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The F-35: Mediocre at Everything and Expensive as Hell


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#1 LFC

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Posted 17 September 2015 - 02:14 PM

America's military-industrial complex has become so dysfunctional that it no longer seems to be able to actually even build effective weapons anymore. The F-35 was supposed to be incredibly advanced, radar avoiding, top-notch at dogfighting, excellent at bombing, and on and on and on. What we got was an OK plane for a big price. The change in messaging, which gushed about its dogfighting capability until very recently, is stark.

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But by mid-2015, evidence was mounting that the heavy, complex Joint Strike Fighter—which the Pentagon expects to attack targets on the ground and in the air with equal aplomb—can’t turn or accelerate fast enough to win in a dogfight against current fighters, to say nothing of future fighters that might be even more maneuverable.

In late June, this reporter and his team at the blog War Is Boring obtained an internal U.S. government memo describing a trial dogfight between an F-35 test plane and an F-16, one of the older jets the F-35 is replacing in Air Force squadrons. “The F-35 was at a distinct energy disadvantage,” the F-35 test pilot wrote in a scathing, five-page brief after losing multiple mock dogfights against the F-16 pilot.

To close observers of the Joint Strike Fighter’s 20-year-long development, the dogfight report came as no surprise. The F-35’s variants were meant to replace about 90% of America’s tactical air fleet. That meant taking on a whole lot of jobs. In trying to do everything—fighting in the air, making bombing runs, launching from aircraft carriers and even taking off vertically from small assault ships while also avoiding enemy radars—the F-35 combines a lot of contradictory design elements.

It needs to fly slow for bombing missions but fast for aerial fighting, dictating a wing design that’s an unhappy compromise between straight and sleek.

It needs to haul lots of weapons for a wide range of missions but must also carry its munitions in an internal bomb bay in order to avoid creating a huge radar signature. That means a fat fuselage that’s big enough for a bomb bay, but which adds drag and slows down the plane.

Likewise, taking off vertically demands a downward-blasting second motor, but that motor is heavy and only adds to the F-35’s bulk.

And let’s not even get into the problems with the F-35’s sensor array, its weapons, or its susceptibility to being found by advanced radar.

Confronted with the growing awareness of the Joint Strike Fighter’s built-in limitations, this summer the Air Force and Lockheed began tweaking their public statements about the F-35.

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#2 Progressive whisperer

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Posted 17 September 2015 - 02:19 PM

Maybe we need to call it like it is, welfare for the Military Industrial Establishment.

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#3 Traveler

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Posted 17 September 2015 - 02:23 PM

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And let’s not even get into the problems with the F-35’s sensor array, its weapons, or its susceptibility to being found by advanced radar.

I have been following this at the airforce blogs for some time. Your excerpts pretty well portray the problems, and why they are what they are. But this bit about sensors, weapons and radar XC are surprising. The US is unmatched in all of these categories, so this is news to me. The reason for the poor dogfighting is that the geniuses in charge of procurement think that head to head dogfighting is a thing of the past, since long range AMRAAM missiles will take out the enemy. Problem is, the enemy (SU-35 etc.) carry up to 10 such items, while the F-35 has only 4. Big problem. Better not mothball those f-16s too fast.

ETA: The sensor array is missing some major functions. This is a real clusterfuck. Why they dont just rely on warthogs for close air support missions is beyond me. For some reason, the MIC keeps trying to get rid of the most feared and effective CAS weapon ever created, to come up with this boondoogle. What Don said.
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#4 Progressive whisperer

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Posted 17 September 2015 - 02:40 PM

View PostTraveler, on 17 September 2015 - 02:23 PM, said:



I have been following this at the airforce blogs for some time. Your excerpts pretty well portray the problems, and why they are what they are. But this bit about sensors, weapons and radar XC are surprising. The US is unmatched in all of these categories, so this is news to me. The reason for the poor dogfighting is that the geniuses in charge of procurement think that head to head dogfighting is a thing of the past, since long range AMRAAM missiles will take out the enemy. Problem is, the enemy (SU-35 etc.) carry up to 10 such items, while the F-35 has only 4. Big problem. Better not mothball those f-16s too fast.

ETA: The sensor array is missing some major functions. This is a real clusterfuck. Why they dont just rely on warthogs for close air support missions is beyond me. For some reason, the MIC keeps trying to get rid of the most feared and effective CAS weapon ever created, to come up with this boondoogle. What Don said.

There was a good sub-thread about this here:
http://www.lawyersgu...-an-interceptor

According to a couple of posters (including Major Kong, who seems to be a recent military pilot) the A-10 would not survive on the battlefield against modern AA defenses although it works well enough against third world military opponents.

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#5 HockeyDon

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Posted 17 September 2015 - 02:46 PM

Well, it's 40 years old. I'd bet if given the chance a newly designed CAS-specific A-10-like bird could do better than the bloated project and be better against modern AA.
Well, fuck.

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#6 Traveler

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Posted 17 September 2015 - 04:32 PM

Don, great link. I didn't know that lawyers knew CAS.

Another perspective from the previous link. Guy knows his stuff. Not a fan of the F-35, but not a total opponent either.
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#7 HockeyDon

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Posted 17 September 2015 - 07:56 PM

Is PW's name Don, too?

That would make for an unusually high percentage of TRS regulars in comparison to the general population.
Well, fuck.

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#8 Progressive whisperer

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Posted 17 September 2015 - 08:09 PM

View PostHockeyDon, on 17 September 2015 - 07:56 PM, said:

Is PW's name Don, too?

That would make for an unusually high percentage of TRS regulars in comparison to the general population.

No, my name isn't Don.

