Defense Issues

Military and general security

    Advertisements
  • Follow Defense Issues on WordPress.com
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 252 other followers

  • January 2014
    M T W T F S S
    « Dec   Feb »
     12345
    6789101112
    13141516171819
    20212223242526
    2728293031  
  • Categories

  • Advertisements

Comparing modern Western fighters

Posted by picard578 on January 11, 2014

Introduction

This article will compare Western fighters that have entered service in late 1970s or later, and are still in service. “Western” in this context means Canada, United States as well as European countries that were not part of Warshaw pact. Thus list of fighter aircraft to be compared is:

United States: F-15, F-16, F-18, F-22, F-35

United Kingdom, Italy, Germany: Typhoon

France: Rafale

Sweden: Gripen C

Measures to be used in comparision

As has been discussed in Pierre Sprey’s fighter effectiveness study, as well as several of articles written by myself, to win air battles pilot needs to:

  1. surprise the opponent without being surprised
  2. outnumber enemy in the air
  3. outmaneuver the enemy to gain firing position
  4. outlast the enemy while outmaneuvering him
  5. achieve reliable kills

Additional requirement are low operating costs and good reliability, allowing extensive pilot training – this is possibly the most important point, since pilot skill dominates all others.

Surprising the enemy without being surprised

Surprise lets pilot to destroy the enemy aircraft at little risk to himself, and is number one factor in gaining kills, especially at beyond visual range as BVR missiles are comparatively easily defeated. To surprise the enemy, fighter aircraft has to detect and identify hostile aircraft more quickly and consistently than the enemy, as well as be hard to detect itself. Consequently, it must be capable of finding and attacking the enemy without use of active sensors – onboard or offboard – in order to achieve surprise, and minimum or no usage of uplinks. Avoiding the surprise is important to prevent the enemy from surprising oneself.

To surprise the enemy, following characteristics are required:

  1. visual invisibility
    1. visible engine smoke
    2. physical size (top, side and front)
    3. camouflage
  2. electronic invisibility
    1. usage of active sensors (radar, laser)
    2. communications and uplinks
  3. infrared invisibility
  4. cruise speed advantage

1. Visual invisibility

Engine smoke can increase detection distance by a factor of 3 to 5 if engine is smoking heavily. This increases volume of the sky by a factor of 9 to 25 (vertical distance is ignored due to ground and enemy’s cruise altitude constraints). If enemy aircraft do not smoke, then it also solves IFF problem. In the absence of smoke, visual size and camouflage govern the detection distance; however, most modern fighters have similar gray camouflage so it will be ignored.

2. Electronic invisibility

Electronic invisibility is governed by wether radar and other sources of electronic transmissions are on or off. Radar is the most powerful and easily detected of these sources. It also gives enemy a missile launch warning, since lock-on means that missile launch is imminent. It can also be used for IFF as all US fighter radars operate at frequencies between 8 and 12 GHz in order to gain an all-weather capability, which means that enemy can either not use radar at all or operate outside these frequencies to solve the IFF problem. RCS reduction is a useful defense against X-band ground-based search and engagement radars, but not so against VHF ground radars and enemy fighters.

3. Infrared invisibility

Infrared invisibility also depends on several factors. Most obvious one is engine’s thrust – stronger engine results in a higher IR signature for equal thrust setting. Afterburner plume however means a massive increase in IR signature, especially from the rear, which means that a supercruising fighter may have advantage even if other factors are against it. Next factor is size of the aircraft itself – larger aircraft means more drag and larger surface area to heat up; since IR sensors have resolution limits, larger size means that aircraft will be detected sooner. Lastly, there are various measures that can be taken to cool down either engine exhaust or airframe.

4. Cruise speed advantage

Since fighter’s main sensors typically point forward, and pilot is likely to give most attention to this area, surprise is best gained by a passive rear-quadrant approach. This is best achieved by cruising faster than the enemy; since afterburner uses up too much fuel. For this reason, maximum speed values are near-irrelevant when compared to cruise speed values.

To avoid surprise, same characteristics are required. One also has to be able to detect enemy bounces, which requires 360* situational awareness.

Outnumbering the enemy in the air

Outnumbering the enemy in the air is dependant on a) number of aircraft bought for the price and b) number of sorties flown per aircraft per day. This also helps other characteristics: since aircraft’s performance is dependant primarly on the pilot, and pilots need to fly in order to remain proficient, more reliable and easier to maintain aircraft can turn out to be superior in combat to more complex one irrespective of other factors.

In fact, even Manfred vs Richtofen had stated that most important things were pilot skills and numbers. Over the Bekaa Valley, Israeli Air Force had far better pilots, and outnumbered Syrian Air Force 3:2. In both Gulf Wars, Iraqi Air Force was doomed by incompetent pilots and Coalition’s numerical advantage.

Outmaneuvering the enemy

If the enemy is not shot down unaware, maneuvering combat will ensue in which enemies will try to get in the best position for the kill; this is equally true in beyond visual range and within visual range combat.

Following parameters decide aircraft’s maneuvering performance:

  1. roll onset rate at angle of attack
  2. instantaneous turn rate
  3. pitch onset rate / pitch rate
  4. acceleration
  5. sustained turn rate

Not all parameters are equally important; in visual-range combat, roll onset rate, instantaneous turn rate and acceleration are most important for purpose of getting within opponent’s observe-orient-decide-act loop and to avoid his missile and gun fire; pilot will use high-g breaks and rolls to remain unpredictable, using acceleration bursts to keep energy up as much as possible. In beyond visual range combat, sustained turn rate gains importance as both opponents have more time to react, and energy is typically held up to make missile evasion easier. Maximum acceleration capability can be compared by comparing maximum climb rates.

Maximum turn rate depends on lift coefficient and wing loading. As lift coefficient can only be determined experimentally, comparision here will be based on the wing loading. Even more important is transient performance which itself is decided by a roll onset rate at various angles of attack, as well as a time to pitch up to maximum g and back down to 1 g flight. Classically defined handling qualities are only important so far as they insure safe execution of maneuvers; however, modern fighters often sacrifice abruptness of transition (roll and pitch) for smoothness and safety, which harms combat-relevant qualities – violence and unpredictability of maneuver.

Outlasting the enemy

If combatants are matched closely enough (either both having aircraft and pilots of similar skill levels, or one pilot’s advantage in skill exactly nullifying opponent’s advantage in aircraft performance) then outcome of combat will be decided by which combatant runs out of the fuel first; that is, by fighter’s persistence. Persistence is dictated by fuel consumption rate during combat and by fuel capacity; while higher-thrust fighter might consume fuel at higher rate than lower-thrust fighter at equivalent thrust setting, it can also throttle down and thus conserve the fuel. Thus comparing fixed time at either maximum dry power or maximum afterburner is not useful. Persistance is however very sensitive to fuel fraction, that is amount of fuel as percentage of fighter’s clean takeoff weight.

Achieving reliable kills

Being able to achieve firing opportunity does not mean much if one cannot turn opportunity into the kill. Weapons should be combared under unfavorable combat conditions: time pressure, unfavorable aspect angle, multiple targets, background clutter and an intelligent enemy.

Maximum weapons’ range is limited by the range at which reliable identification can be achieved and by weapon’s own engagement range. Aspect is determined by the kinematics of the engagement. Duration during which a kill can be achieved is determined by situation – in visual-range dogfight, it is no more than several seconds, while in beyond-visual range combat, it may be much longer, though reduction in timeframe is still useful. Different weapons also require different times from opportunity to breakaway; longer time means that fighter is more vulnerable to being attacked, and requires more time between kills. Times beyond 7-9 seconds also mean unacceptable vulnerability; time to use gun is 3-6 seconds, for IR missile is 5-7 seconds and for radar-guided missile 6-15 seconds.

Fighter should also carry a sufficient ammo for multiple engagements, determined by a number of on-board kills. This means that weapons carried should have high Pk both individually and total Pk. Pk for weapon is always far lower than in tests – before Vietnam, missile lethality was overstated by a factor of 10. As different weapons are vulnerable to different – and some common – countermeasures, weapons should complement each other so that countermeasure to one weapon may create an opportunity for achieving kill with another weapon. Vulnerability to countermeasure is less relevant provided that weapon can be used in surprise attacks, which radar missiles cannot. Both radar and IR missiles can have problems with clutter, but radar missiles are more vulnerable to target breaking lock through maneuvering.

For guns, probability of kill is driven by firing acceleration, lethality per round and projectile velocity. Acceleration is important since most firing opportunities in combat are very brief, so it becomes important to put large number of rounds in the air nearly instantaneously (within 1 second or less); even then only few rounds will actually hit. Similarly, high projectile velocity is required to increase probability of hit.

Imaging IR missiles may be vulnerable to DIRCM, but exact vulnerability is questionable. They are vulnerable to target evading the missile.

Radar-guided missile can have their lock broken, or be outmaneuvered. Their seekers can also be jammed Fuze jammers can be effective against missiles using radar fuzing. regardless of seeker type.

Comparision

Surprising the enemy without being surprised

With visual detection, largest aircraft are first to be noticed. All aircraft have largest signature when watched from the top or bottom; relative sizes can be seen here:

 visual

As it can be seen, F-22, far from being the least visible, is the largest of all fighters compared. Smallest is Saab’s Gripen, while Rafale, Typhoon and F-35 are halfway between them. Frontal and side visual signature is going to be larger for stealth aircraft than for non-stealth aircraft of similar size and configuration, though external stores can reduce the difference when it comes to the side signature.

While engine smoke can be a major contributor to aircraft’s visual signature, most if not all fighters compared do not smoke heavily, at least when cruising. Camouflage is also similar.

