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A comparison of the F-16, F-15 and MiG-29... by a pilot who flew all three

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http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/how-to-win-in-a-dogfight-stories-from-a-pilot-who-flew-1682723379

 

Very interesting article.  Some takeaways:

 

 

-The East German model fulcrum wasn't particularly impressive BVR.

 

-The IRST was surprisingly lame.

 

-Mirage 2000 apparently sucked in DACT.

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Amen to the 111 comparison.

 

The U.S.'s new joint fighter is in trouble. It is overbudget, behind schedule, and is failing to meet critical performance metrics. The Navy is thinking of dropping out and going with a proven manufacturer with a history of producing quality naval fighters...but enough about the F-111, let's talk about the JSF.
 

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That was a really good read, 

 

Amen to the 111 comparison.

 

The U.S.'s new joint fighter is in trouble. It is overbudget, behind schedule, and is failing to meet critical performance metrics. The Navy is thinking of dropping out and going with a proven manufacturer with a history of producing quality naval fighters...but enough about the F-111, let's talk about the JSF.
 

 

But are there any Admirals ready to step up and throw away their careers in congress to kill it?

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The pilot in the interview actually participated in the comments section, and had this to say about the JSF:

 

 

Being an adherent to the saying that a wise man acknowledges his mistakes and a fool defends his; I was probably a little harsh on my assessment of the F-35. But those opinions were formed through my exposure to things going on at Nellis. Did I bite off on chaff? I will stand by my comment that the three variants and the required commonality between the three results in performance penalties, especially for the A and the C models.

After discussions with an old engineer friend of mine, who was also one of John Boyd's guys, the F-35 actually has a higher fuel fraction than the F-22 and, therefore, potentially better range. I also talked to someone who recently checked out in the Lightning II and his description of fuel burn rips holes in my previous opinion. Scratch that off the list.

The new F-35 pilot was also impressed with acceleration in a certain subsonic speed regime. So I'll concede that. The F-35 will never have the raw dogfighting potential of the F-16, but the different customers bought off on that. Not a requirement? I always figured it was better to have something and not need it than to need something and not have it. A former HH-60 pilot and coworker of mine always jests about fighters not really needing guns. The previous statement is my normal comeback.

Regardless, the fighter pilots that fly and will fly the F-35 could take any airplane they get and figure how to be lethal with it and dominate any enemy. Of than I'm certain.

So, in the end, the Lightning II is not such a pig after all. It has great avionics and will do fine. The program has still cost too much and has been poorly managed by the DoD and Lockheed/Martin. But that's another story.

Would I still rather fly the Raptor? You bet. I guess in the end you got to dance with what brung ya. In my case, back to the beginning with two tails and two engines. The Raptors do mostly air-to-air (as far as I know); and for that mission, mission planning isn't much more than filling out a line-up card. At my age now, that's all the attention span I've got.

I'd also build more Raptors and upgraded Vipers and Eagles. Heck, I want it all. Back to the Ronnie Reagan 40 fighter wings and a fighter jet in every garage!!

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Andraxxus on the Key Publishing forum scraped up a bunch of flight manuals and other information, and made this graph of time to speed for various fighters:

VZ8BDg5.gif

 

Seems to confirm Spanky's assertion that the fulcrum has got lots of power.  Indeed, at higher mach numbers it out-accelerates the viper (probably because fulcrum has CG inlets and viper does not).

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I don't care what y'all do, but I don't want the RCAF to be bothered with them.  Rather have something with two engines and longer legs for sheer practical reasons.  I'd lean towards the newest SuperHornet model myself for what we'll be using them for.

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Also, last I heard the GPS doesn't work well at higher latitudes, and they weren't anticipating it being ready to go live anytime soon.  But that was a while ago, so they may have ironed out the kinks.  I'm leery when the primary navigation system is sketchy and it's going to be our primary interceptor with Canadian distances between airbases involved.

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I don't think you want to kill JSF, I think you want to get people to admit it's going to basically be a hybrid AV-8/F-117 replacement, and get the designation changed to A-35. Then all will be well.

 

As long as we get everyone to acknowledge that USMC has always been and will always be the definitive four letter word for the other services' procurement process. That fat bastard lift fan is not a great thing, although the internal fuel carriage probably needed to go somewhere, that sort of layout constraint is never good when you're trying to come up with a mainstay high end jet.

 

 

Rafale has longer legs I'm pretty sure, plus it'll make the Quebecois happy.

Rafale also has a sweet setup for making sure it gets avionics upgrades and keeping a fleet up to date.

