so many people including the military.

    14. You do realize that just the words "Air Superiority" together with "Long Range" automatically mean a very expensive aircraft

      A long range air superiority fighter isn't the best example to be build with Existing technology, for a fighter aircraft of that type you would need a lot more new things "invented" or at least heavily modified.

      - radar, a aircraft of this type would need a very powerful radar currently they are no such fighter radar types in US production.
      - Engine, if that aircraft has to super cruse you would need to modify the F-135 engine a lot or just "invent" a newer engine, or restart production of the F-119 engine.

    15. You're making this harder than it is.

      The cost will be whatever is required. However, if we don't try to create a non-existent, 360 degree magic view, sensor fused, telepathic helmet, with vertical take off and underwater cruise, then we should be able to create an updated and improved F-14-ish fighter with the best elements of the F-22 and F-14. I don't know where you're getting your radar information but an existing F-22 AESA APG-77 radar with 125-150 mile range is more than adequate. No need for new technology.

      As far as engine, a basic, powerful, fuel efficient engine is fine. It doesn't need to be a 28-mode adaptive, Mach 37 super quad cruise, trans-light speed engine that produces its own fuel from water vapor.

      Nothing about this suggests that a long range, air superiority fighter must be expensive. In fact, everything about this suggests that it should be quite affordable if we stick to existing technology.

    16. Three questions then
      stealth yes or no
      Super cruise yes or no
      Mediocre maneuverability or super maneuverability ?

      tell me and i'll tell you how much it cost ;)

    17. This is totally off topic but I'll go along for the fun of it.

      A long range air superiority fighter (LRASF) could use something like the Rafale/F-14 as a conceptual starting point. The Rafale has a claimed combat radius of around 1000 nm and is claimed to have reduced radar signature (whatever that means). It's a bit small and would probably benefit from increasing to at least F-14 size, if not a bit bigger. Supercruise is unnecessary. Probably give it two engines. I'll take whatever maneuverability comes from that but my guess is that a delta wing/canard airframe would be pretty decently maneuverable. Rework the airframe to have either internal weapons or "buried" weapons between the engine pods and size it for a dozen or more A2A weapons. Give it an APG-77 AESA radar and IRST.

      No special networking. Standard data links. No do-everything software. Just basic sensor interpretation and fire control. F-14 level software complexity. See and shoot. No all-in-one mission planning, sensor fusion, magic helmet, fleet inventory management, battle planning, telepathic predictive maintenance software - just see and shoot. Keep it simple.

      That should make for a state of the art, highly capable, affordable aircraft since it would have no new technology. It's just an exercise in airframe sizing/shaping and equipment packaging. The supplier base is fully set up and existing. We design the airframe size/shape and packaging, set up the production line, and we're off - production in five years or less!

      If we were designing and producing small lots of state of art aircraft on a regular basis, as I've called for, we'd have manufacturer's with such a design already in their back pocket, ready to go!

    18. That would be around 130-150 mil $ per jet .

      But now that you mentioned the Rafale, i compared it to the Super Hornet turns out Rafale weights less with 4 tons carries 2 tons less internal fuel but weapons load outs and combat radius is almost identical, if not superior on some profiles.

    19. "That would be around 130-150 mil $ per jet."

      Come on now. The F-35 which has all the magic goodies (none work but it has them!) costs that and yet you think a much simpler aircraft with nothing but existing technology will cost the same? Well, I think it will cost $70M - so there!

      Seriously, what do you base that on? The nearest data point would likely be the Super Hornet in that it is, now, nothing but existing tech and no special stealth, speed, or maneuverability and the Super Hornets are going for somewhere in the $80M range if I recall.

    20. Well, we are talking about a two engined airframe as you described it "bigger than a Rafale smaller than a F-14"
      By the time the F-14 entered service it was the most expensive fighter jet in history, a Rafale is more expensive than a Super Hornet ( but thats due to other reasons ) .

      So if we are talking about a empty weight of around 15-16 tons thats within that price range.

    21. ??? ""bigger than a Rafale smaller than a F-14" ???

      That's not a quote. That's not at all what I said. Go back and reread!

      What I said was "It's [Rafale] a bit small and would probably benefit from increasing to at least F-14 size, if not a bit bigger."

      So, now we understand what was and was not said. Moving on ...

      The initial F-14 production contract had a cost of $16.8M per aircraft and that was for an aircraft jammed with new technology from its sweep wing to its radar and fire control system.

      What we're discussing is an aircraft consisting of all existing technology just packaged in a different form.

      To cite an all new tech F-14 and then make a leap from that to a $130M - $150M aircraft is without any logical or evidentiary basis. To the contrary, the logic and applicable data points indicate that we can produce a LRASF aircraft for $70M - $80M.

