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Time to cancel the F-35

The DOD’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (OTE), J. Michael Gilmore, has recently released his assessment of the F-35 JSF, and the DOD has also released the marks given to the plane by its test pilots. These are all F grades.

In the plane’s cockpit, visibility to the rear is poor (practically nonexistent), visibility with the JSF’s HMD helmet is also disastrously poor, and just recently, the engine suffered a turbine crack.

The DOTE and test pilots have written that as a result, the F-35 will be outclassed in air combat everytime because of poor visibility for the pilot (i.e. the pilot will have good visibility only straight ahead). Even vision to the sides will be poor. As a result, the plane will succumb in air to air combat (at least in Within Visual Range combat) everytime, for all-around vision is a non-negotiable requirement for this regime of combat. In simple English, F-35 pilots won’t be able to see what’s around them, only what’s in front of them.

This adds to the F-35′s many other design flaws:

  • POOR MANEUVERABILITY/AGILITY. The F-35 has a very high wing loading ratio (441 kg/sq m) even without any weapons and at just 50% fuel. At 50% fuel plus its full complement of weapons, its wing loading ratio is 526 kg/sq m, one of the highest of any fighterplanes in history. F-35 variants also have an unimpressive thrust/weight ratio: the F-35 has the best at barely 1.07:1.
  • HIGH FUEL CONSUMPTION. This means that enemy fighters such as the Flanker family, the J-20, and the PAKFA can simply run the F-35 out of fuel.
  • POOR COMBAT RADIUS. Even for the F-35A, it’s less than 800 kms. While that is an improvement over every type of aircraft which the F-35 will replace, it’s still not enough by a long shot considering that all bases within the range of China’s DF-15 and DF-16 SRBMs (900-1000 kms) will be destroyed in any conflict with that country. The same applies to Iran and North Korea. This ensures that the F-35 will not be able to patrol any areas far from its base nor bomb any targets far away from it. For that, you need a long-range bomber.
  • SMALL WEAPONS LOAD. In stealthy mode, the F-35 can carry only 4 air-to-air missiles, meaning that an Su-35, with 12 missiles, gets 8 freebie shots at the F-35.
  • LOW CEILING. Nominally, it’s an unimpressive 60,000 ft, in reality, the F-35 has been tested only at altitudes up to 43,000 ft. Both of these ceilings are woefully inadequate to fight effectively against the most modern Russian and Chinese aircraft.
  • LOW SPEED. Only Mach 1.61, much slower than 4th generation American fighters (except the Bug and the Super Bug), Generation 4+ fighters and 5th generation fighters (F-22, PAKFA, J-20). This (coupled with the F-35′s pathetically low ceiling) not only makes the F-35 totally uncompetitive in Beyond Visual Range combat, it also means that the F-35 cannot egress out of (escape from) a fight – it will be run to the death by the enemy.
  • COST. Even the cheapest F-35 variant – the F-35A – will, according to the most optimistic estimates, cost at least $130 mn, and probably much more. The F-35B and C variants will be even more expensive. Moreover, the cost of operating a fleet of 2,443 F-35s over the next 55 years will be $1.5 trillion – completely unaffordable for the DOD, especially considering sequestration.
  • SINGLE ENGINE. The F-35′s single engine means that if the engine malfunctions or is hit by the enemy, the plane will be lost.

In short, the F-35 is one of the worst combat aircraft ever designed by anyone. It’s an utter waste of money. Until last year, I believed that the F-35 could still be salvaged and fixed, that its problems could and would be solved. But by now, it’s clear that they can’t. The F-35 is only going to get more expensive going forward.

Moreover, the F-35 has already become operationally obsolete long before it has entered service. It was NEVER designed to do air to air combat or to eliminate enemy air defenses. Instead, it was designed to pound enemy ground armies and their associated short-range air defense systems like the Tunguska (SA-19 Grison), a la the Cold War and Operation Desert Storm. But this kind of warfare will likely never be fought again – massed ground armies lost their appeal after the Coalition pounded Saddam’s massed ground armies during Operation Desert Storm.

After the DOD certified the F-35 following its Nunn-McCurdy breach, it re-validated the F-35′s 2000 Joint Operational Requirements Document (JORD), even though the JORD itself is obsolete. The JORD speaks of a world without the S-300, the S-400, the S-500, the HQ-9, the Su-35, the PAKFA, the J-20, and the J-31. In other words, the F-35 is not designed for the real world. It’s already obsolete now – and will be even more obsolete by the time it enters service (if it does).

The only Western (not just American – WESTERN) fighter capable of defeating all enemy air defense systems and fighters (including those listed above) is the F-22 Raptor, or to be more precise, evolved and enhanced variants of this aircraft.

No other American fighter stands any chance in a confrontation with any of the systems listed above, be it the F-35, the F-15, the F-16, the Harrier, the Bug, or the Super Bug.

So what should the three services involved in the F-35 do? That’s simple. Cancel the F-35 completely and:

  • The Air Force should resume F-22 or F-15 production, as well as export hundreds of these fighters to allies (Israel, South Korea, Canada, Australia, Britain, etc.). The cost of resuming F-22 production would be less than $1 bn, and it could be produced at little cost on the government-owned production line in Fort Worth, Texas.
  • The Navy should prolong the service lives of its Bugs, procure some Super Bugs as interim aircraft, and hasten the development and introduction of the F/A-XX.
  • The Marines should resume Harrier production, develop and field a Super Harrier, and replace their Bugs with the F/A-XX.

All of this would cost a lot less than sticking with the F-35 program and procuring useless, expensive F-35 aircraft that will only get American pilots killed.

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