JSF hears the thunder, Down-Under

Australian member of parliament (MP) Dennis Jensen has challenged Air Vice Marshall John Harvey to a public debate about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Jensen’s gesture came after a week of sparring with Marshall over the F-35′s capabilities in dueling press releases.

The anti-F-35 Jensen re-opened the debate by publishing a commentary on 7 January, attacking the viability of all three fundamental JSF selling points: price, stealth and networking.


In short, the JSF is an expensive aircraft, with very limitedaerodynamic performance compared to legacy fighters, let alone otheradvanced fighters. The stealthiness of the aircraft has been shown,with hard numbers, to be poor compared to real stealth aircraft, andits much vaunted networking capability further degrades this. (Read full commentary)

The next day, Harvey published a two-page rebuttal on the Defence Materiel Organization’s web site.


Dr Jensen makes a large number of incorrect judgments about the capability and cost of the JSF. It is the JSF’s combination of stealth, advanced situation awareness and affordability that make it so attractive to the nine JSF partner nations and many other nations that are looking to acquire it. (Read full rebuttal)

That provoked a re-rebuttal from Jensen on Friday (continue reading), as well as an invitation to the aforementioned public debate about Australia’s planned $100 billion investment in F-35 program.

Regardless of the specific points made by either side, there is perhaps no country in the 11-nation partnership enjoying such a public and informed debate about its F-35 investment.

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10 Responses to JSF hears the thunder, Down-Under

  1. Mike 12 January, 2009 at 4:11 pm #

    Count me among the skeptics.

    For starters, should someone develop the silver bullet radar that can detect the JSF at significant ranges, then we’re all stuck with an aircraft that has 1970′s-1980′s aerodynamic performance, although fitted out with a very nice avionics suite.

    Second, by definition all engineering is a series of trade-offs. If you want to maximize factor A you trade off Factor B to get it. For example, if you want to maximize aerodynamic performance you might trade off range (all that fuel adds weight) or you add a second engine, which adds cost. If you balance all factors you’re left with a product that does nothing particularly well.

    Historically, the solution has been to build several (or even many) different aircraft, each optimized for it’s intended task. That’s a very effective solution but it can be extremely expensive, hence the advent of the multirole aircraft. The F-16 and F-18 represent the gold standard in this approach.

    But here’s the key difference with JSF. Both the F-16 and the F-18 had very high aerodynamic performance for their time. They were (almost) always assured of having sufficient performance to fight their way into a hostile environment, after which they were free to attack at leisure (air supremacy). The JSF is decidedly lacking in that regard and that single glaring weakness in aerodynamic performance worries everyone. As it should.

  2. Stephen Trimble 12 January, 2009 at 4:29 pm #

    Maj Gen Hudson has maintained that the F-35 has superior aerodynamics to a “go-to-war” configuration F-16, by virtue of its internal missile and fuel carriage.

    Of course, neither Lockheed nor the US government has been keen to make a strong case about the F-35′s dogfighting skills, so it’s possible we don’t know. They don’t want to confuse members of Congress who might hear an endorsement of the F-35′s aerodynamic virtues as a good reason to refuse funding for the F-22.

  3. alloycowboy 12 January, 2009 at 5:56 pm #

    The limiting factor in the F-35′s rate of turn is the pilot blacking out not the aircraft. But this is a mute point any way because the pilot and aircraft would have to execute a 35-40 G turn to evade the missle which is going to be fired beyond visual range any way. In modern jet combat the aircraft that can aquire a missle lock first wins.

  4. ELP 12 January, 2009 at 8:32 pm #

    Harvey was an F-111 nav,and that is about it. That is what Australias air capability decision is in part resting on. He has gone native to the program instead of representing the taxpayer who has to pay the freight on the JSF question mark.