      Unless we're building this airframe out of solid gold, the airframe itself is relatively free. The airframe is just shaped sheet metal. It's what goes into it that costs money and we're putting only existing, affordable things into it.

      If you think such an aircraft would cost $130M - $150M then justify it with something other than "two engines" unless that second engine cost several times the first one!

    22. I'm pretty sure you're not going to believe me about the initial cost of the F-14 so here's a GAO reference:

      GAO F-14 Report

    23. no matter how one looks like it the one constant factor that one always can use about judging cost is weight of the airplane - so i assumed the fighter airplane you described would have a empty weight of around 15 tons. In todays dollars a export advanced version of a F-15 ( the ones like they sell to Singapore and SA ) cost around 100 mil $, and by you're description we were talking about a new design, so 130 mil $ per unit is optimistic.

      Oh, And i believe of course about the initial cost of the Tomcat - so the time when the F-14 was 16.8 mil $ a F-5 was below a million $ and a F-4 around 3 mil $.

      So when they talk the F-35 being so expensive they say for the price of one F-35 you can buy two F-18s or three F-16 for example.

      Imagine if they had Internet back in the 70ties, someone could say , hey for the price of just one F-14 we can buy a whole squadron of F-5s or half a squadron of F-4s ;D

    24. You're engaged in some first class data manipulation. The standard F-15 cost around $30M in 1998 which would be around $45M or so today. The Singapore F-15s were anything but standard. They included new and unique (to the F-15) radar, IRST, avionics, engines, helmet displays, etc. So, these were limited production, almost one-offs. Further, the cost included ground support, training, maintenance aids, and lots an ancillary stuff. Thus, the price is not even remotely comparable to what we're discussing.

      A standard F-15 which is somewhat comparable to what we're discussing would go for around $45M. There's your data point.

      Make your argument but do so in a straightforward manner. Don't try to use outlier data points as if they were standard.

  12. I dont think its at all what you had in mind, but they could fill a couple roles you propose (cheap maneuverable export fighter, and missile trucks). For about 40 million you should be able to get a slightly updated F-20 (better avionics and SABR potentially).

    And for 15-30 million you aught to be able to pull a bunch of A-7Ds and A-6Es out of the boneyard and convert them to something like an "F+" designation (new avionics and engines, SABR for the A-7 and the APG-82 and new composite wings for the A-6). With those upgrades they would both be capable of carrying and slinging a ton of missiles over a huge distance, and I would take an A-7F+ with a well trained pilot over plenty of its potential adversaries.

    Not what you had in mind, but these could all be getting off the ground in 5 years or less if we showed some initiative.

    1. You're correct that what you describe is not what I'm talking about. However, that doesn't mean that what you describe is not, potentially, a good idea to fill the gaps until we can produce new aircraft designs.

    2. in retrospect, not doing the A6F seems like a bad idea.

    3. We could definitely still bring them back. There should be over 100 late build A-6Es with low mileage just sitting in the boneyard. And its not like we dont have a good supply of F-18 engines.

    4. Again, the point is not about bringing back second line aircraft, it's about having a diverse range of first line aircraft.

      An A-6E, while it has many good qualities, is a decidedly second line aircraft by today's standards. Its characteristics might make the basis for good, new design but it, itself, is a second line aircraft today.

      We need a diverse range of first line aircraft.

    5. And you are never gonna get that diverse range of first-line aircraft without first procuring an even more diverse range of second-line aircraft. Without the shoulders of second-line aircraft to stand on, well, you have exactly what we are currently dealing with, i.e. diamond coated silver bullet programs that are supposed to be able to cover first and second-line duties. Another way of saying that is that the more your second-line planes are capable of the less your first-line planes need to be capable of. The less they need to be capable of, the more realistic their design and procurement becomes.

      Get A-6F squadrons flying and proving themselves and all of sudden contractors might start looking at designing some sort of Super Intruder. You cant put the cart before the horse.

    6. I can conceptually design half a dozen future aircraft myself! I don't need to build legacy aircraft in order to come up with a new design. I have no idea why you think there's some kind of mandatory link between old aircraft and new designs.

      If you're trying to say that we've lost some design expertise because of the trend to single aircraft air forces, that's quite possible valid but if we've lost it then performing some minor upgrades isn't going to miraculously reconstitute our expertise. We just have to plow ahead and learn lessons on the fly (no pun intended). I don't think we've lost our expertise although the F-35 makes a compelling argument that we have! If so, our coming 6th gen aircraft is in serious trouble and we ought to start banging out small batch designs and regrow that expertise.

      As I've said, legacy aircraft can fill gaps but are not the answer.

    7. I think I just think about things more incrementally. And I think its important to break the mentality inside the military of expecting and relying on one air frame to be able to do everything. I think the best way to do that is with old updated designs that you can physically show perform.

