Trump Probably Won’t Cancel F-35. Just Ask Jim Mattis

by Lara Seligman
Jan 12, 2017

The incoming president’s recent comments about Lockheed Martin’s F-35 have sent the defense community into a frenzy, with observers racing to figure out exactly what Donald Trump has in store for the stealth fighter.

Trump has slammed the F-35 for “out of control” costs, asked Boeing to price out the cost to build a “comparable” F/A-18 Super Hornet and called for “competition” in the defense market. Investors are watching the dialogue closely, and some clearly fear the worst – each time Trump slams the F-35, Lockheed’s stock temporarily slumps. Some observers have interpreted the comments as Trump hinting that he wants to compete the F-35 against the Super Hornet, or cancel the program altogether.

But Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, provided a simpler, more likely, explanation.

“The president-elect has talked about the cost of [the F-35] but in no way shown a lack of support for the program,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing. “He just wants the best bang for the buck.”

In other words, Trump is just trying to pressure Lockheed to get costs down.

Mattis, who presumably will have some input on any decision regarding the military’s next-generation fighter, offered a resounding defense of the F-35.  

“The F-35 is critical for our own air superiority, because of its electronics capability inherent to the airplane, which magnifies each individual aircraft's capability,” Mattis said during the hearing. “It is equally important and more so to our allies, because this will be the total strength of their Air Force.”

“Many of our allies have bet their security on the F-35,” he said.

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Discuss this Blog Entry 156

on Jan 12, 2017

Donald Trump is still a civilian and has yet to become a Wartime President where he cannot look at cost if a weapon system is needed to perform a necessary objective as one thing Donald Trump needs to realize is that there is no such thing as a cheap stealth aircraft, the F-117A Nighthawk was expensive, the F-22 Raptor was expensive and the F-35A/B/C Lightning II is expensive.

Trump can order more F/A-18 Super Hornet; but his new Secretary of Defense will tell him that Trump better get ready to write letters to family members because there are some missions that the F/A-18 cannot complete and no way for Boeing to transform into a stealth platform.

CharleyA (not verified)
on Jan 12, 2017

Stealth is perishable and expensive. There is a place for it, but to base all your forces on the technology is both wasteful and folly. It's better to have a balanced force, and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is going to be around until the 2040s because electronic warfare is both adaptable and comparatively inexpensive.

on Jan 13, 2017

right on! best answer and one the Marine Corps should pay attention to!

on Jan 13, 2017

Charley, the issue with the F18 is that it is a USN and USMC only aircraft. The president elect appears to be forgetting about the USAF.

on Jan 13, 2017

F-15 (and F-16 for that matter) line is open and Boeing has a plan for a Silent Eagle. There are options.

on Jan 14, 2017

There are no other options unless we want to lose future wars to the Russians and Chinese. There is only one fifth generation multi-role fighter attack aircraft with the capabilities of the F-35 in anybody's arsenal in the world. Going backwards and putting fifth generation lipstick on a fourth generation pig is BS and idiotic.

The F-35 already exists (200 of them already), it is vastly superior to any existing or any possible upgrade to any existing aircraft. The costs are fully under control and coming down per program schedule, and our entire military is being re-invented to take advantage of the many capabilities that only the F-35 can provide.

on Jan 14, 2017

DTRT, there's a bridge I'm sure you'd be very interested in buying. It's a real bargain, and I can get you a great deal.

on Jan 16, 2017

Is that the best comeback that the Putin Academy for Trolls can come up with? Really?

on Jan 13, 2017

I think we can all agree the PE has no long term memory.

on Jan 13, 2017

The F-117A was under Budget, and IOC in a bit over 2 years. It was also built "Black" and here is what you get for your $$$.

on Jan 13, 2017

The F-117A was built under Budget, and IOC in a bit over 2 years. It was also built in the "Black" and here is what you get for your $$$. The F/A-18E/F/G can never do what some would like to promote.

on Jan 13, 2017

Implying that there is no cost too high is irrational. We canʻt cancel the F-35 but we should never have started it. Starting a program with an intent that it start and remain dominant for decades is ridiculous. Starting a program with a long list of TBD requirements is ridiculous. Starting a program with a schedule that includes invention is ridiculous.

All that said, we have to continue, but we ought to learn this lesson and not merely observe it.

on Jan 13, 2017

All aircraft types must be capable of retaining dominance for decades ... it takes at least a decade to develop anything that isn't primarily experimental (like the F-117, built under a black budget, no PR, no internet, no auditors, no lobbying from spurned manufacturers, no Putin paid trolling campaigns on the internet, no questioning of any kind).

