Airpower experts enter the merge in F-35 dogfight debate


Two academic studies based on the infamous Rand airpower analysis are out today.

Both illuminate both sides of the polarized debate about the F-35′s relevance as a future warfighting tool. According to these analyses, the F-35 is either the vanguard of a new way of fighting air battles or a woefully underachieving dog of a dogfighter.

The anti-F-35 crowd is represented by self-styled Australian airpower expert Carlo Kopp. He writes:

It is now abundantlyclear that the Joint Strike Fighter is not going to be viable in BeyondVisual Rangeair combat, just as it was clear from the outset that it would neverbe a serious player in Within Visual Range air combat.

But representing the pro-F-35 side is Robbin Laird, who has served as a close adviser to both former Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne and the US Marine Corps aviation leadership. His study is entitled, “Reflections on the RAND Project Air Force Brief: Air Combat: Past, Present and Future”, and here’s an excerpt:

In the new concept of operations driven by the 5th generation aircraft, the combat and strike power of a single aircraft within the operation is not defined by what it carries itself but by its ability to direct and rely upon network partners. Any assets within range of an identified target, which carries weapons, can be directed to strike by the 5th generation aircraft, whether this weaponry is carried by air, ground or maritime platform.


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13 Responses to Airpower experts enter the merge in F-35 dogfight debate

  1. Dave 10 November, 2008 at 6:24 pm #

    Kopp is an interesting one- self styled is right. Does he pull this garbage out of his prosterior? The JSF, just by virtue of it’s stealth and AESA should be one hell of a BVR fighter. WVR wise from what both Maj. Gen. Davis has said, and also the test pilot Jon Beesley has had to say, it would seem its pretty damn good even close in. Check this link out:

  2. Matthew G. Saroff 10 November, 2008 at 7:02 pm #

    Ummm….Your link to Kopp is not a link, you may have screwed up in the coding.

    BTW, in response to Dave, the issues in BVR combat are likely not sensor fit, but weapons loadout.

    It was crippled in this because the USAF did not want it competing with the F-22.

    Of course, now that it’s obvious that they are not getting any more Lightning IIs, the USAF is looking at a spiral upgrade to superpack missiles, which would address many of these issues.

  3. Stephen Trimble 10 November, 2008 at 7:06 pm #

    Oops. Sorry about the broken link. Should be fixed now.

  4. Matthew G. Saroff 10 November, 2008 at 9:59 pm #

    BTW, I need to be a little clearer on the weapons loadout point: It’s both number and the kinematics of the missiles that make a difference.

    There are existing missiles out there, the R-77 and PL-12 to mind, and missiles in development, Meteor, which are larger and have better range/terminal kinematics, because they are larger, and so the idea that you could have a “flaming datum”* situation, where once you missile launch is made by the F-35, the response of a competent opposing air force could negate the advantages of stealthy, particularly if AESA radars are fitted on the platforms.

    *Flaming Datum: In WWII, many U-boat sinkings came after a, “flaming datum,” where a ship had been hit, and so the screen knew that there was a submaring in the vicinity.

  5. Matt Chesnutt, USAF LtCol / NDF Fellow 10 November, 2008 at 11:25 pm #

    The F-35 has been underpowered and initially underpriced from its inception. It was concieved as a 1 for 1 replacement for the F-16 for only a modest price increase (32 Million based on the mammoth buy that was planned worldwide–a laughable figure even in 1998). Even during the initial concpet brief some senior USAF leaders were taken aback by its relativley poor aerodynamic performace. That said, in order to survive the future (and in some places, current) battlespace, speed will matter much, but stealth and situational awareness will matter a great deal. In this, the F-35 could prove superior. Ultimately, you get what you pay for, and in the DoD, you normally get much less than you pay for (KBR in Iraq comes to mind). The F-35 is no exception.

  6. ELP 11 November, 2008 at 4:57 am #

    Call me when the jet has a large amount of real tested war systems on it. Right now the F-35 is very early in testing. That hasn’t stopped the blue-sky marketing hypers from telling everyone that is gullible enough to believe it, that the F-35 will slay anything. It will be a long time before we see the jet in fighting trim. Right now the sales pukes don’t have much real proof.

    It isn’t a Mach 1.8 @ 65,000ft super-cruiser that can pick how and when it can enter the fight. Even if you took stealth off of the F-22, it would be powerful. You can not say the same about the F-35.

    The F-35 may be a nice striker someday. Possibly even affordable. Although the marketing spinners spreading hope of low price doesn’t have any proof to back it up either.