      But I definitely agree about the small batch designs. I wish the military would have a continuous rolling design program where every 2 or 3 years manufacturers would submit designs to fill one of the roles you laid out. That way every role would have fresh designs every 10-15 years. Narrow it down to 2 or 3 competitors to have a fly off with a couple prototypes. See who wins and then move on to the next iteration. The gov would have to pay for most of it, but it shouldnt cost more than a couple of billion annually (didnt NG and LM only get 500 million to build 2 prototypes for ATF?).

  13. Something this thread makes me wonder, I have yet to see any "evolved" F35 designs, maybe some drawings from F35 fan club but from LMT?!? I can't recall seeing anything disclosed about further modifications and what they would look like, apart from a more powerful engine and software tweaks, nothing on the aerodynamics front. I do recall the F22 to FB-22 and some other designs with no vertical tails, same for F-23 BUT the F-35, I don't think LMT as showed any advanced designs evolved from it....I wonder why? Is it just they don't want to spend money on it? Not that expensive or they don't want to talk about it because it makes the current F-35 look bad and risk money on the program? Sure doesn't seem to bother them too much with the LCS and the evolved models that have been shown to USN and export is a little strange....

    1. Or maybe, just maybe, there's nothing unusually "wrong" about the F-35 and it meets the foreseeable requirements for a single-engine STRIKE fighter.

    2. "Or maybe, just maybe, there's nothing unusually "wrong" about the F-35 and it meets the foreseeable requirements for a single-engine STRIKE fighter."

      That's not even remotely correct, at least not for the Navy which needs a very, very long range fighter and strike aircraft.

      I suspect that the same is true for the Air Force although to a lesser extent. If we're going to try to run aerial combat sorties from Guam to the E/S China Seas we're going to need a much longer range aircraft than the F-35. For Europe and the Russian threat, the F-35 might be okay because there are bases that are closer to the area of operation depending on where that area is.

      As far as other requirements, the F-35 has a woefully inadequate weapons carry capacity for either A2A or A2G.

      So, no, no one other than LM thinks the F-35 meets our current requirements.

    3. But as someone else has mentioned, why haven't we seen a F35D? WHY NOT A F35E? or A FB-35?

      Yeah, there's the Block 4 coming up in a few years BUT it's mainly just software, maybe a small engine increase if we are lucky but that's it. You want me to believe that the aerodynamics are so perfect and the kinetics so great, the F35 doesn't need to change anything?!? This is pretty much what we need and somewhat along the lines of this thread, we should be coming up with more designs and faster timelines, maybe we should relax the LO requirement and get a different air-frame/wing combo for a F35, call it the -D. Why not a E version? I know we got rid of the twin seater design, maybe let's look at it again. Has anyone talked about CFTs for the F35?

      For some reason, we are so stuck with the F-35 and it's like the end of the world if anyone even mentions changing their "precious"....just look at the "teen" series, how many designs were suggested and even some flown? Remember the F-16XL? Even better, look what the Russians did with the Flanker and turned it into a twin seater bomber...why can't we even look at new evolved designs of the F35? Or take the tech that works on the F35 and put in into a new air-frame?

    4. "That's not even remotely correct, at least not for the Navy which needs a very, very long range fighter and strike aircraft."

      You are aware that the F-35C carries more internal fuel than the F-14 and A-6 while having an empty weight between the two, right? I fear that the "very, very long range fighter and strike aircraft" that you seem to contemplate are going to have us back in F-111B and RA-5C territory in terms of size. Would we have enough aircraft of that size on deck in the Pacific?

    5. "F35D? WHY NOT A F35E? or A FB-35?"

      That's a separate issue from the diversity premise in this post. Minor variations on the F-35 to make it a slightly different/better F-35 are fine but are not the diversity that I'm suggesting.

      The diversity I'm suggesting is alternative airframe/aircraft that are completely different. How about a delta wing aircraft? How about a very large size, long range fighter? How about any of the possibilities I mentioned in the post? Those would be truly different aircraft, not minor variations of the same aircraft.

      Continued minor variations and incremental improvements on the WWII F4F Wildcat might have given us the Hellcat (they did!) but they wouldn't have given us the P-47, P-51, the twin tail P-38 Lightning, and so on.

    6. Time to bring back the F-16XL! Also, and I know this would have flown in the face of the very core of the JSF program, I wish the Navy or Air Force had let Boeing keep developing the X-32. Without the VTOL handicap it would have been a very solid plane, and those handicaps could easily be scrubbed from the design since they were largely tacked on as afterthoughts (unlike the F-35 which had its Yak-141 DNA baked in from the beginning). Big nose? Gone because they only needed it that big to feed the engine while in a hover.

      But give Boeing 5 more years to sort out that composite wing and the Pelikan tail and you are talking about a very capable air frame. If they could have avoided the ALIS and DAS nightmares I bet it would be operational already.

