Tuesday, June 12, 2018

WELL... THIS IS AWKWARD... TURKEY AND THE F-35.


Over the last few years, the Republic of Turkey has presented a bit of conundrum to its NATO allies.

Last year, a controversial referendum replaced Turkey's parliamentary government to a presidential system.  This greatly increased Turkish president Recap Erdogan's power within the country and paves the way for a full-on dictatorship.  Unlike other presidential systems, Turkey lacks the checks and balances to reign in potential abuse.

Preceding this was an attempted coup attempt that seems quite suspicious in retrospect.

Turkey has also been less-than-helpful when it comes to the conflict in Syria.  From inconveniences (like denying the US use of an airbase) too outright antagonism (sending its own troops in to confront US-backed Kurds).  To make matters worse, Turkish forces downed a Russian Su-24 when it came uncomfortably close (but not into) Syrian air space.  Needless to say, a NATO shooting down a Russian aircraft made for some tense diplomacy.

(Conveniently enough the pilots responsible for the downed Su-24 have since been arrested on suspicion that they were involved in the failed coup.  What a coincidence...  This had the benefit of greatly improving Turkish/Russian relations.)

The Republic of Turkey's actions of late have led for calls for its expulsion from NATO.  Its relations with Greece (another NATO member) are so bad it it seen as precursor to a war.

Hoo boy...

As if all this was not enough, Turkey has also antagonized its fellow members further by choosing the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system over the US-made Patriot.  Not only does this support a potential adversary's defense industry, but the S-400 is incompatible with other NATO equipment.

Despite Turkey closely approaching the status of a "rogue nation", it is deeply entrenched into the Joint Strike fighter program.  Like Canada, Turkey is considered a "Level 3" Industrial Partner.   Unlike Canada, Turkey is committed to 100 (maybe more) units.

Not only is Turkey committed to purchasing the F-35, but it is heavily involved in the construction of the fighter.  Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) in particular is responsible for center fuselage assembly and other major hardware.  Turkey has even been approved to build its own F135 engines.

Of course, there is the small matter of linking up the F-35's highly sensitive ALIS with a Russian-linked S-400 missile system.  This could leave the JSF vulnerable to cyber attacks.

All this has put Lockheed Martin and the Joint Program Office in an awkward position.  Due to the JSF's dependence on economies-of-scale, Turkey's involvement in the F-35 program is needed to help keep sales up and costs down.  That participation is now very much in doubt thanks to a bi-partison bill that aims to kick Turkey out of the F-35 program.

While Turkey is still on track to receive its first F-35 later this month, that jet likely would not see Turkish soil for quite some time.


If Turkey is ultimately denied the F-35, there could be a slew of legal issues.  It has invested hundreds of millions into the program already and would not likely walk away with nothing to show for that.

Turkey would also likely turn elsewhere for its new fighters; most likely the same vendor it chose for its S-400.  Turkey could be a prime candidate for the Su-57 (formerly PAK FA).

While some have dismissed the Su-57 because it lacks some of the bleeding-edge tech utilized by the F-35, it is still very much a serious fighter aircraft.  Unlike the F-22 and F-35, the Su-57 is not completely devoted to stealth.  Instead, the Su-57 takes more of a "holistic" approach, combining sophisticated sensors, stealthiness, and blistering performance.

Given the reported capabilities of both the S-400 and the Su-57, one has to wonder if denying Turkey the F-35 could end up being a phyrric victory.  Turkey ends up with an excellent fighter and ground-based missile system, while the USA gets a heap of legal trouble and a more expensive F-35.

The alternative is to allow the sale and give NATO's most advanced fighter to a belligerent dictator who will plug it in to Russia's missile defense database.

Yikes.
















Thursday, May 31, 2018

1, 2, 3, 4... DOES IT MATTER IF THERE'S A TRADE WAR?


"Hey Justin, smell my finger..."
Well...  It looks like the opening salvo has been fired in a trade war between the USA and Canada.

The particulars are not important to our discussion here; just the usual bloviating and rhetoric.  What is important is whether or not this trade war will play a role in Canada's CF-18 replacement decision.

Should military purchases be considered as ammunition in a trade war?

On one hand, it could be argued that any trade war with the USA would be temporary.  Why base a 30 (or more) year fighter commitment on presidency that may not see the end of the decade?  Trump's tariffs are not widely supported and would likely not outlast his presidency.  With the CF-18 replacement not likely happening until the mid-2020s, the entire Trump presidency could be considered a moot point.

Unfortunately, the Trump presidency (and his tariffs) will cast its shadow over most, if not all, of the CF-18 replacement process.  An RFP (request for proposals) is expected in 2019 and an winner announced in 2021-2022.  Even if Trump loses the 2020 election (not a sure thing), there is no guarantee Canada/US trade relations will simply bounce back.

