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Archive for December 1st, 2012

Is the F-22 really superior to all other fighter aircraft

Posted by picard578 on December 1, 2012

USAF often touts F-22 as being the best fighter aircraft in the world. Is that really so? What are requirements for a good fighter aircraft?

By analyzing past wars we can see that following requirements have never changed:

  1. high agility at dogfighting speeds (currently in the medium subsonic to transsonic regime)
  2. superior situational awareness
  3. low cost
  4. high sortie rate
  5. capability to convert any split-second opportunity to the kill

High agility requires good acceleration, good turn rate, low energy loss and quick transients. Good acceleration and low energy loss require high thrust-to-weight ratio and low drag; good turn rate requires low wing loading, and quick transients require both. Energy state is important for gaining positional advantage and evading missiles.

Superior situational awareness requires not only having good situational awareness yourself, but denying it to the opponent. These requirements can only be met through use of passive sensors.

Low cost and high sortie rate are required for establishing a crucial numerical superiority over the opponent. Both are achieved by making the design as simple as possible.

Capability to convert any split-second opportunity to the kill is crucial in the dogfight, especially if multiple aircraft are involved on both sides, as it allows pilot to deny opponent the opportunity to reverse positional advantage, and allows him to kill more targets in the same timeframe.

With standard loadout of 50% fuel, 2 Sidewinder, 4 AMRAAM, F-22 has wing loading of 313,5 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,29. For comparision, with same loadout, Eurofighter Typhoon has wing loading of 284 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,28; Dassault Rafale’s values are 276 kg/m2 and 1,22. Su-27s values are 324 kg/m2 and 1,24. Thus, F-22 is inferior in wing loading to both Eurocanards, and has only slightly superior thrust-to-weight ratio compared to Typhoon. It is also only slightly superior to the Su-27 in wing loading, and somewhat more in thrust-to-weight ratio.

As such, it has slightly better turn rates than Su-27, and worse turn rates than Eurocanards. Its large weight will make it more difficult to F-22 to make transit from one turn to another, and its thrust vectoring will, if used, cause major energy losses. More about that later.

As mentioned, superior situational awareness requires not only having good situational awareness yourself, but denying it to the opponent. What this means is that aircraft must be capable of detecting and identifying the enemy completely passively. Currently, IRST and optical sensors are only types of sensors, except for Mk 1 eyeball, to posses such capability. F-22 lacks both, and as such has to either have an uplink to another platform – and such uplink can be detected and jammed – or to carry out both tasks World War II style, with pilot doing detection and identification visually. While F-22 was supposed to have FLIR, it was deleted as the cost-saving measure, and there are no plans to fit it.

Moreover, while some measures have been taken to reduce F-22s thermal signature, no major reduction was (or could have been) achieved, especially from the front. F-22 is also very large, increasing its detectability by the IRST. Thus, F-22 will be easily detected at ranges exceeding 80 kilometers by opponent using QWIP IRST.

Modern heat-seeking missiles also do not have to rely on engine exhaust for locking on the enemy aircraft, but can rather lock on to aircraft itself.

F-22 also isn’t undetectable to the modern radar, despite what some accounts say. While F-22s RCS of 0,0001 and 0,0014 m2 reduces detection range considerably, Typhoon’s radar (which has detection range of 185 km against 1m2 target) can detect it from distance of 18 to 35 kilometers. On the other hand, modern RWRs can detect LPI radars from ranges two or three times greater than such radars can detect target with RCS of 1 m2 at, thus making any use of radar an unwise course of action for F-22 (and any other fighter aircraft).

Low cost and high sortie rate are where F-22 feels least at home. Its flyaway cost is 250 million USD per unit, which is twice (205%) the flyaway cost of the most expensive non-VLO fighter aircraft – Eurofighter Typhoon – and has maintenance downtime of 45 hours per hour of flight, compared to the 8* hours for Rafale, 9* for Typhoon, 10 for Gripen and 19 for the now-ancient F-16 (* have to be confirmed). However, flyaway costs of these fighters, which are, respectively, 33%, 49%, 16% and 11-24% of F-22s, mean that it will be at 10:1 numerical disadvantage compared to Typhoon, and 26:1 disadvantage against Gripen.