    7. The point of the post was not about any specific aircraft but about having a diverse range of aircraft available.

      If you're suggesting this as one type then that's fine. If you're suggesting that this is the aircraft we should be producing instead of the F-35, then that completely misses the point. I'm just not sure which you're doing.

    8. I definitely wasnt suggesting it over the F-35. I was suggesting an in-addition-too development. A hedge against the F-35 falling totally on its face, which is sort of exactly what you are suggesting?

      Allowing the X-32 to continue development wouldnt have cost more than 10 billion, so basically like a month of the F-35 program.

      My main point was just that we have so many aborted concepts kicking around in the recent past that were never allowed to really reach their full potential. They are almost all low-risk (and mostly low cost) and high-reward. How awesome would it be to have squadrons of long-range, supercruising F-16XLs patrolling Europe capable of carrying as many missiles as an F-15?

    9. "My main point was just that we have so many aborted concepts kicking around in the recent past ... How awesome would it be to have squadrons of long-range, supercruising F-16XLs patrolling Europe capable of carrying as many missiles as an F-15?"

      Well, this is still missing the point. We want a diverse range of FIRST LINE aircraft, not upgraded second line aircraft. That said, there's nothing wrong with upgrading second line aircraft until more diverse first line aircraft come along. There's also nothing wrong with arming allies with upgraded second line aircraft if they're cheap enough to buy in bulk.

    10. See my comments on the X-32..... why is this like pulling teeth? Also, pretty sure we are currently using the F-16 as a first line fighter, and will continue to be for at least another 10 years. You arent gonna get a diverse top-tier if you dont have an (even more) diverse second-tier anyway either.

      If the F-20 had been the success it deserved to be, Northrop would have been in much better shape for the ATF program. Maybe they would have even tried building and testing their navalized F-23 design on their own regardless of the Navy shutting down NATF.

    11. You're not getting it. Maximizing second line aircraft is fine for filling in gaps and providing numbers, especially for allies. What the post is talking about is a diverse range of first line aircraft. Let's face it, the F-18/15/16, no matter how upgraded, are legacy aircraft at this point, not first line aircraft. We need to develop multiple types of first line aircraft as I described in the post.

      That the F-16 is still acting as a first line aircraft simply highlights how bad the impact of the runaway F-35 program is. The F-16 should have been replaced already although a vigorous upgrade program would be valuable for equipping our allies so that they could afford greater numbers of aircraft that could operate in the secondary role.

      You're focused, for some reason, on legacy aircraft. I'm focused on a diverse range of future aircraft since we've bungled the current situation so badly.

    12. Texas, forget about the F-20 if they play it smart this will this is the new F-20 ! If you did not know that this jet was intended as a trainer you would say its a modern light fighter

  14. Lock-Mart worked with South Korea to produce the FA-50 Golden Eagle. That's a plane I think we should look at buying. L-M is only pushing the trainer variant here in the US. They don't want to cut into sales of expensive F35.


    1. They wont give the T-X to LM because that would mean putting Boeing out of the fighter business, besides Boeing teamed up with Saab for they're jet and surely the Swedes understand making lightweight maneuverable jets .

  15. We need fighters that enable pilots to have the undisputed advantage of reaction time, acceleration, and maneuverability. We also need simplicity of design, manufacturing, operation, and maintenance. So far, it seems that we handicap ourselves by designing aircraft that are always more complex.

    1. As a generic statement that's fine. Who could argue with it? Now, do you have anything specific and concrete to offer? Some way to accomplish what you're calling for? An example of the type of aircraft you're calling for?

      Don't you kind of suspect that Russia and China also want aircraft that give them the "undisputed advantage of reaction time, acceleration, and maneuverability"? How do you propose we accomplish this in a way the Russia and China can't?

      Do you understand what I'm saying? Your statement is fine but it's so generic as to not be helpful. Essentially, you said we want better aircraft. Well, of course we do but how do we do it?

  16. All aircraft design and procurement since the end of the Cold War (real, conventional war...) has been to choose a multi-mission platform to reduce T/M/S and "downsize" in order to and build a 50 state, 30 nation, "jobs program" vehicles. Nothing more, nothing less... As a result, we and our allies are now drones (pun intended) to this process and this status quo. It permeates down to each individual service and their requirements. Any counter idea to this existing business model is destroyed and pulled out at the roots, no matter how efficient, economic or "capable". I saw it since before the 1990's and through today at the service level with the Hornet Mafia/Sharia and now with the F-35 Monster we all lament...

    IMO, there's no going back. They wouldn't know how or even where to begin.


  17. Now that one looks good at least ;D

  18. "IMO, there's no going back. They wouldn't know how or even where to begin."

