CDI: F-22 – arguments for stopping the production

The F-22 Controversy, Part I: Arguments for Stopping Production.

http://www.cdi.org/program/document.cfm?DocumentID=4527&from_page=../index.cfm

The F-22 Controversy, Part I: Arguments for Stopping Production

There is a burgeoning debate in the Senate over the 13-11 vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee to buy seven more F-22s for $1.75 billion (an apparently new and improved unit “flyaway” cost of $250 million each, not the Lockheed/U.S. Air Force advertised $143 million each).

The Levin-McCain amendment to undo the new F-22 acquisition is refreshingly upright and clear cut. It restores $1.250 billion in readiness-related spending that Lockheed, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and 12 other SASC senators thought should be raided from the Military Personnel and Operation and Maintenance accounts to pay for the seven F-22s. It also undoes a “management savings” of $500 million to pay for the rest of the F-22 cost – a savings that both Levin and McCain properly found unjustified; “bogus” would be a better word.

Everyone knows the F-22 is insanely expensive ($65 billion for 187 so far), but isn’t it the super-fighter everyone in the Air Force, Lockheed and its paid for Capitol Hill offices (more on that later) describes?

Perhaps not. Please consider the piece below, written by myself and Pierre M. Sprey, one of the few people alive today who can honestly say he has participated in the design of effective combat aircraft, as demonstrated by multiple wars.

The piece was picked up last night by Colin Clark’s DoD Buzz as “Stop the F-22 Now.” It is also reproduced below.

Pierre Sprey and I are indebted to Colin for running the piece. But the exigencies of editing resulted in some points we believe useful to have hit the cutting room floor. Accordingly, I am including the full piece as initially written at the end of this message, with the DoD Buzz version below. It is perhaps prideful, but some readers may find the additional points to be of interest.

DoD Buzz
July 13, 2009

“Stop the F-22 Now”

by Winslow T. Wheeler and Pierre M. Sprey

The Senate should debate the F-22’s fate this week . Sen. John McCain, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services committee, has pledged to lead the fight against the F-22, which the committee approved over the
objections of McCain and Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the committee. Following is an op-ed by Winslow Wheeler and Pierre Sprey calling for an end to a plane they argue doesn’t work nearly as well as claimed
and is far too expensive.

Lawmakers beholden to Lockheed are leading the charge to overturn the Secretary of Defense’s decision to stop producing the F-22. Gates and President Obama have threatened to veto the 2010 defense spending bill if it contains a single F-22 over the 187 authorized.

Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have already voted to overturn Gates’ decision. The House wants to make a down payment on 12 more F-22s. The Senate wants to pay up front for seven more in 2010. The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill on June 25 by a vote of 389 to 22. Clearly, Obama and Gates have a long way to go to pocket the 145 or so votes they will need in the House to sustain a veto. The Senate should debate its bill this week. Obama and Gates will suffer a huge legislative defeat if the F-22 supporters
win.

Instead of being such a close call, further production of F-22s ought to be laughed out of court. The F-22 is outrageously expensive. The 187 are costing just over $65 billion, about $350 million each.

Not a single F-22 has flown in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would be foolish to deploy them since there is no enemy air force to fight against. To send F-22s as a bomber – at three times the operating cost of F-16s that are already bombing over there – would be just another drag on the war effort.

Even more important is the question of whether the F-22 is a good fighter. The truth is that the F-22s weaken US air power. Study after study show that pilot skill dominates all other factors in winning or losing air battles. The F-22’s maintenance costs have the Air Force to slash in-air pilot training. In the 1970s, fighter pilots were getting
20 to 30 hours a month of air combat training. Today, F-22 pilots get 10 to 12 hours. High tech theorists claim flying can be replaced by ground simulators. Experience teaches that simulators can be used for cockpit procedures training but, by misrepresenting in-air reality, they reinforce tactics that could get pilots killed in real combat.

