SHARE

It’s no secret that the F-35 has had severe cost and schedule issues.

The F-35 programme has gone through serious teething problems, problems also experienced by the majority of complex aircraft flying today such as the F-15, Typhoon or any other modern combat jet.

The biggest issue for the project continues to be the fact it is the most expensive military weapons system in history owing to the sheer scope of the programme but that being said, aircraft costs are now coming down and will soon be similar to the cost of many aircraft it’s replacing.

Today the programme is maturing rapidly, right now much of the activity around the jet is dealing with software bugs and testing to validate the software, with most of the physical testing being to do with weapons integration and the gradual scaling up of capabilities that comes with each new software block.

The jet is a quantum leap in capability, able to give the pilot as much information as only theatre commanders have previously had. While the primary value of the jet is in its sensor and networking capabilities, it is also valuable in that it’s able to perform many tasks designed to increase the lethality of not only itself but other assets, such tasks include the ability to co-ordinate small fleets of unmanned combat aircraft, guide weapons launched from other platforms (even warships), launch a wide-range of its own weapons and use it’s own radar to conduct electronic attacks.

A key element of 21st century air power is clearly working and smoothly implemented coalition operations, the F-35 provides a unique integrated air combat capability whereby coalitions of joint or allied F-35s can be supported in common. The F-35 was designed from the outset to bring these capabilities while also being interoperable across a coalition of air power.

Two networks are core to this operability: the Link-16 and the new Multi-Function Advanced Datalink (MADL). These systems allow the F-35 to communicate with nearly all current and future NATO assets.

Link-16 is currently utilised by most existing platforms fielded by NATO members and will allow F-35 to integrate seamlessly into a coalition force structure.

MADL will complement the current networks as NATO’s first high bandwidth, low probability of detect and intercept connection. The fundamental design features of MADL enable all NATO F-35s in a deployed coalition to communicate within an Anti-Access/Area Denial environment.

The potential for cooperation between the United Kingdom and coalition forces all using the F-35 variants is significant, in terms of coalition warfare the F-35 further increases the situational awareness of all parties to a greater extent than anything flying today, resulting in a quantum leap in capability for coalition forces.

Such is the aircrafts sensor and data fusion capabilities, a small number of F-35s could provide the UK and her coalition allies with situational awareness within defended airspace where platforms such as E-3 AWACS and E-8 JSTARS would be unable to operate.

F-35s could find and designate priority targets within defended airspace for a less stealthy fleet to attack from a relatively safe distance, further enhancing coalition capability.

The F-35s value is not only in its stealth or combat capability, it’s also in the flying sensor network it creates in the battle space.

The ability of the F-35 to drastically improve the combat capability of other assets was demonstrated recently when an F-35 and Aegis Weapon System worked together during a live fire exercise, with the F-35 passing sensor data to another platform which then engaged the target.

The exercise was the first live fire missile event that successfully demonstrated the integration of the F-35 to support Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air and represent a very promising exploration into the interoperability of the F-35 with other naval assets.

The F-35 will drastically increase the situational awareness of the forces with which it will deploy and for the UK, where deployed numbers may be a concern, it represents a fantastic way to enhance combat capability in any coalition or national effort.

It is my opinion that the F-35 will drastically increase the situational awareness and combat capabilities of the forces with which it will deploy and for the UK, where numbers may be a concern, it represents a fantastic way to enhance combat capability in any coalition or national effort.

There is no denying that jet is overbudget and behind schedule compared to original estimates but an incredibly capable platform is emerging and one that I believe will shape the future of air combat.

31 COMMENTS

  1. Good article – but unless the UK ups its combat capability to 200+ aircraft then we have a problem

    8 active squadrons (of 16 aircraft) of F35 alongside a further 8 active Squadrons of Typhoons is the minimum force the UK should have. I would also like to see us have a further 8 Squadrons of Gripen instead of the hawks but that is wishful thinking on my part.

    This isn’t fanciful thinking on my part, historically we have had a harrier force for the Navy as well Typhoons and Tornados for the airforce and our trainers have been hawks for some time.

    The forces we have in all arms are now just too small to be effective and we dont seem to have the depth or breadth across our forces.

    This needs to be addressed as we cannot continue fooling ourselves that we are a major power when the US Coastguard is bigger than our navy and the USMC is bigger than all UK forces and has considerably more air power than the UK.

    Even Saudi Arabia now has a bigger airforce and you can only be in one place at once, so coverage is critical.

