Analyst considers a world without the F-35

Analyst James Hasik, author of Arms and Innovation, yesterday posted a remarkable blog red-teaming a future without the Lockheed Martin F-35. You need to set aside several minutes to read through the logic, but it’s well worth it. Some key excerpts:


In the United States, the leadership of the USAF and the USMC see noclear alternative to simply continuing to pour whatever money they mustinto the program. (The Navy is an exception, and I’ll get to thatbelow.) But the US has a further problem: the airplane is not justjoint, it’s international. Like the International Space Station, theJSF is still stumbling along in part because it’s too international todeorbit.



Hasik also looks at all the world’s fighter industrial base, and finds them overwhelming aligned towards rooting for the F-35′s destruction.

In short, most of the combat aircraft industry would arguably like to kill this thing, and the rest is at best dispassionate.

Perhaps Hasik’s harshest comment:


The JSF is just not militarily vital. Several yearsago, I asked the head of strategy at a European aircraft manufacturerwhy his company had no obvious plans for a fighter beyond the currentmodel. “All our customers,” he said, “have enough fighters for chasingCessnas for the next fifty years.”

Rather, Hasik envisions a future without the F-35 program. F/A-18E/F Super Hornets team with X-47Bs. The US Air Force and US Marine Corps start from scratch to develop a fighter that can be employed against China’s post-2020 fighter and air defence technology. For, the international partners, maybe it’s business as usual, with the Gripen, Rafale, F-16 and F/A-18 continuing to compete with each other. 

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38 Responses to Analyst considers a world without the F-35

  1. Marcus Messalla 3 March, 2010 at 12:46 pm #

    I like this blog but, seriously, that is what probably will happen, but the last sentence is a bit strange: “For, the international partners, maybe it’s business as usual, with the Gripen, Rafale, F-16 and F/A-18 continuing to compete with each other”.

    There is one missing in that list, the best one, the only one that can give deterrence, superiority, multirole capabilities today and for the next future to any country, the Eurofighter Typhoon

  2. Stephen Trimble 3 March, 2010 at 12:52 pm #

    Oops. Just an inexplicably dumb omission on my part. That one too!

  3. ikkeman 3 March, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    When we’re willing to dream as far afield as terminating the F-35 (IMHO Hasik is right – nobody would shed a tear), Why not dream a little farther.
    Sukhois galore. Flankers, Fullbacks and PAK-FA’s everywhere.
    German build, English Engines, French Radar – it is possimpable

  4. Robert 3 March, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    A world without F35? It’s about time.

    A healthy dose of competition fosters quality assurance.

  5. irtusk 3 March, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    you say ‘remarkable’, i say ‘remarkably stupid’

    but first of all:

    > The US Air Force and US Marine Corps start from scratch to develop a fighter that can be employed against China’s post-2020 fighter and air defence technology

    i didn’t actually see this in the article

    he said:

    > land-based fighters like the F-35A won’t be of much help

    and then goes on to admit that both the F-35B and F-35C WOULD be helpful

    but getting on to what he does say:

    > Even if Russia were a plausible opponent, the rest of NATO has its air force outnumbered even without the US on board

    > Then again, one doesn’t fight the Chinese without necessarily having either the Japanese or the Taiwanese—and their significant air forces—on board

    so we don’t really need an airforce because we can rely on our ‘allies’ to carry our water

    now more than ever this is an obvious fallacy and horrendously short-sighted.

    > have enough fighters for chasing Cessnas for the next fifty years

    and continues it with the amazing ability to predict that there will be no near-peer conflicts for 50 years.

    does he have any credibility?

    now on to his proposed ‘solutions’
    1. leaving our allies to face the tender mercies of russia and china with gen 4.998769+++++ fighters

    Both russia and china are developing 5th gen planes. While we don’t know exactly how capable they will be, we can be fairly certain they WILL BE more capable than any EF, Rafale, Gripen or (heaven forbid) SuperHornet they face.

    As he mentions, they aren’t developing any 5th gen planes so they will have nothing that can credibly face them if the F-35 disappears

    2. replace F-35C with F-18F + X-47

    seriously?

    i mean seriously?

    does he even know what the X-47 is?

    The X-47 MIGHT be a possible solution for strike, but it does SQUAT for aerial superiority, say in a Taiwan situation.

