Locklin on science

How to shoot down a stealth fighter

Posted in Design by Scott Locklin on January 20, 2017

Editorial note: I actually wrote most of this five years ago, but was reluctant to publish it for misguided patriotic reasons. Since people are starting to talk about it, I figure I might as well bring some more sense to the discussion.

I’ve already gone on record as being against the F-35. Now it’s time to wax nerdy as to why this is a dumb idea. I’m not against military spending. I’m against spending money on things which are dumb. Stealth fighters are dumb. Stealth bombers: still pretty dumb, but significantly less dumb.


I have already mentioned the fact that the thing is designed for too many roles. Aircraft should be designed for one main role, and, well, it’s fine to use them for something else if they work well for that. The recipe for success is the one which has historically produced good airplanes: the P38 Lightning, the Focke-Wulf Fw-190, the F-4, the F-16, the Su-27, and the A-10. All of these were designed with one mission in mind. They ended up being very good at lots of different things. Multi-objective design optimization though, is moronic, and gets us aircraft like the bureaucratic atrocity known as the F-111 Aardvark, whose very name doesn’t exactly evoke air combat awesomeness.

What is stealth? Stealth is a convergence of technologies which makes an aircraft electronically unobservable, primarily via Radar. The anti-radar technology is two-fold: the skin of the aircraft can be radar absorbent, but the main trick is to build the aircraft in a shape which scatters the radio energy away from the radar set which sent the signal.  What is a fighter? A fighter is an aircraft that shoots down other aircraft. Fighters use guns, infrared guided missiles and radar guided missiles. Most modern radar guided missiles work by pointing the missile more or less in the target direction, illuminating the target with radar (from the jet, or from the missile itself; generally from the missile itself these days), and launching. The wavelength of the missile and jet radar is dictated by the physical size of the missile or jet. The main purpose of radar-resistant technology for a stealth fighter is avoiding being detected in the first place by enemy radar, but also defeating radar guided air to air missiles.

Of course, what nobody will tell you: the air to air radar guided missiles haven’t historically been very effective. The US has some of the best ones; the AMRAAM. They’ve only shot down 9 aircraft in combat thus far using this weapon; it has a kill probability of around 50% depending on who you ask. Previous generations of such missiles (the AIM-4AIM-7 and Phoenix) were fairly abysmal. The AIM-4 was a complete failure. The AIM-7, also a turkey in its early versions with a 10% kill probability in the Vietnam War (later versions were better). The Phoenix never managed a combat success, despite several attempts, though it was somehow considered a program success anyway, mostly by paper pushing war nerds. By and large, the venerable IR guided sidewinder works best. Amusingly, the Air Force thought the beyond visual range radar guided air to air missile would make stuff like guns and dogfighting obsolete … back in the 1950s. They were so confident in this, most of the Vietnam era fighters didn’t come equipped with guns. They were completely wrong then. They’re almost certainly wrong now as well. Yet, that is the justification for fielding the gold plated turd known as the F-35; a fighter so bad, it can’t even out fight a 45 year old design.

Oh. Well, stealthy planes can defeat the IR missiles that end up being used most of the time, right? No, actually. The stealthy technology can’t really defeat such missiles, which can now home in on a target which is merely warmer than the ambient air. I could build such a sensor using about $40 worth of parts from Digikey. All aircraft are warmer than the ambient air, even “stealthy” ones. Friction is one of the fundamental laws of physics. So, if a stealth fighter is located at all, by eyesight, ground observers or low frequency radars or whatever: an IR missile is a big danger. Worse, the planes which the US is most worried about are Russian made, and virtually all of them come with excellent IR detectors built into the airframe itself.  Airplane nerds call this technology IRST, and the Russians are extremely good at it; they’ve had world beating versions of this technology since the 1980s. Even ancient and shitty Russian jets come with it built into the airframe. The US seems to have mostly stopped thinking about it since the F-14. A few of the most recent F-18s have it strapped as an expensive afterthought to fuel tanks (possibly going live by 2018), and the F-35 (snigger) claims to have something which shoots sharks with laser beam eyes at enemy missiles, but most of the combat ready inventory lacks such sensors.

There is no immunity to gunfire, of course, so if you see a Stealth fighter with your eyeballs, and are close enough to draw a 6, you can shoot it down.

Now, it’s worth thinking a bit about the fighter role. What good is an invisible fighter? There are a couple of issues with the concept, which has never actually been usefully deployed in combat anywhere in all of history. It is also rarely spoken of. If you want to shoot down other jets with your stealth fighter, you have to find them first. To find them, the best way to do it is using radar. Maybe you can do this with AWACS.  AWACS somewhat assume air superiority has already been established. They’re big lumbering things everyone can see, both because they have giant signatures to radar, and because they are emitting radar signals. Maybe you can turn on your stealth fighter’s radar briefly, and hope the enemy’s electronic warfare facilities can’t see it, or hope the passive radar sensors work. Either way, you had better hope it is a fairly big country, and it is dark outside, or someone could find your stealth fighter. People did a reasonable job of spotting planes with binoculars and telephones back in the day. Modern jets are a little more than twice as fast as WW-2 planes, but that’s still plenty of time to alert air defences. Invisibility to radar guided missiles is only of partial utility; if you’re spotted, and your aircraft isn’t otherwise superior in air combat (the F-22 is), you stand a decent chance of being shot down. So, for practical use as a fighter, stealthiness is only somewhat theoretically advantageous. It’s really the attack/bomber role where Stealthiness shines as a concept; mostly for taking out air defences on the ground.

The F-117 (which was a misnamed stealth attack aircraft, an actual use for the technology) was shot down in the Serbian war by a Hungarian baker  by the name of Zoltan Dani.  The way he  did it was as follows: first, he had working radars. He did this by only turning them on briefly, and moving them around a lot, to avoid wild-weasel bombing raids. He also used couriers and land line telephones instead of radio to communicate with the rest of his command structure; he basically had no radio signal which could have been observed by US attack aircraft. He also had “primitive” hand tuned low-frequency radars. Low frequency means long wavelength. Long wavelength means little energy is absorbed by the radar absorbent materials, and, more importantly, almost none of it is scattered away from the radar receiver. Since the wavelength of a low-frequency radar is comparable to the size of the aircraft itself, the fine detail which scatters away modern centimeter-wavelength radars doesn’t have much effect on meter-wavelength radar. Mr Dani shot his SA-3 missiles up, guided it in using a joystick, and that was the end of the F-117, a trophy part of which now hangs in the garage of a Hungarian baker in Serbia.


best hunting trophy ever

Similarly, if you want to shoot down stealth fighters, you need an integrated air defense system which uses long wavelength radars to track targets, and you dispatch interceptors to shoot them down with IR missiles, guided in by the air defense radar. Which is exactly how the Soviet Mig-21 system worked. It worked pretty well in Vietnam. It would probably work well against F-35’s, which are not as maneuverable as Mig-21’s in a dogfight. The old Mig-21 certainly costs less; I could probably put a Mig-21 point defense system on my credit cards. Well, not really, but it’s something achievable by a resourceful individual with a bit of hard work. A small country (I dunno; Syria for example) can afford thousands of these things. The US probably can’t even afford hundreds of F-35s.

Maybe the F-35 is going to be an OK replacement for the F-117? Well, sorta. First off, it is nowhere near as stealthy. Its supersonic abilities are inherently unstealthy: sonic boom isn’t stealthy, afterburners are not stealthy, and supersonic flight itself is pretty unstealthy. It does have an internal “bomb bay.” You can stuff one 2000lb JDAM in it (or a 1000lb one in the absurd VTOL F-35B). The F-117 had twice the capacity, because it was designed to be a stealth attack plane from the get go, and didn’t have to make any compromises to try to get it to do 10 other things. You could probably hang more bombs on an F-35’s ridiculously stubby little wings. But bombs hanging on a wing pylon make a plane non-stealthy. So do wing pylons. In clean, “stealthy” mode, the thing can only fly 584 miles to a target, making it, well, I guess something with short range and limited bomb carrying capability might be useful. The F-117 had twice the range. So, an F-35 is about a quarter as effective in the attack role as the F-117 was, without even factoring in the fact that it is only about a twice the radar cross section of an F-117. It kind of sucks how the F-35 costs a lot more than the F-117, which was designed for and demonstrably more useful for this mission. It’s also rather confusing to me as to why we need 2000 such things if they ain’t fighters with a significant edge against, say, a late model F-16 or Superhornet. But then, I’m not a retired Air Force General working at Lockheed. I’m just some taxpayer in my underpants looking on this atrocity in complete disbelief.

There are three things which are actually needed by Air Force procurement.  We have a replacement for the F-15 in air superiority role: the F-22. It works, and it is excellent; far more effective than the F-35, cheaper and stealthier to boot. We can’t afford many of them, and they have problems with suffocating their pilots, but we do have them in hand. If it were up to me, I’d keep the stealthy ones we got, make them attack planes, and build 500 more without the fancy stealth paint for air superiority and ground attack. It will be cheaper than the F-35, and more capable. Everyone will want to “update the computers.” Don’t.

The most urgent need is for a replacement for the F-16; a small, cheap fighter plane that can be used in the interceptor/air superiority role. The US needs it. So do the allies. It doesn’t need to be stealthy; stealth is more useful in the attack role. Building a better F-16 is doable: the Russian MIG-35, and Dassault Rafale all manage it (maybe the Eurofighter Typhoon also, though it isn’t cheap). I’m sure the US could do even better if they’d concentrate on building a fighter, rather than a do-everything monstrosity like the F-35. I’m sure you can strap bombs to a super F-16 and use it in the attack role as well, once your stealth attack planes have taken out the local SAMS and your air superiority planes have taken out the fighters. Making a fighter plane with a bomb-bay for stealth, though, is a loser idea. If I were king of the world: build a delta winged F-16. The prototype already exists, and there was nothing wrong with the idea. It’s pathetic and disgusting that the national manufacturers simply can’t design even a small and cheap replacement for the ancient T-38 supersonic trainers. All of the postulated ones under consideration are foreign designs. The best one is actually a Russian design; the Yak-130.

