Is the F-35 Really an Air Force Disaster? [ANALYSIS]

By Tom
Updated on

In response to F’d: How the U.S. and Its Allies Got Stuck with the World’s Worst New Warplane by David Axe I don’t know what to say – there are so many misconceptions. The F-35 was never meant to be a dogfighter like the F-16.

Is the F-35 Really an Air Force Disaster? [ANALYSIS]

The F-35 was never meant to be a dogfighter like the F-16

1) The F-35 was never meant to be a dogfighter like the F-16: arguably the best dogfighter ever – especially the A model. If the enemy gets that close to an F-35 something has been lost in the translation – f.i. the word “TACTICS”. The F-35 avoids being caught on the ground with its range. A massive assault like Pearl Harbor would have been detected a long time before reaching the airbase. In the bad old days, the Starfighters of RDaAF was on alert 24/7 (not all of them but at least two) and the enemy was 15 min away in East Germany. Now the F-35 covering Taiwan are not meant to defend Taiwan; but Japan! And vice versa.

a) You can either get a terrific climb rate – nothing has ever beat the BAC Lightning: It climbed vertically with a huge excess power – and the problem was to avoid getting supersonic BEFORE the wheels had come up (a so called point defence interceptor). The problem with that is that firehosing fuel into the engine like that gives you zilch range. Or you can have a slower climb rate, greater range, and a very fair average speed. In other words, there is a notch in the range/altitude curve. Even in such a small country like Denmark, fighters dispersed not only to avoid being knocked out all at the same time; but also to provide mutual coverage. A fighter NEVER defends its own base but that of the colleague.

b) If an F-35 gets involved in a dogfight where the pilot maneuvers to the very edge of passing out – it is the absolute last ditch effort. In the F-16 they have even tilted the seat back to lift the pilots feet so he won’t pass out as easily. A pilot I knew once got an F-15 (exercise-wise) – he never saw it, but he heard missile lock-on -and  he was already fainting.

Now that isn’t a very healthy way to fight. The trick is, that the aggressor should worry about the F-35 on HIS tail spewing missiles. On a Red Flag exercise two F-15s got hammered by two British Jaguars – because the F-15s were lining up to kill the two Jaguars just ahead, and hadn’t counted to four – as in a flight.

c) As to top speed….. Sure the Fitter can approach the F-35’s speed, but will pour fuel into the engine at such a rate, that the pilot will have to WALK home. A load carrier economize on fuel consumption – if not, they can’t carry load.

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2) As to running out of fighters and ammo: First of all. You don’t NEED all that ammo. You saw in Libya that you could give close air support to CIVILIANS against TANKS. Firing a gun might be fun; but actually hitting it is much more destructive. The US takes out the explosives in some of their bombs and replaces it with concrete and and a GPS system. 500 lb of rock directly in the noodle in most cases will ruin your day. Secondly, half your fighters should always be in transit on their way back for a reload – this also makes it practical to have a base to return to close by.

When the first squadron (or flight) breaks off as they are out of ammo, and enemy is getting uncomfortably close and heads for home to reload – the paint job is none the worse for wear. But then the second squadron (or whatever) is moving in on the advancing enemy taking their mind off being obnoxious. The first will then land as the third squadron has just cleared the field and the grease monkeys have set the table for the next sitting. The best comparison is the old fashioned defensive (the offensive is reverse) creeping artillery barrage where every salvo hits the attacker in front of their shoes and the next takes account of the enemys progress since the last salvo. That fire plan has a problem with counter battery fire, which is why you use aircraft based out of artillery range f.i.

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That is the importance of tactical depth – where NATO in the bad old days had NONE.

I do have the feeling that all that effort put into drones is actually a question of reloads, as you can target a drone launched missile (or ground based for all that matter) from the defending fighter. If the drone survives – then they can go back for more and the fighters personal firearms can cover that retreat. A drone is comparatively cheap, but very dumb and carries a lot of missiles relative at a low cost/ton. (Again what costs money is the ammo, not the fighter) The pilot is precious. This gives the “production-line” back, at the airbase an even workload with alternative reloading and launching drones and fighters.

