The US Department of Defense has decided to lower some of the performance requirements for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), particularly with regard to transonic acceleration (with the Navy's C-model taking the hardest hit) and sustained g-forces, as was revealed in the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) 2012 report.
Based on the testimony of former Air Force chief of staff Gen Norton Schwartz before the House Armed Services Committee last year about key performance parameter changes, one can surmise that part of the Pentagon's decision to ok this move probably came down to how much do we as a nation want to spend/wait to get to that original requirement. Though, in this case, given the geometry of the airframe and available engine power, it was just simply not going to happen (look back to a DEW Line post from a couple weeks ago).
I'm sure we can all probably agree that this is not a good development, but it's been known for sometime that this was probably coming. Given that if the airframe's performance goes down, it is all but inevitable that the overall capability of the aircraft is negatively impacted.
That means that pilots won't be able to fly the F-35 like an F-22 Raptor or even an F-15 (or any other fighter for that matter), it has to be flown like a JSF. Tactics will emphasize stealth and sensor capabilities, says Col Andy Toth, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida, which is the first DOD F-35 training unit.
"The advantage of the F-35 is a result of being a 5th generation platform and an evolution in technology. Stealth characteristics and sensor fusion will enable it to get in to a target relatively undetected, have the ability to strike a ground asset or engage an enemy and exit the scenario without the threat even knowing it was there," Toth says. "We will continue to work, as the system comes online, to develop tactics that take advantage of the 5th generation capability much like specific tactics were developed for the F-22, different from fourth generation platforms."
Those tactics will inevitably emphasize beyond visual range combat. "Between [the AIM-9X], DAS [distributed aperture system] and the helmet, you deserve to die if you take this thing to the merge," a friend of mine, who is a former naval aviator, told me bluntly after I asked him for feedback on the main article. "I'm sure someone trotted out the 'F-4/Gun' story, but the reality is that the ROE [rules of engagement] that was in place in the 'Nam that drove the need for the gun... ROE that put the F-4 in an environment that made the AIM-7 [Sparrow semi-active radar guided missile] terribly unreliable to start."
But even the best-laid battle plans can fall by the wayside upon first contact with the enemy. "You can only do so much with tactics and sensors when the entire air vehicle is at a disadvantage," warns one highly experienced fighter pilot. "It's going to be interesting to see if tactics can make up for the F-35's shortfalls."