One could argue that taking our military purchases elsewhere could be a "nuclear option" in a trade war.  The American defense industry depends not just on sales to the Pentagon, but foreign sales as well.  Industry giants like Lockheed-Martin and Boeing would likely have little patience once they start losing a multi-billion-dollar fighter deal thanks to  protectionist trade policies...  Especially when their production costs also increase thanks to increased steal and aluminum prices.


No one knows this more than Boeing.

Boeing learned the hard way that trade is a two-way street when it attempted to smother the Bombardier CSeries in its crib by calling for crippling tariffs.  While this strategy was initially successful when the US Commerce Department agreed to crippling 220% tariffs on the Canadian airliner.  This led to Canada cancelling its proposed interim Super Hornets and those tariffs knocked down by the US International Trade Commission.

Neither side really won...  Boeing lost a promising fighter sale and Bombardier had to relinquish control of the CSeries to another aerospace firm...  But the Europeans  (in the form of Airbus) was able to take full advantage of the skirmish.

Perhaps the Boeing/Bombardier dispute should be seen as a "prototype" to the upcoming trade war between the US and Canada.

What will the pending trade war mean for the Canada's CF-18 replacement decision?  Let me know what you think.  (Time for the new moderators to earn their pay!)

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

ON A PERSONAL NOTE...



Years ago, I started blogging as an outlet to help with my PTSD symptoms.  Sitting down at a computer and writing about fighter jets may not seem like "therapy" to some of you, but it has helped me escape the stresses of the EMS world that I am a part of in my "day job".  For that, I am thankful.

Unfortunately, some are not so lucky.

Tragedy struck my station last week when a colleague, partner, and good friend lost his battle with mental illness.  We did not just lose a coworker that day, but a member of our family.

Being witness to traumatic events, long hours, sleep deprivation, and a high-stress work environment all take their toll.  It is no wonder that first responders have a high incidence of mental illness.

Unfortunately, some dismiss the issue; stating that first responders "know what they signed up for".  The truth is; paramedics, firefighters, police, and other first responders can witness sights many people cannot even fathom.  Nobody knows how they will react to these sights until it is too late to be "unseen".  It is not just blood, guts, and gore (that's easy) but the very darkest aspects of the human condition.  This could include watching a terminal cancer patient waste away, a burn victim crying out in pain, or a child abuse victim.

Through it all, first responders are expected to stay sympathetic and professional.  One minute they may have to inform a family that grandma is dead...  Only to have that same level of thoughtfulness when the frequent flier drug-seeker calls in 20 minutes later with a "sore toe".

Sound challenging?  It is.

While there is help available, many do not take advantage of it.  This is due to the stigma attached to mental illness.  We tend to dismiss those with a mental illness as "weak" or "looking for attention".  Let me be the first to tell you that anyone contemplating hurting themselves is in serious need of help.    Suicide is not "an easy way out".  It is a fatality caused by depression.  Worse still, a suicide has more than one victim as family and friends are made to suffer their loss.

For those of you in need, I implore you:  PLEASE GET HELP.

For those of you who know someone in need:  PLEASE OFFER HELP

For those who are not sure:  PLEASE CONSIDER A MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID COURSE

Much like regular first aid,  mental health first aid could mean the difference between life-and-death to someone in need.  The course focuses on breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness, as well as  going over various disorders.

For more information on how mental illness affects first responders, please go to tema.ca.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

(SITE BUSINESS) THERE'S NEW SHERIFFS IN TOWN!





Some of you have messaged me regarding the state of the comments section.  I apologize for not being able to police it given my hectic schedule and desire to spend what little time I have producing content over moderating.

In order to help remedy this, I have decided to bestow moderator powers on those that I trust.  If all goes well I will continue adding moderators as needed.

For the time being, please welcome Jim Leko (PlayLoud) and Harry White (Harry) in their new roles.    Both have proven themselves knowledgeable resources over in the Facebook group and I wish them well in their new roles here.

JAPAN WANTS A "HYBRID" F-22/F-35?

Can we mash these together and make a baby?
Unfortunately for fighter buffs, it appears as though Japan may discontinue its homegrown 5th generation fighter plans.

Despite a relatively successful run of its ATD-X, Tokyo has balked at the overwhelming cost of developing it into a combat-ready production model.  The decision is not yet final, but there seems to be little hope left for the "Shinshin".