F-22 is also incapable of converting split-second opportunities into kills. Reason for that is the fact that it carries all its armaments internally. It takes around half the second for gun doors to open; for missile bay doors it takes at least that much, and possibly more. Worse, Sidewinders it will be using in visual range dogfight are not simply ejected into air, but have to be lowered by mechanism; however, it is possible that such action will be performed while doors open.

Gun itself is the Gattling design. It offers maximum rate of fire of 6 600 rpm (110 rps), compared to 1 700 rpm (28 rps) for BK-27 used in Typhoon and Gripen, and 2 500 rpm (42 rps) for GIAT-30 used in Rafale. However, firing rate alone cannot be used as a measure of effectiveness.

First, Gattling gun takes some time to achieve full firing rate. While M-61A2 takes 0,25 seconds to spin up to its full firing rate, fact that F-22 has to open bay doors to fire increases that time to 0,75 seconds. For revolver cannon, time is 0,05 seconds. Thus, in first second, F-22 will have fired either 13 or 68 rounds (depending on wether gun doors were opened before or after press on trigger); Typhoon would have fired 27 rounds in the same time, and Rafale 40 rounds.

Second, aircraft now are highly resistant. Thus, per-hit damage and weight fired may be more important than number of projectiles. At projectile weight of 100 g for M-61, 260 g for Typhoon and 244 – 270 g for Rafale, F-22 fares worst in per-hit damage category. For total damage, in first second F-22 will have fired 1,3 to 6,8 kg, Typhoon 7 kg and Rafale 9,8 to 10,8 kg of ammunition.

Third, rotation of gun barrels creates vibrations, which means that Gattling design will be less accurate (more spread) than single-barreled designs, and problem will only increase as gun keeps firing.

While F-22 is supposed to kill opponent at BVR, it only carries 6 BVR missiles. With usual 0,08 Pk ratio against same-era threats, it will take two F-22s to kill a single enemy aircraft. That is made even worse by the fact that F-22 not only has to radiate in order to lock on the enemy aircraft, but has to get close enough to penetrate any jamming – distance that was regularly around 1/3 of maximum radar range; in F-22s case, it will be 50 – 80 kilometers against 1 m2 target, such as Typhoon or aircraft with comparable frontal RCS (J-10?) in air-to-air configuration.

F-22s maximum speed of Mach 1,8 – 2,25 and supercruise speed of Mach 1,5 – 1,7 are better than those of most competitors, as Eurofighter Typhoon – the second-fastest supercruiser – can achieve “only” Mach 1,3 when in combat configuration. Thus, F-22 can choose to run if it finds itself outnumbered too much, but if it does choose to attack, it will most likely be forced to engage the opponent in the visual range.

How maneuverable F-22 is

Many say that F-22 is the most maneuverable fighter aircraft by virtue of its thrust vectoring. So, I have decided to take a closer look at various claims about F-22s agility.

F-22 is the most maneuverable fighter aircraft out there

Some claim that F-22 is the most maneuverable and agile fighter aircraft out there, due to the thrust vectoring. That claim, however, is false.

To execute a turn, aircraft requires lift to pull it around the turn. Even civilian jets make sharper turns this way, by banking. Amount of lift can be roughly estimated through wing loading figures, with the caveat that LEX and close-coupled canards do provide the additional lift during high-alpha maneuvers by strengthening vortices created by the wing.

However, while F-22 does have LEX, it is not the only one. Dassault Rafale has both LEX and close-coupled canards, Saab Gripen has close-coupled canards, and Eurofighter Typhoon, while not having either, does have vortex generators at sides of the fuselage.

Thus, actual lift at high AoA could be estimated by comparing length of forward portion of the wing to the aircraft’s weight. This method is only of limited accuracy, however, it is more accurate than standard wing loading figures for high alpha maneuvers, as large portion of wing stalls in such circumstances.

F-22 has combat weight of 24 883 kg and combined wing leading edge length of cca 12,58 meters, which becomes 20,56 meters when LEX and air intake leading surface are taken into account. Thus loading value will be 1210 kg per meter. However, LEX-generated vortices will improve value.

