I marvel at how foreign buyers of something as complex as stealth aircraft can have any confidence that the system is not riddled with back doors, remote control capability, "phoning home", surveillance, and kill switches. How would you prove to a foreign buyer that your F-35 would not:
- upload all your secret flight data to a tire pressure monitor every time a maintenance worker checks the tires with the special gauge he has to use, which then retransmits the data when the gauge is put back in the hanger, without needing any cooperation from the maintenance worker
- cause all your F-35s to fall out of sky everywhere in the world when the GPS satellites transmit an extra 64-bit coded message that cause fuel actuators to shut off
- put your F-35 under remote control when a coded microwave message is transmitted directly to the plane during combat or a close encounter
Even children's toys and home appliances are routinely discovered to be phoning home and doing sneaky unexpected things. I'm going to hazard a guess that all large weapons systems are compromised —— perhaps by more than one nation simultaneously since parts and expertise come from hundreds of contractors and many different countries. I'm not aware of any revelations of weapon-system backdoors yet, but we might hear about some of them in the aftermath of the next major war.
All of which means that it's more or less impossible to buy a weapon from a foreign power without opening yourself up wide to that power. You have to let their military advisors onto your bases, to train your troops on the doctrines that go with the weapon. You have to let their logistical specialists into your inventory systems, so they can hook you into the pipelines through which the spare parts and ammo flow. Any of these people could be using their access to snoop on you or worse, but there's not much you can do about that because without them all you've bought is a $100 million paperweight.
If you're the buyer, yes, that absolutely sucks. But, unless you're willing to spend vast amounts of money you don't have to build up your own domestic military-industrial complex, you don't have a lot of alternatives. You either buy into one of the existing ecosystems (American, Russian, European or Chinese), or get curb-stomped by a neighbor who did. Once you're bought into one of those ecosystems you're effectively at the mercy of the state that operates it, of course, but hey, you do what you've gotta do. As the saying goes, the strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.
It's pretty telling to see Germany refusing to buy F-35 or Hungary buying ones in order to piss off Sweden.
And if you're going to be training pilots... Shouldn't you do it on the exact config of F-35 that Denmark's buying? Which means a Danish F-35, which means leaving it in the US.
That aside, it's more or less common knowledge these days that the planes have not been delivered for all these years due to the production problems they are still having.
Esquire just did a piece just month mentioning that the plane starts to fall apart if it's flown too fast and the computer fails to detect if the plane is flying to fast about half the time.
This aircraft program still has a ways to go.
We don't know what the "training in the US" requirement looks like, though. I wouldn't be surprised if it was just "you need to use Danish planes to train" + "we only have training facilities in the US, and if you want to bring your own that'll cost money". It has nothing to do with "Denmark can't make its own decisions", because as far as I'm aware that hasn't been alleged anywhere.
Having a military costs money. Living up to treaty obligations like NATO costs money. Trying to have a military on the cheap just ends up with dead troops/pilots/sailors.
India also has lots of land.
For the F-35, other countries were asked to pay into the R&D budget, with the promise that large contributors could obtain exclusive manufacturing rights to certain components. I've seen a lot of grumbling about this, with people claiming it traded cost savings for a military risk that the planes will be useless (or at least lack spares) if things go wrong for those suppliers.
This is sort of true, but the missing insight is that the dependency is also a goal. It's not going to allay fears that F-35s are calling home with telemetry or have compromised software, but it does help create reciprocal interests in the same way as inviting in a foreign military base.
I think it extends the metaphor to NATO very well actually. A mutual-defense alliance gradually turned into a political and economic alliance, and now it's not clear how well the original proposition can be trusted. RAND, at least, thinks Estonia and Latvia can't be actively defended and couldn't be retaken without bombing campaigns in Russian territory. So suddenly, the strength (or at least universality) of that agreement becomes an open question.
I once heard unsourced speculation that the French might have given the British the scoop on how to sabotage incoming missiles.
One hit the HMS Sheffield, two hit the merchant ship Atlantic Conveyor, and one hit the destroyer HMS Glamorgan. So that's 4 of the 5.
I think they just ran out of missiles.
Edit: even if France supported the UK during the war, preventing the delivery of more exocet missiles and providing information on the missiles and airplanes to the UK.
Edit 2: Apparently it was an oversight, the French team in Argentina was never told to stop working. Also I guess the missile builder might have been happy to have a live fire demonstration of his products
To be fair, Israel also advised Argentina on air-to-sea surface attack tactics that proved to be seriously good.
There's no denying their effectiveness in this example, but then the context was the UK was fighting a conflict halfway across the world and without air superiority. Take away either of those elements and the Super Etendards were likely to have been obliterated long before their Exocets were within range.
Furthermore, waiting would have meant the islands would have entered Antartic winter shortly after invasion, giving them many months to dig in and prepare for UK Task Force landings.
There where probably career officers raising all the issues you did and more but it didn’t matter.
It’s interesting to speculate what thatcher would have done had the Argentines managed to sink enough ships to end the first Task Force, we where already fighting at our limits (which showed just how poor our equipment and spending was, lions lead by donkeys still applied), force project is hard, force projection for a 2nd rate power (if we class superpowers as 1st rate) at best is ridiculously hard.
AFTER the loss of sheffield, the policy was changed such that each class 42 was escorted by a class 22 (with sea wolfs).
The Argentian navy did hit Glamorgan with an exocet after that, but Glamorgan wasn't anywhere near anything with Sea Wolf defenses at the time.
The 'friendly' aspect is likely apocryphal, and possibly based on the fact that the Glamorgan and Antrim were both exocet missile destroyers themselves, and might thus have had issues with targetting a missile of the same type. But since neither of them had any point-defence systems it was moot.
edit: or it may be from the fact that Broadsword's sea wolf system 'locked up' during the sinking of Coventry, and was unable to attack the inbound A4s that bombed Coventry. But from what I can see, the prevailing belief was that it was unable to lock on for the same reason Sea Dart on Coventry wouldn't - it couldn't discriminate the A4s from the land behind them.
