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  • F-35 vs. F-16 Range - The Ghastly Truth
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 10:49 AM on Mar 31, 2010

    Since the last T-50 post degenerated into the 110th Ares JSF flame war, I thought I'd continue the discussion in a separate thread. In particular, Solomon wanted to know my source for a 630 nm range figure for the F-16. Here it is:

    blog post photo
    Lockheed Martin brochure c.1998

    The best F-16 you could get today - like a Block 60 or the Israeli F-16I (also sold to Singapore) should do better than that, because lots of people will sell you an internal active jamming system, permitting you to ditch the ALQ-184, an F110-GE-132 engine will get you to best altitude quicker, and JDAMs are slicker than GBU-10s.

    As for the F-35A, let's look (once again) at LockMart data, from the executive summary provided to Norway in 2008:

    blog post photo

    Ah, you say, 728 nm is still better than 630 nm. Well, yes, but there's a catch. Another chart from the same document gives more detail:

    blog post photo

    No low-altitude penetration - just a drop below the cloudbase to ID a maritime target. Smaller 500-pound bombs and two fewer missiles - with maximum external fuel. Only the inboard pylons can carry tanks, and the "18,000 pounds" includes all external and internal stations - and there are 11 total, not external, stations.  So you can't "load the aircraft like an F-16" and extend the range.

    The only options beyond the configuration here are to carry more or heavier weapons, but that will degrade the range. And the reduction, beyond substituting 2000 pound internal JDAMs for the GBU-12S, may be rapid. As noted here before, the F-35 gains suprisingly little range - only 8 per cent - from the 30 per cent fuel load increase that you get from external tanks. That tells us that the drag is very sensitive to external stores, increased weight or a combination of the two.


    How does this happen with a bigger, more powerful, much more expensive and newer-technology airplane? Part of the answer is that external fuel is a pretty good way of cheating the range equation, because as you use up the fuel you shed the weight and wetted area of the tanks. Also, the structure that accommodates the F-35A's internal fuel has to be stressed to 9g and 8000 hours. Drop tanks don't. Less easily estimated factors for the F-35: a broad forward fuselage and relatively short-span wing (ten feet less than the similar-weight Super Hornet), both dictated by the STOVL version.

    Which brings me back to this post from last year....

    Tags: ar99, jsf, F-16

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