    That's why I'd hand off small projects to the new aerospace companies like Space X or Blue Origin. Sure, you'd likely get some clunkers, but given the speed with which they've gotten reusable, re-landable boosters and heavy lift vehicles going I bet you it wouldn't be too long before they could make a credible boyd like plane. Given a bit longer they could make a long range F-14 type....

    Maybe it wouldn't work. But it sure as hell would be worth a try.


  19. Jim WhallFebruary 28, 2018 at 5:36 AM

    "Let's face it, the F-18/15/16, no matter how upgraded, are legacy aircraft at this point"

    Honest, dumb question. Is the F-16, especially if they went with the bigger engine and AESA, really non competitive? What could we do to make a better light (or medium, really) weight fighter that is brand new?

    The F-16 was always known for maneuverability. Would it really be at that much of a disadvantage to a Mig or SU-27?

    1. " Is the F-16, ... really non competitive?"

      The post is about diverse front line aircraft - that's stealth aircraft like the F-35/22, J-20/31, Su-57 and the like. So, to answer your question, the F-16 is not competitive with those aircraft and would not be the kind of alternative aircraft that the post is talking about.

      Now, another aspect of your question, although you didn't word it this way, is whether the F-16 is still useful. Yes, it's still useful in support roles. It can provide both air superiority and ground attack in scenarios where front line aircraft are not likely to be present - no country has thousands of stealth aircraft yet and the limited numbers can't be everywhere. The F-16 can be effective against other aircraft of its generation like the older MiGs and Sukhois.

      What is the biggest problem with the F-16? It's stealth. While stealth may no longer provide the mega advantage it once did, it is still the minimum price for admittance into today's aerial battlefield. Without stealth, you're just a big target waiting to be picked off. An F-16 simply can't beat an F-22 (or any of the Chinese or Russian versions) or even a properly flown F-35 because it doesn't have any stealth. All the engine power, weapons, and radar in the world can't overcome the fact that the enemy stealth aircraft can see you and you can't see it until it's too late.

      Stealth is the price of admission to the battlefield and the F-16 hasn't got the ticket. To varying degrees, the same holds for the F-15 and F-18.

      So, the F-16 has a useful role to play but it's not as a front line aircraft.

      Back to the post. We want a diverse range of front line aircraft that can compete with Russian and Chinese front line stealth aircraft. At the moment, the Navy has one - the F-35 and that's not a great one and is likely to come up short at which point the Navy will have no alternative to turn to - the point of the post.

    2. Take a conceptual F-16 and build it as a stealth version with reduced radar signature, do something to reduce the IR signature (one big engine sticking out the back is an IR beacon), give it a good radar, give it an IRST, build in a modest internal weapons bay and now you've got a front line "F-16" that would qualify as a diverse alternative per the post. You can see, though, that it's not possible to get there by doing upgrades to the existing F-16.

    3. Okay. That makes sense then. I was comparing the F-16 to the SU-27; and while the SU-27 is a good plane I don't think it's head and shoulders above the F-16. And The F-16 I think is very competitive with the MiG 29.

      But your premise is that without stealth older generations of aircraft are at great risk. I can see that.

      I wanted to go into a long diatribe about stealth; but I'll avoid that to stay on topic. :-) My hope was that if we weren't talking about stealth as the game entry, we could keep the F-16's and F-35's and F-15's to have more diversity out there in the short or even mid term while we try to re-build the industrial and philosophical infrastructure of multiple aircraft and more diversity.

    4. "do something to reduce the IR signature (one big engine sticking out the back is an IR beacon)"

      There's not much you can do about that in a fighter aircraft. The F-35 does about as much as you can in this regard. If you look at the turkey feathers, you'll notice the vents for the bleed air that helps cool the nozzle. Supplying this cooling air, however, effectively increases the aircraft's drag and reduces the motors efficiency. The boom-mounted stabilators (a trait shared with the F-22), in addition to extending the moment arm, also hide the nozzle to a degree.

      Fighter motors need high specific thrust. Cooling the core exhaust gasses robs the motor of thrust. The only way to counteract this effect is to increase the bypass ratio (move a greater mass to counter the lower exhaust velocity), but that means a heavier and draggier engine for the same thrust.

      "give it a good radar, give it an IRST, build in a modest internal weapons bay and now you've got a front line "F-16" that would qualify as a diverse alternative per the post."

      That sounds a lot like an F-35. How would you modify the F-16 to accommodate a larger radar? Where would you put the weapons bays? Where would you put the fuel needed to achieve the same range due to the larger radar, IRST, and weapons bays. How would you lift the weight of the radar, IRST, weapons bays, and additional fuel without sacrificing too much speed, acceleration, and maneuverability?

      You'll find that you arrive at an aircraft of about the same size and weight of the F-35. The one area that might yield a few different results is the wing planform, but each is a compromise of many factors. In my view the F-35's wing is actually a pretty good compromise given the realities of the thrust available to an aircraft of the F-35's size, weight, and mission using existing technology.