Joking aside, I would assume current IFF systems let you define anything not explicitly friendly as hostile - what with shifting alliances, armament development consolidation &c - the issue being how many backdoors there are. I take it as a given no US-made missile can kill a US-operated aircraft, regardless of what the operator of the missile desires. (Same goes for French, British, Russian &c)
I'm not so sure about that. That would require that all US made missiles have a "disarm" signal that the operators cannot override. Maybe for weapons we sell that is okay, but for our own use, that strikes me as too much of a liability if that signal ever gets compromised and spoofed.
Every single weapon can be turned on its maker, somehow. Else, its not an effective weapon.
Edit: Note that I’m working off of very old memories, and the 60 minutes reports may not have been accurate.
reminded by association - in the new Russian&Serbian movie https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Balkan_Line released for the 20th anniversary of the war there is a scene with the French bomb dropped on a house in Serbia and which didn't explode because it was intentionally sabotaged. Doesn’t seem to have propaganda value, and I’m wondering whether it is a play on real facts or just an artistic reference to the French resistance to the NATO bombing of civilian targets.
How would you prove to a foreign buyer that your F-35 is not backdoored? You wouldn't. You sell them the plane and then they have the best cybersecurity experts the market can provide go into the hangar and completely tear the whole thing apart, inspecting every on board computer, dumping assembly code, inspecting circuit boards, etc. These are being bought by nation states, not Grandma who doesn't know her router has an admin interface with a default password.
Any attempt to backdoor that gets discovered would be an international incident and severely strain diplomatic relations between the U.S. and all of its allies. At the very least, anyone looking for nextgen fighters now would look somewhere else now knowing that we have no qualms with screwing with their defenses.
It's more like eventual own, depending on your time frame. If someone wants to to to lengths to physically secure something, it can probably withstand 1 seconds of intrusion time. It has closer to zero chance of withstanding 36000 seconds, and very close to zero chance of withstanding 360000 seconds.
> Harold: "Red! We found an old bomb in the lake! What do we do?!"
> Red: "Call the American Air Force."
> Harold: "We tried, but it's in the Canadian side of the lake, they can't help!"
> Red: "Then call the Canadian Air Force!"
> Harold: "It's after 5, he's gone home."
Germany was supposed to be a closed ally, but Merkel wasn't that happy when she realized that the USA is spying on her.
It looks like the governments are starting to be less friendly towards eachother as the currencies in the world are collapsing.
This is very close to a plot point from Battlestar galactica (2004). I don't know of a way off the top of my head to detect back doors other than manually reviewing code.
A large company which has a database of many back doors might be able to train an AI to find them. I'm going to guess that someone, somewhere is trying to do this, somehow.
I can't imagine there are many airframes that are pushing the technological boundaries as the F-35, aren't bleeding edge products prone to difficult development?
I don't see how this wont be worth it in the long run in terms of getting ahead in an arms race as a superpower.
It seems as though this is probably the hardest thing to get industry insight into given the secret nature of it all.
To a great extent, that's the fundamental problem with the F-35 program - it's a technological showcase first and a useful weapons system second. It has been designed and commissioned by people who believe that "most advanced" necessarily means "best" and who are indifferent to the actual tactical and strategic requirements.
The Army and Marines have been crying out for years for a suitable replacement for the ageing A-10. It's the finest close support aircraft ever made, it has a legendary reputation among infantrymen who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the USAF are still planning on retiring it in favour of the F-35, an aircraft that is simply incapable of performing the same role. Even if the F-35 were inarguably an excellent aircraft, it's the wrong aircraft for a vitally important job.
The F-35 helmet is a $400,000 showcase of AR technology, capable of providing unprecedented levels of data to a pilot. It's also really bad at being a helmet - it's so heavy that it could literally break the neck of smaller pilots during ejection and so bulky that it limits visibility. Test pilots have mixed views on the usefulness of the AR cameras, but they all want the ability to look over their shoulder. It's maybe possibly better at doing a thing that nobody asked for, but it's demonstrably worse at being a helmet.
Servicemen don't want cutting-edge innovation - they want weapons systems that work reliably in the field and provide useful combat capabilities. That's what you need to keep in mind when you hear the DoD hype the F-35. We know it's a hell of a lot less reliable than existing US aircraft and competing foreign aircraft. We know that the one-airframe-to-rule-them-all model is deeply flawed and leaves serious gaps in the combat capability of the US military. What does the F-35 actually offer in the field that couldn't be provided by a cheaper, simpler, more reliable weapons system? I've yet to hear a good answer to that question.
It offers Lockheed Martin one-point-five trillion dollars, much of which will be spent in key Congressional districts.
I suspect that those responsible for making decisions about the F-35 are perfectly fine with this. Rhetoric aside, our government and military appear to think they exist in a world where direct Great Power military conflict is not a possibility. The F-35 seems perfectly adequate to swiftly wreck anywhere on Earth that is not Europe, China, Japan, Russia or India. And that seems to be our actual goal in terms of capabilities for the immediate future.
But, seriously, I’ve walked through some of these subcontractors sites. They’re often small businesses run by a politically connected ex-officer, a few revolving door phds (to establish their R&D creds), a disabled (or minority) vet, and a mass of warm bodies to pump money into the local economy. (Ironically most of the money goes to Walmart and eventually goes overseas).
Corruption conquers countries more often than war.
sucks to be an early adopter, but this is no different than a gen0 Apple hardware, to draw some parallels.
what really gets me is that because of rules upon rules on acquisition, making such thing and marketing them as they really are (tech demonstrator, prototypes, unrefined products, whatever you want to call them) would never fly. you have to twist those as great budgeting opportunities, inflate the earning options of export versions etc etc.
it's like generations of rotten politics coming into play, portraying it as a greedy company and some unscrupulous congressmen is not wrong per se but a little reductive.
The power structure, the actual humans making decisions are all that is important.
