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The T-50 takes flight
August 18, 2011 1:18 AM   Subscribe

Watched by Vladimir Putin, the Sukhoi T-50, Russia's answer to the Raptor stealth fighter, has made its maiden public appearance at the MAKS 2011 air show near Moscow, after first flying in January 2010. Bearing a striking resemblance to the F-22, the Sukhoi T-50 has been developed in co-operation with India and is slated to become the backbone of Russia's airforce. While the F-22 first flew in 7 September 1997 and ceased production with just 187 aircraft ordered, Sukhoi director Mikhail Pogosyan hopes to build 1,000 T-50s for Russia's airforce and export. Despite its ageing engines, it is rumoured to have a range of a range of almost 3,500 miles, twice that of the F-22. What is believed to be China's 5th generation fighter, the J-20, is also under development.
posted by joannemullen (69 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is there a reason to still be putting the pilot inside the airframe?
Is pilot latency a bigger problem than the loss of manoeuvrability required to keep an on-board human alive?
posted by -harlequin- at 1:23 AM on August 18, 2011


There's no reason to have a pilot inside the airframe until there is. It should be pretty easy to come up with situations where that's the case. Fighting an enemy who can jam communications between a drone and the controller a thousand miles away, for example.
posted by Justinian at 1:28 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not sure I believe it, but this sprang to mind:
Zoran Kusovac, a Rome-based military consultant, said the regime of the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic routinely shared captured western equipment with its Chinese and Russian allies. "The destroyed F-117 topped that wish-list for both the Russians and Chinese," Kusovac said.
posted by Abiezer at 1:29 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, Entire U.S. Stealth Fighter Fleet Grounded
posted by homunculus at 1:32 AM on August 18, 2011


Ooh. Maybe there is no pilot on board, but the plane still has a cockpit and a mannequin wearing a full-face helmet, as a sophisticated anti-jamming ruse!
posted by -harlequin- at 1:33 AM on August 18, 2011


Ooh. Maybe there is no pilot on board, but the plane still has a cockpit and a mannequin wearing a full-face helmet, as a sophisticated anti-jamming ruse!

Also, they can use the HOV lane!
posted by dirigibleman at 1:35 AM on August 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sukhoi director Mikhail Pogosyan hopes to build 1,000 T-50s for Russia's airforce and export

And I hope to get a Ferrari for Christmas. Both our hopes will very likely be dashed, I'm afraid.

Pogosyan's position has been dubbed "world's worst aerospace exec job" by Flight International. Also, the second T-50 prototype was inexplicably grounded for four months this year. The program was officially started already ten years ago, and its roots go back to the last gasps of the Soviet Union.

This is typical weapons industry bluff: to justify the billions sunk in a dud program, the industry rolls out a barely-ready prototype, little more than a mockup. This, in turn gives a convenient excuse for military-industrial shills in an "enemy country" to freak out and start blaming the government for "leaving us undefended against this enemy threat" and lobby for more expenditure into the equivalent, cut-threatened dud program (in this case F-22 or F-35, choose your pick). If they succeed, this generates in turn a positive feedback for the now "indispensable" program in the first country. Repeat ad infinitum, while the industry laughs all the way to the bank...

Reality check: if the T-50 really was an imminent prospect, India, which is the main support for the program, wouldn't be currently shopping for another advanced fighter.
posted by Skeptic at 2:10 AM on August 18, 2011 [18 favorites]


Is there a reason to still be putting the pilot inside the airframe?

When your wireless communications are jammed, your kick-ass pilotless aircraft suddenly has the war fighting ability of a falling brick.

Whilst perhaps falling behind in the airframe race, the United States still enjoys some considerable advantages in the area of electronic warfare - and continues to engage in research to ensure that it remains that way.
posted by three blind mice at 2:12 AM on August 18, 2011


Reality check: if the T-50 really was an imminent prospect, India, which is the main support for the program, wouldn't be currently shopping for another advanced fighter.

The problem -- that program you linked to is for a mutlirole aircraft -- note that the competition is between the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale, both able to handle the air-air and air-ground roles. The T-50, like the F-22 is pure air-air, because hanging bombs on the wings wrecks both the stealth and the supercruise ability of the aircraft.

So, them buying the T-50 for the air superiority role, and this aircraft for the strike role, isn't implausible.
posted by eriko at 2:19 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


When your wireless communications are jammed, your kick-ass pilotless aircraft suddenly has the war fighting ability of a falling brick.

Have you considered multiethnic backup communications systems and autonomous operating modes.
posted by humanfont at 2:20 AM on August 18, 2011


multiple not multiethnic. We can hope our drones don't rely on autocorrect.
posted by humanfont at 2:22 AM on August 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


So, them buying the T-50 for the air superiority role, and this aircraft for the strike role, isn't implausible.

If India had unlimited funds, which it definitely hasn't. On the other hand, playing up India's role in the T-50 is a masterstroke of Pogosyan's, because it irks in turn India's and Russia's neighbour, China, ensuring that it pursues its own J-20 program, which, by the feedback mechanism I just mentioned, will be used to justify further funds for the T-50...
posted by Skeptic at 2:24 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there a reason to still be putting the pilot inside the airframe?

It's too windy outside the airframe.

