Your favorite trillion-dollar weapons platform sucks
July 1, 2015 5:28 AM   Subscribe

 
One. Trillion. Dollars.

Good thing the ol U.S. & A hasn't had any other needs over the past decade or so.
posted by chaz at 5:36 AM on July 1, 2015 [20 favorites]


It's a good thing terrorists don't fly fighter jets (yet).
posted by tommasz at 5:39 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Design by committee ...

(For bonus points: When was the last time the US was involved in a conflict where dogfights were a common occurrence?)
posted by oheso at 5:47 AM on July 1, 2015 [17 favorites]


Vietnam?
posted by drezdn at 5:48 AM on July 1, 2015


When was the last time the US was involved in a conflict where dogfights were a common occurrence?

This is exactly why the article is BS. The F-35 is a multirole fighter, designed to use modern missile technology, which engages enemy fighters from miles away. The F-16 in the article was designed in the 1970s specifically to be an air-to-air superiority fighter with an emphasis on manueverability in dogfighting.

A more likely scenario between the two fighters is the F-16 being destroyed by a missile that was fired from several miles away by the F-35 that was completely outside its engagement range.

This is all beside the fact that a drone could do that at far lower cost.
posted by Fleebnork at 5:48 AM on July 1, 2015 [36 favorites]


According to Wikipedia, there were dogfights in the first Persian Gulf War, and the Balkans conflict.
posted by drezdn at 5:50 AM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


“The helmet was too large for the space inside the canopy to adequately see behind the aircraft.”

Just slap some rearview mirrors on it, call it a day.
posted by dudemanlives at 5:55 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


isn't this whole platform obsolete anyway? I thought that the whole 5th generation fighter thing was merely a last minute dash for cash before inexpensive disposable UAVs that can out perform any pilot become common place.
posted by mattoxic at 5:56 AM on July 1, 2015 [16 favorites]


I've been skeptical of the F-35 when they first suggested it might replace the A-10. The latter was built for close air support--destroying targets on the ground. It can take a lot of punishment, and stay over the battlefield for a long time. The F-35 lacked the loiter time, and used speed as it's element of survivability.

I found this particularly depressing. While there have been dogfights, they are relatively few these days. Sustained support of ground troops seems to be the greater need based on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I'm not sure the F-35 is the tool we need for that job.

Now it can't act in an air superiority role. Decidedly a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none situation.
posted by MrGuilt at 6:00 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does anyone really think the US is going to be in a large-scale conventional war against a comparably advanced airforce in the foreseeable future? The F-35's capabilities don't matter, except insomuch as it is a program to funnel money to the military-industrial complex. Its deficiencies might get a few pilots killed, maybe some ground troops when it proves to be crappy at ground-support, and that's tragic on a human level, but I don't know that it matters much to the DoD's strategic calculus except as an excuse to suck even more money into a successor program. UAVs are the future of practical US air power anyway. Great power conflict, despite that Vox piece we saw posted earlier this week, is likely to remain confined to proxy wars and cyber-skirmishing just like it has for the last several decades. Absent an existential threat (and contrary to the fear-mongering I don't believe such a threat exists aside from the existence of nuclear weapons in the abstract) the purpose of these boondoggle procurement projects is to funnel money to the defense industry.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:08 AM on July 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


Actual combat capabilities of this thing are probably irrelevant. It exists primarily to be developed, acquired, and maintained.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:18 AM on July 1, 2015 [39 favorites]




If ever there were an appropriate use of the phrase, "jack of all trades, master of none", the F35 program is it.

This program will be studied as the pinnacle of the military industrial lobbying complex.

I know guys in the aerospace industry who work on aircraft programs. You won't meet one engineer or pilot who thinks the F35 was a good idea, or can be made into a good platform.

You know who is happy about the F35? The industries who managed to convince the Pentagon that it was a good weapons program.

These kinds of "Convergence" programs that promise billions in cost savings by standardizing on a platform are complete jokes. It's the equivalent of saying that you can have a perfect car if you mash together the handling of a Porsche 911GT3 RS, the reliability of a Toyota Camry, the all wheel drive system of an Audi A6 and the cargo capacity of a new Chevy Colorado.

Pro tip: you end up with crap.
posted by tgrundke at 6:25 AM on July 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


It's a good thing terrorists don't fly fighter jets (yet).

The LTTE came damn close.
posted by 7segment at 6:25 AM on July 1, 2015


This is all beside the fact that a drone could do that at far lower cost.

I thought that the whole 5th generation fighter thing was merely a last minute dash for cash before inexpensive disposable UAVs that can out perform any pilot become common place.


This. Drones have inherent advantages in pretty much every air combat role. Dogfight? They can pull off aerobatic maneuvers that would instantly kill any pilot. Ground attack? They're smaller and stealthier. Harder to find, harder to kill. Air support? They keep their pilots thousands of miles out of harm's way, and so can stay with the troops on the ground for longer and in riskier situations. They're also lighter and cheaper, so losing one costs less, and you don't need to worry about rescuing the pilot. Aerial Recon? Obvious. They can stay up for much longer, even trading off pilots as necessary. Also no pilot risk of capture.

And that's just with piloted drones. Once you take away the human pilot they get even more interesting. Imagine a small flock of drones engaging in coordinated attacks, responding faster than any human pilot. Smaller, faster, cheaper.

The Air Force generals know this, of course, and they fucking HATE it, because they're all former pilots, and don't like to feel obsolete. But they are.

Of course, once you phase out piloted aircraft, Northrop, Lockheed, & Co. will just jack up the prices on the drones, but you can't win them all.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:28 AM on July 1, 2015 [14 favorites]


Does anyone really think the US is going to be in a large-scale conventional war against a comparably advanced airforce in the foreseeable future?

Well...maybe? Probably as a prelude before the nukes fly?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:38 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


It seems inevitable that autonomous or semi-autonomous drone swarms are the future of dystopian warfare.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:39 AM on July 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Pro tip: you end up with crap.

indeed...
posted by mattoxic at 6:39 AM on July 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is exactly why the article is BS. The F-35 is a multirole fighter, designed to use modern missile technology, which engages enemy fighters from miles away. The F-16 in the article was designed in the 1970s specifically to be an air-to-air superiority fighter with an emphasis on manueverability in dogfighting.

"The test pilot explained that he has also flown 1980s-vintage F-15E fighter-bombers and found the F-35 to be “substantially inferior” to the older plane when it comes to managing energy in a close battle."
posted by thecjm at 6:40 AM on July 1, 2015


So fascinating how we have all these presidential candidates who say they would "run America like a business" and never seem to be asked how their "business" would handle a product that doesn't work and cost shareholders a trillion dollars.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:40 AM on July 1, 2015 [25 favorites]


They're also lighter and cheaper, so losing one costs less, and you don't need to worry about rescuing the pilot.

It's apples and oranges. The drones are not in the same league quality-wise as the fighters. Once you make a drone that is just as good as an F-35 or F-22, but without a pilot... it's not cheap and you really don't want to lose one.
posted by smackfu at 6:47 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


My company built a simple prototype widget for this platform. The tolerances were stupidly tight but we were also stupidly compensated.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:51 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's apples and oranges. The drones are not in the same league quality-wise as the fighters. Once you make a drone that is just as good as an F-35 or F-22, but without a pilot... it's not cheap and you really don't want to lose one.

I'd argue they don't need to be in the same league quality-wise, because you're no longer needing to protect the delicate meat-bag inside. I'd also argue that having no pilot systems in the aircraft reduces the complexity significantly.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:54 AM on July 1, 2015


There'll be plenty of dogfights when Putin invades the Baltics, at least before he nukes Lisbon. He'll probably wait until he's got a slightly more working military, though, so there's time yet to get those last few bugs out of the F-35.

Still, it's nice to see that the lessons of TSR-2 have been so roundly lear... er, forgotten.

The Air Force hates drones the way the Navy hates smart ships (the sort that can be manned by far fewer - or no - people, with a huge range of benefits), because it means that lots of people will be out of jobs. Just like everywhere else; it's just that everywhere else doesn't get to dress up and give the politicians enormous war wood. And as a good socialist, I'm all in favour of over-funded make-work state projects; I'd rather they were in, say, education, health and infrastructure, and I'd rather the military side of things actually worked, but that probably makes me a dangerous radical who hates his (and your) country.
posted by Devonian at 6:55 AM on July 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


"The test pilot explained that he has also flown 1980s-vintage F-15E fighter-bombers and found the F-35 to be “substantially inferior” to the older plane when it comes to managing energy in a close battle."

The f-15 has a 2:1 thrust to weight ratio on one engine alone. Of course energy management is better.

It also had more style than the F-35, too. Far and away my favorite - after the F-4 of course. Why can't they bring those back. I know they sucked in a lot of ways, but they were fucking cool.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:57 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is the fighter that China hacked and has already built and tested.
posted by Brian B. at 7:06 AM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


And if they're 1/10 the cost, it's still cheaper even if you lose three times as many.

Yeah, a Reaper is around $17 million (which is maybe 1/10 the cost), but it's not even a comparable plane. Top speed is 300 mph (it's got a propeller!) and it has a payload of 3800 lbs. F-35 top speed is 1200 mph and a payload of 18000 lbs.

I mean, if a bunch of Reapers went up against any modern fighter or AA system, I think you would probably lose all of them.
posted by smackfu at 7:09 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad, I explicitly referenced and dismissed that piece in my comment, but even if its correct about the high risk of war it still supports my point: whether or not the F-35 can dogfight is irrelevant should Putin decide to go all out and escalate to a nuclear war.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:11 AM on July 1, 2015


Once you make a drone that is just as good as an F-35 or F-22, but without a pilot... it's not cheap and you really don't want to lose one.

OK, first let's get the unit cost of a hellfire missile (which is a large model rocket with a few pounds of HE up front and avionics rivaling the sophistication of a TV remote) somewhere south of $100,000. Then maybe we can discuss "cheap".
posted by 7segment at 7:14 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel that the goal of trying to make the F35 take on so many different roles was a huge mistake.

Nobody should go to war armed with a Swiss Army Knife when a sword is what's really needed. Fortunately, with the low-intensity warfare the US and her allies engage in these days, the serious flaws of the F35 are unlikely to cause too many issues. Unfortunately, considering the dick waving Russia is doing, there is no guarantee that this kind of warfare will be an ongoing trend.
posted by dazed_one at 7:23 AM on July 1, 2015


There was a Radio 4 program a few weeks back on state of defense in NATO... how a lot of European armies are being totally hollowed out from cuts and the age of a lot of the planes in the US fleet (the're old - one guy was using the exact same aircraft his father flew) and defense procurement idiocies like the F35. And that stealth technology was a big white elephant against a decent foe (there's been tech since WWII that can defeat it)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:30 AM on July 1, 2015


There are viable criticisms about the program, but this article just doesn't pass the smell test for me. For one, the source material is missing, so we can't judge the snippets in context. For another, this is one 5 page report from one test flight by one person. That's hardly enough to make a judgment. For all we know, this test was designed exactly for the purpose of finding out how to continue to improve elements of the fighter. Moreover, I don't see any mention of hours at the stick of the new fighter by this pilot, meaning that to some extent any lack of skill could be on lack of flight time in this model over a presumably very seasoned advisory at the helm of the other fighter.

It all just doesn't seem remotely scientific as presented, and that bothers me, whether we're looking at news articles about food, vaccination, or this, a military program. Maybe the key here is the author and the website being credible. I have no idea who these people are or their bias.

Anywho, as others have pointed out, remote aircraft and Skynet are going to kill us all anyway.
posted by Muddler at 7:33 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, look, another Axe-job on the F-35. Not read one of these... uh, this week. He does seem to turn these out citing anonymous sources on a not-infrequent basis.

I was reading the thread on this over on the Ars Technica, and rather than tediously start refuting this, I'll just re-post a great comment from citanon, here:
Uh, no, just no. Cannot believe this idiocy has now made it on to Ars.

First, the author of the original blog post, is a known quantity with an "axe" to grind against the F35. He has been a rather unreliable reporter of information in the past, making rather liberal use of "anonymous sources" to spout "facts" that turn out to be not.