Eurofighter Typhoon, on the other hand, has combat weight of 14 483 kg and combined wing leading edge length of ~18,3 meters along with canards. Thus its loading value will be 791 kg per meter, or slightly higher, but as with F-22, vortices will improve value – this time vortices generated by strakes at sides of Typhoon’s hull. Both Typhoon and F-22 have similar wing sweep and high-lift devices, so actual lifting area per meter will be the same, except maybe for canards.

At lower angles of attack, when entire wing area is used, F-22 will have wing loading of 319 kg/m2 in standard combat configuration, and Eurofighter Typhoon will have wing loading of 283 kg/m2. Thrust loading ratios will be 1,28 for F-22 and 1,25 for Eurofighter Typhoon.

We can thus see that, while F-22 has thrust-to-weight ratio advantage, Eurofighter Typhoon has both lower combat weight and lower wing loading at combat weight, and thus has better maneuvering performance. Dassault Rafale will have similar advantages, although its canards act more like F-22s LEX, which makes it for two aircraft that have better maneuvering performance than F-22.

F-22 is comparable to F-15C (claim made by Pierre Sprey)

Comparing it to the F-15C, we see two things: wing loading and thrust-to-weight ratio that are very similar, with F-15C having slight advantage. While F-22 is larger and heavier aircraft, it is also unstable, improving its response time and removing resustance of aircraft towards the continued turn. It also has LEX, which improves lift at high angle of attack.

While its internal missile carriage adds weight and frontal area, that is cancelled out by reduced drag due to lack of external stores.

F-22 is worse than F-16

F-22 and F-16 have two major things in common: both are relaxed-stability designs and both have LEX. As such, similar wing loading figures and thrust-to-weight ratios will result in similar maneuverability, especially since F-16 was designed to achieve optimum performance when two wingtip AAMs are present.

With 50% fuel, 2 Sidewinder and 4 AMRAAM F-16C has wing loading of 392 kg/m2, thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,186 and weights 10 936 kg. F-22 has wing loading of 313,5 kg/m2, thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,29 and weights 24 579 kg. Thus, while F-22 will suffer maneuverability penalty due to its size and weight, it is unlikely that F-16C will be able to outmaneuver it.

With F-16A it is a different story. With empty weight of 7 076 kg, it has wing loading of 349,5 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,29 (figures for 50% fuel and 2 Sidewinder). While its wing loading is higher than F-22s, F-16A is far lighter and smaller, so it is possible that it could be capable of matching the F-22.


To conclude, while Pierre Sprey’s notion that F-22 is no more maneuverable than F-15C is not supportable, those that insist F-22 is the most maneuverable fighter aircraft in the world are equally wrong. Indeed, new fighters such as Eurofighter Typhoon or Dassault Rafale will have better maneuvering performance with virtue of their better aerodynamics and superior attributes (wing loading, thrust-to-weight ratio, etc). F-22 also does not meet force size requirements.

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On US defense budget

Posted by picard578 on December 1, 2012

While Chinese and Russian defense budgets are incomplete, so is the US defense budget. In reality, US defense sprending is between 1 and 1,4 trillion USD a year, that is 6,3 to 8,8 % of US GDP of 15,974 trillion USD as opposed to the base budget of 711 billion USD in 2012 (or 4,5 % of GDP; to compare, Croatian defense budget accounts for 1,7% of GDP). 2012 defense-related budget request was between 1,09 and 1,42 trillion USD, depending on variables.

For another comparision, base UK defense budget was 62,7 billion USD, around 2,6% of GDP, and that of China was 143 billion USD, or 2% of GDP. When adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity, base defense budget of China was 228 billion USD, or 32% of US one, while China’s GDP is 48,4% of US one. While it is indeed correct that China’s total defense spending is higher than these figures – up to 250 billion USD, not accounting for PPP – that is, as I have shown above, also true of the US defensu spending, so the ratio remains similar.

