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Test Pilot Admits the F-35 Can’t Dogfight (medium.com)
353 points by suprgeek on June 30, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 392 comments

To all those saying that dogfighting is an antiquited doctrine: I agree with you, but the F-35A is supposed to still do that, regardless of how archaic and improbable such a situation is supposed to occur.

Because it's supposed to be able to dogfight, compromises in its other capacities have been reduced. Now we find out that, as everyone knew, it can't dogfight. So why even design it to do a mediocre job of dogfighting when they could equivalently eliminate that design constraint and allow it to do its other roles better?

The simple fact is that the military has tried to bite off more than it can chew by asking that the F-35 can do everything at once. Because the F-35A is slated to replace the F-16, other sacrifices have been made to make it sort of approach being kind of nearly as capable as the F-16. As a result, it is doing its other roles worse than what would be the case if the military instead accepted that one size does not fit all and removed that requirement.

Frankly, it doesn't matter how unrealistic the idea of dogfighting is. The military said 'make this thing able to dogfight at least equivalently to the F-16' so LM have gone away and made specific design decisions to try to achieve that. It's now fallen short of that target, and in doing so has also compromised other capabilities.

Dogfighting was supposed to be archaic and improbable in 1968 as well, since who was going to get close and maneuver when you had guided missiles? Then the losses mounted, and they created TOPGUN.

What really makes dogfighting unlikely, is the fact that United States hasn't fought anyone with airplanes in 40 years.

From everything I read, the F-35 is shit for two reasons. First, the Pentagon hadn't learned it's lessons from all the other times they tried to make one fighter for every service which almost always has failed. (The F-4 being the notable exception.) And Second, the Marines insisted on a damn VSTOL aircraft. Really, it's the Marines's fault. If ignored them (and really you should, because they're just insisting on duplicated effort), then you'd have much narrower, and thus maneuverable, airframe. The reason why the airframe is so wide, is because it must accommodate a lift-fan than isn't even installed in the Air Force and Navy versions. Even when the lift-fan is installed, the extra weight, and the need to take off and land vertically, causes the Marine version to have less range and less armaments. If you had cut the Marines out, you would have gotten the <a href="http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/amazing-photos-of-chinas-ne....

It's really a shitty plane, and what really pisses me off about it, is that this seems to be incredibly common place anymore. Read the <a href="http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/broken-booms-why-is-it-so-h... cluster fuck around the KC-X</a>. You can't read these things without wondering if the Pentagon doesn't actually know how to buy anything, and they're getting taken for a ride by overly complex (and thus very lucrative) contractors.

I don't think the Pentagon knows what it's doing. Actually, I don't think anyone involved knows what they're doing.

> Dogfighting was supposed to be archaic and improbable in 1968 as well, since who was going to get close and maneuver when you had guided missiles? Then the losses mounted, and they created TOPGUN.

There were some actually good reasons to believe that dogfighting was a part of a bygone era. When those planes used in '68 were being developed, missiles truly had the kind of superiority that their designers expected them to have. Then better countermeasures and anti-missile tactics were developed, and suddenly dogfighting was relevant again.

The first part is again true today. Missiles are easier to update than aircraft. Taking an air-to-air missile from the 90's and ripping out the laughably outdated electronics and replacing them with a modern CPU and targeting software makes it able to completely bypass all countermeasures available to current fighters. Right now, if an enemy gets to lock a missile at you from within the envelope where you can't simply outrun the missile until it's engine runs out, you might as well immediately eject. Your evasive maneuvers are not going to beat a missile that is getting mid-course updates from it's firing aircraft, which can tell your decoys apart from your plane, and which can plan and simulate the optimal attack vector in ways that the 90's missile designers could only dream of. Near future missile designs using much improved engines like ramjets or the throttleable ducted rocket with a secondary ram combustion stage on the MBDA Meteor seek to increase the engine performance and longevity of missiles to the point that you really can't ever even outrun them.

So currently no aircraft can remain flying with missiles in the air. There is, of course, always the possibility that we develop new countermeasures that can beat modern missiles, returning dogfighting to relevance. However, even if missiles always beat aircraft in the future, that doesn't make a F-35 a good fighter. Because, if missiles always beat planes, why not just build lots of cheap planes with a lot of missiles?

I'll admit I've been out of the field for a long time... I sort of cut ties and haven't read up on the latest tech in probably 15 years. Your point about missiles receiving mid-course updates is very interesting, though. I have a couple of questions...

Has any (unclassified) work been done on rear-mounted weaponry? I mean, if missiles can have modern CPUs and targeting software, can't the countermeasures have those as well? It seems like accurate, rear-mounted, auto-targeting machine guns (or heck, lasers for all I know) could still be an effective countermeasure, especially if you're in the position of trying to outrun one. That is to say, rather than trying to outmaneuver, outrunning would take you on a straight path, which would put the missile on a more-or-less straight path behind you until it hits. It seems like this is the perfect scenario for auto-targeting defensive cannons.

I have seen the Trophy countermeasure system for tanks work in a similar way, its not ridiculous to think it could be applied to planes.

Upon further review it looks like Raytheon is also making one (again for tanks.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trophy_%28countermeasure%29 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quick_Kill_active_protection_s...

Lasers have a big power to mass+volume problem for mounting them to fighters. Check out the anti-mortar laser systems for an idea of the size of current laser systems required to shoot down mortars. That's probably a good lower bound on the power required for an active A2A missile defense system. Similarly with using kinetic defense systems mounting a system with a high enough rate of fire along with the tracking and pointing mechanisms just doesn't work on a small plane like a fighter, we have systems like that for ships but they're huge.

Maybe, but at the cost of how much added weight? And even if the thing is approximately 100% effective I'd still think pilots would be very reluctant to voluntarily become a perfect target.

Your comments about modern air-to-air missiles may be correct, but in 1968, the beyond-visual-range (BVR) engagement was more of a bomber general's fantasy than a reality. Kill probability of the AIM-7 Sparrow missile in those days was less than 10% [1].

Pilots' accounts of air combat in Vietnam routinely mention the firing of a salvo of missiles --rather than just one-- when a firing solution presented itself, due to the notorious unreliability of missiles.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIM-7_Sparrow

The specific aircraft I was referring to, the F4 Phantom II, first flew in 1958 and was introduced to service in 1960. The missiles that the designers had in mind were the Sidewinder and the marketing promises of the Sparrow.

And also, the sparrow had a decent hit probability -- that is, unless the target aircraft released chaff, in which case it was very unlikely to hit.

So why don't ground-to-air missiles make all fighters obsolete?

(If the answer is that they lack "mid-course updates from it's firing aircraft," that sounds like something that could be jammed.)

AA missiles start with a huge energy disadvantage. They start with a velocity and altitude of 0 so they need an engine powerful enough to catch the fighter and enough fuel to reach it's altitude. More power means more weight, more weight means more fuel, that equation results in a huge missile with minimal maneuverability.

No maneuverability = no hit. Surface to air missiles are intended to target low, slow, or bulky targets and fighters are outside those categories.

Sounds like what's needed is a bunch of high altitude blimps or cargo planes with air-to-air missiles.

And enough countermeasures they don't get picked off by ground-to-air missiles.

Or two-stage AA missiles with large "get it up in the air and fast ASAP" 1st stages and smaller "aim at the baddy" 2nd stages?

Communication between plane and rocket has several options, one of which is effectively a laser pointer in the aircraft pointed at one in the rocket modulated with the information to be transmitted.

It's fast, lots of bandwidth, and it's totally unjammable. Or even detectable for that matter.

Unjammable by clouds? Wouldn't going into clouds be a way to evade in this case?

Depends on the frequency. Clouds are famously transparent for ultraviolet for instance. The sun floods the sky with it of course, but there's plenty of choice. But at the ranges we're talking about 10-20, maybe 100km ... yeah pretty much unjammable by clouds. Sufficiently intense rain or something like a snow storm would probably work though.

I doubt you'd be flying in the conditions that would block a laser from hitting it's target. In practice, there really aren't that many ways to "jam" a rocket, radio jamming really can't hit all the bands, and frequency-hopping SDR is very, very cheap now.

To my mind your best hope would be an EMP or a small missile-tracking gun.

> frequency-hopping SDR is very, very cheap now.

Which also makes broadband frequency-hopping jammers similarly cheap.

Frequency hopping doesn't make jammers more effective. So long as you cannot prevent the pattern of the transmitter, your only option is to jam all frequencies, which means you have a massive disadvantage in the power you need to emit, to the point that simple directional antennas probably make your task flatly impossible.

Laser communications are being studied because they are impossible to detect, not because the existing communications are too easy to jam.

(late edit:)


Because ground-to-air missiles need to be put on the ground before the engagement, and that's not always possible, I guess.

I highly encourage everybody to read the book 'Sidewinder: Creative Missile Development'. Missiles are not magical things that are just better; they had lots of issues and it took a radical US team to produce something really good. The Russians subsequently copied it, improved it and celebrated the birthday of the father of the Sidewinder!

Because stealth and sensors still play a huge role in your effective distance of engagement, don't they?

targeting hasn't improved as much as you think (hell, 1920s mechanical computers have about as much accuracy as a modern day cpu, so you can tick more in a second, so what?). there are still so many reasons for a missile to miss its target that even todays missiles are unreliable against an advanced craft with the right support.

thats the real reason they believe dog fighting is dead. having radar, drone, and satellite control of the sky is far above and beyond important. who cares if your multi core cpu enabled missle has a .0001% more accuracy when you know when the enemy's plain is fueling up in the hangar?

the US doesn't believe its going to get into a fight with a peer competitor, that's why they are ill concerned with dog fighting abilities.

> targeting hasn't improved as much as you think (hell, 1920s mechanical computers have about as much accuracy as a modern day cpu, so you can tick more in a second, so what?)

The primary advances are the ability to distinguish signals returned by chaff/flares from the real aircraft, and to have a model of the target aircaft's capabilities, so that on each targeting step the missile simulates the most extreme maneuvering it's capable in all directions, aiming the missile so that it is capable of keeping it's seeker on it and following regardless of how the plane flies. That's something that a higher tick rate is quite useful for.

(I'm agreeing with the parent post, just elaborating.)

Also, much like the weather, sometimes you can only make accurate predictions if you make a small prediction and correct it once you get feedback.

Much like you can get insanely high correlations on your predictions about the weather if you never predict more than 15 minutes out, the problem of predicting the other plane's response only become tractable when you can predict and correct over very short windows.