Second, the "dog fights" in question, happened in Jan during departure testing. They were designed to START the process of optimizing the F35's control laws (the computer parameters governing how hard pilots can push their fly by wire aircraft in every imaginable set of aerodynamic circumstances) for combat. This came just after the initial period of "departure testing", during which control laws were set INTENTIONALLY conservative for extra margins of safety. Directly after the tests, the test pilot, who, believe it or not, has a name (David "Doc" Nelson), told Aviation Week (not anonymously ;) ), that now the safety oriented tests are nearing completion, the program team will begin relaxing control laws to give more maneuverability. In other words, even if what the report was sourced from actual test pilot comments, the comments were in reference to a plane that was known to have flight testing oriented software limits purposely designed to maximize safety at the expense of maneuverability.

Third, multiple test pilots from multiple countries who have experience in everything from the F-16 to the Typhoon have publicly remarked to the aviation press that the F35 has transonic aerodynamic performance SUPERIOR to the F-16 and nearly matching the Eurofighter Typhoon, and yes, they allowed themselves to be quoted by name.

Fourth, wrt to the visibility issue, the particular airframe used in the Jan tests was configured for aerodynamics testing. It did not have the avionics that allows combat coded F35s to show the pilot what's behind him AND offer him the chance to shoot a missile at it, with, literally, a push of a single button.

You can find all this and more (with sources) by actual F-16 pilots, aviation engineers, and people who actually know what they are doing, over in the thread at the F-16.net forum (an online community for, you guessed it, F-16 pilots). Many threads on there are well worth a read if you want to get the real picture for the F35 program (for example, there is a very long and informative thread on the A-10 vs F35 CAS issues by old school former air force pilots with hundreds of hours spent doing CAS since Vietnam in everything up to and including the A-10. Their comments w.r.t. the actual survivability of the A-10 are less than complementary.

Anyways, the F-16.net thread. If you are going to criticize the F35, at least educate yourselves using different, and very well informed, points of view first:

http://www.f-16.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=27186
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 7:34 AM on July 1, 2015 [42 favorites]


Once you make a drone that is just as good as an F-35 or F-22, but without a pilot... it's not cheap and you really don't want to lose one.

It's probably worth noting that even as it was losing the Second World War, Japan could build planes; it was, however, unable to replace the experienced pilots it was losing.
posted by Gelatin at 7:39 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nice Guy Mike: "They were designed to START the process of optimizing the F35's control laws"

Ten years later? Maybe citanon's focusing too much on the trees and not the forest.
posted by boo_radley at 7:45 AM on July 1, 2015


Drones have inherent advantages in pretty much every air combat role. Dogfight? They can pull off aerobatic maneuvers that would instantly kill any pilot.

Eventually, yes. Missy Cummings, ex Navy F-18 pilot and director of Duke's Humans and Autonomy Laboratory, likes to talk about how robots can already fly some maneuvers better than humans will ever be able to, but they're not really there yet for air combat maneuvering. Eventually maybe we'll have air-to-air combat drones, but giving them the required situational awareness, either using autonomous sensors or low-latency video with sufficient coverage/steerability will take a while.

I mean, if a bunch of Reapers went up against any modern fighter or AA system, I think you would probably lose all of them

There has been one dogfight involving a manned aircraft and a drone: an Iraqi MiG-25 and a Predator fired missiles at each other. The drone lost. Humans are 1-0 in air combat, for now.
posted by jjwiseman at 7:48 AM on July 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


There'll be plenty of dogfights when Putin invades the Baltics, at least before he nukes Lisbon. He'll probably wait until he's got a slightly more working military, though, so there's time yet to get those last few bugs out of the F-35.

...where do you think Lisbon is?
posted by jaduncan at 7:49 AM on July 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


Eventually, yes. Missy Cummings, ex Navy F-18 pilot and director of Duke's Humans and Autonomy Laboratory, likes to talk about how robots can already fly some maneuvers better than humans will ever be able to, but they're not really there yet for air combat maneuvering. Eventually maybe we'll have air-to-air combat drones, but giving them the required situational awareness, either using autonomous sensors or low-latency video with sufficient coverage/steerability will take a while.

We can already do driverless cars. The video processing needed for that is actually considerably more complex. The sky is mostly full of air. Once position is established? Well, we already have good fighter AI in video games and simulation. Moore's law is going to kill humans on this.
posted by jaduncan at 7:51 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


tgrundke: It's the equivalent of saying that you can have a perfect car if you mash together the handling of a Porsche 911GT3 RS, the reliability of a Toyota Camry, the all wheel drive system of an Audi A6 and the cargo capacity of a new Chevy Colorado.

That said, the Audi Q7 has that drive system, a large cargo capacity, handling Car and Driver calls sporty, and reliability Consumer Reports calls above average. As long as you aren't expecting a "perfect car", but have your sights set on "good enough", designing something to be multirole is a perfectly acceptable goal. For example, the F-16 itself was developed to be a low-cost multirole fighter to complement the F-15 big/expensive/powerful fighter role. And it's done pretty well for itself in that corner of the design space.

As an outsider it's just hard to know who to trust with these things. Yeah, the Air Force brass have a tendency toward fighter jockness that biases their decisions, but that's also a bias toward dogfighting and away from "flying computerized weapon transporter". Yeah, drones have the potential to eventually take over in the air superiority role, but right now, no, they really can't fulfill that function. People on the internet love to talk this up like it's right around the corner, but we just barely have field trials of drones as cargo transports—it would be foolish to stop building fighter planes until we actually have fighter drones in the air. Doing otherwise is why Skylab crashed (we couldn't get the Shuttle flying in time to reboost it, and had canceled Apollo because the Shuttle was "right around the corner").

Maybe the F-35 sucks in several ways. Maybe it's too expensive. But I'm really wary of an endless parade about how every single rivet and wire is the worst thing ever and we should just scrap it to build drones because that's totally a thing that's 100% here already.

(On preview:
Well, we already have good fighter AI in video games and simulation.
Do we have fighter AI that can reliably beat humans in physics-correct flight simulators like they use to train pilots? Because that would be like a self-driving car winning the Baja 500.)
posted by traveler_ at 8:00 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Imagine a driverless car in a situation where the other cars are actively trying to confuse the sensors. I doubt it would do very well.
posted by smackfu at 8:01 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is exactly why the article is BS. The F-35 is a multirole fighter, designed to use modern missile technology, which engages enemy fighters from miles away.


This was the logic behind the F-4 as well- it didn't need a cannon, because it would engage Russian interceptors at great distances with its brand-new "sidewinder" missiles.

Come Vietnam, it turns out that would still engage in dogfights, and did still need a cannon, and one was hastily slapped onto the nose.

Of course, as it has been pointed out, this won't really make a difference once effective air-to-air combat drones are in the air and we're all forced to work in the tungsten mines by our robot overlords.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:02 AM on July 1, 2015


I feel like we've been down this road before. We've had at least two aircraft development programs with the explicit aim of combining requirements from different services, the F-111 and F-4, and neither worked out very well. And we've had at least one aircraft, the F-4, designed with the assumption that close combat was obsolete and that everything would get settled with stand-off weapons. That didn't work out well either. Who knows, though? Maybe things are different now.

The ironic thing here is that, by insisting on ever more sophisticated aircraft, the fighter jocks are actually hastening their own demise. These aircraft are getting to be so expensive that you don't dare actually send them into combat unless you've got no other choice, take any operational risks with them, or even fly them very much because you'll use up lifetime on irreplaceable assets. Something like an F-16 is practically disposable by comparison. The Air Force ought to be pushing on having capable drones for missions that are drone-appropriate, and having lots and lots of lightweight, affordable aircraft where having human judgement in the cockpit is important (border patrol, close air support, escorting, etc).

I'm sure everybody working on the F-35 is busting ass trying to do the best job possible, and I feel for them, but perfectly executing the wrong mission is still a problem.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:03 AM on July 1, 2015


We can already do driverless cars.

We can? Since when? "Google has a prototype that sometimes kind of works maybe in certain places under some conditions" is not "can do."
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:05 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


...where do you think Lisbon is?


Look, Putin just really dislikes fado music, OK?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:06 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Moore's law is going to kill humans on this.

Eventually, yes. Inevitably. Robots will do anything people can do, but much much better. It will be rather frightening.

But it will take time and money.
posted by jjwiseman at 8:07 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


jaduncan: “We can already do driverless cars. The video processing needed for that is actually considerably more complex. The sky is mostly full of air. Once position is established? Well, we already have good fighter AI in video games and simulation. Moore's law is going to kill humans on this.”

No, we really can't. Google's system is a PR machine that will never be rolled out to consumers; it's based on mapping the driving area to a ridiculously obsessive level of detail, down to the centimeter, and monitoring it constantly in order to know any changes to the route ahead of time – which Google themselves have admitted is far too costly for them ever to do it more than they do now, which is just a few miles around several Google campuses. Numerous thoughtful sources who have examined the project closely have expressed understandable skepticism. Driverless cars are not going to happen within the next three decades. So the idea that pilotless, fully-automated flying drones can happen seems – distinctly unlikely, too. (I also don't quite buy the notion that maneuvering in three dimensions is easier than maneuvering in two because "the sky is mostly full of air.")

And anyway, isn't this a silly way to go about it? Who needs pilotless drones? I am willing to bet the Air Force can find plenty of experienced, knowledgeable pilots who are happy to sit in a safe bunker remotely flying drones. That should be what we aim for, not some weird self-flying force of drones which are maybe convenient but ultimately completely unnecessary.
posted by koeselitz at 8:08 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


The carrier was a great innovation in warfare but it took ages to become accepted.

Extreme altitude drone carriers (manned or not, with one way self contained AA drone fleets and reusable AG Predator analogues) seem like the logical extension.

But no, we gotta give a new batch of pilots the Top Gun experience.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:09 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a thread from yesterday about the threat of nuclear war in the Balkans in which an large number of trillion-dollar fighters are entirely useless, except to justify a more powerful military-industrial complex.

When I look at the state of (my version of the) world, I see threats like climate change and mass extinctions on the horizon, accompanied by painful economic restructuring. In that context, squandering vast swaths of finite resources on this kind of high-tech vehicle appear so counter-productive I can't imagine what's going on in the minds of those responsible for defense, other than, "Here's a chance to invest in more and bigger weapons to threaten our enemies and justify this spending before the public wises up."

Yes I know, Vladimir Putin blah blah blah.
posted by sneebler at 8:10 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Robots will do anything people can do, but much much better.

Except feel love.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:15 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


...yet.
posted by I-baLL at 8:17 AM on July 1, 2015


Have y'all seen The Pentagon Wars?

#BottomGun
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:22 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


The article is unmitigated crap. It's getting picked up because the headline is catchy.

I'm following a discussion among a number of fighter pilots on another forums, and there was a pretty salient point made about the "OMG TRILLION DOLLARZ!!!1111!!!" argument that is worth pointing out here. I'll quote:

You're replacing over 2000 fighters in active and guard service within our military alone... A full generation jump over the fighters it's replacing.

And those fighters developed in the 60s-80s cost ridiculous amounts of money in their own time (111/Tomcat/Eagle being great examples). A brand new block-60 F-16 is almost 100 million a copy in today's money. The Silent Eagle is over 100 mil a copy, and those won't be survivable much after the next ten years without massive ECM and SEAD/DEAD support meaning a whole butt-load of other planes we need to buy... We need to jump to 5th gen like it or not, we just did it in the most ass way possible lumping a 4.5 gen Harrier replacement into a 5th generation program for the AF and Navy.

Wanna know the real thing you should be outraged at, we only bought 180 Raptors and then we killed not only production but the tooling and machining to build more... We built over 2000 F-16s for our Air Force alone to fly for nearly 40 years and we are under 500 (most built in the 90s) still working because they've been extended in service life by pulling parts of retired ones parked in the desert.... The Raptors, are almost half way through their expected service life and there are no new ones coming and no old ones to steal from. A decade from now the Raptor fleet will be all but out of options without literally inventing a refit from the ground up. When that happens then you'll see why building airplanes that seem expensive now pays off in the long run.

posted by Thistledown at 8:23 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


The problem with the BVR theory is that it doesn't work if the rules of engagement demand that you be sure that you're actually shooting at the enemy before you crank off your 100+ mile AMRAAMs/AIM-54s.

That's what screwed the F-4s. Yeah, they could bag you at 20+ miles with Sparrows. They didn't know who you were, but they could shoot at you. By the time they knew who you were, you were at 2 miles and those Sparrows weren't helping and the F-4 couldn't turn well and they didn't have a gun.

And, yes, the A-10 isn't very survivable under a heavy air defense threat. It never was. That's why we had things like the F-16, the F-15 and the F-4G Wild Weasel to suppress that. Then the A-10 went in and moved mud like mud was never moved before.

