Sunday, January 6, 2019
Once again, I apologize for the lack of content lately. My work/life balance has been completely out of whack lately and I needed a little time to perform what mental health experts call "self care"... Which basically means taking a step back and relaxing for a bit.
I am working on new material and I do plan to follow Canada's fighter selection saga until the bitter end (whenever that is),
In the meantime, please check out Alex McColl's thesis on on the subject, available here.
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Well... That didn't take long.
Less than a week after Canada released a new Request for Proposals (RFP) to replace the CF-18, Dassault has decided to drop out of the running. This is despite the fact that the new RFP made it easier for European fighter manufacturers to compete.
Unfortunately for Dassault, the new RFP still required the ability to integrate with existing NORAD and NATO infrastructure. Most notedly, encrypted communication. While the RFP did allow for additional leeway to meet this requirements, it does entail additional cost and risk. This was likely too much for Dassault.
As unfortunate as this news is, it should not be that much of a surprise. Out of the five contenders, the Rafale was always the the "odd man out" when it came to compatibility. Dassault's insistence on French-sourced weapons and subsystems makes the Rafale a harder sell to other NATO nations, especially those with their own aerospace industry to support. Conversely, this simultaneously makes it more attractive to third-party nations (like Libya or India) due to less hurdles involving security clearances and politics.
One of the apparent sticking issues with the Rafale was apparently the fact that France is not part of the "Five Eyes" intelligence sharing network consisting of Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA. This seems odd, as Five Eyes deals mostly with intelligence gathering and has little to do with jet fighters. Perhaps some aspects of the Rafale would have difficulty passing the required security clearance.
So what does this mean for the other fighters?
Obviously, the F-35 and Super Hornet should have little issue meeting compatibility requirements. The Typhoon (being flown by Britain) should have little problem being integrated into NORAD and meeting Five Eyes requirements.
Whether or not Saab can meet these requirements is unknown at this point. Sweden is not part of NATO or NORAD, but does market the Gripen to NATO nations. Saab also places a fair emphasis on the Gripen's "connectivity" and ease of integrating new systems. The Gripen is also already cleared for most of its potential weapons, something that cannot be said about the Rafale.
I have long said that the Rafale's biggest roadblock would be integrating it into the RCAF's existing infrastructure, not its performance. It remains an excellent fighter, just not the right one for Canada.
Thursday, October 11, 2018
Just when the JSF program is starting to put its troubled past behind it, another incident occurs.
On September 29th, a USMC F-35B crashed in South Carolina. Thankfully, the pilot ejected safely and no lives were lost.
For more details on the incident, check out Foxtrot Alpha.
While the JSF is certainly no stranger to its share of incidents, this is the first time one of the aircraft has been lost due to a crash.
After a brief investigation, the Pentagon has ordered the entire F-35 fleet to be grounded. This is the second time the entire fleet has been grounded; the first grounding was the result of "engine rubbing" that caused a spontaneous engine fire.
Despite its well-publicized incidents and groundings, the F-35 remains a relatively safe plane. Its been flying over twelve years, with total flight hours in the hundreds of thousands, and over 320 airframes built. Not a single fatality has been reported so far.
Many other modern fighters cannot make that claim.
What is far more worrisome is that, in one fell swoop, a single manufacturing defect has managed to ground over 300 aircraft in multiple countries. While the F-35 is still new enough that this is of little consequence on a strategic level, it illustrates a major flaw in the JSF program.
With the F-35 intending to replace every F-16, F/A-18, A-10, AV-8, and others; there is little margin for error. It is the fighter equivalent to putting all the eggs in one basket. Ten years from now, a fleet-wide F-35 would result in thousands of idle aircraft instead of hundreds. Given the networked nature of the JSF's avionics, a hostile power could cripple western airpower using nothing more than a computer virus.
While most F-35 users do have the luxury of additional fighter types like the Super Hornet, F-22, or Typhoon; single fighter-type nations (like Canada) would find themselves in a predicament.
Saturday, September 29, 2018
After more than 50 years, the USAF's aging T-38 is finally getting a replacement.
On September 27, Boeing was announced as the winner of the T-X trainer competition. Being the only real clean sheet design entered, many saw it as Boeing's to lose.