The higher clock rate doesn't just do more of the same faster, but rather, enable a sort of "phase shift", where the speed enables a new form of computation to work in a meaningful way.

Doesn't that imply that anti-missile missiles are just around the corner?

> Doesn't that imply that anti-missile missiles are just around the corner?

Anti-missile missiles already exist (missiles designed to intercept air-to-air missiles are still a ways off.)

>the US doesn't believe its going to get into a fight with a peer competitor, that's why they are ill concerned with dog fighting abilities.

Then why don't they buy more AC-130?

I'm not saying they are right in that assumption, and I'm not sure why you would suggest the AC-130.

they are more focused on drones for better or for worse

The focus of your previous post was that electronic gizmos make dogfighting obsolete and unnecessary. You can put far more electronics and weapons in an AC-130 than in an F-35. I'm only half-joking here. If you have no maneuverability or power advantage, then just forget about dogfighting altogether and take more weapons and countermeasures.

If they field this thing and try to rely on it, someone will build a purpose-built F-35 killer for a fraction of the cost and field 10x of them against it in battle; assuming anyone ever wants to have an air war with the US.

>they are more focused on drones for better or for worse

I agree drones and remotely piloted will eventually supplant piloted craft, but I think the Air Force is a generation of leadership away from that change.

> assuming anyone ever wants to have an air war with the US.

If the past serves as a guide, it's usually the other way around.

Because the AC-130 is far more vulnerable to MANPADs and so has had periods even in Iraq where it was restricted to night flying only due to losses.

I read an article some time ago about how the US Air Force was more interested in fighters that looked like what they felt fighters should look like, rather than simply effective fighters; designed for missions that they wanted to be important, rather than missions that are actually used in reality; and of course big orders with manufacturers, because that's where the top of the air force retires.

That article also pointed out that for those reasons, the air force hates the A-10, despite the fact that it's actually the most effective planes for one of the most common mission types that they have. But it's not what they want to do, and it doesn't look like an F-15, so it's no good.

One reason they're retiring the A-10 is wiring. It's inadequate for all the electronics they want to upgrade and to expensive to replace because the design is so tight you'd have to gut the plane.

I imagine the option of having a microwaved Hot Pocket on a long mission without blowing the fuses would be nice.

So build a replacement for the A-10. If the idea is good, but the version from the 1970s is woefully out of date, then design something that does exactly that, but better.

I was under the impression that the A-10 is fine for Afghanistan but useless anywhere there is good air defence - just too slow. That said it could be useful for blunting an armoured vanguard.

Who are we fighting who has a good air defense?

Also, who are we fighting who would have a good air defense the second week of the conflict?

(Don't say China. China has replaced Confucianism with Waltonism, as in Sam.)

The main problem for the A-10 is widely available, effective MANPADS. I'm not sure what you can do to immunize your attack aircraft from them, but I am pretty sure that the F-35 isn't the answer.

> I'm not sure what you can do to immunize your attack aircraft from them

You can't. What you can do, is make attack aircraft more numerous, cheaper, and more expendable -- which almost certainly means unmanned. Manned combat aircraft are becoming dinosaurs for much the same reasons as battleships did.

Can't disagree with any of that.

MANPADS are an issue but the A-10 was designed with their deployment in mind. The most important feature of a MANPAD system is it's ability to be carried by 1-2 soldiers. That places an upper bound on the weight of a system which limits the size of the missile's warhead.

Most MANPADS have warheads weighing less than 5kg, a few kg of HE is enough to cause significant damage but the A-10 was built to fly with half a wing, one engine, one rudder/elevator assembly, and a mountain of shrapnel stuck in the pilot's armored tub. MANPADS will get a mission kill on an A-10 but they aren't powerful enough to bring one down the majority of the time.

Stealth unfortunately does not make the plane invisible, just harder to detect by radar. But for CAS missions, you're going to be seen anyway, so stealth is useless there.

I agree. I think the F-35-can-do-CAS people contend that the F-35 can do CAS from altitude (above MANPADS range) with smart-munitions, but I doubt these claims for a number of reasons including availability/sortie-rate, ie cost per sortie, mission turnaround time, etc.

> I think the F-35-can-do-CAS people contend that the F-35 can do CAS from altitude (above MANPADS range) with smart-munitions,

Stand-off attack with smart munitions is a different role than CAS; so this isn't so much F-35-can-do-CAS as F-35-is-sufficient-because-CAS-is-not-necessary.

EDIT: to be clear, I am characterizing the position here, not endorsing it.

> F-35-is-sufficient-because-CAS-is-not-necessary.

It's been said before, turned out to be untrue before, and I see no reason to believe it this time. Until someone finds me some credible infantrymen who say that CAS isn't needed, I will not support putting boots on the ground without a strong CAS game.

EDIT: re: EDIT: Fair enough! Don't worry, I haven't downvoted you or anything like that. As far as that position, I feel like it is maybe not the most honest one from some folks since the F-35 has been touted by some as a platform with which to do CAS.

> immunize your attack aircraft from them


Does "stealth" mean anything in close visual range? Can you do close air support from afar? I don't think you can.

I was responding to "MANPADS", etc. Such a device will need detectors of some kind, e.g., heat, radar, and the usual approaches to stealth should help.

For close air support, maybe the US wants to use fast, stealth aircraft firing missiles to spots specified with laser designators, GPS, etc.

As I recall, at times the USAF claimed that to kill tanks an F-16 with a missile was better than the A-10: Sure, the gun on the A-10 is amazing, but the A-10 flies low and slow and should be vulnerable to, say, MANPADS. The F-16 flies higher and faster, fires a missile, and then is out'a there.

Maybe the USAF wants the F-35 to be better, still: Use stealth.

Sure, maybe soon the USAF will want its missiles to kill tanks, etc. fired from drones, maybe even stealth drones.

Not aware of any MANPADS that can use radar. AFAIK they all use heat seekers. Not much you can do other than deploy flares. Stealth doesn't help you in close visible range.

>For close air support, maybe the US wants to use fast, stealth aircraft firing missiles to spots specified with laser designators, GPS, etc.

Yeah, the Air Force always says that, and the ground troops always demand A-10's Apaches, etc.

>As I recall, at times the USAF claimed that to kill tanks an F-16 with a missile was better than the A-10: Sure, the gun on the A-10 is amazing, but the A-10 flies low and slow and should be vulnerable to, say, MANPADS. The F-16 flies higher and faster, fires a missile, and then is out'a there.

The Air Force always claims that they have a good reason to get rid of the A-10.

The fart-gun while awesome, isn't the real reason troops love it so much. The ability to loiter on station for a long time and keep enemy forces down in defensive mode is. Neither fast-movers, nor helicopters can loiter as long.

>Maybe the USAF wants the F-35 to be better, still: Use stealth.

Stealth isn't a panacea, it's a buff against the enemy's radar. And, yeah, drones/unmanned are the future.

I mentioned both radar and heat. If MANPADS are heat seekers, okay.

Some versions of stealh try to lower their heat signatures, e.g., hide the jet engine output from the ground by an extension of the part of the plane below the engine and mixing the jet exhaust with cool air. For the F-117, can get a little view of its engine output at


Looks like they tried to hide the exhaust heat.

Close in CAS means close in proximity to friendly troops. Before smart munitions this required the aircraft to also be in close proximity to hit the enemy force without hitting friendlies. Now an orbiting bomber or drone can deliver a targeted strike while flying high in the sky miles away.

I love the old warthog, but in the days of drones, I can't see much of a use anymore.

I think we'll have the Warthog until after the ground troops are confident with the drones / remotely piloted craft. That opinion is less to do with my own ideas about the potential of drones to do CAS well, and more to do with my assessment of what military decision makers will tolerate in terms of change.

Why not China ?

They will absolutely defend themselves militarily over the dispute in the South China Sea or Taiwan.

They are quite keen to start a skirmish with their neighbours to assert their authority and dominance over the region.

> Why not China ?

They're heavily invested in us, both in terms of bonds and in terms of selling us stuff. Both of that goes away the second they challenge us militarily, and their economy couldn't take it.

I'm not so sure their economy is still as weak as it once was. My impression is that China really has its shit together, more than any other country. Their economy isn't as big as the US yet, but it's catching up and maturing. I think the time will come when China will insist on dominating its own sphere of influence.

Yes, that is also true for every other effective ground attack platform. AC-130, Drones, Apaches and other helicopters. The A-10 isn't a fighter, it is for ground attack. Not even the most fervent A-10 fanatics believe that the A-10 is a capable air-to-air fighter; it was never intended to be. So, yes it needs fighters to ensure air superiority so that it can operate. That's not a bug.

I once heard they're great for hunting helicopters.

While it's fine for Afghanistan it was designed for a cold-war tank battle. If you don't need to kill tanks or dodge air defences a propeller-powered plane that looks like something out of WW2 is a lot cheaper... and that's what's being developed by a bunch of firms for counter-insurgency.

There are already several of those types of aircraft to choose from. My favorite is Embraer's Super Tucano, of which the US is buying 100 for the Afghan government.

Replace "Afghanistan" with "the Fulda Gap" and you have exactly described the A-10's original design criteria.

In a ground support aircraft, slowness is good, because then it can turn over the battlefield. Anyway, the plane can take a huge amount of punishment and still fly.

We don't deploy aircraft in places with good air defense.

The main purpose of a military is the ability to threaten violence. The ability to execute violence is a prerequisite for that.

Military purchases aren't just for today's conflicts.

Russia is going to continue to assert themselves against NATO's encroachment into the former USSR countries and China wants to be seen to be their region's unquestioned superpower. Both have a lot of political support internally to demonstrate their military strength.

That's a strawman. Many of the older airframes in use have seen multiple systems upgrades to modernize them. If "old wiring" is the reason to mothball the A10 (yet again) then why is the B52 fleet being kept in service for a planned 95 year lifetime on the oldest airframes?

The A-10C upgrade program seems to fly in the face of that.

Really, the biggest problem with the A-10 right now is that the airframes are getting old, but that's a problem with our entire aircraft inventory. e.g., the F-15 having been grounded multiple times in the past decades because of airframes literally giving out and breaking up in training flights.

The A-10 fleet is supposed to get rewinged to help with this; the USAF signed contracts with Boeing to build the wings before they started actively fighting spending money on anything that isn't the F-35.

The A-10 is the exact sort of airplane they need now, so it's absolutely baffling to see people even talking about phasing these out and replacing the with the flying turkey that is the F-35.