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As long as we get everyone to acknowledge that USMC has always been and will always be the definitive four letter word for the other services' procurement process. That fat bastard lift fan is not a great thing, although the internal fuel carriage probably needed to go somewhere, that sort of layout constraint is never good when you're trying to come up with a mainstay high end jet.

 

I think Harrier legitimately brings capability to the table; i.e. basically that of being able to fly A-7s off minicarriers.

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Yes, it kind of does. The problem is the talk of using it for the sort of unprepared field operation Harriers got brought up for, where you're now setting up specialized materials to allow 5th gen fighters with their finicky stealth to operate from within artillery range.

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I am given to understand that the stealth materials on F-35 are a lot less finicky than those on F-22.

Beyond that, sure, I agree. Maybe the jobs of the F-117 and AV-8 shouldn't be combined, but F-35 exists and that's really what it is. As a fighter, I have my doubts.

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This all becomes exceedingly moot the second we have a shooting war of some description and fighter drones end up eating pilots. By sheer cost-effectiveness and attrition, if nothing else.

 

Speaking of which; I've mentioned the 1971 MASTACS exercise before, where modified firebees smoked two phantoms in a simulated engagement (the phantoms were live-fire). However, there seems to be no reference for this incident other than a 1982 Armed Forces Journal piece by a certain W. Wagner (thanks wiki). Given the fact that UCAVs are a much-talked-about thing now, and the fact that they'd been proven to work in the 1970s already, I'd expect there to be more literature on this particular incident.

 

Does anyone know where to go searching for a full report or analysis?

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I have a pretty strong feeling that it's all good and well that they can maneuver well, but they haven't figured out how to make them fight well in a full shooting war scenario. In situations where providing an always on datalink becomes more trouble than it's worth, and by the time you've built a competitive UCAV it's already most of the way to a manned fighter, so gimping it by making it rely on external intelligence or a robotic dog brain isn't going to result in a combat effective unit.

 

It's like the test series of Nike Zeus where it had nine out of thirteen tests against ICBMs result in successes in 1963, and yet we're still working to make acceptable ABM by today's standards. Making a weapon work isn't the same as making a weapon that works within the context of the system it needs to be a part of.

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You're assuming that the UCAV will need data for anything more than target selection and/or letting it off it's leash. In a hot war scenario, you'd simply direct the thing to the correct area and altitude, maybe mark targets and tell it not to kill things with a friendly IFF.

 

Your analogy is also good to keep in mind, but flawed in terms of the technical challenge involved. Shooting down a ballistic missile is a massive challenge due to the speeds and distances involved. Vectoring in to a fighter, on the other hand, is something that was solved pretty comprehensively using a rotating sensor and proportional input.

 

Air-to-air is, in fact, one of the few spaces where the environment is so simple that drones are already viable. Even better, it is also a domain where the cost of hauling around a human and human life support system is prohibitive enough to make the resulting human-free vehicle significantly cheaper.

 

My conception here is of drones only a little more sophisticated than existing cruise missiles - cheap and cheerful enough to saturate a battlespace and force out much more capable aircraft. They wouldn't need sophisticated sensor suites or the ability to carry multiple ordinance types, because they would be common and specialised enough so that the deficits would cancel out. Imagine the current US airforce setup (stealth platforms included) trying to enter an airspace full to bursting with thousands of expendable anti-air platforms. And these things are loitering at all altitudes and carrying a diversity of sensors.

 

As an example of how this could play out, consider a peer-to-peer encounter. The F-35 is projected to cost something like $150 million per unit, with Something in the region of 2000 being produced. The latest iteration of Tomahawk will cost $1.5 million. So doing the maths, you could produce 100 drones roughly as complex as a Tomahawk for the price of one F-35. At what point do the numbers simply swamp the superior capability of the F-35? Are we really expecting pilots to fly into such a cloud of hostile weapons and sweep them aside 100 at a time?

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Your analogy is also good to keep in mind, but flawed in terms of the technical challenge involved. Shooting down a ballistic missile is a massive challenge due to the speeds and distances involved. Vectoring in to a fighter, on the other hand, is something that was solved pretty comprehensively using a rotating sensor and proportional input.

 

That's the bit they had solved in 63, getting close enough to a missile for a nuke to break it up or hit it with enough radiation that it would fizzle. The problem was making that work within the much more complex picture of a full on battle. Picking out the real warheads outside the atmosphere, getting total precision for hit-to-kill, and overall managing the battlespace to go from just inflicting some attrition and some virtual attrition to actually stopping an attack was what killed it.

 

And the Tomahawk has an utterly awful avionics fit, and avionics cost huge amounts of money. How much does that Tomahawk cost when you add a radar or a very sophisticated ground control system and the size to let that fit? The other problem is that the US wants to be able to fight over an enemy IADS, and drones that are fighters on the cheap are more expensive than missiles that aren't. That's where the virtual attrition on enemy defenses that stealth allows becomes pretty important, and just the ability to get sensors in there in the first place.

