posted on Aug, 20 2007 @ 09:31 PM
At any given time there is a level of technology that exists with which designers are able to work. They then attempt to come up with the best
compromise to achieved the desired result (ie:- the specification). Sometimes the specification doesn't match the available technology and the
designer can produce a system which, while meeting all the requirements of the specification, exceeds many of the parameters as well (eg:- The A-4
Skyhawk). However, as often as not the designers are unable to meet the requirements of the specification using available technology, hence the vast
number of paper designs and prototypes that never entered production. That's not to say that all of the prototypes that didn't enter production
didn't meet their specification. For instance the XB-70 would have met its specification, but the scenario changed so radically (the advent of SAMs)
that the specification no longer reflected the real-world scenario.
You ask, how did the Brits and the Germans end up with fighter aircraft of similar attributes during WWII - basically they were designing to the same
specification - an air superiority fighter, based on the best engine technology of the time, with similar range (based on the perceived area that they
would have to fight in - ie the threat that the planners envisaged when they wrote the specification) and hitting power. That the range requirement
was insufficient to escort bombers from Britain to Germany and back (or vise versa) was not a failure of either the Spitfire or the Bf 109, but a
failure of the planners to understand that the bombers needed to be escorted (a view shared almost universally at the time - the bombers will always
get through). However, when fighters of WWII are discussed and compared this deficiency is a black mark against both types.
Now before everyone jumps in and mentions the Mustang, I have to say that the Mustang is an advance over either the Spitfire or the Bf 109, because
the laminar flow wing (and the radiator duct design which produced net thrust rather than drag) which enabled the Mustang to achieve the range without
adding undue bulk was a technological advance over those aircraft.
To be fair, the US built aircraft which were brought into the fight to escort the bombers (the P-38 Lightning and the P-47 Thunderbolt) were designed
around the same technology as the Spit and the 109, but to a different specification reflecting US requirements for range. You can easily see, by
comparing these aircraft with the Spit or the Me 109, the compromises required to achieve that added range - basically bulk and weight. With equal
propulsion technology, weight and bulk mean less acceleration, speed and manoeuvrability - unless that can be cancelled by better aerodynamics
(technological advance) or the ability to dictate the engagement using selective tactics (only engaging when the situation favours the advantages of
The reason I use these examples is that in 1941, life was much simpler for the designer than it is today - basically the engine was going to be either
a radial or in-line piston engine driving props and the weapons were going to be guns, either machine guns or cannon. This in turn dictated the
tactics that had to be employed in combat to a great extent.
Today, of course, there is much greater choice. The specification writer, and thus the designer must decide if they want a BVR or WVR specialist,
(remember, to be both is a compromise in itself due to weight and bulk), the tactics or battlefield scenario that the planners envisage (ie:- whether
to use stealth technology to gain an advantage, or to go for outright speed at the expense of LO, to use passive detection in preference to a powerful
radar that will make the aircraft stand out like a lighthouse). All these choices need to be made on the basis of what the battlefield is going to be
like in, say 20 years and that means guessing what your opponents (whoever they might be in 20 years) are going to plan for.
Looking back to the early 60's, some thought that the 'best fighter' would be large, not very fast, not very maneouvrable and would carry large
long range air-to-air missiles. That would have been the Douglas F6D Missileer. (a somewhat larger F3D Skyknight type of aircraft).
Bringing that concept into the modern day, and conceding that laser weapons small enough to fit into a 'fighter' sized airframe are somewhat in the
future, the 'best' fighter might well be a variation of the Boeing AL-1, or indeed a larger aircraft! Such an aircraft would be able to carry the
largest, most powerful sensors, be multi-role in the sense that it could do the combined job of AWACS, J-Stars AND the air superiority fighters (plus
SEAD)!. If you could make such a thing stealthy as well (highly doubtful given the powerful radars), what an awesome package you would have - just
cruising around at Mach 0.8!
While perhaps this could be an interesting scenario, once again it is just another compromise, as the usefulness of such a platform relies on the
operator of this aircraft type being the only combatant on the battlefield possessing the laser weapons - ie;- planning, building and fielding a
weapon system on the basis that you will maintain the technological advantage (for long enough to make the investment worthwhile).
Does this all sound far too silly? Consider that this is EXACTLY the situation with full on stealth technology ala F-117 and B-2 (ie:- aircraft that
rely solely on stealth for their protection and the ability to do their jobs). It is only worth the investment if you can maintain the technological
advantage for a useful period of time.
The other often overlooked factor is numbers vs technological advantage. Every system, whether electronic or simply the number of defending missiles
able to be put into the battle at a given time, can be overwhelmed. I think it would be fair to say that an attack by (for the sake of a number) 250
MiG-19s on an AWACs defended by (once again for the sake of a number) 12 F-22s is probably going to result in the loss of the AWACS. Sure the loss in
MiG-19s would be pretty high, but the overall result is dependent on the aim of the exercise and whether the benefit outweighs the resulting loss of
the MiG-19s. If the aim of the exercise was to cover the advance of an armoured column to engage the opponent in a decisive battle then it could be
worth the loss.
The Winged Wombat