As Iraq and Afghanistan proved, you need extremely close range support and sustained fire. The cannon on the A-10 is good enough for the sorts of targets they're dealing with, armor is rare, and it has significantly more mobility than the other best alternative, the AC-130.

What use is the F-35 when it can't linger, has extremely limited bombing capability, and can't strafe when necessary?

The A-10 is an extremely pragmatic solution to a messy problem.

Where did you read that? I've seen the same criticism repeated in multiple places and I still don't buy it. It appears to me to be another weak justification for why one of the Chair Force's least favorite step-children can't have any toys.

>because the design is so tight you'd have to gut the plane.

I don't get why that is. The plane was designed in the 70s, when personal computers were the size of closets. Even if it was tight, I can't imagine new tech taking up more space than the old tech did, even if there's more of it.

The new electronic circuits are smaller, but they require more power than their predecessors, there are more of them, and the sensors have placement requirements which conflict with the aircraft's configuration. All of this adds up to having to re-wire the aircraft, do a new layout, and move around a large number of parts.

>The new electronic circuits are smaller, but they require more power than their predecessors

That makes no sense at all. It is a nonsensical statement.

>and the sensors have placement requirements which conflict with the aircraft's configuration. All of this adds up to having to re-wire the aircraft, do a new layout, and move around a large number of parts.

Unless what you're really trying to say is that the stuff designed to fit a different specific aircraft can't be directly bolted on to an A-10, then I simply don't find those remarks credible. And if you are trying to say that, then you aren't being reasonable.

One of their jobs is to stay ahead. The missions they have today are important, but so too are the missions they may have in the future, and air superiority isn't exactly a program you can just reboot overnight when the need arises.

> "What really makes dogfighting unlikely, is the fact that United States hasn't fought anyone with airplanes in 40 years."

This is flat out wrong. The US fought Iraq twice, and Yugoslavia/Serbia, both of which had significant air forces. But in both cases the battle was so lopsided due to technological/numerical/logistical imbalances that the other side only had a few engagements before deciding to avoid doing so. In the first gulf war more than 2 dozen Iraqi aircraft were downed in air to air engagements. In the quasi-war that persisted between the gulf war and the invasion of Iraq there were numerous air to air engagements and downings of Iraqi aircraft. During the Kosovo campaign the Serbian military decided to try to test the mettle of their Mig-29s against NATO and got their ass handed to them by F-15s and F-16s. In the Iraq war the Iraqis decided to keep their aircraft grounded.

I've always been genuinely curious about this. Is this more about superiority of equipment, training, tactics or all of the above?

All of the above. US/NATO forces use effectively "combined arms" techniques. The first gulf war is an excellent example of this. First was intelligence gathering, mapping out SAM/AA and radar sites as well as their characteristics (frequencies, etc.) Early on a series of drones were launched to get the SAM radars to light them up, making it possible to locate and characterize each radar site. Then the first wave of attacks concentrated on taking out the ground based SAM infrastructure using conventional bombing attacks (say, tomahawk cruise missiles hitting the known locations) as well as radar-homing "anti-radiation" missiles (ARM). Additionally, because the radar signals characteristics had been determined that made electronic warfare and radar countermeasures that much more effective. Aircraft like the EA-6B Prowler and the F-111 would be able to send out specially crafted radar signals of the exact frequency and characteristics used by radar sites to spoof different radar returns, making the radar effectively unusable.

Meanwhile, command and control systems were being hit including communication lines and upper echelon meeting places. The F-117, for example, was hitting high level targets in downtown Baghdad in the earliest moments of the gulf war. And then airfields were being hit, taking out runways and destroying planes on the ground.

When the airplanes took to the sky they flew air superiority wings protecting bombing wings, and the battlespace is monitored by AWACS radar planes. So you have a high number of planes that are working in a coordinated manner and making use of tons of data from radar facilities and so forth vs isolated, unsupported groups of planes that have numerical inferiority.

That alone would be a huge advantage even if the technology and the training were identical, but when you add in the edge that superior technology and training provide it becomes overwhelming.

Also, most people know of the "Topgun" school, but most do not know the details. There were tremendous changes in the nature of aerial combat in the 1950s and 1960s as planes transitioned to jets and became capable of supersonic flight, onboard radar systems got added, radios became better, and a whole host of guided missiles became primary weapons systems. Air to air guided missiles have many limitations and need to be fired only under certain relative conditions of trajectory and airspeed between the attacker and target, and it's not always intuitive how to transition from a given relative configuration to one where firing a missile will have the highest chance of hitting the target. Additionally, maintaining an upper hand in air to air combat is tricky and requires a special set of skills.

In the 1960s there were two seminal works that laid the ground work for training pilots in the future. One was the Ault report, which was a very brutal look at the performance of American pilots in Vietnam up to that point. It's not to say that those pilots were doing poorly, only that they were making lots of mistakes that could be avoided with better training, especially in terms of knowing how and when to fire their weapons to have the greatest chances of a hit. The other was the combined work of Col. John Boyd and Thomas Christie in formulating foundational theory of modern fighter jet combat. They came up with the idea of the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) and "Energy-Maneuverability theory". The basic idea of OODA loop theory is that a pilot should be cycling through the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act phases as quickly as possible (without compromising the quality of each phase), and in so doing will maintain an edge in encounters. This is because the whole system, not just the pilot, is like an organism, and the OODA cycle time is characteristic of the reaction time of the organism. Having a faster reaction time is advantageous and can make it possible to steal the initiative from an opponent or to dull the advantage of the opponent having the initiative. This applies regardless of the maneuverability of the plane a pilot is flying, though more maneuverable planes tend to encourage a faster innate OODA-loop. EM theory forms the theoretical framework around which a pilot maneuvers their plane to avoid being at a disadvantage to the enemy while working toward gaining an advantage and to coming into a configuration where releasing weapons is most effective. That training has been the basis for fighter pilot performance in western countries since then, and it's resulted in extremely capable pilots.

> First, the Pentagon hadn't learned it's lessons from all the other times they tried to make one fighter for every service which almost always has failed. (The F-4 being the notable exception.)

The F-4 was developed to be a Navy fighter and turned out to be a decent all-around fighter which the Air Force could buy. That kind of reinforces your point about design and development, really.

> I don't think the Pentagon knows what it's doing. Actually, I don't think anyone involved knows what they're doing.

All the right people are getting paid. They know exactly what they're doing.

So the F-4 is a great case study for why the F-35 should be dropped in favor of the SuperHornet :)

It's not entirely the Marines' fault. If there was enough room in the budget to credibly deliver a next-gen replacement for the F-16 and F/A-18 platforms as well as a separate Harrier replacement, the Marines would take it in a heartbeat. The problem is that the Joint Strike Fighter concept is a bean-counting "let's use one plane to meet everyone's requirements" program.

Several specialized fighters would probably be a lot cheaper, and they'd all be a lot more effective too. It's really the requirement of "it has to do everything and then some" that's crippling the design here.

Well, maybe we don't need a Navy's Army's Airforce. More importanly, VTOL is a just plain dumb idea and should not be used at all for a jet fighter.

This is due to hard feelings from when the Navy abandoned the Marines at Guadalcanal. Also tradition and territory is so important in the military. They aren't really capable of making some monumental change like doing away with Marine aviation.

It's not so much that (Marine aviation existed before the U.S. entered World War I) and more to do with the fact that the Navy and Marines have entirely different aviation missions. The Navy specializes in fleet defense, naval warfare, and light bombing while the Marines specialize in close air support. Different mission specializations, unsurprisingly, call for entirely different technical requirements. Even if the Marines didn't have their own aviation, they would still need close air support from the Navy, and the requirement for a STOVL aircraft would still exist.

The Marines specialize in close air support, and for that role STOVL is incredibly useful. It's the only way to effectively deliver close air support with a jet aircraft.

> It's the only way to effectively deliver close air support with a jet aircraft.

Not really true. There's a reason why the A-10 is still flying and the Harrier is not.

The Harrier is still flying. The F-35B is set to replace them but since that aircraft hasn't been manufactured in large numbers yet, the Harrier remains in front line service and likely will for many years to come.

> The U.S. Marine Corps has extended the retirement date of its AV-8B Harrier IIs in increments until 2030, and most of the fleet will remain active through 2027, according to Boeing, which supports the 1980s-generation strike aircraft. Harriers were originally scheduled for retirement in 2015.

You know, you're totally right. I was thinking of the British Harriers for some reason.

It's also worth mentioning that the Harrier is an older plane than the A10; by around ~8 years actually.

The Harrier is, but the thing actually in service (the Harrier II) is newer than the A-10.

Harrier introduced 1969

A-10 introduced 1977

Harrier II introduced 1985.

Oh, my bad thanks. Though I think my point still applies. STOVL is useful enough that they kept the Harrier around in multiple incarnations, since 69.

> The Marines specialize in close air support, and for that role STOVL is incredibly useful. It's the only way to effectively deliver close air support with a jet aircraft.

No, STOVL is the only way to deliver CAS from the combination of improvised forward ground bases and small-deck carriers that the Marines want to their air elements to operate from to keep up with the rest of the Marine force.

Fixed wing, non-STOVL jets (like the A-10) are fine for CAS, but require different basing infrastructure that isn't consistent with USMC operating needs, hence the AV-8B and the requirements for the F-35B.

Well, unless you want to replace all of those amphibious carriers...

CAS requires low airspeeds as well, which is a major benefit of STOVL aircraft, which can have arbitrarily low airspeeds on account of their hover capability.

Lol @Navy's Army's Airforce. Did you coin that?

So you're saying that they couldn't have designed two planes for 500 billion each?

They could have, but some dumb fool thought we could design 1 plane for everyone. I cannot remember the movie about that.

Pentagon Wars, it's brilliant. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDYpRhoZqBY

Agreed, but more specifically here is the 10 minute video which best distills the whole movie. It's worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXQ2lO3ieBA

We're talking about the F-111, right?

I think the movie was about the Bradley, but the F-111 was an amazing example of "too many missions".

It's from Pentagon Wars, and it's an obligatory YouTube clip always linked in F-35 HN threads: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXQ2lO3ieBA.

They should have, but then they would have had to ask Congress twice.


Looking at those images[1], every defence manufacture has clearly had everything they know stolen haven't they.

fixed links

[1]: http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/amazing-photos-of-chinas-ne... [2]: http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/broken-booms-why-is-it-so-h...

Probably. This has always happened and will always happen. It's no different than the Soviets stealing US nuclear tech 60 years prior.