Requirement for surprise also means that usage of active sensors is out of the window. While there are ways to make radar LPI (frequency hopping), modern radar warners can cover far more than just X band, and radar’s transmitted power must always be far greater than noise to compensate for losses in reflection – absolute minimum requirement is for a signal to be several hundred times stronger than background noise as less than 1% of signal that reaches enemy fighter deflects back towards the emitter. Fighter aircraft which do not have passive sensors capable of detecting the enemy at beyond visual range are at disadvantage. Out of fighters compared, all of them have radar warning receivers; however, it must not be expected that a competent opponent will use radar himself. Consequently, IRST is primary sensor of modern fighter aircraft. Typically it works much like older mechanically scanned radars of older fighters, scanning the area in front of the fighter to find the opponent; modern QWIP IRSTs like PIRATE and OSF can detect typical subsonic fighter aircraft head-on at distances of 90 and 80 km, respectively; from the rear, distance increases to 145 and 130 km, while all distances noted are 10% greater against supercruising target. Using the afterburner can be expected to greatly increase detection distance from sides and rear, and somewhat from the front, compared to a supercruising fighter of similar size and aerodynamic configuration. Only aircraft on the list that are capable of supercruising in combat configuration are F-22 (M 1,7), Rafale (M 1,4) and Typhoon (M 1,5). F-22 does not have IRST, while Rafale’s OSF and Typhoon’s PIRATE are quite close in performance parameters (as can be seen from range figures noted). As a result, Rafale and Typhoon are the only fighters on the list capable of consistently surprising the enemy; F-35s IRST is not meant for air-to-air combat and F-35 itself is incapable of supercruise, F-22 is capable of supercruise but does not have IRST, while all other fighters do not have either IRST or supercruise capability.

As IRST does not cover the rear sector of any of the aircraft compared, avoiding the surprise is reliant on cockpit visibility and other sensors. All fighters except Gripen and F-35 have acceptably good rearward visibility, but F-35 is the only aircraft except Rafale to posses the imaging infrared sensors that cover rear of the aircraft, and the only one so far to possess full spherical situational awareness. While both Rafale’s Detecteur De Missile and F-35s Distributed Aperture System are primarly missile warning devices, their nature allows them to be used as a short-ranged IRSTs or IR cameras. This capability is not yet operational in either aircraft, and on the F-35 at least, it may never be. Even if issues with F-35s helmet are solved, its display is inherently inferior to the human eye. This means that F-35, with its lack of rearward visibility, is at danger at being surprised by a faster-cruising adversary. All fighters also have very capable radar warning systems. While these can be used for detecting and identifying the enemy, only F-22, Rafale and possibly Typhoon and F-35 have ability to use them for BVR engagement.

When everything is taken into account, aircraft can be rated 1. Rafale, 2. Typhoon, 3. F-22, 4. F-35, 5. Gripen, 6. F-16, 7. F-18, 8. F-15.

Outnumbering the enemy in the air

Outnumbering the enemy is depentant on generating large number of sorties. This is calculated by number of fighter aircraft procured for same amount of money times number of sorties per day per aircraft. For this comparision, 10 billion USD total procurement cost will be used.

Unit flyaway costs when adjusted for inflation to FY 2013 USD are 126 million USD for F-15C, 70 million USD for F-16C, 68 million USD for F-18C, 273 million USD for F-22A, 188 million USD for F-35A, 127 million USD for Typhoon, 95 million USD for Rafale C and 44 million USD for Gripen C, all in FY2013 USD. As a result, 10 billion USD gives 79 F-15Cs, 142 F-16Cs, 147 F-18Cs, 36 F-22As, 53 F-35As, 78 Typhoons, 105 Rafales and 227 Gripens.

Fighter aircraft is worthless if it doesn’t fly, so value required is number of sorties that given force can generate per day. Number of sorties per aircraft per day is 1 for F-15, 1,2 for F-16 and F-18, 0,5 for F-22, 0,3 for F-35,

Rating is thus 1. Gripen, 2. Rafale, 3. F-18, 4. F-16, 5. Typhoon, 6. F-15, 7. F-22, 8. F-35.

Outmaneuvering the enemy

Roll onset rate is determined by aircraft’s responsitivity to control inputs, which includes efficiency of control surfaces as well as roll inertia. Roll inertia itself is very sensitive to wing span and vertical location of aircraft’s center of mass relative to center of lift. Latter however is similar for most fighters, as they have to fulfill basic stability parameters to achieve controlled flight. Instantaneous turn rate is dependant on lift-to-weight ratio, approximated by wing loading, while acceleration can be determined by climb rate. Ability to sustain turn meanwhile can be approximated by thrust-to-weight ratio.

F-15 has very classical wing-tail aerodynamic configuration and wing span of over 13 meters. This results in comparatively sluggish transient performance (roll response at maximum Angle of Attack is poor), especially when coupled with large inertia due to heavy weight. Instantaneous turn rate is good due to the low wing loading of 278 kg/m2 at combat weight of 15.729 kg. Instantaneous turn rate is 25,5 deg/s and sustained turn rate is 12,85 deg/s.

F-16 is the only USAF fighter ever designed specifically to perform well in dogfight. F-16C has good thrust-to-weight ratio of around 1,2 at combat weight and good transient performance, but its turning ability is harmed by high wing loading (almost 400 kg/m2 at combat weight of 10.936 kg) and inability to reach 32 degrees of angle of attack it requires for maximum lift – widening of the nose for the larger radar resulted in unacceptable lack of directional stability at higher angles of attack, resulting in it being limited by flight control software to a maximum of 25,52 degrees. Sharp LERX and high degree of wing-body blending does result in large amount of body lift, and unlike statically stable F-15, horizontal tail surfaces add to lift when turning. Relatively low 40* wing sweep angle does result in comparatively low drag when turning. Instantaneous turn rate is 26 deg/s and sustained turn rate is 18 deg/s.

F-18 is another fighter that came out as a result of lightweight fighter competition. It does not have as good turn and transient performance as F-16 (it is limited to 7,5 g and its greater wingspan hurts roll performance), but is not AoA limited as much as F-16 is, being capable of achieving 50 degrees AoA. Combat weight is 13.505 kg, resulting in wing loading of 355 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,19.

F-22 is a replacement for F-15 and has similar aerodynamic configuration. Its instantaneous turn and pitch rates are better than those of the F-15 due to its more refined aerodynamics, particularly 70*-sweepback LERX which generates strong vortex over the wing, delaying air flow separation. Wing sweep is 48*, resulting in a lower drag when turning. It also has improved transient performance. Combat weight is 24.579 kg, with wing loading of 314 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,29. Instantaneous turn rate is 35 deg/s and sustained turn rate is 28 deg/s at 20.000 ft.

F-35 is allegedly an F-16 replacement, but its instantaneous turn rate is lower than F-16s due to higher wing loading and weight (18.270 kg and 428 kg/m2 at combat weight). High drag and comparably low thrust-to-weight ratio (1,07 at combat weight) mean that it cannot accelerate well, and also cannot sustain turn rate. Roll onset rate in level flight should be about as good if not better than F-16s, but roll performance at angle of attack is likely inferior to F-16s due to weaker vortices. Instantaneous turn rate is 26,5 deg/s and sustained turn rate is 11 deg/s.

Typhoon has acceptable instantaneous and sustained turn rates due to its low wing loading and high thrust-to-weight ratio, however its roll performance is lacking. Pitch rate is good as it has long moment arm canards, but canards do not help lift or wing control surface effectiveness so it may not be better than Rafale’s or Gripen’s. Comparably high wing sweep results in high drag when turning, but also allows excellent acceleration performance when combined with high thrust-to-weight ratio. Climb rate is 315 meters per second maximum, and 200+ meters per second in air policing configuration. Instantaneous turn rate is 35 deg/s and sustained turn rate is 27 deg/s.

Rafale has close coupled canards, LERX and anhedral wings. Vortexes created by canards and LERX keep air flow connected to the wings even at comparably high angles of attack, thus improving turn rate, improving wing responsiveness to control surface inputs, and keeping trailling-edge control surfaces effective, while wing-body blending means that it also has large amount of body lift while turning. Close coupled canards also cause vortex lift to start earlier, thus reducing drag for given lift. This results in excellent transient performance (roll onset and pitch onset rate) and excellent instantaneous turn rate, though sustained turn rate is lower than F-22s due to lower thrust-to-weight ratio. Climb rate is 305 meters per second maximum, implying marginally lower acceleration than Typhoon’s, and 250+ meters per second in air policing configuration. Instantaneous turn rate is 36 deg/s and sustained turn rate is 27 deg/s.

Gripen has mostly all aerodynamic advantages of Rafale, but lack of LERX and higher wing loading mean that its instantaneous rate is likey slightly lower. More importantly, canard dihedral and lack of wing anhedral result in lowered roll and roll onset rate. Sustained turn rate is harmed by very low thrust-to-weight ratio, as is acceleration, though low drag due to good aerodynamical configuration compensates for it somewhat. Climb rate is quoted as 254 meters per second maximum and 200+ meters per second in air policing configuration.

So getting all characteristics together:

Following parameters decide aircraft’s maneuvering performance: (8 aircraft)

1) roll onset rate at angle of attack = Rafale > Gripen > F-22 > F-35 > F-16 > Typhoon > F-18 > F-15

2) instantaneous turn rate = Rafale > Gripen (?) > Typhoon > F-22 > F-15 > F-16 > F-18 > F-35

3) pitch onset rate / pitch rate = Rafale > Gripen > F-22 > Typhoon > F-16 > F-18 > F-35 > F-15

4) acceleration = F-22 > Rafale > Typhoon > F-15 > F-16 > Gripen > F-18 > F-35

5) sustained turn rate = F-22 > Typhoon = Rafale > F-15 > F-16 > Gripen > F-18 > F-35

Total score:

Rafale: 40 + 32 + 24 + 14 + 6 = 116

Gripen: 35 + 28 + 21 + 6 + 3 = 93

F-22: 30 + 20 + 18 + 16 + 8 = 92

F-35: 25 + 4 + 6 + 2 + 1 = 38

F-16: 20 + 12 + 12 + 8 + 4 = 56

Typhoon: 15 + 24 + 15 + 12 + 7 = 73

F-18: 10 + 8 + 9 + 4 + 2 = 33

F-15: 5 + 16 + 3 + 10 + 5 = 39

Rating is thus 1. Rafale, 2. Gripen, 3. F-22, 4. Typhoon, 5. F-16, 6. F-15, 7. F-35, 8. F-18.