By the way, we've got numerous warbirds that are now into their fourth (F/A 18), fifth (F-15, F-16, A-10), sixth, even seventh decade (B-52) of dominance. The pace of change is now speeding up of course, and while material and hardware advances continue, it is software that changes the fastest by far. An airframe that is built around a computer that can be easily upgraded is a far more durable weapons system than one built around hardware that is either difficult, or impossible, to upgrade.

on Jan 13, 2017

Stealth is needed against advanced fighters and air defense, but not to fight ISIS and the likes, where reduced cost of operation would be better.

on Jan 13, 2017

guys, guys, i have a straight question for whoever supports F-35 program, apart from stealth is there any other capability that can challenge comparable opponent not primitive Iraqis, Syrians or any other weak country.

is it only a night fighter or day & night all weather fighter/attack aircraft.

if US has to go to war with Russia or China or even North Korea, how good it is.

low RCS which we called stealth seems to be an outdated technology once enemy country develops technology how to detect these aircraft.
its game over, F-35s have to find other ways to complete its mission or simply stay alive. which may be almost impossible sometimes.

for any fighter aircraft speed is the key, because in the combat once enemy fighter detects it and acquires visual lock, it is almost impossible for F-35 to save itself(due to low speed) because he/she can easily approach it and go for a kill with gun. for missiles it may be difficult for enemy fighters to lock, however for a skilled pilot with dog fighting skills its just piece of cake.

there are a lot questions need to be answered about F-35,

1. if it is a fighter, then how good it is in dog fighting,
2. if it is an attacker , then does it have range and payload capability like B-1 or B-2 or even B-52.

on Jan 13, 2017

It's all-weather, day or night.
It's not "slow"; the reported "maximum" speed is with a full combat load (as opposed to clean or a pair of Sidewinders) and thanks to the massive internal fuel capacity, it can sustain it for more than a sprint up to speed then RTB.
By pilot reports the dogfighting capability is comparable to an F-18 but with much better energy recovery.

I don't understand your second question though. Are you saying you expect a dogfighting heavy bomber?

on Jan 13, 2017

my second question " attacker " means providing close air support to ground troops and taking as many ground targets as possible to get the troops to eighter move forward or retreat safely. as its payload is limited, the question is can it carry enough bombs or rockets to support ground troops.

on Jan 13, 2017

I have not seen F-18 dog fights.

What I do know is the C is accelerating limited as are all the versions and they had to waive the spec. Acceleration is a key feature to get up to max speed to even incoming missiles.

You also have to know what configuration they were dog fighting in.

A clean F-18 is almost guaranteed to be far better than a clean F-35 and it has a gun that hits as well as far more rounds. F-35 is toast.

An F-18 with Sidewinder not as much but if its in sidewinder range then the F-35 is toast before the dogfight beings.

An F-18 with an AM-120 better turn and burn, it can't see the F-35 (we hope)

None of this is new. A P-47 could not dog fight a ME-109 or FW-190 (it could out climb them and it could out dive them) .

As they found out with the P-40, operate within your strengths and do not within the Zero. Did you know they made the P-40 until 1944.

Did you know the P-40 could dogfight at low altitudes with the ME-109 and FW-190?

Did you know the Spitfire could not dog fight the Zero ?

If and I mean if, they fix the F-35, that means all the glitch's zarks etc and get it more on board missiles, 4 is a joke, 6 is minimum. its going to be very effective as long as it can do that without getting into a dogfight.

It needs the long range snap shot Sidewinder but it needs it to shoot the full range, once it is inside 20 miles its going to die. That is the hail mary and its needs to be stealthy in the bay.

A Sukoi is a huge easy to hit target, Russians have nothing close to the AIM-120.

War games show that if the F-35 does what it supposed to, Russians are toast.

But it has to get there and giving them a free ride to send a US WWII Torpedo into the fight is not the way to get there.

on Jan 14, 2017


You are asserting maneuverability qualities to the F-18 (presumably you mean the F or E model Super Hornets?) as compared to the F-35. Are you a certified pilot, or instructor, or "top gun" in either aircraft?

If not then you are not qualified to make such assertions. Period

Now, there are no published comparative reports for the two Navy jets, the Super Hornet to the F-35C, authored by or based upon primary sources (i.e., actual certified test pilot, instructors or top gun level pilot interviews).

There IS a published report, written by an Air Force fighter pilot with more than 3,000 hours in USAF fighters (that's one helluva lot of fighter time!),John Venable, posted on the Heritage Foundation website as of August 2016, that specifically compares the maneuverability under very specific combat maneuvers using the primary sourcing of 31 certified USAF test pilots, instructor pilots and "top gun" equivalent pilots of the F-35A vs. the top fourth generation air superiority fighters (F-15C, F-16C, F-15-E) and also the A-10 ground attack aircraft. Each of the pilots who participated have extensive combat experience in the fighters they compared. The specific combat maneuvers compared included BVR attacks, 9K ft Perch Setup, Butterfly, Short Range, and Tree Vertical Flight.

The pilots were asked their comparison or preference for each pair of aircraft on which they were certified and experienced in combat ops vs. the F-35A. With the exception of the performance of the F-15C in the 9K Perch Setup maneuver, every other maneuver for that aircraft, and every maneuver for all other aircraft evaluated, the preference was strongly in favor of the F-35A (i.e. at least 75% of the pilots preferred the performance of the F-3A over the other ... most of the results were between 90 and 100% preference level in favor of the F-35A.

