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Is a truly low cost combat aircraft feasible

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posted on Feb, 12 2007 @ 09:45 PM
Xper11 - the aircraft you describe cannot exist. Performance costs money. If you want to buy an aircraft better than the F-22 and F-35 you had best be prepared to pay more.

Supercruise - this costs money. Developing and/or buying engines such as the F119 and the AL-41 is extremely expensive

Avionics - This costs more money. Creating good avionics and implementing things like HOTAS and JHMCS is extremely expensive

Stealth - This is the most expensive of all. This is split up into three subcategories:

LO shaping - requires fancy supercomputers, which cost money.
RAM - I dont know how it works, but it costs money.
For god's sakes PLASMA STEALTH - OMG. OMG. OMFG. Money. Money. Money. This costs a TON OF MONEY.

My point is if you want to implement all of these features, your aircraft wont be cheap.

posted on Feb, 12 2007 @ 09:58 PM

Originally posted by BlackWidow23
Xper11 - the aircraft you describe cannot exist. Performance costs money. If you want to buy an aircraft better than the F-22 and F-35 you had best be prepared to pay more.

If you read my post properly you would know that I excluded the F-22 and F-35 from the performance criteria

Stealth - This is the most expensive of all. This is split up into three subcategories:

Your missing the point there would a lot less focus on the likes of stealth hence the asking price would be less.

posted on Feb, 12 2007 @ 11:22 PM
Ahh yes. My bad, I thought it said INCLUDING not excluding

posted on Feb, 13 2007 @ 07:09 AM

All costings are highly contentious, but that's not really the point.

Actually that is the point or at least it was your chosen thread title.

The point really is that with F-22's costing $120M each even the US cannot afford to procure more than a handful, so is there an option or are we faced with having an air force which will continually shrink because of unit cost.

This is a lie based on continually defaulted program numbers and schedules lagged out until a self fulfilling prophecy of inverse scalar economics was created sufficient to cribkill the program before the F-22 could definitively PROVE 'we needed no other'.

If produced to the original 750 airframes asked, at roughly 60 airframes per year as planned, by the time the 339th F-22 was rolled out the paint barn doors, each Raptor would have cost around 74 million. Today it would undoubtedly be worse but I wouldn't be surprised if the flyway at least wasn't still around 93 million each.

Indeed, the whole reason the Raptor has failed as a force structure modernization/RMA transformer is because the fat pigs in Congress will not let the USAF buy an airframe they cannot sell for a profit overseas. And the USAF will not buy an airframe that endangers the majority of it's 'seated voters' as the cockpit mafia.

Losing just 20 or 30 aircraft in combat would constitute a signficant loss from the entire fleet. Faced with these numbers, the Chinese FC-1 not only looks like a great litle fighter, but it offers incredible value if you take it with the indigenous avionics package, engine, and ejection seat.

No, because it is effectively a 1960s fighter /design/ operating with 1980s avionics. An FC-1 would run out of gas or lift or control authority trying to come up to play with an F-22 at 60,000ft. Whether it's missiles could lockon from below that is equally questionable. I have yet to see an operational PL-12/Zhuk/BARS derivative on that airframe which means it's little more than an airframe looking for a weapons system so that it is no longer a testbed.

For example, I recall that only 12 years ago it was possible to purchase the very cost effective Chinese MiG-19 attack derivative (Nanchang A-5) for just $1M each, new from the factory with a support package. On the other hand, I have heard numbers like $8M quoted just for an engine, and $1M for an ejection seat.

This is an irony of Pakistan's long prior experience with the type and a 'lack of alternatives' after the nuke and before 9/11.

That said, cost is driven by MULTIPLE mission parameters as much as their specific technology drivers.

Helicopters don't have ejection seats even though they need them more than any other airframe. Pull the ejection seat and you pull not only the direct weight and cost but also the requirement for the aircraft to operate within Mk.1 ball distances of targets which a helicopter crew have to see to shoot.

How much for an engine from a small business class commuter airframe like a Citation II? If you strip the weight of the pilots and the energy factored maneuver performance in trade for simple altitude surety above the threat floor, (the sniper vs. infantryman effect on minimal movement vs. gross dynamic ones to avoid and deliver fires) the size of the engine vs. the speed of the airframe becomes more that of drag than thrust components.

_Having Done All This_, you now should have some money left over. Which you can throw at whatever 4 million dollar Gen-3/4 sensor thermal well and SLAR you feel is most appropriate to allowing you to _exploit_ your 'safe perch' to nail targets from over 30,000 that an F-16CG can only see from 10.