      I question whether the Navy needs a single-engine interceptor/Boyd fighter when you consider that Burkes with SM-6 missiles will also be lurking near the carriers.

    5. "we could keep the F-16's and F-35's and F-15's to have more diversity out there in the short or even mid term while we try to re-build the industrial "

      Absolutely. The F-15/16/18 with upgrades can help round out numbers, fill gaps, equip allies with tight budgets, and handle lower threat scenarios and peacetime work.

      Also, when the China war starts, both sides will lose their first line aircraft quickly as they battle head to head. When both side's first line aircraft are depleted we'll be very happy to have good second line aircraft like the F-15/16/18 that can beat their second line aircraft so, yes, there is an important role for the legacy aircraft. But, they are not the alternatives discussed in the post.

    6. Caliber-Curious, you missed just about everything on that one! I'll explain.

      "There's not much you can do about that" [IR]

      You say that and then you go on to describe exactly how you can do much about it! Simplistically, you bury the exhaust in/under the fuselage along with the other measures you describe so, yes, there is much you can do! The F-22 does a good job of this and still maintains good performance. A single engine version would be the same, just scaled down.

      Regarding the rest of your comment, you've completely missed the key aspect which is the conceptual F-16 is intended to be (as it is now) the austere, low end, cheap (on a relative basis!) fighter. It's not the F-22. It's not the dominate the entire aerial battlefield by itself aircraft.

      It is not going to result in an F-35 by another name. The F-35 is a non-optimized (for any role) aircraft that is a collection of compromises driven in large measure by the -B model. It attempts to use magic sensor fusion, telepathic helmets, unbounded software, etc. and it attempts to be all things (EW, ISR, A2A, A2G, mini-AWACS, network node, etc.).

      The conceptual new F-16 would remain true to the concept. A good radar (not the world's most powerful, biggest, gazillion function radar), an IRST, a modest weapons bay (probably centerline but maybe paired along each side of the fuselage - I leave that to the aeronautical engineers), and we're done. It is intended to be a short range, home defense, pure fighter (a Boyd). It doesn't need huge amounts of fuel. It would be lightweight, thus improving its maneuverability, acceleration, speed, etc. It doesn't need to supercruise at Mach 23. It's just an F-16 redesigned to be stealthy! It's pretty simple.

      You're trying to turn it into some kind of improved F-22/35. That's not what an F-16 is now or what a redesigned version would be.

      It would be about as far from an F-35 as could be. It would be single purpose (short range A2A), optimized for that purpose, simple, light weight, and deadly - everything the F-35 is not.

      As far as whether the Navy needs an F-16, who, other than you, even suggested that it does? I'm puzzled why you would even suggest that Navy needs an F-16. What use do you see for a navalized F-16? Frankly, I don't see any but maybe you have something in mind?

    7. The low end of the mix really needs to be unmanned. There are just too many advantages.

      The Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) program is an example. It aims to build a reusable UCAV that is cheap enough to lose (aiming for $2-3M each). If some are shot down, no big deal. If you want to send them on suicide missions, no big deal.

      The concept of operations side steps the autonomy problem by envisioning a manned/unmanned "loyal wingman" pairing, with a manned aircraft acting as a controller for several LCAATs.

      In theory, if arrayed out in front of manned aircraft, systems like LCAAT can absorb the brunt of combat losses.

    8. "The concept of operations side steps the autonomy problem by envisioning a manned/unmanned "loyal wingman" pairing,"

      This sounds amazing on paper. Now, does it really seem practical to you?

      -Do you really believe that a single pilot is going to be able to control several UAVs that don't have a high degree of autonomy (by your statement) while simultaneously maintaining his own situational awareness, maneuvering aggressively, and watching out for threats to his own aircraft? For comparison and consideration, we currently have a single remote operator for each UAV but we'll somehow be able to ask a pilot in combat to not only fly his own plane but control several others? Does that really seem believable?

      -If we're going to sidestep the autonomy problem, that implies that the UAVs won't have any great degree of autonomy and certainly won't be full featured combat UAVs. So, what will they do? They certainly won't be capable of shooting down a manned aircraft. They could act as decoys, I guess, and soak up enemy missiles but at $2M - $3M each (and the cost is always higher!), that gets pretty expensive, pretty quickly.

      -Do you really believe that we can build an unmanned aircraft that is capable of successfully fighting a manned enemy aircraft for only $2M - $3M? It costs us $100M plus to build an F-35 that we think will only have a 50:50 chance against peer enemy aircraft but you think a $3M UAV will succeed? Does that really seem believable to you?

      What do you think the loss rate among these marginally autonomous UAVs will be in combat? 90%? Have you run the arithmetic on the cost of the losses, even using your low end cost estimate? Now, like all military cost projections, double it and run the math again.