Stealing the plans is the easy part. The challenge is building an integrated military system top to bottom, from engines to electronics. If it were so easy to keep up by stealing, China would have a dozen aircraft carriers by now.

The J-20 seems to being coming along nicely, however.

Any information about how it's actually performing?

It's a mixed bag thus far.

China has successfully flown three pre-serial production prototypes that met spec. It's been spotted with ELINT and weapons hard points. Full production is slated for 2018.

However, they've been having severe difficulties with engine development. Most of the demonstration flights were done using outdated engines (usually the WS-10.) Once the production engine is functional (the WS-15), it should be able to lay claim to being a true Fifth Generation fighter and F-22 competitor.

If they can't get the WS-15 working, they'll probably have to buy Russian Su-35's NPO Saturn 117S engines used in the Sukhoi Su-35, which they've been negotiating, but it would make the J-20 more of a 4++ Generation fighter.

The front stealth shape is nearly identical to the F-22 Raptor, however it uses canards to give it some aerial superior advantages at a high angle of attack. But this comes with a tradeoff of some stealth, especially on profile as opposed to head-on, and sacrifices aerodynamic stability making it heavily reliant on its fly-by-wire system.

To a group of suitably trained engineers operating in the confined solution space of high manoeuvrability turbojet aircraft with human pilots, could enough information be gleaned from what is freely available knowledge and understanding? Is theft necessary?

If you can steal the plans for an F-35, you won't need to spend as much money to develop your own. You can just build one and test it to see how it compares to anything your own engineers came up with along with the American-made F-35 test results you stole too. Then you can spend that money on trying to fix anything that might be wrong with the American design.

Sure, with enough time and money, your guys might have been able to come up with a better design but if you can steal at least something to build off of, why not? It's cheaper to pay some kid hackers to steal it than design it.

When I see the photos of the stolen Chinese version of the F35 it always reminds me of this:


Worth remembering when people talk about how the US military budget is bigger than everyone else's put together. It doesn't mean quite as much when everyone else is just waiting for you to pour trillions into R&D then stealing the result.

If stealing information were the key, Russia would have the most powerful military on earth, with a combination of their espionage of US military technology over 60 years and their very substantial defense budget.

It's drastically more difficult than that.

The US military also doesn't spend trillions on R&D - R&D is the light end of their budget ($80 billion per year for R&D, testing, evaluation). Operations, maintenance, and personnel are the principle costs of the US military budget.

You're talking about China (or Russia etc) stealing a fraction of that $80 billion total. The amount of that theft they can then actually put to use, is a further reduced fraction.

And China is mostly stealing from Russia at this point (well, buying military hardware from them to copy).

Interesting analysis. But a little title hard to read because HN does not parse HTML. Please see the formatting guidelines for further info https://news.ycombinator.com/formatdoc.

If you read the excellent Command and Control you'll see the same thing happened with nucelar weapons, each branch of the miltary had competing requirements, tried to make land grabs for control of them etc. etc.

The contractors' accountants know what they're doing.

I think it's most likely that the Pentagon and the contractors are taking each other for rides.

HN markdown/html editing is borken. Your links are too.

HN never had markdown/HTML formatting support.


It's the exception in that it worked and was amazing.

Well, it wasn't originally equipped with guns, which was a severe limitation that was exploited to great effect by the enemy.

F-111 anyone?

Every time I hear "dogfighting is obsolete" or "the F-35 will kill its opponents at range with missiles", I wonder. What happens when two stealthed 5th Gen fighters with good ECM try to kill each other with missiles?

One kills the other with a missile. Countermeasures turn the marginals into misses, they don't turn off a solid kill shot; likewise stealth is better thought of as reducing the effective range and SNR of enemy radar, not making you invisible.

Are you sure you aren't describing a dogfight?

Dropping the engagement range from 100nm to 50 doesn't make a dogfight. The strength of radar returns go down with the 4th power of distance so it takes a lot of work to decrease detection ranges substantially.

Forgive my unfamiliarity with the topic, but are these planes really using radar during a battle? I would have thought that anti-radar missiles would be standard equipment?

This is where things start to get complicated but yes, planes use radar. In many cases, though, it's provided by an AWACS that sits back out of missile range.


OK, in that case I see the point of fighters as a secondary line of defense for the AWACS. If the AWACS can stand off so far, however, then the primary weapon could be just a mobile missile platform, relying on the AWACS for targeting info. That seems easier and cheaper to build than whatever the F-35 has become.

To a certain extent no-one knows for sure, because there's never been an all-out war between modern air forces. The go-to example for a lot of the doctrine is the Falklands war which was over 30 years ago. That said:

To a certain extent a modern fighter plane is just a missile platform. You want your missile platform to be fast and stealthed, and you want it to be able to fly close to the ground to make it harder to detect, which means making it maneuverable and at current technology levels probably forces it to be piloted. You want the survivability stuff - ECM, flares and all that.

At that point you're most of the way to having a modern dedicated fighter (like say the F-22). Could you leave off having detection equipment on the fighter itself? Maybe, but that would severely limit where you could operate - AWACS planes can't really operate in disputed territory (they tend to be modified civilian airframes, they don't have any of the things in the previous paragraph, because they want to carry large bulky radars). Radar and the like is a relatively small addition and opens up a lot of other mission possibilities - either escorting bombers in hostile territory or, these days, taking on a bombing role itself (modern fighters are large enough, and modern missiles heavy enough, and modern precision bombs light enough, that it seems like every modern fighter has at least some ground-attack capability). Interestingly enough the F-22 goes in the opposite direction - it's been described as a "mini-AWACS" and can provide targeting information to friendly aircraft.

Is it then worth using the same plane for close air support? It's arguable but IMO that part also makes sense. It's the STOVL requirement that really kills the F-35 - cut the lift fan, narrow the fuselage and you'd have a good aeroplane (which would still have software problems, but I'm not sure building multiple aircraft would have gone any better on that front).

Radar on airplanes has improved in that regard https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_probability_of_intercept_r...

Anti-radiation missiles exist but Air-to-Air missiles aren't widely used. A fighter's radar system is designed to cover a "narrow" area in front of the aircraft. If the fighter turns or if the pilot narrows the radar's sweep, the missile loses it's homing signal. Ground based systems and air based systems like AWACS scan 360 degrees so they can be targeted from any direction.

  So why even design it to do a mediocre job of dogfighting when they could equivalently eliminate that design constraint and allow it to do its other roles better?
From what I've read, the F-35 was supposed to excel in all roles. It's supposed to be a bomber, fighter, be useable from flight decks as well as airports, etc...

I understand that. That's the exact problem. To me, the F-35 issue represents a case of politicising the systems engineering process.

All of the defence contractors are really good at implementing systems from requirement specifications. In this case, the requirement specification has been added to and added to by political desires until it represents an object that simply can't pass muster. Lockheed has some incredible engineering talent, but even they cannot implement a system that has specifications simply unachievable by current technology.

Something has obviously gone horribly wrong with the requirements capture stage of the program. The program sponsors (the military) have clearly asked for an impossible task. That's been bundled up in a specification and passed to engineers, who despite their best efforts are simply unable to make all the components play nicely together. Now we have a broken system because the subsystems just can't fit together. The textbook example is the VTOL aspect - a sleek and aerodynamic fighter can't afford to have a whopping great rotating turbofan in its guts, yet the requirements are both there.

If this isn't taught in systems engineering classes in 10-20 years as a case study on what not to do, I'll eat my hat.

Physics be damned. It'll work eventually if we just keep throwing money at it.

It's working just fine as a (barely) flying side of pork.

Not so much as a military aircraft.

It seems no one is wondering what happens now - which is unfortunate, because there are serious strategic implications.

It can either do one thing really well, or do a million things really poorly.

I don't think there's any in-between.

Who cares? The mission of the F-35 was to get taxpayer money into the accounts of Lockheed Martin and its merry army of subcontractors. Mission accomplished!

After doing government contracting myself that really seems to be the mission of all government projects. Unfortunately.

This book is dedicated to detailing some of the inner workings of that phenomena: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confessions_of_an_Economic_Hit...

That's a great book - and one that I've discussed at some length with real diplomats from involved countries - but actually it's more focused on the use of burdensome and unnecessary international debt to dominate developing nations (hence the name).

I read the book too. Pretty curious what the diplomats thought of it.

They validated its story for their country (Indonesia; opening chapter).

Do we really need manned fighter planes at all? For a trillion dollars, you can overwhelm enemy air defenses with cheap, primitive drones in a saturation attack.

A tomahawk missile costs about $575k per unit, that lets you buy about 2 million tomahawks for $1 trillion. If you built a drone version that could loiter over an enemy airspace and then attack, sort of a tomahawk version of the Predator, you could buy a hundred thousand of them even if they were 10 million a piece.

You could also built UCAV fighters that could out-turn and fly most fighters by avoiding the need for the cockpit overhead and restrictions in g-force. Missiles make 40g turns, and drone airfames have been build to sustain 12-15g turning.

Are we spending a trillion dollars because the AirForce has a romantic notion of a human dogfighter in the seat when a guy with a joystick could do the job? Top Gun is a lot less interesting if robots or teleoperation is in play, but do we really that kind of engagement?

> For a trillion dollars, you can overwhelm enemy air defenses with cheap, primitive drones in a saturation attack.

For a few hundred dollars I can jam your communications channel(s) to the drones. Asymmetric warfare sucks.

> For a few hundred dollars I can jam your communications channel(s) to the drones. Asymmetric warfare sucks.

The problem is that once we're talking tens of millions of dollars and up -- no, you can't.

We're talking the swarm is likely operating in a shared point-to-point link mode, either using highly directional antennas that are essentially deaf to below, optical links, or (more likely) a mixture of both modes.

At 10,000 drones, they likely can form a stable mesh network over the city covering a wide enough area at a few miles in the sky that you're talking about having to run power plants or detonate magnets with high explosives to generate the kind of wattage needed to shout in to the directional communications gear.

Jamming a few hobbyist drones is nothing like jamming thousands of military grade drones, and the techniques you think will stop their communications aren't all that effective.

However, scanning the area under your bot swarm of amateur attempts to jam the network is probably a great way to target RF engineers in preparation for a ground invasion, and minimize their ability to improvise communications gear once the main communications networks are knocked out.

tl;dr: Taking out a $10,000,000+ swarm of military grade weapons isn't the same as disabling a few hobbyist trinkets, and may get you seriously hurt in the process.

