The F-35B Strikes Back (Part 2)

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.

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3 Responses to The F-35B Strikes Back (Part 2)

  1. Bob Ehling 7 March, 2007 at 4:23 pm #

    Return comments below [in brackets]. Cheers.

    Do you really think that it’s anything like an equalizer?

    [I don't know. I've been told viffing gave the Harrier an edge at low altitude engagements against our own aircraft (F-16s, etc.) and Soviet aircraft (simulated) in past exercises.

    The lift fan theoretically gives the F-35 a similar capacity to turn tighter for a missile shot. It might boost the roll rate as well.

    Remember that they wargame these platforms in the digital domain well before they bend metal.

    Your concerns are valid; the F-35 may be less than it's cracked up to be. It may be more. As a taxpayer, I'm hoping for the latter. As an American, I'm expecting a little of both.]

    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.

    [Directed energy weapons might not be as far away as you think. If they aren't, we want to get there before or the same time as everyone else. They may portend a true revolution in military affairs.

    What "new generation of aircraft" are you referring to? UAVs? If so, note that the F-35 is already under consideration as an unmanned platform.]

    Is that risk extreme enough to deserve such a costly mitigation strategy?

    [I don't know. You can also ask the converse: can we afford not to mitigate the risk?

    My impression is that a lot of our defense establishment looks to past American failures to keep pace with trends in world aircraft design -- i.e., WW I and II, and Korea -- and are motivated not to repeat those mistakes. Does that mean we now tend to overmitigate? Possibly.

    The matter doesn't seem to be subject to easy proof or resolution, except by an exchange of opinion, like we're doing here, or maybe taking a vote. At this stage in the voting process, it looks like the F-35's moving ahead, despite your perfectly rational concerns.]

  2. Bill Sweetman 13 March, 2007 at 12:07 pm #

    Two points: the Harrier can VIFF (although it drains energy) because it can simply rotate its nozzles down. F-35B won’t because it has to engage a clutch and open doors that aren’t designed for high speeds.
    Also, if you have a DE weapon on a fighter, it is different because it can fire full-envelope in any direction. So if the weapon works you don’t need agility – you want speed and stealth.

  3. Kimberlee Goodlett 16 February, 2010 at 4:51 pm #

    How much would you pay for in home obedience dog training lessons that comes with a guarantee of success, which means, if after 6 lessons the owners are not completely satisfied, we will keep coming back for free until you are. Thanks :-)

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