It should be noted that due to weight differences, Gripen is likely to match or at least come close to Rafale, and Typhoon to match or surpass F-22. During high-speed high-altitude flight classical control surfaces become less effective; at supersonic speeds, center of pressure also moves backwards, resulting in an aerodynamically stable aircraft. F-22 uses thrust vectoring in part to deal with this problem, while Typhoon uses control surfaces positioned in front of the wing; however, close-coupled canards keep center of pressure forward, as well as improving control surface effectiveness. As such, relative rating as outlined remains true in entire speed range, from very slow speeds sometimes achieved in gun-only dogfight up to supersonic speeds. Further, this rating assumes that F-35 has delivered on all premises; in current state (18* AoA, 5 g maximum) it falls to the solid last place.

Outlasting the enemy

As already noticed, persistence is determined by fuel fraction; fuel fraction for fighters is 0,33 for Rafale C, 0,31 for Typhoon, 0,28 for Gripen C, 0,29 for F-22, 0,38 for F-35A, 0,29 for F-15C, 0,27 for F-16C, and 0,31 for F-18C. Only Gripen, F-18 and F-35 have thrust-to-weight ratio below 1,1 at combat weight, and below 1 at air-to-air takeoff weight; F-15 however experiences afterburner flameoff issues. F-35 is also most draggy of fighters compared relative to thrust avaliable, while Gripen is the second least draggy relative to its size, bettered only by Rafale.

Rating is thus 1. Rafale, 2. Typhoon, 3. F-22, 4. F-16C, 5. Gripen C, 6. F-15C, 7. F-35A, 8. F-18C.

Achieving reliable kills

Main weapons used by fighters are BVR missiles, WVR missiles and guns. As has been mentioned, main aspect in achieving kills is surprise, followed by time: times beyond 7-9 seconds also mean unacceptable vulnerability; time to use gun is 3-6 seconds, for IR missile is 5-7 seconds and for radar-guided missile 6-15 seconds. Against competent opponent, revolver or linear action guns have achieved probability of kill of 0,3, rotary guns of 0,26, WVR missiles of 0,15, and BVR missiles of 0,08.

In beyond visual range combat, surprise can be achieved only by being able to target and attack the enemy completely passively. This requires not only passive sensors (which has been discussed in first subsection) but also missiles with completely passive seeker head. Only Western beyond visual range missile with IR seeker is French MICA, used by Dassault Rafale; this gives Rafale a large advantage in surprising the enemy. Additional benefits are shorter lock-on time, as well as missile’s lesser vulnerability to countermeasures (missile is completely passive, achieving surprise; imaging IR missiles are less vulnerable to countermeasures than active radar missiles, and are also less vulnerable to having lock broken by target’s maneuvers). Typhoon, F-22, F-35 and possibly Gripen can all fire at enemy completely passively by using enemy’s radar emissions, same as Rafale can; they are however handicapped by using missiles with active seeker head, thus warning the opponent even if his missile warning sensors do not detect the missile.

In within visual range combat, revolver and linear action guns typically achieved probability of kill of around 0,31-0,34, while rotary cannons achieved probability of kill of 0,26. Important factors are lethality per round and number of rounds fired in first 1 second. These two factors can be combined into total energy of ammo thrown in first second. All guns are listed here. Energy per projectile is 144,5 kJ for Rafale’s GIAT-30, 136,6 kJ for Typhoon/Gripen’s BK-27, 55,13 kJ for F-22s M61A2, 52,6 kJ for F-15s/F-16/F-18s M61A1, 108,3 kJ for F-35s GAU-12/U. Number of projectiles fired in 1 second is 41 for GIAT-30, 28 for BK-27, 87 for M61A2, 88 for M61A1 and 56 for GAU-12U. However, F-22 will only fire 37 projectiles in first second as trap doors need 0,5 seconds to open; likewise, F-35 will only fire 21 projectiles in the same time.

As a result, energies for 1 second since pressing the trigger are 5,92 MJ for Rafale, 3,82 MJ for Typhoon and Gripen, 2,04 MJ for F-22, 2,27 MJ for F-35 and 4,64 MJ for US teen-series fighters.

As far as gun energies are concerned, aircraft can be rated 1. Rafale, 2. F-15, F-16, F-18, 3. Typhoon, Gripen, 4. F-35 (A variant only), 5. F-22. Fact that Typhoon and Gripen use revolver guns could push them above US teen-series fighters. Visual-range missiles for all fighters are IR based, and there is no major effectiveness difference except for the fact that both F-22 and F-35 use internal missile carriage which increases firing time.

Thus score is:

Guns: Rafale 5, Gripen/Typhoon 4, F-15/16/18 3, F-35 2, F-22 1.

WVR missiles: Gripen/Typhoon 5, Rafale 4, F-15/16/18 3, F-22/35 2.

BVR missiles: Rafale 5, others 4.

In total, rating for achieving reliable kills is 1. Rafale, 2. Gripen, Typhoon, 3. US teen-series fighters, 4. F-35, 5. F-22.

Conclusion

As it can be seen, Rafale is best by far in all effectiveness characteristics except for outnumbering the opponent, where it is bettered by Gripen. F-22 and F-35, the “most advanced”, and certainly most expensive, fighters in the world, do not get above 3rd place in any of criteria, while Typhoon – which is more expensive than Rafale but less so than F-22 and F-35 – achieves no more than 2nd place in any of the criteria. Reason is difference in approach – Dassault had experience and money, Saab had experience, and Eurofighter had the money. Lockheed Martin had money but it was not interested in desigining effective fighters; rather, its interest was to suck money from the US Government, which means desigining outrageously expensive, and consequently ineffective, fighters; reason why F-22 turned out (relatively) well is that Lockheed Martin was helped out by General Dynamics. But even Rafale, for all its qualities, is far from perfect, and it is comparatively easy to design a fighter which will better it in most or all characteristics. Rating with everything except numbers would result in following: 1. Rafale, 2. Typhoon, 3. Gripen, 4. F-22, 5. F-16, 6. F-15, F-35, 7. F-18. Gripen C’s lack of supercruise and situational awareness will likely make it less effective than the F-22 in combat (on platform level) due to these characteristics’ overwhelming importance, but its ease of maintenance and low cost might make it more effective than any of other fighters noted on battlefield level, as pilots need to train and human factor is more important than any technological factor.

As David Axe said, only thing that United States have always done well is not predict the next war. But he, as many others, draws a wrong conclusion from it.

Similar posts

Comparing modern fighter aircraft

Comparing stealth fighters

Fighter aircraft engine comparison

Fighter aircraft gun comparison

NATO main battle tanks comparison

Dassault Rafale vs F-35

Saab Gripen vs F-35

PAK FA vs F-22

Dassault Rafale vs Eurofighter Typhoon

Dassault Rafale vs F-22

F-16 vs F-35

F-15 vs F-16

Advertisements

291 Responses to “Comparing modern Western fighters”

  1. armchair_general said

    Great analysis
    Why you didnt analyse Eastern Fighters like MiG-29,Su-27,JF-17,J-10,J-8,MiG-31

    If it interests you you could compare second hand aircraft options for airforces without adequate funding

    Like

  2. Superb article. Very well done.

    One thing not considered, if I am not mistaken, is the weapon carrying capacity. Rafale has an enormous carrying capacity. It can carry ten IR BVR MICA missiles. Whereas I think F35 carries only 4 internally (externally, it loses stealth).

    Cynics could point out that the ten enormous MICA are carried externally. Correct. However Rafale is protected by SPECTRA made by Thales, which is Active Stealth. In Libya, SPECTRA was used with 100% success against a fully functional missile system, in the most protected location (an advancing tank army protected with country-wide and local mobile batteries advancing with the tanks).

    Rafale was used in combat in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali and now the CAR (where it makes ground “head down” missions).

    Last but not least, Rafale can refuel each other. Rafale is also nuclear capable, as it can launch a supersonic cruise missile with a 500 kilometer range and a nuclear bomb inside. This means that, actually, Rafales could go eradicate Novosibirsk…

    Add to this extremely low speed and short take off capabilities (something the Grippen NG will have but certainly not Typhoon!)… A final point is that several French (Thales) or partly French (Thales UK, MBDA, Airbus) are subcontractors not just on Rafale, but also on Typhoon. Dassault’s argument was that it knew how to make fighter-bomber, and Airbus ought to stick to air buses (Airbus is not arguing the point anymore).

    Thus my solution: forget the F35, and go Rafale! That will allow to evolve a superb omnirole fighter-bomber, while freeing money for advanced drones.
    For recent development:http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140110/DEFREG01/301100018/France-Upgrade-Rafale-Arms-Electronics

    Like

    • picard578 said

      Agreed, that is something I’ve forgotten to include in the article. I did adress it before, though (my air superiority fighter proposals, to be exact).

      Like

    • Chris said

      “That will allow to evolve a superb omnirole fighter-bomber, while freeing money for advanced drones.”

      Question though, are advanced drones really the best investment at this point? Versus say, a larger fleet of manned aircraft?

      Like

      • (Improved) Rafale is all what the West needs: it does it all. Putin can’t stop it.

        I would say what needs to be developed are supersonic drones, and hypersonic capability, and one stage to space (it’s related). In other words, there is plenty for USA aerospace to do, on the edge, even if it is reduced, plane-wise, to help build a more advanced version of the Rafale.

        Like

      • picard578 said

        Rafale can’t do CAS, so something like A-10 is still required.

        Like

  3. Chris said

    All of this begs an interesting question: Gripen vs Rafale

    Gripen does have the advantage of being operational on roads though. I wonder how much effort it would take to modify the Rafale to do this. So in that regard, this is in a way a quality vs quantity tradeoff. I suspect though that even though the price will go up with the Gripen NG, the gap may permanently end up favoring the Gripen NG when it comes out.

    Can the Rafale win against a force of Gripens that flies about 2 times as many sorties?