> The problem is that once we're talking tens of millions of dollars and up -- no, you can't.

Sure. If you're willing to build a new GPS system, because that's decently jammable for cheap.

Also are you proposing that all the drones will be individually piloted on missions as they are now? If so, I don't strictly have to jam the drones on the battlefield, I can just jam your satellite uplink or physically attack your operations centers. Add the cost of a plane ticket.

So far, we haven't used these weapons against any military that could be considered our peers. I wouldn't be so confident in our operational deployments without anything to base it on.

You've done an exceptional job of proving you have no idea what you're talking about. (Hint: I write software for a govt. contractor that builds drones and their control stations)

Can you point us to any public information about military systems' jamming resilience? E.g. here's a simple comm system, here's how you jam it, and here's a better comm system that can't be jammed that way?

I can't really get into the details, I apologize. I can tell you that the specific topic of jamming isn't a concern. Try and think about UAVs in the same way you might think about commercial planes. It would tend to make sense that the UAV model was most likely forked from there, at least initially.

Even with respect to radio interference in commercial planes, the public is subjected to more misinformation than information. How many planes have crashed due to cellphone use? Have there ever been any? Speaking specifically of commercial GPS use, was all the uproar about LightSquared just bullshit? They weren't on the GPS band, they were only near it. I recall lots of authorities confidently ordering us to just trust them, that LS was a dire threat to civil aviation. If LightSquared is a threat to UAVs too, our "enemies" might want to buy their old equipment off eBay. For that matter, if USA military radios are so robust, why do they have to reserve half the usable spectrum for their private pristine use? Wouldn't they be just as comfortable on the Wifi band?

There are reasons why civilians might be reluctant to simply trust the confident assurances of random anonymous defense contractors.

> There are reasons why civilians might be reluctant to simply trust the confident assurances of random anonymous defense contractors.

Which is absolutely your prerogative, and I don't blame you. You make some very good points. I would hope you might also be able to see my perspective: reading "facts" that are incorrect and not being able to add real value to the conversation. Sure, I chose my job, and the frustration comes with the territory.

> You've done an exceptional job of proving you have no idea what you're talking about. (Hint: I write software for a govt. contractor that builds drones and their control stations)

That's great, but you did not actually address the parent's point that GPS is jammable. Perhaps you are thinking of other methods of navigation that are accurate enough for long-term flying?

Enlighten us, please, rather than responding to people with your job description. Otherwise, you're not really adding anything to the conversation.

I can say that jamming GPS is a not a concern, hence my comment.

Drones don't need GPS they can look at the ground in the day or the stars at night. (ED: Both of these are 20+ year old approaches.) Note, I don't work with this stuff so I can make that comment. Unfortunately, anyone who has specific knowledge is likely unable to respond legally.

Also, jamming is far harder than you might think; anything you use becomes a really easy target.

Edit: After some thought, as long as your internal clock is accurate and you can keep an accurate orientation as to what's 'up', the stars should be able to give you arbitrary lat/long position. Weather + barometer + location + temperate gives you fairly accurate altitude.

I don't think it's even a question of jamming the GPS network.

Once you start doing the math on "I'm going to keep 1,000+ nodes in a mesh network from operating a phased array capable of keeping a lock on the signal from a constellation of satellites", things like jamming become extremely non-trivial, and only operate over relatively short timeframes or with hugely vulnerable base stations.

Most people are thinking about the capabilities of a single drone -- that's really not the way to think about drone swarms. In much the way that it doesn't make sense to talk about the capabilities of cloud services like AWS in terms of the limitations of single computers or switches of hardware, but in terms of the ability of the system as a whole to emulate high(er) performance equipment.

Similarly, once we talk about real drone swarms acting as a locally networked, single functional unit, presenting itself as single emulated devices or functions that the drones carry out, the whole game changes from what's effective techniques against single, standalone drones.

So to recap, drone swarm's GPS downlink is probably a phased array or something like that distributed over the mesh network of drones (using the local radio gear as localized timing and positioning information between mesh nodes), and nowhere near as easy to jam as it is for a standalone drone (at least, for approximate location; then using cameras and local sensors for say, fine bomb placement).

tl;dr: The power of friendship works for drones too, not just comic book heroes.

As was said by irishcoffee upthread, jamming GPS is not a concern. If you think carefully about that statement for a minute or two, you'll probably figure out why: the incredibly weak, trivially-noise-jammed-into-oblivion GPS signal isn't used as a primary source of position data in battlefield conditions.

I expect that military GPS signals do have some crypto to help prevent spoofing, but that doesn't do any good when you can't hear the signal over the enemy's noise.

Celestial navigation can get you to within optical range of a target, so can inertial. Neither celestial nor inertial nav systems are jammable for cheap, if at all. Celestial navigation is well understood mature missile guidance tech.

And, depending on how your jammer works, I can probably kill it for a few thousand dollars (+- an order of magnitude).

Pentagon procurement is a shitshow, but the DoD has many brilliant radio, radar, and signals guys working for them directly, or indirectly.

Good thing cruise missiles are self guided, then. Gyroscopes arent easy to jam.

For a few hundred dollars, someone will make the drones self aware with pre planned routings along optically recognizable waypoints. No more need for a comms channel.

What then?

Tomahawk missiles were doing exactly this and more back in the 1990's. Shoot off a few and they would communicate amongst themselves, detect (or get blown up by) threats, and alert the other Tomahawks in the swarm who would then reroute to avoid that threat. Additionally, the missiles shared weighted target lists and knew if a missile on the way to a target was destroyed or disabled, and so would reroute in-flight missiles -if needed- in order to hit the highest-priority targets.

That is still relying on comms which I pointed out will be solved eventually (if it hasn't already).

Tomahawks can operate fully autonomously with no substantial loss of functionality. Indeed, picture a swarm of one, and you're operating in this mode. The missile commlinks serve to enhance the missile's effectiveness; they are not the sole source of its effectiveness.

Here's something for you to puzzle over:

Your missile has up-to-date topographical maps of an area, and as-up-to-date-as-possible maps of all known anti-missile sites in the area. Thing is that you're not going to know about all of the anti-missile sites: many sites are portable (thus they move around), and some remain offline and nearly impossible to detect until enemy command determines that that site can kill a missile.

If your missile doesn't have commlinks, how do you tell it to avoid anti-missile sites discovered after the missile was launched?

Additionally, a careful reading of the comment that you replied to will reveal that the Tomahawk has -since the 1990's- been a fully autonomous missile fully capable of flying a pre-determined path to a target. Indeed, that is the least interesting part of the missile's capabilities. In short, we've had "self aware" warhead-tipped "drones" since at least the 1990's.

Thanks for all the insights about the Tomahawks. What OP is refering to is cheaper, smaller and therefore in much more numbers deployable fighting drones. Each and every anti-missile site, be it fixed or portable has it's limits on what they can defend against.

I also assume that OP was refering to drones that could go through current missile defence systems because they can't be easily identified, neither visually nor with radar.

Yes, we (or at least you guys in the US) had them in the form of expensive, capable systems, but not at a smaller, cheaper or whatnot scale.

Also, can't Tomahawk launches not be detected by a some signatures they emit? I assume that modern mil space radar systems are able to do that.

> For a few hundred dollars I can jam your communications channel(s) to the drones.

The same could be said for manned fighters. Granted, you still have a pilot who's there and capable of making decisions independently of communications.

But, I imagine if you threw up enough interference to screw with a drone, you'd probably make some very pretty lights happen on an F-35's radar.

There are some ways to communicate that are significantly harder to jam than others, plus the degree of autonomy these systems have will only increase over time.

I'm surprised weaponized drones aren't displacing cheap rockets.

A big reason for the huge price tag and many delays has to do with the very broken military acquisition process. It's a mess, a huge problem that not many people have much insight into and fewer posses the real motivation and capability to change.

You can make a fairly valid parallel can be made with web designers and bad clients. You start off with a clear goal and reasonable costs and deliverables, and through iteration after iteration of needless revisions, terrible requests, and changed requirements you end up with a clown hat, a fart button, all in comic sans at 10x the original estimate.


Nobody wants to dogfight – the F-35 wasn't designed for it and modern strategy has nothing to do with it. You destroy the enemy with smart missiles long before either of you sees the other – F35 stealth is designed to delay detection as long as possible. This report takes the test completely out of context. It wasn't a wargame between A and B, it was a very specific situation under severe restrictions used to test the boundaries of the F-35's role. A real wargame would end with both sides never getting within miles. Not understanding the context of why the test was done leads to real misunderstanding.


As for drones - it is true they have a huge future, but they aren't the only solution. Modern air superiority battles are as much about stealth and electronic warfare as anything else. If your entire enemy is remote-controlled robots, your real target becomes the communications. There is very real value to having a human in the theater of battle – many of the strengths of the F-35 revolve around it as a platform for the interaction of many different communications, intelligence, and weapons assets ... the pilot is the command and control center for a whole network of activity which is much more resilient than remote control satellite RC planes and missiles.

Dog fighting only happens when absolutely everything else fails and both sides can bring each other into the stone age of point-and-shoot flying.


In a real war with a competent enemy, the first target (if we aren't all erased in a nuclear inferno) is going to be communications satellites.

Remember that a significant portion of how America fights battles is winning wars on paper so nobody ever thinks it's a good idea to start a real one, and by that I mean a war against a competent enemy playing at the same level – not regional conflicts and proxy wars like we've been fighting since WWII.

It's perfectly reasonable to say that in the future, human pilots won't be dogfighting, that's the job of missiles and drones, the human's job is to exercise tactical control close enough to not need satellite links.

But in that case, if the F-35's real job is to serve as a sort of fast, stealthy Awacs, then surely it shouldn't incur all the compromises inherent in building a plane that looks like it was supposed to replace the F-16?

It's hard to know these thing unless someone tries it, but probably not.

Air defences are difficult to overwhelm. Gaza/Hamas recently tried to overwhelm Israeli missile defence with primitive rockets with very no success. The rockets were very primitive but had the advantage of a short range, which is harder to defend against. OTOH, the intercepting missiles cost orders of magnitude more than the offensive rockets, so it might be possible to drain the ammunition supply.

"loiter over an enemy airspace" is only possible if you already have aerial control.

Overall, armies are conservative. It's dangerous to try and build a strategy around fighting styles that have never been tried at scale.

It's probably worth researching though.

> OTOH, the intercepting missiles cost orders of magnitude more than the offensive rockets, so it might be possible to drain the ammunition supply.