The second need is a replacement for the F-117 for stealthy attack on radar and infrastructure. F-35 doesn’t even match the F-117 in this role. The F-22 almost does, but it is expensive and largely wasted on this role. I thought the Bird of Prey was a pretty good idea; something like that would serve nicely. Maybe one of the stealthy drones will serve this purpose. Whatever it is, you could build lots of them for the price of a few dozen F-35s.

Finally, we urgently need a decent attack plane for close air support. The F-35, and F-35B will be a titanic failure in this role. They have neither the armor nor endurance required for this. You could shoot it down with a large caliber rifle shooting rounds that cost $0.50. This one is dirt simple: even the A-10 is too complicated. Just build a propeller driven thing. Build a turboprop A-1 Skyraider. The Tucano is too small to cover all the bases. Presumably someone can still build a F4U Corsair or F6F Hellcat and stick a turboprop in it, some titanium plates around the cockpit, and shove a 30mm cannon in the schnozz. People build such things in their backyards. It shouldn’t be beyond the magnificent engineering chops of the present day “Skunk Works” at Lockheed or one of the other major manufacturers. Using inflation on the A-1 or calculating such a device as approximately 1/4 of a C-130, you should be able to build one in the $5m range and have 30-50 of them for each F-35 they replace.

The entire concept of “Stealth Fighter” is mostly a fraud. Stealth bombers and tactical attack planes have a reasonable use case. Stealth fighters are ridiculous. The F-35 is a gold plated turd which should be flushed down the toilet.

The Parable of Zoltán Dani: Dragon Slayer






67 Responses

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  1. Bruce Charlton said, on January 20, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    You’ve convinced me – and I have therefore deleted it from my Amazon Wish List…

  2. WARth3Machin3 said, on January 20, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    So first. You obviously don’t know what weaponry and defenses we have to counter missiles if you think a 40 dollar digikey part can allow you to build a device that can hone in on a stealth aircraft just because it’s warmer than ambient air temps. Electronic warfare suits allow for multiple methods of disrupting target acquisition, not to mention low band radar uses a lot of power and becomes a first strike target to blind the enemy. Second infrared is easily defeated with flares and emp. Don’t think we have directed energy weapons? Look at the Apache systems and think again. You’re literally writing crappy opinion with narrow perspective. You don’t even know the entire capabilities because they’re classified. So based all of your assumptions on the released data and what is talked about in shitty news sources.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2017 at 5:39 pm

      Effective electronic warfare obviates the need for stealth anything, now doesn’t it?
      EMP? Talk about someone basing all their assumptions on shitty news sources. Or am I supposed to believe someone who can’t even use a VPN but has access to SUPER SEEKRIT INFORMATION is posting on my blog?
      1950s IR technology can certainly be defeated by flares. Yet, a stealth fighter shooting fucking flares which say “HERE I AM” to prevent its being shot down with $5k crappy old MANPADS isn’t real stealthy, is it? I could indeed build a home made IR missile using open source model rocketry technology which would be immune to flares. It probably wouldn’t work against the laser guided sharks the F-35 claims to have, but then, the F-35 doesn’t really work, does it?

  3. fpoling said, on January 20, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    The Russian defences against IR seakers are getting better, http://www.deagel.com/Aircraft-Protection-Systems/President-S_a003126001.aspx And that is not very expensive technology and I guess extremely useful judging by reports from Syria.

  4. fpoling said, on January 20, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Russian defences against IR seakers got better recently, http://www.deagel.com/Aircraft-Protection-Systems/President-S_a003126001.aspx . Judging by reports from Syria it is very practical and cost-effective.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      Defeating MANPADs trying to shoot down choppers is a much easier task, once you have air superiority. If you have a stealth fighter shooting off all that radiation, well, it ain’t a stealth anything any more. But of course, it ain’t stealthy in the IR range anyway.

      The kinds of rockets which are designed to shoot down a fast moving aircraft, on the other hand, are not so easily defeated, even with that kind of fancy doodad.

  5. fmshooter said, on January 21, 2017 at 8:56 pm


    This is an excellent article, thanks for compiling. I will share it in future content.

    A couple things to note:

    1) IIRC, the F-117 is first generation stealth and generally regarded as the least stealthy of the bunch. The B-2 is more stealthy (despite its size), the F-22 is stealthier than the B-2, and the F-35 fits somewhere below the F-22, though I’m not sure if its above the F-117 or not.
    2) The AIM-54C “Phoenix” is alleged to have been employed to devastating effect by the Iranian F-14s in the Iran-Iraq war. Also, it was originally designed as a standoff weapon to target slower moving bombers like the Tu-22 and Tu-95, to keep them outside of range to launch cruise missiles at carriers, and was never expected to be as effective against fighers.
    3) I wish it was as easy as just “restarting” the F-22 line, but a restart will likely cost around $3 billion dollars, and there are other solutions that could be employed beyond restarting production, though it should certainly be considered.

    All in all, you are correct – the F-35 is overpriced, underperforming garbage that should never have been built.

    Please find my contact info on my website and get in touch with me – it would be a pleasure to discuss this further, and possibly collaborate on future content.

    -Duane Norman

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 21, 2017 at 10:33 pm

      When I wrote this (5 years ago), some guy in Australia involved in military procurement was claiming the F-117 was about twice as stealthy as an F-35. His analysis was detailed and more convincing than the present Lockheed originating claims that the F-35 is better than the F-117.

      The Iranians claimed to use the Phoenix effectively, but they’ve repeatedly been full of shit, so it’s kind of hard to square with the US experience. The US used ’em 3 times, and none hit the target. 80% effective in testing though! Too bad combat isn’t like testing. BVR radar guided missiles are kind of inherently a bad idea. Target knows it is under attack and has a long time to make a plan to evade. Interesting analysis here: https://defenseissues.net/2013/06/15/air-to-air-weapons-effectiveness/

      Restarting the F-22 line would be expensive, but at least we’d get something that works. As long as you don’t let the Lockheed clowns fiddle with the software, and assuming you could drop some of the stealthy stuff (use the stealthy ones we have now for that purpose), they might end up with a cheaper unit cost.

      • fmshooter said, on January 22, 2017 at 2:39 am

        Wikipedia cites a ton of evidence of AIM-54A kills by IRIAF pilots in the Iran/Iraq war, and they have pretty unbiased sourcing:
        It certainly makes a convincing case that the Phoenix was quite effective.

        I think you’re right about the F-22 – despite its teething problems, its far and away the baddest thing in the sky today. Building more is hardly a bad solution, if the line isn’t shut off again after less than 200 copies.

        • Scott Locklin said, on January 22, 2017 at 6:50 am

          Well, you know, Wikipedia has Iranian editors too. If it is true, it appears the Iranians are the only ones able to shoot things down with the AIM-54 in a combat situation. I remain skeptical. Their records indicate it is more effective than the AAMRAM in US hands, which seems unlikely.

          When I’m in a joking mood I suggest we just buy the PAK-FA. Looks pretty good. Cheap too.

          • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 22, 2017 at 7:13 am

            There is always the chance that the Iraqis didn’t train their pilots to evade missiles.

            Much like the Turks now who seem to be loosing Leopard II tanks in Iraq due to lack of crew training and proper doctrine.

            • Scott Locklin said, on January 22, 2017 at 8:20 am

              They did a marvelous job of avoiding our AIM-54 missiles. Managed to evade all 3 of them. I suppose it was after the Iran war, so maybe they figured out some better combat doctrine, but I can’t imagine the Iraqi pilots were better at this after being cooped up in a no fly zone for 8 years.

          • fmshooter said, on January 22, 2017 at 7:56 pm


            If the Indians hate it, and would rather have the SU-30MKI, you should too.

            • Scott Locklin said, on January 22, 2017 at 11:05 pm

              SU-30MKI is a good plane for sure. Basically a cheap F-15 which is arguably better than an F-15.
              While the PAK-FA has its problems, if they can get the izdeliye 30 to work, it should be a beast. There’s been a lot of chest puffing coming from the Russian MIC lately, but I’d put money they’ll eventually pull it off. All the more reason to build more F-22s.

              • fmshooter said, on January 23, 2017 at 1:47 am

                The Russians can’t even keep the Tu-160’s they have flying, with only a pathetic number available at any given time. Some are undergoing modernization but that is far too long and is far too expensive.

                I wouldn’t count on the Russian MIC being able to field any new aircraft, especially not a brand new design. Quite honestly, too many people give the Russians credit for designs that either 1) haven’t been fielded, or 2) have shown absolutely no promise.

                A reminder, the YF-22 and YF-23 prototypes were both considered effective prototypes, too good to be even offered for export.

                • Scott Locklin said, on January 23, 2017 at 2:34 am

                  The reporting on Russian MIC is a combination of fear mongering (“the Russians have apocalypse torpedo!”) and contempt (“the Russian planes are falling out of the sky” -little attention paid to ours falling out of the sky). They’re definitely full of surprises. From the looks of them in Georgia, they weren’t doing so hot. On the other hand, they made us look pretty stupid in Syria. Their new subs at least are top notch, and we do depend on them to get into space. We’ll see, I suppose.

                • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 23, 2017 at 7:30 am

                  Putin made a mistake by messing with the Ukrainians. It appears that they produce a lot of spare parts for the Russian air force. And they produce all the cruise missiles. In addition the air force is not funded well, because the priority of the Russian air defence is the missile systems like the S-300 and S-400.

                  Note that even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the air defence systems were funded.

                  • Scott Locklin said, on January 23, 2017 at 7:40 am

                    The Russians have always had their fingers in Ukraine, for this very reason, though I think Crimea was the primary concern. It’s worse than that; the technology for their heavy SS-18 missiles is manufactured in Dnipro. Now the US and who knows who else has access to this technology. Troubles in Ukraine probably slowed down deployment of the Sarmat replacement for the SS-18.

                    There’s probably some “Mackinder world island” reason for the preference of SAMs, but the reality is they probably work a lot better than interceptors.