The Air Force, Lockheed, and their congressional boosters tout the F-22 as the silver bullet of air combat. The F-22’s so-called stealth may hurt more than it helps. In truth, against short wavelength radars, the F-22 is hard to detect only over a very narrow band of viewing angles. Worse, there are thousands of existing long range, long wavelength radars that can detect the F-22 from several hundred miles away at all angles. Believers in stealth’s invisibility should ask the pilots of the two – not one, as commonly believed – stealthy F-117 bombers taken out of action by old Russian radar-directed defense systems in the 1999 Kosovo air war. Moreover, a new whistleblower scandal is presenting evidence that the F-22’s stealth skin has failed to meet its stealth requirements because it has been badly fabricated and dishonestly tested.

The vaunted invincibility of the F-22 founders on two incurable flaws: First, the plane’s so-called “low probability of intercept” radar may now be easily detected, thanks to the proliferation of spread spectrum technology in cell phones and laptops. That creates an environment where, if the F-22 pilot turns on his radar, he announces his presence over hundreds of miles. Even better for the enemy, the radar makes an unmistakable beacon for opposing missiles.

Second, when combat forces F-22 pilots to turn off radars, they’ll find themselves forced into a close-in, maneuvering fight. Compromised by stealth and heavy radar electronics, the plane’s agility, short range missiles, and guns are nothing special – as one of us observed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada when an F-16 “shot down” an F-22 in exercises.

As for the plane’s advertised ability to cruise supersonically the F-22’s low fuel capacity (27% of takeoff weight, only two thirds of what’s needed for combat-useful supersonic endurance in enemy airspace) reduces this to an air show trick. Why the big fuel shortfall? To make room for stealth technologies and radar electronics.

In summary, a vote for continuing F-22 production is a vote to decay pilots’ skills, to deny them a truly great fighter, to shrink the number of pilots and planes we can field, and to reward Congress’ unending appetite for pork. The new 2010 Defense Authorization bill should be vetoed if a single F-22 is added.

# # #

Winslow T. Wheeler, a former GOP congressional budget expert, is
director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for
Defense Information in Washington.

Pierre M. Sprey helped bring to fruition the F-16; he also led the
design team for the A-10.

The piece as originally drafted follows:

“Any Pro-Defense Senator Will Vote to Kill the F-22”

by Winslow Wheeler and Pierre Sprey

Democratic and Republican members of Congress beholden to Lockheed are
leading the charge to overturn the Secretary of Defense’s laudable
decision to stop producing the F-22 fighter. Gates and President Obama
have threatened to veto Congress’ entire 2010 defense spending bill if
it contains a single F-22 over the 187 now authorized. As Gates said
about his original F-22 decision, the vote to sustain the President’s
veto of this bill should not be a close call. Sadly, Congress is
making it a very close call. That is why our defenses are in the mess
they are in.

Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have already voted
to overturn Gates’ decision. The House Committee wants to make a 2010
down payment to ensure 12 more F-22s in 2011. The Senate Committee
wants to pay up front for 7 more in 2010 – leaving unsaid how many
more we’ll have to pay for in 2011. The House of Representatives
passed their version of the bill on June 25 by a vote of 389 to 22.
Clearly, Obama and Gates have a long way to go to pocket the 145 or so
votes they will need in the House to sustain a veto. The Senate will
debate their version of the bill during the week of July 13. Should
an amendment to support Gates and Obama by removing the seven F-22s
now in the bill receive less than the thirty-four votes needed to
sustain a veto – or if senators supporting the president’s position
count noses and decline to move their amendment for fear of losing –
Obama and Gates will have suffered a huge legislative defeat. That
portends a sad future indeed for their efforts to keep pork and other
bad ideas out of the defense budget.

Instead of being such a close call, further production of F-22s ought
to be laughed out of court. Consider the following:

The F-22 is outrageously expensive. The 187 now authorized are costing
the nation just over $65 billion. That’s almost $350 million for each
one, counting all development and production costs.

Not a single F-22 has flown in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It
would be foolish to deploy them. There is no enemy air force there. To
send F-22s as yet another bomber – at what DOD data shows to be three
times the operating cost of the F-16s that are already bombing too
much over there – would be just another harmful drag on the real war
effort.

