posted on Jul, 29 2006 @ 04:13 AM
The F-35 (recently named the Lightning II) is due to enter service soon. While the F-22 is widely seen as the ultimate air-to-air machine, the F-35 is
described as a multi-role aircraft. How does the F-35 compare in the air-to-air mission against likely competitors like the French Rafale, the Swedish
Gripen, and the multi-national Eurofighter?
It sucks because it was always intended to. So as to not 'jeopardize' the two-tier (Hi-Lo) system that the F-15/16 and 14/18 pioneered. At a time
when the F-22 was still situated to be affordable based on economies of scale. Congress heard we didn't plan on selling it and immediately let loose
a communal squeal of outrage that has, ever since, put the Raptor into a diminishing-returns category of less-inventory:more-price guarantee of
Without enough F-22 around to BOTH suppress AND target A2A threats, the 'only two' BVR shot capabilities of the JSF looks like what it is: Too
OTOH, the world as a whole didn't anticipate the arrival of glide-kit IAMs with 17" CEPs flying in from 40-60nm, subsonic and 80 or more,
supersonic, either. With these ANY airframe is doing a 4:1 tradeup in terms of number of DMPIs vs. number of sorties. And so the USAF is looking,
but wait, let's get to that insanity in a moment...
Point Blank: An F-35 with external pylons and AIM-120D on them is a more survivable A2A machine than one with just the two internal AIM-120C5/6
weapons. Shooter Illuminator actually makes sense then and only gets better yet when you switch to turbine or ram propulsion. Unfortunately, it is
the _S2A_ threat (with it's much lower bandwidth and much higher power:area antenna ratios) which dominates today. And against that, you had better
not have ANY external stores lest the halfwave interactions breaks the whole airframe up into sub-dipole shapes and scatterers to a 150-300km range
The Rafale, Gripen, and Eurofighter are all in service or expected to enter service in 2006. All of them boast some of the best electronics suites
ever to appear in combat aircraft. All have top speeds approaching 2,000 kilometers an hour. All three aircraft carry excellent beyond-visual-range
missiles (like the Mica, AMRAAM, and Meteor). All are highly maneuverable. But will they be better than the F-35 in a fight?
They are not intended to. They are intended to win a NATO fight which means sub 300nm radii against the screaming hordes of Russian Red Rovering air.
None of which has LO. With decent BVRAAM leveraging, they will beat an Su-30 without (AIM-120C7 vs. R-27RE1). Without (AIM-120B vs. R-77AE), the
question comes down to avionics and missiletronics and still the Western designs should win. Where BVRAAM actually means LRAAM, the biggest question
is going to be how many, if any, of the early generation AESA (RBE2) or late Planar Array (PS-05/CAPTOR) weapons will support extended shot
engagements. STT maybe. TWS multishot, I doubt it. And so if the threat is coming at you with 20 aircraft and you have a CAP of all of 4 with 4
long lance AAMs, you may be screwed regardless.
It should also be noted that a lot of Low Observables is inherent to the manufacturing processes by which it is 'characterized' as individual
layered RF absorbers and substrates. Since this administration has seen fit to whore stealth technology to both Australia and the UK, you can bet
that 'radar invisibility' will be entirely dependent on how long it takes the technology to migrate across the EADS/Thales 'and beyond'.
You cannot trust anyone with a secret so operationally critical that it remains effective only if you keep it to and for yourself.
I would also like to state that if MICA was half what the French advertise it to be, they wouldn't be in such an all-fired rush to buy into Meteor
(242lb munition weight and 'excellent BVR' performance being a contradiction in terms). We OWN AMRAAM and any 'upgrade' to it, through
Euromissile. And Meteor is in a class by itself, if it works.
The answer, surprisingly, is probably not. The F-35 has one big advantage over these three fighters from Europe. Its radar signature is very small –
as is the case with the F-117 and F-22. Given that its speed is comparable to the European jets, and its AESA radar is at least as good as the
European systems, this "invisibility" is a decisive advantage. The best weapons in the world are useless if they cannot see their targets.
At 60-80nm, /all/ head-on radar signatures are tiny. The question becomes one of getting your nose pointed and your targets sorted _quickly_ while
the conditions for engagement (line in the sand) are met to let you _FIRE FIRST_.
After which, the side with the best pole control (INS/GPS on the missile means absolute certainty of shotclock and seeker cube overlay) and best
average MISSILE mach is going to get the first terminal decision. And the threat which has the best ASE suite and/or counterintercept options will
win that decision.
The F-35 will be able to see the Rafale, Gripen, and Eurofighter long before it can be seen itself. The first rule of air combat may be "speed is
life", but the second rule is "lose the sight, lose the fight". In the 21st century, sight includes radar. It is very likely that the only warning
the F-35 may give of its presence will be when its radar has locked on to one of the European fighters. By that point, the F-35 is already close to
launching its AMRAAMs.
I've never seen a ghillied sniper win a sprint.
At the same time, playing the damn-the-torpedoes game only works when nothing else impale you in your headlong rush.
Principally the S2A else.
OTOH, if you have turbine or ram propulsion, there is no real advantage to the 'running start' regardless. Because total threat areas, CAP orbit
restrictions, IFF requirements and own-radar detection distances vs. _any_ nose-on threat will all be more determinative than F-Pole kinematic
That said, there is no guarantee that the threat will remain static. If radar doesn't work, then a high gain optical system with folded optics may
do just as well, particularly if handed off from a longwave surface radar. If you can track the target -by any means- sufficient to put an angular
trace on it, you can run a tethered missile out on the bearing.
Alternatively, get rid of the intermediary bus vehicle and shift to all Turbo-SAM. We had 400 aircraft in Kosovo. 800 in GW-3. With seldom fewer
than 50-70 aircraft overhead for the majority of the 'still has an airforce' initial portions of the aircampaign. WHAT THEE HECK do you think a
four ship division of fighters is going to do against that? Even if all 16 of their BVR weapons strikes true before they are slaughtered.
Ans: Not a damn thing.
Yet, for 200 million dollars in jets and another quarter billion or so for 5 years worth of pilot training, spares, gas and weapons, you could put up
_450_ missiles alone. At one million dollars each. Given only that those 'SAMs' can in fact loiter. Be recovered and reused once or twice. Have
sufficient networking and seeker efficiencies to sweep a skirmish line forward through space. And are able to 'come 'round again' to _reattack_
after an initial miss.
You could afford to trade 50 missiles per day for 10-15 U.S. airframes and STILL COME OUT AHEAD.