And currently that behemoth is hell bent on not giving a fuck about itself, its components [the humans] are mostly looking out for themselves, there's not enough institutional inertia to change this, etc.
I'm not saying it needs to be dismantled, torched to the ground, blablabla, but of course there needs to be deep, systematic, qualitative and quantitative changes. Personnel, ideology/dogma, leadership, training, culture, process, structure.
"Congress" (or more precisely the upper echelon of the power structure - Congress/courts/administration are just the venues where the show happens) is in a gridlock over moral issues, that means everything else is at best performing at the level of the status quo, at worse things become chips in the very high-stakes poker game.
This of course leads to a lot of inefficient posturing and back-and-forth, and the preservation of the gridlock.
Also, time to target is very important. An F15 with the wrong munitions that's seconds away at mach 2 is much more helpful than an A10 that can put the hurt on an entire tank company but is minutes away.
So if the A-10 was never going to be around in enough numbers, what could be done? Only one group had enough distance from the Air Force and enough independent money to consider a viable alternative: buying a cheap, lightweight attack plane on their own. That was the Navy SEALs. A group of them met with the Secretary of the Navy in 2006 to tell him about the problems they faced with getting good enough air support.
Like other American combat troops in Afghanistan, the SEALs sometimes found that high-tech gear couldn't reliably get the job done, or that cheaper, lower-tech solutions worked better. This is how the US military almost adopted the A-29 Super Tucano, a $4 million turboprop airplane reminiscent of WWII-era designs that troops wanted, commanders said was "urgently needed," but Congress refused to buy.
A buddy of mine is actually flying the jet. He said helmet is cool to wear first time but quickly wears out in real flies and is even worse in combat. A lieutenant that first flew it many years ago called it "karate mirror"; he explained it must have been designed by someone who never fought a fight, but somewhat was stubborn enough to assume when you fight karate you would love to have a back mirror to see whats happening behind.
They military argues with contractors atm to actually come back to a regular helmet, because there is really no added value in flying Mach 1 and engage in fight in front of you and having ability to see behind or even under, when you have all sort of warning systems that monitors your surrounding and allows you enough time to alter your direction before you get hit.
Another buddy of mine (doesn't work on the project but still connected inside LM enough) said that when management seen military officials defending overblown F35 budget they felt actually they sky is wide open to further abuse of $$ and spent shitload of money and time to design and overdesign that helmet.
Eventually you will see it everywhere where it make sense, be it Coast Guard, heck - your local crane operator. But it will take 10 years before LM will makeup the money they "lost" developing it, so it will take time. But F35 will eventually fly without it, no doubt.
What the others didn't really point out is that the F-35 is definitely capable of what the A-10 does and more. It is faster, brings a drone-like attack platform, and can engage from much higher altitudes.
And this is coming from someone (see my other comments) that doesn't particularly care for the JSF/F-35. The A-10 needs to go away, and the F-35 will be a more than capable replacement for it.
Now, the other F-35 roles...
Flying at higher altitude is also not necessarily safer - it puts you out of reach of MANPADS, but in clear view of larger SAMs. Evasive flying generally involves nap-of-the-earth flying, which hides from larger SAMs in radar cover and provides MANPADS and AA artillery with short engagement times. The A-10 is also built heavy and robust enough that MANPADS often aren't enough to bring it down - only vehicle-mounted or static air defense systems have big enough warheads.
If anything, the problem with the A-10 is that it's overbuilt. Its cannon is built to take down tanks in an era when air-carried cannons probably can't get through modern tank armor, and is heavier than is strictly necessary for an anti-infantry role. The air force is looking at much lighter planes like the A-29 and AT-6B for low-threat environments, but could perhaps field a plane with similar loiter-time and survivability characteristics to the A-10 with less weight wasted on that ridiculous cannon.
And higher altitudes are strictly safer, even against SAMs. If you’re at virtually any altitude above terrain masking you’re in sight of them. Altitude gives you extra time to react plus requires the missile to burn more fuel reaching you in the first place, shortening its range and increasing the tools you have available to defeat it.
For the tanks, the A-10 carries the AGM-65 Maverick with 136 kg (300 lb) of explosives.
Upgrading the gun would be useful. We can now make even the 12.7 mm ammunition have guidance, so 30 mm should be easy. We could compensate for the density reduction by upgrading to something like the 37 mm used by the MiG-17. Guidance would allow targeting the most vulnerable parts of a tank. The toughest modern tank still relies on vulnerable sensors. One could also just pound the same spot many times, chipping out a hole. Reactive armor is nothing if you can get a second shot in the same location.
Sandia National Laboratories did something similar, but with a non-standard rifle and using a laser target designator. Russia is attempting to do something similar.
Of course that could all be a lie to throw adversaries off the scent, but the trouble with trying to keep a bullet top-secret is the moment you use it, the enemy has as many as they want to study...
Many years ago I saw a concept of a guided machine gun bullet in a "scientific" magazine; the concept involved steering by a mechanism that moved a lump of mass within the bullet around.
A B-52 could loiter all day long and carry more bombs than a squadron. In fact, the USAF brags about B-1/52’s doing CAS.
So whats the unique need for a fighter that costs as much to operate as a B-52.
>So whats the unique need for a fighter that costs as much to operate as a B-52.
Achieving air superiority, alongside our limited numbers of F-22s.
That said, it's also one of the best dogfighters in the world in case it ever comes to that, but that kind of combat will be deliberately rare.
Against countries that can punch back?
There is also a VTOL variant of the F-35.
I generally agree with your comment though, the A10 doesn't work well enough without air superiority and is comically overbuilt for operating with air superiority. The platform is just... old. It needs to be retired, needs have changed but unfortunately the existing menu of aircraft can't really fill all the niche corners of the CAS role as well as the A10 can.
Sadly, if only this were true. The gun's published accuracy numbers have 80% of rounds landing within a ~40ft diameter circle at 4,000ft engagement distance. When the gun is fired—typically in one-second bursts—the nose of the plane lifts noticeably by several degrees and so the gun is always employed in a strafing run: you aim a bit below the target, pull the trigger, and let the target pipper rise up across the target. To make matters even worse, its targeting system is the Mk-1 Human Eyeball.
