Mark Collins – F-35 Air Combat Capability Dust-Up

We really have a tempest in a tailpipe–three pieces to start off:

Test Pilot Admits the F-35 Can’t Dogfight
New stealth fighter is dead meat in an air battle [War is Boring–full report here]

Why The “F-35 v F-16″ Article Is Garbage []

[F-35] Joint Program Office Response to “War is Boring” Blog 

Now the latest:

Pentagon says damning report of F-35 troubles ‘doesn’t tell the entire story’ [Washington Post]

Pentagon Defends F-35 After Report Says it Can’t Dogfight [DoDBuzz]

F-35 designed for long-range kills, not dogfighting [FlightGlobal]

Controversy Flares Over F-35 Air Combat Report [Bill Sweetman, Aviation Week and Space Technology]

And looking ahead:

Advanced Electro-Optical System a Priority for F-35 Block 4
Improving F-35’s vision is high priority

While in early June:

Sky’s Still Cloudy for F-35’s Way Ahead

Not exactly clearing up fast.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


10 thoughts on “Mark Collins – F-35 Air Combat Capability Dust-Up”

  1. IHS Jane’s 360 seems right on the money–note last para with reference to RCAF:

    “JPO counters media report that F-35 cannot dogfight


    As with most issues related to the F-35, this latest controversy has split observers down the middle, with the aircraft’s advocates and detractors taking diametrically opposed views – and with the truth probably somewhere in the middle.

    The War is Boring article appears to have accurately recounted the test pilot’s experiences and comments (as the JPO seems to be only disputing the interpretation of the pilot’s findings not their authenticity) when it says the F-35 performed poorly in close-in dogfighting.

    For its part, the JPO was quite correct when it stated the F-35 was never designed for dogfighting (some have postulated the aircraft would have been better designated the A-35 rather than the F-35, on account of its weighting towards the attack role), and that aircraft AF-2 used for the test was not fitted with many of the advanced systems that would likely have enabled it to defeat its adversary when fighting on its own medium- to long-range terms.

    However, while the JPO can point to such discrepancies between the test pilot’s comments (as they appeared in the article) and the F-35’s mission set, it should be noted that many nations that cannot afford multiple aircraft types are procuring the F-35 as a multirole ‘jack of all trades’ to perform the full spectrum of missions.

    Though advanced sensor and missile technology renders the classic dogfight less likely than at any point during the history of military aviation, rules of engagement and other considerations can sometimes require aircraft to be within visual range before engaging each other. The point the War is Boring article was trying to make, and the point the JPO has failed to refute in its rebuttal, is that aircraft do not always get to fight on their terms, and that it is no good saying that just because the F-35 is not designed to dogfight it will never have to do so.

    With the F-35 set to become the dominant platform in Western (and allied) use over the coming decades (in many cases procured specifically as an F-16 replacement), its apparent lack of a close-in aerial combat capability will raise concern, especially considering the range of new ‘fifth-generation’ fighters coming out of Russia and China, such as the PAK-FA and J-20. This concern will persist until the F-35 is able to prove otherwise, regardless of whether the aircraft was designed to dogfight or not.”

    Mark Collins

  2. US Marines IOC slipping–at DID (further links at original):

    “The Marine Corps conducted its first successful live ordnance drops from a F-35B in late June, the USMC announced on Friday external link. The Joint Strike Fighters dropped both inert and live ordnance, which consisted of JDAM GPS-guided munitions in both GBU-12 and GBU-32 configurations. The Marine Corps decided in May to push on external link towards the F-35B’s Initial Operating Capability (IOC) objective timetabled for 1 July, despite the unearthing of software problems. While it appears that the 1 July objective IOC date has now been missed, the jet has until December external link to achieve this milestone, with the dropping of live ordnance reportedly one of the last remaining items on a checklist of required capability tests required for IOC…”

    Mark Collins

    1. A key point for Canada:

      “…The F-22 Raptor was designed to be highly agile with a large usable flight envelope (hence its monster tail surfaces) and it had a complex, space-consuming arrangement that allowed AIM-9 missiles to be fired in lock-on-before-launch mode almost anywhere in the forward hemisphere.

      The JSF is not as agile, but program leaders say that it will prevail in BVR because of stealth and situational awareness, and in WVR it will use its 360-deg. target-tracking device- the Distributed Aperture System (DAS) – to cue high-off-boresight air-to-air missiles (AAM) on to its adversaries.

      What they don’t say as loudly is that it can’t do both, at least on the same mission. Unlike the F-22 (and the Chengdu J-20 and Sukhoi T-50) it doesn’t have side bays and trapezes for rail-launched AAMs. If the F-35 carries AIM-9s it does so externally, and by Lockheed Martin’s own definition it is not stealthy.

      This is not an accident, or even a matter of program execution. The F-35 was “70% air-to-ground and 30% air-to-air” at its inception – a direct quote from George Muellner, who was in charge of what was then the Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program in 1995…”

      So if RCAF F-35s were doing NORAD air defence–the service’s priority mission–would they hang missiles externally? No stealth but who cares against bombers? But:

      “Who Needs Fifth Generation (Stealth) Fighters? But Escorted Russian Bombers?”

      Then if need to be stealthy the plane can only carry four, long-range, missiles internally:

      How then to cope with enemy aircraft and any cruise missiles they may succeed to launch?

      Mark Collins

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