Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Naval Strike Aircraft Conundrum. A Proceedings Article.

Until I get permission from my reader to post his name crediting him with pointing me to this article, it will remain unknownThanks to Andrew for giving me the link to this article!
Averting the Navy's Tactical Aircraft Crisis
The U.S. Navy is facing a serious shortfall in its strike-warfare capability. What aircraft are in its future?By Ensign Anthony C. Robinson, U.S. NavyProceedings Magazine - June 2013 Vol. 139/6/1,324We cannot afford to wait any longer before our fighters-most of which were acquired during the Cold War-become worn out beyond repair. At the moment, the Navy is buying the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and developing the F-35C Lightning II. However, with sequestration taking effect, the service does not have enough money to afford both and must make some very tough decisions. So which of these aircraft should the Navy buy? First, let's be clear that when talking about fighters, the costs given for aircraft can be measured in several ways. There is the procurement cost, which is the total price of the aircraft, Then there is the flyaway cost and several other measures that often have different names and different prices for the same aircraft since they include or exclude certain factors. For the purpose of this analysis, we will use only the flyaway cost, which is also called the "per-unit cost." It values the aircraft at its marginal cost, including only the price of production and production tools immediately accruing to the building of a single unit.
 1 It excludes prior costs such as research and development (treating these as sunk costs), supplementary costs such as support equipment, or future costs such as spare parts and
F-35A Is Cheap; F-35C, Not So Much
When discussing the price of the F-35 series, many proponents of the program will be quick to provide the costs for the cheapest version, the F-35A for the Air Force, which is said to be $107 million. The version for the Navy, the F-35C, currently is estimated at $186.5 million, which is extremely high. By comparison, the Super Hornet costs $66.9 million, meaning that for every
F-35C the Navy purchases it could also have purchased 2.8 Super Hornets.  In fact, it could replace every legacy Hornet in the inventory with a Block II, add an extra squadron of Block IIs to all carrier air wings, add a new carrier air wing, and still save money by sticking with Super Hornets and choosing not to buy the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The crucial question here is whether or not the F-35 delivers the amount of capability that it costs.  Those same proponents of the F-35 program also will be quick to mention that when the aircraft enters full-rate production, the unit price will supposedly drop to $100 million for all models. This is far from the truth. The concept of mass full-rate production being used to create a low-cost
fighter was based on a business plan that focused on the fighters having enough common parts with their sister variants, roughly 80 percent, that mass-producing them would be easy. That plan has already failed at the design stage. The engineers for Lockheed Martin, the maker of the F-35, ran into several problems and had to account for them by modifying the design of
each one extensively. What they eventually ended up with was a design that shared only 20 to 30 percent common parts. Each of them is now essentially a different aircraft. Unit costs for the Navy version, the carrier-based F-35C, have skyrocketed. The reason is that there are terrible design flaws in the F-35C that cannot be fixed without excessive amounts of money that will not be available in the new fiscal environment. The flaws have made little progress toward being fixed. The F-35C as of yet is unable to be used in combat and is not even
able to adapt to the carrier environment. 
Three Problems with the Navy JSF The F-35C has not been able to overcome three major problems. The first is that it cannot land on a carrier, which is an absolute necessity. The designers of the F-35 placed the tailhook too close to the rear landing gear. As a result, the landing gear presses down the wire, and the hook merely scrapes over it instead of catching it. The JSF team has designed a sharper hook point to compensate for this. However, the improvement is not good enough. The wire caught the hook only a few times during the tests, which is not satisfactory. To solve the problem the F-35C airframe would need to be stretched, destroying any commonality left with its sister
variants and causing yet another drastic increase in the price. The second problem is the difficulty of keeping the stealthy materials maintained at sea. Lockheed Martin has failed to prove that the stealth materials of the F-35 will not corrode away if they take a beating at sea.
These materials are extremely expensive and difficult to maintain as they are now. If this problem is not fixed it would drastically drive up the cost of maintenance for an F-35C fleet.
The last problem is the most pressing and most difficult, which is also found in the other two JSF models. The F-35s have 24 million lines of software code that is extremely difficult to test and is as complicated as anything on earth. Nearly 10 million lines of code are needed on board the jet. These software lines are needed for the JSF capabilities that Lockheed
Martin has promised. By comparison, the Boeing-built F/A-18E/F Super Hornet has about 4 million lines of software code with only 1.5 million lines of it being on board the aircraft.

