Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Excuses... Excuses...

My house is under the "15:00 Sat/sam." dot.

Sorry for being away for the weekend.  Hurricane "Post tropical storm" Arthur paid my family, neighbors, and I a little visit on Saturday, knocking trees and power lines out of the ground, leaving me and my trusty iMac without power for about three-and-a-half days.  Thankfully, there was no damage to my house other freezer full of groceries.

The weekend went slowly.  Mobile device power was at a premium and wireless internet service was spotty at best.  While I like to envision myself as well prepared for a zombie apocalypse, I am not sure if I could live in a world without hot, fresh coffee every morning.

Even without power and spotty internet access, I managed to read (if not reply or moderate) all of your comments.  Thanks to you all for keeping the conversation rolling and keeping the tone civil and mostly on topic.  (So what if the Super Hornet was brought up in the Silent Eagle vs. Gripen FJFC...  As long as its about fighter jets, it's all good!)

I was also happy to enjoy an e-mail correspondence with none other than Air Power Australia's Peter Goon.  Those of you unfamiliar with the APA's website should do yourselves a favor and go there now.  There is an absolute plethora of information, commentary, and research located over there.  Far more than you will ever see at this meagre blogsite.

Yeah...  Yeah...  Whatever.  An entire weekend goes by and I cannot contribute due to a little hurricane post-tropical storm?  Excuses...  Excuses...

Speaking of excuses...

Still some problems here...
It is looking more and more that the JSF will need to be excused from its upcoming appearance at the RIAT (Royal International Air Tattoo) and the Farnborough Air Show next week.  While the decision is still very much up in the air, the Unitied Kingdom's F-35B likely won't be.

JSF supporters, including those in the US Senate, do not see this as a big deal.  They offer the usual platitudes that the aircraft is still very much in development, and mishaps like this do happen.  But should they really?

"The F-35 is still early in it's development...  This stuff happens!"

The JSF certainly is still in development, but it is far from the early stages.  The first flight of the F-35 (not the X-35 demonstrator)  occurred in December 2006.  It has been in production for more than eight years and over 100 copies have been either built or currently being assembled.  Its ever-increasingly optimistic IOC (initial operational capability) is scheduled for very late next year for the F-35B, 2016 for the F-35A, and 2019 for the F-35C.  With just slightly over a year before the JSF is intended to operational, unknown engine fires should not receiving headlines.  

Things start looking worse when comparing the F-35 with other fighter development cycles.  The F-15 Eagle went from its first flight to being operational within four years.  The F-16 took four years, as did the F/A-18 Hornet.  

Those were older, simpler aircraft, of course.  Let us look at some newer ones.  The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet?  Four years.  Maybe it should not count since it is based on the older F/A-18?  

Eurofighter Typhoon:  The very model of a bad procurement.
Alright, let us look at one of the most protracted, politically charged, and controversial fighters that is not built in the U.S.A, the Eurofighter Typhoon.  The Typhoon is a good example of something that "sounded good at the time".  The European aerospace community, concerned that they were being outdone by big-budget American defense contractors, decided to convince their government to go all-in on a European air-superiority fighter for the year 2000 and beyond.  Hence, the "EF2000".

Britain, Germany, Spain, and Italy all collaborated on EF2000.  What was to be the Eurofighter Typhoon was beset with difficulties right from the start, as development was assigned rather arbitrarily and each nation demanded on a different set of priorities.  Ever try to get 4 people to agree on a restaurant?  Imagine that, only with billions of dollars and thousands of jobs at stake.  

What those involved with the Eurofighter did not envision was a sudden end to the Cold War and sudden questioning of the need for expensive fighter jets when there was no enemy.  One participant, Germany, tried to leave the program altogether (the penalties were too great).  

In the end, the Eurofighter Typhoon has grown to be a respected platform, even though it does still revive criticism for its costs.  It first went operational in 2003, nine years after its first flight.  

The Eurofighter is not a "5th Generation" fighter, however.  

"5th Generation" enough for ya?
There is no arguing that the F-22 is the "5th Generation" archetype.  Like other fighters, its development was beset with the usual technical problems.  Like the Eurofighter Typhoon, the sudden end of the Cold War left its funding (and future) in doubt.  

Despite this, and despite the F-22 Raptor being one of the most expensive aircraft ever made, its time from first flight to operations was eight years.  

With all of the above examples, testing was done on a mere handful of early production models before full-scale production took place.  By contrast, there are now more F-35s than there are CF-18 Hornets in the RCAF.  Current JSF production rates are enough to make Boeing, Eurofighter, and Dassault jealous.  