    And no, I wouldn’t really want the SuperHornet going up against the latest chinese efforts

  6. Royce 3 March, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    The USAF has determined that it needs the F-35 to survive in the new air threat environment. The view is that even second or third tier nations can afford to buy advanced air defense systems. It’s thinking about places like Serbia in 1999 or pre-invasion Iraq. Right or wrong, this is the current doctrine, and the USAF will demand SOME kind of stealth fighter for the future whether F-35 goes away or not.

    Arguably the USMC doesn’t need the F-35B at all, but it’s doctrine requires a STOVL a/c, and try to convince Congress that the USMC shouldn’t have an independent air arm. The British are also building their carriers around the B, and if the B is canceled soon, they’d be looking at a huge cost in moving to a catapult system like the system the French plan to use on their carrier.

  7. SMSgt Mac 3 March, 2010 at 4:57 pm #

    Remarkable?
    The ‘analysis’ is remarkably sophomoric.

  8. Dude 3 March, 2010 at 5:28 pm #

    It’s interesting how JSF would draw such a cult of devotees despite the facts that:

    * the program is dangerously behind schedule and over budget with no end in sight, and that

    * the aircraft can be kinetically outmatched by a lot of its contemporaries, and is arguably a product of design compromises [between the 3 variants], not of excellence.

  9. aeroxavier 3 March, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    one 5th gen is normally one furtiv aircraft and he don’t have exceptional performance.

    i like to compare the f-22 and the rafale in the exercice in UAE. in the air without radar and other techno these plane is similar (yeah,yeah not say no because you think he was better because he was most beautyful)
    in this exercice the rafale have the latast system SPECTRA and USA don’t will see it in their supposed furtiv f-22. for what? because today the f-22 is not totally furtiv. exept the speech of pentagon someone can give one foreign confirmation about the f-22. they stop the program. no one foreign sale (for what? don’t lose power).

    f-35 was inferior of the f-22, he don’t was make for replace it.but if foreign country know the f-22 is not furtiv with recent radar what is the effect on the f-35?

    the problem is simple, we have imagine one plane furtiv with “old”(when the plane is make) radar but forgot radar evolution.

    we can have f-18 with new techno because 5th gen was only in the paper exept for country who using old radar.

  10. Dude 3 March, 2010 at 6:29 pm #

    F22 is the undisputed benchmark of the elusive “5G” capability package.

    Noticeable features include: sensor fusion, very low observable RCS, post-stall maneuverability and super-cruise.

    By that standard F35 can barely (1-2 out of 5) live up to Lockheed Martin’s claim that it IS a 5G aircraft.

  11. Dude 3 March, 2010 at 6:32 pm #

    Typo. Correction:

    “…can barely (1-2 out of 4) live up….”

  12. irtusk 3 March, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    > By that standard F35 can barely (1-2 out of 5) live up to Lockheed Martin’s claim that it IS a 5G aircraft.

    there is one feature that trumps all the others and that’s stealth

    when the f-22 was racking up those gaudy 220-0 kill ratios in various exercises, pilots were complaining that they would just go up and get killed without ever seeing anything

    that wasn’t the F-22′s post-stall maneuverability or super-cruise, that was it’s stealth

    anything without stealth is simply a target

  13. Dude 3 March, 2010 at 8:03 pm #

    Back then they said with the advent of BVR missiles, you never need to worry about dogfight again;

    they say NOWADAYS that with the advent of stealth technology, you never need to worry about dogfight again.

    Even the F22 has been engaged in WVR duals again and again with occasional humbling outcomes. Anything relying on stealth ALONE for survival is simply an [expensive] target.

  14. irtusk 3 March, 2010 at 9:32 pm #

    > they say NOWADAYS that with the advent of stealth technology, you never need to worry about dogfight again

    i didn’t say you would never have to dogfight again

    i said if you weren’t stealth, you would never even get the chance

    stealth is the price of admission, if you don’t have it, don’t even bother coming

    > Even the F22 has been engaged in WVR duals again and again with occasional humbling outcomes.

    you mean those scripted situations that are designed specifically to give the opposing fighter even half a chance? and even then the F-18 pilot had to ignore safety regulations to get his ‘kill’?

    in the real world, the first indication the hornet pilot would have had of the F-22 was when the amraam seeker went live

  15. Dude 3 March, 2010 at 9:51 pm #

    “if you weren’t stealth, you would never even get the chance”

    Too bad that real world isn’t so black n’ white.

    “in the real world, the first indication the hornet pilot would have had of the F-22 was when the amraam seeker went live”

    Are you sure that that’s how real A/A engagement would play out? It sounds more like a version of the final fantasy to me.