    JSF goals

    AFFORDABILITY – Completely unproven at this time. Including the fact that if you look at what the U.S. is paying for every airframe so far it is a joke. The price has to come down based on a lot of orders. Yes early jets cost more. However all that is riding on the price coming down is wishful thinking.Today it is more expensive than the F-22. Norway and the Netherlands still have to hand over money via politicians decisions even if the “decision” by their defense people was a rigged game. Lets see who else signs up with a question mark price.

    LETHALITY- Unproven. WIth less than 2% of flight hours on the books, No one knows. Of course it is OK for the country trying to sell the product to use computer models and other such things. When anyone else does it to try and evaluate value, it is a sin. The JSF program isn’t man enough to take any criticism of the product.

    SURVIVABILITY – The F-35 won’t be the best stealth fighter. It will be the best stealth fighter that is safely exportable to a variety of countries with a variety of security concerns. With 7-800 million spent on “Delta SDD” to meet export security requirements, one wonders what F-35 users will be getting. Might be that some partner aircraft will be a nice armed decoy when facing advanced threats over the career of it’s life. Since stealth depends mostly on shaping and little on RAS/RAM, this is a big deal. The F-35 probably will meet it’s low observable requirements. The problem with this is that while they were chasing the requirement, big advanced threats appeared that are going to be hard to deal with for an airframe that was designed (requirement) to perform in medium and low altitude groupings and to loiter in a tactical threat bombing environ. When the F-22 was being designed, USAF knew not to depend so much on stealth for stealth’s sake. That is why the designed in extreme altitude and high speed. All of the real F-22 killing ability can’t be seen at an air show. For example, you can’t see the what those thrust vector nozzles are used for for the big kill. Not really for turn and burn which is of course helpful. The nozzles allow the aircraft to to a high speed mach turn much tighter after firing weapons from great height and speed so as to contempt of engage and setup for another shot. Also at air shows, you can’t see the wonderful performance of the AN/ALR-94 and how they work together. Yet more gear that won’t be very export friendly until that workflow is dumbed down some.

    Why am I harping on this? Because the people in the Pentagon are making the F-35 out to be just a smaller F-22. It is not. People in the JSF program are hyping an unknown product just to make the sale no matter what flight testing, a lot of which has not been done yet, will show.

    Someday years from now the F-35 may prove itself to be a very nice tactical strike aircraft. That is a long way in the future. It is nice to wish upon a star and fairy dust. However historical performance of U.S. defense programs don’t allow for that kind of thing. Instead of being a good agent for the taxpayer, program managers today go native and want their program to come in for the big win. No matter if it is unproven or not.

    So, if Jensen and Kopp et al are wrong, Harvey should be able to debate it and put the issue to rest and make an easy kill. He doesn’t have anything to lose and all to gain. The Defence Groupthinkers are leading a country with a population of around 21 million to pay for a well unproven program that will cost up to $40 billion over the service life span of the capability. That is if the program works great. That is a lot of taxpayer cash to put down on a roulette wheel for a huge, huge question mark.

  5. SMSgt Mac 13 January, 2009 at 5:00 am #

    Not to rain on an emerging “they don’t know what they’re doing or they’re incompetent!” parade, but I have some minor points for going forward.
    There is absolutely no basis for claiming the F-35 DSDD has anything to do with LO signatures, and developing different stealth characteristics for different partners. Zip. Zero. Nada. Yet I’ve come to see it stated all over various boards– and now here– as ‘fact’. Interesting.
    Do not underestimate our ability to model engagement lethality and survivability. Google “Joint Integrated Mission Model” for an example of the tools in hand. JIMM is the analytical descendent of the TAC BRAWLER model, and in the right hands can be expected to produce very reliable results. Do not be surprised if you never see the actual results much less the details of the engagement modeling for these latest systems. BRAWLER was used to define what was needed in the F-15. Even with a far more organized media campaign executed by the so-called LWF Mafia and other ‘reformers’ in the 70′s-80′s than what we have seen (so far) by the anti-stealth brigades, the detailed outcomes of BRAWLER were never revealed. While BRAWLER indicated 15 to 1 and higher kill ratios for the F-15, the man (Glenn Kent) leading the analysis: “cautioned my people not to advertise a kill ratio of more than 15 to one, lest people doubt the validity of the simulator. But perhaps I was too hasty. The F-15 has never lost a fight in actual combat, due both to the superior characteristics of the aircraft and the high quality of training given to its pilots.” ……
    …..Which feeds into my third and final point. These aircraft are parts of systems larger than what is carried in the single airframe. The systems involve on-board and off-board hardware, human element, software, and the operational environment (think corollary to a system safety SHEL model). Any meaningful examination and discussion of the F-35 or F-22 without considering all elements of the system may be fun, but the less such consideration is given, the more pointless it becomes .