If the F-35 is counting on BVR engagement to suppress the fighter threat, it's going to run into the same problem the F-4 did -- the bad guy mixes a few civilian planes in, we shoot down an airliner, CNN runs that footage all day, and the F-35 is now fighting under rules of engagement that prohibit BVR engagement. And that's when it's going to be in trouble.

At least the F-4 could carry a lot of payload. This thing? Meh. If it does, it loses the one thing it has going for it, stealth. It's lousy at close in ground support, because it's too fast. It's lousy at dogfighting, because it can't turn. It's lousy at strike because it can't carry a large bombload because everything has to be internal. Range is low, because ditto -- external tanks blow the stealth.

It's one compromise on another, and then we add what the USMC did to it to make it work with the Gator Navy.

We'd be far better off with a new model of F-15s, F-15E, F-18s and A-10s. They'd be cheaper, too. And if we need advanced? Restart the F-22 line. It has problems, but it did prove to be, in fact, the most advanced pure fighter ever built. Amazing what happens when you build a plane to do *one thing well*, right?
posted by eriko at 8:31 AM on July 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


"Nine days after leaving San Francisco, a blue car packed with tech from a company you’ve probably never heard of rolled into New York City after crossing 15 states and 3,400 miles to make history. The car did 99 percent of the driving on its own, yielding to the carbon-based life form behind the wheel only when it was time to leave the highway and hit city streets.

This amazing feat, by the automotive supplier Delphi, underscores the great leaps this technology has taken in recent years, and just how close it is to becoming a part of our lives. Yes, many regulatory and legislative questions must be answered, and it remains to be seen whether consumers are ready to cede control of their cars, but the hardware is, without doubt, up to the task."

I wasn't talking about Google.
posted by jaduncan at 8:34 AM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I also don't quite buy the notion that maneuvering in three dimensions is easier than maneuvering in two because "the sky is mostly full of air."

And yet this is true. Cruise missiles have been doing this for decades, and they have the visual terrain-matching worked out and everything. Self-driving cars have a whole set of different problems, like trying really hard not to pop a tire on a curb or kill a pedestrian.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:35 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: Google's system is a PR machine that will never be rolled out to consumers [...] Numerous thoughtful sources who have examined the project closely have expressed understandable skepticism. Driverless cars are not going to happen within the next three decades.

I agree entirely with your critique of Google's driverless cars - I couldn't believe that their solution was obsessive mapping and detailed image comparison rather than some kind of adaptive smarts.

But I will bet you that your follow-on statement is wrong, and that we will have true autonomous ("driverless") cars - or at least, long haul trucks - well before the three decades are up. Just because Google's current solution won't scale, doesn't mean that others (and Google!) are not working on this problem with different approaches too. Yes, detailed mapping is part of it ("Uber, but with mapping cameras as well") of course, but not all of it.

And to bring it back to the topic, I think skeptics are seriously underestimating the potential of unpiloted drones. If the purpose of manned fighters is to achieve air superiority, but the enemy can keep throwing up clouds of cheap drones like chaff, you can't even keep your fighters in the air. It doesn't help to go 1200 mph if you're going to suck in tennis-ball sized drones into your air intakes. (Yes, memories of balloon barrages, I know.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:36 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, dogfights will also happen with drones. Drone warfare will fail to old Dazzle techniques once their link to whatever home base along with their gps is jammed.
posted by I-baLL at 8:46 AM on July 1, 2015


Re: Lisbon... I was referencing a very silly rumour from earlier this year that Putin was prepared to nuke "a minor European city... like Lisbon" if he didn't get his way over something. Which would be a shame. It's a nice place, and the fish is fantastic.

The trouble with all this military hardware stuff is that nobody knows who the enemy is or what the credible threats will be in ten years' time. The most likely serious scenarios are the Middle East nuking up, or the establishment of a long-term rogue state somewhere on the Med. Perhaps resource wars that get out of control, but... it's not going to be some rerun of WWII with bigger toys. Which is what anything with Biggles involved boils down to. It's just that people understand that sort of thinking.
posted by Devonian at 8:47 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, this one toy project could have instead wiped out the financial crises in both Greece and Puerto Rico, with money left over for, hell, I don't know, funding teacher salaries for a few years or some shit.

Real smart. Dog-fighting, fuck.. what the fuck kind of war do they think the world fights these days anyway?
posted by odinsdream at 8:50 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


...it's based on mapping the driving area to a ridiculously obsessive level of detail, down to the centimeter, and monitoring it constantly in order to know any changes to the route ahead of time...

This is incorrect, and was based on conjecture from a third-party who had no idea how Google's system works.
posted by odinsdream at 8:52 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I feel like the F35s ability to dogfight is pretty ancillary anyway - BVR is not infallible, but modern air combat is probably going to resemble Operation Mole Cricket 19/ Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot more than Korea or Vietnam. The stealth capabilities and advanced EW of the F35 will allow it to work seamlessly will drones collecting data, issuing orders, and engaging at long range anything that threatens its space while remaining a difficult target to track.
posted by rosswald at 8:53 AM on July 1, 2015


And heck, if we're optimizing for aesthetics let's just bring back the YF-12. Dogfights are moot, because once you've made your first turn you've already declared war on the neighboring country.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:54 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


... It's the equivalent of saying that you can have a perfect car if you mash together the handling of a Porsche 911GT3 RS, the reliability of a Toyota Camry, the all wheel drive system of an Audi A6 and the cargo capacity of a new Chevy Colorado.

Pro tip: you end up with crap.


Well, to be somewhat fair, you can go approximately 3 for 4 by getting a Subaru WRX.
posted by lodurr at 9:04 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


letrotsky: The Air Force generals know this, of course, and they fucking HATE it, because they're all former pilots, and don't like to feel obsolete. But they are.

Has anyone written comparing the drone transition to the sail-steam, paddle-screw, or piston-turbine transitions in naval warfare?
posted by lodurr at 9:06 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Come Vietnam, it turns out that would still engage in dogfights

So on the one hand, a lot of that wasn't from direct military necessity -- the rules of engagement required visual ID of the target, which meant that the F-4 had to close to dogfight range before it was allowed to shoot.

But on the other hand, the USAF doesn't exist to cleanse some defined airspace of all aircraft. It exists to further the political goals of the US, so if those goals include being relatively sure of only shooting down who we meant to*, then that's what the mission is and USAF should be buying planes for the mission it has, not the mission it prefers.

I've been skeptical of the F-35 when they first suggested it might replace the A-10.

The line I've heard repeatedly is that SAM tech has improved enough in the ~25 years since the first Gulf War that any enemy more sophisticated than self-trained yokels hiding in caves would just swat them from the sky without truly heroic air-defense suppression efforts. Anyhow, the punchline was almost everything the A-10 does, Apaches do better and more survivably.

*Sorry, everyone on Iran Air 655. Our bad.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:07 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


F-16:
Empty weight: 18,900 lb
Loaded weight: 26,500 lb
Max. takeoff weight: 42,300 lb

F-15C:
Empty weight: 28,000 lb
Loaded weight: 44,500 lb
Max. takeoff weight: 68,000 lb

F-35A:
Empty weight: 29,098 lb
Loaded weight: 49,540 lb
Max. takeoff weight: 70,000 lb

Remember: The F-35 is an analog of an F-15 (E model really), not an F-16. Aircraft that differ by a factor of 2 in mass are not going to behave similarly in energy management. One might as well argue that the F-16 can also out perform a 737. These are different aircraft with different design goals, and one can debate the merits of these goals, but it shouldn't be a shock that the resulting aircraft end up performing differently.

Really the story should be here that the F-16 was a remarkable design that miraculously escaped many of the million pitfalls of military hardware design and contracting.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:09 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is the fighter that China hacked and has already built and tested.

Maybe the whole program is just an elaborate poison pill designed to get the Chinese to waste their money on a shitty fighter?
posted by yoink at 9:09 AM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


We'd be far better off with a new model of F-15s, F-15E, F-18s and A-10s

The F-22 was the new F-15. The F-35 was supposed to be the new F-16/F-18 but then they tried to make it also be the new A-10, and a Harrier. And I still don't get how the Navy was persuaded to accept a single engine aircraft.

At least we're still building the F-16 so we're not completely stupid.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:10 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


The F-35 is an analog of an F-15 (E model really), not an F-16.

The Strike Eagle was a repurposing of the F-15 to a different role than it was designed for. To me the JSF seems closer to the F-18 — F/A-18, officially. An aircraft designed to be multi-role.

Except it has one engine, which I think encourages the F-16 comparisons. The F-35 is a flying compromise in almost every way. Which wouldn't be so bad if the aircraft weren't so expensive, and the program such a mess.

Also, while I'm griping, we should have built the Comanche.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:18 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does anyone really think the US is going to be in a large-scale conventional war against a comparably advanced airforce in the foreseeable future?

I would like our military planners and Congress to recognize that possibility while taking on such massive projects as this, yes. We've got buckets of examples of what a bad idea it is for a nation to make plans on the basis of, "Aw, that'll never happen again!"

The F-35's capabilities don't matter, except insomuch as it is a program to funnel money to the military-industrial complex.

This is entirely true, but obviously it's one of those cynical truths we should be fighting against. Far better things could have been done with all this money even if it stayed within the defense establishment. Better care for our wounded, better support for military families, training, maybe some effort at combating shit like military sexual assault...and hell, that's just worthwhile stuff I can think of to make the MeFites happy! I haven't even gotten into things like better weapons and protection yet!

As far as drones: Again, should we be so willing to put all our faith and expectations into that? How long before all those headlines about gov't and corporate database hacking incidents start to include military systems?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:20 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, to be somewhat fair, you can go approximately 3 for 4 by getting a Subaru WRX.

Much as I like car analogies, this one only works against the idea of using one multi-role vehicle for everything. I love the WRX, but it's not going to beat a 911GT3 on the race track. Its cargo capacity is nothing compared to the large van you might ideally want. Its all-wheel drive is no substitute for a 4x4 with locking diffs.

It's a great car if you can only afford one car, but if you need a whole fleet for various different tasks and have trillions of dollars to spend, sticking with one design for everything looks a bit crazy.
posted by sfenders at 9:20 AM on July 1, 2015


I also don't quite buy the notion that maneuvering in three dimensions is easier than maneuvering in two because "the sky is mostly full of air."

It is very much easier, but not because it's 3-dimensional. Making boat autopilots is even easier. It's about having room to build in a large margin of error, so the consequences aren't too bad if the vessel ends up a few feet to the left of where you thought it would at any given moment.
posted by sfenders at 9:23 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wait, did someone seriously just try to claim that drones can't do air combat by comparing the current generation of does, which are not designed for air combat, to a fighter jet designed specifically for air superiority?

Yeesh. Of course a predator can't beat any current strike fighter in a stand up fight. They aren't designed for that. Currently there are no drones, that are declassified anyway, designed for air superiority. One day there will be, but not today.
posted by sotonohito at 9:29 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


previously: 1,2 (comments are great!)

F-22 Won't Win A Dogfight :P

also btw...
-China Looks to Undermine U.S. Power, With 'Assassin's Mace'
-This is America's new $13 billion warship: "The US Navy is less than a year away from adding the most expensive warship in history to its fleet, the [USS Gerald Ford], the lead ship of the new Ford-class aircraft-carrier series... some have questioned the wisdom of continuing an astronomically expensive carrier-heavy naval strategy in a time when interstate warfare is rare and nations like China continue to develop potentially carrier-killing long-range antiship cruise missiles."
posted by kliuless at 9:33 AM on July 1, 2015


Currently there are no drones, that are declassified anyway, designed for air superiority. One day there will be, but not today.

And they won't use the kind of BFM we're used to, because they won't have to. There's no squishy human in the cockpit, we don't care as much if the aircraft makes it home, and where we're going we don't need eyes to see.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:35 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Much as I like car analogies,...

Yeah, I know. I just couldn't resist. In another setting I might jump off to riff on what that particular analogy says about the car industry, but AFAICS you're right w.r.t. aircraft.
posted by lodurr at 9:36 AM on July 1, 2015


The absolute certainty many have about the impossibility of another large scale conventional war makes me feel like it is more possible now than it has been in recent times. Nuclear arsenals are being upgraded and replaced and consequently tactics are changing, all while new high tech weapons are coming on the scene with game-changing implications, such as magnetic rail guns and hypersonic glide missiles. Perhaps more importantly, those with first hand experience of the dawn of the nuclear age and the cold war are fading away into retirement. I'm not saying it'll definitely happen next Tuesday, or that it'll ever happen, for that matter, but it's at least plausible to imagine a scenario where conventional war might happen where once it was effectively impossible.