I just glossed over Traveler's use of the name.
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#9 Traveler

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Posted 18 September 2015 - 07:48 AM

PW/Don, sorry about the misattribution.
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#10 HockeyDon

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Posted 18 September 2015 - 09:00 AM

It's ok. Alcohol deprivation?
Well, fuck.

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#11 Traveler

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Posted 18 September 2015 - 09:22 AM

If it's before 5:00, you can be sure of that....
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#12 andydp

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Posted 18 September 2015 - 09:34 AM

View PostProgressive whisperer, on 17 September 2015 - 02:40 PM, said:

There was a good sub-thread about this here:
http://www.lawyersgu...-an-interceptor

According to a couple of posters (including Major Kong, who seems to be a recent military pilot) the A-10 would not survive on the battlefield against modern AA defenses although it works well enough against third world military opponents.

I thought the Star Wars analyses were very good...

Just to be serious for a second: "Joint anything" has not worked for the Military in many years. Back in the 60's during the McNamara years they tried to come up with a fighter the USAF and the USN could use. It never worked to expectations. Navy carrier planes must have different capabilites than USAF planes. As an example: USAF planes do not need a tail hook for grabbing the arrensing wires; they do use drogue chutes to slow down
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#13 AnBr

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Posted 18 September 2015 - 02:50 PM

View PostTraveler, on 18 September 2015 - 09:22 AM, said:

If it's before 5:00, you can be sure of that....

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#14 LFC

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Posted 04 February 2016 - 05:15 PM

More on what seems to be a hefty list of flaws now that the F-35 is starting to be built. What a cluster-f***.

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Perhaps the most damning section of the report is an investigation into the F-35’s eject system. Engineers found that pilots who weighed less than 136 pounds (62 kilos) risked being killed by it.

“Testing showed that the ejection seat rotates backwards after ejection. This results in the pilot’s neck becoming extended, as the head moves behind the shoulders in a ‘chin up’ position,” the report states.

It also revealed that one version of the stealth fighter made for the Marine Corps found “deficiencies and limited combat capability.”

And an Air Force variant had “inherited deficiencies,” the report states, noting that the issues could delay the Air Force F-35’s release date past the scheduled year-end deadline.

But the guy in charge of the program is Mr. Sunshine. Excuse me, General Sunshine.

Quote

Following the document’s release on Monday, Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, who is the F-35 program’s executive officer, released an upbeat statement saying the report contained “no surprises.”

“All of the issues mentioned are well-known to (us), the US services, international partners and our industry team,” he said, adding that the report “points out the progress being made by the program.”

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#15 Progressive whisperer

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Posted 04 February 2016 - 05:21 PM

View PostLFC, on 04 February 2016 - 05:15 PM, said:

More on what seems to be a hefty list of flaws now that the F-35 is starting to be built. What a cluster-f***.



But the guy in charge of the program is Mr. Sunshine. Excuse me, General Sunshine.

Ok, but are there pilots, even women pilots, who weigh less than 136 lbs?

Everything I've read is that this is a disaster project. OTOH, I remember when we heard similar disaster stories about other systems that eventually performed well (F111 in the Vietnam era, M60 series tanks in the 1973 Arab Israeli war).

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#16 HockeyDon

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Posted 05 February 2016 - 06:41 AM

I've also read reports that the newest radar technology can detect current stealth capabilities in aircraft. That would be years in deployment, of course, but still not a great sign.

It reminds me of the EFV project I worked on some years ago. Constant budget overruns, bad technology decisions, etc.
Well, fuck.

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#17 gmat

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Posted 05 February 2016 - 07:35 AM

The MIlitary Industrial Congressional Complex is not dysfunctional, it is working perfectly, and the F-35 is an example of how perfectly. I know, you mean it's broken in that it provides less readiness, for more money, forever. But that is how it's designed.

Chuck Spinney has been writing about it for decades (including specifically the F-35), calls it the Defense Death Spiral. The guys in the Pentagon sell an idea to Congress (not even a prototype, just an idea); start production involving as many congressional districts as possible; then when the prototype doesn't work, and the unit costs go up and up, you can't pull the plug.

There's no force on earth that could reform it now. A second-term prez (or a first term prez who didn't want a second term) could take a whack at it, but I'm pretty sure they would kill him.

#18 MSheridan

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Posted 05 February 2016 - 06:05 PM

I've been mad as hell about the F-35 program since I first heard anything about it years and years ago (The Nation has been on top of this for a long time). Bad enough they cost a President's ransom each, but to pay $1.5 trillion (that's trillion with a T) over the course of the program's projected lifespan and get JUNK in return? Pitchfork time.

#19 D. C. Sessions

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Posted 05 February 2016 - 07:58 PM

View PostHockeyDon, on 17 September 2015 - 02:46 PM, said:

Well, it's 40 years old. I'd bet if given the chance a newly designed CAS-specific A-10-like bird could do better than the bloated project and be better against modern AA.

The guys who have to put their asses in the birds say that the Apache does pretty well -- pop up, shoot, get behind terrain. The A-10's big liability (and this was well understood back in 1991 when I was in Huntsville) is revenge shots. It's good at coming in unseen and doing the dirty deed, but that puts it over the enemy and now they know it's there.

The F-16, on the other hand, is a bird that nobody likes [1] and everybody fears -- it's cheap, it's fast, it out-turns everything in the air, it carries a serious warload. In actual combat exercises it embarrasses the F-15 on a regular basis. However, the F-15 is supposed to be our air superiority fighter (or was) and so the F-16 got designated a "bomber."

This is the shit that happens when the military gets re-tasked from fighting wars to supporting the industry that is supposed to be maintained so that someday if we really need to fight a war they can save us.

[1] Except the pilots who fly it.
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#20 Traveler

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Posted 06 February 2016 - 09:27 AM

Huge mistake to load too many different duties on one airframe. Especially VTOL. Thankfully, F-16s will still be around.
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