Even more important is the question of whether the F-22 makes a good
fighter, presumably against a competent enemy air force – if we are
ever faced with one. The simple truth is that the F-22s make US air
power weaker, not stronger.

Study after study – to say nothing of war itself – shows conclusively
that pilot skill dominates all other factors in winning or losing air
battles. Because of the F-22, the skill of our pilots has been
seriously degraded. Due to its gigantic maintenance and support burden
– over $3 million per fighter per year, again according to official
DOD figures – the Air Force has slashed our in-air pilot training. In
the 1970s, famously called the “hollow decade” because of low combat
readiness, our fighter pilots were getting 20 to 30 hours a month of
air combat training – half what the Israeli Air Force pilots found
necessary to achieve their lopsided 15 to 1 victory ratio in 1973.
Today, our F-22 pilots get an obviously inadequate 10 to 12 hours.
High tech theorists claim flying training can be replaced by ground
simulators. Experience teaches otherwise: simulators can be used for
cockpit procedures training but, by misrepresenting in-air reality,
they reinforce tactics that could get pilots killed in real combat.

Ignoring the combat-dominating human dimension, the Air Force,
Lockheed, and their congressional boosters tout the F-22 as the magic
silver bullet of air combat, a technological wonder weapon. It’s
likely to be the opposite.

The F-22’s so-called “stealth” may hurt more than it helps. First of
all, stealth imposes huge aerodynamic, weight and maintenance
penalties, reducing both combat agility and numbers of fighters
available in the air. The invisibility claimed is disingenuous. In
truth, against small (that is, short wavelength) radars, the F-22 is
hard to detect only over a very narrow band of possible viewing
angles. Over the huge remaining span of viewing angles, it is very
detectable. Worse, there are thousands of existing long range, long
wavelength radars, particularly Russian and Chinese ones, that can
detect the F-22 from several hundred miles away at all angles – simply
because all long wavelength radars are immune to any kind of stealth
shapings or coatings. Believers in stealth’s cloak of invisibility
should ask the pilots of the two – not one, as commonly believed –
stealthy F-117 bombers taken out of action by antiquated Russian radar-
directed defense systems in the 1999 Kosovo air war. Moreover, a new
unfolding whistleblower scandal is presenting court evidence that the
F-22’s stealth skin has failed to meet its stealth requirements –
limited as they are – because it has been badly fabricated and
dishonestly tested.

Worse, the widely advertised 10:1 or even 30:1 kill ratios of the F-22
in Air Force-umpired mock air battles rest entirely on using its radar
(without allowing enemy anti-radar measures) and on assigning
wishfully inflated kill percentages to its radar missiles. Despite the
Air Force’s long standing dream, in every real war of the last 45
years, our radar-equipped fighters were simply unable to use beyond-
visual-range radar missile shooting or, at best, fired off a handful
of inconsequential pot-shots. These few actual firings produced kill
rates far less impressive than the percentages the Air Force assigns
in F-22 mock battles.

The vaunted invincibility of the F-22 founders on two incurable flaws:

First, the plane’s so-called “low probability of intercept” radar may
now be easily detected by simple, low cost electronics, thanks to the
worldwide proliferation of spread spectrum technology in cell phones
and laptops. That creates an environment where, if the F-22 pilot is
foolish enough to turn on his radar, he announces his presence over
hundreds of miles. Even better for the enemy, the radar makes an
unmistakable beacon for home-on-radar missiles. Both the Russians and
the Chinese specialize in – and sell – just such missiles. Despite
that, our Air Force almost always bans these potentially devastating
missiles and tactics from the F-22’s mock battles, for reasons that
are not hard to fathom.

Second, when actual combat forces our F-22 pilots to turn off their
radars and forget the beyond-visual-range dream, they’ll find
themselves forced into a close-in, maneuvering fight. Compromised by
the burden of complex stealth and heavy radar electronics in that
dogfight regime, the plane’s agility, short range missiles, and guns
are nothing special – as one of us observed at Nellis Air Force Base
in Nevada when an F-16 “shot down” an F-22 in exercises.

