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Rebuttal of the Pentagon’s pro-F-35 spin

A few days ago, it was revealed that the F-35 “Joint Strike Fighter” lost all of its close-range combat tests against the legacy F-16 fighter (which the former is intended to replace) when such mock engagements occurred in January of this year.

No sooner did such reports emerge than the Pentagon engaged in a heavy spin campaign to protect the F-35 at all costs, lying blatantly to the public:

“The media report on the F-35 and F-16 flight does not tell the entire story. The F-35 involved was AF-2, which is an F-35 designed for flight sciences testing, or flying qualities, of the aircraft. It is not equipped with a number of items that make today’s production F-35s 5th Generation fighters,” a JPO office written statement said.

In particular, the JPO statement explained that the AF-2 test aircraft did not have the mission systems software designed to utilize the aircraft’s next-generation sensors.

In short, the F-35 is engineered with a suite of next-generation sensors designed to help the aircraft recognize, detect and destroy enemy targets at longer distances — long before it can be identified by an enemy aircraft.

“While the dogfighting scenario was successful in showing the ability of the F-35 to maneuver to the edge of its limits without exceeding them, and handle in a positive and predictable manner, the interpretation of the scenario results could be misleading. The F-35’s technology is designed to engage, shoot, and kill its enemy from long distances, not necessarily in visual ‘dogfighting’ situations,” the JPO said.

The F-35 office also said the AF-2 test aircraft was not equipped with the F-35’s special stealth coating designed to make the aircraft invisible to enemy radar.

In addition, the JPO statement said the AF-2 “is not equipped with the weapons or software that allow the F-35 pilot to turn, aim a weapon with the helmet, and fire at an enemy without having to point the airplane at its target.”

The Pentagon’s spin was reported by the Military.com news website.


Here is our rebuttal of the Pentagon’s spin.