Victory was no assured, however. Submitting a clean-sheet design was a risky proposition when it comes to affordability and risk. So much so that Northrop Grumman (maker of the T-38) abandoned the competition after going so far as to building a prototype.
As the competition came to a close, Boeing faced the Leonardo T-100 and Lockheed Martin/KAI T-50 Golden Eagle. Both of these aircraft had the advantage of being mature, proven designs. The T-50 had the extra advantage of being represented by the juggernaut that is Lockheed Martin. Without a Stateside sponsor, the T-100 was certainly a political dark horse.
While other designs, like the Textron AirLand Scorpion were submitted, none of them really had a chance going against America's largest defense contractors in such a high-stakes project. In the end, the T-X program became another chapter in the longstanding rivalry between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
What really stands out is how Boeing won.
Lockheed Martin played it safe submitting the T-50. This was prudent given its recent history. Both the F-22 and F-35 have seen spiraling costs and frustrating service delays. By presenting a tried-and-true design, they mitigated all risk and doubt. The T-50 is a said to be a fine aircraft and it would certainly be up to the role.
Boeing certainly could have gone a similar route, perhaps even backing Leonardo's T-100. Instead, they decided to swing for the fences. Pride was undoubtedly a factor, what with Boeing's (née McDonnell Douglas) history of of legendary fighters like the F-15, F-4, A-4, etc. With the days of the Super Hornet and Eagle numbered, Boeing was on a mission to prove that it could still design and build fighter-type aircraft.
The challenge here was not just designing a new jet trainer, but building one that stands out next to other designs with a clear head start. With cost being a major determining factor for the winning bid, simply throwing money at the project was not an option. Boeing needed to keep costs down while simultaneously meeting or exceeding requirements. This is not an easy task for a corporation used to the largesse typically afforded to members of the American Military Industrial Complex.
In a world where fighter development has become increasingly expensive, Saab has somehow managed to buck the trend. While other nations have resorted to multinational consortiums to develop new fighters, Sweden has remained fiercely independent. This has led to Saab becoming masters of designing cutting edge fighters on a shoestring budget.
Boeing wisely asked for Saab's help.
The resulting design was both new and familiar. Boeing/Saab's T-X resembles a shrunken down F/A-18 Hornet, with a few elements from the F-35 and T-38 thrown in. A single GE F404 engine provides power. With its large, stadium seating cockpit, there is no mistaking it for anything but a jet trainer. Or possibly a PIXAR character...
Unlike the other contenders, Boeing/Saab's entry was custom-built around the contract requirements. While the others may meet or exceed certain performance parameters, more mundane benchmarks like ease of maintenance and availability are just as important. These aircraft will be used and abused as pilots transition to high performance aircraft, hangar queens need not apply.
Not only did the Boeing/Saab collaboration meet or exceed the T-X program's selection criteria, it did so remarkably under budget. Boeing is promising to deliver 351 trainers for $9.2 billion. This is less than half the USAF's original cost estimate of $19.7 billion.
Winning the T-X competition is a huge win for Boeing. Ostensibly, the T-X was meant to replace the USAF's fleet of T-38 Talon trainers. In reality, the T-X will likely be much more. At the very least, expect to see them in Thunderbird colors. The USN will likely be steered towards the platform when the time comes. It will almost assuredly find international buyers looking to replace their jet trainers. It will also likely find itself being used for "aggressor" training.
Looking forward, it would seem like it is only a matter of time before the platform sees use a a light fighter as well. Why should it be different than any of the other aircraft in this segment (T-50/FA-50, T-38/F-5, etc)
The T-X result will prove to be a huge boost for Saab as well. Not only financially, but it cements their reputation of building affordable world-class aircraft. I doubt this will be their last partnership.
|Get used to seeing these.|
Boeing recently took it on the chin with the whole Bombardier C-Series debacle. Attempting to bully the smaller aerospace firm backfired spectacularly, resulting in cancelled orders for Boeing Super Hornets, bad PR, and bolstering its biggest competitor.
The T-X is the opposite. By partnering with others to develop something new and innovative, instead of trying to squash their competition, Boeing has come out on top.
Funny how that works.
Sunday, September 9, 2018
|What happens when the F-22 and F-35 get busy and have a baby?|
This (sort of) new fighter would take the more modern sensors, avionics, and other newer technology found in the F-35 and modify them to fit the F-22 Raptor. This new enhanced Raptor would also sport a more modern stealth coating that promises to require maintenance.