                    • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 23, 2017 at 10:53 pm

                      It is fairly easy to jam fellow aircraft by bouncing the signal off the ground, but pretty hard to jam something on the ground without presenting a good solid target.

      • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 23, 2017 at 7:54 am

        If you build large scale software in a programming language that doesn’t really support it, you will have problems. C++ is a language for a small team of really bright people. It is inherently pretty much a write only language in a world where readability significantly reduces cost.

        Writing software in a language that looks like C is a lot of fun, but it is a stupid idea because it is grossly uneconomic. Its claim to efficiency is that you remember the time it took you to write the program the first time, but conveniently forget how long it took you to get it to work. The latter is the costly bit.

        It is a great pity that the Crosstalk (Connexxions) issues for 1995 is no longer available. It had a great article with a description of the Airbus brake project (done in Ada, C and Assembler).

        • Scott Locklin said, on January 23, 2017 at 8:09 am

          I don’t know anyone who has said anything complementary about Ada, but the projects it was used in seemed to work reasonably well, so there must have been something to it.

          The interesting thing about this quandry: this is still an unsolved language problem. Building systems stuff in anything but plain old C is really difficult. Handley-Milner languages seemed like a good step in the right direction, but it seems to require a programmer with a standard deviation higher capabilities to take advantage of them, and their compiler technologies still kind of suck. I like stuff like Golang, but it’s really not a systems language; not yet anyway. Maybe Rust some day, but I doubt it. Really, reading stuff like “Mythical Man Month” is still totally contemporary and relevant. Oh, things are better than they were for Brooks, but the improvements certainly haven’t matched processor capabilities.

          Really an awful lot of the computer woo in something like the F35 can be skipped all together.

          • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 23, 2017 at 9:08 am

            There used to be a web page for Ada successes somewhere.

            One story was about an Austrian anti aircraft gun. They re-wrote the software in Ada. It worked the same as the C version, but all the stopping and misbehaviour disappeared.

            One university (GWU?) used a lift simulator for the second year (I think) projects. They had an increasing amount of support code in C. But nobody managed to complete the project. When they changed to Ada, they didn’t have time to write any support code, but the first year it was in operation the first students managed to complete the project and have a working elevator.

            When C++ became popular, some companies explicitly recruited people trained in Ada because at least they understood object oriented programming.

            Peter Moyland used to teach programming with Modula-2. Once he allowed this students to use any programming language for an assignment. Many of the better students used C. There was a lot of complaining about there not being enough time and none of the C students managed to do any of the extra credits stuff.

            I think the main problem for Ada is that they never defined a standard library like the C people did. The C standard library is small and very useful. The Ada people are used to big project with heaps of money, and they can pay someone to write the useful bits when they need it. It like buying a car, but it does not come assembled,

            • fpoling said, on January 23, 2017 at 7:28 pm

              Ada was designed for developing reliable embedded systems with little resources. I remember a book from eighties which discussed various constrains that put on the language. With that focus lack of a standard library is not surprising.

              But I do not think that was the main problem that prevented ADA growing beyond its niche. Luck of free or at least accessible development tools was much bigger problem.

              • Scott Locklin said, on January 23, 2017 at 7:55 pm

                Somehow I hadn’t realized ADA was a variant on Pascal. It is interesting that the Typhoon and AeroMachi M346 did use an ADA variant (SPARK). Maybe I’ll noodle around with it; always interesting fiddling with rare programming languages.

                • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 23, 2017 at 10:58 pm

                  SPARK is a subset of full Ada. Also look into Ravenscar profile.

                  The reason they are using Ada, is that Ada is supposedly strong in safety critical applications. And someone might have insisted on using a reliable language.

                  Freely available Ada compiler :GNAT

                  C++ is what Ada is commonly claimed to be. BTW C++ is pronounced C cludge cludge (snigger).

      • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 24, 2017 at 3:41 pm

        You might want to read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2K12_Kub#Yom_Kippur_War

        It may explain why the Phoenix could be effective against the Iraqis. At least for a while.

        If the radar warning receiver does not give off an alarm, then using the Phoenix becomes much like shooting ducks in a barrel.

    • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 23, 2017 at 8:32 am

      In stealth, size matters. The larger the aircraft, the more stealthy it can become against the longer wavelength radars. So the B-2 is harder to detect than the F-22.

      I would think that the Russians worry more about the B2 and the RQ-180 than they do about either of the F-22 and F-35. Both which can be detected by their S-400 complexes. It is uclear how the Russian defends against the B2.

      The Russian mid and short range air defence systems are optimised to take out PGMs and they probably have heaps of jammers and decoys. The USAF speaks about saturation attacks against the S-400 systems. Either 2 F-22 or 8 F-35 to try and overwhelm the Russian close in defences. The F-22 can get away due to speed and better stealth, but apparently the F-35 can’t.

  6. Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 21, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    Stealth is not bad, but probably not cost effective in the F-35. We are now in the position that instead of driving the cost on the Russian/Chinese side, it is driving cost into an unsustainable position on the NATO side. The whole scheme has backfired. It only works when relatively few aircraft have stealth.

    The primary defences against stealth aircraft by the Russians and Chinese, is not more expensive stealth aircraft, but advanced air defence systems with missiles and guns and electronic warfare (EW). EW dramatically reduces the advantage any stealth aircraft may have. It is claimed that an Eurofighter can be detected by an F-35 at 30km if the EW dial is on “war”.

    It would probably have been better with a conventional aircraft with stealthed missiles and bombs. e.g. The NSM missile. Since those munitions have a low radar signature initally, they will be very hard to discover if stealthed.

    As far as the wonderful dogfighting ability of the F-35, I suspect that the pilots in these demonstrations know how to behave. It would be interesting to get the opinion of som fighter pilots whose future does not depend on the F-35 be viewed as a success.

    I don’t know much details of air to air battles, but here goes : The F-35 seems to be a one trick pony in air battles, it turns using a very high angle of attack and simultaneously slows down. An opponent with air brakes, should be able to keep it in its sights by deploying them. Or just make a wider turn in a different direction. The Americans found a way around the Zero’s turning ability, so I assume that it might not be difficult to find a way of turning the F-35 angle of attack ability against it. But we need a pilot who does not care how well the F-35 is doing to explain if it is possible.

    Sooner or later, the American lack of investment in the infrastructure of the country will end in tears because they can’t sustain their investment in the armed forces. The interesting bit is, how long will it take until the brakes come on.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 22, 2017 at 9:20 pm

      Solid insight about the Russians and Chinese treating Stealth as a sort of “reverse Star Wars.” Though the dynamics of airframe costs have been going bananas for a long time. Even back in the 60s, people would step back and notice that some of the aircraft were actually costing as much as their weight in gold. A few designers went in the other direction (Ed Heinemann and the fighter mafia guys), but even the F-15, which seems reasonable now, was considered outrageous back in the day.
      I think the country jumped the shark on the infrastructure question in the 90s and early 2000s.

      • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 22, 2017 at 10:06 pm

        I think Obama requested 80bn in repairs for Bridges in 2013 and Congress responded with a cut of nearly 2bn in the budget.

        It may be that the “Make America Great Again” resonates with the lower paid people who have to use the dilapidated infrastructure. It is perhaps not all about people wanting African Americans and women to have lower status. But it probably contributes to the feeling that the country is falling apart.

        • Scott Locklin said, on January 22, 2017 at 10:41 pm

          One of the things that occurred to me on my last visit to the DC beltway: everything was very very clean and new and well manicured. It looked like they actually had landscapers mowing the lawns and trimming the beautifully sculpted topiary along the beltway highways. The only other places I’ve seen in America like that are tiny enclaves of the very rich, like Palo Alto (which is of course, served by horrifically shitty highways), except there were literally a few hundred square miles of such infrastructure; it was decadent. The egotistical driving techniques around there also made a big impression; essays could be written.

          I come from redneck country; pretty much everyone back home who didn’t have a desk job (which was most of them) voted for Trump. The infrastructure is bad, but not horrific, other than the missing factories. It helps that a lot of people moved away, so old infrastructure still works well. I’d say immigration and race relations are not really a problem there. It’s mostly the future prospects, and the fact that the Democratic party elite seems to actively hate rednecks reflexively. I mean, a lot of the programs favored by the Democrats are just neoliberalism decorated with identity politics; the socialist streak is mostly gone. Certainly situations differ in different parts of the country (former manufacturing areas of Michigan, Ohio and PA are dystopian for infrastructure), but I think a lot of the country is like this. Basically, the only decent jobs in vast swathes of the country are hospitals, prisons and government. So your future as an average human being who can’t get a Ph.D. and move away to write code is being a Wally-world greeter or working as a bartender. Many turn to drugs and self destruction. Somehow these “externalities” are never put into economic model calculations. Infrastructure is just one piece of the puzzle; the country really is a mess.

  7. Jack said, on January 24, 2017 at 3:02 am

    Sorry, but I’ve gotta disagree.

    I think you’ve misunderstood what the objectives of the Pentagon are. Stealth is not meant to make aircraft invisible, and it is certainly not intended to make it invisible at all times. At the very least, stealth is intended to limit the effective range of a radar set. By limiting this range, it limits the amount of time that opposition forces, especially “point defense” systems have to react and scramble fighters. Essentially, by the time an enemy finds out there are bombers on then way, they are buzzing their base and dropping bombs or just a few miles away from doing so.

    Furthermore, it is unreasonable to say that the F-35 is less stealthy than the F-117. The F-117 was designed through a whole lot of guessing until tests revealed the shape was acceptably stealthy, because they didn’t understand how they could achieve stealth yet. By the time the F-35 came around, Lockheed Martin had already developed a computer program to do all this for them, and they had learned a few things on the F-22. Computers made all the more benevolent curves possible, and thus aided performance.

    And if you think that a bunch of people sitting in a foxhole with a pair of binoculars can spot and communicate the position and approach of raiding aircraft in the modern era, you’re mistaken. In World War II, bombing aircraft were slower, larger, had lower cruising altitudes and lacked effective camouflage. Even then, teams like this weren’t what carried the day. The Battle of Britain showed that radar was a game changer; it allowed the British to prepare for raids hours in advance, while ground-based, visual networks provided just minutes of warning and preparation time.

