Saturday, June 23, 2012

Young Money

Sure has a lot of shitty artists.

Round holes

I've often complained about why F-35s are no good for Canada, so I'm finally going to write a post about it. And I'm going to write under the best-case assumption that it does everything it's supposed to. And all things considered, it's still a square peg.

Here's the thing about F-35s, people look at it, compare it to something like an F-22: they're both 5th gen stealth fighter aircraft, and then conclude that they are meant to perform the same roles. People assume that we pay more and shrink the fleet size for a plane that is better at defending our air space.

(The F-35 airframe was based off of the Raptor airframe, accounting for some similarity in appearance)

But that is not the trade-off. F-22s and F-35s are not similar planes, they weren't designed to be. F-22s were designed to be air-superiority (or as some marketing guys like to call it, air-dominance) planes while F-35s are what people like to term "multirole" fighters.

What this actually means is you don't want to go against other fighters if you can help it.

That's because designing a plane for missions like strike (i.e. air-to-ground) adds weight, weight, weight. If you want an idea of how much, an F-15E is about 2000kg heavier than an F-15D. That is huge in the domain of high performance aircraft. Most of it goes towards strengthening the airframe for heavy ordnance payloads. Affectionately (or sometimes not so affectionately) we can call it a "bomb truck".

Of course most nations cannot help it, because there are limited amounts of money to buy airplanes with: not enough for a separate fleet of pure-blooded air superiority fighters. F-16s are cheap, that's why they are popular. The problem is that F-35s are not cheap, they are extremely expensive. You're buying a next-gen F-16 for $120-170M/pop. What bang does that extra buck buy?

The flight envelope of an F-35B is reportedly comparable to that of an F/A-18 (4th gen multirole fighter). It has a bit more power in some maneuvers and an A model will be a bit more agile but the performance difference will not be huge.

It is stealthy but it is stealthy with caveats; an F-22 has all-aspect very-low-observability (VLO), the F-35 does not. It is mostly stealthy in the front and somewhat stealthy from the side. The American versions will be slightly stealthier than export versions. Of course if the afterburners go on, it's not stealthy. If it's not flying clean, it's not stealthy. It's also important to note that all 4.5 generation fighters have radar cross-section reduction features, especially from the front, even if it's not outwardly apparent. For instance, a F/A-18E Super Hornet is harder to detect than a F/A-18C even though it is bigger and looks like basically the same plane to the casual observer.

It has a very good AESA radar but F/A-18E/Fs also have very good AESA radars. The advantage is that the F-35 will be able to conduct electronic warfare missions with it and even purportedly "insert malicious code into enemy radar stations".

A big selling point of the F-35 is that it offers interoperability between nations, but realistically everybody will still be flying a diverse fleet of fighters into the far future. The USN (who by the way spend more money on aircraft procurement than the USAF) will be operating Super Hornets for the next 30 years; upgrading the RCAF to those planes instead will not necessitate such drastic changes in our support structures (which includes things like training pipelines and fleet tankers that are completely absent in public discussions but will obviously incur large costs beyond aircraft procurement).

So the F-35 is a strike aircraft with frontal low observability and electronic attack. What kind of mission does this lend itself to? Penetrating strike. Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses.

This is not something in alignment with Canadian strategy and interests.

The F-35's strengths are oriented for Day 1 strike in a war of aggression. Canada has no overseas colonies and only two notable neighbors (Russia and the United States); Day 1 strike is not a capability that we should be building towards. Super Hornets are more than adequate to exercise control over our airspace, can be purchased at less than half the price of F-35s, and are conflict tested.

Our CP-140s perform important roles in maritime patrol and interdiction but they are aging and people tend not to take notice. The extra money would go well towards purchasing P-8s and maybe even BAMS. These would be especially appreciated support for allies in conflict because maritime assets are always in demand and its ability to effectively persecute naval targets under and below the surface is invaluable.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Oh..I liked that piece

Kate Beaton's cover of course, is a nod to Jean-Honoré Fragonard:

Thursday, June 07, 2012