The other models of the F-35 would be expected to perform very similarly to, if not exactly the same as, the F-35A.

And most folks who know anything about warbirds know that the F-15C is the most capable fourth gen air dominance fighter in the entire world bar none, easily better than any Super Hornet. Only the 5th gen F22 beats out the F-15C.

So, while this is still a subjective rating process and outcome, it is subjective in the minds of the world's most qualified evaluators.

100% of all 31 pilots rated the F-35A superior to all other aircraft in BVR .... which happens to be where 100% of all aerial combat engagements for the last 26 years have taken place, and which is likely to remain 100% forever after.

Case closed, strongly in favor of the F-35.

on Jan 15, 2017

Unless you're talking about a very limited number of Eagles retrofitted with AESA radar the F-15C is very strictly THIRD generation and routinely had its rear waxed by other types way back in the 1980s. Sea Harriers could run rings around it.

on Jan 16, 2017

No, Tony T - Third gen fighters were the fighters designed and fielded in the early to late 60s like the F4 Phantom, Mirage III, and the Mig-23. This was when BVR AAMs like the AIM 7 began to become available.

All models of the F-15 were/are either fourth gen (models A through C), or "fourth gen plus "(F-15E Strike Eagle and F-15SE Silent Eagle). Other members of the fourth gen include the F/A 18 Hornet (models A through C), the F-16, and Mirage 2000. It was during the fourth gen that multi-role fighter/attack aircraft became dominant.

Other members of the fourth gen plus group include the F/A 18 Super Hornet, EuroTyphoon, and Dassault Rafale. These aircraft incorporated advanced AESA radars, began to include features designed to reduce radar cross section such as conformal fuel tanks.

on Jan 16, 2017

Now if the same rationale would have been applied to the position of president..WALA!!!

on Jan 13, 2017

Actually, you posed quite a few questions, there, guy!

There is no magic bullet for detecting reflected radar energy. If the shape of the aircraft and the properties of its surface tend to not reflect very much radar energy, making a better detector won't make any difference. If it looks like a pidgeon on the radar today, it will not look like a fighter aircraft tomorrow if the radar is tweaked .. it will still look just like a pidgeon.

Speed is not really the key to performance, indeed few engagements are conducted at supersonic speeds unless one is trying to evacuate the area. The ability to go supersonic is a great asset, but most flying is done at subsonic speeds to conserve fuel, reduce sonic detection, and provide greater maneuverability. A mach 2.5 fighter is not necessarily better than a mach 2.0 or a mach 1.8 fighter. All air to air missiles fly at much faster speeds than any fighter will ever fly ... the medium range AIM-120 AMRAAM flies at mach 4, for instance. So no fighter today can outrun a AAM, or a radar sensor either.

Dogfighting is not a relevant capability. With BVR attacks being the sole means of attacks performed by all US fighters for more than 26 years, its no longer a significant consideration. A F-35 certainly can dogfight (contrary to the stupid media reports a couple years ago) and be competitive with any fourth gen aircraft on the planet in that regard, it will likely never do so (I mean, after 26 years of "none", how long does it take to declare the age of dogfighting long over?). The F-35 will likely engage mostly with the AIM 120s at medium range (far beyond BVR), due to their superior sensors and onboard sensor fusion that no other aircraft on the planet enjoys).

The significance of the sensor fusion capability is that the pilot doesn't need to worry about tracking multiple bogies from multiple directions - the sensor fusion computers do that for him/her, and if AAMs are fired at the F-35, the pilot does not even need to take any action at all ... the computer takes care of applying ECM and firing physical countermeasures, and will alert the pilot if evasive maneuvering is required. This allows a single F-35 pilot to focus on offensive actions against bogies. The sensor fusion also directly links other aircraft, ships, and ground forces wirelessly on a secure network to coordinate and share both sensor data and firing solutions, so that a single F-35 literally commands a wide range of firing platforms seamlessly and without pilot intervention, so as to focus fire on however many bad guys as are threats.

on Jan 13, 2017

Mr.DTRT, you are talking about F-35s sensor suites means computers which will do a lot of pilot`s work, what if they are overloaded like a Eurofighter Tycoon in an Airshow where pilot tried to simulate war like scenario and its computers got overloaded which resulted in crash.

computers can malfuction/overloaded and humans can be overloaded however humans only can correct themselves in the battle field and can adjust to ever changing situation, computers simply follow what they are programmed.

computers cannot be trusted all the time, they may be helpful but they should not be allowed to do everything like in F-35.

US didn't engage any formidable enemy for the past 26yrs,
you are talking about AIM-120 missiles, how many you think it can carry,
if F-35s are totally out-numbered then what will be the situation, do you think small group of F-35s can carry enough missiles to take out a big wave of enemy fighters. they have to depend on other aircrafts for support.

can you guarantee each & every missile fired can score a kill, its hard to say, it may be possible but not guaranteed. if enemy pilot is smart enough he/she can easily evade F-35s missile or any other missile flying at mach4.0.

you mentioned its not possible to outrun a missile flying at mach4.0, yes you are right however missiles has serious maneuvering limitations, they can't turn like aircrafts because of its speed and shape.

once the missile is fired all the enemy pilot need is time to decide how to evade it. A mach 2.5 pilot will have more time than mach .8 pilot.

during Vietnam war when the missiles are newly introduced everybody thought dog fighting days are over, what happened later, same people who forced to remove guns from fighters insisted to be re-installed and dog fighting training should be made mandatory for all pilots.