This gets to why the F-35, the Gerald Ford, and other such weapons make me a little nervous. Stipulating per above that it is unlikely, if we ever did manage to get in a conventional war of attrition again, we'd be in serious trouble. This isn't an "America doesn't make anything anymore!" line because I know that's not true, but just looking at the raw logistics of producing these high tech weapons, if they proved to be even slightly less survivable than their designs call for, we simply wouldn't have the capability to replace our losses in a timely manner. This won't be WW2 were we can ramp up production of the F-35 to P-51 Mustang levels and crank them out by the thousands, at least not with serious lead time. Maybe this is okay and I'm totally wrong about the likelihood of another war. I hope so, but I suspect if it actually did somehow happen, we'd be reverting to older designs or scrambling to develop new ones.

All that being said, I think there is a slight chicken little element to these stories about just how bad the F-35 is. The psyops benefits of sowing disinformation about the capabilities of weaponry aside, the F-35 represents an unprecedented level of technology. The one real constant in high tech development is that no one appreciates just how difficult and time consuming it is to perfect concepts, even once they've been proven out on the bench. Despite my inherent skepticism, I don't have much trouble believing that the F-35 can emerge from this process as a valuable asset. To be clear, I'm not saying that the F-35 investment was the right move, more that I don't think it will turn out to be a total loss. Personally, I think we'd be better off pouring the money into hunter/killer drones and rail guns.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:43 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Another great clip from the Pentagon Wars (which, upsettingly, is more or less an accurate depiction of what happened)
posted by schmod at 9:54 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


So this is now the jet we sell to other countries right?
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:56 AM on July 1, 2015


Despite my inherent skepticism, I don't have much trouble believing that the F-35 can emerge from this process as a valuable asset.

For what it's worth, the Australians hung onto their F-111s for decades (going so far as to buy them up from other countries to cannibalize for parts) precisely because it was (apparently) really good as a long-range, low-level attack bomber.

Last I knew (which was probably 7 years ago) they planned to phase them out pretty soon, so I'm sure they're gone now. But they were flying them as late as about 2007.
posted by lodurr at 9:58 AM on July 1, 2015


...where do you think Lisbon is?

We know where they are. They're in the area around Paris and Berlin and east, west, south and north somewhat.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:59 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


almost everything the A-10 does, Apaches do better and more survivably.

I'm curious about this assertion. Helicopters are generally a lot more fragile than winged aircraft, and fly lower and slower. Meanwhile, the A-10 has a reputation for being one of the most durable combat aircraft ever produced.
posted by schmod at 10:05 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Imagine a driverless car in a situation where the other cars are actively trying to confuse the sensors. I doubt it would do very well.

Yeah, but it's not exactly like fighter pilots are flying VFR. They already rely on those sensors just as much as an autonomous drone would.

Semi-autonomous drones don't even necessarily need GPS or a good radio link to operate. Inertial navigation systems can be freakishly accurate.
posted by schmod at 10:07 AM on July 1, 2015


F-35 represents an unprecedented level of technology.

This thread reads like sports commentary mixed up with ad copy for tennis rackets and smart phones. Have I accidentally signed up for Popular Dogfighting?
posted by sneebler at 10:18 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cans someone who knows a bit about this talk about why these planes cost so much to build? I assume that there is some reason aside from military contractor inflation. But I can't quite figure out what it is, based on kind of spitballing what must go in to something like this. For instance, given the cost of computers, I have a hard time thinking it could cost more than, say, $2mil for all of the computer hardware in the thing, and that, frankly, seems like too much.

But I admit that I don't really know anything about it.
posted by OmieWise at 10:19 AM on July 1, 2015


Heavily armed, wealthy countries run by plutocrats--still with enough nukes to destroy all major cities on the planet--confronting unprecedented simultaneous global crises involving water, energy, climate and the collapse of corrupt late-stage capitalism... anyone who is not nervous about that has a much better anxiety repression mechanism than I do.

Regarding the FPP: I'm no expert, so it's possibly true as far as I know, but the report doesn't pass the smell test. If the basic structural, mechanical and power systems of this aircraft have the right qualities to provide good "energy" in principle, one would expect this to be a matter of tuning the controls, as mentioned above. It's not unusual for fighters to be substandard prior to a bit of tweaking.

That said, one trillion dollars is an obscene waste, even if the plane is a good piece of tech. But feeding the military industrial complex is the only form of socialism that the American people seem to have unanimous love for.

Using some of the total military budget to transition hard to sustainable energy (a la Stanford's Jacobson's plan, just as an example), would enhance national wealth and security and reduce the probability of war. One estimate I've seen is that a total sustainable transition would require about 1% of global GDP, so for the US that's on the order of $150 billion per year. The US defense budget is around $600 billion per year, not counting the "black" budget.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:20 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thank you for the links to Pentagon Wars, which I'd never heard of. Good to see what Toby was up to prior to his stint as a speechwriter for Bartlett.
posted by jquinby at 10:23 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Google's system is a PR machine [that's] based on mapping the driving area to a ridiculously obsessive level of detail

In other words, it's an "AI" project.

Really the story should be here that the F-16 was a remarkable design that miraculously escaped many of the million pitfalls of military hardware design and contracting

My father was -- let's say deeply involved -- with financial and technical aspects of the F-16 program for decades (and AWACS and SLAR and high-speed aerial photography (*achoo2*) and lots of other stuff he still won't talk about).

"Successful" as the F-16 program was -- and I think he saw his mission as helping to bring it off as inexpensively as was practical and 'safe' -- I don't think he fully bought in to its mission. The purpose of our air superiority fighter, he'd say, is to defeat their air superiority fighter and vice versa. The only reason there are "dogfights" is because both teams are up there.

But -- nobody lives up there; there are no bombers to escort anymore (he also survived WWII); and you don't take territory or defeat occupiers with fighter jets. So what are they for? What happens if their "air superiority fighters" are buzzing around up there with nobody to "dogfight" 'cuz ours stayed home?

There are many cheaper ways to down their aircraft than investing blood and treasure in all that Top Gun Snoopy and the Red Baron Air Ace stuff.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:36 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


This thread reads like sports commentary mixed up with ad copy for tennis rackets and smart phones. Have I accidentally signed up for Popular Dogfighting?

Nice snark, but this program has been delayed in large part because it depends on technology which didn't exist until it was developed specifically for this purpose. That is pretty much the definition of unprecedented. No one has built an airplane which combines all of these features before. This is why it's proving so difficult.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:36 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also why it's so expensive.
posted by smackfu at 10:42 AM on July 1, 2015


You guys talking about how drones are the future seem to forget that they are very vulnerable to lightning strikes.
posted by qcubed at 10:44 AM on July 1, 2015


What technologies?
posted by OmieWise at 10:45 AM on July 1, 2015


Just look at the wikipedia page. This airplane is full of things which had to be developed and built from scratch. Take for example the fact that it supports a STOVL variant with the same airframe. This is a feat which had not previously been accomplished. We knew it was possible because of past experience, but it hadn't been done before and was therefore prone to the same issues of any technology development project: something that seemed like a known quantity turned out to be a lot harder than expected once plans met reality. I'm not saying this is 100% of the reason why it's such a clusterfuck, but it is absolutely a big part of it.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:53 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


The underlying reason for the great expense is the fact that the program is being executed by the military-industrial complex. Everything follows from that -- including the "unprecedented" combination of roles.

A lot of us here have either personal or family connections to the military-industrial manufacturing complex. My dad worked in it more or less his whole career. He was able to compartmentalize what he did to a small domain where it all was truly, arguably necessary, but he wasn't blind to the larger excesses and I've heard him be quite critical in much the Herodios describes.

So, yes, it costs money to innovate. But good grief, why did they even try?
posted by lodurr at 10:55 AM on July 1, 2015




Maybe we can skip the driverless car derail? Those threads are (weirdly) fighty on their own, no need to derail this thread with that fight.
posted by el io at 11:04 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why does the F-35 hate America?
posted by Beholder at 11:06 AM on July 1, 2015


Herodios: There are many cheaper ways to down their aircraft than investing blood and treasure in all that Top Gun Snoopy and the Red Baron Air Ace stuff.

I'll draw an analogy to land warfare, where the analog of the air superiority fighter is the main battle tank.

In '67, as we all know, the Israelis ran roughshod over their opponents due in no small part to both air and armor superiority. Specifically w.r.t. armor, it's notable that they'd made a lot of really pragmatic decisions, like retrofitting old 1940s Shermans with bigger engines and guns. But by '73, their armor force was more modern yet still quite large, and Sadat knew it posed a serious threat that had to be neutralized.

Since he wasn't going to be able to secretly develop a well-equipped, cracker-jack armor force, he focused on anti-tank weapons. And you know what? It almost worked. My read of it from when I was reading a lot about it (c. 1981) was that the deciding factors for the Israelis were training and the fact that they hadn't totally gone the high-technology route. They still had a large armor force, and they were able to do that because they weren't (at that time) relying on the absolutely best technological answer to the problem. They were going for volume in the hands of a well-trained force.

Not matter how well-trained your force is, your loss of a very expensive piece of hardware is disproportionately more damaging than your loss of a cheap piece of hardware. That's why the British built Hurricanes and that's why the Americans phased out the P-38.

If we are totally reliant on a small number of high-tech weapons to maintain superiority, then when we inevitably lose a few of those, it's going to have a disproportionately high impact on our capabilities.

Of course, the fact that we're in a superiority paradigm is problematic to start with, but that's kind of a prior assumption of this discussion...
posted by lodurr at 11:07 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


-China Looks to Undermine U.S. Power, With 'Assassin's Mace'

What kind of scrub-tier assassin uses a mace instead of a dagger, poisoned arrow, or environmental hazard? smdh
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:10 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


This isn't an "America doesn't make anything anymore!" line because I know that's not true, but just looking at the raw logistics of producing these high tech weapons, if they proved to be even slightly less survivable than their designs call for, we simply wouldn't have the capability to replace our losses in a timely manner. This won't be WW2 were we can ramp up production of the F-35 to P-51 Mustang levels and crank them out by the thousands, at least not with serious lead time...I suspect if it actually did somehow happen, we'd be reverting to older designs or scrambling to develop new ones.


Not matter how well-trained your force is, your loss of a very expensive piece of hardware is disproportionately more damaging than your loss of a cheap piece of hardware. That's why the British built Hurricanes and that's why the Americans phased out the P-38....If we are totally reliant on a small number of high-tech weapons to maintain superiority, then when we inevitably lose a few of those, it's going to have a disproportionately high impact on our capabilities.

Again, we're still making the F-16. That's an aircraft that is meant for use in theater war in large numbers. And we might run out of missiles before we run out of planes.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:15 AM on July 1, 2015


It's a good thing terrorists don't fly fighter jets (yet).

Tell that to the people who get bombed by US fighter jets...
posted by Chuffy at 11:17 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Again, we're still making the F-16. That's an aircraft that is meant for use in theater war in large numbers.

If we ever have another war on the proportional scale of WWII, even the F-16 will be too advanced to manufacture. A country's computing capability will eventually be destroyed by opponents as it will rightly be viewed as a knockout blow. Yes, the military itself could continue to operate in such circumstances, but civilian commerce/manufacturing is so dependent on computing, going back to paper/pen would be a crippling blow.
posted by LoveHam at 11:24 AM on July 1, 2015


Pierre Sprey, the designer of the A-10 and F-16, and one of John Boyd's "Fighter Mafia", lays it out in the video interview with CBC TV in Canada.

Essentially, the F-35 is the outcome of a lumbering, Kafkaesque, bureaucratic process in which nothing matters more than protecting - and, preferably, increasing - the budget of your own little domain (where "you" is a career Pentagon flag officer, senior civilian DoD employee, or executive in a private defense contractor). Design and engineering matter less than phony "reusability" and superficially appealing but absurd compromises.

(For some of Sprey's history, "Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art Of War", by Robert Coram, is highly recommended.)
posted by theorique at 11:26 AM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


My favorite F-35 flub is the engine. It's too big for the C-2 Greyhound COD aircraft. Which either means we're going to need to build a new one of those that's bigger, and that'll be tough, because the C-2 was built to be basically as big as plane as it could be, or the CVNs are going to ship out with a number of engines on board and when they're unable to repair engines anymore, the next engine failure means that a/c doesn't fly anymore until they can rendezvous with a ship with more engines.

