Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What if... Canada developed its own fighter?



Thanks to everybody who voted in last week's "What if..." poll.  The results were pretty straight forward.  A staggering 81% of you believe that the F-35 is the wrong fighter for Canada no matter what the price.

Yikes.

The inspiration for this week's "What if..." comes from BF4C's new cover picture.  (I got a request to take down the Voodoo...)  The CF-100 Canuck remains Canada's only indigenous fighter design to make production.  While it certainly is not the sexiest aircraft design, it is still fondly remembered for its ruggedness and longevity.  The "Clunk" even managed to find a foreign buyer with Belgium.

It really is too bad that Canada's fighter industry died with the CF-100's successor, the CF-105 Arrow.

Right now, Canada's fighter selection is rather limited in variety.  While there is a substantial quantity of choices, the quality leaves a bit to be desired.  Even including two aircraft that are not officially in the running, we are limited to:

  • The expensive, unproven, and controversial F-35.
  • The 20-year-old, expensive, and trouble-prone Typhoon
  • The 20-year-old, expensive, and proprietary Rafale.
  • The 20-year-old fighter that is just a bigger version of what we already have.  (Super Hornet)
  • An updated 20-year-old single engine fighter that many dismiss as a lightweight.  (Gripen)
  • An updated 40-year-old design that was too expensive to buy the first time around.  (Silent Eagle)
Basically, it really boils down to three choices:
  1. Expensive and unproven
  2. Old, possibly expensive...  But updated
  3. Really old and expensive...  But updated.
Not exactly an embarrassment of choice.  All of the fighters are multi-role.  Some lean more towards the strike role.  Some have questionable cold-weather performance.  Two of them are single-engined and may not be safe enough.  There just does not seem to be an obvious choice.

What if we just said; "Screw it!"

What if Canada developed its own fighter?

Other nations are doing it.  Japan is building the stealthy F-3 ShinShin.  Turkey and South Korea also have plans on building their own 5th generation fighters.   

There are advantages of going with a clean-sheet design.  For one, we could design an aircraft that has Canada's needs foremost in mind.  There is also the possibility of export sales.

What should a "5th generation" Canadian designed fighter be?

Textron's AirLand Scorpion
Should it be an inexpensive aircraft that focuses on close-air support and other light duties?  Such an aircraft could also be an excellent trainer, and possibly see sales in the USAF's upcoming T-X competition.

A small, light fighter would be the most affordable to develop.  It would also serve well as a replacement for the Snowbirds' archaic CT-114 Tutors.  Such an aircraft is all you would really need to deal with asymmetric threats like those posed by ISIS/ISIL, yet far cheaper to deploy.

The trouble is, the market for light fighter/trainers is already fairly crowded.  Not only are there established models like the M-346, T-50, and BAE Hawk; but there will be two newcomers arriving soon in the form of the Textron AirLand Scorpion and the Saab/Boeing T-X offering.  

Mitsubishi F-3 "ShinShin"
There is always the possibility of entering the crowded mid-size multirole fighter market.  The JSF's troubled development does leave the door open to an ambitious competitor.  Such a fighter could steal some of the F-35's sales away if customer nations keep having misgivings about the program.

The Japanese may be doing this with their current ATD-X concept aircraft.  While Japan is still planning on buying the F-35, they really wanted the air-superiority focused F-22 Raptor instead.  The upcoming F-3 fighter (based on the ATC-X) could very well fill that role.  

Going head-to-head with the JSF's massive marketing machine is not for the faint of heart.  Not only that, but aircraft like the Typhoon, Super Hornet, and Rafale still offer compelling options.  Still, the market is huge and could be willing to pass on the troubled F-35 for a more attractive option.

Joe Green's "Super Arrow"
 Any endeavor building our own aircraft would likely need export sales in order to be feasible.  That would be a challenge in the light or mid-size multirole fighter.  Perhaps it would make more sense to enter a niche that is sadly lacking in options?

With the cancellation of F-22 production, foreign buyers looking for a larger, longer range "high-end" fighter are limited to the F-15 Eagle and variations thereof.  That is, until the Russian PAK FA and Chinese J-20 become available.

Perhaps Canada could pick up where they left off with the Avro Arrow?  A large, fast interceptor capable of supercruise and long ranges.  Some may think that the days of the interceptor are dead, but Russia seems to think different.  The MiG-31 has done quite well for itself over the years by combining fighter and ISR roles.  Russia is now working on a replacement.  

Building a modern-day Arrow would be financially challenging, even with an emphasis placed on using off-the-shelf technology in order to keep costs down.  There are plenty of air forces that could use such an aircraft, however and Canada would have no real competitors in the market.  


So what do you think?

A simple, inexpensive light fighter / trainer?
A midsize, multirole F-35 competitor?
A big air supremacy interceptor?

Please vote in the poll above, and leave your comments below.  I will go over the results next week.
 

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