Lockheed Martin's veteran salesman, George Standridge, took the podium a couple of weeks ago in Florence, at IQPC's Fighter Conference, to push the Joint Strike Fighter. In the process, he rolled out some new PowerPoints to counter the criticism leveled at the JSF's air-to-air capability.
To support his case, Standridge relied on three performance comparison charts. The first was top speed with weapons carried:
The second, subsonic acceleration:
And the third, supersonic acceleration:
Standridge also presented comparisons on beyond-visual-range engagements:
... and WVR engagements.
It all looks very convincing, as it's designed to be, but let's take a step back and make some (very obvious) points.
Nobody's ever said that the JSF won't have decent straight-line acceleration or speed - Lord knows it should, with the fighter equivalent of a 472-cubic-inch V-8 in the back end - although whether a clean JSF would be able to outrun an Su-35, with tanks punched and AAMs carried, is an open question. (I suspect the speed and acceleration comparisons are based on tanks carried, but if it's come to a chase, the tanks will go.)
However, if straight-line acceleration and speed were everything, then Lockheed would truly have built the world's champion air combat fighter...
... in the 1950s. But there's more to fighter performance than that.
The issue on which most critics have hit the JSF is skirted here - particularly by use of the qualification "with typical air-to-air weapon loads". For the JSF, that's four AMRAAMs, or (for UK only) two ASRAAMs and two AMRAAMs. The others carry more weapons.
At the core of the criticism of the JSF in air combat is concern that the kill probability of the AMRAAM at long range - particularly against an alerted, jamming and evading target who's actually trying to run you out of missiles, and in a confusing multi-aircraft engagement - could be the JSF's Achilles heel. That's not addressed in any detail in this presentation. In the BVR and WVR scenarios, the number of missiles carried is not even listed as a factor.
But there are a couple of other interesting points about the presentation, notable for what isn't there. The Rafale is mentioned but the Typhoon - faster by design - is not. The Su-30 variant is the MKI, operational now for six years, not the JSF-contemporary Su-35BM.
Best of all, though, the Gripen variant used in the comparison is none other than the JAS 39C, with from the perfomance point of view is identical to the A-model that has been in service for 12 years - in fact, almost 20 years older in design than the JSF. The Next Generation version that Saab is pitching today has a lot more thrust and more internal fuel.
We know Lockheed Martin has access to all the same Saab material on the Gripen NG that we do, if only because a reporter from LockMart's Code One magazine attended all of Saab's briefings at Farnborough. (It raised some eyebrows in Saab PR - and so far none of that reporter's work has been published.) So why not compare the JSF against the jet that it's actually competing with?
Could it be that Fort Worth's getting nervous?