This is the key, I think. As long as you can pound your enemy with cheap hardware forcing him to use up his more expensive one, you're actually successful in your attack - you're bleeding out their economy.

Israel's rocket defense system, the one used to stop the attacks mentioned in the parent post is really good at being frugal in which rockets it shoots down. It doesn't just try to shoot down every rocket coming at it, it plots them and prioritizes ones that will most likely hit valuable or populated targets. It lets the ones that are going to land in empty fields go, since the risk and damage is minimal.

A pragmatist would say that you are right. However ethics teaches us that you are wrong.

Remotely destroying things is not going to help us as a race. Keeping the human in the danger zone helps prevent violence, everybody has something to lose.

"However ethics teaches us that you are wrong."

Well, there is nothing ethical about war. People in horses killed easily those not in horses. Then people in horses were killed easily with artillery as it improved.

The same happened with ships, making boarding unnecessary.

You know what they said about tanks when they appeared: they were not ethical. Then planes made possible to shoot someone kilometers away with heavy artillery(that before planes could not see far away). Not ethical at all.

Then came air bombers, the nuclear bomb. Today the US kills 10.000 people in Iraq annually with air drones just pushing buttons thousands of miles away.

It is already happening on one side. The only difference is when the other side starts using it too. Then we will consider it unethical(after decades using it on others).

When the machine gun was invented, Europeans congratulated themselves that they were the only ones with machine guns. After all, such a nasty weapon of mass death wouldn't be something that Europeans would ethically use on other Europeans.

That didn't last long.

There is a reason that we fight our battles with guns and bombs rather than swords and shields; removing the soldier from danger insofar as is feasible while maintaining combat superiority has been the aim of most all warfare technology developments since the dawn of time.

While you can most certainly argue against the ethics of war, if you're going to permit war as a reality of human existence, then I'd say it's quite unethical to insist on waging said war with technologies that put your soldiers at any further risk than necessary.

It's not like we aim to fight fair wars.

In practice, in recent battles, the US quickly gains air superiority and US fighter pilots face little if any challenge or danger. I'm not sure it's much of prevention.

Before manned US fighters enter a war zone, cruise missile attacks, HARM missiles, and stealth bombers usually take out the air defense system and bomb runways. The US really hasn't faced a challenge to air superiority in decades.

I'd prefer we find other ways to keep out of war rather than a few hundred pilots at negligible risk.

On a micro level the opposite is true. The worst that's going to happen to a drone operator for not firing first is a reprimand for losing the equipment.

On a policymaking level, I can't think of too many air strikes called off from fear of the airmen's lives. Fear of terrorist reprisals, foreign policy debacles and ending up with people on the ground are far bigger issues to be considered which won't go away with drones.

The F-35 is one of the planes Denmark is considering to replace it's F-16s. It's most likely going to be selected because of politics, regardless of it being expensive and not at all what we need.

Three Danish defence experts pointed out that while the F-35 is the most advance plane "available", it doesn't matter. While dogfighting is out date, high tech is equally useless. Neither Denmark nor the US have been in a conflict since WWII, where the advanced features of the F-35 would have made any difference.

Unless you decide to go to war with Russia or maybe China, the F-35 is so far beyond what you would reasonable require that the cost is completely unjustified.

Sadly for Denmark we pissed of SAAB and they will no long bid to deliver plane to the Danish Royal Air Force, despite them having having a suitable plane.

What upsets me is that apparently, European nations are just making a political decision of buying these overpriced, handicapped jets in bulk.

There are three nations I know off (Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium), where Wikileaks cables have revealed that the governments had reached an agreement to stack the deck in favour of the F-35 ahead of the official competitions. The Belgian Minister of Defense even went so far as to assure the US embassy that we would be buying them, years ahead of any public decision or even an evaluation of the options.

We have 2 capable European 4.5G alternatives - the Dassault Rafale or Eurofighter Typhoon - which would be able to perform the same duties while also supporting further development of European technology in this sector.

For the countries I mentioned earlier, the 4.5G Gripen NG would likely be just as adequate for any roles in any conflicts they would ever be part of, while being much, much cheaper to purchase and operate than any of the alternative options.

Instead of encouraging competition among developers and funding the design of European fighters (while also supporting the European economy a little), they're buying jets that are incapable of doing most the the stuff that it says on the box, sending billions of taxpayer money over to the the US military complex.

The one EU nation that has to buy the F-35B is the UK. Because we're building a couple of supercarriers without catapults, so they've got to field STOVL planes, and the government scrapped the Harrier fleet (the USMC bought the entire lot, gleefully) to prevent backsliding.

Notable complicating factor: Rolls Royce builds the lift fan for the F-35B. So panicky late attempts to cram cats into the CVs were cancelled after 3 months, because pork.

Meanwhile, the Eurofighter Typhoon was originally intended to be a carrier-capable fighter with an arrester hook and beefed up undercarriage, until France flounced from the consortium and went it alone with Rafale. An upgraded Rafale or a Typhoon derivative with carrier ops baked in would be entirely possible, cheaper than the F-35B, and vastly more effective as a fighter.

> The one EU nation that has to buy the F-35B is the UK. Because we're building a couple of supercarriers without catapults, so they've got to field STOVL planes,

Also Italy and Spain, for the same reason.

Do all these nations use STOVL-only carrier designs? I thought there were conventional take-off carriers as well...

Or were these fleets built from passed-on UK carriers?

Edit: Just did some research, and apparently the countries mentioned here (UK, France and Spain) are currently operating STOVL design carriers.

"Rolls Royce builds the lift fan for the F-35B"

I did wonder why the decision was made to go for the STOVL version of the F-35 when the new carriers are obviously large enough to support CATOBAR - that explains it perfectly!

STOVL is the right choice for the new carriers as it reduces the amount of practice that pilots will need to be able to take off and land on them. It wouldn't be possible to be as flexible with where the UK's F-35s will be based (land or sea) if all pilots needed to stay current at CATOBAR landings.

That excuse is marvellously surreal, in a "Yes, Minister" way.

"We are going to spend an extra $25M on each fighter, in order to save on training costs."

$3.5Bn (we're buying on the order of 138 of these turkeys: the F-35B, as required for the STOVL role, costs $25M more per unit than the F-35C or A) will buy you a lot of CATOBAR training.

We don't want pilots to have to spend all their time doing CATOBAR training.

I could see a mix of models being bought eventually with a lot fewer than 138 F-35Bs.

We seemed to manage OK with training in the days of the old Ark Royal (I vaguely remember the "Sailor" BBC series).

For the Dutch air force, the only real requirement seems to be that it's American. The rest doesn't really matter.

Also that some Dutch companies are involved in producing parts for the F35. At least 70 Dutch companies are supposed to be involved in producing parts for the JSF. And perhaps the unconfirmed rumour [0] that US nucleair weapons of the cold war are still stationed in the Netherlands have also somehow contributed to the choice for the JSF.


[0]: http://nonukes.nl/the-netherlands-can-do-something-against-n...

This may also be a factor in Belgium, which has a similar situation (though I think the presence of nukes is confirmed there, I'm not sure).

If you decide to got to war with Russia (- or more likely Russia decides to go to war with you) is exactly when the F-35 would prove the most useless being incapable of actually standing up to the newest Russian jets.

The Norwegians planning to buy F-35s as well. This risks leaving the whole of Northern Europe exposed to a Russian strike. (Actually considering the existing F-16s are outdated the exposure is already there but it looks like the new investment will make it worse.)

What I don't understand is why is the Eurofighter Typhoon not on the table?

Today Russia is lucky if they have a hundred total modern fighters available, across the entirety of their military, to put into action that can fight with the F35. In the event of a NATO war, they can't dedicate that to one location, given the vast size of their territory to protect. They might be able to throw a dozen modern fighter jets at Denmark. So they'll have to simultaneously fight two dozen domestic European forces, and the US Air Force. Yeah, it'll turn out real well for them.

How many modern fighters are deployed across the north of Europe by Nato?

The UK had 113 Typhoons in 2013 and Germany had 112. When they're all delivered, the UK will have 160 and Germany 140. France has 95 Rafales and will eventually have 180. Sweden is not NATO, but has around 130 Gripens. Norway and Denmark have around 90 F16s between them, though you probably wouldn't call them modern. Not sure what the US has deployed in Europe.

Edit: not really modern, but Belgium, the Netherlands and Poland have another 150 F16s between them. Poland also has 30 or so MIG 29s.

These are total numbers not deployed numbers right? The UK certainly does not have 113 Typhoons ready to fly right now and defend UK airspace...

Belgium has 160 F-16s altogether.

I don't know about that.

Isn't the exact reason for such planes to be able to have a credible defense vs. Putin and his ilk, so as to not tempt Russia to make advances on Europe. AFAIK, Denmark is patrolling the skies of the Baltic nations vs. Russia right now. I don't think Denmark wants to do that in an obsolete 1970s fighter plane.

The F-35 looks like a disappointment, but we can be 100% sure it will be able to carry the newest weapons-systems for the foreseeable future. That begs the question; is it preferable to have ageing weapons on a nimble plane, or the newest weapons on a clumsy plane?

I don't feel Europe has the luxury of skipping the F-35 (or equivalents, which the Saab is not, AFAIK) for a successful successor, when Putin is going crazy with propaganda inside Russia.

You're not wrong, but the initial bid was for I believe 60 planes. Something SAAB could deliver within the budget. We're now down to ordering maybe 30 planes or less. Partly because of the price of the F-35, but also due to the overall economy within Denmark.

You can bolt very advanced weapons onto the Gripen, or the Eurofighter, but you can also buy two or three times the amount of planes.

European countries, as least not the small one, will just buy less planes if the cost goes up. So it might be better to have more of a 1990s plane, than a few of a 2015 era plane.

> you can also buy two or three times the amount of planes.

we're close to the turning point where for air superiority a fleet of missile armed drone seems the cheapest and more effective way to go

but we just love to design the best thing that would have won the previous war. I guess if that effect is known in psychology, because I see it even in the day to day life at way smaller scales.

This is very true. A drone could quite likely do maneuvers that a traditional jet couldn't do because of the limits of what the squishy human body inside can withstand.

I wouldn't be surprised if in the near future we see a drone capable of taking F-35's, F-16's, and any other human piloted plane out of the sky.

>> You can bolt very advanced weapons onto the Gripen, or the Eurofighter, but you can also buy two or three times the amount of planes. Don't you then also need 2-3 times the amount of pilots, airfield, fuel, hangars, maintenance crews...