Throw in some dedicated standoff (AASM or Spike or SPICE) weapons with a reasonable (5m?) accuracies and variable airburst fuze for CAS or MEF for hardtarget penetration, and you have yourself a weapons platform that is _superior_ to a 'fighter' in the 90+% of the mission which a 'fighter' nominally flies.

As a ground attack aircraft.

So is it possible to build a capable fighter for say $5M using some type of revolutionary new moulded plastic/carbon fiber construction process for example or are more and more expensive fighters the only way forward.

Again, _define the mission first_. If you really mean 'fighter' then you are always going to be stuck spending as much as your designated Jones' say you have to to keep up with them. That said, even if you truly intend for this to be an AAW optimized mission platform, there are things you can do to slash the prices. NCW techniques require little more 'success against jamming' than a directional receiver listening for a 2 second synch-burst-verifiier code sending for target coordinates. After which, your 'fighter' can essentially be a smart-pylon programming an _optimized munition_ to kill the threat. Because if the munition fails, you have spent maybe half a million each for a run of 1,000 shots or half a billion dollars. And it's likely that, rather than buy a new missile, you can at least exploit some components of the existing airframe (motor, navigator, seeker, lethality package) in a followon. But if you don't /have/ 1,000 warshots, you can't defeat and Air Force that brings 400-700 airframes to theater, each requiring a minimum of 2 shots to (SSPK average) kill.

Better Bullet Theory ALWAYS wins because you can invest smaller amounts of money improving the kill effect rather than convincing some coward pilot that his superduper 1960s mod airframe really can stand tall to an F-16C.50 from the middle 90s which has those 4 AMRAAM compared to his two Alamo as BVR headshots.

From here, it's back to targeting and defeating either an AAM threat against the shooter. Or an ARM shot against the cueing radar. Which is where things get slightly more complicated because, while killing the Raptor may be grand and glorious, it is also largely pointless. Because the F-22 is going to represent less than 10% of the mission force total sorties. And it's combination of high performance and LO signature means that you will waste dozens of missiles trying to bag just one.

OTOH, if you space out 10-20 just-a-weapons-carrier-thank-you 'fighters', each armed with a 2-4 weapons that can kill an F-16 at 50-70nm, then the Viper force has to beat not only the threat air. But also the ground radars which allow them to volley-fire weapons into the airspace that these F-16s WILL occupy. i.e. They have doubled their mission:target loadout with secondary weapons and thus don't have any more pylons to play around with primary A2G hard target ordnance. So you have achieved your principal mission goal which is to _keep the enemy from bombing your homeland_ even if you lose every jet you send up.

Now, let's talk about that last. If there is no stabs/canard/vertical manever requirement. No supersonic 'big gulp' inlet. And no targeting aperture onboard your 'fighter' to the extent that it is ONLY designed to lift a fair payload weight (4X 500lb class AAM = 2,000lbs) up above the drag of an S2A launch. Why not leverage up the organic potential for LO by converting the shape to a simple deltoid and slathering at least SWAM (commercial TV grade absorber) onto the LE and TE surfaces? After all, the Mirage was a quite viable 'fighter' in it's day, was it not?

posted on Feb, 13 2007 @ 07:15 AM
NOW you have a platform which is not only able to out-pole the threat but which can theoretically flyup from bare bones road bases to preposition itself in the ground track of an incoming raid while denying initial detection and shoot down by your miraculous Raptor (flew right on by before you took off) and even your shotgun escort F-15/16 (looked and did not see) so that you have a survivable force /before/ missile launch. Which means you can further multiply the SSPK by waiting to optimize your pole. While allowing for the Americans to blow up as many MOBs as they well please without necessarily denying you the ability to continue to challenge their raids.

If you can thumb your nose at the Americans using dispersal tactics on even a semi-LO platform, vs. anyone else, the advantage becomes almost overwhelming, even using a conventional basing mode posture.

The key remains the better bullet and the targeting. If you can station enough Giraffe or similar (simple) mast-mount sector radars around the country. And backstop them with an SA-15 for at least half (say 30 of 60) while giving your missiles the range they need by lofting them above the draggiest (low altitude) segment of the envelope, you can essentially invest 20-25 million dollars in a radar and 10 million in an escort vs. 60-100 million dollars in a 'fighter' and thus /still have cash left over/ to afford the simple bus vehicle.