" TOP GUN " Fighter Weapons school in Miramar was formed as a result of that.

consider this situation, a small group of 5 F-35s are sent to take out enemy ground targets 200 miles inside enemy territory, they approach their first target undetected and the lead F-35 opens its bomb doors to release its bombs, once the bombs doors are opened it no longer a stealth aircraft and the enemy immediately scrambles a wave of 30 Mig-21s to intercept. do you think 5 F-35s can take out 30 Mig-21s, each and every time an F-35 opens its missile doors to fire its stealth is compromised and enemy will get an opportunity to send more MIGs to intercept them.

out of 30 if 5 Mig-21s escapes and approaches F-35s at Mach2.4 and acquires a visual lock then its almost game over if they don't have guns or its pilots are not trained in dog fighting, because most missiles don't acquire lock when the aircraft is too close. the only way is use your speed and dog fighting skills to get out of the situation.

on Jan 13, 2017

Lol the armchair sky master who has no idea how technology has progressed over the past 50 years, thinks he can teach DTRT a lesson. Please do opine some more on the lessons we should have learned from Viet-Nam as if technology hasn't progressed an iota.

Unless you're driving a last century mart without fuel injection, you're already depending on computers, & the F35 combat systems, while expensive, are just as dependable.

The major point you blindly flew over is that the F35's taking the shots won't be the source of the missiles. The F35 can call & direct missiles from other platforms like a ship or another airframe, like arsenal F35 with max AIM-120s on external stores or F18/16/15s. So, while your flock of Mig 21's goes running after what they can see, these platforms unload all their missiles and either disappear (no more external stores makes an arsenal F35 stealthy again) or RTB to make your flock stern chase them, all the while getting pot-shotted by the internal stores from the OTH F35s they never saw.

As for the ability for MIG 21s avoiding AIM-120s being guided in by F35s, I'd clearly prefer being in the F35s but if you'd prefer sitting in one the MIGs watching your buddies blow up from platforms you're unable to approach, please do...

on Jan 14, 2017

Patrick, one thing you are forgetting is your F-35 has already penetrated into enemy airspace and has already took its first target revealing its position.

enemy MIG-21s are approaching based on your first target revealed position, you are deep inside enemy territory, your buddies are outside the border, if they have to support you they have to fire their missiles across the border, you didn't take out enemy air defenses which are capable of stopping most of missiles and few which escapes eighter will not be sufficient enough to save you or may not have range to help you, what will you do in that situation.

as per current situation, you call modern warfare, if a battle ready warship/aircraft carrier or any other ready to go to war military assets are stationed with in 1000miles of the enemy country they will definitely consider it as any time war situation and they will do anything to stop their enemy from penetrating their borders, even if they were unable to stop stealth planes, they will definitely stop its supporting assets.

you cannot simply complete your mission with a hand full of F-35s with a support of F-22s which are already way less in numbers as earlier planned.

if you lose even a fraction of these so called advanced stealth aircrafts that will be a big blow to the entire program.

US may not be willing to lose their pilots and you may not be willing to lose or see your wingman blow up next to you, however your enemy country may not think like you and its pilots don't mind losing their buddies or even lives to save their country. even you will do the same when it comes to protecting your country. if i am a pilot( right now i am not a pilot) in one of those MIGs, i don't mind eighter sacrificing my life or my buddies in order to stop you. so don't under estimate your enemy and simply trust your planes, technology & computers.

up in the air, once in the battle its up to the human brain to rule not the machines they are flying in, no matter how advanced they are they are just supporting systems to humans not a replacement.

on Jan 15, 2017

The companion arsenal approach (aka sacrifice an Eagle) is probably the only way the F-35 would survive a high intensity scenario for very long. But the gameplan consistently fails to acknowledge that potential adversaries may choose to engage their opponents' missiles, not the launch platforms. The analysis needs to shift, for example, at the Alamo's ability to down a Slammer. Or the newer range of ramjet missiles to engage US/Allied missiles.

on Jan 16, 2017

The F-4 was to be an all missile fighter. Then Vietnam came. The the dod said you have to ID the other guy to be sure it's not a russian or it is taking hostile action against you before you could shoot a missile at it. Big scramble to get gun on the F-4. History to repeat itself.

on Jan 13, 2017

First you assume that the age of dogfighting is over. You may be right, but we will only know if and when the whole thing gets put to a real test and not the artificial ones the USAL LOL uses to ensure their delusions are accurate. You cannot trust them.

While speed is not key, acceleration is and the F-35 is poor.