The Pentagon is essentially claiming – as it did during the 1960s, in the run-up to the F-4’s Vietnam fiasco – that maneuverability in dogfights doesn’t matter, and that long-range sensors and missiles will do the job. But the Pentagon is dead wrong.
Firstly, despite the Pentagon’s and the defense industry’s promises of super-effective long-range sensors and missiles, such promises have never been fulfilled so far. Close-range combat, i.e. dogfighting, remains the dominant type of air-to-air combat to this day – not Beyond Visual Range combat as the DOD wants us to believe. Even today’s newest long-range sensors, including radar, cannot reliably identify other aircraft and distinguish them from friend to foe; hence why, to this day, the US military does NOT allow its combat pilots to fire BVR missiles without authorization from AWACS or a higher authority. Moreover, in real-world combat, even the newest BVR missiles like the AMRAAM have demonstrated, at best, only a 25% Probability of Kill (Pk). Even in the most recent conflicts, most air-to-air kills have been with Within Visual Range weapons, including sometimes with BVR missiles fired at close range. With a multitude of decoys available on the market, and with BVR radar-guided missiles being able to do only a few Gs at best, evading BVR missiles is not difficult.
The DOD extols the F-35’s radar, but in reality, today, an aircraft’s active radar is more of a target than a shield. Once a pilot turns his radar on, he immediately becomes an easy target. Any enemy equipped with a Radar Warning Receiver can detect such aircraft – and distinguish friend from foe, because the radars of American, Russian, Chinese, and French aircraft operate at different frequencies. Hence smart fighter pilots do NOT turn their radar on – this is called Emissions Control in military parlance.
And the F-35’s AESA radar is nothing special in any case. EVERY modern fighter – including the F/A-18E/F, the Flanker family, the Rafale, the Gripen, the PAK FA, the F-22, the F-15E/SE, and even upgraded legacy F-15s and F-16s – has an AESA radar (the Eurofighter Typhoon will receive it in a few years). So even if an AESA radar were an asset rather than a liability, the F-35 offers nothing, in this regard, that other fighters don’t. As for the F-35’s EOTS and DAS, other fighters also have similar sensors, as well as the ability to receive and process information received from a variety of other (allied) sensors (aerial, naval, ground, spatial). Again, the F-35 offers NOTHING in this regard that other fighters don’t. So the F-35 is no special snowflake.
Moreover, the radars of the F-22, F-15, Rafale, PAKFA, the Flanker family, the Typhoon, and probably also the J-20 are all much more powerful and longer-ranged than the JSF’s radar. So compared to competitor (and some American) aircraft here, the F-35 is actually decisively INFERIOR.
As for “the F-35’s special stealth coating designed to make the aircraft invisible to enemy radar”, I have to inform you, Mr Osborn, that is NO aircraft “invisible to enemy radar.” The most an aircraft can achieve is to dramatically reduce, but not completely erase, its visibility to enemy radar. That feature – known as Low Observability or “stealthiness” – depends in around 95% on an aircraft’s shape, and only to about a 5% degree on coating.
If an aircraft is properly shaped (the cardinal examples being the F-22, the B-2, and the J-20), it will be very stealthy even without special coatings – which can then incrementally increase its LO. If an aircraft is badly shaped, however, the F-35 being a textbook example, it will not be very stealthy, and no coatings will be able to solve this problem. Coatings are not magical Harry-Potter-like “invisibility cloaks” that can make a badly shaped aircraft invisible to radar, contrary to what you wrote.
Because of the F-35’s deeply-sculpted belly and its donut-shaped engine exhaust nozzle, it will only be stealthy from the front – and even that only to X-, S-, and K/Ku-band radar. This type of radar, however, is steadily being supplemented and even supplanted in foreign aircraft and air defense systems (ground- and sea-based alike) by radar operating in other bands (such as the L-band) and at High, Very High, and Ultra High Frequencies (so-called “counterstealth radar”). Against these, stealthiness is useless – they can detect “stealth” aircraft from afar. At that point, an aircraft’s only “protection” is its speed. The F-22, being a supersonic aircraft, can simply deliver its deadly payload and then run away. The F-35 and the B-2 cannot, and are thus doomed to be shot down.
All of which makes mockery of the Pentagon’s utterly ridiculous claim that the F-35 can “recognize, detect and destroy enemy targets at longer distances — long before it can be identified by an enemy aircraft.” It cannot do so, as it is not truly stealthy, easy to see for counterstealth radar, and equipped with decisively inferior radar and missiles compared to adversary frontline fighters.
Making matters worse, competitor aircraft such as the PAKFA, the J-20, the J-31, the J-10, the Typhoon, and those of the Flanker family, can fly much higher (at about 65,000 feet each) than the F-35 (which can theoretically fly at 60 angels, but in practice has been tested only up to 43 angels) and are also much faster: the F-35 can do no more than Mach 1.61, while all the fighters listed above can fly at Mach 2 or more. Please note that missiles launched from a higher- and faster-flying aircraft can fly much farther than those launched from a lower- and slower-flying fighter, and that the newest Russian BVR missiles outrange the longest-ranged American one (the AIM-120D AMRAAM). Also please note that the F-35, in its “stealthy” mode, can carry only four weapons (e.g. missiles). If it takes any more, it completely loses its (already-limited) degree of stealthiness. The forementioned competitor aircraft can all carry 12 missiles (except the J-10, which can carry 11, and the Typhoon, which can carry 13). The French Rafale fighter’s C variant can carry 14. Since no missile has a 100% Pk, the fighter that can carry more missiles has a much better chance of winning.
Furthermore, the PAKFA, the Typhoon, the Rafale, and newer Flanker variants can all supercruise (i.e. fly at supersonic speeds without afterburner). So can the F-22. The F-35 cannot.
Also, the Pentagon’s claim that the F-35 has “weapons and software that allow the F-35 pilot to turn, aim a weapon with the helmet, and fire at an enemy without having to point the airplane at its target” is also demonstrably false, because, as the test pilot of whom your article speaks has experienced first-hand, the F-35’s cockpit is so small that a pilot cannot even turn his head around freely in that cockpit.
This is also a serious impairment of pilot visibility, which will prove deadly for any aircraft’s pilot – as it did for F-4 pilots in Vietnam. Please note that 80% of all fighters ever shot down went down without their pilots being aware of the attacker. Erich Hartmann, the greatest fighter ace of all time (“ace of the aces”), shot down about 80% of all his victims in this manner. When you don’t have full visibility, no amount of super-duper sensors, weapons, or other expensive and exquisite gizmos will help you.
In light of these facts, the Pentagon’s claim that the F-35 can “recognize, detect and destroy enemy targets at longer distances — long before it can be identified by an enemy aircraft” is a total joke.

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About Zbigniew Mazurak

One comment

  1. It makes you wonder what the Pentagon is doing. Maybe they’ll make improvements to this airframe. I wonder how we’ll able to compete globally with sub-par aircraft.