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
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. U.S.
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,
2016 at 6:50 AM,