Read the Desert storm wars and how one Sukoi ran un-challenged through the US formations and never got shot down. Fortunately he only shone down 1 use aircraft not the 3 he could have.

Also stealth is only as good as the lack of transmission. That means the F-35 has to stay that way and depends on others. Who does the pinging? Sensor fusion is fine, but someone has to light up the opponent. If it fails?

AWACs is not a missile target.

Really, wirelessly linked . Up to now all aircraft have wires attached to the ground. Wow, what a new concept, wireless. Next thing you know man is going to fly.

How far behind him are his other forces? Out of detection range? To far back for the AIM 120 to reach the bad guy. How do you keep it form locking onto the F-35?

Combat plans do not survive past the firs contact with the enemy.

Real world tests are needed done by non USAF referees (setup by non USAF referees)

We need a totally separate testing department .

on Jan 14, 2017

Spectre: As usual, you're being obtuse and intentionally misleading.

First of all, in a large scale near-peer air war, engagements won't be one aircraft on one aircraft. And they won't normally be many aircraft against one aircraft.

Have you ever heard of the concept of "tactics"? Apparently not. Hardware and software and pilot training are all great and necessary, but it's tactics that ultimately wins wars. The Japanese had by far the best performing fighter at the outbreak of the Pacific war in the A6M "Zero", which could out-turn and out-climb any of our F4F Wildcats with which we began the first year of WW Two. Yet, our pilots quickly developed tactics, including the "Thach Weave" that completely neutralized the dogfighting advantages of the Zero. By the end of WW Two, our lowly, underpowered, slow turning Wildcats produced a 7:1 kill ratio over the Zero. We did it through superior tactics, and also superior war production (it takes two Wildcats to kill a single Zero .. we could afford to outproduce the Japanese).

What the ignorant F-35 trolls don't care about, and certainly don't know about, is that the F-35 is the world's first fully networked, forward based combat air information center on any attack aircraft. The F-35 does not operate solo. It operates in combat formation, using shared data and tactics that are already being developed, in concert with other F-35s, a fleet of UAVs direclty controlled by the airborne F-35s, as well as F-22s, F-16s, F-15s, F/A-18s, B-52 "arsenal aircraft", ships with AEGIS air defense systems and missile launchers, and ground based Army and Marine units armed with Patriot SAMs and other aerial defense systems. It's a multi-nodal network, such that even if one F-35 were taken out, the other nodes easily fill in.

These are the systems and tactics that already exist, and are being honed as we receive more and more F-35s into the fleet and train more and more folks - not just more F-35 pilots, but the pilots of all other aircraft, ships at sea, and ground troops.

The way to defeat your enemy is not to take him on, one on one, on his turf, at close range, in long-obsoleted "dogfighting".

You defeat your enemy by sensing him long before he ever knows you're there and a threat, and by directing multiple weapons his way from multiple sources in the air, on the ground, and on the oceans, and by totally overwhelming him.

It's extremely likely that any so-called "swarm attacks" by Russian or Chinese fourth gen or third gen aircraft will all be shot out of the sky long before they even realize the battle has started.

Once that happens, our adversaries are most likely at that point to give up and try to hide whatever aviation assets they still have left, just as Saddam Hussein quickly flew the bulk of his Iraqi Air Force out of country to prevent their destruction in Desert Storm.

on Jan 17, 2017

200 planes in concurrency, which are not fully operational with a multitude of issues as detailed in latest report, and a ready rate so low mathematically it takes 3 planes to have one mission ready, are not going to cause Russia or China to run away from a fight after initial engagements, like Iraq did.

The enemy gets a vote and with this program being 20 plus years in development and Chinese hack of program they will be able to make a well informed vote.

on Jan 25, 2017

DTRT, your point that US fighters have only engaged in BVR combat for the past 26 years is not relevant. That's similar to the fallacious reasoning that Bob Gates used to curtail the F22 buy...because we hadn't use the Raptor in the War on Terror. In the future, we may face an opponent or opponents who are not iron age terrorists. We may actually face a near peer or peer. We have not faced a near peer/peer in aerial combat during the last 26 years. That doesn't mean that we never will. Any new fighter has to demonstrate the ability to kill at BVR, but also survive in a dogfighting WVR environment. I'm not saying, necessarily, that the F35 can't fight in a WVR situation, but it is not a non-issue as you would seem to imply.

Also, regarding radar, the amount of radar energy reflected by an aircraft, stealthy or not, can vary with the wavelength/frequencey of the radar. Stealthy bodies tend to do very well against hi frequency/short wavelength radars...which is great because that is what most military radars use. These radars operate in the K, C, X and parts of the S Band. Turns out that stealthy bodies don't do so well against low frequency/long wavelength radars like the L and UHF bands. We know this because a. its been tested, and b. civilian air traffic control radars--which are low frequency/long wavelength--have occasionally picked up F22's and B2's operating in their area...they just didn't know what they had picked up. Low frequency radars have not been used by militaries because they don't generally generate a sufficiently accurate weapons track. But both the Chinese and the Russians are working furiously to develop low frequency radars that are good enough for military work. If that happens, the F35 will be in a world of hurt. If you were facing a peer in combat and your stealth was compromised to the point or low or no utility, would you rather be flying an F35 or an F15 or F16? Or an F22, which is a fine fighter even without stealth.