After eight years and almost 100 airframes, the F-35 is anything but "early in development".  

"Aircraft get grounded all the time!  It's not that big of a deal!"

All aircraft, cutting edge military fighter aircraft in particular, are complicated machines, and not all problems are found in the early stages.  Safety concerns can sometimes lead to the grounding of a particular airframe type, even the iconic F-15 is not immune.

No flying for you today.
So what happens when an military aircraft gets grounded?  Other assets need to be used to fill the gap.  In the case of the F-15 grounding, F-16s took over the duties.  

What happens when the majority of the western world use the same aircraft?

It then becomes a VERY big deal.  Once the USA replaces most of its F-16s, F/A-18s, A-10s, and AV-8s with a predominantly F-35 fleet, an inopportune grounding would leave it with a mere handful of F-22s, F-15Es, and Super Hornets to pick up the slack.  Europe would need to rely on its Typhoons and Rafales, and the RAAF would have a mere smattering of Super Hornets.  Single-fighter type nations like Canada and The Netherlands would have to simply make do without.  

If the JSF were to be grounded in the 2025 to 2035 timeframe, western airpower as we know it today would temporarily not exist.  

What makes this especially unnerving about the F-35 is that the aircraft is jam-packed with all-new technology that it relies on.  The HMD needs to work flawlessly, because there is no HUD.  The DAS system needs to work, because visibility is limited.  Those AMRAAMs should never miss, since it will usually only carry two.  


The JSF is looking more and more like a single-point-of-failure concept that is constructed out of single-point-of-failure technology.  

"The F-35 is still the most technically advanced aircraft.  The others just don't compare!"

Maybe so.  Technical advances do little to woo potential buyers when the aircraft itself cannot get off the ground, however.  RIAT and Farnborough are big, international events with real international buyers' attention.  Canceling an appearance due to an exploding engine will not exactly inspire confidence in the program, nor will it encourage new sales.  

Could the Scorpion steal the Lightning's thunder?
Then again, there is always the chance of a dark horse showing up and getting everybody's attention.  Saab will be there to give updates on its Gripen E, an aircraft it would not mind stealing some of the JSF's sales.

Also present will be the scrappy little Textron Scorpion.  An aircraft intended to be an affordable "good enough" option for air forces with lower budgets.  In contrast to the F-35, which has been in testing for 8 years and still might not make it, the Scorpion's first flight was a mere eight months ago...  Yet has already made the trans-atlantic flight.  

No excuses needed there.  

25 comments:

  1. Doug, again great article. I few thing come to mind.
    Should Canada have a mixed fleet? Maybe, if for some reason a curtain manufacture has an issue and an entire fleet is ground, you are not stuck. The two aircraft could be bought at different times, so that when it is time for replacement you are only replacing that aircraft type(Like what the Koreans and the Swiss where doing). It would be easier on a government to say we are replacing our Intercepters in 2020 and our ground attack/bomber in 2025.
    Secondly, God forbid, that there is a large war and that a large portion of the fighter pilots on both sides are gone. Have we made these plane so technical that it would take forever to replace these planes and train new pilots? Again back to the mixed fleet, one aircraft is high tech stealth like the F-35 (bomber)and the other is more basic like the F-15 or F-18(interceptor)
    Third, all trainers used to train pilots need to be able to carry weapons or be used as high speed gas tanks of the skies.

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  2. I've long thought a mixed fleet would have enough advantages to outweigh the extra costs.

    A "high/low" concept of combining a more expensive platform (like the F-15) with a simpler, cheaper platform (like the F-16) gives us the edge of utilizing a truly high-end force. At the same time, costs are kept in check and the entire fighter fleet is not at risk due to technical issues.

    I would take this one step further and "stagger" our fighter buys. Since Canada is in need of replacing its entire fighter force within the next 5 years, we should buy a cheaper platform now in order to make up numbers. 10-15 after that is the time to look at a "high-end" solution to bolster the fleet, but in smaller numbers. By repeating this process, we always have a force of relatively new fighters backed up by proven fighters.

    For example, if we replace the CF-18 with an economical fighter (I would prefer the Gripen E/F) we could replace them 1 for 1 without much fuss. Later, say 2025 to 2030, we buy a smaller number (say 24-36) F-35Es, F/A-XXs, or whatever. Any delays in the newer fighter's development won't leave us in "panic mode" as we already have a capable fleet. 10-15 years after that, we replace our lower end aircraft with newer type, again using our still current "high end" fighters as back-up.