In fact, using PPP values, total defense budgets of largest NATO spenders (US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Turkey) combined add up to 932,6 billion USD. When major non-NATO allies (Japan, Australia) are thrown in, value goes up to 993,9 billion USD in PPP, with United States accounting for 71,5 % of total value. Thus, United States outspend China 5:1, or 3:1 when PPP is taken into account. However, unless United States are going to attack China first, they will have support of NATO, as well as Japan and Australia. Thus, spending ratio will be – even with PPP – in 4,4:1 neighbourhood. For comparision, take a look at the graph below.

defense spending comparision

defense spending comparision

US major allies alone spend more than China on defense, while United States alone spend more than four times as much as China does. Yet, China has populace of 1,347 billion people, compared to the US 314 million.

In 2011, there have been many developmental programmes. Low-performance bomber F-35 was the most costly at 11,4 billion USD. By cutting it, and other programmes of very questionable usefulness (LCS, UAVs), 16,6 billion USD could have been saved.

Fact is that large US defense budget does not produce military capability that is in line with size of the budget. Reasons for that have to be looked for in how weapons procurement works: contractors in armaments industry are free to work with almost no oversight, and lessons from past wars are ignored. In fact, armament manufacturers are inclined to increase complexity and cost of every single weapons system, as it means that they spend less on raw materials and work force, while receiveing large sums of money on both production and drawn-out R&D. Such complexity increases do not, however, mean that weapon is really more capable. Due to that, we get to the paradox where less defense spending could result in more capable military.

Many spending-defenders argue that defense spending saves jobs. That is not true even when looking only at the defense industry. In fact, Lockheed Martin and Boeing have fired thousands of workers at the same time they were receiveing very lucrative contracts.

While increase in defense spending can indeed create jobs when done right, it is terrible job creator even then. For example, only 1,5% of F-35 program costs goes on workers’ pays. In fact, same amount of defense spending creates 25% fewer jobs than a tax cut; one and one-half times fewer jobs than spending on clean energy production; and two and one-half times fewer jobs than spending on education. It also creates less jobs than public works. For exact figures, consider that every 100 billion USD of a military budget (not spending) creates, approximately, 830 000 jobs in military and military industry. When same amount of money is spent for education, both the number of jobs and the average pay are going to be higher. If it is spent on health care or infrastructure, average pay will be less, but total pay compensation will be more than with military industry, and number of jobs created will be far more (for the same amount of money, health care 151%, education 207%, mass transit 231% and construction of infrastructure 150% as much jobs as defense establishment. All of them have additional benefits: more capable work force, reduced pollution, etc. Also, US infrastructure is currently in very poor shape). Total compensation to economy is also larger than that of defense, at 23 – 124% more.

In fact, “Converting the American Economy” study from 1990s has found that a gradual reduction in military spending, starting with $35 billion in 1990 and reaching $105 billion in 1994, would have produced a net gain of 477,000 jobs within the U.S. Economy.

Yet, only 75 billion USD were spent on education in 2007, and military spending accounts for 50% of total Federal spending.

Tax cuts, however, are the worst option for helping the economy, possibly even worse than defense spending. One of reasons is the fact that tax cuts primarly target the wealthy part of the populace, who accumlate money. As economy is all about flow of money, not its accumulation, result is economy slowdown. Tax evasion has similar effect, however – and major armaments companies are spending large sums on lawyers so as to evade taxes.

Important thing about the defense budget is that it must not be governed by GDP, but by military realities. One reality is that United States should not, as it is doing now, fixate on China as a threat. China does seem to be impatient and agressive, but question remains how much of blame for that goes to the United States themselves. While United States should be able to defend itself, military solution of its issues with China should be the last option. However, there are more powers on work here, such as US military contractors, who need a dangerous opponent so as to justify further defense spending increases, and maintain their influence as well as their peace of the budget cake. As such, realistic assessment of situation cannot be expected, at least from the US Government and weapons contractors.

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Comparing options for Australia

Posted by picard578 on December 1, 2012

Some claim that Super Bug is a better solution than F-35 is… some claim that it is not. So I have decided to carry out point-by-point comparision between F-18E and F-35, throwing in Tranche 2 Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale C as examples of modern Western fighter, as well as possible alternatives.

What makes this comparision even more important is the fact that United States, Canada and Australia all have similar operational requirements and as such have very similar requirements for a fighter aircraft – for example, long range, twin engines and reliability.

Source for F-35 data is here.


Aircraft F-18E F-35A F-35B F-35C EF-2000 T2 Rafale C
Length 18,31 m 15,7 m 15,6 m 15,7 m 15,96 m 15,27 m
Wing span 13,62 m 10,7 m 10,7 m 13,1 m 10,95 m 10,8 m
Height 4,88 m 4,6 m ? ? 5,28 m 5,34 m
Wing area 46,5 m2 42,7 m2 42,7 m2 62,1 m2 51,2 m2 45,7 m2
Weight with 50% fuel, 2 Sidewinder, 4 AMRAAM 18 721 kg 18 208 kg 18 491 kg 21 043 kg 14 427 kg 11 850 kg
Wing loading
– loaded 458,5 kg/m2 526 kg/m2 506 kg/m2 410 kg/m2 312 kg/m2 307 kg/m2
– 50% fuel, 2 Sidewinder, 4 AMRAAM 402,6 kg/m2 427,9 kg/m2 434,2 kg/m2 338 kg/m2 284 kg/m2 259,3 kg/m2
Thrust-to-weight ratio
– loaded 0,94 0,87 0,9 0,75 1,15 1,1
– 50% fuel, 2 Sidewinder, 4 AMRAAM 1,07 1,07 1,05 0,93 1,28 1,3
Maximum AoA 55* 50* 50* 50* 70* 100*
– dash M 1,8 M 1,6 M 1,6 M 1,6 M 2 M 2
– combat configuration dash ? M 1,6 M 1,6 M 1,6 M 1,8 M 1,8
– cruise M 1 M 0,95 M 0,9+ M 0,9+ M 1,8 M 1,8
– combat configuration standard cruise ? M 0,9 ? ? M 1,6 (est) M 1,6 (est)
– combat configuration supercruise N/A N/A N/A N/A M 1,3 M 1,4
Combat radius 722 km 1 082 km 868 km 1 139 km 1 389 km 1 852 km
Max G (standard) 7,6 9 7 7,5 9 9
Max G (override)* 11 11
Max G (airframe) 11,4 13,5 >=10,5 11 12,6 – 13,5 16,7
Max G reached in tests or use ? 9,9 ? ? 10,6 11
Instanteneous turn rate (max) 24 deg/s <14 deg/s ? ? 30-35 deg/s 32-35 deg/s
Sustained turn rate (max) 15-18 deg/s <12 deg/s ? ? 20-25 deg/s 24 deg/s
Roll rate (max) 120 deg/s 300 deg/s ? ? 240-250 deg/s 270 deg/s
Flyaway cost 60 000 000 197 000 000 237 700 000 236 800 000 118 600 000 82 300 000

*can be exceeded through changes to FCS


Maneuverability is a sum of several factors: lift, thrust, drag, and inertia. Lift, thrust and inertia can be compared through wing loading, thrust-to-weight ratio, and weight; drag can be compared by comparing airframes’ physical size.

Turn is executed when aircraft uses control surfaces to change wing’s position relative to the air flow; thus, direction in which lift pulls aircraft is changed, producing excess lift (one not used on keeping aircraft in the air), which then pulls aircraft around the turn. Aircraft with lower wing loading have more excess lift on disposition, and as such can pull faster and tighter turns. Aircraft pulling tighter turn at corner speed has better chance to evade missile fire and can pull inside opponent’s turn diameter.

Roll is when aircraft rotates around longitudinal axis. Aircraft with faster roll can transit from one maneuver to another faster.

Thrust-to-weight ratio is important for overcoming drag during the turn, allowing aircraft to maintain energy and turn rate for longer time.

Drag bleeds off energy, thus reducing time during which turn rate can be maintained.

Inertia is a product of weight and speed. When entering or exiting a turn, aircraft has to use lift and thrust to counter inertia. Thus, heavier aircraft are, assuming identical wing loading and thrust loading values, more sluggish in maneuvering combat.

G-load is required so that aircraft does not fall apart during the turn. What it means is that, even if (aerodynamically) aircraft could turn faster at certain speed, it is limited by what its structure can take.