Even in the best possible scenario, you're firing the gun in a high-angle strafe (30º of dive) from 1.2–0.8nm, where you're talking about something closer to a 60ft circle of death that traverses 50ft across the ground while narrowing to 40ft in diameter. Not to mention the 20% of bullets that fall outside this area.
All this is to say that if you fire the Warthog's gun at a target across the block from a school, there's going to be a very serious press conference happening back at home the next day.
You'll see a lot of videos online where the gun seems to perform better than this, but it's always at static target practice ranges where the pilot is flying extremely low and has the benefit of doing multiple practice runs. In real combat footage, the plane is much farther out and the spread is correspondingly much wider. This video does a pretty good job: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvIJvPj_pjE
I think the point was that a smaller gun would do. A Toyota pickup doesn't need an anti-tank round. Something more like what the Super Tucano carries would suffice.
That said, antitank weapons are good enough that well trained and equipped infantry should basically laugh off a BMP (or any other AFV) in most situations and there's always bombs and missiles.
[qoute]The Serbs quickly learned that opening fire on Hogs with AAA or SAMs made them both obvious and high-priority targets. Serb air defenses attempted to plan their missile and AAA shots to maximize the chances of hitting an A-10 while minimizing their own risks. The “SAM bush” was one such tactic. The Serbs would first fire AAA to make the A-10 jink. When they thought they had the pilot’s attention focused, they launched one or more SAMs in the hopes of scoring a hit. The SAM-bush had zero success, and often the A-10s made the Serbs regret they tried it.[/quote]
[quote]On average, Serb antiaircraft missiles and AAA engaged each 40th EOG pilot about six times—several pilots were shot at much more often... One A-10 AFAC point of pride was that, even though we often took aimed fire in daylight, none of the hundreds of strikers whose attacks we controlled were ever hit...[/quote]
from A10s Over Kosovo
What you'll earn by having this probably-prototype put into production is tons of valuable data about what works in production, what to improve, what components fails first, how that single-airframe stuff can be made cheaper and more reliable etc. Based on this data nobody else will have, engineers will be able to design weapon systems (think even ML-asysted design based of v2.0 based on telemetric data gathered over decades etc.) nobody else will be able to compete with even if F-35 is a flop. I imagine this is why people fret about the Turkey thing, all this is about the data (that you wouldn't want Russian systems to get a copy of) not about the flying brick.
Overall, putting boring reliable tech in production does not generate much useful data. Putting unreliable prototypes does. And it's all about techno-military supremacy long-term game here, not losing or winning one little war in a country you don't care about.
Now about the pilots and soldiers... yeah, you're doing R&D in "production" (where "production" == "warfare" here), (the wrong) people will be killed, there will be a blood price paid for all this technological advancement, but in the end you'll benefit from it.
...only thing I find slightly horrifying is that this mindset (of "screw the 'client', let'd do some R&D in production to get unique insights and special competitive advantage from it" - that has already sipped into commercial hardware and software for a long time btw), creates an incentive to "gather more and better data" and when this translate to "wage more war" it doesn't bode well...
And regarding the stealth and other tech stuff, well, I'm not sure about that. During the last ILA the F-35 didn't fly because some company, Hensold if I remember well, had some fancy new radar tech on-site. They only flew when the radar was removed from the premises, even then rumor at the time was Hensold could pinpoint the F-35 reasonably well.
If you ask me, the F-35 was a shot at a NATO monopoly on combat aircraft including a decade long support market and de-facto last word on operations regardless of operator. Seems it didn't work out as planned so far with Germany and France as well as the UK looking at home-grown Gen5+ fighters.
They could finally build some high-density apartment buildings ;-)
Good luck keeping it secure!
I think this line of criticism stems from confusing two mission types which are superficially similar, but actually have very different requirements:
- Attack missions like Close Air Support involve hitting enemy tactical targets on or near the battlefield. In recent conflicts the US has been involved in, these have mostly been in very permissive environments (limited defenses except MANPADs). This is the mission most people are thinking of when they talk about how great the A-10 is, or suggest buying the A-29.
- Strike missions involve hitting targets that might be deep behind enemy lines, protected by multiple layers of radar, air defenses, etc. This is much more difficult to do, and is getting harder as radar, fighter aircraft, and AA missiles improve. Doing it successfully against even a moderately equipped enemy requires aircraft with higher-end and more specialized capabilities than you would need for typical "Attack" roles.
You might notice that Strike is the second word in Joint Strike Fighter. That's not a coincidence - the strike capability is the major distinguishing feature of the aircraft, and what drives a lot of its requirements (stealth, decoys, etc.) The fact that it can also do a decent job at Attack missions is a bonus, but the US has a lot of F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s who can also handle that role in a permissive environment for the foreseeable future.
This blog post explains the distinction in more detail than I'd be able to: https://www.navalgazing.net/Strike-Warfare
They said the exact same thing about the F-15. And the F-18. Both of which went on to spectacular success - the F-15 in particular has never once been bested in air to air combat, while claiming 105 enemy kills (including MiG-29s). It's able to do that due to its big sexy radar and complicated electronics and all the other techno-gadgets that people like Pierre Sprey decried every step of the way because he still thinks we live in 1967.
On the ground, there is less room for innovation. Guns are a mature technology. The primary concern in 2019 are things like reliability and cost, because the difference between an AK47 and an M16 is not that big. They both shoot bullets, they both are capable of full-auto, they both are light. To the soldier holding them, big difference of course - but from the 10,000 mile perspective they're basically doing the same job in the same way. It doesn't make much difference if I'm a general planning strategies whether my rifleman are holding M4s or M16s or AK47s.
