Viewpoint: No Single Answer To Air Combat Questions

By Bill Sweetman
Source: AWIN First

This is not new. The Su-27 could perform the “cobra” in public because its behavior was predictable, the result of intensive study of vortices (leading to the installation of vortex-tripper fins on the radome) and special engine test rigs. (Unsurprisingly, a senior U.S. Air Force officer, just retired and consulting for industry, dismissed the Su-27 ‘s display at Farnborough in 1992 as an air show stunt.) Combined with three-axis, vectored thrust and new control logic, it is the basis for the 2013 display .

USAF doctrine is headed in a different direction. Technologists pushed a stealth-centric answer in the mid 1980s—with one program manager comparing future air combat to submarine warfare—but when it was time to pick an Advanced Tactical Fighter , the winner was the four-tail, thrust-vectoring YF-22. Now, the F-35 team has declared maneuvering irrelevant because (in their opinion ) a close-range fight is mutual suicide. They say that the F-35 will achieve “greater than six to one relative loss-exchange ratio” in an engagement pitting four F-35s against eight “advanced Red threats”—16 missiles versus 64, if the threats are Su-35s .

That scenario works if the stealth advantage is so great that Blue can fire with a high kill probability before Red can detect and track. Is that visionary, or does it reflect over-reliance on one technology and the fact that the USAF has no other non-painful options? The adversary always has a vote and it is never wise to dismiss his thinking out of hand.

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