Also, there is going to be a shitload of electronic countermeasure stuff happening if these aircraft are ever used as intended. Commanders want to be able to tell their pilots to execute Plan A before they take off and know that all of their pilots will execute Plan A or die trying, even if they lose contact with home and one another and have only visual contact with what might be Lahore or Albuquerque.
posted by pracowity at 2:26 AM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


your kick-ass pilotless aircraft suddenly has the war fighting ability of a falling brick.

You're trying to tell me computers don't know how to fly planes by themselves?
posted by Meatbomb at 2:29 AM on August 18, 2011


Concerning autonomous operating modes: when I was once allowed to 'fly' a training jet simulator the folks running it told me that they won't put the enemy planes in the air, because it'd be a short experience for me - the AI was pretty routinely shooting down regular fighter pilots.
The simulator ran on three 386DX40 processors (the graphics was generated independently).
It was in 1995, in Poland.
So I guess the main obstacle now is the reluctance to put an AI in control of so much destructive power.
posted by hat_eater at 2:30 AM on August 18, 2011


Is there a reason to still be putting the pilot inside the airframe?

I've expressed this opinion before (and been beaten about the virtual face and neck for it) but my feeling is that if a mission isn't worth using a real-live pilot for (and yep, putting them at risk) then maybe the mission ought to be rethought.

Lots of people seemed to think that drones killing enemies was preferable, since the end result was exactly what "we" desired, but I felt that this would possibly lead to situations where airstrikes would be ordered a bit too freely, as there was no risk to "our" pilots' lives.

Like playing poker with someone else's chips, there's a reason it's not allowed.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:31 AM on August 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


It was at an air show and there's no video? :( Poli-wonk, pinko liberal me says jet fighters are bad m'kay, but engineering nerd me loves 'em, and my inner six year old is all ♪zoom zoom zooma-zoo-zoom... up in the sky, I fly...♪
posted by adamt at 2:33 AM on August 18, 2011


Also, eriko, India already has its own Tejas fighter for the strike role, and it would anyway be a little disproportionate to buy 200 T-50s, as Pogosyan boasts, to provide air cover for just 126 MMRCAs (which can take care of themselves perfectly well anyway, thank you very much).

In short, Sukhoi will deliver its 1000th T-50 shortly after the Pakistan Air Force takes delivery of its third Porcine Air Squadron.
posted by Skeptic at 2:36 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Zoran Kusovac, a Rome-based military consultant, said the regime of the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic routinely shared captured western equipment with its Chinese and Russian allies. "The destroyed F-117 topped that wish-list for both the Russians and Chinese," Kusovac said.


My Serb friends tell me everyone joked about catching a million dollar American missile so they could be rich during the war. Obviously a joke, but I'm sure anyone would have sold one to improve their lot at that point. Certainly they had no loyalty to the country bombing them.
posted by michaelh at 2:38 AM on August 18, 2011


You're trying to tell me computers don't know how to fly planes by themselves?

They do, and I'd rather have a computer fly me from London to New York (including the takeoff and landing) than trust a couple of sleepy or tipsy retired air force pilots to do it, but a human pilot is a pretty good alternative system that might not be confused or damaged by wartime tactics that could make the other onboard systems crap out.

What they need, though, is dwarf pilots: less weight, smaller cockpit requirements, and maybe the possibility of using two dwarf pilots for every standard-sized pilot.
posted by pracowity at 3:35 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank goodness the Russians have come-through with a reasonable-enough threat to justify exempting the US military budget from the Super-Committee's automatic funding cuts! For a minute, I was afraid the Pentagon was actually going to have to share the pain.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:49 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is typical weapons industry bluff: to justify the billions sunk in a dud program, the industry rolls out a barely-ready prototype, little more than a mockup. This, in turn gives a convenient excuse for military-industrial shills in an "enemy country" to freak out and start blaming the government for "leaving us undefended against this enemy threat" and lobby for more expenditure into the equivalent, cut-threatened dud program (in this case F-22 or F-35, choose your pick).

This was so much more fun when it was the Space Race, but noooooo, everyone said we spent too much money on it, we have to stoooop.

Well, I hope ya'll are happy now.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:51 AM on August 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


multiethnic backup communications systems

"Computer, target that enemy plane."

"¿Que?"
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:57 AM on August 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


Like playing poker with someone else's chips, there's a reason it's not allowed.

You may wish it wasn't allowed, but there is certainly nobody prohibiting it. I doubt concerns about the morality of pilotless warfare are really driving the decision. More likely, it's a combination of technical challenges (keeping in mind that aircraft take decades to design and produce) and also perhaps a bit of irrational behavior as a result of lots of ex-pilots in leadership roles in many nations' air forces. The USAF practically had to be dragged kicking and screaming by policymakers into funding air-air drone programs.

Plus, I think the death-from-afar ship has sailed; is there really any less involvement by a drone pilot flying a plane by wire than there is an artilleryman who pulls a lanyard and sends a shell miles downrange and out of sight? I don't see much difference, and we've been doing the latter for well over a century. (Or for that matter, the missileer sitting in a hardened bunker waiting to launch an ICBM? We've had those for decades.)

Seems to me it's wishful thinking to imagine that the morality of remote control is going to stop anything once the technology is mature and has been available for long enough to build into a viable platform. It hasn't stopped us yet in many other areas.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:22 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


multiethnic backup communications systems
"Computer, target that enemy plane."
"¿Que?"