The reality is that the F35 is a highly compromised aircraft, thanks mainly to the USMC requiring V/STOL capability in their variant. The resulting fuselage design required to accommodate the "B" variants lift fan is ungainly and violates the Area Rule. Combat jet aircraft that violate the Area Rule are not/will not be good dogfighters. The tragedy is that the F35, as originally envisioned, did not need to be a hot shot dogfighter. It was intended to be a strike aircraft that could operate in a non-permissive/contested environment, but an environment that was being, or had been, sanitized by the F22. It was only after the foolish and short sighted curtailing of the F22 program, that the F35 acquired the responsibility of having to be an air superiority fighter and a strike fighter. It may be the best strike/attack fighter ever...who knows. But it can never be a dominating air superiority fighter the way the F15C and F22 are. It's shape and power to weight ratio just won't allow it. Separate issue from the fact that the F35 is years late, has been granted more waivers than any American fighter aircraft in history in an effort to achieve some marginal IOC, and yet continues to develop new problems. But even if you could wave a magic wand and make those bugs go away, the F35 remains a highly compromised aircraft. Didn't need to be this way...

on Jan 13, 2017

An attack aircraft is what is sent when the ground troops need to have an enemy tank or bunker taken out in a hurry, or somebody spots a SAM launcher on the path of a planned B-52 mission. Heavy bombers are usually reserved for large targets or a set of closely spaced targets. I assumed that because I knew that, every other armchair strategist did also.

on Jan 13, 2017


In order to maximize the WEZ (Weapon Engagement Zone) of the AMRAAM and provide optimal target/target group tasking (F-Pole), the weapons platform needs to first satisfy three conditions:

1.) High Altitude (Above 35,000 ft)
2.) High Mach (Well above the Transonic Regime (Mach ~0.8 –> Mach 1.2))
3.) Short Acceleration Time through the Transonic Regime (Less than ~20 seconds)

The missile employment envelop is Platform Speed + Boost Motor + Sustain Motor Flyout/Maneuver; All done at high altitude where the air is thin.

Remember the AIM-120 is a medium ranged missile (read within ~8-10 miles) but when "Pole Boosted" by a Mach 1.5 supercruising F-22 at 40,000 ft it becomes a long ranged spear with capability of hitting targets well beyond 30 miles.

Any missiles employment envelope expands when flown at high speed and high altitude. There is less “work” for the missile to do, and it preserves its fuel/battery life for the terminal phase of flight, increasing both range and Probability of Kill. Its better here to think of the "Poles" as times rather than distances.

The goal of BVR combat is to expand your missile's active “Pitbull” envelope (A-Pole) and minimize your enemy's active missile envelope (E-Pole) by getting the missile through the Mach before launch.

To do this you need a platform that can put the missile well above the transonic regime faster than your enemy can. This requires a rapid acceleration time which requires an aircraft with a smooth body profile and area variation to keep transonic drag rise to a minimum in order to employ the missile at the most advantageous position.

See this link for more on Transonic Drag Rise: aerospaceweb(dot)org/question/aerodynamics/q0104(dot)shtml

When the missile is launched, you decelerate to begin defending from the oncoming missile or task a new group of targets, turn the aircraft to maximum radar gimbal limit to keep the target illuminated and transmit the Mid-Course Update to the missile in flight. Once the missile goes active, you turn beyond gimbal limit so that you’re perpendicular to the enemy to hide in the radar notch.

"Scoot, Shoot, Decelerate, Crank"

Stealth decreases the enemy’s F-Pole and buys you time to do all of the above. Internal weapons stowage keeps the airframe slick and controls your area variation which reduces transonic drag rise. This is why the F-22 looks like an F-22 and kills like one.

The problem is the F-35 can’t “Scoot” as the latest DOT&E report mentions:

"Limitations to the carriage and employment envelope of the AIM-120 missile above 550 knots may be required due to excessive vibrations induced on the missiles and bombs due to the acoustics in the weapons bay. Analyses of flight test data and ground vibration test data are ongoing (this applies to all variants)."


"All F-35 variants display objectionable or unacceptable flying qualities at transonic speeds, where aerodynamic forces on the aircraft are rapidly changing. Particularly, under elevated “g” conditions, when wing loading causes the effects to be more pronounced, pilots have reported the flying qualities as “unacceptable.” The program adjusted control laws that govern flight control responses in an updated version of software released to flight test in March 2016."

If you remember the required acceleration time from 0.8 to 1.2 Mach was increased for all variants. The F-35C took a massive 43 second increase.

Looking at my standard atmosphere table in my undergrad copy of Anderson and running a few hand calcs tells me 550 knots is just below the speed of sound between Sea Level (661.5 knots) and 50,000ft (573.5 knots).