    Real number may be somewhat smaller – I think that the Rafale claims 8 hours of maintenance for 1 hour of flight and the Gripen 10 hours. So let’s say 1.7 to 1 for the Gripen – can the Rafale still win, or does the situation favor the Gripen?

    This is not a strictly academic study, after all, there are nations which are choosing between all of the Eurocanards. Rafale vs Eurofighter favors Rafale. Gripen vs Eurofighter favors Gripen, simply due to the sheer weight of numbers. Eurofighter, we’re looking close to the 3 to 1 drawback.

    Like

    • Chris said

      Hmm, looking at this more

      1. It will be very hard for the Gripen to bounce the Rafale by surprise. That’s because the Rafale is a faster fighter. Rafale also has a higher fuel fraction. So the Rafale would have an easier time hitting the Gripen by surprise.

      2. Dogfight wise, in a 1 on 1, all other things being equal, the Rafale would win. But of course, the Gripen here has the numbers advantage.

      3. By nature, the Rafale does have some drawbacks simply by being a twin engine fighter in terms of complexity and cost (that’s probably what’s really creating this huge cost gap here). I suspect though that with wider tires, it could operate on roads.

      Another consideration worth looking at as well is that the 8 to 1 flight to maintenance versus 10 to 1 is that all other things being equal, the Rafale pilots could potentially spend more time during peace as well training each month in the air. That’s a big advantage. That may make it even harder for the Rafale pilots to be attacked by surprise.

      4. Upgrades wise, the Gripen needs an IR sensor badly (to be resolved with the NG). This is a case where adding something is worth it.

      Giving DIRCM and IRIS-T could prove useful for the Rafale.

      Like

    • Of course Rafale could operate off roads. It can fly at much lower speed, and carry much more.
      I do not understand how 8 to 10 in favor of the Rafale is transformed into 1.7 to 1 in favor of the Gripen-that-has-not-flown.

      I also think that just looking at how much the plane cost to see how much flies is naïve. Historically, it’s superior pilots that have been more expensive than the planes. Look at the Japs in WWII: after their good crews were BBQed at Midway, it was a Marianna Turkey Shoot… (The word “Japs” is my way to honor the Yakusuni Shrine for the WWII war criminals, Abe prostrated to recently, with his entire government) The Japanese had plenty of planes, but in just one battle they lost like 500 (island based) for minimal US Navy losses, because the American crews were superbly trained.

      Like

    • picard578 said

      @Chris

      “Gripen does have the advantage of being operational on roads though. I wonder how much effort it would take to modify the Rafale to do this.”

      Technically, Rafale can fly from roads. Practically, I’m afraid that its maintenance and logistical footprint is too large to allow that due to Rafale being twin-engined medium-weight fighter.

      “Can the Rafale win against a force of Gripens that flies about 2 times as many sorties? ”

      Difference is only 2:1 between Rafale C and Gripen C (44 million USD unit flyaway vs 90 million USD unit flyaway, 19,6% VAT is included for both so don’t use 35 million USD unit flyaway cost for Gripen you can find in some places (wikipedia for example) since it excludes VAT).

      My suggestion is to scrap Typhoon and use Rafale as a command aircraft for groups of Gripens.

      ” So let’s say 1.7 to 1 for the Gripen – can the Rafale still win, or does the situation favor the Gripen? ”

      That depends on many factors, Rafale may be capable of (barely) equalizing Gripen’s numerical advantage through its own advantages.

      “1. It will be very hard for the Gripen to bounce the Rafale by surprise. That’s because the Rafale is a faster fighter. Rafale also has a higher fuel fraction. So the Rafale would have an easier time hitting the Gripen by surprise.”

      There is also the fact that Rafale has far better situational awareness.

      @Patrice Ayme

      “I do not understand how 8 to 10 in favor of the Rafale is transformed into 1.7 to 1 in favor of the Gripen-that-has-not-flown.”

      8 and 10 is maintenance downtime per hour of flight. So Rafale can fly 24/(8+1) = 2,7 sorties / day / aircraft, and Gripen can fly 24/(10+1) = 2,18 sorties/day/aircraft.

      For 1 billion USD, one can get 11 Rafales or 22 Gripens. 11 * 2,7 = 29,7 sorties/day; 22 * 2,18 = 48 sorties / day / aircraft.

      So Gripen has 1,6:1 numerical advantage over Rafale.

      And comparision is between Rafale C and Gripen C.

      “Historically, it’s superior pilots that have been more expensive than the planes.”

      In World War II yes. Even today, pilots are deciding factor… but to train, pilot has to fly, and that favors aircraft with lower operating cost.

      Like

      • Chris said

        @Patrice
        “I do not understand how 8 to 10 in favor of the Rafale is transformed into 1.7 to 1 in favor of the Gripen-that-has-not-flown.”

        I assumed that the Rafale was about 2.1x as expensive as the Gripen. Now 2.1 x 0.8 (in favor of Rafale) works out to 1.68, which I rounded to 1.7. Picard’s using 1.6 as a figure. So somewhere around that numerically.

        @Picard
        “There is also the fact that Rafale has far better situational awareness.”

        This is why I noted the Gripen has no IR and a few other capabilities. That could work against it.

        “My suggestion is to scrap Typhoon and use Rafale as a command aircraft for groups of Gripens.”

        Politics is likely to prevent this from happening.

        “That depends on many factors, Rafale may be capable of (barely) equalizing Gripen’s numerical advantage through its own advantages.”

        Yeah there is that. I mean, in most cases, where the 2 have flown off, most nations seem to favor the Gripen even though it’s acknowledged (as in the Swiss test for example) that the Rafale is the individually superior airplane in a 1v1.

        But that’s why I asked this question, can the Rafale’s superior qualities close off the numerical drawback in this case? There’s also the fact that the Rafale brings some abilities that the Gripen does not have too.

        Like

      • picard578 said

        @Chris

        “Politics is likely to prevent this from happening. ”

        Unfortunately, just like politics created completely unnecessary Typhoon (inferior to Rafale in just about everything, and competing with it for market).

        “I mean, in most cases, where the 2 have flown off, most nations seem to favor the Gripen even though it’s acknowledged (as in the Swiss test for example) that the Rafale is the individually superior airplane in a 1v1. ”

        In my opinion Rafale is best fighter in the world, but best fighter that doesn’t fly is far inferior to “just” good fighter that does… pilots make the difference, and pilots need to fly.

        “But that’s why I asked this question, can the Rafale’s superior qualities close off the numerical drawback in this case? There’s also the fact that the Rafale brings some abilities that the Gripen does not have too.”

        Maybe, maybe not.

        Like

  4. Andrei said

    @Chris

    a) I don’t see any reason why the Rafale couldn’t operate of roads. It doesn’t need wider tires or something to equal the Gripen capacity to operate off roads because Gripen is not designed to take-off from dirt roads or even grass fields (like Russian airplanes) but from Swedish asphalt high-ways which tend to be better then many air-strips. The Gripen’s capacity to operate of roads has nothing to do with rough-field performance but with ease of maintenance and re-armament (the capacity to be rearmed and refueled by 5 soldiers without specialized training in 10 minutes). Rafale equals and even surpasses this capacity of the Gripen. The reason why the French don’t advertise it is that it is not part of their military doctrine.
    b) One engine vs. two. Yes theoretically the single engine of the Gripen is less of a logistical burden because you need only one for each airframe as opposed to 2 for each airframe that you would need for the Rafale. But this is a simplistic assumption. There are few cases were both engines of an aircraft break at the same time, and the need to change both engines usually comes during depot maintenance not operational maintenance, depot maintenance which is carried out far behind the front. For all other operational needs one spare engine for each airframe suffices for the Rafale. Also engine maintenance for the Rafale is greatly simplified by the fact that the Snecma M88 engine of the Rafale is the first modular engine created. For all other engines any damage or malfunction leads to the replacement of the whole engine and thus the need to keep whole engines as spares. For the Rafale only the damaged module needs to me removed and replaced. This is a tremendous reduction in logistical burden and especially maintenance time required. From this comes the reduction for maintenance time per hour of flight from 10 to 8 hours compared to the Gripen. Also it eliminates the need to keep whole engines as spares for each airframe, only the modules which are known to be prone to damage or malfunction need to be kept in large numbers and I would think that after 2 decades of operational experience with the prototypes and the production aircraft the L’Armee de l’Air and Aeronavalee (I hope I wrote those right – I know I’m missing some accents) probably know which modules to keep stocked. The two engines also bring a huge advantage to the Rafale over the Gripen – survivability which considering the length of training for the pilot is very important.
    c) The problem of cost also is important. The price for the Rafale has been lowering over the past several years. In fact it stayed steady at 90 million dolars over the past 2 decades, but taking in to consideration inflation it has actually decreased. The price for all other aircraft has been increasing. An F-16 C/D in the early 90 was 30 million dollars, now it’s in the vicinity of 100. Similary the price of the Gripen is increasing. Estimations put the price of the Gripen E/F (NG) at twice that of the Gripen C/D, that is close to the 90 million mark of the Rafale. Thus the Gripen E/F will come close to price to the Rafale but not its performance. Supercruise is estimated at Mach 1.1 for the Gripen compared to Mach 1.4 for the Rafale. Rafale will still have slightly higher maneuverability especially at supersonic speeds (unless SAAB enlarges the vertical tail of the Gripen) and a superior and much better integrated sensor-suite and also very important and worth taking into consideration Rafale will be much more survivable. Thus for the same sum of money the numbers of Gripen vs, numbers of Rafale acquired will be very close together. But the number of sorties generated will potentially be higher because of the modular engines which decrease down time and reduce attrition (because of increased survivability ).

    The more I read about the Rafale and Gripen and other modern fighters the more I come to the conclusion that Rafale is ,if not the best fighter, at least the best engineered one. The French seem to have taken into consideration every contingency and found efficient solutions to every problem from maneuvering, to sensors, to maintenance, to adaptivity and so fort and so on.

    Like

    • picard578 said

      “Rafale equals and even surpasses this capacity of the Gripen. ”

      With two engines? I find it a bit hard to believe…

      “L’Armee de l’Air and Aeronavalee”

      It’s Armee de l’Air (you can just use abbreviation AdlA).