    Here's a more thorough breakdown here:

    http://bestfighter4canada.blogspot.ca/2014/01/why-canada-should-go-to-mixed-fighter.html

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  3. Canada needs the best fighter already in service and for decades to come. With 2 engines, big controls for the icy and winfy Artic airfields, reinforced gear, awesome electronic suit and counter measures, advanced jammers and sensors, Aesa Radar, small RCS, capable to launch any kind of weapons for Close Air Support or Stand off attacks, Sat Com and advanced Data link and all that at a fair price.

    The super expensive F-35 is a delusional program, The Gripen NG will be a heavier and small fighter with steroids at the price of a better an bigger fighter, The Eurofighter cost as crazy and is not a true multirroll, the Rafale cost way more than the Super Hornet for the same capacity loaded and The Silent Eagle won't will be to expensive too.


    We already have F-18, the Advanced Super Hornet could be assimilate to the RCAF very fast.

    “Right now, today’s Super Hornet is five steps ahead of the enemy with its capability,”

    http://www.boeing.com/news/frontiers/archive/2013/december/#/22/

    http://www.boeing.com/assets/images/Features/2014/05/corp_superhornet_700.jpg

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  4. Gen Hostage has already stated that without the F22 for fighter cover the F35 can't do the job. How silly would any airforce be to just have F35s? The US would at least have some F22s or F15s to pave the road, although the proposed ration of 1000+ F35s is ridiculous.
    Hi/Lo, Mission A/Mission B airforce, a must in the 21st century. Even more so now than the 1980's does a multiplane airforce make sense for the following reasons:
    - The economic downturn cycle we are in is structural and will take a long time to be fixed. This will impact the budgets of all nations for years to come.
    - Technology is changing to quickly. The pace of change now is much faster than it was in the 1980's/90's. It's prudent now to buy an effective force of something and then buy the next platform 5-10 years down the road. Pre-911 who thought drones would be so dominant for certain types of warfare? Better yet and off topic, there was no iPhone pre 2007.

    - An airplane too expensive to lose is not an airplane worth having. The only thing you don't want to lose should be the pilot.
    - No airforce should ever be brought to it's knees due to technical problems with a single source platform. You don't want to do that in business, why the hell would you want to do that with something even more critical like national defense.
    - Single contract purchasing = lazy. This is often done by bureaucrats and accountants. They always look at how easy it is to "manage" the contract, but have no clue as to the effective output or quality of the contract.

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  5. Sure, try to tell that story to the Indians.

    "official said the price of a fighter jet made by Dassault could now cost $120 million"

    http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-dna-exclusive-100-price-escalation-on-rafale-fighter-aircraft-to-rs-175-lakh-crore-likely-to-dent-iaf-s-strike-capability-1957107

    The package for the way super duper more capable Advanced Super Hornet would add 10 percent to $50 million flyaway cost of a Super Hornet.

    http://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/dubai-air-show/2013-11-15/boeing-pitches-advanced-super-hornet-future-threats

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  6. Lol yeah!! by that logic...that's true!!


    They'll be Princesses!

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  7. The centre pod is not a big deal, its plug & play and it can be installed as easy as a central fuel tank.
    The conformal fuel tanks and the inserted IRST is the main change. They don't even need to put a touch screen, the actual screens are big enough and specially the one of the co-pilot is huge, giving them a great situational awareness and they have an operational helmed mounted display already to act in conjunction with the new Aim-9x they are developing with the same range of an Amraam, and the new Amraams with the range of the Meteor.

    http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/vol13/no2/images/68-WHEELER-image05.jpg

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_UN5zeDpFtA8/SZcXkaq9YNI/AAAAAAAAARI/n522hkol70o/s400/Super+Hornet+Rear+seat+-+Cockpit.JPG

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  8. Just something like this

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF7RQ50gwFY

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  9. Some of the manufacturer are making the change, like in commercial aircraft, to meet the needs of the smart phone generation. Get it all.

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  10. Surely Canada needs two different aircraft?
    1. An air superiority fighter with longish range, the latest AESA radar and the best BVR and WVR missiles. Whichever way you cook it that's the advanced Typhoon which will be ready by 2018. As a bonus it can also carry Storm Shadow for long-range strike and Brimstone for anti-armour.
    2. A dedicated CAS/SEAD platform to support ground troops in international deployments. This could be the F-35 but shouldn't be ordered prematurely while it's not ready or it could be the Super Hornet or Rafale or even the Gripen.

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  11. If I were a PR specialist with LM
    I probably would refrain from inserting sound bites like 'still in early
    development' or 'not that big of a deal' in my shaggy dog yarns. This geriatric
    jet with its expensive retirement suites is long overdue for a
    thorough check up.

