I still oppose the "one size fits all" approach of the F-35, using the same air frame to be a strike fighter, dogfighter and carrier fighter, because I think that different roles require different airplanes. I am not alone in this. I have, however, been a defender of the F-35 as the next fifth-generation fighter aircraft for the U.S. military. While the cost for the program is high, the cost per unit is dropping and could drop a lot more as the production ramps up. This sort of thing makes me believe that the plane is worth it:
\Exercise Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada is considered one of the most realistic and challenging aviation warfare exercises, and pilots from this year's event say the Air Force's F-35A exceeded expectations by dominating the air space and improving the lethality of other legacy aircraft. It's stellar performance is a major victory for a war plane that's been criticized for its high costs and plagued with several development setbacks.It sounds like the F-35 is doing what it is supposed to be doing -- not simply dominating the battle space by itself, but allowing fourth-generation fighters to dominate the battle space with the assistance of the sensors and avionics of the F-35.
Running from January 23 to February 10, this year's Red Flag involves more threats to pilots than ever before, including surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), radar jamming equipment, and an increased number of red air, or mock enemy aircraft. Against the ramped-up threats, the F-35A only lost one aircraft for every 15 aggressors killed, according to Aviation Week.
The F-35 Lightning II's advanced avionics software was the star of the show, as multiple F-35s successfully compiled data into a detailed layout of the battlefield with each individual threat pinpointed. The stealthy aircraft could then slip into weak spots in the defensive layout and take out SAM targets, opening up the space for follow-on forces of legacy fighters. Even when the F-35s ran out of munitions, F-22 and fourth-generation fighter pilots wanted the aircraft to remain in the combat zone, soaking up data and porting target info to the older fighters.
It is important to remember that the F-35 is our second fifth-generation fighter. The first, the F-22, is probably in many ways a superior aircraft, but it costs far more to operate per hour than any other aircraft in the U.S. inventory. As good as the F-22 is, it lacks the advanced avionics of the F-35 simply by virtue of being older. It can be upgraded, and will be -- as will fourth-generation fighters such as the F-18, F-16 and F-15 airframes, which will need upgrades to benefit from the data provided by F-35s participating in the mission.
Working in concert with the F-35, our best current aircraft -- already the envy of the world -- will be that much better and should give any foreign military pause if the consider challenging us. Hello, Russia and China, I'm talking to you. The next problem, of course, is where these aircraft will be based. The problem areas tend to be farther from us than from our enemies. One hopes that good minds are considering these obstacles as we speak.