      “The two engines also bring a huge advantage to the Rafale over the Gripen – survivability which considering the length of training for the pilot is very important.”

      Gripen is more reliable than many twin-engined fighters, two engines are only a plus in terms of surviving battle damage, but if one engine is out you’re sitting duck anyway.

      “An F-16 C/D in the early 90 was 30 million dollars, now it’s in the vicinity of 100.”

      Adjusted for inflation, F-16A was 30 million USD in 2013, and F-16C was 70 million USD.

      “Estimations put the price of the Gripen E/F (NG) at twice that of the Gripen C/D, that is close to the 90 million mark of the Rafale.”

      70 to 80 million USD, I know. That is why I’m still not decided on wether I prefer Rafale or Gripen…

      “Thus the Gripen E/F will come close to price to the Rafale but not its performance”

      Typhoon isn’t exactly “close in price”, Rafale C costs 90 million USD flyaway, Typhoon costs 130 million USD flyaway, basically for a price of a single Typhoon you can buy one Rafale C AND one Gripen C.

      “unless SAAB enlarges the vertical tail of the Gripen”

      Vertical tail is actually important for directional stability, not for maneuverability since aircraft bank when they want to turn, and use wing control surfaces for that.

      “The more I read about the Rafale and Gripen and other modern fighters the more I come to the conclusion that Rafale is ,if not the best fighter, at least the best engineered one. The French seem to have taken into consideration every contingency and found efficient solutions to every problem from maneuvering, to sensors, to maintenance, to adaptivity and so fort and so on.”

      I’m not sure about cost but I do agree on the rest.

      Like

  5. Andrei: Excellent analysis of cost. I do believe the pie-in-the-sky Gripen will turn out more expensive than Rafale, somewhat ironical…

    One of the reason of French superiority, is that they have been chronically at war (decades against Qaddafi). Also the lessons of 1940 are still sinking in. That’s a defeat that ought not to have happened. It was a sort of Midway in reverse.

    It’s hard to believe people would say with a straight face that having one engine is better. Two engines is much more survivable, and one of the aim of Rafale was to have two engines, in contrast to single engine Mirages III, V, F1.

    BTW, it’s “Aeronavale”.

    Like

    • picard578 said

      Single engined fighters tend to be smaller and lighter, which means cheaper, as well as easier to maintain. Which means better pilot training and better survivability (in aerial combat at least, for ground attack it is better to have two engines, but for ground attack you need something like A-10, not Rafale or Gripen). Now, this is only valid when comparing aircraft of the same generation, but I’d go for a single-angined aircraft whenever possible.

      BTW, this fighter would have been my favorite by far had it been produced:
      http://hr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novi_avion

      Like

    • Chris said

      That’s why I was reluctant to compare the Gripen NG with the Rafale. I want to wait and see the final specifications and cost for when the NG comes out and then do a comparison.

      Like

  6. Andrei said

    ““Rafale equals and even surpasses this capacity of the Gripen. ”

    With two engines? I find it a bit hard to believe…”

    Read my point again. What is important in not the fact that it has two engines, but that those engines are modular. For Gripen if there is any problem on the engine it needs to be removed whole and replaced with a new one. That takes about an hour one needs to remove something weighing a ton and replace it with another something weighing a ton. That something needs to be transported to and from the forward airbase and a 1 ton of weight it will require big and vulnerable trucks.
    On the Rafale only the damaged module need’s to be removed. I remember reading in your analysis of the Rafale that the Snecma engine has 21 modules, each one very easy to remove, presumably needing minutes to replace instead of one hour for the whole engine on the Gripen. From a logistical point of view it’s also much easier, as you can transport the engine broken down in modules each weighing a few tens of kilograms, which means you don’t need big vulnerable trucks to haul whole engines around, but could instead be using small cargo vans or even donkeys and people on foot (I know it’s stretching it a lot).
    So while on paper it’s easier maintenance to have only one engine, in practice I believe the solution Snecma came up with brings the logistical and maintenance burden of the two engined aircraft down to the levels of one engined aircraft.

    “Gripen is more reliable than many twin-engined fighters, two engines are only a plus in terms of surviving battle damage, but if one engine is out you’re sitting duck anyway.”

    True, but not if the two engined aircraft is the Rafale 😀 It has one of the best safety records of any aircraft. It had only 4 incidents that I know off, and 3 of them were with the naval variant and are attributed to pilot errors. Gripen on the other hand had 8 incidents in the same time period, if we also include flights wiht Rafale A the two aircraft have been flying for the same amount of time. (funnily the first two incidents of the Gripen involved the same pilot which escaped both times and were attributed to Pilot Induced Oscillations )
    And yes I was thing of battle damage and I can think of a lot of scenarios were an aircraft that is a sitting duck can still get away. For example, take a reconnaissance mission, if engaged by SAM missiles a single hit to the engine will cause the Gripen to crash. The Rafale, depending on were exactly the hit occurs, might loose only one engine and if it escapes the notice of enemy aircraft return to base. At base the repairs might be as simple as replacing several modules of one engine and the external paneling around the engine, which could be presumably be accomplished in a few hours.and the aircraft returned to the fight. In the same scenario the Gripen goes down, period. Pilot is lost behind enemy lines and not only will he be unable to contribute to the fight but will require huge investment in SAR operations to recover (if he even survives). So on one hand we have a two engined aircraft returning home with it’s pilot and costing only a few millions in repairs, and on the other hand we have a one engined aircraft crashing and costing 50 to 80 million in replacement costs, plus the cost of replacing and/or recovering the pilot (and I’m not even going in the matter of morale), all for a simple reconnaissance mission.

    Like

    • picard578 said

      “On the Rafale only the damaged module need’s to be removed. I remember reading in your analysis of the Rafale that the Snecma engine has 21 modules, each one very easy to remove, presumably needing minutes to replace instead of one hour for the whole engine on the Gripen.”

      You need to take out the engine, replace the module, and put in the engine again. It will actually take more time compared to removing the old engine and putting in replacement engine, unless it is easier to calibrate.

      ” So while on paper it’s easier maintenance to have only one engine, in practice I believe the solution Snecma came up with brings the logistical and maintenance burden of the two engined aircraft down to the levels of one engined aircraft.”

      I wonder wether EJ-200 uses modules too.

      Like

      • Andrei said

        “You need to take out the engine, replace the module, and put in the engine again. It will actually take more time compared to removing the old engine and putting in replacement engine, unless it is easier to calibrate.”

        From what I read, I believe on Snecma’s web page, that’s the whole point, the engine need not be removed to replace the modules. But I’m not sure I read correctly it was some time ago and I might not remember correctly. Even if the engine has to be removed to replace modules the simplification of logistics still remains. You need not have whole engines available just the modules more susceptible to damage. Even if it takes longer to replace the engine on the Rafale the fact is that transporting whole engines to the front is harder then transporting small modules.

        “I wonder whether EJ-200 uses modules too.”

        I haven’t fond anything that suggests it did. Anyway it’s based on an older design then the M88. M88 was designed and conceived in the 90s, Rafale A actually flew with the engines of the F/A-18 C/D in 87, because the engines were not ready. EJ 230 is an evolution of EJ 200 withch in turn is an evolution of Rolls-Royce XG-40 which was designed in 1984.

        Like

  7. Chris said

    Patrice and Andrei, for the 2 engines vs 1 engine:

    Yes 2 engines are more survivable, but that’s only when the engines are widely spaced apart is that going to be fully realized (like in a well designed CAS aircraft). The reason why is when one engine blows, if the other engine is right beside it, then it’s often going to be affected by what took out the first engine as well. The Rafale, the F-15, and the F-22 have engines closely spaced together.

    By contrast, CAS aircraft (like Picard’s proposal), tend to have their engines widely spaced apart. If one engine goes, it’s far less likely to affect the other one. I suppose a case could be made that the Su-27, Mig-29, and F-14 have engines somewhat spaced apart as well. This is because if one engine is taken out, the other engine is far less likely to be affected.

    So the solution is to widely space apart 2 engines? However there are 2 drawbacks:

    1. In the event that one engine is taken out, the airplane is likely going to yaw badly, because the engine that is still working is far from the center of gravity with no engine on the other side to counter the effect. That will require some training for the pilot to adjust specifically to this type of situation. All pilots of dual engined aircraft train for this moment.

    There’s a saying that if one engine quits, there’s a good chance that the second engine is likely to get you faster to the area where you’ll have an accident.

    2. Apart from the mechanical complexity, there’s also the issue that two engines far from the center of gravity are less efficient. That’s because when you space 2 engines further apart, the further they are from the center of gravity, the more rotational energy you need to change that object’s state of motion. I suspect that this will also adversely affect dogfighting performance too (slower time to start rolls and slower instantaneous turn time).

    On the upside, the rolling rate once you start may be higher than a single engined fighter because the two engine may build more momentum than a single engined design. You pay for that though. Transient performance too would be adversely affected because of that momentum though and that could be a big drawback in a dogfight.

    3. Anyways, although jet aircraft are kind of different, it’s worth looking at the aircraft in WWII. Single engined aircraft became mostly air superiority fighters, while the twin engined aircraft became mostly bomber interceptors (some like the Ju-88 proved very good at this) and proved inferior at the air superiority roll to single engined counterparts.

    The reason why engines then were widely spaced was due to the propeller radius. You had to space apart engines widely because you had to give enough clearance for the propellers to spin.

    I am not 100% sure on this one, but I recall reading somewhere that the original designer of the F-15 wanted a really big engine (something like what the F-35 has) instead of 2 engines but had to settle for 2. Nobody made engines that large in the 1970s. It’s also why some aircraft like the F-15 have closely spaced engines – to get the most efficiency out of those 2 engines.

    Also worth noting is the F-16’s flight safety record relative to that of other jets – it’s pretty solid in terms of crashes per hours flown and in fact outperforms many 2 engine aircraft.