You must think in Russian. You cannot think in English, and transpose!

posted by ceribus peribus at 5:10 AM on August 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


We can hope our drones don't rely on autocorrect.

*fire missiles*

FIRE MESS HALLS

*fire missiles*

FEAR MOUSTACHE

*fire missiles*

FORE MOUNTAIN

*engage landing gear*

ENDANGER LIFEFORMS

--crash--
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:24 AM on August 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


Shutterbun: I've expressed this opinion before (and been beaten about the virtual face and neck for it) but my feeling is that if a mission isn't worth using a real-live pilot for (and yep, putting them at risk) then maybe the mission ought to be rethought.

Amen to that, but politics (and politicians) and generals prefer to fight wars as unevenly as possible.

If the body counts in Afghanistan or Iraq approached that of Vietnam, democracy would demand an end to it. As long as it remains where it is, then the tiny elite can continue to decide.
posted by three blind mice at 5:29 AM on August 18, 2011


They do, and I'd rather have a computer fly me from London to New York (including the takeoff and landing) than trust a couple of sleepy or tipsy retired air force pilots to do it, but a human pilot is a pretty good alternative system that might not be confused or damaged by wartime tactics that could make the other onboard systems crap out.

Patrick Smith is going to be pissed if he reads your comment.
posted by jessssse at 5:33 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Skeptic: . . . a convenient excuse for military-industrial shills in . . . to freak out and start blaming the government for "leaving us undefended against this enemy threat" and lobby for more expenditure into the equivalent, cut-threatened dud program (in this case F-22 or F-35, choose your pick). If they succeed, this generates in turn a positive feedback for the now "indispensable" program in the first country. Repeat ad infinitum, while the industry laughs all the way to the bank...

Absent the need for bomber escort (a mission that has in fact been absent for sixty years) the tactical mission of an "air superiority fighter" is to fight the other guy's "air superiority fighter" and the strategic mission of an "air superiority fighter" is to get the other guy to spend money building an "air surperiority fighter" to fight yours.

See also: Snoopy and The Red Baron.
 
posted by Herodios at 5:45 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Computer, target that enemy plane."

"¿Que?"


"Ugh - targetto el....antaganisto...oh give it to me, I'll do it"
posted by Sutekh at 6:29 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is there a reason to still be putting the pilot inside the airframe?

To push ctrl-alt-del when the computer locks up?
posted by 445supermag at 6:49 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Absent the need for bomber escort (a mission that has in fact been absent for sixty years) the tactical mission of an "air superiority fighter" is to fight the other guy's "air superiority fighter" and the strategic mission of an "air superiority fighter" is to get the other guy to spend money building an "air surperiority fighter" to fight yours.

No, most of our logistics is airborne these days. We need escorts for resupply. Also, it would be nice to have something to kill ground-attack aircraft.

I've expressed this opinion before (and been beaten about the virtual face and neck for it) but my feeling is that if a mission isn't worth using a real-live pilot for (and yep, putting them at risk) then maybe the mission ought to be rethought.

That bird flew the coop with the introduction of indirect fire artillery, or if you want to keep it modern, targeting torpedos. Modern torpedoes are self-reliant to find targets and kill them without any help from the sub - communication underwater is difficult, easily jammed or gives away your position. Cruise missiles are essentially unmanned bombers with exactly one bomb.

Anything that could happen to an aircraft that would bork the avionics to the point a human had to take over would simply kill the pilot, as it's all fly-by-wire these days, and the USA is very good at both automation and electronic shielding.

Drones are cheaper to build and run, faster, more maneuverable, easier to build landing strips for and don't result in a bodybag when shot down by the enemy.

Also, the new anti-aircraft and missile defense systems the US is working on are insane. It doesn't matter how maneuverable you are if the enemy has a ground-based laser trained on your munitions or fuel tank. Stealth is your only hope.'

So this is why the US doesn't much care that the Rooskies have a better stealth fighter. The US already has stealth drones capable of autonomous combat.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:55 AM on August 18, 2011


Absent the need for bomber escort (a mission that has in fact been absent for sixty years) the tactical mission of an "air superiority fighter" is to fight the other guy's "air superiority fighter" and the strategic mission of an "air superiority fighter" is to get the other guy to spend money building an "air surperiority fighter" to fight yours.

Its called air supremacy and winning that battle is 70% of winning a conventional war.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:11 AM on August 18, 2011


It's a shame they forgot to consult you guys...
posted by c13 at 7:19 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Its called air supremacy and winning that battle is 70% of winning a conventional war.

In all the armed conflicts of the last 30 years, exactly how many times an air-to-air weapon has been fired in anger? I suspect the number is in the lower double digits, if not even single digits. In any case several orders of magnitude lower than the number of times so-called fighters have dropped ordnance against ground targets.

The F-16 is a case in point. Nominally a multirole aircraft, and designed as a dogfighter, it has hardly engaged in any real air-to-air combat throughout its career, but mostly been used as a bomb truck.

The "air supremacy" F-15 has even suffered the indignity of being turned into the F-15E Strike Eagle to ensure its survival.
posted by Skeptic at 7:21 AM on August 18, 2011


I like weapons porn as much as the next guy but honestly the need for a massive fleet of fifth generation air superiority fighters is pretty damned low. The fighter jockeys might love having the next generation stuff but increasingly the mission is combined arms because the air battle is effectively "won" in the first couple of hours when the oppositions fighter fleet is destroyed or grounded.