Four Things Right with the Navy JSFThe F-35C currently holds four main advantages over the Super Hornet Block II: longer unrefueled range, infrared (IR) scanning cameras, a powerful IR sensor in the nose, and stealth. Boeing has attempted to even these out by making an upgraded Super Hornet called the International Road Map, which is essentially a Super Hornet Block III with a different name.
This Block III has a set of conformal fuel tanks that add a combined 3,500 pounds and bring the F/A-18E/F's internal fuel load to 18,450 pounds, not too far away from the 19,750 pounds on the F-35C. The Block III also features IR scanners that cover the entire area of the aircraft and a new internal IR search-and-track sensor built under the nose. This gives the jet
missile-warning capabilities similar to the F-35. The Super Hornet Block III still uses the standard Joint Helmet Mounted Queuing System, which is relatively simple and provides information at high speed.  To increase the level of stealth, Boeing made a stealthy enclosed weapon pod that can be mounted under the fuselage or under the wings. Each pod has a
stealthy shape and can hold two AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs) and two bombs, a similar payload to the F-35's internal weapon bays. Boeing attempted to do a similar type of change to the F-15 and created the Silent Eagle, which has stealth-reducing features such as reshaping of the body, radar-absorbent materials, and an angled active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Their radar testing showed
significant reductions in radar cross section (RCS), and from the frontal aspect of the Silent Eagle the RCS was close to matching a stealth aircraft. The Super Hornet airframe already features some extensive radar-signature-reduction features, such as stealth shaping, radar-absorbent materials added in crucial areas, heavy use of composite materials, and the
aforementioned angled AESA radar. The removal of external stores with the weapon pod will provide a significant increase in stealth that may not equal that of the F-35 from every aspect but will definitely make a great difference. Included in these improvements are a glass cockpit display similar to the F-35's and upgraded engines that have increased thrust by 20 percent.
In short, the Super Hornet Block III, if fully developed, will be nearly as good as the F-35 series was meant to be, and it will have a price cheap enough for us to produce in vast numbers to not only fill our fighter gap, but also have greater flexibility for all of our forces around the world. The Block III could easily replace the legacy Hornet fleet and fulfill all the roles the Navy currently performs. The great thing about these upgrades is that they can also be retrofitted on the Block II aircraft the Navy currently operates.
The Trouble with SAMs Many proponents of the F-35 program will also quickly claim that stealth is absolutely necessary to survive in the environment of future conflicts, but the advantage to the warfighter is slowly eroding away with time. Our potential enemies have been able to make surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries with longer ranges that could prevent our forces from accessing
their area. These new SAM batteries also have the ability to be networked to form an integrated air-defense system that could pose a considerable threat. To defeat it, the Navy does not need stealth technology but better jammers and an upgraded version of our current weapon that is often used to kill enemy SAMs with ruthless efficiency: the AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missile. Russia and China have been able to develop new and better SAMs, such as the S-400 and the HQ-19, both of which have ranges that exceed 200 miles.
It is important to note that if an aircraft has a certain level of stealth, then it would greatly
decrease the range that an S-400 or HQ-19 could detect it. This does not change the fact that these SAMs are still a major problem. The current way to answer this problem is putting money toward stealth. Unfortunately, the SAMs are not the only problem, as advances in counter-stealth technology-such as networked multi-band radar systems and long-range
infrared search-and-track (IRST) sensors-are slowly reducing the advantage stealth brings to the warfighter. Hypothetically speaking, the stealth on the Block III Super Hornet decreases
the range that an S-400 or HQ-19 could detect it to 100 miles. Current AGM-88s have a speed of mach 2. An upgraded AGM-88-type anti-radar missile with a speed equal to or greater than mach 5, a range of over 120 miles, and a size that is small enough to fit inside the stealthy weapon pods on the Block III could very easily allow Super Hornet pilots to lock onto enemy S-400s or HQ-19s the moment they turn on their radar. The time from launching the missile to
killing the SAM from a distance would be short if the missile had enough speed. A missile of this type is well within our technological capability. For example, an AMRAAM (also made by Raytheon, like the AGM-88) has a top speed of mach 4. New AESA radar modules that could be made for passive detection would make the AGM-88 extremely precise. This new AGM-88-type missile would also force SAMs to fire at the targeted aircraft from longer ranges if
they want to survive. This would give the targeted aircraft more time to employ jammers, countermeasures, and, if available in the environment, terrain masking to avoid getting hit.
This combination of Super Hornet Block IIIs and upgraded AGM-88s would be cheap to use, easy to operate and maintain, and would provide great capability that can defeat our current and projected SAM threats, as opposed to buying a few expensive and problematic F-35Cs of questionable capability. Because SAMs are advancing quickly it would be much better to focus on the more aggressive approach of finding and destroying them rather than the passive approach that involves sneaking around them with stealth. The conclusion is simply this: What the Navy needs is not simply the best aircraft in the world or simply a stealth aircraft. It needs superior ordnance and an aircraft that is better than those of our potential enemies,
good enough to get the job done, and able to be made in large enough numbers to be flexible in tactics. The Super Hornet Block III fits this mold down to the letter. The F-35C does not even come close.
Stuck with the F-35
However, the Navy is not able to end its involvement in the F-35 program even if it wanted to. The F-35's eight international partners-the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Italy, Turkey, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands-are losing patience and becoming increasingly alarmed by the trends in the program. Heavy pressure to keep our allies satisfied is one of
the motivating factors that have kept the U.S. Navy in the program. Recent statements by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert made it clear the Navy was not going to end involvement in the program. "It has to be integrated into the air wing," said the admiral. He went on further to note that "If we bought no -Cs, it would be very detrimental to the overall
program" and to international partners. It has become common to hear, admirals say in public statements that the Navy "needs the F-35C," but it has become uncommon to hear any admiral praise the aircraft. Those leaders also never address why the Navy needs the F-35C, and it is clear from public documents that the Navy's needs are not met by the F-35C. As one article notes, "It is now fair to say that Navy budget spending for the Joint Strike
Fighter is now more important to the Department of the Air Force and the, Department of State than it is for the Department of the Navy, because it is more important for the National Security Policy of the United States for the F-35A to be affordable to multinational partners than it is for the F-35C to fly off U.S. Navy aircraft carriers."  

