Canada's new multibillion-dollar stealth fighters are expected to arrive without the built-in capacity to communicate from the country's most northerly regions — a gap the air force is trying to close.
A series of briefings given to the country's top air force commander last year expressed concern that the F-35's radio and satellite communications gear may not be as capable as that of the current CF-18s, which recently went through an extensive modernization.
Military aircraft operating in the high Arctic rely almost exclusively on satellite communications, where a pilot's signal is beamed into space and bounced back down to a ground station.
The F-35 Lightning will eventually have the ability to communicate with satellites, but the software will not be available in the initial production run, said a senior Lockheed Martin official, who spoke on background.
It is expected to be added to the aircraft when production reaches its fourth phase in 2019, but that is not guaranteed because research is still underway.
"That hasn't all been nailed down yet," said the official. "As you can imagine there are a lot of science projects going on, exploring what is the best . . . capability, what satellites will be available."
Additionally, Canada's request to have the upgrade placed in the fourth phase will compete with software changes sought by other countries. Norway, for example, wants to use its own missiles on the F-35 rather than U.S.-made weapons.
Defending the Arctic is one of the Harper government's key justifications for buying the aircraft, which are estimated to cost between $16 and $30 billion, including long-term maintenance.
A Defence Department spokesman denied that the F-35's communications suite will be less effective than that of CF-18s, but acknowledged that so-called beyond-line-of-sight communications is a concern.
"Communications in the Arctic represents a specific challenge to all aircraft due to lack of satellite coverage in the north," said Evan Koronewski in an email response. "Canada is working closely with the other partner nations to ensure Canadian operational requirements for communications in the Arctic are met."
Air force planners recognized the problem last year and are "considering a back-up, a study is looking at whether an external communications pod can be installed on the F-35.
The sophisticated pods, which are carried by the CF-18s, were purchased as part of the $2.6-billion fleet upgrade, which began in 2000.
The communications problem is just one of several technical issues the air force is working on.
National Defence has asked the U.S. manufacturer whether it's possible to install a different air-to-air refuelling system on Canadian F-35s. Most other air forces in the world have stopped using what's known as a "probe and drogue" connection, opting instead for a plug-in receptacle which connects to a boom on the tanker aircraft.
The request was made because it's unclear when Canada will able to upgrade its air-to-air refuellers with the booms. The current refuellers are Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT).. two of five Airbus A310 that the Department of Defence bought from Canadian Airlines International, now Air Canada. Lockheed Martin says it can equip the F-35s to use both systems, but a decision on whether to spend money on modification has yet to be made.
The whole mess could have been avoided if the we had purchased the The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. It is about 20 percent larger, 7,000 lb (3,200 kg) heavier at empty weight, and 15,000 lb (6,800 kg) heavier at maximum weight than the original Hornet. The Super Hornet carries 33 percent more internal fuel, increasing mission range by 41 percent and endurance by 50 percent over the "Legacy" Hornet.
The forward fuselage is unchanged but the remainder of the aircraft shares little with earlier F/A-18C/D models. The fuselage was stretched by 34 inches (860 mm) to make room for fuel and future avionics upgrades and increased the wing area by 25%. However, the Super Hornet has 42% fewer structural parts than the original Hornet design. The General Electric F414 engine, developed from the Hornet's F404, has 35% additional thrust over most of aircraft's flight envelope. The Super Hornet can return to an aircraft carrier with a larger load of unspent fuel and munitions than the original Hornet. The term for this ability is known as "bringback". Bringback for the Super Hornet is in excess of 9,000 pounds (4,100 kg).
Other differences include rectangular intakes for the engines and two extra wing hard points for payload (for a total of 11). Among the most significant aerodynamic changes are the enlarged leading edge extensions (LEX) which provide improved vortex lifting characteristics in high angle of attack maneuvers, and reduce the static stability margin to enhance pitching characteristics. This results in pitch rates in excess of 40 degrees per second, and high resistance to departure from controlled flight.
It is claimed that the Super Hornet employs the most extensive radar cross section reduction measures of any contemporary fighter, other than the F-22 and F-35. While the F/A-18E/F is not a true stealth fighter like the F-22, it will have a frontal RCS an order of magnitude smaller than prior generation fighters
Mon, Oct 24 2011 9:40 PM
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