Corporatistic American Enterprise Institute has published an article titled “Why we must continue to fund F-35“.
Despite their claims, F-35 fighter does not provide for either size or quality of the fleet. At 197 million USD unit flyaway cost for A, 237,7 million USD for B, and 236,8 million USD for C variant, F-35 is second most expensive fighter on the market, just behind the F-22. Its operating costs can be expected to be similarly oversized; while stealth coating itself may be more durable than F-22s, F-35 carries far more complex electronics. This problem is made even worse by its likely large maintenance downtime: assuming maintenance downtime of 80% of F-22s, 100 aircraft-strong F-35A force will be able to fly 454 sorties per week, costing 22,2 million USD total. But for same cost, one could have 656 Gripen C’s, which would provide for 10 018 sorties per week, costing 47,1 million USD – and for 22,2 million USD, one could have 4 723 Gripen C sorties.
Qualitatively, F-35 has lowered RCS, on which it relies to remain undetected. But that is its only advantage over competitors such as Gripen, Typhoon, Rafale or PAK FA. In a future battlefield based around passive sensors, F-35 will be at disadvantage – if it uses radar, it will be detected; and as far as visual and heat signatures are concerned, it is far easier to detect than most of its competitors. Technology it carries cannot compensate for these shortcomings.
While each F-35 variant is suited for different needs, stealth requirements as well as very different basic specifications (for example, one F-35 variant had to be capable of STOVL operations) have left its basic design very compromised in aerodynamic department. And despite AEI correctly stating that noone needs to drive a semitruck, F-35 is nothing more than a destined-to-fail attempt to promote semitruck as a Formula 1 racing car. In fact, answer to second point is in itself greatest argument against F-35, as it shows exactly why making three different aircraft would have been better choice.
Most of other characteristics advertised as F-35s advantages – networking, intelligence, surveillance and reconaissance – are not unique to F-35. All Eurocanards have very good networking capabilities, and are capable of undertaking intelligence, surveillance and reconaissance missions.
Finally, it must be realized that air-to-air combat between capable opponents was always, always, visual-range combat. With increased use of jammers, countermeasures and passive sensors, this is unlikely to change. This means that maneuverability remains important, and that smaller fighters will be in more advantageous position, assuming that wing loading and thrust-to-weight differences are not too large.