While Japan is already on the list to receive the F-35, the JSF has always been considered a consolation price for not getting the F-22.  Unfortunately for  Japan, US law forbade any Raptor exports.  While many would argue that the F-35 is "good enough" it may have a hard time facing Russia's Su-57 and China's J-20.  This has left Japan pining for a high performance air-superiority fighter to replace its aging F-15J fleet.  

So what is Japan to do?

Like a superhero leaping into action (or a vulture swooping in) Lockheed Martin is there.  It has proposed a F-22/F-35 hybrid that "would combine the F-22 and F-35 and could be superior to both of them".   

Yeah...  Right...

So what would a F-22/F-35 hybrid even look like?

Option 1:  Modernized F-22


What Japan really wants...

It would be nice to imagine something as simple and elegant as an updated F-22.  This "F-22J" would use the Raptor's current airframe and engines but upgraded with F-35's improved sensor technology and avionics.  Such a fighter would maintain the F-22's supercruise and super-manueverability while adding much needed IRST (in the form of DAS/EOTS) and networking capability.  It would also modernize the cockpit with the F-35's touchscreen and helmet mounted display.  This would certainly be the "best of both worlds" and would undoubtedly peak the interest of other foreign buyers with deep pockets, not to mention the USAF.  

Unfortunately, the cost to restart F-22 production would be astronomical.  Even producing additional Raptors as is would be well over $200 million per unit.  Add to this the additional cost needed to modify and test those fighters to modern-day standards would push this even higher.  



Option 2:  New F-35 Variant

"F-35E" (from http://www.moddb.com/games/vector-thrust/news/report-045-f-35)
While an upgraded F-22 is a possibility, Lockheed Martin will likely propose a variant of the F-35.  Not only would this keep costs down for Japan, but it would benefit the JSF program as a whole by spreading out development costs and economies of scale even further.

An F-35 variant that emphasizes air superiority over multi-role capability would certainly be doable.  Such a beast would be radically different than the current versions, however.  Design emphasis would be on speed on agility rather than payload.  This F-35 would have to be placed on a massive diet, and its engine and wings would ideally be allow for supercruise capability. 

The image above applies the YF-23's trapezoidal wings and pelikan tail to the F-35's main fuselage.  It also replaces the F-35's conventional engine nozzle for the the F-22's two-dimensional thrust vectoring one.  While this is a work of fan fiction, the general idea seems sound.  Such radical reworkings are not unheard of (witness the F-16XL).

A new F-35 variant may not be practical however.  Given the F-35's troubled development, there may not be much desire to complicate the program more than it already is.  There is also the possibility that the JSF's design is "baked in" to the point that any major design changes are impossible at this point.  

Option 3:  An All New Aircraft



No point in letting this go to waste...
It would be a shame for Japan to abandon the ATD-X entirely.  It is an impressive technology demonstrator in its own right, utilizing fly-by-light (instead of fly-by-wire) flight controls and 3D thrust vectoring.  From a hardware perspective, the ATD-X is an impressive machine.  

Perhaps the answer is to utilize the ATD-X's (upscaled) design while relying on Lockheed Martin's expertise in avionics and stealth.  Whenever possible, technology would be shared with the F-35 to reduce costs.  Focus would remain on air-superiority, with a eye on affordability and sustainability.

In order to reduce costs even further, the aircraft should be marketed to other buyers.  Not the least of which should be the USAF which is facing a existensial crisis in replacing its rapidly aging fleet of F-15Cs.

The risk with going with an all-new fighter is letting "feature creep" take over.  What would be a new "5th Generation" (5.5th gen?) fighter turns into a proposed 6th Generation fighter with all the complexities, budget overruns, and development delays that inevitably follow.  


Uh oh...

As usual, budget considerations will likely be the driving force behind a decision. 

Fighter jet program budgets tend to spiral out of control quite quickly.  Building a fighter custom-tailored a single nation's needs would seem to be incredibly inefficient in this day and age.  

One would think that Japan learned its lesson after the Mitsubishi F-2 debacle, which resulted in a slightly upgraded F-16 at nearly quadruple the cost.  It is unlikely Japan would be willing to fund development of a new fighter or even a variant of an existing one on its own.  At the very least, additional partners willing to share the cost (and risk) would be needed.

Amalgamation with other 5th generation fighter programs; like South Korea's KF-X are a possibility, but generations-old animosities could get in the way.  One might also wonder if Japan would be willing to swallow some of its pride as the world's third largest economical power to do so.  

Given Japan's current debt crisis; it may not be able to afford to do anything at all.  







Tuesday, April 17, 2018

F-35 UPDATE: IT'S STILL A MESS.



With all the political animosity going on against Boeing, one might think that Lockheed-Martin's F-35 has returned to its rightful place as the likely CF-18 replacement.