Air combat is different, technology is still radically changing things every generation. And if you're caught a generation behind it's hard to make a fight of it. We have jet engines, and our enemies don't. We have solid state avionics, our enemies don't. We have AESA radar, our enemies don't. And now? We have all those advanced technologies in the F-35, like production line stealth, that no other peer enemy yet has deployed on the field. Certainly technology is not everything, you also need training, tactics, support systems. But it is undeniably a massive advantage, and one that's worth a little teething to get.
>The Army and Marines have been crying out for years for a suitable replacement for the ageing A-10. It's the finest close support aircraft ever made, it has a legendary reputation among infantrymen who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the USAF are still planning on retiring it in favour of the F-35, an aircraft that is simply incapable of performing the same role. Even if the F-35 were inarguably an excellent aircraft, it's the wrong aircraft for a vitally important job.
The A-10 is a really awful CAS platform. It's ungodly slow and so takes forever to get on station, the cannon is horrendously inaccurate, it's got a low mission capability rating and the entire concept of its design (low-flying ruggedness) was rendered obsolete with the invention of the manpad. I mean this is the platform that flew the least number of CAS missions of any capable airframe in Iraq 2, yet had the highest number of friendly fire incidents in absolute terms. If you're curious how, the cannon. All the other platforms are using fancy sensors and PGMs, while the A-10 is often going on gun runs with the Mk-1 human eye. The A-10's only two numerical advantages are loiter time and cost per flight hour, but drones exist now so it doesn't even have those unique positives anymore.
The fact that soldiers love the A-10 is meaningless - sailors loved battleships too, even after they were turned into big metal deathtraps by airplanes. The troops just really like giant cannons, even when they're not actually useful anymore.
>Servicemen don't want cutting-edge innovation - they want weapons systems that work reliably in the field and provide useful combat capabilities.
Soviet jets could handle pebbles being blown into their air in takes. They could handle smacking down onto the tarmarc at a velocity that would cripple any modern American jet. They could be nearly shaken apart, but were just built so robustly they'd still make it home. Comparatively American jets were fragile prima donnas who needed huge amounts of maintenance and could only be flown on the most pristine of air fields.
But once they were in the air? USAF planes showed exactly why all that TLC were more than worth it. I'd rather be sitting in an F-15 than any Soviet fighter ever put in the sky. At the risk of repeating myself, the ground pounder ideology of "rugged, reliable, lowest-possible-tech" is suicide in the air. In the air, technology advantages still play a huge role and so suffering a low mission capability rating is quite possibly worth it if you get a massive return on power (within reason of course).
In the same vein, the US developed upgraded Sherman tanks with a bigger, higher velocity 76mm cannon and produced them in mass quantities, but they left them behind during the first weeks and months of the invasion. The men didn't want the new tanks because they hadn't yet experienced a situation where they were woefully inadequate, and the older 75mm guns performed better against soft targets like buildings. Don't fix what ain't broke, and so forth.
Which was a serious mistake. The situation had changed, and the 75mm guns were no longer sufficient to fight more heavily armored Tiger and Panther tanks from longer engagement ranges than they experienced in Italy. They would have fared better had they been forced into using the upgraded equipment that already existed.
I think what I'm really suggesting is a move from waterfall to agile procurement. A large proportion of procurement requirements can be satisfied better, faster and cheaper with COTS equipment. Rapid iterative improvements in existing weapons systems can provide more combat capability than big moonshot projects to gain a generational advantage.
The US military has unmatched logistical capability, but that capability is often hampered by slow and unresponsive procurement. Being able to move tons of materiel to any place on earth at very short notice is a massive advantage, but that advantage is squandered if you can't procure the right equipment at the right time.
The A-10C is a terrible CAS platform these days thanks to MANPADs. The gun isn’t as accurate or effective as just firing a Maverick or dropping a JDAM/LGB, and those have the distinct advantage of being able to be done with seven or eight miles of vertical altitude between you and the target, rendering pretty much any surface threat completely meaningless.
The F-35’s sensor suite (and altitude) also provides an enormous advantage in situational awareness, which is probably the most important factor in combat operations.
As far as I am aware no A-10 has ever been lost to MANPADS or small-calibre fire. Instead several have returned to base with significant damage, exactly as intended with redundant systems.
The A-10 was designed to operate over Central Europe in the face of radar-laid 23mm guns and Gecko & Grail light SAMs. Its primary targets were in fact AAA, SAM vehicles and command tanks whilst CAS was secondary.
The A10 was designed solely as a tank killer, and was obsolete before it was fielded as the USSR upgraded their tank armor to defeat its gun.
It has never been able to operate in anything other than an environment where we enjoy complete air superiority and near complete ground control. It has never had AAA or SAMs, as targets -- it cannot operate in anything other than a completely permissive environment in that regard. This is not a mystery, it's well known. It was designed to strafe long lines of tanks, was never good at it, and has been obsolete since before it was fielded.
Er, citation required. I dont remember those kinds of complaints. F-16, sure, and theyd be right.
> And the F-18
Well, that depends on if you mean the F, or the A part. Many thought the F-14 was a way better fighter and had better legs. For attack, we ended up with an a/c with less range and payload capability. Which just makes it more acceptable to replace it with something with even less range. All of which reduces the strike bubble of a carrier group.
The JSF has longer legs than both as I recall.
High tech can easily lead to winning the battle but losing the war. You can have an aircraft that wins every fight that it gets into, but the price of that technological superiority might be that you can't afford to deploy them where they're needed, or can't afford to go to war at all.
The Sri Lankan air force wasn't able to control their airspace in the civil war because their fighters were too fast. I'm sure the F-35's high technology will be well-suited to fighting the Soviet Union. I'm less sure that it will help achieve a successful outcome in the next Iraq, or even the next Vietnam.
Look at the exhaust, which is where the heat comes from. Nearly all MANPADS are infrared guided. The A-10 hides the engine exhaust by surrounding it with the aircraft's tail. An F-35 doesn't even try to be stealth at the rear, with a great big round hot orifice.
The A-10 can frequently survive MANPADS. It has two engines, physically separated on pods. The F-35 will crash if that single engine gets hit.
