I was on vacation on Friday and somehow missed the announcement of the press conference that the JSF program office called to further publicize the Wheeler-Sprey attacks on the program and the Australian reports that JSFs had been "clubbed like baby seals" in a Pacific wargame. Moreover, apparently, government program manager Maj Gen Charles Davis accused program critics of having "agendas".
Whatever can he mean by that?
The office is clearly worried that the reports are gaining traction around its customers, particularly since we now know what the Dutch expression neergeknuppeld als zeehondjes means.
The release which accompanied the stealth teleconference touted the JSF's capabilities, leading with the claim that "USAF analyses show the ... F-35 Lightning II is at least 400 percent more effective in air-to-air combat capability than the best fighters currently available in the international market."
This statement is about as informative as a Ginsu knife infomercial. Moreover, it's made just as Graham Warwick reports (subscription) that Maj. Richard Koch, chief of USAF Air Combat Command’s advanced air dominance branch, stated last week: “I wake up in a cold sweat at the thought of the F-35 going in with only two air-dominance weapons.”
There is surely a universe where these two statements are compatible, but we don't live there.
One analyst suggests to DTI that what the JSF office's claim most likely means is that the F-35 has demonstrated a 4:1 advantage over adversaries in a simulation such as TAC BRAWLER.
The next question here is what data was put in. If it's assumed:
- that the F-35 can close to a range where AMRAAM has a kill probability (Pk) above 0.75, without being detected
- that jamming, maneuvering and RCS reduction don't reduce that Pk
- that the adversaries use line-abreast tactics so that they all get a shot at the same time
... then four F-35s will take out three out of four Su-35s or Typhoons (assuming these to be the top end threats or competitors) every time. You then hope that the survivor will turn and run, rather than counting eight missile shots and proceeding to avenge his buddies at the expense of the now-unarmed F-35s.
My guess would be that the model assumes all the points above, and also does not allow for any serious tactics (like operating in a widely spaced box, as Gripens do, switching radar transmissions from one aircraft to another).
It also does not allow for situations where JSF is outnumbered: if the threats are anywhere close to 2:1, it's bad news if you only have two missiles. This is most likely the situation that gives Maj Koch nightmares.
The problem, as an analyst points out, is that air-to-air missile Pks are never 1.0 and are usually lower in combat than in tests; the more AAMs you have, the less that matters, which is why the F-22 and Typhoon pack eight missiles each.
Another key claim: "In stealth combat configuration, the F-35 aerodynamically outperforms all other combat-configured 4th generation aircraft in top-end speed, loiter, subsonic acceleration and combat radius. ...More importantly, in a combat load, with all fuel, targeting sensor pods and weapons carried internally, the F-35's aerodynamic performance far exceeds all legacy aircraft equipped with a similar capability."
Reading the above carefully, it appears that what is being compared here is the F-35A (not the B, which has much less fuel) with a Typhoon or Su-35 carrying bombs, AAMs and a targeting pod. In that case, you may show an advantage in top speed (because most fighters aren't cleared supersonic with external A-G weapons) and subsonic acceleration. But do not forget that we started talking air-to-air and now it's air-to-surface: Su-35 or Typhoon, with AAMs and tanks punched, are more likely to outrun and out-accelerate JSF.
But perhaps the most remarkable statement from the release is attributed to Tom Burbage: "Simply put, advanced stealth and sensor fusion allow the F-35 pilot to see, target and destroy the adversary and strategic targets in a very high surface-to-air threat scenario, and deal with air threats intent on denying access - all before the F-35 is ever detected, then return safely to do it again."
Jeebus on a Vespa... I have been writing about LO technology for 28 years and I have never heard anyone make a claim like this. Stealth means that you are hard to detect, harder to track and harder still to engage, but it doesn't make you invisible, particularly after large explosions have alerted the adversary to your presence.
If the F-35 can really do all that, why did the USAF spend billions on supercruise, rear-aspect stealth and supermaneuverability (the reason for 2D vectoring nozzles) for the F-22? And does this mean that the all-aspect/wideband LO tech on the B-2 and X-47B UCAS is superfluous?