As for the plane’s advertised ability to cruise supersonically –
indeed a desirable characteristic – unfortunately, the F-22’s low fuel
capacity (27 percent of takeoff weight, only two thirds of what’s
needed for combat-useful supersonic endurance in enemy airspace)
reduces this to a brief airshow trick. Why the big fuel shortfall?
Once again, to make room for combat-irrelevant tons of stealth
technologies and radar electronics.

It’s not as if it’s technically hard to design and produce a truly
great air-to-air fighter that can whip any other fighter in the world.
The only hard part is enforcing the discipline needed to: 1) focus
austerely on what has proven inescapably effective in the actual air
combat our pilots have experienced and are likely to experience (as
opposed to the imagined high tech air combat dreamed up by our arm
chair theorists); 2) rigorously excise extraneous niceties and
alluring but untested technologies; 3) build two competing combat-
capable prototypes, then go with the winner of a brutally administered
series of head-to-head dogfights and live weapons firings (even if the
winner fails to evenly spread subcontracts across 40-plus states). The
two most successful planes flying in today’s Air Force were built just
that way. There’s no reason we can’t do that again – and come up with
a new, even better, world-beating fighter.

In summary, a vote for continuing F-22 production is a vote to decay
our pilots’ skills, to deny them a truly great fighter, to shrink the
number of pilots and planes we can field, and to reward Congress’
unending appetite for pork. Unquestionably, the new 2010 Defense
Authorization bill should be vetoed if a single F-22 is added. Those
members of Congress who place our nation’s defenses first will support
that veto.

# # #

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform
Project at the Center for Defense Information in Washington. He worked
on national security issues on Capitol Hill for 31 years for US
senators from both political parties and the Government Accountability
Office.

Pierre M. Sprey, together with Air Force Cols John Boyd and Everest
Riccioni, brought to fruition the F-16; he also led the design team
for the A-10 and helped implement the program. He is one of a very
small number of Pentagon insiders who started the military reform
movement in the late 1960s.

Both Wheeler and Sprey are contributors to the new anthology
“America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and
the New Congress.”

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55 replies

  1. CDI Link seems to be down.

    Either way, I think that in a few decades from now, when historians look at how the US declined, I think that the overwhelming evidence is going to be how self-inflicted these problems are. The F-22 isn’t really the problem, it’s a symptom for everything else that’s wrong.

    I remember reading David Lloyd George’s memoirs describing the Battle of Passchendaele. The Tank Corps at the time had sent maps indicating that the bombardment proposed would flood the area. The military insisted that they no longer send such “rubbish”. End result? Of course the silenced people were right. I think that’s the US military’s mentality: They’ve invented their own reality and think its true.

    • CDI link is down because it is an article from the old CDI site that I saved on my PC. I don’t think they transferred all the articles to the CDI section of the POGO site so I’m posting them here.

  2. “in a few decades from now, when historians look at how the US declined” – this sounds a little dramatic.

    • Does it?

      The thing is, the US has made a lot of mistakes since the end of the Cold War and arguably during it – mistakes that have led to the current situation. It could lead to further problems down the line … indeed it will if reforms are not made.

      • “– mistakes that have led to the current situation” – and what are these nation killing mistakes. The Stryker? The F-35? The F-22? You really believe that will sink this country?

        “What’s odd is that even now, there are fights to restart the Raptor’s production in the US.” – Fat chance.

        Since I started reading this blog I ave been educated a lot in these matters and in my OPINION the F-22 is over. The F-35 is the main USA fighting aircraft now and getting enough units through the production line to lower its cost is the main priority.

        The two key aircrafts are the F-35B and the F-35C. The B will make of any flat-top including amph a powerful weapon that carries supersonic jets. This is new… and the C will provide the carriers with an enhanced long distance punch they do not have now. These are needed capabilities that the F-22 can’t provide.