So what should the Navy do now that it is stuck in the F-35 program? The best answer is for it to replace all its C-model orders with A models.  If the Navy is going to make any F-35 purchases, then the best option would be to make the one that would be the most effective at lowering the price for our allies at the cheapest cost to us. The F-35A is that purchase.  Apart from that, an F-35A is roughly $79.5 million dollars cheaper than an F-35C.
For every F-35C order changed to an F-35A we could buy a full Super Hornet and still save about $12.6 million. The cheaper the A model becomes the more money the Navy saves. This would allow the Navy to save money and purchase more aircraft that are usable as well as keep its commitment to make the F-35A affordable for our international partners. Some may ask what the Navy would use the A model for. The truth is that it does not really matter at
this point. This is the best answer to the Navy's crisis as well as that of the Department of State and should be implemented immediately.
Uh.  Wow.


  1. "Uh. Wow." is right. Whoever wrote that article is one clueless motherfucker. I guess it escaped his attention that the F-35A can't operate off a carrier.

    1. no. he's well aware of that. what he's saying is that the Navy has no need for the airplane so just do what the State Dept wants and buy the cheapest model possible to satisfy them and to rely on the F/A-18 for real combat missions.

    2. The F/A-18 is lacking even today. God help it 30-40 years down the road when the F-35C will still be in service.

    3. Also, how is buying aircraft you can't even use (F-35As) cost effective? It boggles my mind that an article such as this could be written, let alone taken seriously by anybody.

    4. Proceedings is one of the Navy mags that fosters discussion. even discussion that goes against the leadership. for rabid individuals it will seem either a God send or stupid beyond reason. the middle is where the battle is being fought and the cost issue is helping the F-35 lose that battle.