That exercise was a test: CAN we lose, if we are REALLY making an effort being stupid? Barely, but yes.

3) As to the marines: What is the need of the marines? They are infantry! The need is to avoid paddling in with a 205 mm howitzer in the rubber dinghy as they cramp the gung-ho style – not to mention the ammunition going in the same way – such a beast makes gun toters REALLY tired just hearing of it. There is no way the US Navy will allow a big gun ship within range of the beach (say 30 miles) as lorry mounted Harpoons or such can be hidden anywhere – a garage f.i., and making Old MAcDonald’s barn a strategic nuclear target is somewhat overdoing it. That is also why the Marines get their Osprey – otherwise they would have kept their Sea Knights forever.

The Harrier does that very well, and it has been operated from farmyards with just a strip (3 actually – the outrigger wheels take two) of pierced steel planking. Doing VTOL. Harriers have high casualties per flight hour, as they spend a disproportionate time in the most demand phases of flight: Start, landing and bomb run. As to hangar deck having to be kept clean that goes for other planes too. Do you think the daily inspection walk on the deck is done JUST to piss off all the privates? No they look for gum wrappers, bits of rubber lost, nuts and bolts – everything a jet engine hates. Recirculation of hot air (and thus less thrust) IS a problem in all vertical take off with fixed wing aircraft, and is more problematic really for the Marines purpose than the lack of wing lift support.

The F-35C – the VTOL Marine model was NEVER intended as an interceptor and defender of the ship f.i. That Marines will take on anything if need be – and if it might come to that – is quite another matter, and the plane must NEVER compromise the primary mission: In this case providing heavy and precise artillery support for the grunts. The invasions of the Pacific Island in WW2 testify to the value of that. You need a really big bomb to take out that howitzer in the rock cave. If you need area bombing it is the USAF B-52s – which the F-35 will never be and has never been intended for.

Range is – to the US Marines – not really the issue, it is response time. They really don’t wan’t to wait an hour to take out that gun killing marines minute in and minute out. Stealth is not so much a question of defying discovery as making a smaller target: If invisibility can be achieved through spit and polish – splendid; but the object is to delay enemy radar lock-on till it is to late – for the enemy – that is.

4) The prolonged development period really misses the point I’ve repeatedly been trying to make this clear: The US develops the weapons they need, so they are there WHEN needed. The F-15/F-16 generation was brought about as the hand was forced by the Soviets with the new generation of Floggers and Fulcrums. If they hadn’t been developed the F-15/F-16, the planes would have remained prototypes for ever. There are lots of attempt – also prototypes – to build a successor to the C-130 Hercules – and they have remained just that.

Bill Sweetman is a wonderful aeroplane technical expert, but in matters of tactics he is not in his comfort zone – and it is
unintelligent to ask someone their opinion where they are not qualified.

Weapons are kept operational and in store as long as they might serve a purpose – that was why the big battleships were kept on – until the ammo went bad – and off unfortunately. And the ammunition is the most expensive part that killed the ships operationally. They were incidentally never used for what they were designed for: Being the iron fist of the fleet; but they did some quite nice shore bombardments – from a safe distance.

My reservations as to the F-35 is: Can it operate from an arctic permafrost runway in a blizzard? The F-17 probably can (or close); but it lacks the range.

That the newest weapon gets a cold reception in exercises is nothing new. I recall – when the F-15 was new (Yes! I’m that old) the RDaAF whipped their shiny bottoms divinely – with what? Housewives and old men with bifocals – WW2 german field telephones on top of church steeples plus Starfighters “dogfighting” – no I’m serious. That leads us to the question of the purpose of the exercise: The object was to see how much support the RDaAF would need given a certain Soviet attack tactics.

The USAF didn’t quite take our word for it when we told them that what we needed was fresh thermos-flask with hot coffee. The USAF revised their reservations and after an hour thought they had better help the “enemy” that was getting soundly trounced by antique Starfighters – or the exercise would serve no purpose at all.

I haven’t been briefed on the exercise and why they had so thoroughly ignored the more basic tactics. That is in the David Axe presentation – where I DO remain skeptical is about every reason in the field manual.

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