      You need to think this stuff through logically and analytically before you buy into the sales brochure.

      Give me any reason at all to believe any of this is possible.

    9. Yes, it does seem practical to me. Far more practical than developing multiple, costly, manned fighter programs.

      $2-3M may be the low-ball price. But even $5-10M is still an order of magnitude cheaper than a $100+M F-35.

      Yes, I do think they can succeed. Lanchester's Square Law says numbers matter more than individual aircraft capability. We need an asymmetric counter to the Chinese hordes you mentioned. This is really the only way to counter them without insane budget increases.

      I think you overestimate what's needed to shoot down a manned aircraft. After all, SAMs do it all the time. They just need a guiding hand to manage their employment, steer them near the target, and get them into employment range for their missiles. Not talking about Red Baron-style air combat. Missiles like AIM-9X don't even require the aircraft to be pointed at the target.

      It would be nice if we had two-seat fighters to act as managers, but I think we can make it user-friendly enough for one pilot to manage multiple LCAATs. Pilots wouldn't fly the UAVs as much as "manage" them.

      For example, a command might be "assume a line-abreast formation, X miles away at Y altitude, maintaining a absolute bearing of Z degrees to the manned aircraft, passively searching with IRST and ECM." "When targets are detected, accelerate and adjust course to intercept." "Launch missiles when within range."

      If a commercial company can launch, separate and then simultaneously land a pair of booster rockets tail first with complete autonomy, I think we can manage what I described above.

    10. "Give me any reason at all to believe any of this is possible."

      "Yes, it does seem practical to me."

      Well, you really didn't give me any data or logic or concrete reason to believe that your concept would work other than you 'think' it would. I gave you several logical reasons why it wouldn't.

      Well, let's look at what you did describe, which was a fantasy vision of operation. I mean 'fantasy' as in, it doesn't yet exist.

      Your hypothetical guidance command assumes several things.

      1. It assumes that the command aircraft won't maneuver or displace because the command was for drones to guide relative to the command aircraft. So, you're assuming that the enemy is going to leave the command aircraft alone and that it won't have to fight for its life.

      2. You're implicitly assuming that the line of drones are somehow going to have enough intelligence not to all lock onto the first visible target and all fire at a single target? We have difficulty today doing that kind of target allocation. For a bunch of simple, cheap drones to accomplish that degree of sophisticated group target allocation is optimistic in the extreme. Recall that the LCS NLOS weapon was supposed to do exactly that and completely failed.

      3. You're implicitly assuming that these simple, cheap drones will be utterly unaffected by decoys, jamming, electronic warfare, chaff, flares, etc. and will, instead, be able to unerringly pick out real targets. Again, our very best manned aircraft have difficulty doing that.

      4. You're assuming that a simple IRST is going to be able to find small, fast, maneuvering targets at sufficient range and amid flares and decoys to launch their own missiles without being first destroyed and without any manned interpretation.

      5. You're assuming that one pilot can fly his own aircraft in enemy air space, maintain situational awareness, fight his own battle for survival, monitor inputs from the drones, manage the drones, maintain comms with friendly forces, sort out potential targets in an ECM environment to direct the drones towards, and monitor the overall battle all by himself. That is one impressive pilot - better than any pilot we have today by a long shot! You know we do exactly that today with the E-2 Hawkeye which monitors the battle, directs drones (manned fighters), sorts targets, maintains situational awareness, maintains comms, etc.? Of course it takes a dedicated aircraft with a crew of several to do it but you think a single pilot will be able to duplicate that??? Are you sure you aren't engaged in wishful thinking.

      6. You're assuming that, once released, these drones aren't going to inadvertently target friendly aircraft? That no friendly aircraft are going to be come intermixed with enemy aircraft and drones in the battlefield? Friendly fire has always been a problem in aerial combat.

      I can go on but you get the idea. I repeat, give me a single reason why this would work beyond that you wish it would. Give some data point, some similar capability that actually exists, some believable logic ... anything.

      Now, if you want to simply say that this is a future capability that we should work towards while solving all the problems that I mentioned, that's fine. I don't see it happening in any foreseeable time frame but as a research type effort, sure, why not.

    11. "I think you overestimate what's needed to shoot down a manned aircraft."

      I hate this type of statement. You offer no data whatsoever to support it. Well, I can counter your statement by saying I think you underestimate what's needed to shoot down a manned aircraft. Now we're even, and since I said it last, I win! How's that for a brilliant, logical argument?

      If you're going to make a definitive statement, support it. This blog is all about data and logic not unsupported feelings.

      Here's the actual data. The success rate of surface to air missiles against manned aircraft across multiple conflicts, multiple eras, and multiple aircraft and missile systems is between 1% and 25%. Against manned, maneuvering targets the success rate is more on the order of 5% - 15%. That's not opinion, that's data and I've presented the data in past posts. Peruse the archives.