    Anyways, to get the best performance, basically what you have to do is to take one aircraft engine and put the smallest, most austere air frame possible around that engine, and basically you’ll get the fastest fighter you’re going to get out of a given air frame. That’s pretty much what Picard did with his FLX. Only thing I feel strongly about that aircraft is that a turbojet would have served better than a turbofan.

    Like

    • picard578 said

      “On the upside, the rolling rate once you start may be higher than a single engined fighter because the two engine may build more momentum than a single engined design.”

      Roll rate might only be higher if two-engined aircraft uses thrust vectoring to help roll rate, but that comes with its own set of problems.

      “Also worth noting is the F-16′s flight safety record relative to that of other jets – it’s pretty solid in terms of crashes per hours flown and in fact outperforms many 2 engine aircraft. ”

      Same for Gripen.

      “Only thing I feel strongly about that aircraft is that a turbojet would have served better than a turbofan.”

      I believe that too, turbojet is easier to maintain, cheaper and has better supersonic performance. But I’m not aware of any modern turbojet engine.

      Like

      • Andrei said

        “I believe that too, turbojet is easier to maintain, cheaper and has better supersonic performance. But I’m not aware of any modern turbojet engine.”

        There aren’t any. Turbojet development stopped in the 70 and for military applications they were replaced with low by-pass-ratio turbofans. There might be a solution but you are not gonna like it: dual engines.
        Take for example the General Electric J97 (One of the last turbojets engines developed). Maximum thrust for the J97-100 variant is 23,4 kN dry, so 46,8 kN dry for 2 engines and 35 kN with afterburner 70 kN for 2 engines. No this is bellow the 60 kN dry and 90 kN with afterburner of the EJ200 but the thrust to weight ration of the turbojet is 11.5 to 1 as opposed to 9.175 to 1 for the EJ 200. Two J97-100 weigh 630kg and one EJ 200 weighs 989 kg. All in all with the 300 kg less weight of the engine and maybe some use of composites in the wing the thrust to weight ratio of the FLX might be the same. There is also a variant of the J97 called J97-17 with twice the dry acceleration but it was never produced as it was intended for a supersonic business-jet that never got produced.

        Like

      • picard578 said

        I think I’ll do specifications for my own turbojet; thanks.

        Like

  8. Andrei said

    Another option for dual turbojets the dual turbojets of Su-25 Soyuz/Gavrilov R-195 max thrust dry 44.18 kN so 88.36 kN dry thrust for dual engines. I don’t have information about their weight.

    Like

  9. Chris said

    Most of the turbojets these days are older.

    A turbojet designed today would likely outperform many of these turbojets by a considerable margin.

    Like

  10. altandmain said

    Come to think of it, how much body lift do you think is coming from many of these aircraft?

    I suspect that some aircraft, like the Rafale might have quite a bit of body lift. The blended wing-body design probably helps it accomplish this. Similar thoughts about the F-16 and Su-27.

    By contrast, I have heard a lot of claims that the F-16’s body can produce “lift”. I struggle to understand how (fat body like that of the F-35 is for VTOL), but there are claims. I suspect that there won’t be much lift.

    Like

    • Chris said

      “By contrast, I have heard a lot of claims that the F-16′s body can produce “lift”. I struggle to understand how (fat body like that of the F-35 is for VTOL), but there are claims. I suspect that there won’t be much lift.”

      Oops should read:
      “By contrast, I have heard a lot of claims that the F-35′s body can produce “lift”. I struggle to understand how (fat body like that of the F-35 is for VTOL), but there are claims. I suspect that there won’t be much lift.”

      F-35, not F-16.

      Like

    • picard578 said

      There is difference. Rafale has a lot of body lift in both level flight and when maneuvering; F-15 has body lift in level flight but not when maneuvering, while F-16 has large amount of body lift when maneuvering but far less so in level flight. Gripen is more-or-less same as the F-16, while F-35 won’t have much body lift in either case.

      What is important about body lift is upper surface of the body, as well as aircraft’s vortex lift when maneuvering. If vortices go along the upper surface of the body, you have body lift.

      Like

      • Chris said

        Something like this?
        http://www.airliners.net/photo/Airbus-Transport-International/Airbus-A300B4-608ST-Super/0946740/L/

        Interesting statistics of lift though:
        747:
        Wings: 89.5%
        Fuselage: 13.1%
        Horizontal Tail: -3.7%
        Vertical Tail: .1%
        Nacelles and Pylons: 1%

        P-51D:
        Wings: 92.9%
        Fuselage: 7.7%
        Horizontal Tail: -.7%
        Vertical Tail: .1%

        I wonder if anybody has ever tried to make a flying wing as a fighter? Not for the stealth, but for the maneuverability and endurance. In theory, a flying wing should be able to go faster and further than a conventional fighter of similar thrust to weight, and by nature, enjoys very low wing loading.

        All I could see was the Horton XVIII B. There was also an experiment, the Northrop XP-79B. Neither ever got very far though.

        With modern fly-by-wire, it could work though.

        Like

      • Chris said

        I had been hoping to take advantage of the aerodynamic instability to get better maneuverability. I think that with modern fly by wire and computer control, it could be done.

        The other thing is canards – does a flying wing even need them? Rafale (and presumably FLX) use canards for control and to lower the take-off speeds.

        Hmm, I will have to think is one over further. It would be highly experimental admittedly.

        Like

        • picard578 said

          “I had been hoping to take advantage of the aerodynamic instability to get better maneuverability. I think that with modern fly by wire and computer control, it could be done. ”

          Instability provides better maneuverability no matter the planform.

          “The other thing is canards – does a flying wing even need them? Rafale (and presumably FLX) use canards for control and to lower the take-off speeds.”

          Ehh, no. Close coupled canards are not used as control surfaces, that’s what trailling edge surfaces are used for. Close coupled canards are important for following things: 1) delaying air flow separation (stall onset), thus improving maximum lift and consequently improving turn rate (best turn rate is achieved at maximum angle of attack achievable before stall onset), 2) improving control surface effectiveness at very low speeds and high angles of attack by redirecting air flow towards control surfaces and by making wing more responsive to control surface inputs (improved roll and turn onset, that is transient performance, which is actually more important than “classic” parameters such as sustained turn rate and sustained roll rate – all roll rate figures you can find for fighters are sustained (steady state) roll rate at level (1 g) flight), 3) reducing angle of attack at which vortex lift starts (less drag), 4) in-flight damping (improving low-level high-speed flight characteristics), 5) stall, superstall and spin recovery capability, 6) moving center of lift forward, resulting in aerodynamically unstable configuration and thus better response to control surface inputs (note: this effect is separate from one noted under point 2).

          Effects I have noted have following consequences: 1) improved maneuverability at all speeds, but especially at very low subsonic and supersonic speeds, 2) reduced takeoff and landing distance, 3) post-stall recovery and maneuvering capability, 4) less trim drag at high speed flight, 5) improved directional stability at angle of attack (less chance of sideslip etc).

          Only place where Typhoon is superior to Rafale is cruise speed, and that one has to do with wing sweep. BTW, Typhoon’s canard position was chosen because close coupled canard produced too much drag when coupled with ventral inlet, which would not allow it to achieve required cruise speed (and thus range) performance.

          Flying wing planform is not good for a fighter since it has inferior directional stability characteristics, plus possibly inferior roll performance.

          Like

      • Chris said

        I suppose you are right about the impact of close coupled canards. I am still sure though that I read somewhere that Rafale’s canards help generate takeoff lift.

        Anyways, a lot of what I remember on canard’s is from this article:
        http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19870013196_1987013196.pdf

        Hmm, I guess you may be right. Flying wing would have it’s share of issues. Oh well, it was worth looking at. I’d love to see some wind tunnel tests someday. I think it’s one of my hopes someday – a flying wing type aircraft for efficiency.

        Interestingly enough, there have been patents issued to Northrop Grumman relating to flying wing canards.

        See here:

        It’s never been done before (unless there’s some sort of classified project we don’t know about), but it would appear that flying wings can support canards.

        “Only place where Typhoon is superior to Rafale is cruise speed, and that one has to do with wing sweep. BTW, Typhoon’s canard position was chosen because close coupled canard produced too much drag when coupled with ventral inlet, which would not allow it to achieve required cruise speed (and thus range) performance.”

        Canards by nature I suppose would add drag. I imagine though that they create some lift too, so lift to drag overall should not be affected.

        Seeing that the Eurofighter was designed largely as a BVR interceptor first, I suppose that the tradeoffs would be unacceptable in that it would lower the speed specifications.

        Like

        • picard578 said

          “I am still sure though that I read somewhere that Rafale’s canards help generate takeoff lift. ”

          They do but it’s far from the only thing they help.

          Like

  11. Chris said

    Article I wanted to share with you:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/366872/us-air-force-pilots-fly-less-chinas-do-michael-auslin

    This is going to get worse once the JSF comes into service.

    Like

    • A fighter pilot should fly at least 180 hours a year, according to NATO rules.
      Less is not realy operational and could be dangerous in some circumstances…
      Nowdays, fighters are easier to fly but more complex to operate at full spectrum.

      Like

      • altandmain said

        It would seem that 120 has become the norm in both the USAF and the USN. If you have the time to, read up the book Lessons Not Learned by Roger Thompson.

        Like

  12. Andrei said

    @picard578

    I have a question regarding a statement in one of your earlier comments to this post: on what do you base the statement that the maintenance footprint of the Rafale is bigger then Gripen when the official maintenance time for the Rafale is 8 hours per hour of flight and Gripen’s is 10 hours maintenance per hour of flight? As the maintenance hours per flight hours ratio is an approximation that includes all maintenance tasks (structure checks, avionics checks and replacement, engine check and replacement, armament check and replacement, sensors check and replacement, etc.) to me this indicates that the maintenance footprint of the Rafale is smaller even if the Rafale has two engines and Gripen just one

    Like

    • picard578 said

      8hours for Rafale was a target capability, I’m not sure i was met. Anyway, maintenance footprint doesn’t mean only maintenance downtime but also number of maintenance personnell, number of spare parts, facilities required for maintenance work etc.

