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Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Fiscal Times gets punked on the F-35

The Fiscal Times, widely viewed as a conservative publication, appears to have been suckered with respect to the F-35. Relying heavily on a "study" by the National Security Network -- and not much else -- the FT reported recently that the F-35 is a dog and a waste of money. The problem with relying on a defense spending study by the NSN, of course, is that they self-describe as "progressive" and are basically opposed to defense spending in general. Reading the FT article gives no indication that the "study" had any actual basis in fact. The article simply regurgitates the "conclusions" of the "study" while ignoring that the study does not actually include any facts:
A new report by a progressive think-tank says the astronomically expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is inferior compared to other “near-peer” competitors and will be mismatched against emerging threats.
The study by the National Security Network states the jet, the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history, will not only be outmaneuvered and outgunned by Russian and Chinese aircraft but will also be limited in range and its stealth capabilities will be easily overcome.
Normally, when reading a couple paragraphs like that, you would expect to see somewhere in the article facts and figures supporting those assertions about how the F-35 is about to get it's ass kicked. The report claims that the F-35 can't dogfight with top Russian and Chinese fighters -- a proposition unproven, because the testing restrictions haven't been lifted on the F-35 yet in the dogfighting tests conducted. Further, the F-35 has only been tested against the F-16, and the top Russian and Chinese fighters also cannot compete with the F-16. With all restrictions on testing lifted, it is not at all clear that the F-35 is not a superior dogfighting aircraft compared to the F-16 and, by extension, any foreign aircraft it might have to face. Finally, the F-35 is not designed to go head-to-head, fangs-out in a dogfight with another plane. It is designed to kill the other plane before the other plane knows the F-35 is even there.

On this front, too, the NSN "study" claims the F-35 fails, based once again on speculation, not actual study:
[T]he F-35’s stealth avionics and sensors might not make much of difference against the fighters operated by Russia and China, since those countries have made strides in radar, computing, and infrared sensor technology, the NSS report states.
Presumably, the NSN is referring to the Russian T-50 and the Chinese J-20, those nations attempts at fifth-generation fighters. Well, they ain't doing so hot. For China, the problem is engines:
Engines are a critically important component of any fighter aircraft, and they present Chinese airplane manufacturers with a dilemma. Their new fifth-generation fighter prototypes, the Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31, sport sophisticated airframes and avionics that are clearly intended to make them a match for the United States’ most advanced aircraft. However, China’s ability to manufacture jet engines has not kept pace with other sectors of its aerospace industry. Regardless of how capable other Chinese aircraft systems may be, without a reliable, high-performance turbofan engine to power them, both the J-20 and the J-31 will be crippled.
The Chinese can't make good jet engines. Period. And their fighters will only be as good as their engines -- or the better engines they can buy from the Russians. If you think the Russians will sell China enough jet engines to make China's air force a threat to Russia, you really haven't been paying attention.

As for the Russians, their plane is being test-driven by a potential customer, and the customer is not happy:
Russia’s new T-50 stealth fighter is fast, maneuverable, heavily-armed and hard to detect on radar. In theory.
But according to Indian air force officials, in practice the Sukhoi-made stealth jet is also too expensive, poorly engineered and powered by old and unreliable engines.
The Indians’ complaints illustrate the yawning gulf between stealth warplane design and the actual production of radar-evading jets. In other words, it’s one thing to sketch an advanced warplane on paper. It’s quite another to build one and get it to work.
The fact is, National Security Network is a left-wing, self-describe progressive group that opposes defense spending. Any "analysis" they conduct will conclude, without exception, that U.S. spending on (fill in the blank here with the most expensive U.S. weapons system of the day) is foolhardy because it can't compete with whatever whoever is already putting in the field. The fact is, the F-35 is a more capable fighter than the F-16 and the F-15. It certainly is a more capable fighter than anything our enemies can put in the air,  now or in the foreseeable future. We're better at this shit than they are.

Should we have put all of our eggs in one basket and made the F-35 a one-size-fits-all fighter for every military branch? No. Almost undoubtedly not. Should we have stopped production of the F-22 air superiority stealth fighter? Absolutely not. But we did, on both counts. We're stuck with the F-35, because nothing we have in the inventory can stay in the air long enough to develop a different replacement. We should keep the A-10 for close air support, and we should renew production of the F-22 for air superiority, and let the F-35 fill the role of the F-16. It is not a bad aircraft. Can we do better? Yeah, probably. But not soon, and not if we try another one-size-fits-all approach.  We need to return to procuring aircraft designed for a particular role. In the meantime, quit worrying about the F-35: no one we are likely to fight anytime soon, including Russia and China, can match it.

Basically, The Fiscal Times got taken in by a group with essentially no military expertise. The NSN starts from the premise that defense money is better spent on more "progressive" goals, like single-payer health care or some such, and then trashes defense spending in general under the guise of a "study" that had its conclusion before it was started. Well, fuck 'em.

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