    Secondly, IR detection systems have one major flaw: while effective at close range, they cannot detect aircraft far away, especially from the front, where there aren’t streams of hot gasses from the jet’s exhaust. And again, that’s when stealth is most useful, the approach, not the getaway. It’s useful for visual range combat, but beyond that it’s unusable.

    And finally, radar-guided air-to-air missiles can be effective. Even at just a 50% hit rate, that means that one out of every two missiles will hit its mark, and fighters like the F-35 do in fact carry more than two of them, even in stealth configurations. “Ripple firing” techniques, which launch several missiles at a time in an attempt to compensate for dud missiles, are a simple solution that has been use since Vietnam.

    I mean, yeah propaganda has made a lot of the Pentagon’s claims larger than can be delivered, but the science on which they are founding these new concepts of aerial warfare are sound, and more importantly viable.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 24, 2017 at 3:48 am

      I think you’ve misunderstood me in some way. I’m all for stealth bombers, at least for taking out enemy point defenses, assuming they are actually stealthy and good at what they do. It’s the fighters that make no sense to me.

      I linked to an Australian study which seems to demonstrate pretty handily that the F-35 isn’t as stealthy as the F-117, regardless of how much better the computers are. Here it is again if you didn’t catch that. http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-2009-01.html I haven’t vetted it in minute detail, but it looks like a pretty serious effort to me, and a lot more believable than Lockheed’s “trust us; twice as good” which is based on nothing more than marketing as far as can be told. It’s the compromises that fail the F-35, not the algorithms.

      If his analysis is correct, it is actually much worse than the F-117. Juicy quote for you:

      “The pragmatic reality is that the threat environments which were used to define the stealth capability of what is now the Joint Strike Fighter are artifacts of history, since then re-equipped predominantly with longer ranging SAMs and more powerful radars. There has also been over a decade of technological evolution in Russian radar and missiles since 1997 [ed note: two decades now]. In the simplest of terms, all of the basic technological assumptions used to define the stealth capabilities of the Joint Strike Fighter are no longer true.”

      As for IRST; you haven’t looked at this lately. Leaving aside the fact that the Rooskie is better at this than we are, the Eurofighter Typhoon can detect fighters using the PIRATE IRST at 50km (coming) to 80km (going) away. That’s extremely good. AAMRAM range. And that’s old tech; you could do better. Even if it’s half that; it’s great, and since it is passive, nobody can tell when their super stealthy gizmo has been “painted” by passive IR detectors.

      As for guys with binoculars, the Krauts had shit radar and still managed to shoot down an awful lot of bombers, even in the dark. And they didn’t have iphones with GPS and video, which could be jury rigged to automagically phone trajectories home from the local goat herders who see a jet overhead. Finally, jets are a lot louder than a B-17, so more people are going to notice.

    • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 24, 2017 at 8:17 am

      The range of the radars are significantly longer today than they were when Pentagon made their decisions. The Russians got a wake up call from the F-117 performance against the air defences in Desert Storm. There is no longer any surprise. However there are differences. The F-22 is said to be able to approach an S-400 complex, release weapons and expect to get away. This is not so likely for the F-35.

      The Russians have a bewildering array of radars and technologies for discovering aircraft. I assume that they keep improving them. The Wikipedia articles are written by Russians in less than wonderful English and that make them hard to decipher. The best guide is Air Power Australia which have its own idiosyncrasies.

      If you start lugging a HARM missile on the F-35 or F-22, or even sidewinders to the F-35, you have added radar reflectors and are increasing the engagement range.

      All short and medium range Russian missiles are optimised at taking out PGMs. The Pantsir-S1 can engage a HARM missile at 8km if my memory serves me right. There is no information as far as I know of the Pantsir-S2 which uses an S-band search radar.

      Then there is the operational matter. Any aircraft approaching a S-400 complex is likely to pass ambush sites where the anti aircraft systems might not even power up their radars. They might rely on their IRST only or information from the radar systems. They might only power up the radars for the missile launch. Then shut down and reposition.

      They also have multiple radars which give mutual support. Aircraft like the F-35 is less stealthy on the sides than at the front.

      And there will be decoys since the Serbs made good use of them during the Kosovo war.

      The Serbs lost 3 out of 22 SA-6 systems in the Kosovo war despite nearly 400 HARMs expended.

  8. Walt said, on January 25, 2017 at 3:10 am

    Scott, in addition to your excellent article, please see this.

    Not only is the F-35 not stealth in most wavelengths, its stealth is terrible at most aspect angles. In addition, I am told that the absorptive skin needs to be protected from the marine environment to retain its properties. IOW, it sucks on aircraft carriers where there’s a lot of salt air.

    Finally, there’s the issue of RCS. It’s difficult to get a stealth aircraft below a 1 m^2 RCS regardless of whether it is “all aspect” and “all wavelength.” Modern radars, and even old ones operated by skilled operators, have no problems locking onto something with even low RCS:

    The comments about EW offering protection are laughable. Pilots are wary of turning on their self-protection jammers because it’s the equivalent of having a 100 watt beacon on board, even if it’s using deceptive jamming techniques. Modern radars and missile seekers have “home-on-jam” modes that can fly right at the source of radiation put out by an EW system.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 25, 2017 at 7:09 am

      Har, if you scroll up, you’ll see that I’ve linked to that several times now, Walt. It is indeed a very impressive article, and was one of the reasons I flipped out and wrote this (5 years ago!).

      The F-35 would arguably be awesomesauce against the enemies under consideration in 1997, aka Saddam Hussein. Sadly for Lockheed, the Russians are now fielding the S300-S500, and their fighters were always pretty good at picking hot spots out of the sky. I haven’t studied the Chinese weapons systems, but since the best of them are Russian, I’m sure they’re doing fine too. And have cheap manufacturing to make thousands of the things.

    • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 25, 2017 at 7:39 am

      The F-35 stealth is not terribly bad, It is simply not stealthy enough. If you take a look at the bulges on a F-35, F-22 and B2, the latter two will have them on the top, in the radar shadow. The F-35 have them under the wings which means that they expose them to ground radar,but mainly from the side.They should have redesigned the belly instead of adding those bulges.

      The F-35 is probably designed to be unobservable against a ZSU-23-4 Shilka and if that was what the Russian have, it would be fine. The problem is that the Russians have gone all out with advanced radars. More or less all of their air defence radars are AESA and networked. While the Americans probably though that the Russians would have AESA aircraft radars first.

      BTW most people don’t realise that the known radar range of the F-22 and F-35 radars are based on no jamming. We don’t know what the range is when these aircraft operate in a jammed environment. And I supposed that they want to keep that a closely guarded secret.

      As far as self protection jammers are concerned, the current ones are a heck of a lot more advanced than they used to be. And as I understand they tend to rely on the missiles switching automatically to home on jam. The jamming signal is bounced off the ground and the missile is supposed to obligingly nosedive into the ground.

      When you are dealing with stealth aircraft, you don’t have much choice but to rely on the self protection jammer and area jammers in order to get close enough.

      Our problem is that the people that know what a jammer can do are not talking.

  9. Davyd said, on January 26, 2017 at 1:39 am

    Thanks for the article. The obvious problem of multi-role reminds me of a design dictum with the phrase ‘loose fit’. The implication is that multi role means good at some, best at none.

    I wonder what the extra-over expend for multi-role was, compared to the spend on simpler single role aircraft (or obviously, with cognate other roles), fewer in number, easier to design and build…etc.

    VTOL is based on 1950s comic books as far as I can tell, not serious war-fighting.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 26, 2017 at 1:52 am

      A lot of the core problems with the airframe are related to the VTOL compromises. That at least shoulda been a separate jet. A super-Harrier or Yak-141 would have been fine. Frankly, the existing Harrier is fine in this role for the any need I could imagine.

      • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on January 26, 2017 at 6:32 am

        The Harrier is a bit too susceptible to fatal damage due to the placement of the ducts.

        Everybody seems to think that the F-35 is good for the Marines and possibly the Navy. It looks like congress and possibly Trump is trying to reduce the scope of the project.

  10. Collimatrix said, on February 17, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    Respectfully, I disagree with several points made in this essay, as well as the overall point.

    Nits to pick:

    1) The F-35 has IRST; the best in the world, in fact. In fact, it has two systems, the AN/AAQ-37 DAS Distributed Aperture System (DAS) and the Electro Optical Targeting System. The DAS is a series of short-ranged, wide-angle IR cameras that look out for incoming missiles and track enemy fighters in the F-35’s blind spots during a dogfight (how well this works is debatable). The OETS is a combined IRST and FLIR.

    The US wasn’t the only country interested in IRST early in the Cold War, Sweden had them on the J-35 Draken. A fair number of other birds had ’em too, but I don’t recall which ones off the top of my head. And then everyone but the Soviets got rid of them. Because they sucked.

    US pilots who got their mitts on former East German MiG-29s were not impressed with the IRST. All it was was a heat sensor. It didn’t have any resolving power or anything. All it could say is “hey, pilot, there’s a hot thing on XY bearing from us!” And because IR is a passive system, unlike radar, it can’t time how long it takes for signals to get back from the target, so those first generation IRSTs didn’t give the pilot any range data. On top of that, IRST takes a lot longer to scan a given sector of sky than radar does. I’m halfway convinced that the only reason the MiG-29 had the IRST was as cheap insurance if the radar died.

    I’m convinced that US pilot feedback wasn’t just national chauvinism either; US pilots were blown away by the one thing that made the MiG-29 scary; the R-73 short ranged missile. At the time of its introduction it was far and away the best short range air to air missile in the world.

    What makes the F-35’s IR sensors the best in the world is that they are imaging systems. They’re a starring array of IR-sensitive CCDs, like a camera. This is much different from previous air to air infrared systems, which have been scanning arrays or even reticule sensors. This means that the F-35’s infrared sensors have some idea of what they’re looking at, and can even do crude stadiametric rangefinding. Still no match for radar, but good enough to be useful.