    5. Yep, know all about Proceedings. Been reading it for nearly 30 years. It has some great stuff, some utterly retarded bullshit, and everything in between. Overall, I like it.

    6. He hits all the "stupid points" Compares LRIP cost to current F-18 cost, completely ignores the cost to upgrade to block III standard. and ignores the increased cost that Block III Hornets will accrue. People in the know have set the cost of a Block III Super at $100 million +

  2. Instead of wasting money to buy a C variant (or changing the carrier deck), you get a Super Hornet and the Air Force gets a free A model essentially... In 30-40 years the stealth advantage of the JSF will have been surpassed making it just as useless. Why not buy more SH's now, which are needed, and bank on UCASS which is the future anyways?

  3. Boeing put the Silent Eagle up for grabs in a couple of international competitions. S. Korea was one I think. It boggled my mind then why they didn't take it. It feels like they're hiding something here. If you can get an updated F-15 or F-18 with 75-90% of the F-35s features for a fraction of the cost why would you not take it???

  4. You must have missed the part about the F-15SE (sans the canted tails) costing nearly as much as the F-35A during the bidding and that ALL THREE bidders were over the price cap.

    The whole “costs a fraction of” only works if the fraction is 9/10ths.

    1. Yeah, I guess I did, I was just going off what was said in the article posted.

    2. Why would he mention the Silent Eagle at all? "Boeing also has the Strike Eagle..." Which has never been built as a ground up aircraft even in prototype form and is vaporware. They have built a mock up and some CFTs for testing. thats it. He is either ignorant or trying to mislead. If the Silent Eagle is a demonstration of Boeing Prowess the F-35 must be even better as they have already built 60+

      I wrote better papers in high school.

      Stupid butter bar is stupid.

    3. the guy stepped into the arena, put forward valid points and all you can do is call him a stupid butter bar?


      grow a pair like he did, step out from behind the 'anonymous' label and tell us how you feel and what you think. otherwise spend the rest of the day digging sand out of your clit and tell mommy i was mean to you.

    4. @SpudmanWP why on earth would a Silent Eagle cost as much as F-35A?? Not saying you're wrong, but that doesn't make sense to me.

    5. LOL you are such a grown up Sol. If you want I will start using a signature so you will know its me everytime, but I don't do face book or Gmail accounts

      @steven: An F-15K was $105 million just a couple years ago. There is no prodcution F-15SE to compare to, not even an LRIP. But suffice to say that an F-15SE with all the promises is going to be plenty expensive. Canada put the cost of a production F-35A at 88 million.


    6. negative dumbass. take all the shots you want at me. that's cool and i kind of like the drama. but to attack the author of this article is out of bounds. don't do that and you can stay in the dark for all i care. oh and you're right i am a grown up. the difference is when you try and punch i'll punch back. so climb down off your civility horse, you're a sanctimonious, pompous, arrogant, ill mannered son of a bitch ----and the back peddle you attempted is bullshit.

    7. Dont horry Solomon...they are all liers and stupid people...
      From wikipedia«Unit cost has been estimated by Boeing at approximately US$100 million, including spares and support»-So those more or less 100 million INCLUDE SPARES AND SUPORT...
      There is a lobby to kill the F-15 Se ...also from wiki «Diplomatic Sources reported that on 6 July 2010, in a face to face meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked U.S. President Obama to expedite the export of the "stealth F-15E" but received no reply.[21]»
      As for the JSF«In February 2011, the Pentagon put a price of $207.6 million on each of the 32 aircraft to be acquired in FY2012, rising to $304.15 million ($9,732.8/32) if its share of RDT&E spending is included.[45][46]»
      As for the price of the F-15K remmenber was half build in the USA with lot of compoments built and assembled in Korea...that why they were so expensive

  5. "back peddle you attempted is bullshit."



  6. I have no problem if you want to mention that I bought it to you. (That is if my link was the one you read anyway.) I personally think the guy that wrote this is completely right and I think his plan would save the Navy a lot of money.

    I would also like to know what you think of the idea of the Marine Corps taking his idea as well and simply replacing all their F-35B orders with F-35As.