Unlike the last 30 years, where they only carried a couple of spares, because the C-2s would just fly in more engines if they needed them. And, because the engines are so big, that's a significant amount of cargo space they'll have to devote, and that's actually an issue, because despite the fact that a CVN is huge, it's also very crowded come deployment time, and tying up storage space with a bunch of P&W F-135s is not making the supply officers happy.

Oh, did we mention that they also need to develop an new underway replenishment system? The engine is so heavy that they can't use the normal system to transfer it between ships while underway, and the idea of actually stopping and tying up to a cargo ship to transfer the engine by crane gives CVN battlegroup commanders the heebee-jeebees and submarine commanders visions of easy targets for Christmas.

It's almost as if whoever said "Yeah, we can fly this thing off a carrier" had never ever thought about what flying airplanes off a carrier involved.
posted by eriko at 11:30 AM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


... because the C-2 was built to be basically as big as plane as it could be...

Maybe they'll dust off those old plans to land C-130s on carriers.

/joke.
posted by lodurr at 11:35 AM on July 1, 2015


I will give the F-35 one thing. It's not nearly as derpy looking as the plane it beat in the JSF competition, the X-32. I don't think it is true that the X-32 lost simply because it was that ugly, but if it was true, well.

Just look at that thing. "I've come to ugly you to death!" A plane that looks fast is fast, so I figure this thing had a Mmo of about .01.
posted by eriko at 11:36 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


My favorite F-35 flub is the engine. It's too big for the C-2 Greyhound COD aircraft. Which either means we're going to need to build a new one of those that's bigger

That is a pretty amazing mess. Although it looks like the navy is buying Osprey's to replace the C-2, and those will be designed to fit the F-35 engines?
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:41 AM on July 1, 2015


Isn't this the plot of Hot Shots?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:44 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Speaking of cost overruns and major birth pangs: is the Osprey living up to its potential now?
posted by mondo dentro at 11:52 AM on July 1, 2015


Well, the V-22 is already built, so there isn't going to be any major changes to it and the Navy is demanding a 1100nm unfueled range, so they're going to have more tanks in the HV-22 COD version. I can't find anything about the cargo bay size, so I don't know if the F-135 engine will fit inside or not, and that extra tankerage isn't going to make that cargo bay any bigger.
posted by eriko at 11:53 AM on July 1, 2015


If we're going to spend this much on a weapons platform, it better have a goddamn rocket elbow.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:16 PM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Isn't this the plot of Hot Shots?

Speaking of which, word is that Maverick will be flying the F-35 in the Top Gun sequel. So he will finally prove Iceman's point that he's dangerous.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:18 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder if Top Gun 2 will turn out like that other hagiography of a fighter plane, Starfighters. Starring a young Bob Dornan. Instead of refueling sequences, they can try and get the thing to fly in a rainstorm.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:22 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


A plane that looks fast is fast...

Why do people keep saying that? It's not music, it's aerodynamics, and I have a really hard time believing the intuitive truths of aerodynamics extend to "visually unappealing = slow."
posted by lodurr at 12:28 PM on July 1, 2015


I'm curious about this assertion. Helicopters are generally a lot more fragile than winged aircraft, and fly lower and slower.

It was something like them being actually way down in the nap of the earth hiding behind hilltops and trees made them much less likely to actually be hit than an A-10 puttering around at 200-2000' and 250 knots? *shrug* I assume it's all theoretical since nobody's actually thrown Apaches or Warthogs at a well-equipped military since 1991.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:29 PM on July 1, 2015


Pierre Sprey, the designer of the A-10 and F-16,

I'm not even sure Sprey likes the aircraft he designed.
posted by smackfu at 12:45 PM on July 1, 2015


This airplane is full of things which had to be developed and built from scratch.

Has anyone ever done an analysis where they take the trillion dollars to deploy the F-35, and instead estimate what an F-15/16/18 would be like if that money had instead gone to iterating on the existing platform? Continually improving avionics, radar, engines, gradually changing the airframe, etc.?

Obviously these programs 1) provide a lot of pork to politicians, and 2) a lot of jobs and investment spread out across America. Don't change that aspect of it. Just imagine that they didn't start over. Is it plausible that something fifth-generation-ish would result, without incurring all the risk and cost overruns of inventing the next generation of planes?

I'm not suggesting there's a stepwise path from the F-16 to the F-35, but I don't think it's crazy to ask if continual development of a particular plane might not yield something as valuable for a (perhaps different) set of criteria, at lower risk and cost.
posted by fatbird at 1:06 PM on July 1, 2015


Why the F35 vs. F16 article is garbage, written by an actual F-16 fighter pilot.

Pretty good read.

Couple of other notes:

1) They have, actually, landed C-130s on aircraft carriers. There's a pretty cool video of one landing and taking off from, I believe, the Oriskany in the late 60's. Youtube it.

2) The Osprey's operational record has been pretty good, according to a couple of guys I have met who fly them. Could probably dig up some data about that.
posted by Thistledown at 1:23 PM on July 1, 2015


I've always though that the reason the F-35 was developed was mostly to make sure the US had the capacity to develop new aircraft, so that should a need for a new platform truly arise, as it did during WWII and Korea, we'd have engineers and manufacturers who had the experience, however ugly, in doing so. In that light, the F-35 is best seen as a learning experience (oh, no, not another learning experience!) to prepare for a possible real crunch should the need arise. If we just kept making F-16s and A-10s forever, theoretically eventually someone would make a better plane, and if we didn't have anyone left with experience in designing and bringing to production such an aircraft, we'd be scrod.
posted by Blackanvil at 1:24 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


What happens if their "air superiority fighters" are buzzing around up there with nobody to "dogfight" 'cuz ours stayed home?

They end up dogfighting our attack / strike aircraft, which ends badly for the bombers.

Or then end up having total freedom for their attack / strike platforms, which ends really badly for our people and materiel on the ground.

hypersonic glide missiles

The US has a global conventional fast strike capability, it's called the USS Bunker Hill (or the USS Ohio)
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:26 PM on July 1, 2015


Or then end up having total freedom for their attack / strike platforms, which ends really badly for our people and materiel on the ground.

Or they end up targeted by long-range missiles fired by a drone.

Or they end up in a dogfight with a drone, which doesn't have to keep its pilot alive and so will always be able to out-turn, out-dive and out-run their attack/strike platform.

Or (since drones are relatively cheap) they end up in a dogfight with two drones. Or in a dogfight with a fighter-drone, while being targeted by a missile-platform drone from a standoff position.

Or they end up getting targeted by SAMs.

Basically the 1:1 air-to-air combat paradigm is nearing the end of the time when we could break it down how well a plane did in a dogfight. Yes, concepts like the 'turret fighter' did not work out well. But there really hasn't been a struggle for air-superiority since the advent of really effective long-range missile systems in the 70s, and as noted, SAMs have improved radically in recent years. Add in the coming generation of laser weapons, and i'm just not seeing a long horizon for the manned air-superiority fighter.
posted by lodurr at 1:44 PM on July 1, 2015


Just imagine that they didn't start over.

Part of that the Pentagon's acquisitions being sold on the idea concurrency, that a weapons platform can be put into production while its subsystems are undergoing development and testing. It was supposed to work, but it has led to many delays, and billions in cost overruns:
“Concurrency” is a term in Pentagon parlance that means putting something into production while it’s still in testing, or not even tested really at all. The fruition of this crazy concept is the cumulative result of one of the best sales jobs of all time by defense contractors, an over-eager Department of Defense leadership and a low-information, special-interest obsessed Congress.
It's a long article and touches on the F-35 boondoggle, but then focuses on billions over-budget and years late USS Gerald Ford. It's fancy new electromagnetic aircraft launch system doesn't work. The fancy new aircraft arrestor system doesn't work. It's radar system has major problems. And the Navy is already laying the keel for the next ship in its class without these sub-systems ready to go.
posted by peeedro at 1:46 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is it plausible that something fifth-generation-ish would result, without incurring all the risk and cost overruns of inventing the next generation of planes?

Isn't the main answer stealth? You can't upgrade from a non-stealth plane to a stealthy one.
posted by smackfu at 1:48 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


The A-10, The F-35, And The Future Of Close Air Support: Part I
Despite the fiscal incentives for this decision, the Air Force’s rationale for retiring the A-10 has been a target for criticism. The F-35, scheduled to replace the A-10 and several other legacy fighters, is over budget, behind schedule, and currently lacks many of the A-10’s capabilities. Some argue that the F-35 is a leap backwards in terms of CAS — simply another example of the Air Force’s obsession with expensive and sophisticated toys, regardless of their utility to the military. In this view, the Air Force sees close air support as a distraction from the high-end missions that it really wants to execute, and oversimplifies CAS with its argument for “trickle-down” capabilities (i.e., if it can do the high-end, it can do the low-end). The F-35, with its impressive 5th generation capabilities, can operate in high-threat environments that would render the A-10 and other legacy platforms ineffective. Amidst this often emotional discussion, it can be difficult to distinguish fact from opinion. This article is an attempt to elevate the debate, to weigh the evidence, and offer a way forward for the future of close air support and the Joint Force.
Close Air Support In 2030: Moving Beyond The A-10/F-35 Debate
As an Army infantry officer reminded us, “Look, I don’t care how you do it, or what you do it with — I just need you to find the bad guys that are shooting at me, kill them quickly, don’t hurt or kill me, and help me find more bad guys before they shoot at me!” If these criteria are the measure of success, how should the Joint Force be equipped to provide effective CAS in the emergent threat environment?
The Future Of Close Air Support Is Not What The Air Force Thinks
CAS is a mission, not a plane, and the emotions that plague the A-10 retirement debate fail to address substantive arguments against the decision. However, O’Malley and Hill use my article as evidence of criticism that exists “despite fiscal incentives” without ever addressing the fiscal analysis I provided (oriented on comparing A-10 operating costs to other current Air Force platforms). The debate remains emotional because most ground troops, like myself, fail to understand how the Air Force can claim to provide the same level of support with more expensive aircraft lacking similar capabilities.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:48 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


If we ever have another war on the proportional scale of WWII, even the F-16 will be too advanced to manufacture. A country's computing capability will eventually be destroyed by opponents as it will rightly be viewed as a knockout blow.

The aircraft is an existing decades old design, and its tooling and parts supply chain is in place. What's going to be too advanced to manufacture about it? Especially considering the ability to revert to simpler avionics and etc. from an older block of production, which are fairly rudimentary by today's standards, if really pressed.

And how is an adversary going to 'destroy a country's computing ability,' short of resorting to EMPs at which point the balloon has gone up anyway? Technology advanced in WWII, and wasn't like the adversaries weren't trying to impede each other's progress.

I'd be more concerned with whether we could build more B-52s or an equivalent non-stealthy high payload bomber in time to replace hypothetical losses.

And, again, the missiles. The current AMRAAMs and Sidewinders are higher tech than the F-16 they're hanging from at this point.

Or, for that matter, the GPS constellation is pretty vulnerable and would be pretty hard to maintain if under constant attack. I'm guess we must have some spares, but run through those and it seems like that's a bigger problem than building more F-16s quicklike, positing a shortage of high-tech manufacturing capacity for Reasons.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:51 PM on July 1, 2015


Isn't the main answer stealth?

apparently stealth isn't all it's cracked up to be.
posted by lodurr at 1:54 PM on July 1, 2015


estimate what an F-15/16/18 would be like if that money had instead gone to iterating on the existing platform? Continually improving avionics, radar, engines, gradually changing the airframe, etc.?