    ——————-

    Back to the point, the fact that F35 relies almost exclusively on front aspect LO for survival is dangerous. Lockheed’s marketing claims aside, whether LO and sensor fusion alone would place F35 solidly within the “5G club” is questionable.

  16. irtusk 3 March, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    > Are you sure that that’s how real A/A engagement would play out? It sounds more like a version of the final fantasy to me.

    or Northern Edge (108-0)

    yes, stealth is that big of a deal

    F-22 has proven it over and over again that when the other guy can’t find you, they just become sitting ducks

    PS F-35 stealth isn’t just from the front . . .

  17. Atomic Walrus 4 March, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    I wonder if post-stall maneuvering is really all its cracked up to be. Looks great at airshows, of course. The advent of helmet mounted sights and high off-boresight AAMs seem to reduce the value of quickly changing the direction of the aircraft nose. Instead, it’s a game of detection and response times. That points to sensor fusion and stealth as being the critical attributes.

  18. alloycowboy 4 March, 2010 at 2:35 am #

    Even with all the F-35′s problems it is still the best way to go because if you scrap the F-35 and start over, you would still have all the same problems just five to ten years later. As the expression goes, “it is better to be walking thru hell then towards hell.”

  19. ProwlerAMDO 4 March, 2010 at 3:57 am #

    In Air Superiority you have a bit of a problem. Stealth is the “price of admission” to the WVR realm, where stealth is useless and very, very expensive leading to small numbers of aircraft, a surefire way to lose the dogfight if the enemy can field more.

    Air Superiority needs to be achieved by a system of platforms. Stealthy strike like X-47 is good for offensive counter air, but anything less than a surprise attack (not America’s style) and OCA (one of the many meaningless marketing points for JSF) isn’t particularly doable.

    Ideally I think you want two fighters. A hi-lo combination with the hi fighter BVR optimized and the lo fighter WVR optimized. As such the hi fighter would feature primarily:
    - High supercruise for kinematic launch of BVRAAMS
    - Large, long range, powerful, LPI radar and RWR system to dominate anything that’s not stealth and anything that tunrs on it’s own radar
    - Very low observability
    - Large AAM capacity
    The F-22 is a relatively good hi fighter archetype.

    The lo fighter would feature primarily
    - Small size, low cost, high numbers
    - A good passive sensor suite, IRST and RWR
    - Small radar only
    - Forward quarter stealth only (keep down costs)
    - Integral jamming system
    - Very high maneuverability with high T/W and low W/S
    The F-35 completely fails on the cost, numbers and maneuverability requirements, too many to make it useful in A2A

    The two would work together, the hi fighter attempting to take standoff shots to attrite and confuse the enemy fighters, the lo fighter coming in to mix it up for the WVR kills/mop-up. In many on many dogfights (and NOT scripted events) a T-38 even got a kill against an F-22 with a glancing shot. So you want the small cheap and highly maneuverable fighters with HMCS and high BOR IR AAMs swarming the dogfight with high numbers of deadly little SOBs.

    The two sets of requirements are so opposite that trying to thread the needle with one platform type would be about the worst thing you could do.

  20. Merlin12 4 March, 2010 at 6:09 am #

    “Amateurs haggle over strategy and tactics, professionals think logistics.”

    Whether or not the F-35 is the optimum airplane, the infrastructure to build it or anything like it in useful quantities is lacking. There’s very few machine tool builders that can create the kind of machines needed to fabricate the major airframe components, and NONE are in the USA. If we ever get into a crisis where we need this thing, it won’t be like WW2 where we built up capacity in 12-18 months. In a crisis, it might take 3-5 years to get to the 500 airframes/year rate that would be needed, and it might not be possible at all. I say continue with the F-35 AND the F-22, and get the infrastructure in place so we have some sort of options 5-10 years hence.

  21. sferrin 4 March, 2010 at 4:05 pm #

    Merlin12: What specifically can’t be built in the US?

  22. Dude 4 March, 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    @ProwlerAMDO

    Good point. A VLO/legacy mix might do the trick.

    Current legacy fighter type – whether it be F15CE, F16CD or F18EF – can carry up to 8 BVR/WVR missiles each. Mix them with the strike package (would appear just the same on enemy radar) and let the escorting F22 vector them in for BVR salvo and the eventual WVR duals. Defeat the enemy via clever tactics rather than by technical merit alone.

    Essentially it’d be an Operation Bolo (Vietnam, U.S. tactic) or Cope India 04′ (IAF tactic) replay.