    1a) There are reasonably effective IR tracking countermeasures for aircraft. On the face of it, it would seem that making the aircraft not emit in the IR is impossible for obvious thermodynamic reasons. But actually, IR sensors only use portions of the IR spectrum. Longer wavelengths penetrate the atmosphere better, but the sensors that use them have worse resolution. Shorter IR wavelengths have better resolution and less range, and objects have to be extremely hot to emit in them. So actually, it is possible to reduce the IR signature of an aircraft because the relevant IR sensors are only looking at a relatively narrow portion of the IR spectrum, and the aircraft need merely avoid radiating in that band as much as possible.

    2) It’s true that longer wavelength radars have better performance against stealth aircraft, both because the radar range equation favors longer wavelengths and because stealth techniques are less effective against them. However, if that were all there was to the story, nobody would use anything but L-band radars for air defense.

    Angular resolution is a linear function of wavelength and antenna size. So any stealth-busting low-frequency radar is either going to be hideously imprecise or huge. And by hideously imprecise, I don’t just mean “it will only be accurate enough to vector in fighters to contacts in a general location.” By hideously imprecise I mean “it will lack the angular resolution to tell whether it is looking at two aircraft or fifty aircraft or one or a decoy.” Or it will be gigantic, in which case it’s going to be tricky to move this thing around so it doesn’t attract attention. And ordnance, the way you describe with the Serbians shooting down the F-117. Speaking of which.

    3) The story of the Serbs downing the F-117 is a fascinating tale of grit and technical cleverness on the part of the Serbians… and some very serious limitations in the F-117. And probably a bit of USAF hubris.

    When the F-117 was designed, nobody knew how to make a radar warning receiver (RWR) that didn’t unduly compromise the radar cross section of the entire aircraft. Since the RWR is the thing that warns the pilot when they’re being painted by a SAM station, and since the Air Force knew that the F-117 wasn’t literally invisible to radar, just really hard to see, they needed some strategy to evade SAMs. What they came up with was to use various electronics warfare assets to pin down the location of enemy radar sites and simply route the F-117s far enough away from those radar sites. This works OK in the first few days of a decapitation strike (Baghdad, 1991), but not so hot during a prolonged bombing campaign because it means that the F-117s are flying the same routes over and over and over. If you’re up against someone tough and smart, eventually they’ll figure out some way to exploit this.

    Since then, a stealth-friendly RWR has been developed, so there is no reason to repeat this particular mistake of mission planning.

    My understanding is that the Serbian hand-tuning of the radars was not to increase the wavelength of the signal, but to reduce the clutter rejection threshold. This required less mucking around with the hardware, but also shows the limitations of the technique. It’s certainly possible to reduce the clutter rejection threshold of a radar so it can see stealth aircraft at useful combat distances. It’s also going to see a whole bunch of other random crap, like artillery shells in flight, little pieces of foil that catch the wind and the radar signal just right, et cetera. So, what the Serbs did would really only work if they were trying to shoot down a stealth aircraft that would by flying through a known area on a known vector. This is exactly what the USAF gave them though.

    4) The F-35 can carry 2x 2,000 pound JDAMs and 2x AIM-120 air to air missiles internally, per this diagram. There’s even pictures of it flying around with all that crap inside the weapons bays. I recall that the weapons bays are a little shorter than the F-117s, so it can’t carry the same extremely long laser guided bombs. If the enemy had GPS jammers the JDAMs would have to rely on inertial navigation alone, which would make them considerably less accurate. I’m not sure if there’s a more compact laser guided munition in the works.

    5) I very much doubt that the F-35 has an inferior unrefueled combat radius to the F-117. I can’t find reliable figures for the F-117’s combat radius. Or even the internal fuel capacity of the F-117. But I do have weight and fuel fraction figures for the F-35, and I do have the Bruguet Range Equation.

    F-117 and F-35 probably have about the same cruise speed; high subsonic. At their optimum cruise speed I would be very surprised if the F-35A does not have a higher lift to drag ratio. The F-117 isn’t especially aerodynamic; I don’t think I have to show you wind tunnel results to defend this assertion. I would also be surprised if the F-35 didn’t have a more efficient engine for subsonic cruise; it’s a generation newer engine with a higher overall pressure ratio and a higher bypass ratio. That leaves the natural log of the initial weight over final weight. Again, the F-35 is almost certainly going to have an advantage here, at least the A and C variants. The F-35 has one of the highest fuel fractions of any jet fighter.

    6) The F-22 is definitely not cheaper than the F-35. The flyaway cost for a low-rate initial production (LRIP) F-35 is something like $131 million, vs $137 million for the F-22. So on the face of it, the F-22 is only a little more expensive for a lot more jet. But the F-22 production line has been shuttered, and re-starting it wouldn’t be cheap. For 75 Raptors, you’re looking at a flyaway cost of $227 million a bird. For 194 more Raptors, it’s down to $155 million a bird, which is nearly competitive, but at that point you’re spending 30 billion dollars.

    Furthermore, that’s just comparing the flyaway price of an F-22 to the LRIP price of an F-35. The LRIP price for the F-35 should go down as the line gets up to speed, becomes more efficient and gets some economy of scale going for it. At least, those numbers ought to go down if inflation remains relatively stable and the Pentagon can keep Lockheed Martin honest, which I realize are two substantial assumptions.

    Even more importantly, the flyaway cost of an aircraft is in the long run a small portion of the aircraft’s total cost. This goes double if you want your fighter jocks to get any flight hours in so they can actually be good at their jobs. Fighters need a lot of maintenace and support, and the F-22 is by all accounts a bit of a hanger queen. The F-35 should be less simply because it has one less engine, but it also has some nifty new technologies like electrohydrostatic actuators that ought to cut down maintenance hours and dollars even more. It won’t be cheap to operate, no fighter is, but I would fully expect it to cost less to fly than the Raptor.

    7) I’d go one further on CAS aircraft; I don’t think there is any need for manned CAS aircraft at all. Or even unmanned ones. There are guided mortar rounds now fergawdsake. Artillery systems are so much more accurate now that they usurp a lot of the traditional appeal of close air support. Are guided artillery projectiles expensive? Sure. But they’re probably cheaper than any sort of combat aircraft. Given that, I don’t think that the F-35’s purported inability to pretend to be an A-10 is that serious of a problem.

    Overall, the criticism I’ve seen of the F-35 falls into two categories; criticism from people who think it’s a bad airplane, and criticism from people who think the damn thing costs too much. The people in the first camp don’t have a damn clue what they’re talking about. Seriously; the entire Military Reform crowd is full of scoundrels and ignoramuses. John Boyd certainly knew what he was talking about. Pierre Sprey never has. Seriously; read his 1987 monograph on fighter design. There are some howlers in there, like claiming that increasing the pressure ratio of a Brayton cycle engine does not improve its efficiency. Am I to believe that someone who does not understand elementary thermodynamics is a serious engineer? And of course, Pierre Sprey is not a serious engineer. The history of the F-16’s conception and design is well-documented, and he had almost nothing to do with it. Ed Heinemann certainly did. A lot of the same engineers who worked on the much-maligned F-111 did. Fred Reed did a great piece on these assclowns.

    Contemporary Military Reform isn’t any better. Their attacks on the F-35 have been technically unhinged. There was David Axe claiming that a leaked document about testing high alpha performance in the F-35 was a “mock dogfight,” there have been people claiming that the F-35’s gun doesn’t work, or that its wing loading is too high, all sorts of demonstrably untrue nonsense.

    As to the argument that the plane is too expensive and Lockheed Martin is pulling a fast one on the US taxpayer, I am sympathetic. Lockheed lobbyists have always been shifty. The entire US military industrial complex is pretty damn shifty. But I don’t see what other choice there is.

    • fpoling said, on February 18, 2017 at 12:14 pm

      > Longer wavelengths penetrate the atmosphere better, but the sensors that use them have worse resolution.

      For about 10000$ one can get 640×480 camera for far infra-red corresponding to thermal radiation, like 8-15 mkm, http://www.xenics.com/en/gobi-640-gige-0 . There are also full hd cameras if not as products but as a prototypes as well. These are not CCDs but rather uses micro-bolometers. Note that the cameras cannot penetrate thick clouds.

      • Collimatrix said, on February 20, 2017 at 12:42 pm

        Not only can these cameras not penetrate thick clouds, they have problems if there are clouds in the background too. Clouds emit and scatter enough thermal radiation that they’re fairly bright on thermal cameras. It’s much harder to pick out the bright outline of an aircraft against such a background.

        • fpoling said, on February 20, 2017 at 1:10 pm

          I have seen clearly even trees and mountains edges in front of very thick clouds on thermal IR cameras. I.e. with proper image processing anything hotter than the clouds by 10-20 degrees is visible. And hot things like volcanic ash explosions are visible even inside the clouds.

        • fpoling said, on February 20, 2017 at 1:20 pm

          Also, see https://youtu.be/H7N8I2t85zM?t=92 what was possible in commercial aviation systems 10 years ago combing thermal and near IR signals.

    • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on February 20, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      The MiG-29 is a slightly superior dogfighter to the F-16. With a competent pilot, the F-16 have no chance whatsoever. The R-73 missiles and the helmet are the icing on the cake.

      The MiG-29 can turn tighter and it can have an angle of attack between 45 and 50 degrees if the correct button is pushed.

      What NATO had and probably has, is better trained pilots. That makes a huge difference. When someone who has trained dogfighting for years meets someone who hardly knows what it is, the latter is not likely to keep flying for long.

      The F-18 (don’t remember which model) used to win all air battles when it arrived. Until the F-16 and F-15 drivers developed a tactic to counter it. Then it lost most of the duels. I suspect the same applies to the F-35. I think the speed conservation tactic used by the USAF is useless against the F-35.

      Being an armchair pilot, I assume that once someone throws caution to the wind and matches speed with the F-35, it will never win a dogfight again. The F-16 is claimed to have a tighter sustained turn, but wider turning circle. This means that the F-16 is speeding and becomes vulnerable to the F-35 superior angle of attack.