Similarly, if that bus vehicle fires a shot that has only one chance at a kill, then assuming a ridiculously high .5 SSPK; will still only result in 2 kills per missileer equipped with 4 such LRAAM. OTOH, if your missile is in fact turbine propelled and airplane control configuration enabled, to the extent that it can make TWO passes at a target, each with a .5 SSPK, then each bus vehicle gets a true 4 kills per jet and even if you can only put up 4 total airframes (2 standing CAP orbits), you are looking at as many as 16 kills vs. only 8. Either number is serious attrition to the attacker. But 16 from a 40 aircraft package equates to 40% attrition. And that is something even the Americans cannot sustain for more than a mission or two.

Nobody has ever won a defensive airwar, though many nations have lost offensive ones due to own-stupidity in applying tactics to overcome technical or strategic overmatch. Similarly, no 'fighter' is worth a damn for being able to fly the least useful of modern day missions simply to glorify the white scarf crowd as 'the few' who fail to protect the many. You have to be able to survive the _missile count_ onboard each threat while leveraging your own. And that has very little to do with absolute performance levels which are what cost so much in a 'fighter'.

Furthermore, you always have to consider the need to do 'operations other than war' as a justification beyond that of combat which is engaged in once every 10-20 years at most. Unfortunately, these _useful_ mission sets (resource mapping, EEZ monitoring, CSAR, insurgency/crime overwatch) have _even less_ to do with the assumptive realities of 'fighter' design and so you are in a position where, to adequately kill the most likely threat to your nation's sovereignity (commercial piracy or terrorist type insurgency actions) you must 'also buy' enough airframes to do a mission which _IS_ common. Further soaking the budget available to invest in economies of scale for any given platform.

Fortunately, there are commonalites for the optimum mission capability for a fighter that never plans to engage a threat directly is round-and-round the CAP orbit, slowly, for hours if not days at less than 2,000 dollars per flight hour.

And that is the same capability which, in a surveillance/attack platform lets you drop 1-2 guided bombs onto a high value, fleeting, target that only shows it's ugly head once during the entire mission.

The 'fighter' which the USAF defines as an aircraft primarily designed to shoot down other aircraft while 'also' attacking ground targets is utterly inept at this role. Indeed, even dedicated 'attack' platforms are crippled by legacy inheritances which a clean-sheet of paper design would never incorporate.

Take the A-10 Thunderbolt. A 42-45,000lb takeoff weight airframe with two 9,000lbst TF34 engines. It needs that thrust to heft some 8,000lbs of dead weight inherent to the GAU-8 cannon. And another 6,000lbs of ARMOR to protect it. That's right, with an empty weight of some 25,000lbs, over half the A-10 is dedicated to that gun system. And why?

Because, in the early 70s when A-X was being designed, the USAF was lowballing it to ensure that there was minimum competition with the F-X (15) 'fighter' funding and this, coupled to an admittedly primitive state of the art in targeting and visionics technologies, meant that the A-10 fired it's cannon with a fixed reticule HUD sight that was little more than a projected aiming cross with leadmark hashes like a WWII iron sight on a 20mm Oerlikon.

Now, 'despite rumor' most pilots are near-blind in comparison with powered optics so the combination of a primitive weapon and primitive targeting meant that you had to be inside 4,000ft to get good hits on hard and/or moving targets and seldom more than 10,000ft slant ranges (at 3,500ft altitudes) to score soft-top kills. Such firing distances could and were compromised further by weather and heavy S2A threats so in fact, many shots were delivered under overflight conditions from _UNDER_ 2,500 ft away.

Good A-10 gunners who lived long enough could bag between 20 and 30 vehicles per mission this way yet compare this with a modern rocket like the CRV-7 in a modern 19 shot pod in the 500x series, equipped with a modern guidance group along the lines of LCPK or APKWS, and you quickly find that _the same number of kills_ can be achieved with 1,500 pounds worth of two FFAR pods and a targeting pod to point them. Which amounts to hard -or- moving target kills from in excess of 6,000 and even 8,000 METERS standoff. So far out that the trashfire cannot typically even touch you.

Bye bye armor and massive ammo capacity gun platform.

'Weather Permitting' this type of weapons system would allow a 45,000lb A-10 to be replaced by 16,000lb Rutan Model 151 ARES and even though the latters single JT5D-5 engine (from the Jayhawk business jet rated at a mere 3,000lbst) results in a T/Wr of less than .2, still achieve a brochure top speed which is actually some 15 knots faster that of the Hog.