    ———————–

    “Amateurs haggle over strategy and tactics, professionals think logistics.”

    Whoever said that must be quite out of touch with reality. Without good tactics and strategies, we are no better than a bunch of flies amids the chaos of war; without good logistics, we all stay grounded.

  23. Dude 4 March, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

    “What specifically can’t be built in the US?”

    Components and sections of F35 contracted to BAE and other foreign suppliers (eg the AN/ASQ239 Barracuda IEWS Electronic Warfare systems). Arguably nor can Boeing/Airbus build a complete jet without foreign suppliers either.

  24. jetcal1 4 March, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    F-111 reprised on more than level.

    BTW, the JSF has been missed named it should be called the JSA. The aircraft is nothing more than a bomb truck. Think of it as a slightly more maneuverable century series fighter with a reduced RCS. Think A-35.

    Harkens back to another interesting yet little known Northrop/Vultee aircraft that had production and quality problems doesn’t it?

    That does not excuse the production problems.

  25. jetcal1 4 March, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

    For typists like me an edit feature would be very welcome.

  26. ologhai 4 March, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

    I am not sure what he was getting at, but the only think that fits the bill is that we do not have the tooling to produce more 50,000 Mesta or Wyman-Gordon forging presses in a 12-18 month time frame. But then it is not like major components of 50,000 ton presses are built on anything other than a build-to-order basis and take months to machine, so a full assembly of new 50,000 ton presses would probably take years to build, regardless of if all the parts suppliers are physically in the USA or not.

    Luckily for us, the F-35 bulkheads can be made on smaller presses, so even without building more 50,000 ton presses, it is possible to ramp up the production rate beyond the planned 230 airframes/year full production rate, though it would displace production of other pressings.

    What would the 500/year production rate be fore anyway? Replacing other fighters or to create new fighter wings? Even if we were in a “WW II” situation and could ramp up the production rate to 500/year, the airspace that the F-35 will operate in is a bit different than the airspace that the WW II fighter pilots operated in. The shortest program for fighter pilots I believe is 2 years, assuming that we could find enough qualified people, it will take 2 years to ramp up the training rate of pilots to match an increased airframe rate to build new wings.

    Our prospective “peer competitors” are in a similar industrial and personnel situation, so I’m not sure against who we would need this theoretical 500 airframe/year production rate in a theoretical war.

    Lastly we and any possible “peer competitors” also have developed and stock other weapons in our arsenals, and have the strategy and doctrine to use these other weapons before needing such a theoretical industrial capacity, up to and including nuclear Armageddon, which further undermines the idea that our industrial capacity of 50,000 ton presses needs to be bolstered. As ProwlerAMDO noted, it is not about any single weapons platform, but the entire system combined with appropriate doctrine and strategy.

    A theoretical airframe production rate target of 500/year does not make much sense, and I certainly think that if we are in a war “where we need” the F-35, a much lower production rate would still be very “useful quantities”.

  27. jetcal1 4 March, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    Merlin also fails to account for a prewar build up. There was no capacity like prior to WWII until the French and British showed up AND PAID for the factories and tooling to be built.

    If things get that bad without a prewar build up certain unattractive “battlefield options” will probably not only be considered, but used.

  28. ArkadyRenko 4 March, 2010 at 9:00 pm #

    The JSF problems are unfortunate, crippling, really. But the sad part is that the USAF doesn’t have a plan B.

    There are two aspects to this debate that should be discussed.

    First, are there really any good alternatives to the JSF? Yes, the JSF is not as stealthy as the F-22, but, really, apart from a few secret drones and the B-2, nothing is. On the other hand, the relative comparison should be between the JSF and the F-16 or F-15. Are those teen series fighters as stealthy as the JSF? No. There is no debate about that. Even APA agrees, albeit unwillingly, that the JSF is stealthier than those planes.

    As commentators have said above, stealth is becoming the price of admission. Without stealth, your plane will be a sitting duck, waiting for the first SAM-300 or TOR-M1 to shoot it down. With stealth, you’ll still be at risk, but much lower risk. My overall point here is this: a plane like the JSF is needed.

    The second problem is this: Why is the JSF the only manned fighter being developed right now in the US? Imagine if Boeing or Northrup had a fighter program right now. The USAF could play off competitors against each other. If Lockheed wasn’t preforming up to par, the USAF could praise their opponent, and insinuate that Lockheed would loose fighter share. Likewise, if the other competitors slipped, then Lockheed could become the model.

    By giving Lockheed essentially a sole source contract on every fighter for the next decade and a half, the USAF gave up every ounce of leverage it had.