Tow a decoy if you want more protection.
It's all about cyber war, foreign agents supposedly manipulating (US) elections without repercussions, espionage and manipulation of networks and devices on all levels.
This reality requires a complete rebuild of relevant networks, software and hardware, a large "cyber force" of people who have skills that right now only a handful of experts have, and fundamental changes in how society communicates and deals with information.
While your post was entertaining, to me it is about as relevant as a discussion how to breed and train horses for cavalry.
And how exactly does a better plane help with the Crimea situation?
Yet while I'm not advocating starting WW3 over Crimea, given Russia intervened militarily, there arguably should have been more military support for our friends in Ukraine.
I'm likewise not saying there isn't cyber warfare and psy-ops etc, but I'm absolutely saying there are still and will continue to be conflicts where are there are boots on the ground, tanks on the road, and planes in the sky.
I'm actually quite happy that they are focusing on theoretical weapon F35, not a practical upgrade to a practical weapon.
I'm hoping theoretical weapon will be used less. I think modern weaponary is so muderous that we should be focusing more on its role as a deterrent (in which being hyperadvanced might help) not the practical aspects (how efficiently it helps people to kill people when in use).
Now, we can hit a single building with a handful of guided bombs or cruise missiles and civilian losses are typically in the double digits.
But it’s beyond time for this meme to die.
The A-10C just isn’t suitable for this task any more. Low and slow just doesn’t cut it. It’s slow to respond due to a cruise speed of 200-220KIAS (compared to 550-575KIAS for an F-15E). Having to get to within 1.0–1.2nm to employ the famed GAU-8/A Avenger (or rockets) makes it a MANPAD and AAA magnet. The gun is limited in the types of targets it’s effective against nowadays as well. And if you aren’t using the gun or rockets, you’re dropping JDAMs (GPS and laser-guided bombs) or firing air-to-ground missiles like Mavericks. If you’re using these, you’d rather do so high and fast: you get both increased effective range and more forgiving margins of error during weapon release.
And if you’re doing this, you might as well just put them on an F-15E which outclasses the A-10C in terms of carrying capacity, response time, survivability (unsurprisingly, not getting hit because you’re at 600KIAS at 30,000ft is better than surviving being hit because you were flying 250KIAS at 500ft), weapons availability, and virtually any other trait you can imagine other than “loiter time”.
And response time trumps loiter time hands-down, especially when loitering dramatically increases the odds of losing the pilot and/or airframe to surface fire. On top of this, if you're in permissive airspace there's always a tanker nearby to extend your ability to loiter (and if you're not in permissive airspace, your A-10C fleet is grounded anyway).
The A-10C is lauded, and rightfully so, because it was such an effective CAS platform. But it’s not any more. All of the praise you hear about it it real and deserved, but comes from the perspective of people who saw it in action because that’s the plane that filled the role and so that’s the plane they saw in action. With other planes now filling that role, you will hear the similar praise about those planes for pretty much the same reason. The people who aren’t singing its praises are the commanders who see the frightening number of lost or damaged airframes and see how poorly it stacks up against other planes readily available in our fleet.
Edit: And I have to respond to this point.
> We know it's a hell of a lot less reliable than existing US aircraft and competing foreign aircraft.
The F-35 is literally one of the most reliable aircraft we have ever flown (second only to the F-22). Since 2006 (thirteen years), we've had four losses. For the F-22, it's four losses in twenty-two years. The F-15? 46 were lost from 1972–1985. And nearly twenty-five percent of our F-14 fleet has been lost in non-combat accidents.
Loiter time is extremely important for ground support. Otherwise the enemy just waits for the F-35 to fly over.
And reliable means dispatch rate, not losses, especially for tiny fleets (under 200) like the F-22.
I’m not saying that loiter time isn’t important. It is. But it’s not as important as arriving sooner, employing more ordnance faster, avoiding killing friendlies, and not getting shot down. All of which the Warthog are objectively terrible at. And if you do need that extra loiter time, there’s always aerial refueling.
Also, aerial refueling can only be done away from the battlefield where the tanker is safe.
Furthermore, if combat is happening in an area too unsafe for tankers to operate nearby, your Warthogs won't be operating there either.
Ah great some first-hand military combat experience here for once!
> in sims as part of a realism-based squadron
Ah, ok then... a computer game...
Second, I mentioned this to simply establish myself as someone who very much loves this plane. Flying military sims doesn’t make me an expert on the topic, but it does give some indication that this is a topic I’ve cared about and researched on my own in the past several years. If you have a disagreement with any of the actual points I raised, I’m all ears.
Third, you might be surprised to see how far these “games” have progressed in the past thirty years.
How many F-35s were operational in that time? Without that information, the number is meaningless.
Nearly all MANPADS are infrared guided. The A-10 hides the engine exhaust by surrounding it with the aircraft's tail. This is better than the F-35 and F-22, and about as good as the YF-23 or F-117.
Any of those aircraft can be additionally protected by a towed decoy.
"... in sims"
Basically, software, of which there's a ton to say regarding F-35 development. All the features required and component integration required them to adopt an agile methodology, moving away from the Ada-style development processes and, arguably hacking things together until they kinda worked. The predictable result is a long-tail of bugs that may never be fully eradicated.
Microstrips have been used in planes for decades.
AR, not VR, right? Pretty sure they were doing that in helicopters years ago. Doesn't the Apache have a 30mm autocannon slaved to the pilot's helmet display, such that it shoots where the pilot looks? I'm no helmet geek, but I think that stuff came out in the 80s.
I suppose the F-35's implementation is cooler, on account of being newer, but it doesn't seem earth shattering to me.
Probably depends, but the way I see it, AR is when you pass the world through but draw stuff on top of it, whereas VR means replacing what you see wholesale. So for instance, a HUD is AR, and F-35 helmet is VR.
The same system also exists for the Eurocopter Tiger
But next time I talk to my CEO I will try this with 'we do some crazy networking'.