The role for manned fighters in the current era is primarily a mixed role with close air support using guided munitions along with some air-to-air capacity. Yes the fighter you get is less awesome than a dedicated dogfighter but developing a fifth generation fighter is incredibly expensive and I'm just not sure the mission is really there for these guys. Unfortunately we seem to focused on purchasing the JSF which appears to be severely over cost for what we are getting.

Until a surging China or resurgent Russia really come anywhere close to parity in terms of military might I'm not really seeing a compelling reason to invest so heavily in the air superiority role when increasingly conflicts are fought at the small unit action level.
posted by vuron at 7:37 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


"... Modern torpedoes are self-reliant to find targets and kill them without any help from the sub - communication underwater is difficult, easily jammed or gives away your position. ..."

Eh, not always. Torpedoes like the current generation Mark 48 mod 7 on even the latest U.S. Virginia class attack subs can be, and generally are wire guided, as well as having pre-programmed autonomous target search abilities. Wire guidance allows the sub's much larger and more accurate hydrophone systems to control torpedo navigation and detonation more accurately in difficult conditions than the torpedoe's smaller sensors, operating in the relatively noisy environment of the torpedoe's gas operated engine, can do.

"Drones are cheaper to build and run, faster, more maneuverable, easier to build landing strips for and don't result in a bodybag when shot down by the enemy."

No operational U.S. UAV is faster that an F-22, and the piston/turboprop engine/propeller drives (and thus relatively slow landing and takeoff speeds) of our most commonly forward deployed UAVs are the reasons why they can operate from relatively short, unimproved air bases.

Two main reasons for continued U.S. reliance on manned jet fighters are the tactical needs for mid-air refueling by high performance aircraft, and the U.S. Navy requirement for carrier based aircraft operations, neither of which mission requirement has been easily solved by UAV designers. Supercruise capability, originally specified for F-22 and F-35 aircraft, was a design feature intended to significantly increase these aircraft's unrefueled tactical range, along with design improvements to increase the aircraft's full load, takeoff weight and fuel fraction. But very high speed supersonic operation as is needed in a tactical fighter is still very expensive, fuelwise; to achieve mission ranges in excess of 600 mile radius, with any significant portion of that done at high supersonic speeds, U.S. fighters, either manned or unmanned, will still need air-to-air refueling.

The U.S. Navy is not yet willing to risk its prime capital ships on UAV landing automation, especially in weather or at night. We're still the only Navy that conducts all-weather night carrier operations, because of the stress such operations create on air crews. Wearing U.S. Naval aviator wings still means you've demonstrated skills that no other pilots on Earth are required to have.
posted by paulsc at 7:45 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Its called air supremacy and winning that battle is 70% of winning a conventional war.

Air supremacy is not achieved via air superiority fighters.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:51 AM on August 18, 2011


Yes, but do the Russians have a basselope yet? I'm more worried about a potential basselope gap.
posted by azpenguin at 8:00 AM on August 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


In all the armed conflicts of the last 30 years, exactly how many times an air-to-air weapon has been fired in anger? I suspect the number is in the lower double digits, if not even single digits. In any case several orders of magnitude lower than the number of times so-called fighters have dropped ordnance against ground targets.

1000 air-to-air engagements in the Iran-Iraq war alone, so your guess is several orders of magnitude low.And all those air-to-ground attacks were also enabled by air superiority.
posted by Authorized User at 8:29 AM on August 18, 2011


We didn't win the cold war, we lost it.

To China.
posted by jamjam at 8:32 AM on August 18, 2011


Interesting they didn't copy the jet exhaust nozzles. I wonder if stealth nozzles maybe costs more money, thrust, etc. and maybe only protect the airplane when flying away from the radar. Or maybe stealth nozzles move the center of gravity forward of the aerodynamic center.

I've always been told that all modern fighters are inherently unstable anyways, and only flyable with computer aid, but perhaps the U.S. planes more so. And additional instability might impact range considerably.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:32 AM on August 18, 2011


"... Until a surging China or resurgent Russia really come anywhere close to parity in terms of military might I'm not really seeing a compelling reason to invest so heavily in the air superiority role when increasingly conflicts are fought at the small unit action level."
posted by vuron at 10:37 AM on August 18

There are two converging reasons for the U.S. to continue air superiority fighter development.

The first is simply that, as such fighters get greater operational requirements, design and development takes a longer time, even with vastly improved design technology. The fact is that leading edge air superiority fighters are now, more than ever, "extreme machines," where every part of the airframe, power plant, electronics, and weapons packages have to be tightly integrated to achieve conflicting goals such as performance and stealth, serviceability and combat survival, and speed and range. In WWII, several U.S. aircraft companies produced various simple propeller driven fighter aircraft programs with lead times measured in months. By the time of the Korean conflict, the development base for the F-86 jet fighter had stretched to several years, simply because, going in, no aircraft designer understood how to make aircraft control surfaces work well at supersonic speeds. Now, it seems to take a full decade or longer to field a generation of such fighter aircraft.