It is not a bad idea. Such a beast would not only offer improved capabilities for the F-22, but could actually result in lower flying costs.
This new fighter (F-22B? F-22E? F-22X? F-28.5?) would improve on the Raptor's exceptional air-to-air capabilities. One of the F-22's current weak spots is the absence of any sort of IRST. The addition of DAS (Distributed Aperture System), combined with a helmet-mounted display (HMD) would give the F-22 true 360 degree situational awareness. "Raptor Salad" would no longer be on the menu.
Better still, the F-22 could be given much improved ground attack capabilities. Currently, the F-22's air-to-ground prowess is rather limited, but the addition of the F-35's EOTS and other tweaks could turn the F-22 into a true successor to the F-15E Strike Eagle.
Such a platform would undoubtedly have some overlap with the JSF's capabilities, but that is to be expected. Even with an equal payload, the F-22 would have improved range, speed, and include two internal AIM-9 Sidewinders. Simply put an "F-22E Strike Raptor" would be a deadlier machine, capable of surviving scenarios the F-35 would not.
Lockheed Martin has good reason to offer up an updated F-22.
Despite promises to the contrary, the F-35 may soon find itself outmatched by other fighters nearing production. It is also not meeting foreign sales predictions as prospective buyers back out or take a "wait and see" approach.
Meanwhile, the USAF's air-superiority workhorse, the F-15C/D, is not getting any younger. Boeing has proposed several new F-15 variants in an attempt to reinvigorate sales. Unfortunately, the proposed F-15SE "Silent Eagle" was met with little interest. Boeing has followed that up with the more conventional "F-15X". While the improvements are interesting, they do not change the fact that the F-15 platform is a 50-year-old design.
While the current F-22 still holds the air-superiority throne, it suffers from a lack of availability, high cost per flight hour (CPFH), and some glaring weaknesses. Fixing these problems would keep the F-22's "king of the hill" status for decades to come... Or at least until "6th generation" fighters start making an appearance.
So would an updated F-22 be right for Canada?
Yes and no.
Obviously, a stealthy, multi-role, supercruising, long-ranged, twin-engined fighter would be IDEAL for Canada's needs. More so when that fighter is used by our NORAD ally.
Unfortunately, this F-22/F-35 hybrid is little more than a proposal at this point. Even if it were to become a reality, a prototype would be years away. Full production would not likely start for another 10 years at the least. This puts it outside the timeline proposed to replace the CF-18.
Even if the fighter were available in time to replace the CF-18, there is still the issue of cost. While an updated F-22 promises to be more affordable than the legacy model, it would still likely be a costly machine to purchase and operate. This is still a big stealth fighter equipped with two big engines and the latest tech. At best, its CPFH would still likely be higher then the F-15E. Given Canada's typically tight-fisted defence spending, a fleet of 88 enhanced F-22s would likely be a non-starter.
This is not to dismiss an enhanced F-22 for Canada completely. A lot could change in the next few years... Just look at the last ten for proof. Political climates change, as do spending priorities. Canada could very well find itself in need of a higher-end fighter to supplement whatever ends up replacing the CF-18.
If Canada found itself in need of a world-beating fighter, and enhanced F-22 would certainly be at the top of the list.
Sunday, July 22, 2018
As Canada's 151st birthday passes by, Canadians enjoy the usual swell of patriotism. No wonder, as our nation is pretty great. The last two years has found even the least-patriotic Canadians being proud. Even those curmudgeons have to admit... "At least we're not the United States."
Canada still, and always will, have its share of issues. That is to be expected. Unlike some other nations, we still have an air of optimism about us. Things are good and we hope that we can make them even better.
One only has to take a cursory glance at the rest of the world to realize that not everyone shares Canada's optimism. Not only are people taking a pessimistic view... But they are looking for someone to blame.
It is for this reason that Canadian as a whole must make a renewed commitment to its own sovereignty, lest we get bogged down with the same division.
One need only look to our southern neighbor to realize how a nation can lose its way.
|Impossible to ignore and full of hot air.|
While US politics have never been a game for the timid; recent years have seen a very clear trend towards divisiveness. Neither political party aspires towards national unity, only energizing their 'base' while demonizing the other side.