      However in real life, the the F-35 will expend its missiles at a distance which will all miss due to no special physics for American missiles and endemic DRFM jammers. Then the opposition will use their superior speed to close with IR missiles and guns.

      The opposition good pilots will force the F-35 into a turning fight and use the missiles when the F-35 has lost so much speed that it is a sitting duck.

      In BVR combat, one would have to expend so many missiles in order to get a hit, that it would be cheaper to just buy the aircraft from the pilot.

      All radars of the S-300 and S-400 can guide missiles. The L-band radars can guide 5 or 6 concurrently if my memory serves me right. I think the X-band radars are there for missile communications and expansion of the number of simultaneous engagements. If my memory serves me right each X-band radar can guide between 10 and 20 missiles.

      The Russian air defence complexes are networked. I presume that the Russians are smart enough to fire at least two missiles at each target such that trying to evade one brings the aircraft into a good position for the second missile.

      The GPS jamming technology of the Russians is said to be good enough to cause embarrassing loss of NATO donated UAVs in Easter Ukraine. I think some US officers that visited the conflict area said that “nothing worked”. My take is that neither mobiles or GPS worked.

      Eastern Ukraine seems to have been a wake up call for NATO as far as electronic warfare is concerned.

      • Collimatrix said, on February 21, 2017 at 4:41 am

        The MiG-29 is not more maneuverable than the F-16. Look up energy maneuverability charts for both types (and if you don’t know what an energy maneuverability chart is, read this excellent guide on the topic). Basically, an EM chart is a way to quantitatively compare turn rates and energy bleed rates in aircraft. It was one of the really good ideas that the fighter mafia came up with back when the fighter mafia was still smart.

        All fourth generation fighters have nearly identical EM charts except for the Mirage 2000. The MiG-29A with a basic A2A loadout has a slight sustained and instantaneous turn rate advantage at low altitude while the viper has a slight edge in speed. Go up 15,000 feet and the viper’s advantage grows a bit, but again, they’re more similar than they are different.

        What your anecdote about the F/A-18 shows is that the name of the game in fourth generation dogfights is to try to stay in the portion of the flight envelope that favors one’s own aircraft over the opposition. The F/A-18 is straight winged and draggy (wings with less than thirty degrees sweep have negligible impact on Mcrit) because it’s designed to land on carriers, which is absurdly dangerous and hard. So it has a bit of an edge at slower speeds because its wings are designed to provide excellent lift and control at those lower speeds. The hornet jock wants to stay alive for the first part of the dogfight and drag it out so that the enemy fighter looses its energy and is forced to fight at the speeds where the hornet has a large turn rate advantage. The enemy fighter jock wants to kill the hornet before that happens, or else disengage before their edge slips away. But neither scenario is night and day, and could easily come down to which pilot is better.

        The MiG-29 was not and is not a particularly amazing aircraft. What made it good in the late Cold War was the R-73 missile and the helmet mounted sight. Now almost all fourth generation fighters have been retrofitted helmet mounted sights and HOBS missiles, all of which are better than the R-73. The MiG-29 doesn’t really have anything going for it. The new versions have a lot more fuel and much more capable avionics, but the engine upgrades haven’t kept pace with the increase in weight. It’s still dangerous in a dogfight, but again, no fourth generation fighter has such a gigantic edge in dogfight maneuverability that dogfights are safe for either opponent.

        The majority of the F-35’s opposition will not be faster than it in actual combat. Sure, the F-35’s listed top speed of mach 1.6 looks terrible. Especially considering that fighters have been breaking mach 2 for sixty years now. What the hell Lockheed?

        But the top speeds listed for fighter aircraft are not representative of what they can actually achieve in combat. Or even in training flights. Look at this flight envelope for the F-15. Everyone who can read wikipedia knows that the F-15 can do mach 2.5, right? Well, sort of. An F-15A on a slightly colder than average day with no weapons on it can do mach 2.5 if the engine power limiters are disengaged if it’s flying at ideal altitude.

        Tactical aircraft slow way down when they actually have weapons on them. Per my reference book on aircraft design and performance, an F-5/F-16 sized single engine fighter will suffer a 10% increase in subsonic drag coefficient simply by adding two wingtip sidewinders and a centerline 330 gallon drop tank. As you may recall, drag coefficient is related to drag force by the square of airspeed, so even a minimalist A2A loadout is going to reduce top speed by at least 27%, and that’s assuming that the stores don’t do something hideous to the wave drag (it may). The F-16 can do a hair over mach 2 when clean. mach 2 minus 27% due to two wingtip missiles and a centerline tank is… mach 1.7, almost same as the F-35.

        So really, any fighter carrying external ordnance is going to be about the same speed as the F-35 even if they could handily outrun it clean. Maybe something big and fast like an Eagle, Flanker or Typhoon carrying only a few missiles would have a meaningful dash speed advantage over the F-35, but the smaller fourth gens simply will not.

        • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on February 21, 2017 at 4:55 pm

          The F-35 has been reported as being sluggish at accelerating at least at supersonic speeds.

          Since the F-16 appears to get in front of the F-35 when manuevering, then it is pretty clear that it follows doctrine blindly instead of evaluating the situation.

          I think it is pretty fair to conclude that in order to win against an aircraft like the F-35, it does not help to maximise speed. It is necessary to reduce power to keep the position behind it.

          The MiG-29 might also use its big angle of attack to slow down and to cause the opponent to overshoot and end up in its sights. If it works for the F-35, it should work for the MiG-29.

          • Collimatrix said, on February 22, 2017 at 7:12 am

            I buy that the F-35 has mediocre transonic and supersonic performance, especially the C variant. It has fixed inlets, a stubby overall aspect ratio, and an engine with a high-ish bypass ratio. None of these is a good thing for supersonic dash performance.

            None of which especially matters in a dogfight. If you look at those EM charts you can see that a fighter going its top speed will lose energy quickly if it makes a few sharp turns, and pretty soon its down into the subsonic where it can maintain airspeed (except maybe the Raptor).

            Where it could matter is if the enemy fighter is alerted to the F-35 and simply lobs BVR missiles at it, and then declines to fight close with it. On paper the F-35 would match missile range with anything else out there, but air to air missile ranges are actually pretty dependent on launch conditions. Air to air missiles get a substantial range boost if their launch platform is going faster, so a fighter screaming along at mach 2 will be able to get a firing solution for its BVR missiles than one cruising subsonic. Again, it would take one of the bigger, faster fighters. Flanker, Eagle or Typhoon with a minimal A2A only loadout. Or Raptor or PAK-FA, obviously.

            • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on February 22, 2017 at 7:27 am

              BVR missiles are largely pointless. With a historic kill ratio of around 7% for AMRAAM against targets with radar warning receivers and missile warning receivers, it will be cheaper to buy the aircraft from the pilot.

              It is probably no accident that the Europeans found that air combat will mainly take place at relatively short ranges. So they decided to keep the gun.

              The only time we will get good kill ratios from BVR missiles is when they can brake at the far end and then restart the propulsion system close to the target. Then the missile’s superior ability to sustain high Gs will make the kill probability far higher.

    • Scott Locklin said, on February 21, 2017 at 3:05 am

      1) Yes, the F35 allegedly has IRST. Assuming they have software for it, and it actually works, they will be even better at spotting stealth fighters than our enemies are. Except our enemies mostly haven’t invested in stealth, because stealth doesn’t work very well for supersonic jets. Also because our enemies are mostly cavemen.
      2) It’s acknowledged in open source publications, something like an SA-2 is well able to blow up stealth fighters using old school radar systems. Example: http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/stealth-killer-how-russia-or-china-could-crush-americas-f-35-19511
      5) Range of F117 and F35 are listed, linked and testified to in my blog. The F35 has half the range of an F117.
      6) you’re arguing that if we make enough F35s, maybe some day they’ll be cheaper than F22’s. Well, if we made enough F22s, they might have been even cheaper! So far, comparing the actually shipped F22s and the shipped F35s, the F22 is cheaper. Restarting the F22 line would cost something. So would continuing with the F35.
      7) CAS is an important part of US combat doctrine, and has been since WW-2 days. What do you do when you don’t have magical guided mortar shells available? Until amazon has self-guided mortar drone delivery, it seems prudent to keep some planes with guns around for helping grunts in the field.

      I don’t think my argument is particularly unhinged. The F35 is inarguably a turkey. Only people who mainline Lockheed PR material disagree with this assessment. And it inarguably costs too much. I go further and deny that the stealthy and vertical takeoff characteristics are useful.
      There are a number of other choices available: Silent Eagle, restarting the F22 line, F-16XL, or, frankly, buying jets from a country that produces things that don’t suck. If Lockheed can’t pull itself together and sell something that’s not a piece of shit, it should die off.

      • Collimatrix said, on February 21, 2017 at 8:55 am

        Mr. Locklin,

        I’ve read your blog for a very long time, and I’ve been pretty impressed with your articles. This isn’t your article. Every point in it I’ve seen made before by think tanks like Air Power Australia or authors like Bill Sweetman, Pierre Sprey and David Axe. They’re the most recent incarnation of the Combat Reform movement. Right now they hate the F-35, but before that it was the F/A-18E/F and before that it was the F-15. They were wrong about the Super Hornet, which is the only fighter program in ages to have been ahead of schedule and under budget in decades. They were wrong about the Eagle, which is batting 104-0 in air to air. OK, sure, Boeing used a bit of creative accounting to get the F/A-18 E/F under budget. And anyone who goes toe to toe with the US military is just asking to get killed. But none of the Military Reform people’s predictions have been right about any other aircraft. Why would we expect them to know anything about the F-35?

        All the stuff about how stealth doesn’t work, how IRST counters stealth aircraft, how the F-35 doesn’t have enough payload or range or can’t maneuver or how the V/STOL variant requirements hopelessly compromised the other variants? I’ve seen it all before, and none of it is based on very good research. These people talk a good game, but when it actually comes down to crunching numbers, or even understanding how the systems they’re pontificating on actually work, they come up far short. Of the group, Air Power Australia and Bill Sweetman are the most reasonable. Pierre Sprey is a charlatan and always has been and Davis Axe is a hack.

