2009/02/17

The "APA" F-35/F-22 debate and the Rumour Control blog

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You may know Dr. Knopp and the Air Power Australia think tank.
They're quite controversial (= not mainstream cheerleaders) in both methods and conclusions. I consider some of their info as interesting and other info as misleading at best. Many others have a much more passionate stance toward APA.

The value of APA lies in the simple fact that they're NOT mainstream, they don't play cheerleader for everything "Western" and don't trash OPFOR equipment all the time (like some webpages that I dislike so much I would never link to them).
Well, they don't cheer all the time at least.

Gregor Ferguson of the quite new Rumour Control blog has written an interesting statement text about APA and their positions, I recommend it for reading.

Unsurprisingly, I don't agree with him on all his points either, so I'd like to give some comments on that statement as well. You can assume my preliminary agreement with everything in that text that I don't mention here.
Keep in mind; I'm no total expert on the area, just somewhat informed and interested.

In any case, improved seeker heads on air-air missiles can offset platform advantage, and so can a well-integrated weapon system. The crucial ability to engage or disengage at will has become increasingly a function of missile seeker and kinetic performance.

This is very noteworthy and interesting. It fits well to some fighter design literature on my shelf (I recommend "Fundamentals of Fighter Design" by Ray Whitford as an introduction for laymen). The paradigm change away from the fighter's fuselage to its SRAAM armament and WVR (within visual range) fire control began in the 70's (I mentioned the AIM-95 Agile before) and happened in the 80's with the MiG-29/S-27 and their IRST/Helmet visor/R-73 missile combination. Israel catched up quickly with Python4, NATO later with AIM-9X and IRIS-T.
This paradigm change means that - given parity in these relatively affordable and easy to integrate components - the difference in WVR air combat performance is probably small no matter which fighter is being used. It's a bit more complicated, though - more about that later.

[...] that Within Visual Range (WVR) air combat was to be avoided, if at all possible, because the speed, agility and seeker head capabilities of modern WVR missiles meant there was no escape from them: a dog fight between two fighters equipped with modern WVR missiles would become the proverbial knife fight in a telephone booth – mutual death was virtually guaranteed.

A strong threat provokes an effective countermeasure. Short-range air target missiles tend to use passive infrared guidance - and are therefore susceptible to IR countermeasures. The old flares and IRCM (Infra-red counter measure) dazzling systems are likely already countered by modern seekers, but DIRCM (directed IRCM; dazzling laser) promises to be more effective. It might even be added in pod form like ECM radar jamming pods and might thus be easily integrated into older fighters.
DIRCM is a soft-kill defence, but hard kill defences might also be feasible.
In short; it's likely much easier to launch missiles at each other than it ever was, but I don't believe that this needs to mean a very high lethality of such an action.
An attack on an opponent without proper countermeasures would be a simple thing, though - as always.

Did I mention that the internal fuel capacity of an F-35A is roughly the same as the combined internal and external fuel capacity of a Flanker? And that a Flanker carrying nine tonnes of fuel is extremely g-limited?

This is the weakest part of his text. The Flanker pilots rarely use any external fuel tanks, if at all. I've yet to see any indication of external Flanker fuel tanks.
About the g limit; let's lazily quote Wikipedia:
"In an overload configuration for maximum range, it can carry 9,400 kg (20,700 lb) of internal fuel, although its maneuverability with that load is limited, and normal load is 5,270 kg (11,620 lb)."


About the F-35 Lightning II:
I doubt that the STOVL version is worth the cost and trouble, and I'd prefer a program that tells the public clearly about the performance. The F-35 is a quite secretive project - the real performance indicators are hidden in the avionics, while the public gets little more than basic flight performance and visual information.
Well, it's at least not my tax money that's at stake.

About APA:
One of the interesting texts of APA was the one about counter-ISR technologies (mostly Russian). Their F-22 and F-35-related texts are rather questionable.
I disagree on their championing of the expensive F-22 - mostly for the reasons mentioned by Mr. Ferguson. Australia is not Japan, there's no big bad boy nearby - and the F-22 is simply not cheap enough for large quantity purchases.

Sven Ortmann

1 comment:

  1. Being only a former ground-pounder, I am clearly in no position to offer an informed position on this matter. That said, until I had read Ferguson's post, an increasingly strong impression gained from other, previous, readings was that the entire F-35 program seemed to be heading towards mediocrity.

    Guess not, and that's good news. Especially if the F-22 is enjoying a readiness rate in the low-60's percentile. Of course, it remains to be seen what the ultimate readiness rate of the F-35 will be, and in the meantime the F-22 rate may be significantly improved.

    Good catch, Sven.

    ReplyDelete

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