  7. Mike 12 November, 2008 at 12:17 am #

    I have to pile on this as well. Since its inception I’ve worried that the JSF, with its conflicting requirements of strike aircraft / air superiority aircraft were going to take it down the path of the F-111, or worse, the F-105 Thunderchief (the Lead Sled).

    If you’re building a light bomber, that’s one set of design & performance requirements, think A6 or A7. If you’re building an air combat aircraft, that’s a different set of requirements, think F14 or F15.

    What Congress & the DoD had Lockheed build was an A7 with the air combat performance of an F16. Lockheed built and delivered what they were asked to build. Everyone is now trying to sell this attack plane as an air superiority fighter and one superior to 4+ and 5th Gen fighters, which it is not and was never intended (by design) to be.

    Dr Kopp is only trying to tell everyone what performance parameters the F35 was actually designed to since everyone seems to have forgotten. Size, range, thrust-to-weight, wing loading, etc all show it to be a very close match to the F105 (it’s so close it’s uncanny), albeit with better radar and sensors.

    The idea that the F-35 is going to dominate 5th Gen fighters is absurd and everyone knows it. It’s probably a very good SEAD and light strike bomber though.

  8. Danny 12 November, 2008 at 2:47 am #

    I don’t think the F-105 comparison is fair at all, the F-35 is a lifting tail arrangement and the body-lift aerodynamics have come a long way since even the YF-16/17 programs.

    You’re not too far off saying it’s like an A-7 and F-16 together(which coincidentally makes it a single engined F/A-18), with the exception that it carries a bonkers amount of fuel.

    The flanker is a big airplane with a big loadout and a lot of gas, but it has the RCS of a fleet of skyscrapers. Kopp is also blowing smoke if he thinks that flanker family aircraft will be outmaneuvering AMRAAMS. They will defeat them with jamming, not with thrust vectoring.

    Which takes us to the heart of the matter. Once the Meteor, or even a newer AMRAAM variant is integrated with JSF, it will easily outclass any flanker in BVR until they succeed in countering the newer missiles.

    Personally, as an American, I’d be 100% ecstatic if we sold the Australians a few $200m F-22s, but even excluding the Raptor, all that is needed for the JSF to start waxing Flankers left and right is an upgrade to or from the AMRAAM.

    The only thing giving the flankers a shot in the simulations is jamming.

  9. SMSgt Mac. ASc, BSc, MAS, IYAAYAS!, WTFO?,LSMFT 12 November, 2008 at 7:26 am #

    Well THAT was interesting,
    But neither link had anything like a ‘study’ at the end of it.

    Dr. Laird’s cogent parsing of the RAND piece was competent. Nothing outrageous there. A piece befitting a noted defense POLICY expert.

    Kopp put out a pseudo-technical rant speculating as to how the F-35 scenarios were modelled, overlaying his interpretative-dance routine declaring how the modelling must have been gamed, and then has the hubris to actually assert his contrived ‘conclusions’. The term ‘Beclowned’ comes to mind.

    At least Bill Sweetman admits it when he’s guessing.

  10. Jimmy 12 November, 2008 at 4:20 pm #

    Well now, Mike, by calling the JSF a marriage of A7 w/ F-16, you’re doing an injustice to the A-7. Danny’s “Single-Engined F-18″ is closer to the mark, tho.

    The A-7 is excellent in its mission because it is very fuel efficient with great payload vs range. JSF’s low-bypass turbo fan with supersonic characteristic (and supposed “Supercruise” capability) means that it is bound to be much less fuel efficient.

    Plus, with its wingload so much less than the F35, the A7 might prevail in an air to air scenario w/ the F35! :)

  11. Mike 13 November, 2008 at 12:53 am #

    I would also, as a Yankee, be ecstatic if we sold the Aussies F-22s. I think the Obey Amendment should be repealed, or at least modified. I think it’s hurting our allies and hurting our defense industry.

    Also, I’ll believe the F35 supercruises when I see it. There would be no reason to keep that bombshell secret.

  12. Kung Fu Panda 13 November, 2008 at 7:54 am #

    The Laird paper is loaded with buzzwords and jargon, which damages the author’s credibility. Give this guy Strunk and White, pronto. Where’s the thesis? I didn’t find anything until page 12, where Laird says “In short, by confronting the Chinese with a distributed 21st century concept of air operations, the US and its allies can prevail.”

    Bull…the US can prevail only by destroying more of the enemy’s forces than vice versa.

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