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I think we're still operating on fundamentally different assumptions. You seem to be asking how expensive it would be to make a capable UCAV. I'm asking how expensive it would be to strap the seeker head of an missile to an airframe capable of lofting some sort of weapon and staying on station for a few hours. The result wouldn't be particularly capable. Hell, it would probably require manual control for takeoff and landing and be pretty terrible at manoeuvre fighting. But it wouldn't matter, because you'd have enough of the things (with sensors of all sorts) cluttering up the sky so that doing anything in that space becomes prohibitive. Stealth simply fails as an approach when there are sensors everywhere, and especially when those sensors are attached to small, stealthy platforms.

 

You also seem to be thinking about the US replacing all of it's F-35s with UCAVs. I'm not, because why would they? It would be like asking the Royal Navy, circa 1930, to scap all of its battleships and cruisers in favour of carriers, subs and torpedo boats. The US has proved time and time again that it will overwhelmingly dominate any conventional air defence system. So I'm not even going to bother thinking about conventional air defence. Instead, I'm thinking about dedicated factories cranking out what amount to reusable cruise missiles and SAMs, then adding those to existing air defences to deny manned fighters the air. I am thinking about sheer numbers of disposable units and the use of attrition to wear down expensive, elite adversaries.

I'm getting into Iran and China's headspace, in other words.

 

I think we can happily disagree on how effective or capable such an approach would be, but I find it interesting that the concept itself seems to be so little thought-of. I'm willing to stand on my prediction here, that arguments about the F-35 will dry up the instant a large shooting war happens. Because the F-35 will end up playing the role of battleship to whatever the new carrier is.

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The biggest problem there is how low capability the seeker head of a missile is. It's designed to work not just within the range of the missile, but within the range of the missile when it already knows the target's heading and location at the moment of launch. By the end of it that doesn't have to be that much capability (there's also the question of how long the radar has to work and a bunch of other ramifications).

 

Honestly if I were trying to use those ideas for Iran and China, the first thing would be that they'd need to be slaved to a capable set of high power radars, and would likely see significant p(k) improvements by becoming significantly more energetic, even if it came at the cost of having to have them on the ground until targets came to them (incidentally significantly reducing the problem of managing their takeoff and landing cycles). It's at that point that I think I just described an IADS. The biggest thing is that sensors everywhere don't beat stealth, because more than anything stealth raises the barrier of entry to being able to spot things.

 

If anything, I'd think something that can move missiles to where they need to be, something like as much predator as needed with a phoenix slung underneath could be useful if it's going to be slaved to a datalink. Just make them a mobile AA reserve to add some mobile firepower to the air game, and reduce the impact of cheap and cheerful stuff like GPS targeted Tomahawk strikes and make them use more expensive SEAD munitions.

 

There is probably some value in discussing this sort of thing in light of US sortie generation concerns in a hypothetical war against China, but I have a feeling that making them work as part of a system and being as cheap as you intend aren't really compatible.

 

I'd compare it more to the fast attack craft craze after the INS Eliat idiocy, where everyone built a bunch of these spiffy light ships with the same missiles as the big ships but smaller and cheaper, and their sensor fits turned out to absolutely suck and they got shown up continually. For every new hotness that works, there's a lot of them that don't pan out, and cheap but blind doesn't seem to be a winner's bet in practice.

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Good points.

 

Part of the problem is that we're in the 19th century again, and peace-time/small war forces are radically different to the sorts of stuff you need for a big fight. As an example, your peace-time navy needs something to fly the flag, conduct patrols and do interdiction against small opponents. So in peace-time a cruiser is pretty boss. War time, though? You want subs, subs and more subs.

Seriously, in every naval exercise not gimped to hell and back your subs are your number one ship-killer.

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That was actually a bit of a problem during the Cold War, since the best stuff for winning in the periphery and ensuring a dominant position in the third world wasn't necessarily what was needed or wanted in case the balloon went up and part of the difficulty was balancing the use of force in the economic battles with the need for capability in Europe all not while breaking the bank that the whole thing was about keeping full. Weird war, but also kind of a return to maritime power strategy after the oddball World Wars, where the dominant maritime power of the period got itself stuck in in a land war.

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This is old news to the well-informed, but part of the problem is also simple psychology. Nobody in the navy wants to be stuck as captain of a patrol boat, even if swarms are more efficient. And nobody in the airforce wants to be stuck as a drone jockey. So you are always going to have people in both organisations pushing for big ships and manned aircraft.

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