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Flightline Friday: F-35 Debuts at Red Flag February 3, 2017

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.

Red Flag – the world’s premier and most realistic air combat exercise – 17-1 began last week at Nellis AFB, NV.  As usual, participants are many and varied – F-22s from the 1st FW at Langley AFB, VA, B-1s from the 28th Bombardment Wing at Ellsworth AFB, SD, and marking their operational debut, F-35s from the 414th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS), 388th TFW, Hill AFB, UT.

Everyone knows, it’s been a long slog for the F-35.  I have certainly never been a big supporter of this badly compromised design.  From a standpoint of aerodynamic performance, it will always be a very middling performer.  Crippled by the Marine requirement for STOVL capabilities, it will be badly hamstrung in the visual air-to-air arena.  In addition – and also because of the Marine requirement – it’s internal storage volume, required to maintain low-observability – is also badly limited.  It can only carry two air to air missiles internally when engaged in the high-end fight.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal, had Obama and Gates (who also destroyed the Boy Scouts), not crippled US air superiority by capping F-22 production at 187 aircraft.  The F-22 has turned out to be all that was promised and more in the air-to-air arena, but there simply are not enough of them. As such, should disaster happen, like a war against a near-peer competitor in China or Russia (God forbid this should happen), the US would be badly  underequipped in the air supremacy regime and F-35s would likely be pressed into the fight be default.  This is not something it was designed to do.

Having said that, however, in the air-to-ground role for which it was primarily designed, the F-35 is finally starting to come along.  The sensors and sensor fusion of the type are simply amazing.  Once the real meaty software comes out later this year – Block 3F – the type will have extremely impressive capabilities in finding, fixing, sharing, and prosecuting all manner of ground targets. In addition, the aircraft will have very advanced means to avoid both ground-based and airborne threats, all projected instantaneously on the pilot’s all-important helmet visor., with the threats appearing as 3-D volumes to be avoided. Thus far, capabilities are limited but all reports are that the F-35 will take visual spectrum, infrared, ultraviolet, and radio-frequency sensors, and the fusion of all the above, to the next level.

Whether all this will be enough to overcome its fundamental aerodynamic limitations, the shortfalls in other areas of US airpower, and to deal with the rising Chinese threat remains to be seen.  Whether it is worth the (falling but still) astronomical cost is infinitely debatable.  But, unfortunately, due to policy decisions of three different presidential administrations, it is now the only game in town (whereas, had the F-22 been kept in production, as it should have been, the types could have been competitively evaluated and the best – the F-22 – chosen) and it would be 10-15 years, minimum, to field a replacement.  If it turns out to be a turkey, we’ll be stuck with it.  Cancellation really isn’t an option at this point, the Marines and Air Force are nearly utterly dependent on this type.

More than likely, what will happen is that US crews will make it work, and work well, warts and all.  It’s just what they do.  And hopefully sanity will prevail and the F-35 won’t ever have to come up against a serious competitor.

Now for airplane video pr0n.  Check out how much the F-35 resembles the F-22 on approach:

I don’t know what the Air Force was thinking with these new velvetine looking crew sweaters.  They look awful.

Taking off.  That 43,000 lbst engine makes terrific noise:\

As I said, Red Flag brings a wide variety of participants. There are Navy and Marine F-18s and EF-18s and British Typhoons from a squadron I am hoping someone will identify. Video courtesy 99th ABW PAO:

See what I mean by those velvetine sweaters?   WTH?  As if people in other branches didn’t make fun of Air Force softness enough, now they have to look like a stuffed animal?

And now for something a bit different – an awesome 360 degree video from inside the cockpit of the Boeing T-X entry’s first flight.  External view in the second video.  I wish it had come out with more F-23 in it as originally planned.  Looks more like a shrunken Super Hornet.

I like Boeing for the win in this large program.  The only real competition left is Lockheed since Raytheon has already bailed and it seems Northrop Grumman isn’t real serious about it.  Lockheed’s only advantage might be price, but will a Trump administration buy hundreds of new jets largely fabricated in Korea?  Doubt it.

That’s it.  Enjoy your much belated Flightline Friday.



1. Richard Malcolm - February 3, 2017

The Marines extracted all the greatest compromises, and they’ll also do the best out of this: the F-35 is going to be a massive upgrade over the Harrier. For their needs, it should do fine. They’re pleased with it for good reason.

Otherwise, one hopes a hard lesson has been learned about the dangers of trying to insist on cramming too many missions into one platform. Among other things.

Tantumblogo - February 3, 2017

Absolutely. Hey, good on the Marines and their extremely able political lobby, they forced a design on two larger users/services. They got exactly what they wanted and obtained their long-denied dream – a supersonic STOVL type. Everyone else has to suck hind tit but that’s how it goes. Good for them, maybe not the the USA.

Richard Malcolm - February 4, 2017

Agreed all around, Tantum.

2. DM - February 3, 2017

Is there any possibility at all the F-22 program could be resurrected and more built in the future? It’s easily the most incredible aircraft I’ve ever seen perform in person.

Tantumblogo - February 3, 2017

Very unlikely. Rebuilding the airframe itself would not be hard, the tooling still exists, but the entire production base for everything else – from hydraulic connections to the internal supercomputer to the radar transmit/receive elements – has entirely evaporated. It would cost tens of billions to reconstitute that, and some of it would literally be like trying to go back in time. Some pieces would have to be redesigned to take advantage of what is available now.

It is possible, just highly unlikely. But if there is enough money and will, it could happen. Just don’t hold your breath.

Richard Malcolm - February 4, 2017

At this point, we’d really be better off trying to generate a new design than resurrect the F-22 (which is maintenance intensive anyway). Preferably one not intended for so many missions.

But it’s going to be ludicrously expensive no matter what until the procurement process is reformed.

3. Brian E. Breslin - February 4, 2017

Merry Christmas, all. Love , Tantum!
Thanks, Tantum, you made this old squid’s weekend.

4. Xopher - February 4, 2017

Ahh…Air Force nostalgia! Those green fleeces are standard cold weather issue for the ABUs, and they’re actually pretty nice. I still have mine. Thanks for the eye candy!

5. Camper - February 5, 2017

Does the Red Flag exercise feature foreign aircraft or units? It sounds like an entirely American affair. Initially you made it sound like even hostile countries were welcome to field their stuff.

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