      Like

  13. syntaxerror9 said

    Rafale has an auto test system for potential failures during flight.
    Once landed, ground crews have just to test the result given by this system, and they just work on what is necesary.
    Most of the Rafale’s components have no longer Life duration before replacement as it was in older planes. They are changed only if the check up system ask to do it.
    Safety system for armement/ejection seat don’t use the old system of pins (“remove before flight”) used by ground crews. It is the pilot himself that secure its own plane.

    The M-88 modular concept allows engine replacement without using any test and test bed.

    These examples make me think, as you Andrei, that the maintenance foot print of the Rafale could be lighter than the Gripen’s one.

    Like

  14. Tor said

    A lot of Rafale fans here I see. For the sake of balance, let me straighten some things out for you.
    Andrei states that Swedish roads are smooth like airfields. Not true. Roads in Scandinavia suffer very heavy wear each year from permafrost. Why do you think Volvo and Scania trucks are so competitive? Robustness, they are born from a far harsher climate than German or French machines. Same with Russian and Swedish aircraft. A lot of design work went into making the RM12 engine withstand particles and dirt from the road environment. The ice capabilities of the Gripen are not as good as Viggen with its thrust reverser though. You can’t just take a carrier aircraft like the Hornet or Rafale and think that they will operate from road base unless designed for it. Using dispersed road bases has been a main tactic of Flygvapnet for 60 years and the aircraft systems and infrastructure are designed for this. There is a lot of experience and a long history of design behind.
    Gripen E will supercruise with full air-to-air armament at Mach 1.2 at sea level. Of course at higher speed if you measure at high altitude (like some others do).
    Whereas Gripen C does not have IRST Gripen E will have a more advanced IRST than Rafale. The HMDS for Gripen is based on the Typhoon helmet system which is recognized as the best in the world. Whereas Rafale has some flight performance advantages over Gripen C these will dissapears when compared to Gripen E in most regards. The larger and heavier Rafale will always carry heavy cargo better than Gripen. Rafale is better in the offensive strike role whereas the smaller and more nimble Gripen E will be a better air to air platform. Rafale is perhaps a more true multi role platform whereas the Gripen is essentially a defense fighter system.

    I highly doubt that the Rafale is as easy to maintain in the field as the Gripen. This type of design has very long tradition in Swedish weapons design. Sweden had a conscript army until a couple of years ago meaning that all weapons had to be very easy to operate. As far as I know there is no other airplane in the world that can do an engine change in the woods. All fittings and tools were designed so that they can be lifted and operated by manpower. No hangar needed. The Gripen also has advanced self diagnostic systems.

    When it comes to economics there is no contest whatsoever. Rafale is more expensive to buy but more importantly – about three times as expensive to operate. The French are in heavy damage control mode and it’s rather amusing to see the desperate reactions after Gripen E won in both Switzerland and Brazil. The Czecks just extended their lease. Hungary have stated to be extremely happy with the capability they get with the Gripen. Thailand states that Gripen C operating costs are half that of their F16s (they fly both types so can make direct comparisons) and will likely order many more Gripens in the future. Indonesia expressed an interest in Gripen the other day to replace their F5s. I read in the papers yesterday that Slovakia was in Sweden to discuss a possible deal.
    All of this is empirical evidence. There are many different air forces who operates Gripen C so a potential customer can get a very good idea of what it costs. Slovakia can just give their neighbours a call and find out exactly. Rafale does not have this credibility at all. Decision makers in both Switzerland and Brazil have stated that Gripen E is by far the most economical. Other than long range strike missions there is nothing Rafale will do better than Gripen E.

    Picard, I never see you mentioning the Gripen TIDLS fighter link. Likely the most advanced in the world and the Swedish Airforce was until the introduction of the F22 the only ones in the world with a link of this kind.

    Like

  15. syntaxerror9 said

    @ Tor:
    Just watch the swiss report by armasuisse.
    Typhon, Rafale and Gripen were tested in a lot of missions: Recco, air/air, air/ground, alert take off,…
    The Gripen has been ranked last in all tests!
    Even in air to air tests.

    Like

    • Tor said

      @Syntaxerror Do you mean the out of date 2008 comparison with the Gripen C? Well, the Swiss didn’t buy the C. They bought the E which more than well fulfilled all the criteria and did so with superior economy. It’s completely meaningless to just look at spec sheets by the way. Different systems are optimal depending on context. To do a silly “mine is bigger than yours” is children’s level (yet it’s amazing how this emotional mechanism affects the highest of institutions).

      The performance differences between Gripen E and Rafale are negligible and Gripen E will have more modern avionics.

      Don’t get me wrong, I really like the Rafale. It is an amazing high performance platform within a large air force.

      In a smaller scale environment the Gripen is a much better and more practical weapon. For example, Sweden does not produce oil so fuel economy is a very important factor in war where resources are limited. Single engine leaves a much smaller logistics imprint than twin. It’s about efficiency and making things work with little resources. The Gripen C could be said to be underpowered. This was countered with having extremely efficient aerodynamics. Look at the comparatively slender body shape. The smaller vertical tail of the Gripen is just one of the things giving it very low air resistance. Single engined aircraft typically have better aerodynamics due to more slender shape.

      These discussions very easily slips into the typical internet spec-discussions which fail to take into account the reality of a country. What are the economics? In what type of climate will the weapon operate? Et c. Do you want a big weapon to brag about (heavy twin engines of Arabic countries) or do you want a weapon that actually works? There are limitless examples of this line of thinking. Also in institutions. Smaller size and single engine usually means people will think its worse. Truth is different. Look at F15/F16 and all the misunderstandings therein. Size, twin engine vs single, et cetera.
      Lighter weight means lower inertia and lower cost. It’s basic physics. Picards blog is a rare breath of fresh air in a sick technofetishistic environment resulting in ridiculousness like the JSF.

      Having said all that, I do think the Rafale is a well functioning and impressive system. But it is different weight class from the Gripen. It is a system that works better in a large country like France, Germany or the UK.
      The miniaturization of computing power and technology means that the compromises that had to be made for a smaller platform in 1994 are much smaller in 2014. This is why we now see a light fighter emerging with the type of performance that in the past required two engines and larger air frame.

      Like

      • picard578 said

        @Tor

        “There are limitless examples of this line of thinking.”

        Just about every country that went for the F-35. F-35 isn’t seen as a combat aircraft but rather as the status symbol.

        “This is why we now see a light fighter emerging with the type of performance that in the past required two engines and larger air frame.”

        Not exactly, F-5 was far better performing than F-4, P-51 was also better than P-38… typically, you wanted one engine for air superiority and two engines for ground attack. Multi-role fighters are a compromise.

        Like

  16. Tor said

    And I want to thank Picard for the work and a good analysis. The point isn’t whether the airplane is called Rafale, F22 or Gripen. The very good points and questions Picard means to make are about philosophy.

    “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations” – Orson Wells

    Case in point: The relatively unlimited reality of an engineer in the superpower USA vs the relatively limited reality of an engineer in a country of 9 million people in the northern periphery.

    Even if the Gripen C has in many respects (not all) lower specifications than the options from large countries it would present a much larger and more well trained force all other things being equal. The questions Picard asks are not only relevant to aircraft, but to all technological spheres.

    Like

  17. @ Tor:
    I agree with you, Gripen is a good aircraft; Gripen NG should be better.
    But at what price exactely and will it reach all operational goals once in production….?
    Rafale and Gripen are not in the same category.
    Gripen NG is enough for Swiss but Rafale was over kill, for example.
    Even the Gripen NG will stay behind the Rafale in all terms.

    Like

  18. Tor said

    @Syntax
    You are right that the final cost and performance remains to be seen with the Gripen E.

    You are also correct that the Rafale is in a different weight class from the Gripen. The Gripen is a light single engine fighter while the Rafale is a heavy twin engine. As with everything else, what is best depends on the mission.

    When it comes to performance the Rafale is better in some circumstances and the Gripen is better in other circumstances.

    Thrust-to-weight and range will be very similar between Rafale and Gripen E.

    To my mind and philosophy smaller is most often better.

    Best Regards
    Tor

    The F-20 was a great machine and in many ways better than the hot rod F-16. Like the Gripen C, it was grossly underestimated.