        I simply do not understand where the mystique of Russian IRST comes from. Repetition of hearsay, I suppose. It’s not like the US wasn’t using IR sensors on tactical aircraft in the late Cold War; all that footage of smart bombs nailing bridges was taken from something like a LANTIRN pod. But the US was only using IR sensors for air to ground. They tried using them for air to air; they sucked. They took much longer than radar to scan a given volume of sky (still do), they couldn’t tell what they were looking at, just lit up whenever they saw something hot (this has been fixed because modern systems are imaging), and they can’t see things well through clouds or against a cloudy background (this is still a problem).

        It’s only recently that IR systems have become good enough that the USAF has wanted to give them another go in the air to air role. The F-22 was originally supposed to have IRST and may even have a structural provision to add it later. Budget cuts. Even now IRST isn’t amazing in the air to air role compared to radar, but it’s possible now to make a single sensor that does air to air and air to surface imaging, and the sensor is tiny and extremely light compared to a radar so you might as well. I’m pretty sure it does work, by the way, this image was taken from the F-35’s EOTS from 49 nautical miles. Dog and pony show? That’s always a possibility, but there’s no ipso facto reason to think so in this case. It’s comparable imagery and resolution to the latest externally carried IR targeting pods.

        The National Interest article is confused, which is typical of their stuff on technology. The signal processing tricks they’re talking about certainly exist and certainly are interesting, but they do not sidestep fundamental physics of radar antennae. They allow the radar to perform closer to the theoretical optimum, but radar resolution cells are still going to be sized based on antenna width and radar frequency. Furthermore, a number of the tricks they talk about only work with electronically steered antennas. So much for using ancient radars to pick up stealth aircraft. Also, they don’t seem to know the difference between a planar array and an electronically steered antenna. There are lots of radars that have planar arrays but are mechanically steered. Nearly all the radars in fourth generation fighter aircraft, for instance. It’s a small thing, but it’s indicative of the fact that the person writing this article was not fluent in the technical specifics.

        More seriously, they’re talking about the old S-75 missiles like they used VHF radar to guide the missiles to the target, and that simply isn’t true. The VHF radar (two of them, actually “Spoon Rest” and “Side Net”) was used to detect the target. The actual missile guidance radar (“Fan Song”) was UHF.

        But back of the envelope; radar detection range is equal to the fourth root of (gain times transmitted power times gain squared times wavelength squared times target RCS divided by four pi r cubed divided by the noise floor).

        So, for a given output power the detection range will increase with the square root of wavelength, ignoring any changes in RCS due to the longer wavelength. Obviously, those are classified. However, figures for Tacit Blue and Have Blue have since leaked out. These figures show that stealth shaping works best against X band radar, almost as well against Ku band and S band, and poorly against VHF. Tacit Blue, to my eye, looks a lot more like modern stealth aircraft, and it showed only an order of magnitude increase in RCS from X band to VHF. VHF is about one hundred times longer a wavelength than X band. So square root of one hundred times the fourth root of a factor of six, and I get that VHF can pick up stealth aircraft at fifteen times better range than equivalently powerful X band radar. That’s assuming the signal to noise ratio and gain can be kept the same, which would require a very large antenna indeed (ideal antenna sizing is linear function of wavelength). But to get decent resolution this thing is going to be gigantic anyway, so there’s no reason to hold transmit strength constant. But transmit power only increases detection range by a fourth root function, so there are practical limits on how much that can be brute forced. Still, rough guesstimate would be that an installation of this sort could reasonably pick up stealth aircraft at twenty times the range of a “typical” X-band fighter radar.

        Which, if one is to take the USAF’s “golf ball sized” RCS figures at face value, was about the same ratio that the F-35 was supposed to be detected compared to an F-16 (.001-.0001 M^2 vs 15 M^2). So big, ground-based installations are going to be picking up stealth aircraft at maybe one hundred to two hundred kilometers. That does a lot to redress the situation in favor of air defense, but it certainly doesn’t bring it back to the pre-stealth arrangement. For one thing, stealth aircraft have RWRs now, so they’ll know that they’re getting pinged by the radar long before the radar can make them out. For another thing, it’s only the big, specialized installations that can do this. All the tactical radar sets on SPAAGs, other fighter jets, et cetera are still impotent.

        Another advantage that stealth gives the F-35 is that jamming becomes much more effective. Strategypage and a number of other sites have bizarrely repeated that the F-35 does not have an internal jammer, which is yet another reason you can’t trust anti F-35 hit pieces. Actually, the F-35 will carry a towed jammer in addition to an on-board ECM suite. Stealth synergizes beautifully with jamming because the amount of power the jammer requires to hide the aircraft with barrage jamming goes down in linear proportion to the aircraft’s radar cross section. I’m skeptical that anything but barrage jamming will work in the future; those fancy radar antenna designs and signal processing techniques that National Interest piece mentioned cut right through a lot of deceptive jamming like DRFM.

        The link to the range of the F-35 vs F-117 is broken, sadly, but I do not believe that the F-117 had an unrefueled tactical radius of nearly 1200 miles (F-35 combat radius x2). The F/A-18 has two of the same engines and it doesn’t even manage a 300 nautical mile combat radius. The A-7 could manage 500 miles or so. The A-12, which would have had essentially the same engines and was much heavier and had far more internal volume thanks to the flying wing design was projected to have less than a 900 mile combat radius. I simply do not believe that the F-117 had that much fuel or was that efficient. It does not make any sense.

        The cost figures I compared are flyaway costs of the LRIP F-35 vs the main production run of F-22s. I don’t know what to tell you; look at the numbers, the flyaway cost of an F-22 was never lower than the flyaway cost of an F-35, although they were very close. If you divide the entire cost of the F-35 program over the number of birds currently flying, then yes, it’s probably more expensive. Also, if you do the accounting this way then you find out that the B-2 is literally more expensive than its weight in gold.

        Could the F-22 have been cheaper if the line had been left open? No doubt, it could have. But in terms of plans that are actionable now, the line would have to be re-started, and you would have to more than double the number of F-22s before the costs amortized enough that the flyaway costs of the airframes even started with the same digit as the ones for LRIP F-35s. Was closing down the F-22 line a mistake? It’s certainly looking like false economy now, but at the time there were bagmen to pay off and elections to be won.

        I don’t buy that the F-35 is inarguably a turkey. Sadly, Lockheed Martin won’t return my phone calls about becoming a paid shill, but I’ll keep trying. Read the David Axe hit piece on the supposedly shocking revelations from a mock F-35 vs F-16 dogfight. Then read the actual leaked test report. He just makes shit up. For starters, it’s not a mock dogfight; it’s 40+ degree AOA testing. They’re flying the F-35 to the edge of its flight envelope to adjust the flight control computers (a lengthy, laborious and unavoidable part of designing a modern fighter), and there’s an F-16 flying chase. There was a specific pilot complaint about the new helmet for the F-35 sliding around during high-G maneuvers, which David Axe repeated as the new helmet being so obstructive and huge that the pilot cannot move their head. The current crop of anti F-35 articles have exactly the same sort of hyperbole that Fred Reed wrote about thirty years ago. We’re supposed to believe that Lockheed Martin and the USAF are so bad at their job that they design things with flaws that a child could spot from a mile off. Because they’re cartoonishly evil and incompetent at everything (as opposed to the obvious truth which is that LockMart is regular evil and ruthlessly competent at making money). In some cases this hyperbole is coming from the same people, most notably Pierre Sprey, a man so singularly unqualified to discuss jet aircraft that he does not know what the significance of pressure ratio in Brayton Cycle engines is. The best third party back-of-the-envelope analysis of the F-35’s likely performance I’ve read is here. Based on reference wing area, known drag polars for airfoils, published engine data, et cetera, the F-35 looks like it performs… about like a fourth-generation fighter. A bit better once you slow down the fourth gen fighter with draggy external stores.

        The problem is that there is a gigantic, self-licking ice cream cone that exists to waste money called the Department of Defense, which should be understood to include all the prime contractors in Raytheon, BAE Systems, General Dynamics, et cetera. Generally speaking, the toys that they commission themselves to make do an absolutely stellar job at killing people during ill-advised adventures abroad. Even people who occasionally have to fight actual wars agree. The Israelis are buying the F-35, and they have their pick of US-made warplanes. Or maybe Lockheed employs way, way better lobbyists than Boeing does. But if that’s the case, my hat’s off to them, since they’ve managed to convince ten other countries to buy this thing. If the Lightning II is seriously as bad as some of these journalists are making it out to be, then Lockheed has seriously upped their bribery game since the 1950s because nobody is touching the Silent Eagle or the enhanced Super Hornet.

        P.S. If you want to see a technology that could actually make the stealth game fall apart, look up multi-polar radar.

        • Scott Locklin said, on February 26, 2017 at 1:30 am

          FWIIW, DoD thinks the F35 is a turkey:

          Click to access 2016f35jsf.pdf

          • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on February 26, 2017 at 5:53 am

            You might also want to listen to http://aviationweek.com/defense/podcast-f-35-and-future-us-airpower

            My takeaway is that the production run for the F-35 could end up being short. And the Navy only does the bare minimum purchases before the aircraft is debugged.

            • Scott Locklin said, on February 26, 2017 at 6:12 am

              The report is super damning. It basically doesn’t work at all. Not just fancy doodads like the alleged IR imaging system; it can’t be safely carrier launched, it can’t spot IR pointers for CAS, the ejector seat is lethal, the tail falling off, software don’t work, helmet don’t work, computer controls don’t work during maneuvering (over-G turns; very bad), digital comms don’t work, gun doesn’t work, JDAM bombs don’t work, reliability sucks, you can’t pull an engine at sea, along with the usual delays and cost overruns.

              • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on February 26, 2017 at 7:31 am

                It is not all that bad. e.g. the gun does work, it just can’t hit anything. The ejector seat is not lethal unless you are a small and light person (woman). The ejector seat manufacturer is working on that.

                They can pull an engine at sea, it just takes days to complete.

                JDAM sort of works, but there are issues. If they release a JDAM munition, it *will* hit the planet.

                And you forgot to mention how good it is at producing heat on the leading edges of the tail in supersonic flight. And it seems to be doing very well on debonding.

                And you didn’t mention the interesting acoustics and the good vibrations in the bomb bay at speed above 550 knots.

                And you didn’t mention that LM has generously given many of its testers the opportunity to seek their fortune elsewhere.

                See, lots of stuff that work, and some of it even works as intended.

                One day, the F-35 will be able to find its own aerial targets and engage them.

          • Collimatrix said, on February 26, 2017 at 3:30 pm

            I don’t think any of that means it’s hopeless.

            If I may again go on a long digression:

            Every front line fighter in the world today had substantial setbacks during development. Were they as bad as the ones the F-35 is experiencing? That’s an interesting question and I’ll come back to that.

            By “substantial setbacks,” I mean that early versions of all modern frontline fighters had problems that were so bad that they really couldn’t be used in combat as intended.

            Early on the F-15A had afterburner relight problems that were so bad that in mock combat pilots just kept the afterburners on the lowest setting all the time. There were also compressor stall problems with the early F100 engines.

            The F-16 had a series of hair-raising minor accidents and near-accidents that all had to do with problems with the flight control system. There would have been fatalities had the pilots not been so good. This is understandable; it was the first time anyone had made a plane that was being flown by a computer all the time.

            The early SU-27 had to be completely re-designed. The earliest SU-27 prototype had a much smaller nose, lacked the clipped horizontal stabilizers, had rounded wingtips, and had vertical stabilizers that emerged from the top of the engine nacelles. In other words, the aerodynamics and structure had to be completely re-jiggered. The early prototypes simply did not work as advertised.

            The F/A-18 E/F initially had problems with sudden, uncommanded rolling (the “wing drop”) as well as with the bombs not separating correctly from the pylons.

            In all of the above cases it took a few years to get everything sorted out and for the aircraft to become useful.

            The F-35’s problems are both more and less serious. In terms of time and money to sort everything out, they will be worse than other fighters. The problems are simply more numerous because the F-35 is extremely ambitious and extremely complex, even by fighter standards.

            On the other hand, the problems appear to be less fundamentally compromising to the design. The F/A-18E/F is still shackled with outward-canted, draggy pylons because Boeing couldn’t find a better solution to the stores separation problem. The F-16 still has the lowest alpha limit of any fourth generation fighter because of flight control system limitations from the 1970s. The F-35 has a bunch of individual subsystems that don’t work right yet. Nothing about the airframe seems inherently compromised the same way many fourth gens were. Also, no F-35s have so far smashed into the ground and killed anyone, which is more than can be said for the early SU-27/T-10.

            This is completely different than the design of fighter aircraft in the 1950s and 1960s. The F-4 Phantom made it from paper concept to flying prototype in about five years. The F-100 Super Sabre went from an unsolicited proposal from North American to the USAF to an in-service aircraft in a little over three years. Both of those were much faster programs than the F-35, and indeed faster programs than some of the programs for the subsystems on the F-35.

            Is this because of a hopelessly corrupt and bureaucratic procurement system? Without a doubt, some of it is. You don’t have to poke too deep to find Lockheed greasing the skids to keep their meal ticket going. This needs to be investigated, but completely solving the problem of military procurement inefficiency and corruption will require massive reforms. I’m talking about reforms so fundamental that I am not convinced that even Trump can achieve them, although by now I should know better than to bet against Trump.

            On the other hand, seventy some years of experience in jet design also counts for something. Classic jet fighter designs would be considered absurdly unsafe by modern standards. The F-100 had problems with compressor stalls that were never solved, and had problems with nose pitch up during incipient stalls that kept the pilots from using the entire flight envelope. The F-4 had issues with asymmetric vortices building up over the nose during high alpha maneuvers and loss of lateral control authority. The reason it had this problem is simple; nobody had ever thought of it, so it was never checked for during wind tunnel testing. Both the F-100 and F-4 served for decades without these problems ever being solved. The pilots just knew to avoid those parts of the flight envelope. Or they forgot and died in crashes. No new aircraft with problems like that would be considered for service today, and the F-100 and F-4 were reasonably good fighters by the standards of the time, not absolute widowmakers like the F7U Cutlass.

            That’s a big part of the difference between then and now. A lot of these problems that have been identified in the F-35? Back in the 1950s everyone would have just shrugged and lived with them and probably never even fixed them. The society was much less risk-averse back then, as I’m sure you’re aware. Also, the next fighter design would be out in a few years anyway, so if the current model was a bit of a lemon it was only a temporary setback. The F-35 is going to be flying until what, the mid 2040s at least? That’s also why the program was so ambitious; it had to be if it was going to have any hope of remaining useful for that long.

            • Tarjei T. Jensen said, on February 26, 2017 at 9:09 pm

              With increasing experience, there should be increasing predictability.The companies that run these projects are supposed to be increasingly proficient at it.

              e.g. an oil rig can be produced and the engineering department can pretty much tell you on the day when it will be finished. Even for project that takes years to complete. The company have designed and built so many that they have gotten good at running these projects. And the customer demands predictability. At least that is what they do here in Norway.

              The F-35 is project execution is like if they have never before tried to design a aircraft. 10 years after first flight, they have not even managed to debug the aerodynamics. That is the stuff that don’t require lots of advanced software. They just need to be able to fly it and hang stuff from the body and wings. And they should have discovered that the F-35C outer wings wasn’t sufficient before they even built the first aircraft.

              For an advanced aircraft, there will be some surprises, but nothing like the the string of cockups that is the F-35. It is simply beyond unacceptable.

  11. Collimatrix said, on February 21, 2017 at 9:16 am

    Small correction; that last bit should read “multistatic radar”

  12. Daystrom said, on March 17, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    I’m glad I found this page, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the chance to read Collimatrix’s well researched and well delivered counter-argument.

    I wonder whether you guys have seen this: https://youtu.be/cEPYnbFl_g0

  13. Scott Locklin said, on September 9, 2017 at 11:57 pm


  14. McRocket said, on July 1, 2021 at 2:58 pm

    I loved your ‘piece’ on the F-35.

    FWIW, I think the whole problem started when the Air Force decided to turn the lightweight fighter/nimble/dogfighter ‘extraordinaire’ F-16…into a so-so fighter bomber.
    And then – for some reason – deciding that lots and lots of ‘so-so’ F-16’s were better than just lots of F-15 Eagle’s and Strike Eagle’s.
    From that moment onwards, the Air Force was semi-screwed as they had now created an entirely new class of aircraft for itself – so-so fighter-bombers that cost less than top fighters and bombers (like the F-15 incarnations) – but padded the number of squadrons.
    But why?
    What possible use would so-so fighter-bombers – by design – be?
    Give them to naughty pilots? Use them against lesser foes ‘to be sporting’? Make F-15 pilots feel ‘special’?
    It makes no sense to me.
    Why compromise when you do not have to?

    And I agree with your point 100% that you should design a plane for a specific mission and then adopt it to others if it proves suitable. Not Robert McNamara-it into another F-111.
    But – at least – the F-16 was designed from the beginning as a pure fighter…a dogfighter.
    My point is that as soon as the F-16 morphed into a fighter/bomber – someone at the Pentagon decided that this was THE new type of Air Force aircraft…a so-so fighter/bomber. AND…that they had to replace every F-16 with a new, compromise fighter/bomber (the F-35).
    PLUS, they rammed it down the Marines and Navy’s throat as well.
    Now you are right back to the F-111 mess.

    So, what does America have now?
    Have a few top notch fighters (F-22) and purpose built, ground attack planes (Thunderbolt 2’s). And make a BILLION compromise fighter/bomber F-35’s.
    Why not just build more F-22’s, develop the FB-22 (as the Strike Eagle replacement), develop the F-22N version for the Navy, develop some V/STOL fighter bomber for the Marines (maybe along with the Brits).
    And then, if you just HAVE to have a compromise fighter/bomber? Develop the F-16XL (like you said) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Dynamics_F-16XL. This would also give you a cheapish, ‘new’ fighter/bomber you could sell by the boat load to other countries.

    But I just do NOT understand why the Air Force (because my understanding was the Navy’s first choice was NOT the F-35C, but the F-22N) would deliberately try and fill it’s squadrons with compromise aircraft? Especially after the Cold War and they are – for now – the only HUGE kid on the block.
    It just makes no sense to me.

    Anyway…thanks again for your piece – I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned quite a bit as well.

    • Scott Locklin said, on February 9, 2023 at 8:24 pm

      These people are all corrupt and compromised: Lockheed offers retiring airforce procurement generals nice jobs after their service. That’s the upshot of it. That and literally every state in the union gets F35 welfare cheese.

      I think the idea is the Russians can’t make enough planes to be a threat and the Chinese ones will suck. Might be true! Our “leaders” are all the enemy as far as I can tell. These people won’t pay any price if they lose a war; just proved it a couple of times. I still see neocon moustache man and fat Billy Kristol on the TV, and they’re not hanging from live oaks as they should be.

      • McRocket said, on February 13, 2023 at 12:17 am

        Well, that would explain it. Because it sure does not make sense to me otherwise. Thank you for the reply.

  15. Sean Purser-Haskell said, on February 9, 2023 at 6:25 pm

    Hi Scott, I’d love to hear your thoughts on a question from a smart bricklayer friend of mine:

    “Look, you’re fighting a war [and need a weapons development team]. You can choose between Feynman and whoever he wants with him or silicon valley in 30 years. You have to choose now.

    Who do you pick?”

    • Scott Locklin said, on February 9, 2023 at 8:19 pm

      Probably the bricklayer. Feynman would do OK as well, but only for his bricklayer qualities. Silicon Valley people would only be useful if there was lots of javascript involved in future wars.

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