Witness the current American government.
Its accent into power was not predicated on a popular leader unifying the masses. Far from it. The American President's political rise was built on hateful racism. He would go on lose the popular vote... Only to win the White House.
The American House of Representatives' approval rating rarely breaks 20%. The US Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is the least popular member. Yet incumbents are almost always favored to win thanks to the longstanding practice of gerrymandering.
With sitting president who is being investigated for possible treason, inhuman treatment of asylum seekers, and countless other scandals the USA has become a divided nation. Yet despite the outcry, the upcoming midterm elections could be anyone's game.
One could be excused for thinking the United States of America is headed towards a second Civil War... Even in jest.
So what does a sitting president do when he's accosted by scandal? Divert attention by convincing the populous that there is some nefarious external threat. Since the "War on Terror" is old news (and more of George W. Bush's thing) Trump has decided to point his finger at... Canada?
For years, Canada and the US have enjoyed a close relationship. Sure, we have had our share of rivalries and minor disputes, but a trade war? That never works out for anyone.
After embarking a trade war with Canada, Trump feels it is also the right time to tell Canada it needs to spend more on defense... Even though the current government has already committed to do so.
Perhaps Trump has a point... But not for the right reasons.
Trump would likely prefer Canada and other NATO nations to spend more on military so as to benefit American defense contractors. His motive is clear. If NATO nations want the world's largest military force on their side, they have to pay for it. Forget about moral authority or being a force for righteousness. Trump has turned the most powerful military force in history into a mercenary band.
Worse still is evidence that while the USA is willing to sell other nations its cutting edge military equipment, that equipment is never truly theirs.
This has placed Canada in an awkward position. The current American leader is on friendlier terms with the Russian leader than he is with ours. Would Trump be willing to send US troops to our aid if Russia decided to annex some of our territory?
Perhaps Canada should be more fearful that the United States of America will annex some of our territory instead. Normally this would sound ridiculous. Not today. The age of Trump should make it clear that the rule book has been thrown out.
Trump's own draconian enforcement of immigration policies have resulted in U.S. Border Patrol agents boarding Canadian vessels in Canadian waters off the Grand Manaan Island off of New Brunswick. Not exactly neighborly behavior.
This may sound like a rallying cry for Canadians to take up arms and prepare for a possible incursion. It is not. Merely a warning that our traditional codependence on the USA is no longer a sensible strategy. Good relationships are based on trust, loyalty, and dependability. America is unable to provide any of those things right now.
Perhaps the Trump era will end up being a momentary blip in American history. Perhaps the 2016 election was simply a perfect storm that led to a reality star ending up being the most powerful individual in the world. Perhaps Trump's rise to power was the "dead cat bounce" of a disappearing aspect of American society.
Either way, it has become clear that while Canada should exercise a little more independence when it comes to our national identity. Canada's experience in Afghanistan should be reason enough to put the days of blindly following the USA's example behind us. Instead, we should do our own thing. Presenting Canada as a global role model that exercises self-reliance and high morals.
As an example, we need look no further than Sweden. Despite a defense budget that is a fraction of what Canada spends, Sweden is able to field a enviable military force with some impressive combat aircraft, submarines, and other assets. Better still, Sweden maintains the capability of designing and building its own military hardware. It has not shied away from global participation when called for.
(Does it sound like I'm a fan of Sweden? I am.)
Just remember that sovereignty does not mean nationalism. A nationalistic approach, like the US under Trump or the UK's Brexit, only serves to alienate the rest of the world. Trump and his ilk have the mistaken belief that life on earth is a zero-sum game where the more you let someone else have, the less you get to keep for yourself. This is simply not true. Globalization is a controversial issue, too complicated to simply break down into "winners" and "losers".
There is also the question of NATO.
Despite some deriding NATO as "obsolete", it still has its benefits. It could use some serious retooling to align with a post-Cold War world, but it certainly is not worth abandoning. Article Five, which treats an attack on one NATO nation as an attack on all, is still a powerful deterrent. One would do well to remember that in NATO's 69 year history, its only use of Article Five was in response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11... Enacted by the USA, no less.
One could easily argue that America's questionable commitment to NATO is all the more reason to keep it. A NATO nation that can no longer rely on American intervention would still be well-defended with the remaining NATO forces coming to its aid.