This happens already for all aircraft; the air force terms them "block upgrades". The F-16 is currently on block 60 (or so, usually incremented by tens). Radars and avionics are the big thing. The airframe is not something that can be gradually changed though. And yeah, stealth.

apparently stealth isn't all it's cracked up to be

This is actually really interesting, but it requires lots of detail on how different radars work to unpack. In the same way that there is no one thing that is "stealth", there's no one thing that is radar. A surveillance radar on the ground is different than the radar in a fighter is different than a radar on a SAM , etc etc. The question that matters is can you design an aircraft that defeats the particular type of radars you want to defeat in a particular range of parameter space, and in that there are going to be trade-offs. In this case I believe Sprey is talking about L-band surveillance radars. Most aircraft radars and missile guidance is going to be X-band or Ku band though, so even though some folks on the ground might know you're there, if their aircraft or missiles can't find you, I'd say stealth still "works".
posted by kiltedtaco at 2:24 PM on July 1, 2015


Oh, on the subject of the F-35 and aircraft carriers; one of the big design compromises the F-35 faced was to accommodate the Marines' desires for a short take-off and vertical-landing variant, the F-35B (the STOVL redesign cost $6.2 billion and an 18 month delay1, plus the aerodynamic costs across all versions to support the F-35B variant). And so the Marines built a new aircraft carrier especially for the F-35, the USS America. But the America will need to spend almost a year in dock to be upgraded so that its flight deck can handle F-35 operations. So there's a brand new $7 billion aircraft carrier designed for the F-35 that an F-35 can't land on... yet.
posted by peeedro at 2:41 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pierre Sprey, the designer of the A-10 and F-16

Everyone always overlooks his brother, Orville Sprey, the designer of the V-22.
 
posted by Herodios at 2:53 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's almost as if whoever said "Yeah, we can fly this thing off a carrier" had never ever thought about what flying airplanes off a carrier involved.

Oh, on the subject of the F-35 and aircraft carriers; one of the big design compromises the F-35 faced was to accommodate the Marines' desires for a short take-off and vertical-landing variant, the F-35B (the STOVL redesign cost $6.2 billion and an 18 month delay1, plus the aerodynamic costs across all versions to support the F-35B variant). And so the Marines built a new aircraft carrier especially for the F-35, the USS America. But the America will need to spend almost a year in dock to be upgraded so that its flight deck can handle F-35 operations. So there's a brand new $7 billion aircraft carrier designed for the F-35 that an F-35 can't land on... yet.


(this is also covered by Peedro link above to an excellent Foxtrotalpha article)

The new Ford class aircraft carriers use a an all new electric catapult to launch the big heavy fighters up to take off speed in a couple of hundred feet-except they don't work. So even the non vertical takeoff version can't fly off the ship it is supposed to fly off of (or any other fixed wing aircraft either). That new and exciting concurrent technology development is going to be really, really, really expensive to fix.

BTW the Russian aircraft carrier that eventually got acquired by Ukraine and sold off to china was scrapped and rusting in dry dock because they couldn't get the steam (which is what the US uses on current carriers to launch the aircraft) catapult system to work-no matter what they tried and most of that stuff is proven, unclassified technology. Sometimes this seemingly proven technology are really, really hard, much less some new, exciting shiny technology. You group up too many new exciting technology at once and nothing works right (just thing about how bad the early fuel injected cars were with the also new emissions controls and safety systems-a large v8 in the corvette produced JUST 180 HP due to that-and that is SO MUCH SIMPLER than a aircraft or ship...)
posted by bartonlong at 2:59 PM on July 1, 2015


Isn't the main answer stealth? You can't upgrade from a non-stealth plane to a stealthy one.

Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it would be possible to incrementally change the airframe to get the stealth features or work towards them (the F-18 Super Hornet's airframe is significantly different from the Hornet's). My understanding is that the airframe part of stealth has to do with the reflective angles minimizing radar cross signature (though lots of other features matter too, like paint).

Maybe, though, rather than trying to get a stealthy aircraft in the F-22 sense, you get a stealthier F-16 with better jamming range, or better radar absorbing paint, or some different technology that buggers radar waves in close. Or the airplane equivalent of reactive armor, or trophy countermeasures, or better missile jamming. Point being, there's likely a lot of avenues of technology development that could have been pursued to get something as effective as a fifth generation plane, without heading down the stealth path.

This happens already for all aircraft; the air force terms them "block upgrades".

I was aware of block upgrades, and I guess my question is better expressed as: why do block upgrades stop at some point in favour of clean sheet redesign? Has anyone done a serious analysis on "how far could we take an F-16 with continual block upgrades, given the F-35's budget?" If the F-18's airframe can be modified, it doesn't seem like there's much, technically, that's actually unchangeable, especially by comparison to the astronomical costs of developing the F-35.
posted by fatbird at 3:00 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Everyone should read Ghost Fleet. That is all.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:15 PM on July 1, 2015


Wikipedia on the Space Shuttle:
The total cost of the actual 30-year service life of the shuttle program through 2011, adjusted for inflation, was $196 billion.
It is arguable that the Shuttle program was itself a ridiculous overpriced boondoggle, a pork-barrel political football ruined by unreasonable design-by-committee demands. That it was not money particularly well spent.

Still, we were able to drive it to frickin' space on a semi-regular basis for 30 years, for just a fifth of the price of the F35, which is merely yet another bomb-dropping machine. We desperately need more of those, of course, because one never has enough ways to drop bombs. I guess.

Could the F35 deliver even a fifth as much of the utility, inspiration, or amazement of the Shuttle?
posted by Western Infidels at 3:28 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ghost Fleet Reveals The Terrifying Future of Warfare - "Cole and Singer essentially distill all of the major tech and military trends and put them to use in Ghost Fleet."
posted by kliuless at 4:04 PM on July 1, 2015


Incidentally, I remember seeing a whiz-bang video from one of those military-industrial companies full of CGI showing their awesome idea for fighter drones operating as semi-autonomous groups under the control of an F-35. The F-35 pilot would be using their existing C4I (or whatever) computer systems to issue commands to the wingrobots -- and anything risky that could draw fire, like using a radar or firing a weapon, would be done by them with just the data relayed to the F-35 controller using lower-probability-of-intercept data transmissions.

So to be clear, my ire is not with the idea that drone fighters will happen someday, but with the idea that it's coming soon enough that that should enter into our analysis of whether the F-35 is worth it. And with that in mind, I propose that we'll know when that someday is getting close because we'll see this sort of intermediate step, fighter drones as escorts for piloted fighters, someplace other than industry fund-us videos.
posted by traveler_ at 4:34 PM on July 1, 2015


Aside from the epic waste of money on this project, I regret the F-35 development project purely for anthropomorphic reasons, because it beat out the smiling Happy Plane.
posted by ovvl at 5:15 PM on July 1, 2015


From the War Nerd link:

Here’s the key paragraph, in which the USAF tries to find a way to avoid the obvious conclusion that the A-10 was just plain better at the key job of CAS than the F-117

That is such a weird apples to oranges comparison. If you sent the A-10 to do the sort of missions the F-117 was sent on early in the war they would have been blown out of the sky. They have two entirely different jobs to do. CAS is not a key job for the F-117, destroying the stuff that would blow up the A-10 is. I guess the role they envision for the F-35 is to do both jobs to some degree. We will see how that works out.

I have a family member who has flown the A-10 in Iraq and Afghanistan. I once talked to him about the retirement plans and he was generally in agreement that the A-10 had to be phased out. I wish I remembered the details so I could share that perspective, my only point is it isn't just profiteers who think the time is coming.

The A-10 is definitely one of my favorite planes, mainly because of him. Before he was assigned to it I had never heard much about it other than seeing a couple flight sim games that featured it. IIRC, he was kind of disappointed originally because a lot of pilots definitely would rather do the Top Gun thing. (He introduced me to the movie when I was a kid and got me the NES game. Still pissed off the one time I was about to beat that game my Dad made me turn it off to go pick up my sister. "Just pause it!" "THERE IS NO PAUSE DAD YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!") So, it's been funny how in the years since so many movies started to show off the badass A-10 instead.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:04 PM on July 1, 2015


Has anyone done a serious analysis on "how far could we take an F-16 with continual block upgrades, given the F-35's budget?" If the F-18's airframe can be modified, it doesn't seem like there's much, technically, that's actually unchangeable, especially by comparison to the astronomical costs of developing the F-35.

Presumably the export customers buying the recent Blocks of F-16 production did exactly that math. The problem, as evidenced by Brazil's recent acquisition of Saab Gripens, is that other cheaper 4.5G or 5G aircraft will displace the F-16 in those orders and are close enough to the F-35 for jazz when it comes to glass cockpits and momentary high-alpha maneuvers. At least, if you're the USAF keeping the ability to generate a lot of F-16 replacement squardons in its back pocket in case shit gets real before the air to air drones show up.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:31 PM on July 1, 2015


(Because someone needs to keep buying new planes to prevent the production lines from being mothballed, as has happened to the arguably more capable Hornet. And cheaper than the F-35, not cheaper than the F-16.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:37 PM on July 1, 2015


why do block upgrades stop at some point in favour of clean sheet redesign?

Working in commercial aircraft, clean sheet design is simpler and cheaper than the equivalent redesign, or worse yet the retrofit of an in-service aircraft. And major structural redesign is not cost effective in most cases--you would need to perform the same certification and design validation as you would in a new design, which would have fewer constraints and could use newer materials and processes. Upgrades are limited to the avionics along with a minimum number of structural changes needed to accommodate those changes. The most likely case where structural redesigns are pursued on their own is where a safety problem has been discovered and needs to be addressed.
posted by cardboard at 7:17 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it works pretty damn good considering that it's made out of pork.
posted by metagnathous at 8:30 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


smackfu: " And if they're 1/10 the cost, it's still cheaper even if you lose three times as many.

Yeah, a Reaper is around $17 million (which is maybe 1/10 the cost), but it's not even a comparable plane. Top speed is 300 mph (it's got a propeller!) and it has a payload of 3800 lbs. F-35 top speed is 1200 mph and a payload of 18000 lbs.

I mean, if a bunch of Reapers went up against any modern fighter or AA system, I think you would probably lose all of them.
"

I am going to disagree on the grounds that the drone would (at least for a while) have a really small thermal signature, and with a little redesign and some RAM (radar absorbent material), coupled with their small size and their maneuverability could make things difficult for more traditional air defense systems.
And, while discussing price, there's always the truism that "quantity has it's own quality."

Plus, you shoot down a drone, you still have a pilot. For each of their aircraft, they lose a pilot. So we need to roll in training/retraining costs and morale too.

Lastly, you need to factor in public perception. We lost 10 drones in one encounter, that's one thing. We lose 10 pilots, there will be substantial PR costs.
posted by Samizdata at 12:11 AM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


TheWhiteSkull: "This is exactly why the article is BS. The F-35 is a multirole fighter, designed to use modern missile technology, which engages enemy fighters from miles away.


This was the logic behind the F-4 as well- it didn't need a cannon, because it would engage Russian interceptors at great distances with its brand-new "sidewinder" missiles.

Come Vietnam, it turns out that would still engage in dogfights, and did still need a cannon, and one was hastily slapped onto the nose.

Of course, as it has been pointed out, this won't really make a difference once effective air-to-air combat drones are in the air and we're all forced to work in the tungsten mines by our robot overlords.
"

Not me. I am going to aim for the "robosexual whore/collaborator" role. Sorry, meatbags!
posted by Samizdata at 12:14 AM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


RobotVoodooPower: "I also don't quite buy the notion that maneuvering in three dimensions is easier than maneuvering in two because "the sky is mostly full of air."

And yet this is true. Cruise missiles have been doing this for decades, and they have the visual terrain-matching worked out and everything. Self-driving cars have a whole set of different problems, like trying really hard not to pop a tire on a curb or kill a pedestrian.
"

Or as the article about the Delphi autonomous vehicle mentioned, zigzagging construction zones and cops on the shoulder.

Speaking of construction zones, any of the hive mind have any data on radar return from a human?
posted by Samizdata at 12:21 AM on July 2, 2015


qcubed: "You guys talking about how drones are the future seem to forget that they are very vulnerable to lightning strikes."

Now, I have to see that, and my Netflix queue is so painfully long...
posted by Samizdata at 12:32 AM on July 2, 2015


Drinky Die: That is such a weird apples to oranges comparison. If you sent the A-10 to do the sort of missions the F-117 was sent on early in the war they would have been blown out of the sky.

Don't assume that the analysis only refers to the early missions, because it doesn't. They kept flying F-117 missions throughout the whole campaign. I remember, because I found that odd at the time -- I didn't see why it was needed at all. Once those initial missions were done (and there were only a very small number), there was no compelling reason to fly the F-117 anymore, especially considering how expensive it is to fly and support and how slow and vulnerable it is in daylight. (If you can get a visual on it, you can kill it.)
posted by lodurr at 3:58 AM on July 2, 2015


Working in commercial aircraft, clean sheet design is simpler and cheaper than the equivalent redesign...

Hmm.... I get that you have to fully recertify the redesigned aircraft, but I'm still not sure this is true. The fact that the industry is constantly producing upgrades and redesigns strikes me as suggesting the contrary. As far as I can see, the overwhelming majority of new commercial aircraft types are new variants of an old type.
posted by lodurr at 4:01 AM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Don't assume that the analysis only refers to the early missions, because it doesn't.