    1. i like the money saving aspect of it if he's right. i'm intrigued by the idea that the SUper Hornet with conformal fuel tanks approached the carriage of fuel by the F-35 and i like the thought that almost everything we'd get out of the F-35C can be bought with MUCH less money by switching to the SUper Hornet.

      my thing is that even if he's actually spot on about the State Dept involvement then there is no off ramp.

      the other allies that are to buy the F-35B are being subsidized by the Marine Corps and we can't get out of it because it would cause foreign buyers prices to rise.

      we're stuck in a terrible spot and i don't know how to get out of it. the most annoying part of all of this is that the Marine Corps propaganda machine was fully utilized to save the F-35 but put on the shelf for Marine specific progams like the EFV, ACV, MPC and even the AAV upgrade. we're getting raped by a program we pushed for. the irony isn't lost on me.

    2. Block II hornets are 67 million. A Block III Hornet will take 3 billion in development, Boeing has already spent 500 million on its own. The engines alone will take 1 billion dollars to develop. (note, they are not developed)

      There is a huge difference between a powerpoint presentation and a mock up. The R&D and procurement cost, that is then applied to a very small number of Super Hornets is going to make them more expensive than a full production F-35 of any variant, and it won't be as capable. The more bells and whistles that are on there, the more it costs. And a Block III will have a CFTs, Pods, IRST, new engines, HMQS, etc.


    3. You've got to be kidding me. The figures that are offered on the Super Hornet Block III indicate it will be around $90 million dollars per unit, which is still half that of the F-35C. Aside from that, comparing the costs to upgrade the Super Hornet to making an actual combat ready F-35 and you'll realize that the Super Hornet is still a bargain anyway. The problems with the F-35C are inexcusable and expensive to fix.

      On top of that he never mentioned that the USN should upgrade all of the Super Hornet Block IIs to the Block III. The USN could simply upgrade a portion of them. Added capability at a cheap price without losing the basics already in play.

    4. Solomon, I sincerely hope the USMC finds a way out of it. I think they could benefit from replacing their F-35C orders with Super Hornets and their F-35B orders with F-35A's. That way they could use both and not lose any capability.

      You're probably going to hate me when I say this, but I was completely against the F-35 when it failed to catch wires the first time. When it turned out to be a total flop I was one of those Navy guys that was laughing at the USAF, USMC, and allies. My laughing stopped when I realized that it was going to consume the budgets of all our cooperative services and hamper our ability to provide many other capabilities we need. I thought sequestration would kill the F-35, but congress took away other valuable programs and veterans benefits with it instead. I really don't see anyway out of the F-35 program unless all of our allies pull out of it together or some divine act of God happens.

  7. If the USNavy will buy some F-35 to save the program any way, better to buy some F-35B. It will be use by the USMarines, British and problably Italians, Koreans, Japanese, etc. In the meantime untill the F-35B become fully operational one day, they should built more Ultra Hornets and X-47B to do the same job.


    1. Lockheed Martin and the USAF closed the deal for the fifth batch of F-35A's at $107 million. Whether they gave the USAF a special discount or not is unknown, but we do have the records saying that the USAF was able to buy F-35A's in 2012 for $107 million a piece.

    2. Lockheed Martin is under so much pressure to drive down the price it ain't funny. they see the writing on the wall. even this might not save the project. lets be honest here. and some aren't gonna like it but i'm just being honest. we were told that we'd get a price substantially lower than that.

      if they had kept there promises i'd be looking at shiny new MPCs and ACVs sitting in Marine Corps ramps. instead the reality is stark.

      sequestration is coming. the Republicans no longer give a damn, the Democrats hate the military and the services have turned off their normal support among veterans.

      they made their bed, they made the choices and i don't feel sorry for them one bit. this Pentagon is just one big legacy of failure. a total lack of moral courage and they're all just a bunch of ass kissing bureaucrats. the whole lot of the them can suck on .45's for all i care.

      the F-35 program will be cut this fall because the Congress will NOT repeal sequestration. that's a fact. so this big decrease in price is just a tease. it means nothing. the reality is that the death spiral is here.


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