We are now living in a time where the American president has a better rapport with authoritarian leaders like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin then democratically elected allies like Angela Merkel, Theresa May, and Emmanuel Macron. Despite the vitriol directed at long-standing allies, Trump is encouraging them to "buy American" when it comes to military spending. This seems like a rather odd sales tactic. The recent cancellation of Canada's Super Hornet buy, Italy pulling the plug on the JSF, and the rise of new fighter programs like the Tempest seem to indicate that America's allies have grown weary of being seen as cogs in the American Military Industrial Complex.
The weariness goes far deeper than that, however.
In the years following the Cold War, America was still seen as the benevolent superpower. Sure, it got its hands dirty plenty of times, but this could be excused as necessary for the greater good. Things took a turn after September 11, 2001, however. While a response was certainly justified, the never-ending "War on Terror" committed America to a dark path of unwinnable and unjustified wars and occupations. Allies that walked alongside the U.S. down this path were soon rewarded with little else but casualties and blemishes to their own moral code.
Years of supporting the USA throughout the Cold War and the following War on Terror have taken its toll on America's allies. That loyalty and commitment has seemingly been taken for granted by Trump and his ilk. America's allies are not seen as partners in their eyes. Instead, we are seen as subservients (at best) or parasites (at worst) prospering only because the U.S. lets us.
To put it simply, America's allies have tired of this "American Exceptionalism".
Trumps tough talk may appeal to his base (uneducated conservatives looking for a scapegoat) but it is absolute poison to anyone else. The USA did not become the most powerful nation in the world in a vacuum; quite the opposite, in fact. American history is built on its international relations. Generations of immigration, two World Wars and a Cold War helping to build up its economic and military have led to the USA becoming the "hub" holding the rest of the world together. Now that hub is beginning to crack and split apart.
In order to prosper (possibly even survive) the upcoming chaos, America's allies will need to reduce their codependence on the US and strengthen their bonds with each other instead. Instead of being spokes around a hub, we become an interconnected mesh. Like a spider's web, if one of those bonds happen to break, the mesh remains strong.
The current state of American politics may be nothing more than a brief "blip" following the Obama years. Then again, it may not. Recent primaries have shown that American politics have changed... Possibly not for the better. What is important for Canada and our allies right now is to put ourselves in a position where America's anguish has little to no effect on us.
That is true sovereignty. When the blustering of another nation DOES NOT MATTER.
Monday, July 16, 2018
The UK Ministry of Defence made a major announcement at the Farnborough Air Show today. It unveiled plans for a new fighter to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon.
First of all, let us start with the name: TEMPEST. It is very cool. The name implies lineage with the current Typhoon and harkens back to the Hawker Tempest fighter-bomber of WWII. Not only that, but the name "Tempest" is darn-right Shakespearean.
The design itself seems rather plain in comparison.
While the Tempest is being billed as a sixth generation fighter, its appearance is distinctly fifth generation. Then again, nobody really knows what "6th gen" aircraft are going to look like... Despite some futuristic looking concepts. The Tempest's design is far from being "locked in" however. Expect it to change.
There are some interesting features listed on the infographic.
Some are rather vague; like "Advanced Power and Propulsion System" and "Advanced Digital Processes & Tools".
Others point to stuff that already exists. The "Automated Support Options" and "Virtual Cockpit" seem similar to the JSF's ALIS and HMD, respectively. These would likely be more advanced than those on the F-35, much like how the F-35's HMD improves on the current Typhoon's.
Much more interesting is the Flexible Payload Configuration with Physical Architecture "Designed for growth". The infographic teases what looks like conformal fuel tanks along with two dorsal "pods" that seem similar to the Enclosed Weapon Pods found on Boeing's Advanced Super Hornet. Could this mean the development of a modular conformal weapon storage?
How about the Tempest's pièce de résistance... A FRIKKIN' LASER BEAM?
Right now, the Tempest is in its earliest stages of development. BAE, MDMA, Leonardo, and Rolls-Royce One are current partners. Do not be surprised if other aerospace firms (like Saab) join "Team Tempest" in the future.
Current plans for the Tempest see it entering service around 2035. Given the typical delays in fighter development, it could be very well into the 2040s. Needless to say, the Tempest is not an option to replace the CF-18... But it could be the replacement for the replacement.