Sunday, November 03, 2019

Is the F-35 concept of concept of operations in air to air combat hopelessly flawed?

via National Interest.
Oriented as a multirole platform, the F-35 is slower and less maneuverable than preceding fourth-generation fighters it will eventually replace, or the air-superiority oriented F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. While more focused as an air-to-ground platform, the Lightning is intended to defeat more agile opposing fighters by detecting and engaging them beyond visual range (BVR) with air-to-air missiles, while hopefully avoiding a within-visual range (WVR) dogfight where it may be detected and out-maneuvered.

However, to some critics this sounds worrisomely similar to how the U.S. military envisioned its F-4 Phantom performing in the Vietnam War.

 The F-4 Phantom (profiled in greater detail in this article) was a huge beast of a plane with two powerful J79 turbojet engines that could propel it up to two times the speed of sound, and a then-powerful radar housed in its nose. The Phantom was armed with new medium-range AIM-7D and E Sparrow medium-range missiles, as well as short-range AIM-9 Sidewinders AIM-4D Falcon heat-seekers.
The Air Force expected the Phantom would detect aerial adversaries from dozens of miles away, swoop down towards them at supersonic speeds and take out its foes with Sparrow missiles from up to twenty-eight miles away. Short-range dogfights were simply not intended or trained for, as the Phantom was not a particularly maneuverable bird.
Needless to say, this was not how things played out when U.S. fighters encountered North Vietnamese MiG-17 and MiG-21 jets over Vietnam. Though the much lighter MiG-21 had only a weak radar, its pilots were guided to intercept American raids by ground controllers, per Soviet doctrine. Also, American rules of engagement forbade opening fire until enemy aircraft had been positively identified—usually within visual range.

When the U.S. fighters finally did get a chance to open fire, the faulty Falcon and Sparrow missiles achieved kill probabilities below 10 percent. The shorter-range Sidewinders were somewhat more effective with 15 percent kill rates, but getting into an advantageous position to launch the heat-seekers often involved getting into knife-fighting range with the nimble MiGs. The kill-loss ratio of the more expensive U.S. jet fighters in general fell as low as 2:1 in certain phases of the Vietnam War.

Over time, the U.S. Air Force and Navy adjusted by fielding improved Sparrows and Sidewinder missiles, and retiring the older AIM-4 Falcon. Later, cannon-armed F-4E Phantoms were deployed, giving pilots a backup weapon in close range fights. Meanwhile, the Navy responded by forming the Top Gun school to teach naval aviators short-range dogfighting skills—lessons which resulted in the Navy Phantom pilots scoring a superior kill-ratio.

Ultimately, designers of the new generation of F-15 and F-16 fighters made sure to incorporate cannon armament and excellent maneuverability, as well as high speed and advanced avionics in the Phantom’s successors.

While today’s F-35 is intended to operate using long-range missiles and powerful radar, it trades the Phantom’s speed (the Lightning is considerably slower, with a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 to 1.8) for a reduced radar cross section that will make it very difficult to detect and engage with long range sensors and weapons. Thus, while the Air Force concedes the F-35 is at a disadvantage in a close encounter with say an Su-35, in theory it should detect that Su-35 from further away, launch missiles at it from dozens of miles away, and then hi-tail it.
Story here and well worth the read. 

I was thinking two things when I read this article.  Spudman (a reader here that I appreciate) often talks about how the F-35 will operate as designed. He goes on to talk about how testing at Red Flag shows how powerful the plane is and how its concept is being validated.

Then I thought about the US Navy F-18 that tied it up with a Syrian SU-22.  I remember how the pilot got into a text book perfect firing position, how he toggled the switch to lock on with his Sidewinder and how it would lock (or something like that...can't recall exactly).  That Super Hornet driver then backed off and setup for a AIM-120 shot and put the enemy into the ground.

Do you remember that story?

That story along with this article has me wondering.  What happens when we tangle with a well trained air force, operating high tech aircraft and the sky is filled with trons?

What happens when there is no choice but to get in close.

Will the F-35 be good enough?

No comments :

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.