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  12. All are good solid aircraft with strengths and weaknesses. At
    this point, if we were to debate these aircraft over beer, we would all be
    seriously piss drunk happy from the endless discussion. I grant you, the Gripen
    (the odd man out) has one engine but a cost/risk analysis compared to the other
    systems might make that marginal, if not insignificant.

    I guess what I am asking you folks, is what do you “think” (not hope) will be the ultimate winner … including a combination aircraft and why! You can stick to your favorite, or play devil’s
    advocate. Remember, were Canadians, our neighbors, and we are broke, well sort of!

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  13. Sad but true Serge. The CDN gov't does not have the guts to bring in a foreign contender. The politicians will stand on the fact that to much CDN-USA trade, and economy on the table.

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  14. At the end of the day I think we will go with Advanced Super Hornets. A good all around fighter. We are tied to the US military/NORAD. Plus, if you look at history, many conflicts have happened in areas where there are many groups of countries, i.e. Europe and Asia.
    Would you really want your spares coming from the place of conflict or possible conflict? North America is nicely by itself and I can't any issue with getting parts or assistants from a manufacture next door.
    Now, on the other hand if that beast called the US military is not sell what Canada need or wants (F35) then that is an issue. And that is where the mixed fleet comes in, where Canada can stager purchases. It was easier when countries could go shopping in the US and there was chooses, now they are trying to put all there eggs in one basket and that basket is not right for others.

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  15. Serge: A case against buying Made in USA or else
    might be:



    -When impulsed by local [by this I mean USA state
    or county pork barreling] THEY are likely going to sandbag CANADIAN
    interests,regardless whether our positions in international law are strong or
    weak, whether WE grovel or WE tell them to go pound salt, or if WE go ahead and
    act as WE please, then ask for forgiveness. RE: Manufacturing, Forestry,
    Agriculture, Hydrocarbon,Shipping,Mining, Utilities, Engineered products of
    war, and the like.



    On the other hand facts are stubborn things, so
    if we could only have a few wise CANADIAN politicians,-those with spine that
    is-, who understand the lay of the land and are ready to guard ours, THEN surely
    WE could make profitable alliances with the likes of Textron-Cessna or similar,
    who have that tried and true nimble Yankee know how, who can manufacture a war
    jet that is good enough,-probably a great deal more than good enough-,who are
    the greatest salesmen in the world because they know they have the best product
    of their kind, and who want to work with nearby friendlies to manufacture and
    market their soon to be Canadian re-engineered excellent product.



    Thank you Doug Allen for bringing to our
    attention this realistic,'get'er done no matter what' 21st century futuristic,
    economic Warplane -the Scorpion-many of us look forward to seeing its debut at
    Farnborough. BTW Sir, do you know yet if the slugabed lead sled is or is not coming
    to the Tatoo?

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  16. I have enclosed the new cockpit

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  17. RIAT looks like a complete no-go, considering it starts tomorrow.


    Farnborough is still undecided, but the outlook seems grim. Even if the USMC were to reinstate the F-35B tomorrow, the UK has a different set of liability issues that need to be addressed before the JSF would be cleared for flight over there.

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  18. I would like nothing better than WE act as we need but I just do not see it with the NORAD/Canadian Combined Command (air Force dudes). I have no illusions about who thinks for whom! Lumber dispute, made cow beef that is not really mad, Gingrich blames us for letting bad guys in the USA ...
    I made myself clear, I like the Gripen, and for the record, I liked it before hearing Doug's swansong. Make them here darn it! We'll tell our neighbors we ordered the wrong thing from the Ikea catalogue. We thought it was the Gripping bottle opener!
    I can only dream of domestic high quality jobs for Canada. Everybody else wants to outsource.

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  19. Super, you realize you will probably win this one.

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  20. It's a nice bird Paul. The Feds/ Air Force dudes will not buy a French aircraft no matter how good it is. It's that US/Canada/Britain/Australia empire thing. Also ...parts. Those guys are always on strike!

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  21. That would probably work. It is an intelligent and perfectly logical solution which is why you are not in politics. You do normal things like save people. You must act professionally and quickly because your decisions have an immediate impact. You do not ask for kickbacks when your talking to the guy stuck under the car.

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  22. By this time they could have sent two over on a boat and had them at the air show and if they get a fix the could fix it over there and fly it.

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  23. I hope so for Canada. Sorry, do you mean there is any any information about it?

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  24. The federal government would do it in a minute if the Rafale was build in Quebec. This is politics and getting the Quebec vote. A French product being built in French Canada.

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