*edit* before this turns into a flame war, I guess the real question is what do we consider a decent or a lousy glider? An F-16 aint a sailplane for
However; the last firm pricing data I looked at on the F-16C.50 was for a multiyear 'line fill' contract for 200 jets in which the asking price was
21 million dollars each. Without targeting pods but with initial weapons/spares.
I think that is still a fair top dollar ceiling assessment for how much I would be willing to pay for any one jet which has such a critical
singlepoint failure mode as a single-engine systems trade.
Against which, I would be further willing to stipulate that if you put a glide kit on your 10nm IAM, turning it into a 25nm standoff weapon. And give
your jet a FLIR able to 'see' (image and rangefind) building sized targets at 20nm and an InSAR radar able to resolve 1-2m2 target separations from
perhaps as much as 60nm. All from 25-30,000ft cruise altitudes.
There is very little in the way of 'traditional' threats (AAA below 85mm and VSHORADS/MANPADS threats below 40,000ft total slant) -on the way to the
target- that can touch you.
And those which are so threatening are equal parts expensive and obvious as target signatures needing their own (massive) goalkeeper defense.
At which point you are left with the question of 'how much to stealth and how much to truckify'. IMO, the answer has less to do with the defenses
and more to do with the targets themselves.
70-80% of all wars are exactly like those being fought in AfG.
NOT high intensity ops against layered longrange SAMs or vectored intercept. But simply flying over your ground teams until something decides to bite
them. Only to swat it's nose with a rolled up PGM newspaper.
If, because you are a manned platform ,you lack the endurance to stick around and do this for 10-14hrs. And if your $$ per flying hour costs are
typically 'multirole' huge, (5-7,000 dollars for a single engine, 12-14 for a twin).
Your entire inventory is not equipped to handle that mission.
The most common one in all wars.
OTOH, for those rare occasions where you do face a new-Russia, EU or Chinese threat 'at full depth' or even those of a deep pocketed /client/ state
of their's. The number of aimpoints you can generate for like volumes of cash using one way cruise is just incredible.
2,200 missiles. For 1.6 billion dollars.
If you take 200 F-35 'of any or all flavors' into a theater and fly them at typical utilization rates of 1.5 sorties per day. While losing 1
percent of your mission force (2 aircraft) to the threat. It would take 200 airframes X1.5 sortie:days X2 bombs FOUR DAYS to expend a like number of
weapons impacts. While costing you the equivalent of 1/160th the total (256 billion dollars) program price of the JSF.
EVEN IF you had to replace the entire inventory of cruise.
Now take the losses up to 5-7% of your mission force or 10-14 airframes for an entire (Desert Storm like = 30 days) 'all air' campaign. And you
have just paid for your entire expenditure of cruise weapons in lost F-35s.
The question then becomes how likely it is that you will need to hit 2,200 aimpoints before the major weapons systems (S-300/400 and Aster as well as
MICA and Adder S2A conversions) are all taken out of the picture and you are more or less 'safe' so long as you fly above 15,000ft and Mach .85.
Even in an airliner.
If the number of cruise-struck (critical C2 and IADS) aimpoints is reduced to a lower level, say 200 aimpoints in the first day and 1,100 aimpoints
total throughout the war (so that you are only replacing half your inventory of missiles). The F-35 becomes an illogical risk-based investment, even
at the initial (2%) loss rate, because the cost to replace those two jets will buy you your ENTIRE first day of war ATO fragged target list.
After which, you can switch to 64,000 dollar GBU-39 Small Diameter Weapons. Off any and all platforms out there, including endurance UAVs.
Instead, what the JSF is really doing, through the export program as much as combat losses, is giving away LO for counterexploitation and further
proliferation. And that is simply not acceptable. Because it can come back at you (lone raider penetrates friendly IADS to wreak havoc on friendly
fields, packed wingtip to wingtip with jets on the ramp and bombs in open storage.).
There is no question that the F-16 has to be replaced, it was never half what it was advertised to be as a systems-enabled strike fighter and it's
combat radius is simply a generation behind where we need to be able to reach these days. The only question is why the USAF, knowing that the job it
fulfills for them is that of a precision A2G aircraft striking from largely (A2A) untouchable bases, chooses to promulgate the lie that this MASSIVE
investment in manned-LO 'cheap or no' is necessary at all.
I appreciate what the F-22 can do as a GSTF supporter, in those areas which the USN cannot reach from a sea-based VLS and as an escort to bombers
which replicate the weapons cabinet depth of DMPI's.
I do not and WILL NOT. /Ever/.
Accept the JSF as more than Georgia-Tex pork which the services are going along with solely to ensure that they can continue to put tacair pilots into
cockpits of aircraft that should and could be treated more as theater-strategic assets without them.