The second reason, converges with the first, but follows, also, from the "extreme machines" principal of such aircraft. The fact is that such aircraft may not last as long in service, despite much greater costs per aircraft, than their predecessors did. We've seen much earlier than forecast airframe degradation in our F-15 and F-16 fleets, to the point that most of our early F-15 airframe variants have long been mission restricted in terms of high G maneuvers, and this is now rapidly coming down into F-16 units operated by National Guard air units, after multiple deployments and thousands of mission in the Middle East, in the last 10 years, too.

To have the air assets our nation may need in future conflicts, we probably do need every J-35 we still have planned, as F-18, F-15 and F-16 airframes are forced out of service by age and fatigue. And given the development lead times and operational life of F-22 and F-35 variants that we're likely to face, we're already pretty late getting started with the follow-on aircraft that we'll need to replace F-22 and F-35s. As in, there are no large scale such development programs, now.

So here's hoping universal peace and love break out, uncontrollably, world wide, Real Soon Now.
posted by paulsc at 8:33 AM on August 18, 2011


We didn't win the cold war, we lost it

The "great" thing about a cold war is that it's never over, so we're still in this!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:37 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


That beastie looks a lot more like the YF-23 than it does an F-22...

the development base for the F-86 jet fighter had stretched to several years, simply because, going in, no aircraft designer understood how to make aircraft control surfaces work well at supersonic speeds

...and for those getting ready to object, the F-86 could indeed go supersonic in a dive and may have done so before the X-1.

Interesting they didn't copy the jet exhaust nozzles. I wonder if stealth nozzles maybe costs more money, thrust, etc. and maybe only protect the airplane when flying away from the radar.

IIRC the F-22's nozzles only move up and down, but the PAK-FA has full vectoring.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:41 AM on August 18, 2011



1000 air-to-air engagements in the Iran-Iraq war alone


a) the definition of an "air-to-air engagement" is exceedingly vague, and doesn't necessarily mean that a single weapon was filed;

b) isn't it strange that the only armed conflict for which you can find such numbers is the one in which both sides are very unlikely ever to provide any reliable figures? Besides, if this was true, the attrition rates would have been pretty high (especially if the Tomcat/Phoenix combo was as lethal as claimed in your link). And yet, even after that war, Saddam Hussein still had a very large air force, and even twenty years later, after 30 years of US sanctions, Iran still has serviceable F-4s, F-5s and F-14s. I call bullshit.
posted by Skeptic at 8:43 AM on August 18, 2011


Air supremacy is not achieved via air superiority fighters.

Air superiority fighters clear a path for the bombers. Historical example: the P-51 in an escort role.

Formal definitions:
Air Supremacy = your side can bomb enemy troops at will, their bombers are grounded
Air Superiority = able to get temporary air supremacy over parts of the battlefield
Parity = controlling the airspace above your own troops

Air battles have been rare because industrialized countries have rarely fought each other. Where they have been fought, they've mattered. e.g. if Israel had not gotten air supremacy in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War they almost certainly would have lost.


autonomous operating modes

We will get to the point where autonomous air superiority drones can dominate anything piloted (meat in a can just can't pull as many Gs) but I'd bet good money that the first generation AI will take down a passenger jet.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:43 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I doubt the U.S. would get involved in any serious air-to-air war involving countries like China and Russia or India. Or do you view the Tea party as our last best hope for convincing the world that we're as crazy as the Russians believed during the cold war?

And the cold war is definitely over B.B., ask the NEA, NASA, NSF, etc. All our current conflicts are either jockeying for resources, or simply arms subsidies, not ideological.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:46 AM on August 18, 2011


So, to summarize paulsc, the reasons we need "to continue air superiority fighter development" are:

1. Development time is long
2. Airframe lifetime is short

These points are probably true, but neither of these points indicate why we need air superiority fighter aircraft.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:49 AM on August 18, 2011


The truth of the matter is that the F-15E is expected to remain in service until at least 2025. So the Pentagon has deemed it sufficient for it's primary role. The F-22 is mainly phasing out the older F15C/D variants.

It's not as if we couldn't purchase brand new F-15E fighter with updated avionics ala the F-15K model or even invest in the stealth capabilities of the F-15 Silent Eagle. The F-15 is a proven plane which is comparable with most opposition aircraft.

The cost of flying new F-15E is a fraction of the cost of flying off a F-22 or a F-35 and realistically they should suit our purposes for the immediate future of the air superiority mission.

If the Chinese and Russians start pumping out fifth generation fighters like they are T-34 tanks then we could definitely ramp up production but currently this 'threat' of producing a thousand T-50 seems like wishful thinking on the part of a project manager. Until that point it just seems like we are throwing billions at a threat that might never materialize.
posted by vuron at 9:09 AM on August 18, 2011


"... neither of these points indicate why we need air superiority fighter aircraft."
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:49 AM on August 18

We need air superiority fighters, because if we only have air inferiority fighters when crucial moments of world conflict occur, we might be forced to the kind of foreign policy choices the French enjoyed through much of the 20th century.

"... The F-15 is a proven plane which is comparable with most opposition aircraft.

The cost of flying new F-15E is a fraction of the cost of flying off a F-22 or a F-35 and realistically they should suit our purposes for the immediate future of the air superiority mission.