Yeah, you are correct on that. I just found the framing around trying to pick the "better plane" for CAS to be absurd. Did anybody really suggest replacing a close air support plane with a long range stealth bomber? It's one thing to replace the A-10 with a multi-role plane, it's something else to do it with a dedicated bomber.

But yeah, that overuse of the F-117 for routine missions...big mistake.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:06 AM on July 2, 2015


why do block upgrades stop at some point in favour of clean sheet redesign?

As I understand it the "generational" cycle for commercial aircraft is something like 20 years, with incremental block upgrades in between. Wasn't the A380 and Dreamliner an entirely new platform? (could be wrong, I don't know much about airliners)

In the auto industry, clean sheet redesigns happen once every 8 years or so, with maybe 2 minor refreshes in between. When a clean sheet redesign happens something like 97% of parts have to be redesigned, and only 3% are carry over.

The reason is what a previous posted stated, any major change requires you to recertify the entire vehicle anyway, so you may as well start with a clean slate with new materials, new knowledge of physics / engineering and advancements in computer technology and new material shaping techniques. As an example, maybe 10 years ago there were some advancements in metal and plastic technologies that allowed them to be mated without mechanical fasteners or adhesives, and this allowed a whole generation of vehicles to achieve radically new front end designs at much lower tolerances and pass 5 star safety for the first time at something like half the cost of the old design. Materials science is continually advancing: sticking with a design 30 years old would cripple the entire project.

If it was more optimal to stick with a 30 year old design and perform block upgrades you'd see airline manufacturers and vehicle manufacturers do so.
posted by xdvesper at 6:06 AM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


fatbird: "I was aware of block upgrades, and I guess my question is better expressed as: why do block upgrades stop at some point in favour of clean sheet redesign? Has anyone done a serious analysis on "how far could we take an F-16 with continual block upgrades, given the F-35's budget?" If the F-18's airframe can be modified, it doesn't seem like there's much, technically, that's actually unchangeable, especially by comparison to the astronomical costs of developing the F-35."

Think about things like Windows. At some point, things (in theory) work best with a new slate.
posted by Samizdata at 9:24 AM on July 2, 2015


Sure. And often that new slate totally sucks. Remember Windows NT circa 1992? Windows 2.0? DOS 1.x?

And often when it's beautiful and elegant, it fails anyway. AmigaOS? BeOS? NeXT?

And often you never actually get there. Mac OS 10 [a.k.a. Copeland]?

So even when you start from a clean slate, you often end up with something that's fundamentally based on what came before. NeXT? Linux? FreeBSD? OS X?
posted by lodurr at 9:58 AM on July 2, 2015


If it was more optimal to stick with a 30 year old design and perform block upgrades you'd see airline manufacturers and vehicle manufacturers do so.

Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Nissan, Hyundai and Kia are doing this now and have been for a long time, using platforms originally developed by Mitsubishi and Suzuki. (You can add Chrysler & GM if you want to include manufacturers no longer using that platform.)
posted by lodurr at 10:00 AM on July 2, 2015


Think about things like Windows. At some point, things (in theory) work best with a new slate.

This was actually the origin of my question: my day job involves maintaining and building features on a website with a backend of 800k+ lines of python, javascript, scss, and hbs code that was started 7 years ago. It's in reasonably good shape, and we've put a lot of effort over the last few years on paying down technical debt, incremental refactoring, and generally roadmapping development to continually maintain and improve the codebase. Feature development has gotten demonstrably easier and cheaper because of it. It would be insane at this point to consider a from scratch rebuild, and there's no good reason to: the site's under more active development now than at any time before. It might be plausibly argued if the codebase had been allowed to degrade, but at this point, any proposed spending on a new feature assumes so much existing feature infrastructure that it would be fiscal malpractice.

A plane isn't a codebase, and the answers above about the effects of material science advances and fixed certification costs make sense. A code analogy might be that the 800k LOC above are in vbscript: even well-maintained, you're looking a liability there that's basically going to require a rebuild at some point.
posted by fatbird at 11:00 AM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can't speak with any authority on the F-35, but FWIW here's my experience with every other defense project I am familiar with:

RFP: Request For Proposal. Some military branch asks companies to propose solutions to a problem, which might be "drone we can carry in the backseat of Hum-Vees that can carry 50-kg payloads" (in 10 million words, but basically), or something that is far more complicated.

Companies respond. Those that do can respond to the ...

RFQ: Request For Quote. They picked idea X; write 10 million words that desribes exactly how you're going to design and build this. Focus on the business model and management techniques. To be fair: this is better than telling the government what designs and components you're going to use, at this point.

THE LOWEST BIDDER THAT MEETS ALL 10,000 ROWS IN THE REQUIREMENTS MATRIX WINS! OK, no one met all of them... honestly. So, there's wiggle room. note that I am not in any way exaggerating these numbers. Really. Not. Not a joke.) (And if it were YOUR $1,000,000,000,000 dollars, that'd be a good thing.) (Wait, it is.)

Now it begins.

A rising star in the Pentagon's eyes is chosen to lead this program. A civilian Project Manager is also chosen; this PM will long outlive the full-bird Colonel who is the "leader", thank god - you'll see why.

FOR AS LONG AS IT TAKES TO BRING THIS PROGRAM TO FRUITION, or two years, whichever comes first, the Colonel gently guides the new program in the direction his wisdom knows it must go. The PM PMs it. The various subcontractors wrestle with the contractor over fine points. Companies jostle for profit and PR edges, but most of this is hidden under the benevolent tarps of the Prime (Contractor, the company in charge of the others).

Two years have passed. A new rising star is chosen to replace the Colonel, who is now either gently hinted into retirement, or becomes a Brig. Gen. This new colonel must make his mark... so he (or she) changes things. Important things. Things that Will Make This Project A Success. Anyway, he/she changes things.

Two years pass. Repeat, until the completion deadline is overrun, and moved, three times.

At this point, the "drone that will fit in the back of a Hum-Vee and carry 50-kg payloads" has night vision (inarguably good), ability to recharge in-flight (OK, good, but...), solar panels (the what now?), carbon fiber and nanofibers (they're very big right now), dogfighting capabilities (in case it encounters a rogue F-35), and stickers (who doesn't love stickers?). It has face-recognition technology (so terrorists can't use it, unless they wear paper masks), and RFID tags (so they can't sneak it out the door from the supply depot when no one is looking).

It doesn't fit in the back of a Hum-Vee anymore, but that's OK, since it weighs over 3 tons (US). It has a flight time of well over 3 minutes, on paper, and has actually taken off in headwinds at White Sands Missile and Test Range. It costs just less than $157 million dollars.

The Army orders two.

The senator for the state where this is made adds two zeroes after that digit.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:35 PM on July 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


Not one fucking word of that description is a joke.

Except the stickers. They'd spray-paint it.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:37 PM on July 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


THE LOWEST BIDDER THAT MEETS ALL 10,000 ROWS IN THE REQUIREMENTS MATRIX WINS! OK, no one met all of them... honestly. So, there's wiggle room.

This bidder is lower than all the others (and our own internal estimates) by 50%!

We're going to save a lot of money on this project!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:11 PM on July 2, 2015


No wonder Putin is not worried.
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:17 PM on July 2, 2015


The Jane's full writeup and analysis is quite good - a snippet:
However, while the JPO can point to such discrepancies between the test pilot's comments (as they appeared in the article) and the F-35's mission set, it should be noted that many nations that cannot afford multiple aircraft types are procuring the F-35 as a multirole 'jack of all trades' to perform the full spectrum of missions.

Though advanced sensor and missile technology renders the classic dogfight less likely than at any point during the history of military aviation, rules of engagement and other considerations can sometimes require aircraft to be within visual range before engaging each other. The point the War is Boring article was trying to make, and the point the JPO has failed to refute in its rebuttal, is that aircraft do not always get to fight on their terms, and that it is no good saying that just because the F-35 is not designed to dogfight it will never have to do so.
posted by rosswald at 5:31 PM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


1) They have, actually, landed C-130s on aircraft carriers. There's a pretty cool video of one landing and taking off from, I believe, the Oriskany in the late 60's. Youtube it.

I thought it was the Forest Fire errr sorry I meant Forrestal. The Oriskany was an Essex class, a significantly smaller ship than the Forrestal class.

It's not music, it's aerodynamics, and I have a really hard time believing the intuitive truths of aerodynamics extend to "visually unappealing = slow."

GO LOOK AT THE X-32! Seriously. And one of the reasons it lost was performance.

And the A-10 looks slow, and is. The F-16 looks fast, and is. The SR-71 looks like it goes like a bat out of hell, and it in fact blows a bat out of hell away. We're actually not bad at realizing basic streamlined shapes. Now, transonic drag? Yeah, we can't eyeball that, which is why it took a while to figure out the area rule and why you really do want to put it in the wind tunnel even AFTER the computer tells you it's all good.

But if you take 10 airplane models, and sort them by how fast they look, you're very likely going to sort them by how fast they are. The reason that old saw has stuck around is that, by and large, it's true.

There are exceptions. The Shuttle doesn't look fast, but it went faster than any plane ever. Then again, it cheated, it left the atmosphere. Most people will think the F-104 is faster than the F-106, but it's not -- heck the F-4 was faster than the F-104. But all of those planes are Mach 2 capable, so we're not talking slow vs. fast, we're talking very fast vs. very fast vs. very very fast.

But, by and large, the more derpy it looks, the slower it is.
posted by eriko at 6:59 PM on July 2, 2015


Unless you put some flame decals on it.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:04 PM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


The F-111 was kinda derpy looking. But I guess a kinda fast-looking derpy, especially with the wings folded.

But yeah, the X-32 looked like an obese guppy.

Pretty doesn't always win the day, though — the YF-23 was rather pretty and futuristic looking.

It probably beat the F-22 on looks but lost the competition on performance. IIRC.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:07 PM on July 2, 2015


As far as I can see, the overwhelming majority of new commercial aircraft types are new variants of an old type.

What you do is....

1) Stretch it. Now your 737 is a 737-200

2) Put new, more efficient engines on it. Now your 737-200 is a 737-500

3) Then, maybe, stretch it again. Now your 737-500 is a 737-800.

4) Once, they tried this one more time. This was known as the 737-900. This didn't work too well. You can only add so much to a design without having to redesign things like the wings, the tail, the stabilizer, the landing gear, the fuel tanker age, and now you need more powerful engines....

5) ...and at this point, you crumple up the piece of paper you were drawing up the 737-1000, because that's not going to work, and start working on the 787 if you need something that big.

Meanwhile, they did need to do something about the 737.

That's the 737NEO. But it won't be any bigger than a 737-800.

What they (and Airbus) have also learned is that *shrinking* a design is a bad idea too. There, you then end up hauling too much wing, engine, tail, landing gear, etc. around the sky. Makes for an inefficient plane, read that as "fuel ineffecient" and airlines HATE that and rapidly decide not to buy it. The last one of these was known as the A319, the short bus version of the A320, and it became distinctly unpopular when fuel became pricey and Embraer started making actual small-from-the-start jets that burned half the fuel for the same number of seats.

So, while you can make some changes, you rapidly hit a point where the right answer is start over with a clean sheet. There's a reason there aren't that many 777 or A340 variants.
posted by eriko at 7:13 PM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Wings swept, not folded.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:14 PM on July 2, 2015


eriko: GO LOOK AT THE X-32! Seriously. And one of the reasons it lost was performance.

I have. What's your point, exactly? That it "looks slow"? Do you somehow KNOW that its performance was due to the fact that it "looks slow" to someone who's not an aeronautical engineer? Are you assuming that engineers at a major aircraft company would produce designs that were inherently slower just because they liked the way they looked?

What features, precisely, of that design, are slowing it down? I mean, you've said it looks slow; tell me what about it looks slow. You must be able to do that -- you seem so certain that the looks translate to performance issues.

I seriously don't know why anyone keeps saying this. It makes no sense.
posted by lodurr at 7:22 AM on July 3, 2015


So, while you can make some changes, you rapidly hit a point where the right answer is start over with a clean sheet. There's a reason there aren't that many 777 or A340 variants.

I for one certainly wouldn't argue with that. The claim that was being made was that most new designs are clean sheet designs. That's clearly not true, and for obvious reasons. It's also clearly true that eventually you need a clean sheet, because technology advances.