    • You make a point that always amazes me. The USMC is larger and more capable than any NATO Allies Aed forces. Except for the uK and FR nuclear deterrent the USMC packs more lethality and capabilities and is smallest of Americas military Branches.

      Also agree with your Force structure needs. What UK doesn’t seem to understand but has been changing is how much your 2010 QDR scared the stuffing out of the US. The U.K. Unilaterally disarmed and dismantled.

      • It scared the stuffing out of us also.

        I think there was and still is a pro-EU-integrationist agenda working within the MoD and government generally. The thinking clearly being if we all reduce but merge our spending and capabilities and operate as one, we will have a far stronger force.

        The argument is won by continually degrading our forces in peacetime, which people tend to agree with and then claiming it is too expensive for any one nation to operate and re-build in times of instability. This is evidently the case and so the integration of the armed forces into a wider European capability group becomes the obvious response.

  2. Main question is whether the gun pods on the f35b’s impacts their radar signature or not. The US found in vitnam, that relying only on missiles didn’t work. If it does, then their main advantage is removed and they would be effectively limited to intel roles, until such a time that the enemies air assets are removed.

    • I does. It’s also useless a sop to CAS. If U.K. Is concerned about having gun capabilities you need to plane on a few wings of the A model. For B you are better off carrying extra AIM120 & 9x for a2a.

    • I thought that too, but missile tech has come on a long way since then I mean nam is over 40 years ago, an what jet on jet encounters since then, to my knowladge have been mid to long range encounters. Except over Falklands but they were missile kills there anyway. The F35 has not been designed to dog fight and if it comes up against a Russian air supremacy fighter and it’s at a range that it’s gun pod could be utilised the 35 would be toast anyway. So if an 35 is equipped with a Pod it would probably be on a close ground support role, meaning we would lickly have air supremacy already and stealth would be a relitivle moot point.

      • Ignoring no one outside the military really know how stealthily they really are for a moment.

        Having a lower radar signature is not enough. If they are visible they are visable, since jets are normally visable way before they come into missile range.

      • Believe one Pucarra kill was by flare…….
        The harrier had no missiles at the start of the engagement and had exhausted its cannon rounds at the Pucarra.
        In desperation the pilot fired a flare and the Pucarra pilot ejected thinking the flare was a missile.

  3. The gun pods on f 35b have been designed to not repeat not increase radar cross section.
    They are top rate and many US arforce personnel think the F35b and A variants with gun pod will likely replace the A10 tank buster in the close air support/ antiarmour role (especially if fitted with Brimstone missiles)
    I agree with Paceman in that we need more than 48 F35bs in service at any one time ideally need 6-8 squadrons or 96 jets + training and OCUs to provide a maximum surge capacity of 2x 36 F35b carrier air wings. This would still leave a small force to supplement Eurofighter typhoons in home defence or other tasking. The F35 B is a revolutionary platform and we need to get serious about ordering them in adequate numbers.

    • If the gun pod doesn’t increase radar cross section then that seems to bode very well for stealthy drop tanks.

      How big is the gun pod? Maybe they could even use the same tooling/moulds as are being used for the gun pod housing, with holes filled in of course, for drop tanks. That might get the cost down. It would certainly reduce design costs and risk since designing a low RCS item is quite complex I think.

      For F-35Bs doing stealthy strikes, which by definition would only be carrying internal weapons and so would have the wing hardpoints available, that could be a very useful range enhancer. If they are genuinely zero impact on RCS they wouldn’t even need to jettison them and could take them all the way to the target and bring them back to the carrier (depending on extra drag of course which might remove the benefits of the extra fuel).

  4. So the F-35 does not deserve the flak. In fact it is quite the opposite.
    Strange though that this plane gathers so much hatred. It seems that every corporate America opponent, Yankee haters, Russian lover feels compelled to criticize the F-35.
    Why? Is this due the a particularly efficient Russian counter propaganda? The internet viral efficiency? Or just plain stupidity? I can’t remember any program being so heavily criticized.

  5. Off all the critisism which has been given to the F35 I think an important point has been missed by the UK tax payer; we have for only a small amount of investment, access to a world class aircraft for which we are able to deploy independently of the Americans and modify to our requirements with weapon systems from the UK. Also, we have a large stake in the manufacturing and maintenance program supporting thousands of UK jobs. In my opinion we have a very good deal.

  6. So basically one strategy could be to have a fairly limited number of expensive F35s as the modern Pathfinder Force, and a whole load of other cheaper aircraft (including unmanned) to do the damage.

  7. The F35 will dominant the skies for 50 years or so, there is simply no alternative to this aircraft.

    The long and painful gestation period is nearly over, those nation that procure the F35 will benefit.

    I hope the UK buys it’s 138 aircraft, with a split buy of A and B variants.

  8. “right now much of the activity around the jet is dealing with software bugs and testing to validate the software”
    That’s true, but also
    — the system needs to enter initial operational test & evaluation, jointly run by US UK Netherlands and Australia, but the project leader has testified that they can’t have 23 aircraft ready for the start of IOT&E by early next year.
    — the F-35s currently have over 200 “highest priority” necessary hardware modifications to be applied, many of them serious like bulkhead mods, and doubtless there will be more hardware faults uncovered in operational testing.
    –it looks like no end in sight for the software development. Fifteen years in development and they still don’t have it.

  9. The long and painful gestation period is nearing its completion. One wonders if back in 2000 they knew how much this was going to cost and the time delays they would have cancelled JSF and thought of a different solution for the US armed forces.

    But we are where we are and I have no doubt the F35 will dominate the sky’s for the 50 years in one form or another.

  10. The problem is there has been no high end air combat for decades and so no one really knows how they would play out in 2017, its all guess work. Of course the western view will be that the f35 will walks the floor with anything else out there, because no chance anyone in the military (who brought the plane) or the industry (who made the plane and is profiting from it) is going to admit otherwise, even if the f35 was completely useless they would argue it was the best in the world and so us outsiders just have to take biased views from many sources all with stake in everyone believing the story. Not that i’m making a judgement either way, as i just don’t know.

    For the UK, there is no doubt that it is lightyears better than the harrier and so all good for us. For the UK we have to focus on we are getting our first carrier strike force in years and also a return to serious close air support.

  11. I remain unconvinced by the overall package.

    The design philosophy failed from the start, three variants of the same aircraft wasn’t realisable. The design should have attempted to harmonise three different designs where possible. In the end we have a highly compromised aircraft designs, compared to what could have been, which have cost an enormous sum to develop.

    Plus I fear putting all our eggs in a single, stealth basket is a recipe for disaster. 50 years is a long time and technology and the fusion of technologies will only gather pace.

    Combinations of existing technologies (VLF radar, IFR, Laser) operating in a hunter mode can already get close to the F35. Mount these on drones with standoff hypersonic missiles in a fall back position and there’s a cheap, low human capital means of detecting and obviating the F35 threat. Yes, the F35 will make toast of the drones but they won’t get past this flying sensor net without triggering a hypersonic response. This is the next 5 years. Add a layered defence and the F35 won’t stand a chance.

    All major powers are investing in quantum radar, which simply cannot be hidden from. At the moment existing projects cannot maintain coherence over a long enough distance but in 10 years, this will probably not be the case. China is making great strides in this area.

    Don’t get me wrong, the F35 is an enormous capability improvement and a great looking piece of kit to boot! But at $1.5tr, that’s a lot of money for a platform that could be in large part neutralised within a decade.

      • Wasn’t the 1t number flagged around as the overall cost of the project for the US including the several thousand jets that they have ordered.

  12. I am old enough to remember the development. Of the F16; the “electric fighter”. Much was made of its then revolutionary fly-by-wire systems. Many of the early prototypes crashed. I knew the widow of one of the test pilots. She sued the USAF and won only to lose on appeal. The point is that there were doubters and detractors everywhere. They just made the 4000th plane…

  13. So it isn’t an air superiority fighter, its a USB port for everyone else? Bet the MoD guys were a little disappointed when they heard that. Perhaps it needs a new name. Not fighter because that implies dogfighting, perhaps then attack should be its desig?
    There are always going to be situations when they get to knife fighting range, so having the manoeuvrability of B-52 isn’t going to be much use, and who says it will be a Russian they will be up against? Even so the PAK 50 seems capable. China is advancing all the time t he J 20’s capabilities are not known and the J-31 may well be ready before our carrier gets its first F35b.

  14. The Major issue, for the west is having the poltical will to keep the services to a certain level, the UK populace have created a revered being of the NHS, that will now always gobble up all resources before the military get a look in, aging populations ever increasing aid and welfare budgets all depress the military spending, which is why F-35 wont be abailable in numbers 🙁

LEAVE A REPLY