> is it preferable to have ageing weapons on a nimble plane, or the newest weapons on a clumsy plane?

Why not put the newest weapons on the nimble plane? I don't see why you wouldn't be able to put the newest weapons on an F-16. Requires more electronics on the plane? You can put new electronics in an F-16. Planes get updated all the time.

Eurofighter is cheaper and BETTER that the F-35. Plus it's local so helps European economy instead of sending money to the EEUU.

Hey fellow European. I am not a plane specialist by any means, but I have a question about that F-35 potential purchase. Denmark is part of the European Union, so wouldn't it make sense for Denmark to purchase a European fighter jet like the Eurofighter or maybe a Rafale? Then again, maybe those jets are not very good, dated or too expensive, I'm just genuinely wondering why Denmark would not put its money where its interests lie.

Dassault won't submit the Rafale for the bidding process, because the terms and requirements are so ridiculously screwed towards the F-35. All other manufactures are required to commit to a "buy back program", expect for the F-35.

SAAB dropped out twice, first time because the requirements for the plane kept getting changed so only the F-35 would qualify (SAAB was able to prove that the JAS 39 Gripen could match those requirements).

The Eurofighter is still an option, as is the Boeing Super Hornet.

Denmark is a level 3 partner in the F-35 program, and mostly work with the US when going to war, so interest wise the F-35 is politically sensible. We just don't have the money to fly the F-35 (my personal opinion).

It doesn't matter if the Super Hornet, Eurofighter or the Gripen is a little dated, they will have to last 30 years or more, like our current F-16s. So they will be dated for most of their lifetime anyway. The F-35 would limit the number of planes we can buy, the expert evaluation from earlier this month is that it would be better to have more plane, but less advanced. Link to a Danish article: http://ing.dk/artikel/derfor-skal-danmark-have-mange-kampfly... (ing.dk/Ingeniøren is the Danish engineers union)

Denmark's interests lie with the US and always has. Few people realise how close we are (including people in the US, but they've always been better at remembering enemies than friend). I feel this has somewhat diminished with the Iraq tragedy, but I don't know.

I think there's an unspoken non-political agreement in Denmark, that when it comes to military actions, we'd rather build our connections with a party of resolve (be they wrong or right) than a fragmented alliance.

On top of that, Denmark has a special treaty with the EU, which states that we will not and can not join military forces. The Danish politicians wanted to go further into the EU adventure than the population in Denmark, so at first we voted "no" to a EU treaty which we then accepted the second time around, given these 4 "reservations" (no EU citizenship, no EU currency, no EU defence policy, no EU meddling with our "internal laws").

> Then again, maybe those jets are not very good Rafale not very good ??? There are plenty evidences on the web that the Rafale is indeed a very good jet. The rafale is multirole and is very successful at his different roles (bombing, air interdiction, suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD), and close air support (CAS) and even aerial reconnaissance). Checkout this video of F22 vs Rafale for instance: https://defenseissues.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/on-rafale-vs-...

That's nice to know. I know we're starting to finally sell those planes to a few countries, I've always wondered whether it was due to the price point or the technological merits (or lack thereof). Thanks for the info.

While I was in the aéronavale decade ago officers where pissed at rafale: for one rafale you could buy 10 F16 that where less expensive to operates. That costed so much it took on a budget for a 2nd flight carrier, which in turns makes it impossible to operate a task force, which in turns makes it ridiculous to have aeronavale in the first place.

War is also an economical concern that the russian understood: it is all about the price of defense vs attack.

So CCCP developed the crude and cheap SAM batteries that where a pain in the ass in vietnam for the USA, israel...

It does not matter if a plane is good, it should just be thought in terms of the right price compared to the opposable defense of the enemies, and the balance with other tasks.

But what is more important than winning battles is winning war, and USA clearly lack something of a peace corp that would not antagonize local population, and help to maintain peace and social concord do some genie while they ... hum not occupy but ... help other countries.

Most countries are just fighting inefficiently without doctrines nowadays which stirs instabilities.

I would prefer to support an efficient dictatorship that would win war once for all and fast, minimizing the the overall victims than inefficient/corrupted republics that seeds discord someday.

Hum, by the way, russia lowered its budget USA said it was good news: they fired officers and trained soldiers hired more sergeants. Russia is making its army fitter for war with less money.

Oh! And some antique planes Tu95? flew other UK with armed nuclear missiles in January/February this year and UK could not send interceptor because they are waiting for the F35.

Let's say that time to market for F35 is a little to long too. War is not about gadget like planes. It is about people dying, social unrest, political instabilities, resources, economy and power.

Power to send others than your family die for a cause that does not exists, to fight other poor people commanded by other powerful people. No US/Europeans/radical politicians lost kids in wars with the same proportion as the population recently, did they?

War SUX.

Eurofighter maybe, for the Rafale problem is it's not really an EU fighter jet in the sense that it was not conceived from a collaboration of EU countries.

Regardless of this choice, I would say that EU countries/companies should seriously collaborate on making a good UCAV, that's the future. Maybe the Neuron https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dassault_nEUROn is a good first step, but it would be great if Germany and UK participated too, or on the next iteration of the project. On big projects like that EU needs to be united.

You're right, my being French definitely influenced me in talking about the Rafale, the Eurofighter is more to the point in this case.

I do absolutely agree that there's no good reason why the EU at large shouldn't be able to produce a modern, top of the line fighter jet. We have the engineers, the means of production, a market to sell said jets, some European countries are already amongst the biggest arms dealers in the world, it doesn't make sense to me that countries of the EU would buy American jet fighters (with all due respect to the USA).

You know how Europe is. If it doesn't make logical sense, just follow the money scent.

The funny part is that a fighter jet program starting now on the basis of an existing, successful design has a good change of getting completed before the f35 becomes fully functional, since all the issue on getting all the crammed feature to work nicely together.

This is exactly what Lewis Page (defence reporter @ The Reg) suggested, ditching the F35 order and buying in some Rafales or F-18 Hornets -http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/04/17/f35_carriers_plot_by...

Seems the UK have also ordered a shedload of F35s to replace a number of different roles in the RAF including the carrier launched Harrier jets. We've since sold the Harriers to the US which is quite telling really.

Lewis Page is a joke in the defence community for a good reason.

The UK's harriers were shagged after years of use, they were sold to the US so they could be cannibalised for spares. Plus we only had the GR versions which were not fighters, the Sea Harrier was retired even earlier.

The UK needs a STOVL multi-role fighter because of the Navy. The RAF are ordering the same planes because then they can fly them off the carriers as well. The cat and traps option on the carrier wasn't really a flier as no-one has managed to get a reliable EMALS catapult working. The US at one point was going to pay us to be the guinea pig for EMALS, but that's rather a risk if it hadn't worked out.

Buying Rafales would make a lot of sense - especially if the UK decided to operate a joint carrier fleet with the French.

Never going to happen though.

As far as I'm aware, the plans for the F-35Bs the RAF are getting are to replace the ageing Tornado GR4s. The RN ones are replacing the Harriers, which are already sold… (Technically, AIUI, there's one single joint fleet split between the two services, manned by joint personnel.)

We have some shiny new carriers due soon, of vast expense and questionable competence, so they're a perfect match for the F35.

It's almost as if everyone decided to plan for a war but no one was competent enough to bring weapons.

Maybe everyone involved can try boring and nickel-and-diming each other to death.

Shame. The Gripen sounds a lot more like the right plane for smaller NATO air forces. Not the best at anything, but decent at everything, and for a cost more befitting our economic situation.

The Dutch air force is going to be reduced to about 30 F-35s. We've always had about 100 fighters, but the F-35 looks like it's going to be the end of the Dutch air force.

The Gripen is getting some love in South America, but the politics of who builds what did make for some problems.

> Sadly for Denmark we pissed of SAAB

Do you have any info? I can only find basic press releases about SAAB not bidding because they did not expect to win against a plane that Denmark helped develop.

Is there more history? Sounds interesting.

It's kind a of hard to fine, because everyone is being polite :-)

The terms of the bidding is tweaked as to be in favour of the JSF/F-35, making it hard to bid, even if your offer is better.

I think for Denmark, the Baltic and Scandinavian states, the question is not so much whether you decide to go to war with Russia but rather when Russia decides to go to war with you...

And let's remember it won't be a war.

It will be volunteers who just managed to steal the keys to the aircrafts.

Am I going to be the only one who is going to question the source here? The author has a clear opinion on the F-35 that he interjects inbetween the comments and War is Boring's previous reporting on the F-35 have been mostly trying to take it down a couple of notches. Everything here is based on an unnamed source and a document which may or maynot even exist.

According to Aviation Week, a reputable defense and aviation source, the F-35 has been doing loading tests. Meaning that if this report and dogfight happened then it was against a electronically limited F-35 against a platform that is very mature and limits understood. Here's a link to the story in question: http://m.aviationweek.com/defense/f-35-flies-against-f-16-ba...

No, you're not the only one. Without reading the entire and uneditorialized pilot's report then it's a questionable act of journalism on display. That said, even if the F-35 is about equal to the F-16 in maneuverability, there are many other capabilities that it will excel at.

>> “The door is open to provide a little more maneuverability,” says Lockheed Martin F-35 site lead test pilot David “Doc” Nelson.

That's the best praise that the lead test pilot will give it?

Also, did you have a look at those comments at aviationweek? Not a lot of love for the F-35 among readers there.

This story really is about propaganda and public manipulation. (The following might sound condescending, sorry; there's no easy way to say 'you're being manipulated'. Everyone is, at various times.)

The F-35 is highly politicized, and that political fight takes place on the battlefield of public opinion, with both sides trying to manipulate the public with propaganda. And many here on HN are playing their roles perfectly, responding to the propaganda like mice responding to stimuli in a maze.

We're all susceptable to it and I try hard to learn to recognize it. I think a good sign of propaganda is the choice of phrasing. If someone is trying to manipulate you, they often try to arouse anger and outrage -- angry people aren't open to reasonable discussion and other opinions, so if you get people outraged on your side then they are innoculated against other arguments. You can see the lack of balanced, smart analysis and the widespread expression of outrage here. Someone trying to inform you will take a much different approach, carefully presenting information and avoiding distorting your understanding with provocation. For example, consider the phrase, "New stealth fighter is dead meat in an air battle" -- clearly it's meant to arouse and not inform.