      More data. The probability of kill (pK) in A2A combat for various missiles is poor. The AIM-7 Sparrow had a pK of 8%-10% in Vietnam. Initial Sidewinder pK was 15%. Soviet Atoll was 12%. The 1973 Arab-Israeli war saw the complete failure of the Sparrow. Falklands Harriers had a 73% pK against bomb-laden, non-maneuvering targets (essentially drone target exercises). Cold War era BVR radar guided missile shots had a 6% pK. AIM-120 in Kosovo had a pK of 38%. In Desert Storm, AIM-7 had a pK of 27%. US Navy F-14s and F-18s fired 21 AIM-7s for one kill (Pk 5%), and 38 AIM-9s for two kills (Pk 5%). And on and on.

      Data from Defense Issues website

      The data is quite clear that pK's against resisting aircraft are very low (5-20% or so) and this is with manned aircraft guided by highly trained pilots maneuvering to put their weapons in the best possible position for success. Your concept of 'launch when in range' ignores any attempt to maneuver to achieve an advantageous launch position so the success rate will be significantly lower. You're confining your "shots" to front aspect which has the lowest IR target susceptibility. What pK do you think you'll achieve?

      Am I overestimating what's needed to shoot down a manned aircraft? If anything, I'm underestimating it!

      If you want to continue the discussion, I think you need to do some historical research and come up to speed on actual A2A missile performance.

      Interesting, isn't it, the difference between manufacturer's claims for missile effectiveness and actual performance? Manufacturers claim 90+% pK while history proves 5-20%.

    12. So instead, you're proposing to spend $30-50 billion each for your six new types of aircraft just on design and development. And then $100M or more for each aircraft. Probably a lot more because you won't have economies of scale on any of the six new types (except for maybe the export fighter).

      You could buy a LOT of low cost drones for all of that money. Like at least an order of magnitude more.

      Numbers matter. A single bee probably won't kill you. Dozens might.

      I'm fine with a lower Pk. We'll make up for it with a larger number of attempts.

      Assume a 5% Pk per shot, two shots per LCAAT. The mean number of shots needed for success would be (1-.05)/.05 = 19, or 10 aircraft.

      Assume a 20% PK per shot for a manned aircraft, with six shots per aircraft. The mean number of shots needed for a success would be (1-.2)/.2 = 4, or 1 aircraft (with two shots remaining).

      So even with 1/4th the probability of success, if the LCAAT costs $5M per unit and the manned fighter costs $100M per unit, the LCAAT would have a 2:1 cost advantage ($50M vs $100M). If LCAAT costs $10M, there would be cost parity.

      Obviously this is overly simplistic. I'm just trying to show that numbers can overcome lower probabilities of success. Looking at it from a salvo competition analysis would show other benefits.

      I get it, you're not a believer. But we NEED to make this work if we have any hope of competing on numbers.

      A "diversity" of manned aircraft won't make that happen. You'll just get fewer aircraft overall because dollars will be siphoned off for each aircraft's development costs and none will achieve any economies of scale. Plus each will have separate spares, support and training pipelines, driving up overall life cycle costs.

      It worked in WWII when aircraft were much simpler and cheaper to design and build. Plus there was a war on, so the purse strings were loose. It won't work now. At least not with manned aircraft.

    13. "spend $30-50 billion each for your six new types of aircraft just on design and development. And then $100M or more for each aircraft."

      Absolutely not. Go back and read the post about how to build a better aircraft (see, How To Build A Better Aircraft)

      We've butchered procurement programs for so long that we've come to think it's normal. It's not. It's never been. Look at the F-14 history for an idea of what's possible and even that was a flawed example because it made use of non-existent tech.

      We're looking at a realistic cost of around $50M per aircraft and a bare fraction of the developmental costs BECAUSE THE TECHNOLOGY ALREADY EXISTS.

      Moving on. Your drone cost estimate is ridiculous. Cite me any example of an existing drone that comes anywhere near being able to carry two A2A missiles, has a range of several hundred miles, can conduct air combat maneuvers, carries advanced sensors, has the capability to return and land, can detect enemy aircraft at long range, and has advanced communications gear. You're describing a Tomahawk or Standard missile on steroids. Given their cost, the cost for such a drone would likely be in the $20M-$50M range. If you want to create near-combat aircraft, you're going to pay near-combat aircraft prices.

      Realistically, a pK of 5% is probably overly optimistic for missiles that are fired from a front aspect against maneuvering aircraft with ECM, decoys, and flares and a history of poor pK to begin with.

      With all that said, if you're determined to hang on to your fantasy, you're welcome to it. There's nothing more to be gained from this!

  20. And another thing that need diversification is the air to air missile portfolio in the US

    Look at china progress


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