They may not be firsts overall, but it seems like a pretty complicated environment to perform testing and development in.
I have to wonder what getting a software build out for a fighter jet must be like, and getting someone up in the air in different environments to test it must make the testing process daunting.
For it's faults, the F-35 is a weapon that can be configured and deployed at the drop of a hat for just about anything. That's a very powerful capability to have as a defensive and offensive weapon.
Yes. The military has tried the multi service aircraft idea in the past, wasted a lot of money, and failed completely to develop one of the desired variants. That was the F-111, which was supposed to have a Navy and Air Force version.
The F-35 was supposed to feature 80% parts commonality between the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps versions. Instead, it ended up being 20%.
With that little parts commonality, the different services should've just developed their own planes. All three services would've ended up with a more capable aircraft for their requirements that wasn't so heavily compromised. And it in all likelihood would have been cheaper.
> For it's faults, the F-35 is a weapon that can be configured and deployed at the drop of a hat for just about anything. That's a very powerful capability to have as a defensive and offensive weapon
It can fly a multitude of roles but it is not as good at many of them as a more focused aircraft would be. Considering the massive costs it was a bad trade off.
Something a cloth winged Sopwith Camel biplane from WW-1 would probably actually be better at; certainly more cost effective.
Nerds who are touting this turkey because "woo woo cool half million dollar vidya game helmet" ... y'awl make me want to renounce my citizenship. This turd can be defeated by a Russian tractor mechanic detuning his radar slightly.
Some in the Airforce recognized this and it lead to the light-attack aircraft competition.
But currently it's stopped, I guess there was not enough money in it and was killed by a competing faction in the Pentagon.
But the US can afford specialised aircraft. Betting the house on a jack-of-all-trades means you end up with a master of none. The US should be master of everything, and that means more specialised fighters, bombers, CAS, etc.
If the A-10 isn't good enough anymore, by all means design a replacement. But don't expect it to also take of vertically and perform air superiority. Everything comes at a trade-off. Having an airframe designed for VTOL and then use it for planes that don't VTOL is just wasteful.
A big motivation was that developing combat aircraft is stupidly expensive and extremely prone to cost overruns, which then make programs vulnerable to cancellation. So the defense industry and DoD got together to make this project very difficult to cancel. They sold the virtues of cost savings by sharing components, then they staked the future of US and allied air power on this one platform. On top of that they spread the production of the aircraft across FORTY-FIVE states. It is not only the most expensive weapons program in history, it is the most politically engineered.
> But the US can afford specialised aircraft. Betting the house on a jack-of-all-trades means you end up with a master of none. The US should be master of everything, and that means more specialised fighters, bombers, CAS, etc.
Yes, but one of the critical weaknesses of the US military's philosophy is that if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing. The DoD frequently capitulates to the desire to gold plate weapons systems and change requirements to the point that projects get cancelled. So, the JSF is in a way, a response to that tendency, just the totally wrong one.
> If the A-10 isn't good enough anymore, by all means design a replacement. But don't expect it to also take of vertically and perform air superiority. Everything comes at a trade-off. Having an airframe designed for VTOL and then use it for planes that don't VTOL is just wasteful.
I think the STOVL requirement is key factor that really effed up the JSF program. And that entire requirement is born out of an irrational institutional fear the Marine Corps has about being left without air support that they harbor from WWII.
They later built two prototypes to test for the Navy, decided a common airframe wasn't going to work, and built the F14 using the lessons learned from that development effort instead.
The three variant JSFs are essentially three separate aircraft run by one program office.
The USAF and USN used a common aircraft in Vietnam to great effect -- the F4.
The JSF per aircraft cost is going to be less than the F18 by the time the program is finished.
They're actually shutting down the joint program office because it is now in fact, three separate aircraft. Which again, puts lie to the whole rationale of the program in the first place.
> The USAF and USN used a common aircraft in Vietnam to great effect -- the F4.
The F4 did decently, and if we use it as a guide, the Air Force and Navy variants should have been their own program, and the USMC should've had a separate airframe to accommodate their STOVL requirement. But that's not what we got, and that STOVL requirement is a large reason the platform has some big fundamental compromises.
> The JSF per aircraft cost is going to be less than the F18 by the time the program is finished.
People keep promising that, but the DoD and Lockheed keep laying games with how they quote costs in order to make it seem like cost parity is closer than it really is. Flyaway costs for the F-35 keep getting quoted against procurement costs for 4.5 gen aircraft to make the F-35 look better than it is on cost.
The USMC used the F4 alongside the USN as they always have. USMC aviators are trained as Naval aviators, deploy with USN ships, and support USN missions as part of the CVW. The ARG concept is different, and USMC STOVL fixed wing wasn't a thing in Vietnam. It's a more modern concept. You're projecting things that didn't exist into the past.
There are no compromises between the platforms for STOVL -- the JSF-B is a separate aircraft as it has been since the beginning and as you say in the sentence above. JSF-A and JSF-C are different airframes with different requirements and different capabilities.
So while the different variants have different wing surfaces there is no denying that the Air Force and Navy versions would've been designed differently if the airframe didn't have to fit a lift fan in it.
So then you're back to the fundamental question of why even bother. Parts commonality is 1/4th of what it was supposed to be. Costs are nowhere near what they were originally billed as, even with the most optimistic estimates.
Really the only virtue of the JSF approach was that it made the program too big to fail.
The size of the aircraft is driven by the need to carry large amounts of internal fuel and all internal stores, not the need for a lift fan for the B model. This allows all three models to operate with a reduced cross section for an expanded set of missions, which is the purpose of the aircraft.
Parts commonality is essentially non existent except for the engine and parts of the avionics -- that does make a difference and is a cost savings, but it's not the issue you make it out to be.
Costs are better than they were sold as, and their availability rates are better than they were sold as, and their accident rate is so low as to be non existent. It's a phenomenal aircraft and a capability that's going to completely change the balance of power in some regions of the world.
When on a bombing run radar stealth and bomb load matters, but acrobatic agility and VTOL / STOL doesn't. On a carrier, durability matters every time you slap the deck and VTOL /STOL might be very handy, but stealth or high altitude capability, not as much.
Designing a fighter/bomber to please every service is like training every soldier, sailor, airman, and marine to have the same fighting skills. It's going to get them all killed.
> at the drop of a hat
Ha! There are still multiple variants, and you cannot reconfigure instances of one variant to be instances of another, and certainly not at the drop of a hat.
You can be much more agile when you aren't trying to satisfy a large collection of armed services, nations, and mission roles many of whom are mostly interested in putting their mark on something instead of making it better.
>And would it be as effective?
Not if your definition of effective is ability of one aircraft to do everything. If your definition of effective is forces ability to achieve goals, then yes a set of aircraft specialists can be better than one generalist.
Quick turnaround is something yiu get from Soviets/Russians or Swedes, where the doctrines involved make it priority feature.
As an aside, I didn't say it was "way better", I just said they would come out ahead even burning money for decades.
The Russian Su-57 is plagued with the same kind of issues, made much worse by the fact that Russia is no longer the superpower it was. The difference between the US and a superpower in actual decline is that the US can throw almost unlimited funds at the F-35 program and Russia can't. The real mark of a superpower isn't that it makes clever things but that it can afford making stupid things.
The Russian approach to their defense industry is pretty rational IMO: they do small batches of extremely high-tech stuff mostly to keep their engineers active and to improve their institutional knowledge. Then they spin off iterative improvements and upgrades to the bulk of their legacy military hardware. Perfect examples are the T-72B3M and the Su-35. Hell, the Su-57 itself, if you look carefully, is basically a heavily-stealthed Su-27 planform.
And they can do this because their MISSILE tech is absolutely first-rate. Russia understood the "payloads over platforms" mentality long before the US did. And their national defense posture is basically "We have nukes to deter anyone who is an existential threat, and everyone else can be beaten by our leftover Soviet stuff."
The main problem to me is the F-35 is three airframes with three different sets of (competing) requirements, trying to save cost by keeping as much similar between them as possible. I don't know in the end if we would have just been better off with three purpose-built aircraft.
We've tried this in the past and failed to control costs spectacularly. The JSF/F-35 project is an insane boondoggle but it seems unlikely that the alternative of splitting them out would have been better.
We all know what should have been done by this point, which is... not the JSF. But we're pretty far down this road and we do need to modernize the current air superiority weapons we have, so... eh. It looks like we're stuck.
If it had been split out into three separate programs, we'd probably have two aircraft that were "good enough" and one that was behind schedule or deficient in some way.
I'll take that over one "no, really, we have just one more round of changes to make, and then it'll be ready to satisfy everyone" fighter.
Wikipedia indicates the A10 runs about $12M. Maybe it's actually more, but there is alot of room between 12 and 81. The article also indicates that the F-35 needs upgrades as soon as it's purchased, so they are playing games to lower the quoted price.
You did ask about "modern aircraft" which the A10 is not, but that's my point. "Modern" or "Advanced Technology" is not relevant - the troops and pilots are saying the F-35 can not perform the mission of the A10 as well as the A10, so it seems to be a case of "modern advanced technology" is actually an expensive step in the wrong direction.
The A10 is completely ineffective against any enemy with modern air defenses or any enemy with serious ongoing support from such a country.
The A10 helped against Iraq, Afghanistan and ISIS (if it was used against ISIS) only because no such country had any serious commitment to the survival of those regimes.
Moreover, the A10 cannot be upgraded to be effective against modern air defenses without basically designing and developing an entirely new warplane. It would for example need new engines capable of generating vastly more electricity than the current engines can.
I'm glad that the Air Force of my country is not spending a lot of money or time and attention planning wars against opponents that will quickly lose any ability to shoot down its planes. Even if those are the majority of wars it will fight in the future, what really matters is the next war that is not like that.
While we're in a speculative mood, just what kind of planes do you think are needed to be a superpower nowadays? Seems to me that a plausible answer is drones, lots of drones, and missiles, with a EW / networking / stealth focused plane to forward-position a human to coordinate them. The F-35 seems to fit that role like a glove.
ICBMs are another potential answer but I have a hard time being angry at war toys that provide intermediate options between "peace" and "destroy the world."
I believe the same would be true for tanks. Lots of small and nimble tanklets remotely operated from stand-off mobile c&c centers.
Remote operation is vulnerable to jamming and anti-satellite weapons.
You could have a plane that goes from point A to B and shoots down anyone that tries to stop it along the way without any remote operation.
And you don't envision any problems with this?
Like Iranian or Korean Boings?
The answer might even change as AI develops.
If I had a budget the size of the US military, I'd want both.
Of course, no one knows that the next war is going to look like until it happens; speculation on what mix of weapons will be most effective is fruitless without combat experience, and we haven't had symmetrical wars with the latest technology since... what, 1973?
Antennas can be turned off in microseconds, but AWACS can't stop being a big fat sitting duck ever.
In case you need to assert air superiority over a better armed adversary then you would need the best fighter planes possible and this F35 will probably not pass the mark.
Meantime military technology and requirements evolve constantly. They don't wait for F-35 to be ready.
The result has been expensive retrofits to the fleet as more and more defects have been found.
There is definitely a "targeting the down market" aspect to the productization.
And of course completely illegal under the 1977 Gevena Convention.
Declaration of St. Petersburg, 1868
Hague Convention, 1907
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
Geneva Conventions, 1949
The Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions, 1977,
An of course, UN Security Council resolution 255 (1968) including the 1977 clarification is still supported by USA, UK, Russia which 'positive assurance' against the use of weapons against NNWS.
(Which as an aside makes Trump's recent tweet to end Iran illegal under US law and probably a war crime).
But of course, its precisely the posession of these weapons that makes all these niceties irrelevant.
Law of the jungle.
The real worldwide risk of nukes is direct confrontation between nuclear powers.
Mine doesn't have either.