The article represents the analysis, abridged and without context, of one tester in one test of a system that's in its test phase and not meant to be in production for 1.5 years. There are many other articles, representing individuals' opinions (including test pilots), some that praise the F-35 and some that criticize it.

I'm not saying the F-35 is a good deal; I don't know. I don't know much at all about fighter planes (and reading the comments, I know more than many here). I don't know if dog-fighting is relevant; maybe it's gone the way of broadsides in combat between warships (and better dog-fighters are like Henry Ford's 'faster horses'). I don't know if the problems described by the test pilot are bugs of a test system (that's why we test!). Think about the state of your systems 1.5 years before production -- they may not look so great.

I do know that propaganda like the OP reduces public knowledge; it doesn't increase it.

EDIT: Edited to be a little less obnoxious.

From the perspective of someone that has been following the program pretty closely, I think one of the big problems is the USAF has worked quite hard at making themselves non-credible when it comes to talking publicly about the actual capabilities of the aircraft. While WiB are unabashedly not fans of the F-35 program, this report is pretty much in line with past leaks.

It's definitely frustrating that we can't seem to get a straight story about what's going on. I mean, it's gotten to the point where USAF generals thought they could get away with literally telling airmen that speaking to Congress positively about the A-10 is treasonous (this being related because the USAF wants to kill the A-10 to divert the funds to the F-35).


Try Breaking Defense (http://breakingdefense.com), who unabashedly are fans, for the other side's stories and leaks. Again, I don't know enough to distinguish. It would be most valuable if someone could map out the insider politics, so we could read people and motives better.

The story about suppressing other opinions is bad, but I think that's typical in any workplace: Undermining your boss' and your co-workers' careers will get you in trouble anywhere.

I'm honestly not familiar with their coverage, but when the first article in its defense I can find from them can pretty much be summed up as "it's doing great things for the military-industrial complex," I'm somewhat skeptical.


I also couldn't help but note that there's a Raytheon sponsorship banner at the top of the page and a conspicuous amount of positive Raytheon coverage when I was looking for articles.

They may be a totally credible source, but on the surface it doesn't feel like I'd get a straight story there either.

Hmmm ... take a closer look at that article. Its title is "$5B And 700 High Tech Jobs: Reasons Why F-35 Has Friends", and says money and jobs are buying political support for the project -- something I'd think you would agree with.

EDIT: Anyway, I didn't say you'd get the straight story, I said you'd get the other side. They do provide some very informative defense policy info that I don't see mentioned elsewhere.

It's more the context of the piece I take issue with. e.g., the fact that they call out critics for saying the program is behind schedule by linking to a piece they wrote quoting a civilian contractor saying he's very confident they'll deliver a specific component on time... that was written about a month before Lockheed announced more overall delays.

I'll keep an eye on them, but the handful of articles I've read through so far definitely feel like they've been run through a PR filter rather than a reporting one and that's not just limited to the F-35 coverage.

I actually just read through the last dozen or so articles about the F-35 on breadkingdefense, they don't sound like fans of the F-35 so much as they just are enthusiastic in general.

OP's article is an anecdote, true, but it is one of many similar anecdotes. There are a number of factual data that support criticism of the F-35.

>The article represents the analysis, abridged and without context, of one tester in one test of a system

If what you're waiting for is some kind of controlled comprehensive experiment and lots of data, that's something you'll never get. It's something that the pentagon may even not get until many years of operation, and something that neither they nor Lockheed will ever share with the public. You'll have to make your decisions about the issue with imperfect information.

>I don't know if dog-fighting is relevant;

If it isn't, why build a fighter?

Re: The propaganda. It exists on all sides of this F-35 debate. The author makes no secret of the fact that he is not a fan of the program. I also don't see much in the way of inflammatory language in the article that the author is supposedly trying to use to elicit anger or emotion. So, I am not sure what you're on about in that respect.

You can also look at it the other way--we have fighters, and what do they spend most of their time doing?

The F-16 was designed expressly to win dog fights, but today most F-16 combat missions are air-to-ground. So when designing the plane to replace the F-16, it might make sense to take that balance of missions into account.

The main reason the F-16's missions are primarily air-to-ground is because nobody wants to fly against it (especially not now, with F-22 support.)

If you stop (successfully) designing aircraft to win air-to-air engagements, an opponent can focus on winning air-to-air engagements, and pretty soon it'll be their aircraft that are being used in ground attack roles ;)

So, a new attack aircraft instead of a new fighter? I'd go for that. I'd even go for a new fighter that fights (to ensure air superiority), and a new attack aircraft. I think you'd get better results in both areas and spend a lot less money.

This. I remember hearing about how terrible the F-22 was, how Americans are duped into paying for it, how its all flaws and sci-fi tech that would never work, etc and now it dominates the skies.

Propaganda works. The F-22 and F-35's success is scaring a lot of autocratic nations hoping to catch up to US air power. Meanwhile, Russia and China's stealth attempts are laughably terrible, yet we never hear about those. They're not at the top of reddit and HN. I think sites like HN and reddit encourage a groupthink because of the upvote mechanic at play. Certain narratives win out. Typically what a white suburban college-aged male thinks how the world works. Hence, long diatribes about how awful the US is how wonderful China, Iran, and Russia are. Its concentrated angst, not intellectual discourse. College age identity politics wins out, per usual on the internet. That includes a strong anti-military aspect and a bizarre pro-autocracy/anti-democratic aspect as well, usually sold under the threat of political correctness. Of course Iran, China, and Russia are just as good as the EU/US in terms of human rights, economies, public policy, etc. Anything else would be racist.

Pretty much any voting based forum will become a lowest common denominator crapfest. Some topics are just more hot button than others and someone is going out of his way to make sure the F-35 is one of those topics.

The military poured a trillion dollars of tax payer money into the development of one aircraft that can do everything.. don't tell me I'm being manipulated by reports showing that the F-35 in fact does not do everything.

> I'm not saying the F-35 is a good deal

I can't imagine how many lives the F-35 would have to save (or combatants to kill, not sure how these equations are calculated) for the money to be "a good deal". You can't put a price on human life. If we could, how much would the average life that was lost on september 11th be valued? In the billions?

> You can't put a price on human life

Interestly, anyone engineering human safety, and anyone dealing with its consequences, including the courts and insurance industry, all have to. For example, designing a car, you can always make it safer and more expensive, but where do you draw the line? What are the ethical and legal requirements? What will customers pay for? There is a number out there for the value of a life and also one for serious injury (major loss of function), but I don't remember what they are.

More importantly, there is far more than the pilot's life at stake. There are the other soldiers, sailors and pilots who die because they are now unprotected. There are the civilians who suffer because the mission fails. And there is the security and safety of the entire nation and its allies -- if Western air forces don't have effective fighter planes, it increases the threat to democracy and liberty around the world. It sounds dramatic, but those are the real stakes.

> Interestly, anyone engineering human safety, and anyone dealing with its consequences, including the courts and insurance industry, all have to.

This is generally context sensitive and inaccurate. Engineers are attempting to limit liability, courts are attempting to compensate, and the insurance industry is attempting to limit compensation. These are not honest evaluations of human value, but rather honest evaluations of the market value of a human. The F-35 had better save millions of lives.

If we could, how much would the average life that was lost on september 11th be valued? In the billions?

The average was $3.1M per civilian victim and $4.2M per emergency responder, totalling $10.6 billion in compensation.


That's just the up-front cost. The resulting political shockwaves (resulting in, confusingly, two invasions) would cost the taxpayer around ~6 trillion.


Tyler Rogoway is a competent author and critic (and occasional defender) of the F-35 as well, here's his take on the dogfight report from War is Boring;


The highlight for me is the last line:

    The fact that the F-35 is maybe not really a good fighter
    at all is reminiscent of the question that we’ve been 
    asking for years — if you don’t really need competitive 
    maneuverability, than why do we need a fighter at all?
Another line I'll crib from him, but the F-35 was supposed to far exceed all fourth generation fighters in air-to-air combat and they've reduced that threshold so that the F-35 is now 'about as maneuverable' as an F-16? That had external fuel tanks mounted?

Here's what a Eurofighter test pilot had to say about the F-35 kinematics claims:


>That means it doesn't have the full mission systems suite a combat capable F-35 has. This was the equivalent of flying with both hands tied behind your back.

Isn't this the entire problem with this program? The weapons avionics still don't work. The HMDS still doesn't work. The DAS still doesn't work. The reports I've seen recently all suggest that we're still years away from all the high-tech wizbangery we've been promised actually working and being usable in combat.

This airframe will have been in development for over 20 years before it's fully combat capable. Think about that: an entire generation of pilots will conceivably have served and retired in the time it's taken to get this aircraft working. That's unprecedented.

Yes, the article does fail to acknowledge that but does it matter? Next generation fighter planes should be able out maneuver previous gen fighter planes.

Making strong assumptions like stealth always working (it doesn't), as well as longer range sensors being able to always compensate for the f35's sluggishness is foolhardy. Besides couldn't you retrofit most of the new sensors on previous gen planes? It's been done before. What if the f35 faces an opponent that's as agile as the previous gen with the same sensor range?

imo The F35s aren't truly multi-role. They're improved stealth bombers and not fighters.

my only question is why was the f22 cancelled? EDIT: apparently it was more expensive than the f35.

The F-22 was going to be more expensive than the F-35 was alleged to be. In practice, the F-22 is now looking like a bargain.

We were offered a last-minute discount on the F22 which was excellent. Meanwhile, the F35 went up in price... especially after the F22 was canceled. It's looking like the F35 will cost about the same but with far less capability.

The best deal is probably the Silent Eagle. It's an F15 with a bit of stealth (fixed the terrible inlets, tail, etc.) and some other very reasonable upgrades. The SuperHornet isn't bad either, even for non-carrier use.

What is a 'Flight Sciences Aircraft' in terms of all aircraft and in regards to the JSF? (honest question)


How does that different from a, for lack of better term, combat ready aircraft? More sensors and weight? Does it lack bells and whistles for it to fair better in a dogfight test like this one? I know the prototype Have-Blues were essentially duct tape and Popsicle sticks, would this be a similar comparison?

Why would they do a flight combat test with an aircraft configuration that is not meant for combat?

Marketing. So they can write that the F35 can outperform a fully loaded F16 without mentioning that the F35 didn't have a load.

Can you please update the Wikipedia article to reflect this? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_F-35_Lightning...

That's a shame...

Didn't want to say anything that I shouldnt. Hard to keep track of what is public and what isn't. Better to not say anything. Sorry.


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