  6. Stephen Trimble 13 January, 2009 at 12:23 pm #

    Great background, thanks. I’ve been told that TAC BRAWLER was used for the F-35 air-to-air analysis, but I guess it’s actually the JIMM. There is publicly released video of the F-35 performing in these simulations. A Lockheed rep presented the video at the IQPC fighter conference in Florence in November. I have not been able to obtain a copy of that video, but I would be most interested if anyone happens to stumble across it somewhere in cyberspace. Just a thought.

  7. Mike 14 January, 2009 at 11:55 am #

    Stephen wrote:
    “Maj Gen Hudson has maintained that the F-35 has superior aerodynamics to a “go-to-war” configuration F-16, by virtue of its internal missile and fuel carriage.”

    This is like saying in the 1980′s our new tactical aircraft has the aerodynamics of a “go-to-war” configuration F-4 Phantom. It’s not setting the bar very high, is it?

    We’re stuck with the F-35 now since it’s too late to start over and we can’t afford it anyway. I worry that in 20 years this plane will seem as dated as an F-86 Sabre was in the 1980′s.

  8. Tom Mischke 14 April, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    Reference your January 13, 2009 5:00 AM quotation:
    “Google ‘Joint Integrated Mission Model’ for an example of the tools in hand. JIMM is the analytical descendent of the TAC BRAWLER model, and in the right hands can be expected to produce very reliable results.”

    JIMM is a Force-on-Force (Mission-level) decendent of the SUPPRESSOR model, not the TAC BRAWLER [which is a Unit-on-Unit (Engagement-level)] model. The two were built for completely different purposes. True, both are rule-based, reactive behavior models, but the detail in BRAWLER is far more than in JIMM.

    I was in on the development of JIMM from the beginning, from its predecessor (“Simulated Warfare Environment Generator” – SWEG), when we put a real-time shell around SUPPRESSOR, to permit installed-systems testing [man-in-the-loop/simulator-in-the-loop/stimulator-in-the-loop/aircraft-in-the-loop] tying in remotely participating Test & Evaluation (T&E) sites.

    TM

  9. Watch That 70's Show Online 14 July, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

    Excellent job.

  10. SMSgt Mac 15 September, 2010 at 2:14 am #

    Hello Mr. Mischke,
    Sorry I didn’t see your late comment earlier, but I rarely check in on a thread more than a couple of days after I’ve commented unless contacted directly.
    I was looking for a JIMM link for use as a reference someplace else, when I tripped over the thread again.
    I’m looking for a DoD JIMM page and somebody moved my cheese in the last 6 months (Probably for INFOSEC).
    Your description of JIMM is of course 100% correct as far as JIMM’s Mission-Level capability. Initial JIMM versions were MIssion-Level only, and that capability is widely acknowledged as the direct descendent of SWEG. However, by at least Version 2.6, JIMM also allows extremely detailed Engagement-Level modeling, and that capability is supplanting the BRAWLER model on newer programs. I have no idea how much BRAWLER architecture or code has been integrated into JIMM if any, which is why I specifically called it the “analytical” descendent of BRAWLER: advanced analysis one done with BRAWLER is more and more frequently performed with JIMM. I suspect the rate of change has as much to do with the rate of M&S analyst ‘generation change’ as anything else. -Regards.

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