It's also clearly true that our military procurement process does not do clean sheet well as a general rule, and in the cases where it does, the program is usually in some sense a maverick. It's arguable that the A-10 and the F-16 were successful precisely because people didn't pay much attention to them.
posted by lodurr at 7:26 AM on July 3, 2015


You must be able to do that -- you seem so certain that the looks translate to performance issues.

Why does a 911 look faster than a golf cart? Talking purely about the body shape.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:18 AM on July 3, 2015


I mean, here's the X32. It's like someone glued a giant vacuum cleaner to the underside of an F-16 and Bondo'd the wings. This is obviously not science, and I have no doubt that commonsense ideas of what 'looks fast' gleaned from aging Futurist industrial design cues or other industries and vehicles etc. are out of date in terms of cutting edge aeronautical engineering.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:22 AM on July 3, 2015


How else will it scoop enough krill to maintain its body weight?
posted by fatbird at 8:26 AM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's arguable that the A-10 and the F-16 were successful precisely because people didn't pay much attention to them.

The A-10, maybe. Not the F-16. We're edging towards 5000 F-16s produced over the life of the design with its many upgrades and variants, and that's without counting the improved F-16 derivatives homebuilt in small numbers by Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. It's flown by over 20 other countries. It's probably the most ubiquitous combat aircraft in service.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:41 AM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is obviously not science, and I have no doubt that commonsense ideas of what 'looks fast' gleaned from aging Futurist industrial design cues or other industries and vehicles etc. are out of date in terms of cutting edge aeronautical engineering.

And yet you still seem to think that you can tell whether it's going to be fast by looking at it.

why do you folks keep defending this idea that you can tell whether advanced fighter design A will be faster than advanced fighter design B of the same generation BY LOOKING AT IT? This is prima facie a dumb thing to think. And yet trillion-dollar decisions are made based on this prima facie dumb idea.
posted by lodurr at 8:48 AM on July 3, 2015


We're edging towards 5000 F-16s produced over the life of the design...

1976 is the relevant time frame for when the project had gotten a lot of attention or not.
posted by lodurr at 8:50 AM on July 3, 2015


In my experience, intuitive truisms are accurate precisely often enough to trigger intermittent reinforcement effects. "If it looks fast it is fast" is a good example of that. Yes, a 911 looks fast. So does a Ferrari 308. Which one's faster? Surprise! You can't tell by looking! You have to know what engine is in them, etc.

Or you could, you know, get data.

Or, for that matter: Which one will handle beter? Surprise! You can't tell by looking!

Then we run up against things like Ellington's famous maxim, "If it sounds good, it is good." Which sounds superficially similar, but is actually quite disruptive in how it attacks establishmentarian ideas of musical quality. You have to think about Ellington's maxim only briefly* to see the clear, obvious, simple truth of it.

But trying to apply parallel formulations to other areas will get you into trouble. The mapping between aerodynamics and the futurist idea of aerodynamics is going to be imperfect at best, and will very likely be completely wrong in a lot of cases once the data is in.

Put another way, since what Ellington is arguing is basically that 'sounds good = good', the proper mapping to aerodynamics is really "if it is fast, it is fast." 'Looks' may well have a relation, but it's not always going to be an obvious one.

--
*assuming you accept the idea that the arbiter of musical quality is whether it sounds good -- and arguing something else in the fact of a bold statement like that is going to take brass balls -- and that you're not a part of an artistic establishment that the maxim challenges.
posted by lodurr at 9:14 AM on July 3, 2015


Which one's faster? Surprise! You can't tell by looking! You have to know what engine is in them, etc.

The engine is irrelevant to the premise behind "if it looks fast, it is fast", which is about aerodynamic efficiency, not horsepower. I follow Formula 1 racing a bit, and there's often talk of aerodynamicists designing things by intuition and judging things by eye. Probably because actually testing a design is ridiculously expensive, even in computer simulation. It seems there's no algorithm to tell them to change the shape of this fairing here, or put a winglet there, they just have to get a feel for it.

So I suspect what's true is that if it looks fast to someone with a certain level of knowledge about aero, then it very likely is fast.
posted by sfenders at 2:03 PM on July 3, 2015


So I suspect what's true is that if it looks fast to someone with a certain level of knowledge about aero, then it very likely is fast.

But what level of knowledge does that have to be? I submit that w.r.t. these designs, and to the design of advanced aircraft in general, it's well beyond the capabilities on evidence not just here, but among the people making the procurement decisions.

I'm really uninterested in making excuses for this conceit, as you might gather. There's a reason I'm obsessed with this point: It crystallises what's wrong with the whole fucking system. Decisions are not being made by people who have the knowledge or data to make the decision. I would bet you money that if someone could come up with a side-by-side simulation comparison of the X-32 and the X-35, their aerodynamic efficiency would be so close as to be insignificant -- differences in gross, observable designs swamped by small differences that wouldn't affect the look.

IOW, it's all emotional, it's not data-driven. It's a bunch of guys thinking with their groins. It's the dark triumph of emotional design, writ expensive.
posted by lodurr at 7:08 AM on July 4, 2015


The X32 looked the way it did because it was a more conservative extension of the Harrier's direct lift system, despite it's appearance suggesting aeronautical compromises. The X-32 also needed to be reconfigured (with different parts) for either STOVL flight or supersonic flight. The X-35 did not.

Both designs were built and flight tested, with good results. The ultimate decision was presumably "data driven," although the X-35 team did put on a bit of an extra show towards the end.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:39 AM on July 4, 2015


Some final thoughts from the same documentary.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:47 AM on July 4, 2015


Those videos basically support my main contention that they were letting the looks prejudice them. That Boeing acknowledged the requirement to modify for STOVL or supersonic flight strikes me as more realistic. This of course could be the real reason they didn't get the contract: they were more accustomed to thinking about commercial clients, who actually want what they say they want (lower cost per passenger mile, lower operating cost, etc.).

I watched that docu years ago when it was broadcast, and my sense at the time was that Boeing lost because they were behind schedule. The problems that caused them to lose the competition were all solveable problems. (E.g., the hot gas ingestion problem was probably due in no small part to removal of the cowl.) They were much more ambitious in some ways: they envisioned a modular lineup of weapons systems, where Lockheed was essentially pitching more unary variations on a central design. Lockheed had a cleaner pitch.

It comes back ultimately to the fact that we assume the success of a pitch indicates the value of the product being pitched. Enough of us have been in advertising that we ought to assume out of the gate that's not how it works, but we still fall for it.
posted by lodurr at 7:55 AM on July 4, 2015


One Analyst Predicted the F-35’s Dogfight Failure
But get a load of what Stillion did next. Landing at the Center for Strategic and Budget Assessments — a Washington, D.C. think-tank — Stillion authored a report proposing a radical solution to America’s fighter problem.

That is, totally getting rid of fighters as we know them.
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:01 PM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The drone swarms controlled by manned planes make sense, but I think it makes better sense to use fourth generation fighters for this purpose.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:42 PM on July 6, 2015


While I don't necessarily think you can answer all questions with an appeal to history, it's worth noting that drone swarms are analogous to the "turret fighter" concept that was circulating in the late '30s. Or to the related idea that bombers could defend themselves against fighter attack.

That said, the drone swarm idea arguably addresses a lot of the weaknesses in those earlier ideas. Any 'drone swarm' is likely to have some kind of failover to a backup controller, so taking out the vulnerable controller aircraft isn't necessarily a win; the big problem with turret-fighters was their lack of mobility and their complexity, both of which are addressed by the drone swarm. (The swarm is only superficially more complex -- it's actually simpler, since it's comprised of multiple simpler systems rather than one super-complex system like an Airacuda or an F35.)
posted by lodurr at 8:44 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's the dark triumph of emotional design

This sounds like a line from a late Pink Floyd album.
posted by yoink at 9:07 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Isn't there a possibility of losing communications with drones if satellites are taken out and/or coms are jammed?
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:49 AM on July 7, 2015


I think a lot of this thinking assumes semi-autonomous drones. So what you'd accomplish by that is trading a flock of directed drones for a flock of drones that were limited only by some strict interpretation of the rules of engagement.

Of course you could probably dirty up the electronic environment enough to ground them, but at that point you most likely can't fly an F35 either.

it would be a totally fair observation to point out that none of the drone scenarios are based on current drone technology. But then, the F35 isn't going to be operational for years, either.
posted by lodurr at 11:47 AM on July 7, 2015


I'm skeptical that the semi-autonomous control software will be sufficient to replace a human brain.

I thought the F-35 is supposed to be operational this year: F-35 Software Challenge Won't Delay IOC

Wow. This doesn't seem like a small software problem, but it does seem like a pretty neat feature.
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:20 PM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


also worth conceding in advance that the drone swarm concept, in its current form, relies on stealth for at least some of its credibility -- and real stealth in that scenario is basically not feasible.

Stillion's report is essentially predicated on using retrofitted B2s to control the swarm. He refers to them as long range strategic bombers, but he uses B2-shaped icons and presumes "stealth" in the controller. The problem with that is that once the controller is controlling, it's no longer stealthy in any sense that is meaningful against a serious enemy. (it's emitting radar signals or at least communicating by radio frequency. So, findable.)

So you've spent a shit-ton of money on a system that doesn't really benefit from most of the money you're spending.

Really a B52 makes at least as much sense as and in many ways more than a B2, as the drone-swarm controller platform. Think of how many Phoenix missiles you could cram into its bomb bays or hang off those big hard points.
posted by lodurr at 8:32 AM on July 8, 2015


It's the air-to-air drones that need to be stealthy for this tactic. The engagement sequence seems to presume that the opposing fighters and the drone-controlling bomber detect each other at the same time via infrared search and track. The tactic relies on the opposing fighters failing to detect the drones closer to them, and on the controlling aircraft carrying weapons with longer range than the opposing fighters in order to strike first.

I fail to see why a three ship formation of F-15s can't do what the B-2 is doing there, but with better tactics available to induce the enemy formation to split or maneuver into the drones weapons engagement zones for cleanup after their own initial volley. And much better survivability if the enemy fighters manage to close and engage the controller(s). And we have many many more of them than B2s, and losing one is much less of a blow both cost and inventory-wise. Not to mention that control of the drones isn't lost if one controller is shot down, and the entire mission isn't aborted if one controller has to abort, because there are other controlling aircraft. Similarly, if one aircraft's control link fails or is jammed, there are two more.

Assuming controlling fighters could carry six long range missiles each, like the F-14 did, that's 18 missiles. Not as many as envisioned but still enough for the tactic to work. Especially with all the AIM-120s on the drones. Since no current aircraft including the B2 envisioned supports the AIM-54, that or some other V/LRAAM could be refitted to a different aircraft just as easily.

And yes, I agree that a B-52 makes better sense than a B2 (even a B-1B would make better sense than a B-2) although a flight of fighters probably still makes the best sense.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:47 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sustained support of ground troops seems to be the greater need based on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars

And based on the entire history of military aviation, despite the U.S.A.F's refusal to acknowledge this point in the face of overwhelming evidence.
posted by snottydick at 12:38 PM on July 9, 2015


The B-1b seems to be great at it in Kobane. Can fly around for hours and holds 24 500lb JDAM's. But quite expensive.

Maybe you have B-1b's and a bunch of stealth drones.
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:47 PM on July 9, 2015




"The pricey new stealth jet can’t turn or climb fast enough to hit an enemy plane during a dogfight or to dodge the enemy’s own gunfire."

This just in: your sniper rifle and ghillie suit suck in a knife fight.

On the other hand, facing off against the new stealth jet in the real world would suck, big time. The Royal Aeronautical Society simulated an engagement between four of the stealth fighters and four Sukhoi Su-35S... the end result? Four splashed Sukhoi, with the Russians only getting two missiles off, and no hits.

"it is extremely frustrating to play as Red Air and somewhat unnerving to have missiles appear out of thin air. . . the psychological factors were . . . apparent. If one, two or three of your flight vanished suddenly in explosions and you still couldn't get a reliable track/lock on the enemy - at what point do you decide to withdraw and escape?"
posted by markkraft at 2:20 PM on July 10, 2015




Interesting article (from 2014) on the possibility of reviving the questionably retired S-3 Viking as a carrier onboard delivery plane (and auxillary tanker/bomb truck), instead of creating an upgraded C-2 or using Ospreys.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:30 PM on July 22, 2015




« Older Pau ka wiliwili nahu ka mano   |   I was not prepared for that Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments