The Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer sees no aircraft in development anywhere today that would be “seriously competitive” against the Lockheed Martin F-35 in combat.
The fifth-generation multirole fighter has been in development for 14 years and the B-model has only just achieved operational status with the US Marine Corps, but the US military appears confident that it is still introducing a cutting-edge weapon system capable of outclassing modern, supermanoeuvrable Russian and Chinese aircraft like the Sukhoi T-50 (PAK FA) that were largely designed to counter the F-35 and F-22.
Speaking after the unveiling of Norway’s first F-35A in Fort Worth, Texas, Kendall and F-35 programme executive officer Lt Gen Christopher Bogdan expressed confidence in the aircraft’s projected capabilities once it completes development in 2019.
“It’s the finest fighter airplane in the world and nothing compares to it,” Bogdan says. “I’d put this airplane up against any airplane in the world today, tomorrow and for the next 20 or 30 years and we’ll come out ahead.”
Bogdan was responding to a question about whether the F-35 could hold its own against the latest Russian jets, particularly the T-50 that will reportedly enter service in 2016 in a limited capacity.
“We don’t expect any airplane that’s currently in development to be seriously competitive with this airplane,” Kendall adds.
Norway's first F-35A aircraft was unveiled 22 September.
The comments come amid concerns about the jet’s manoeuvrability after it was outpaced during air force flight trials against a Lockheed F-16 earlier this year. Meanwhile, Russia and China have been hard at work on their own next-generation combat jets, particularly the Sukhoi Su-35 “4++ generation fighter” as well as the fifth-generation Russian T-50 and Chinese Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31.
Bodgan again took aim at those claims, saying the F-35 “can pull 9gs and can turn almost equal to our modern fighters” despite not being “uniquely designed” as a highly agile, dogfighting aircraft.
The programme chief insists the aircraft is designed for long-range kills, and can spot a potential combatant long before coming into visual range. “That dogfight is going to end very, very quickly,” he says.
Bogdan and Kendall’s confidence in the F-35 was seconded by Royal Norwegian Air Force chief of staff Maj Gen Per Egil Rygg, who is relying on the JSF to replace an aging fleet of F-16s. Norway is procuring 52 aircraft and expects to be fully operational by 2025 with initial operational capability in 2019.
Speaking to Flightglobal on the sidelines of the rollout, Rygg said Russia is going to need to think more carefully about pigging Norway’s airspace once the F-35 is on patrol.
“For us, the Russian activity is more of a routine,” he says. “We’ve done that [air interdiction mission] for years and years and they are fairly predictable. I think with the introduction of this capability, they will see we have quite a capability in the area and they will probably have to think about that.”