Time, and the passage of it, works out in favor of the F-35 in Canada.  It has now been over three years since the Liberal Government's rise to power on the promise to scrap the F-35 purchase.  During that time, the JSF program has hit milestones and began to enter service with the US military.  Costs have come down.  Most important of all, its chief sales rival has seen a catastrophic fall from grace.  Given all this, it would seem the F-35 could very well make a Canadian comeback.

Well...  Not so fast.

In the past, two of the JSF's most worrying issues have been its costs and its mission readiness.  Recent reports do little dissuade these fears.

While increasing the F-35's production rate has resulted in a decrease in production cost, its sustainment cost is still outrageously high.  So high, in fact, that the USAF has threatened to cut its future orders until Lockheed Martin is able to reduce the F-35's cost per flight hour (estimated at $50,000/hr).

Obviously, if the JSF is too costly for the USAF, it is certainly to costly for the cash-strapped RCAF.



Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that the F-35 is still woefully unready for combat.  While the USAF and USMC may be willing to declare the aircraft operational, it will likely be some time before the the fighter is actually put in any sort of harm's way.  Despite more than a decade of flight testing, the JSF is still riddled with bugs and falling short of its planned capability.

Concerns about the F-35's reliability are not helped by the fact that the U.S. Department of Defense has begun to refuse new deliveries of the aircraft.  This stems from a dispute last year which saw F-35's delivered without proper rust-proofing.  A fix has been devised, but neither side is willing to pay for the expensive retrofits.

Once again, this proves that the true cost of the F-35 is very much unknown.  In its rush to get the JSF into full-rate production, Lockheed Martin and the Joint Program Office have scores of fighter jets that each require tens-of-millions worth of retrofits.

The JSF program is quickly approaching 300 aircraft...  And they still lack the reliability and the affordability required of them.

The F-35 is the "MAX POWER" of fighter jets.


Friday, April 13, 2018

CAN BOEING MAKE NICE WITH CANADA?


Block III Super Hornet
The Boeing/Bombardier brouhaha can now be delegated to the annals of history.  The C Series is alive and well, thank you very much.

After encouraging the Trump administration to impose stiff tariffs on the Canadian-designed airliner, Bombardier fought back with an Airbus partnership.  That partnership would render those tariffs moot by building C Series in the USA.  If that was not enough, the U.S. International Trade Commission unanimously voted to overturn those tariffs.  After suffering that one-two punch, Boeing has decided to drop its case against Bombardier.

In its zeal to smother the C Series in its crib, Boeing stepped on toes and made enemies.  First, it raised the ire of the Canadian government.  This resulted in Boeing losing a $6 billion Super Hornet order which otherwise would have been a sure thing.  Not only that, but Boeing also ticked off Great Britain (which builds part of the C Series) and Delta Airlines (the C Series most prominent buyer).

Like a Looney Tunes antagonist, Boeing's plans to defeat a seemingly harmless opponent blew up in its face.

Boeing's current state.
Lucky for Boeing, it still has allies in the US government.

Only a few years ago, it seemed that the Super Hornet assembly line would be coming to a close.  Boeing's salvation came in the form of a hawkish new President backed by Republican-controlled House and Senate.  While the Pentagon previously preferred to throw money at the F-35, now the prevailing wisdom seems to be: "Why not both?"  This has given the Super Hornet has a new lease on life.

One has to wonder how Boeing will now fare in international sales, however.  The Super Hornet is still officially a contender to replace the CF-18...  But Boeing has been rather blasé about it, being the only manufacturer to skip an information session.

Boeing may instead decide to focus its efforts on the Indian market.  Like its rival Lockheed-Martin, Boeing has offered to partner up with Indian manufacturers in producing Indian-made Super Hornets.    This deal, while lucrative, may very well end in frustration as India's convoluted military procurement history make's Canada's seem straightforward by comparison.  One simply has to study India's history with the Rafale and the HAL FGFA.

F/A-18E Block III
What are the Super Hornet's chances for a Canadian sale?

The current ice-cold relations between Canada and Boeing do not bode well for the fighter.  Boeing's half-hearted attempts to remain in the contest could be a matter of too little, too late.  It does leave the door open to future damage control, however.

I, for one, am glad to see the Super Hornet is still a candidate to replace the CF-18.  The Block III improvements go a long way to making Rhino more competitive...  Even though Boeing's latest PR material omits the "Enclosed Weapon Pods".  The Super Hornet is a great workhorse.

Can Boeing do anything to rid the sour taste left in Canada's mouth?  Has the Super Hornet been delegated to the role of "also ran" after once being considered the defacto replacement for the CF-18?  Do the Block III improvements do enough to make the Super Hornet competitive against is sexier competitors?

I guess we will see.