If the Chinese and Russians start pumping out fifth generation fighters like they are T-34 tanks then we could definitely ramp up production but currently this 'threat' of producing a thousand T-50 seems like wishful thinking on the part of a project manager. Until that point it just seems like we are throwing billions at a threat that might never materialize."

posted by vuron at 12:09 PM on August 18

We know that both the Russians and Chinese are in development with F-22/F-35 like programs, and that both have the technological capability to produce such aircraft in the next 10 years, if they choose to do so, in some quantities. Supposing they get to F-22/F-35 stealth and performance levels with reasonable operational capabilities, I doubt any American pilot would be willing to fly any F-15 variant against them, as our top F-15 and F-16 pilots already know what that outcome would be like:
"Brenton (call sign "Gripper") has flown the F-16 for 20 years and has close to 4000 hours, including 750 hours of combat. He is also a former Weapons School instructor pilot at Nellis, the same program in which the 174th today is testing its mettle against the Raptor. He doesn't like to lose, but against the F-22 he has little choice. "Fighter pilots are competitive by nature. When the F-22 first became operational, most F-16 and F-15 pilots relished the challenge of going up against it," he says. "I know I did. That is, until I actually did it and discovered how humbling an experience it really was."

The F-22's manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, and the Air Force cite a 30:1 kill ratio between Raptors and their prey. That doesn't equate to one F-22 taking on dozens of enemies; the figure means that for every Raptor shot down, 30 opposing airplanes are expected to be killed. "The F-22 was not built to fight a fair fight," Brenton says."
Whether our F-22/F-35 fleet will achieve 1:1 or better ratios against their Sukhoi T-50/Chengdu J-20 variants will be the real question, if ever future conflicts call our capabilities into question.
posted by paulsc at 9:30 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


A lot hinges on the statement "if ever future conflicts call our capabilities into question."

Also it's amazing how common the argument "Oh, well we don't want to be like the French, right! Surrender! Ha Ha!" is. I'm just going to say that's not a good justification for a $70B development program and leave it at that.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:44 AM on August 18, 2011


There are two converging reasons for the U.S. to continue air superiority fighter development.

I appreciate what you're saying, and I think you're making good points, but all of this is predicated on the United States needing to fight other countries which also have fifth generation fighters. That is, I agree that if the United States will be fighting Russia or China or whatever, the United States needs fifth generation fighters. However, what I think people are disagreeing on is whether or not the United States will be fighting Russia or China in the near or even medium term future. All of these countries are nuclear powers, and there is no way to win a nuclear war.

Further, development and production of these aircraft is not free; they are actually quite expensive. There is, of course, the example of 1930's Italy, which poured massive amounts of money into military mobilization, only to run out of money. This meant that when World War II came along, the Italian air force had a large number of the finest biplanes in the world. The Italian army fought in North Africa in tankettes. Wartime military spending cannot be sustained.

History is full of examples of expensive weapons with long lead times: that basically describes navies for the past hundred years or so. Naval arms races were so incredibly expensive that countries ended up signing treaties because they realized that an unfettered battleship building spree would just bankrupt everybody involved.

I mean, if you really think that a 'hot' shooting war between the USA and Russia/China is coming up in the near future (which is something I would question), then, sure, pumping out 5th generation fighters is needed. But what if the next big one doesn't come around until everybody's using unmanned drones, and you've just spent all your money on 5th generation fighters?
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:45 AM on August 18, 2011


I agree vuron but the 1000 T-50s represents export projection. Yes, those number might even assume that some U.S. client sates will choose expensive T-50s over the free F-15s the U.S. gives away to keep our arms industry afloat. Yet, there is a much greater chance of fighting something once random dictators start buying them.

There is an even greater chance that some U.S. client state's F-15(E)s would get trounced by some non-client state's T-50s though. In fact, you might contemplate whether the exported T-50 and J-20 represent an economic move against the U.S. Would the U.S. give away free F-22s to its dictator buddies? lol

I believe the air superiority role could be best served by fully autonomous drone aircraft, i.e. a self-targeting long-range stealth missile programmed. You better make sure it'll avoid passenger aircraft though.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:48 AM on August 18, 2011


If there was a war with either China or Russia, air supremacy would be the last of our concerns. There's very little those fighters can do against ICBMs, or even a salvo of fast and/or stealthy cruise missiles.

Those air superiority fighters are the early-twentyfirst century equivalent of the early-twentieth-century dreadnoughts: sexy, hugely expensive, favoured by both the defence establishment and the industry, but ultimately pointless in real combat. The only impact the dreadnoughts had was to unleash a disastrous arms race between Germany and Britain, which was one of the main reasons of WWI. Not a good precedent.
posted by Skeptic at 10:12 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


That is, I agree that if the
posted by clavdivs at 10:14 AM on August 18, 2011


No operational U.S. UAV is faster that an F-22, and the piston/turboprop engine/propeller drives

The F-22 is currently grounded so it isn't exactly operational. We are in a time of very rapid innovation in drones. It seems crazy to pour money into more fighters when we seem to have enough today.
posted by humanfont at 10:15 AM on August 18, 2011


"... I mean, if you really think that a 'hot' shooting war between the USA and Russia/China is coming up in the near future (which is something I would question), then, sure, pumping out 5th generation fighters is needed. But what if the next big one doesn't come around until everybody's using unmanned drones, and you've just spent all your money on 5th generation fighters?"
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:45 PM on August 18

The Chinese probe Taiwan's air defenses regularly, as well as Japan's air defenses and South Korea's on lesser, but regular schedules. The Chinese have built a non-nuclear aircraft carrier, and the Indian navy has built some British style mini-carriers. If ever the Chinese think they can assert military control over Taiwan, without military reaction from the U.S., I think they probably will. If ever the Indians get in a snit great enough to contend U.S. basing rights in the region, we might be glad to be able to demur effectively, as it is a long way from the Middle East, to other friendly territory for U.S. aircraft and ships, if Diego Garcia is restricted from us.