As we can see from the table, Super Bug is superior in both wing loading and G factor to two out of three F-35 variants. It also has superior thrust-to-weight ratio to all F-35 variants when loaded for air combat, and only F-35A has comparable thrust-to-weight when at 50% fuel. It is, however, slightly heavier than most F-35 variants, which means more inertia and thus worse response time.

Eurocanards, meanwhile, are superior to both Super Bug and F-35 in all listed areas. Rafale fares better in wing loading and thrust-to-weight ratio areas than Typhoon does, mainly by virtue of its higher fuel fraction, and its close-coupled canards allow it to achieve highest AoA value of all compared aircraft, which greatly benefits its low-speed agility. Only characteristic where F-35 is superior to Eurocanards is roll rate, mainly due to its shorter wing span.

Situational awareness

Here, Super Bug is convincingly the worst of the compared aircraft, as it lacks IRST. As such, it has to use its radar to detect the enemy, immediately betraying its location at far longer range than it itself can detect the opponent. All three other aircraft have IRSTs of, apparently, roughly comparable characteristics.


Here, Super Bug takes last place again. Rafale has the best range, owing to its good aerodynamics and high fuel fraction. Whereas some F-35 variants have comparable or better fuel fraction, their low speed and large aerodynamic compromises required by stealth mean that range is lowered considerably, and is worse than that for Eurofighter Typhoon, which itself has low fuel fraction.

Weapons loadout

Standard weapons loadout for all listed aircraft is 2 Sidewinders and 2-6 AMRAAM. However, F-35 has no option of carrying more without compromising its already questionable X-band radar stealth, whereas other aircraft don’t go to such legth to achieve LO characteristics, relying instead on other approaches (maneuverability + countermeasures + passive sensors). Thus, F-35 is limited to 4 missiles if it doesn’t want to loose radar stealth, whereas Super Hornet can carry 6, Eurofighter Typhoon 12 and Dassault Rafale 8-10 AtA missiles. In non-LO configuration, F-35 can carry 10 missiles.

In bombing missions, F-35 can carry 2 AtA and 2 AtG weapons in LO and 4 AtA and 8 AtG weapons in non-LO configuration. Super Hornet can carry 4 AtA and 7 AtG weapons. Typhoon can carry 7-9 AtG weapons, assuming all stations are cleared for use. Rafale can carry 4 AtA and 5-16 AtG weapons.

As F-35 has to rely on LO, its AtA and AtG weapons loadouts are the worst. If LO requirement is ignored, weapons loadout improves considerably, but only to the point of being barely comarable to that of far lighter Eurocanards in AtA configuration; in AtG configuration, assuming one weapon = one pylon, it is the best of compared aircraft, in keeping with its design role of a bomber.

Cost and battlespace presence

As it is obvious, situation is not good for F-35: for a cost of the 12-aircraft squadron, one can buy 19 Typhoons, 28 Rafales, or 39 Super Hornets. All three aircraft, especially Eurocanards, are likely to be less maintenance-intensive than F-35, and can thus generate more sorties per aircraft, thus increasing numerical disparity even more.

Per-aircraft, Super Hornet requires 10 maintenance hours per flight hour, Typhoon requires 9 and Rafale 8 (? Typhoon and Rafale figures have to be confirmed), meaning that bought aircraft will generate 85 1-hour sorties per day for Super Hornet, 45 for Typhoon and 74 for Rafale. Aforementioned 12-ship F-35 squadron will most likely be able to generate 7 to 8 1-hour sorties per day. However, Rafales and Typhoons will have better survivability when facing both VHF-radar SAMs and IRST-equipped enemy aircraft than either Super Hornets or F-35s.


Neither F-35 or Super Hornet are good choices for Australia; former is too expensive, too maintenance-intensive, too short-ranged and lacking in maneuverability, whereas latter is far cheaper to buy and operate, and easier to maintain, but is also lacking in range and maneuverability. All options considered, Dassault Rafale would be the best choice, followed by the Eurofighter Typhoon. However, with Dassault having secured contract in India, it is questionable wether acquirement schedule for Australia could be accomodated, in which case Typhoon becomes the strategically better choice.

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