While the report doesn’t make it clear if the acoustics are an issue with the doors closed or open; My many years of engineering judgment leads me to think that a door impinging into unsteady transonic flow around an ugly buff body is going to cause one hell of an acoustics issue.

I question whether it’s even possible for the aircraft to safely open its bay doors at speeds above 550 knots due to the massive increase in wave and pressure drag. Even if it could get them open safely above the Mach (which I doubt at this point) it would take too long to get there to provide the BVR advantage!

Software didn't put Yeager through the Mach.

The F-35 is and has always suffered from unmitigated transonic wave drag as a result of bad area ruling/profile discipline. This explains the increase in acceleration time, it explains the acoustic issues, and it explains the bad flying qualities all within the transonic regime.

This aircraft at present cannot punch through the Mach smoothly, safely, or quickly enough to employ the AMRAAM to expand and maximize its engagement envelope to provide a BVR advantage.

It’s a wash.

No stealthy WVR capability, since AIM-9X is external wing tip carry for now and the craft will lose the Boyd fight anyway. No practical BVR capability because you can’t physically put the AIM-120 where it needs to be fast enough to hit a target at BVR with advantage. A lot of people bet on the AMRAAM as a panacea for the F-35’s lack of EM ("dog-fighting"). Mitigating transonic wave drag would mean reshaping the aircraft itself.

So unfortunately it seems at this point the F-35 carries a nice gun but fumbles on the draw. You can put AMRAAMs on a pig but it's still a pig.

So no, I wouldn't call it a "fighter" in any sense of the word. It's a very expensive electronic warfare/strike aircraft.

on Jan 13, 2017

While there are valid points, there is some wrong statements as well.

An AIM-120 has a listed range of 100 miles (and longer versions are in the works)

You do have to assess that for aircraft speed and altitude. I don't know how accurate that is. Max or minimum.

It sure as hell is not 8-10 miles. A sidewinder flies that far and more now.

Actually listed as 22 miles Sidewinder with the same caveats though range may be more accurate is it is a close in engagement missile and is JBVR (just beyond visual range.

The points are valid, I don't know what the operation and effective envelopes of the AIM120 really are and how much lower airspeed affect it.

The slow acceleration of the C is an issue.

Russian missiles suffer the same issues.

on Jan 14, 2017

Spectre49, " An AIM-120 has a listed range of 100 miles (and longer versions are in the works) ", is it in a straight line, what if enemy fighter see this missile and makes evasive maneuvers, can the missile stays on its target. how agile is the missile once it approaches the target. i don't see it as a good to kill for an experienced enemy pilot, for beginners or rookies its ok.

just think about Vietnam War, F-4s were able release the missiles BVR with a lock on enemy however due to its time-to-target and adequate reaction time for the Vietnamese Migs they became absolute useless and forced US to get back to old style Close-Air-Combat tactics using gun and short range missiles.

on Jan 16, 2017

The fire control and sensor systems on F4s were stone age compared to any fourth gen plus or fifth gen fighter today. Ditto with the on board sensing and targeting systems on the AAMs. It's like comparing a Revolutionary War musket to a modern US Army M-4.

The Vietnam war was 50 years ago, fought with second gen and early models of fourth gen aircraft. The computing power on the F-35 is approximately 100 times the computing power of a F/A 18 E/F Super Hornet or an F-15 E Strike Eagle ... and both of those aircraft have multiple orders of magnitude improved sensing and battle data management systems than even the latest and best of the third gen aircraft of the Vietnam War.

on Feb 21, 2017

The ground launched AIM-120 has a range of "over 15 km" which is around 10 miles.

I'm pretty certain that if you corner the manufacturer of the AIM-120 they will confess that a certain range is dependent on a certain launch speed.

on Jan 14, 2017

your points are quite valid and in most cases i see them as accurate, however one question about these missiles, " can they kill ! ".
if they can't then they are of no use, just waste of money.

for BVR missiles kill is not always guaranteed like short range missiles.

for short range missiles with less than 10miles once you release the missile and stays on enemy six as long as possible chances of kill are pretty good when compared to BVR missiles.

for long range missiles, enemy pilot will have enough time to make evasive maneuvers and make the missile loose its lock.

in my view instead of concentrating on long range BVR missiles, its better to concentrate on short range missile with a capability of one missile one kill attitude. by decreasing the speed of the missile and by increasing its maneuverability with advanced control surfaces it is quite possible to achieve one missile one kill attitude.

these days pilots are smart enough to assume and assess where the enemy can go even if it is stealthy. as F-35 looses its stealth and relays its position once bomb doors are open, even for a few seconds that is quite enough for enemy radars & fighters to get a fix on it and assume & assess its flight path. in that kind of situation F-35's stealth will be of no use and it will like any other fighter.

on Jan 14, 2017

The certified, highly qualified pilots who actually fly the F-35 totally disagree with you.