I'd like to see us have military superiority we don't need to actually use, because it reinforces and makes more effective our diplomatic efforts around the world. But maintaining that kind of military edge is always going to be expensive, particularly when the technological stakes are constantly rising. Still, it's turned out to be less expensive, historically, than trying to "catch up" once hostilities are launched. And frankly, since the development of the jet engine, the rocket and the satellite, waiting to develop and build just the weapons you need, when you need them, has not been a realistic national military strategy. Weapons development and procurement cycles are too long, and the speed of escalation of conflict too great, to be able to avoid some level of the permanent military-industrial collusion Dwight Eisenhower warned us about.

Like it or not, we should be building the production stream of our 5th generation aircraft, and designing the 6th. And we should be thinking about replacing some long overdue components of our Air Force, like the B-52s, and in 15 years or less, the B-1s, unless we, as a nation, can honestly say we'll never again face a large scale military conflict, requiring heavy bombing.
posted by paulsc at 10:26 AM on August 18, 2011


"... There's very little those fighters can do against ICBMs, or even a salvo of fast and/or stealthy cruise missiles. ..."

posted by Skeptic at 1:12 PM on August 18

Actually, cruise missiles generally fly at subsonic speeds (to have enough range to be useful as military weapons), and have been used as live targets for air superiority fighter missile weapons tests. Those tests usually turn out like 15-0 in favor of the air-to-air missiles, which only fly 20 to 50 miles, maximum, but do so at supersonic speeds.

A few specialized late generation missiles, like anti-ship missiles, and ground to air missiles deployed in air defense systems now try to fly at least the end part of their missions at supersonic speeds, to try to improve penetration against anti-missile defenses. But supersonic flight is still a huge use of fuel, and shortens operational range and maneuverability tremendously.

As for ICBMs, I'm all for continuing treaty arrangements to limit and dismantle ICBM weapons. But part of what encourages the world to pursue a goal of minimizing ICBM weapons is the prospect that conflicts, if they must be fought, can be fought with lesser weapons. If that is true, however, each country that can economically do so, is going to seek the best weapons available to it, to maintain preparedness to fight such lesser lethality conflicts. If the ICBM treaty efforts eventually lead to wide ranging general disarmament treaties, I think that would be great, but some credit for such a success must be given to conventional weapons and arms taking the military mission load of standoff and preparedness, until future diplomacy makes that load unnecessary, if ever it does.

But right now, no such conventional arms limitation treaties are seriously being pursued, worldwide. Until they are, readiness is the prudent course, and continuing development and deployment the cost of remaining militarily superior.
posted by paulsc at 10:54 AM on August 18, 2011


paulsc: "If ever the Chinese think they can assert military control over Taiwan, without military reaction from the U.S., I think they probably will."

There are other reasons for them not to invade Taiwan: Taiwan's own military, not wanting to appear a bully in international affairs, not wanting to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, etc. Much easier for the PRC to let Taiwan gradually become so economically integrated with the Mainland that war would be beside the point.

/tangent
posted by jiawen at 11:31 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that if Taiwan/ROC really thought that China/PRC was going to attempt a military invasion (most people agree that the PRC lacks the amphibious sealift for such an endeavor, and there would be absolutely no US intervention, you would see more about the dismantled Taiwanese nuclear program; it is currently rated as a 'threshold nation'. However, generally, relations between the PRC and the ROC have generally improved.

Still, it's turned out to be less expensive, historically, than trying to "catch up" once hostilities are launched. And frankly, since the development of the jet engine, the rocket and the satellite, waiting to develop and build just the weapons you need, when you need them, has not been a realistic national military strategy.

Well, historically, most countries have kept a standing peacetime army, then cranked everything up in times of war. If you want to argue that the Cold War showed that it was absolutely necessary to keep a wartime military, with its wartime military spending, then I would question taking the Cold War as a norm. But history shows that sustained wartime spending bankrupts you. See the dreadnaught arms races.

World War II airplanes might have been laid out in a barn and constructed in months, but battleships have always taken enormous amount of resources, both time and money.

How long does it take to build a battleship? Japan began designs for what would eventually become the Yamato class in 1934. Yamato was laid down in 1937, launched in 1940, and was, of course, sunk by carrier aircraft in 1945, having only engaged in surface action once, against Taffy 3, a collection of destroyers, destroyer escorts, and escort carriers.

In other words, Japan spent a great deal of its limited money on constructing the most massive battleship ever built, with thick armor and the largest caliber guns afloat. It fired against surface targets once, and then was sunk by what turned out to be the next generation of surface vessels: aircraft carriers.

Was it stupid for people in the 1930's to want to build battleships? No. The aircraft of the 1930's had weaker engines, had more limited range, and carried lighter payloads. It was perfectly reasonable for some admirals at the time to think that they'd only be good to scout and pester the enemy, and would never deliver the sheer weight of metal that battleships could, at close range. And so people built battleships.