    My advice at this point is this: Start another fighter program. Make it a fast one, short development, accelerated flight tests, etc. And ensure that Lockheed doesn’t win the contract. Add some clause about contractor availability or something. Then, with Lockheed facing immediate and real competition, the USAF will have some options and some leverage.

  29. Dude 5 March, 2010 at 12:59 am #

    Air war is just one of many ways the American and allies can, though unlikely, get wracked in foreseeable future.

    “China’s Hacker Army”

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/03/03/china_s_hacker_army?page=full

    With F22 and B2 already in active service, i would rather that the government spends more time and resources on civil defense – cyberspace defense, in particular – than on an air war scenario that we might or might not ever face in the future.

    Without sound economy; all forces stay grounded. If C4ISR network gets hacked into – the most likely first wave of asymmetric attack in next major conflict – at the onset of the next major war, our forces (stealthy or not) get grounded too.

    F22/B2-legacy combo is more than enough to defeat the next IADS.

  30. sferrin 5 March, 2010 at 4:20 am #

    Merlin12: “Components and sections of F35 contracted to BAE and other foreign suppliers (eg the AN/ASQ239 Barracuda IEWS Electronic Warfare systems).”

    Yeah, that’s pretty much BS. They’re contracted because that’s stuff they could do and the idea was to involve participating countries. Like I said, name something that couldn’t be built by the US. In fact I’m pretty sure that EW system is built by BAE in the US. LOTS of “BAE” stuff is built right here in the US, BAE simply bought the company(s). IIRC “BAE” can’t even ship everything they make overseas. Has to stay in the US. Someone else could explain the internal firewalls better.

  31. Kevin 5 March, 2010 at 5:58 am #

    Americans industries like to ‘NextGen this’ and ‘NextGen that’ in recent sale pitch while too often falls short of delivering the product on time, on spec and on budget.

    What exactly do such promotions/hypes accomplish except getting us all psyched up but distracted from REAL emerging threats, after costing us our arms, legs and firstborns on this and that NextGen wild goose chase. Pity.

  32. Ulysse 5 March, 2010 at 10:31 am #

    JSF’s fate?

    My guess is that the most depressing event which took place the last two or three years was the F-22, F-18, F-16, Mirage 2000.9, Rafale test in UAE. Against the latter (damned! those Frenchies…) the F-22 DIDN’T win 2 times on … (bip bip secret).

    The ones who saw that know what I’m speaking about.

    Next question (test?): Rafale against the Bomb Truck (F-35). I will prefer to stay home that day.

  33. Ulysse 5 March, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    JSF’s fate?

    My guess is that the most depressing event which took place the last two or three years was the F-22, F-18, F-16, Mirage 2000.9, Rafale test in UAE. Against the latter (damned! those Frenchies…) the F-22 DIDN’T win 2 times on … (secret).

    The ones who saw that know what I’m speaking about.

    Next question (test?): Rafale against the Bomb Truck (F-35). I will prefer to stay home that day.

  34. Ulysse 5 March, 2010 at 11:04 am #

    Sorry for the 4 identical comments. I wanted to remain more or less discreet…

    Another systemic collapse I presume.

  35. Dude 5 March, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    Face it, not everything can be built in the US without costing us astronomically so.

    E.g. “All-America” President LF Metro bus: $700,000 per copy while featuring poor roadside performance.

    http://www.startransbus.com/index.php?cat=presidentlf

    F35 does deploy a BAE-designed and manufactured EW system: BS or not, that’s a fact. In fact, Raptor from 4084 onward also features a BAE EW system.

  36. aeroxavier 5 March, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    psychotic clic

  37. Quebec26 8 March, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    If you want stealth, and agility give me a DH Mosquito … balsa wood and canvas with a very big payload with big guns in the nose. If you want speed give me a BAE Lightning (0 – Mch2 in less than 60 seconds), modify the fuel consumption and add bigger tanks.

    Failing that relaunch the TSR2 project – brute force and agility. That was a futuristic aircraft.

    Adding steam catapults to the two new British carriers is not a problem, because they are built with but not fitted; though this would mean that the GR7\9 will need to receive an upgrade, and the Typhoon will need strengthened undercarriage … maybe the RAF will take over the Fleet Air Arm (a full 360 deg as the RAF grew from the FAA)

  38. Tam Shankland 19 November, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

    I hope you were relentless on that kid David Mound. His name is Mound and he eats raw eggs. Loser.

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