_ALL BECAUSE_ there is no 'flying tank' emphasis on surviving heavy AAA and Man Portables defenses. And indeed, with some redesign, you could remove the pilot vulnerability consideration altogether which means exposure to high altitude capable threats (Roland, SA-8/9/13/15 etc.) is not such a problem in the target area.

Pilots are in lust with their own perfected little worldview of their own existence. They don't want anything to challenge that, only incremental improvements to their dominance of the kill chain as an 'officers club as much as profession'. The problem is that if we completely redefined _The Missions_ that they undertake, starting from the radome aft, we could rapidly come up with vastly superior platforms that cost only pennies-on-the-pound worth what the current equivalents do. Simply because they can trade up inventory diversity of _precision_ at-cost specification in abandoning absolutes of pilot-centric (multirole as 'flexibility', even when they compromise non-related missions forceably mutated together) as an excuse for aerial Ferrariism when a Buick would do fine.

Until you accept how flawed the manned presence is for 90% of today's design roles relative to biologic limits, cowardice vs. functionality and needless redundancy of design; you cannot properly begin to create cheap OR functional replacements.


[edit on 13-2-2007 by ch1466]

posted on Feb, 13 2007 @ 08:06 AM
Low cost combat "aircraft" are very feasible.

You want to engage ground targets?

Use MLRS or cruise missiles with UAVs to get your information.

You want to engage air targets?


Specialising the roles of machines improves their performance while lowering their cost.

posted on Feb, 13 2007 @ 12:17 PM
UCAV's i think we'll have to wait a while before we see them replacing all manned aircraft and till the technology is suitably mature, but as already stated they vastly reduce cost, you can still keep fancy avionics in them etc. making them a feasable low cost replacement to manned aircraft.

posted on Feb, 13 2007 @ 01:01 PM
This was something that had crossed my mind during last summer's Lebanon conflict...could Hezbollah build a lo-tech lo-cost combat (kamikaze) aircraft?

The one design that sprung to mind was the ME163 Komet, a simple unfussy airframe design that has been proven to work, built mainly of plywood and fabric and propelled by Katyusha rocket motors.

Crazy idea, granted, but could such an idea ever 'get off the ground' so to speak??

Edit: Me163 plans and technical information

[edit on 13-2-2007 by citizen smith]

posted on Feb, 13 2007 @ 01:39 PM
I agree, but then the aircraft would then become a first generation unguided cruise missile like the V1 - but larger.

Your idea that something could be knocked up out of bits of wood in a back street workshop has merits.

Wilbur and Orvil started off like that and 90 years later, we have inter-planetry travel.

I also strongly agree with what ch1466 says about pilots and their wanting to be in the big go faster club with flashier aircraft etc.

Which of course is one of the reasons the USAF wanted to ditch the A10 because it did not fit in with the Gucci aircraft that were available. After all, bigger and more expensive is better - but only for the aircraft industries!

[edit on 13-2-2007 by fritz]

posted on Mar, 22 2007 @ 08:20 PM
Some interesting (and a couple of unintelligible) responses.

I think it highly untrue to say that low cost combat aircraft rarely catch on as one poster suggested. Not just the F-5, but the A-4, F-16, and A-10 were all low cost aircraft that become hugely popular to say the least - although I'll grant you the F-16C block 52 is about as far away from the original F-16A as you're likely to get.

Also the the comment about the F-20A. Yes the Tigershark was a beauty which impressed everyone except the people it was supposed to impress. But the airframe had no room for growth, the planned replacement of the 20mm cannon was evidence enough of that, and the USAF didn't want it - another bad sign for customers (as with the F-16/79). Pity though, it was a great little fighter.

Someone else mentioned the Hawk 200. Easy answer to that one - it ain't cheap !!! With a "standard" Hawk costing 18 million pounds - you can reckon on the 200 with its APG-66H radar costing a good bit more - so you would have to be nuts to pay $40m for a Hawk 200, when a little more would net you a Gripen, which exists in a wholly different realm of capability.

I think we have a lack of entrepeneurs here, because there is a huge untapped market in second and third world nations for a new A-37C/Strikemaster/Pucara class aircraft. In these markets you don't need RAM, FLIR, ESA, and supercruise, just something that can haul bombs and rockets. BAe were making noises about just such an aircraft a few years back, it was to be a turboprop pusher driven aircraft designed to operate around the FEBA (Forward Edge of the Battle Area) - but was stilborn. Probably just as well considering the length of time it takes the British to complete a project these days (more ASRAAM anyone?)

I for one would love to see a Dragonfly or Strikemaster for the 21st century - and I think it would be more than economically viable if executed correctly. Well, I can dream anyway.

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