The US Department of Defense has decided to lower some ofthe performance requirements for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter(JSF), particularly with regard to transonic acceleration (with the Navy’sC-model taking the hardest hit) and sustained g-forces, as was revealed in thePentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) 2012 report.
Based on the testimony of former Air Force chief of staffGen Norton Schwartz before the House Armed Services Committee last year aboutkey performance parameter changes, one can surmise that part of the Pentagon’s decision to ok thismove probably came down to how much do we as a nation want to spend/wait to getto that original requirement. Though, in this case, given the geometry of theairframe 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 gooddevelopment, 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 inevitablethat the overall capability of the aircraft is negatively impacted.
That means that pilots won’t be able to fly the F-35 like anF-22 Raptor or even an F-15 (or any other fighter for that matter), it has to be flown like a JSF. Tactics willemphasize stealth and sensor capabilities, says Col Andy Toth, commander of the33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida, which is the first DOD F-35training unit.
“The advantage of the F-35 is a result of being a 5thgeneration platform and an evolution in technology. Stealth characteristics and sensor fusion will enable it toget in to a target relatively undetected, have the ability to strike a groundasset or engage an enemy and exit the scenario without the threat even knowingit 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 muchlike specific tactics were developed for the F-22, different from fourthgeneration platforms.”
Those tactics will inevitably emphasize beyond visual rangecombat. “Between [the AIM-9X], DAS[distributed aperture system] and the helmet, you deserve to die if you takethis thing to the merge,” a friend of mine, who is a former naval aviator, toldme bluntly after I asked him for feedback on the main article. “I’m suresomeone trotted out the ‘F-4/Gun’ story, but the reality is that the ROE [rulesof engagement] that was in place in the ‘Nam that drove the need for the gun… ROEthat put the F-4 in an environment that made the AIM-7 [Sparrow semi-activeradar guided missile] terribly unreliable to start.”
But even the best-laid battle plans can fall by the wayside uponfirst contact with the enemy. “You can only do so much with tactics and sensorswhen the entire air vehicle is at a disadvantage,” warns one highly experiencedfighter pilot. “It’s going to be interesting to see if tactics can make up forthe F-35′s shortfalls.”