Similarly, the Italians with their tanks. Early 20th century tanks had pretty fast production cycles, right? In the 1930's, people weren't sure exactly how tanks were going to be develop. One idea that was en vogue at the time was that the best way to employ tanks would be to essentially give each person or couple of people their own little mini-tank, or tankettes. I mean, this makes each soldier a super soldier, right?

Now when this was tried out, people eventually realized that this was a really bad idea; tankettes carry really light guns, so they can't kill things which are heavily armored, and they have really light armor, which means that something which has a bigger cannon and thicker armor can basically destroy tankettes at will.

So now everybody realizes they have to build bigger tanks!

That is, unless you just spent all your money outfitting everybody with these tankettes which were supposed to make all your soldiers super-soldiers.

Meanwhile, the USA, surrounded by these two giant oceans, started off with building a few tanks, before settling on an adequate design and pumping those out.

Here's the thing: Right now, if the newspapers are to believed, the United States does not have enormous loads of money to spend on everything. The economy's not doing so hot, but neither is everybody else's. I expect that paulsc and I will disagree on this, but I believe in The National Strategic Narrative's view that a secure America is one that has invested more in intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America’s youth, and not an America which has spent all its money on advanced fighter aircraft of questionable utility.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:34 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


paulsc I know that most cruise missiles are subsonic. That's why I wrote "fast and/or stealthy" cruise missiles. Range is not so important if you can fire them from a sub close to the enemy seaboard, and it is in any case far easier to make a cruise missile stealthy than a large fighter (also, fire enough cruise missiles, and the fighter will run out of air-to-air missiles anyway).
posted by Skeptic at 11:36 AM on August 18, 2011


Or simply develop an anti-fighter stealth cruise missile that quietly hangs around until it identifies an enemy fighter and then ditches it's wings to go supersonic. Air superiority fighters are expensive toys waiting to be slaughtered by missiles with better artificial intelligences.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:13 PM on August 18, 2011


The F-35 Is Cleared to Fly Again (And Still Not Fixed)
posted by homunculus at 12:56 PM on August 18, 2011


This is an awesome reason for the US to spend $6 trillion on whatever.
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:20 PM on August 18, 2011


"... However, generally, relations between the PRC and the ROC have generally improved. ..."
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:34 PM on August 18

That may have been true in the period since 2008, but the Taiwanese Presidential race of 2012, the probable succession of Chinese leadership in the same year, and changes in U.S. defense strategy and weapons sales to Taiwan, including authorizations for F-16 C/D variants sought by Taiwan since 2008, can quickly change the recent detente. Ma Ying-jeou is by no means assured re-election as Taiwanese President, and if his main rival Tsai Ing-wen wins instead, "the introduction of uncertainty into the cross-Strait relationship is unavoidable."

Like the Middle East, the Sino-Taiwan situation is one where geography is unforgiving of military mistakes, and where opposing military forces continue to operate in close proximity, with little room for operational error. Slight changes in policy, even to the point of U.S. domestic approval of F-16 C/D variant sales to preserve U.S. jobs on General Dynamic F-16 production lines, can result in changes in military posture, pretty quickly.

Sino-Taiwanese relations are a good example of why U.S. military assessment must always be forward looking, and dynamic, and not be based entirely on recent history, however favorable to our desired hopes for peace.
posted by paulsc at 4:13 PM on August 18, 2011


we might be forced to the kind of foreign policy choices the French enjoyed through much of the 20th century

For mine, I think that since 1946, while France has made a litany of mistakes in the developing world, these are easily dwarfed by those of the USA. So if having air superiority allows you to make shitty choices, go right ahead, build more air superiority fighters.
posted by wilful at 5:42 PM on August 18, 2011


Like the Middle East, the Sino-Taiwan situation is one where geography is unforgiving of military mistakes, and where opposing military forces continue to operate in close proximity, with little room for operational error. Slight changes in policy, even to the point of U.S. domestic approval of F-16 C/D variant sales to preserve U.S. jobs on General Dynamic F-16 production lines, can result in changes in military posture, pretty quickly.

The PRC has not increased its military sealift capacity since 2000, and is still estimated to be limited to about a single infantry division. The PRC could deliver perhaps an additional 5000 paratroopers in a single lift (fewer if additional equipment is carried). The PRC cannot conduct an amphibious assault of the ROC. The PRC could wreck the place, but it's not putting boots on the ground.

But look, if you want to use Communist China to scare people, ask yourself this question: Should the USA spend billions of dollars to counter a threat which might happen if something goes horribly wrong and there is, for the first time, a shooting 'hot' war between two nuclear powers?

Or, as the 2010 Joint Operating Environment points out, think about this:

China is investing significantly in human and physical capital. Indeed, skilled Chinese engineers, technicians, and scientists are deeply involved in scientific discovery around the world and in building the infrastructure upon which its future prosperity and global integration might be built. Above all, the Chinese are objective about their weaknesses as well as their strengths and general prospects for the future.

That's definitely happening, even as here, in the United States, people are demanding cuts to scientific research, education, and the country's infrastructure in favor of stealth aircraft which may never be used.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:18 PM on August 18, 2011


F-22 Jets Allowed to Fly Just to Escape Irene
posted by homunculus at 11:13 AM on August 27, 2011


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