Read the Heritage Foundation report by highly experienced Air Force fighter pilot John Venable, based upon direct interviews with 31 expert pilots, all qualified in both the F-35 and the other USAF fighters at an instructor level, test pilot level, and USAF-equivalent to "top gun" levels. Every one of them strongly prefers the F-35 to all other fourth gen aircraft, including the F-15 which is known far and wide as the best fourth gen air domination fighter in the world, bar none.

on Jan 15, 2017

I think a lot of people would oppose your contention of the F-15C being the best fourth generation fighter out there. It's a third gen fighter - the only fourths about it is that it first flew over FORTY FOUR years ago.
The AESA radar makes a huge difference, but as for "best" fourth generation others would propose Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, J-10B etc as the key contenders.

on Jan 16, 2017

Nope - I corrected you above too. All models of the F-15 were at minimum fourth gen, with the latest models being 4.5. They were developed using better sensors than any third gen aircraft had, plus much more sophisticated fire control systems on their BVR AAMs. Better pure fighter performance too with their powerful twin engines providing well over 1.0 thrust to weight ratio. The earlier models A through C were designed as air superiority fighters, while the later models began to incorporate multi-role features and even more advanced sensors.

But to say an F-4 or an F-5 or a Mig-21 (all third gen fighters) is the same generation as an F-15 C is clearly not correct.

on Jan 27, 2017

DTRT, you keep trotting out John Venable--who works for Heritage, a think tank which for all I know, gets funding from LM. Read the DOT&E Annual Report for 2016; these are quotes:

"Three independent assessments conducted during the past 6 months rate the F-35 as red or unacceptable in most critical combat mission areas."

"All F-35 variants display objectionable or unacceptable flying qualities at transonic speeds, where aerodynamic forces on the aircraft are changing rapidly. Particularly, under elevated "g" conditions, when wing loading causes the effect to be more pronounced, pilots reported the flying qualities as "unacceptable.""

"Excessive vertical oscillations during catapult launches make the F-35C operationally unsuitable for carrier operations, according to fleet pilots who conducted training aboard USS George Washington during the latest set of ship trials."

"Many pilots assess and report that the Electro-Optical Targeting System(EOTS) on the F-35 is inferior to those currently on legacy systems."

"Pilots experienced multiple inflight failures of the Fuselage Remote Interface Unit (FRIU), an electronic component that provides the interface between the aircraft avionics and all weapons stations. The failures resulted in degraded weapons at critical phases of the target attack profile and required pilots to abort the attack. Such target attack interruptions are unacceptable for combat operations."

"Both DT and OT pilots have flown with the air-to-ground gun strafing symbology displayed in the helmet and reported concerns that it is currently operationally unusable and potentially unsafe to complete the planned aimed gunfire testing."

So, DTRT, there are, apparently, some "certified, highly qualified pilots" that don't agree with you or the remarkable John Venable.

on Jan 17, 2017

It was designed as a low cost strike aircraft per original program objectives. Marketing and suspension of disbelieve have made it in to an AI AD fighter.

Body shaping extended development was halted before optimum shape could be finalized.

on Jan 27, 2017

DynamicPressure, unlike a lot of folks who post everywhere and anywhere, you know your stuff, friend. Glad to see you refer to one of my heroes, Col. John Boyd. Wish that more Americans knew about him. Be safe.

on Jan 14, 2017

All low RCS aircraft can be detected - the question is, how far away? And non stealth aircraft will be detected even farther away. Game over even sooner

Combat with 100 mile AA missiles is not Korean War style dogfighting - the plane that sees and shoots first wins. Only exception is intercept and escort, which could be problematic at the beginning of a war. But that will be the same problem no matter what fighter is used - the missile cueing will decide who wins there.

Range and payload are issues. But when this all started, the plan was for 132 B2s, and another plane called the A-12 Avenger. Missions have been shifted to the F35 which weren't in the original RFP.

on Jan 16, 2017

Speaking of the A-12. Did you see the photos someone took of an aircraft over Wichita, Kansas a couple of years ago ? Looks like the A-12 may have been reborn in the black world many years after its initial cancellation. Engineers were probably able to lower the weight with advanced materials as compared to late 80's technology.

on Feb 21, 2017

The new AESA radar of a SU-35 might detect a F-35 at 90km from the right angle in a non-jammed environment.

The manufacturer of the CAPTOR-E is said to claim to be able to detect a F-35 at 69km. That is probably closer than the radar warning suite can detected it.

The 2007 vintage Vostok D/E radar (AESA VHF radar) is claimed to detect a F-117A at 190 nautical miles (340km) if there is no ECM and at around 40 nautical miles (72km) in a jammed environment.

Unfortunately, the Russians don’t talk about how they plan to detect and engage stealth aircraft. Everything has to be deducted. And in this, descriptions of the Kosovo air war is invaluable. Mainly because the Serbs were a competent enemy.

on Jan 13, 2017

How well General Mattis will cope with government by Twit via Tweet impulse remains to be seen.

RSF (not verified)
on Jan 13, 2017

Yes the Tweeter Elect certainly has spewed some "interesting" items in recent months. Does General Mattis call someone like Kellyanne to interpret the latest stream of 3 am bizarre commentary on topics like the F-35 or will Trump be directly available to translate?

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