    Like

  19. Andrei said

    @Tor

    You got me all wrong. I’m not just a Rafale fan but a Rafale and Gripen fan these two are my favorite airplanes and I couldn’t decide which one I like better because I like them for different reasons.
    I wasn’t bashing the Gripen and I wasn’t denying it’s merits, the merits of it’s creators or the care that went into designing it to fulfill certain requirements. This however doesn’t blind me to the fact that the Rafale has been designed with the same care to fulfill a completely different set of requirements and that this care and the higher budget that Dassault had to work with compared to SAAB (especially after Viggen almost bankrupted Swedish defense procurement) gives it an equal capacity for adaptability and ease of maintenance. My observation regarding these two airplanes is that they took two different ways to the same goal and both managed to reach that goal. On the one hand Gripen was designed to adapt well to the climate and relief of Sweden and was designed with a very frugal development budget and very strict requirements relating to maintenance and way of operation. This has lead to a fighter that can be operate from “a cave with a box of scraps” as maintenance supplies, that has performance superior to a lot of other more expensive aircraft (F-15, F-16, F-35, maybe even F-22, Su-27, MiG-29 ) and that because of these two characteristics can be practically improved from decades to come maybe even close to a century. On the other hand we have Rafale that was build to specifications close to F-35, that is replacing up to seven aircraft in two services, but to a much more limited budget, yes France has more financial resources then Sweden but not the infinitely deep pockets of the us military, as such they took greater care in designing the aircraft: they started with structural requirements of the naval variant which lead to loading factors of 11.5g and 9 g for the Air Force and Naval variant respectively, as opposed to Lockheed which started with the Air Force variant at thus the F-35 is limited to 9g and 7.5g respectively. Another example is the engine which was designed to be very easy to upgrade and maintain as to be more easy to adapt to the differing requirements of the two services. These design goals and decisions resulted in an aircraft that is easy to maintain, operate and improve. This latter characteristic can be seen in the fact that Rafale just went through an upgrade cycle replacing it’s PESA with an AESA one and improving the OSF, increasing it’s range and resolution and according to the article Patrice linked above will go through another round of upgrades that will improve it’s sensors and sensor fusion.
    Discussions of which aircraft is easier to operate and maintain are pointless as many more variables have to be taken into account. Can the AdA operate the Rafale from a Swedish wood and replaces it’s engine in the middle of a blizzard the way the Swedes can? Probably not. Because it was not designed with the peculiarities and extremes of the Swedish environment . Can they do it from a road in Central or Eastern Europe? Probably yes because it was designed with adaptability in mind and the less extreme conditions in those environments would allow for maintenance crews and logistic personal to keep the aircraft in operation. As proof of this statement I give the fact that Rafales operated without problems from Khandhar airbase barely few years after entering service.
    Basically my comments in defense of the Rafale were and are for balancing. Just as tipping the balance on the side of technology for the sake of technology, the way the US dose it, is wrong, tipping it the other-side and ignoring the performance advantage offered by newly implemented technology when that implementation is realized with great care to cost and maintainability is wrong.
    Just as I believe is wrong pitting the Gripen vs. the Rafale. Rafale has clear advantages in maneuverability, given by it’s superior aerodynamics (LERX usage in addition to close coupled canard, position of the air-intakes which gives better high AoA performance compared to those of the Gripen.) and higher thrust to weight ration, sensors and endurance, while Gripen has clear advantages when it comes to cost of operation and availability. Thus I believe these two aircraft would form the perfect High/Low mix of the UE. Rafale could easily handle offensive air-superiority, long range strike, long range reconnaissance, SEAD and even AWACS like missions which can be handled by a smaller number of aircraft flying longer missions, while Gripen can take point defense and defensive air-superiority and battle field interdiction which require higher number of aircraft staying for shorter periods of time in the air. Thus I hope the collaboration between SAAB and Dassault in the R&D field (NEURON UCAV) will extend also to the commercial one with the two companies splinting the markets between them SAAB taking small countries and Dassault taking big ones.

    Like

    • Tor said

      Good post Andrei and I agree on most of what you write. I am not so certain on the aerodynamics point though. The Gripen has less inertia, with a further relaxed stability and a more narrow body.

      Rafale was ahead of its time with the development and use of passive sensors and IRST. A fused avionics suite that could be argued to be the best in the world. Others are catching up in this respect.

      Short upgrade cycles are also employed by SAAB.

      The Gripen E and Rafale will in many ways be quite similar aircraft.
      I think that they are similar enough that differences in performance are effectively nullified when factoring in status and, most importantly, pilot skill.

      Like

  20. Chris said

    @Tor
    “A lot of Rafale fans here I see. For the sake of balance, let me straighten some things out for you.
    Andrei states that Swedish roads are smooth like airfields. Not true. Roads in Scandinavia suffer very heavy wear each year from permafrost.

    These discussions very easily slips into the typical internet spec-discussions which fail to take into account the reality of a country. What are the economics? In what type of climate will the weapon operate? Et c. Do you want a big weapon to brag about (heavy twin engines of Arabic countries) or do you want a weapon that actually works? There are limitless examples of this line of thinking. Also in institutions. Smaller size and single engine usually means people will think its worse. ”

    Seeing that I was the one that begun the Rafale vs Gripen discussion, I have to point out that most people would agree with you. Most people here on this page are generally in consensus that a platform should only be as large as it needs to be and no more. Larger, heavier platforms are more expensive, need more fuel, and so on.

    In fact, many of us criticize the latest American aircraft like the F-22, F-35, and similar aircraft for this very reason. They’re needlessly bloated aircraft and the price tags reflect that. Many American weapons have that shortcoming. Look at the M1 Abrams tank with it’s gas turbine engine. It needlessly consumes more fuel than a comparable diesel for no benefit and possibly disadvantages (the heat output would be very visible on an IR sensor). That’s a reflection I think of American strategy (which is a very 2nd generation warfare orientation) and of the United States (heavy reliance on good logistics, huge sums of money spent on defense – a lot of it less than wisely).

    I have no doubt that the Gripen is a plane better suited to take the Swedish climate than any other plane in existence right now (although a case could be made for Picard’s FLX). That’s a reflection of Sweden’s geographical location. It’s a small, relatively cheap to operate aircraft, which is a reflection of Sweden’s needs and doctrine (neutrality and self-defense).

    Similar thoughts about Russian aircraft. No doubt the Su-27, Mig-29 and the variants of those aircraft are designed to take on under-developed areas in Siberia, which can be very cold in the winter (under -40C and very hot in summer >40C). Furthermore, Russia still has a certain “inferiority complex” I find with the US (ex: Su-27 vs F-15 and now increasingly, PAK FA vs F-22).

    By contrast, the Rafale was likely developed first with the French needs and as such, is developed to function well in France, and likely areas that France has historically had conflicts with. It was also designed with naval aviation in mind.

    “The French are in heavy damage control mode and it’s rather amusing to see the desperate reactions after Gripen E won in both Switzerland and Brazil. ”

    Individually, the report from the Swiss found the Rafale to be a better plane than the Gripen or Eurofighter. Problem was political and that it was more than the Swiss needed.

    On the whole, I think the Swiss made the right choice, although another debate is whether or not such an aircraft was even needed.

    The issue I have at hand is, given a budget of $x billion, should you buy Rafales or Gripen for air superiority?

    So far, we’ve gathered that:
    1. Gripen is a bit more than 2 times cheaper, and has a 10:1 maintenance to fight, versus 8:1 for the Rafale. So that means that the Gripen outnumbers the Rafale about 1.6 to 1 (between 1.6 and 1.7 anyways).

    2. Gripen was designed with off-airfield performance in mind. It is also likely be less logistically demanding (single engine, lower fuel consumption, etc). Cold weather is also likely to favor the Gripen.

    3. In a 1 vs 1, the Rafale will win. That’s due to the superior performance and aerodynamics of the Rafale. Rafale is a more aerodynamic platform overall, although Gripen has most of the things Rafale has. Rafale also has lower wing loading and higher T/W.

    4. it will be very difficult for a Gripen to “bounce” a Rafale by surprise, simply because the Rafale has a higher max cruise speed and a higher fuel fraction. Gripen will also be a shorter ranged fighter because of this.

    5. Rafale also has some capabilities that Gripen doesn’t have. In particular, Gripen needs an IRST (to be added in NG).

    Both aircraft could use upgrades. Rafale could use IRIS-T for example. Most of Gripen’s shortcomings will be addressed with the NG variant, but until we see the final specs, we really cannot judge.

    Question is, could say, 1,000 Rafales defeat say, 2,000 Gripens? Because as it stands, Rafale does have some very big advantages in its favor. I think it would be a function of climate too. For example, if Canada bought the Rafale, it would likely have to undergo modifications to survive the Canadian Arctic.

    Like

    • Chris said

      It should also be noted that pilots of course are the dominant factor here.

      This favors:
      1. Gripen because it’s cheaper to operate.

      2. Rafale because it has a better flight to maintenance ratio.

      For the comparison above, I think we’re looking at comparably skilled pilots though.

      Like

    • Tor said

      Hello Chris,
      Gripen E makes sense in Switzerland. I would think Gripen E makes sense in most smaller countries.

      As I wrote earlier, the Swiss found the Rafale to be a better plane than the Gripen C in their leaked 2008 evaluation. The Swiss bought the Gripen E (NG) – a different airplane with more powerful engine giving it similar characteristics to Rafale but at lower acquisition cost and far lower operating costs. The Swiss bought what they thought was the best plane for them. If the Gripen E purchase goes through the Gripen will likely be their only platform as their F18s are decommissioned.

      Another Gripen customer – South Africa, bought the wrong plane. They bought a system they can’t afford to properly operate. So the Gripen could be said to be a bad system in that specific scenario. All systems effectiveness are relative to where they operate. Economics are of course crucial because it decides whether your pilots will be well trained.

      A 1v1 plane comparison is hard to make with such similar aircraft as the Gripen and Rafale. A perfect 1v1 never happens. You don’t fly alone, airplane status are seldom the same. One might carry more weight et c. As you ask – will the Rafale win outnumbered 2:1 by Gripen C? I don’t think so. Against Draken? sure. Against Gripen E? Forget it.

      I would also like to add that if you only have 1 airfield (like Norway will have with all their F35’s in it) things like LERX will mean zero because your only airbase just got destroyed by Russian cruise missiles in first thirty seconds of war. Norway spent all their cash buying the coolest fighter around and now their cutting down infrastructure and putting all planes on a single base. In my opinion it doesn’t matter if you’re flying the X-wing in that case.

      I think we actually pretty much agree with each other.

      Gripen and Rafale are just different size class. Just as France is bigger than Sweden. But a smaller opponent will never face a larger opponent in a straight 1v1 why such comparisons are just silly. Swedens tactics has always been those of high tech, well organized guerrilla warfare. Independent, trained cells efficiently fighting overwhelming arch-enemy (Russia). If you are fighting a larger more powerful enemy, will you engage on his terms? Straight up fight? Of course not.

      Like

      • Chris said

        Yeah I’d have to agree with the Swiss opting for it.

        “A 1v1 plane comparison is hard to make with such similar aircraft as the Gripen and Rafale. A perfect 1v1 never happens.”

        I’d have to disagree with this. After adjusting for the cost differences, these aircraft are competing with each other, and others like the Eurofighter, some American variants, etc.

        “Norway spent all their cash buying the coolest fighter around and now their cutting down infrastructure and putting all planes on a single base. In my opinion it doesn’t matter if you’re flying the X-wing in that case.”

        Norway is wasting it’s money.

        They’re not so much buying the best airplane they can as they are trying to buy US goodwill. Of course, whether or not the money is better spent on a cheaper aircraft (which ironically in this case would be a better plane) is another matter. That and putting all your eggs in one basket is never a great idea. Gripen would be a better choice here.

        “I think we actually pretty much agree with each other.”

        Largely yes, although I think we disagree on a few minor details.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: