The debate continues about V/STOL, the Harrier and the F-35B.
Bob Ehling comments:
VTOL also gives the Harrier the capacity to "viff" (vector in forward flight), which allegedly gave it a high kill ratio at low altitudes in Red Flag exercises some time ago. The F-35′s lift fan may have similar attributes for future ACM, particularly flight at the high angles of attack necessary to fully exploit future air-to-air missile capabilities.
My response: Agreed, vectoring in forward flight is a neat trick. Do you really think that it’s anything like an equalizer? How many F-16 and F-15 pilots have asked to trade cockpit seats with an AV-8B pilot in a dog fight?
Ehling: Don’t forget that work is already under way to use the F-35′s lift fan bay for a directed energy weapons suite. That capability might be worth the extra engineering costs, and might make the AF and Navy "conventional" versions more effective than other platforms at some tasks.
My response: Directed energy weapons will one day be standard issue for tactical aircraft, but that day is still a long, long way away. By the time the death rays are ready for service, there will be a new generation of aircraft better suited for a weapon of that kind.
Ehling: My own informal studies of procurement policy suggest that we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket, whether it’s the F-22 for the Air Force, or the Super Hornet for the Navy and Marines. The case for the F-35 might be hard, but the alternative might be worse.
You make a fair point about diversifying the fleet. It mitigates risk in case of a fleet-wide grounding caused by a design flaw. But the question is one of opportunity cost. Is that risk extreme enough to deserve such a costly mitigation strategy?
I’m not sure I know the answer. This is a great discussion. More comments welcome.