        The airforce could swap F22 for F35. They also have the Strike Eagles which act as a medium weight bomber are are very useful if not well known. So they could ramp up back the F-22 IF, and only if they are willing to improve the electronics which they will have to do anyway to the current fleet of F-22. But non of these options are likely since they will also feel price inflation if the production numbers of F-35 are not met.

        So it is the F-35 and not the F-22.

      • “The Stryker? The F-35? The F-22? You really believe that will sink this country?”

        Military projects aren’t going to alone bring the US down. But they do weaken the nation as a whole. It’s not any individual mistake that has caused problems. It’s a cumulative snowball effect.

        Far bigger problems are the decisions to essentially adopt an economic ideology that transfers wealth from the middle class to the very wealthy, the ongoing decay of the US’ infrastructure, the declining competitiveness of Americans relative to the rest of the world, the inability of the political system to reform, the De-industrialization of the US, excessive militarism, and in the long run, environmental issues; already we’re seeing issues like water shortages. Granted none of these issues are only affecting the US – they’re affecting the whole world, but the thing is, many of these problems will affect the US disproportionately.

        Problems like the 2008 financial crisis, the ongoing obesity crisis, the debt crisis are although in and of themselves quite severe, but I think symptomatic of things far worse.

        The point is, there are widespread problems that have caused the US to go into relative decline. They are serious. They are long term. There is no action plan within the US to make changes. And perhaps most alarming of all, they are virtually all self-inflicted.

        “The airforce could swap F22 for F35. They also have the Strike Eagles which act as a medium weight bomber are are very useful if not well known. So they could ramp up back the F-22 IF, and only if they are willing to improve the electronics which they will have to do anyway to the current fleet of F-22. But non of these options are likely since they will also feel price inflation if the production numbers of F-35 are not met.”

        At this point, I’m more worried about whether the F-35 will even meet the price targets. And if it does, will it even match the expected competition, an Su-27 derivative?

        • “economic ideology that transfers wealth from the middle class to the very wealthy” – Bingo.

          Anyone can be asked to sacrifice their life to support a society geared for the benefit the upper 1%… well, not realistic.

          One thing that has supported the current illogical state of political and social affairs is an on-going never ending propaganda campaign that keeps critics swamped by a tide of dis-information. It will end and often in the USA those things end with a huge reaction the other way. Like a rubber band that snaps the wealthy could see themselves taking an oversize dose of their own medicine.

        • “At this point, I’m more worried about whether the F-35 will even meet the price targets” – This is wholly dependent on how many of them are built. If enough orders are received it could turn into a very affordable aircraft.

          The Raptor is no substitute for the F-35. While the Air Force might be willing to swap F-35 for up-dated F-22 at at what will no doubt be a higher cost the Marines in particular can’t do that.

          The Marines need the aircraft. They can wait some but eventually they need to replace aging Harriers and there is no other game in town. Also needing them are the many allies that operate carriers that have no catapult and who are planning to equip those ships with F-35B. So the F-35B is a more important aircraft than the F-22.

          The Navy could swap new F-18 for the F-35 as a stop gap measure. But I think they would like to have the extended range of the F-35C AND they realize that all those amphibs that now fly Harriers today will turn themselves into much more capable warships tomorrow with the F-35B.

          The F-35 is an important aircraft.

    • But quite probable. Empires rise and fall, and US are no exception. United States already are in a sharp decline, ever since the 1980s at least.

  3. What’s odd is that even now, there are fights to restart the Raptor’s production in the US. Such a thing would probably cost at least $10 billion I have been told to restart (assuming no cost overruns, which are very probable).

    • Even so, it might well be cheaper than producing the F-35.

      • It’s kind of odd. On paper, you’d expect a single engined fighter to cost less, but the way they’ve handled the JSF, it’s problematic.

        The first few F22s they make if they restart will be very problematic. It’s only then that they’ll start to make good ones. Admittedly the F-22 is a better fighter, but the problem is that the bar has been set so low for the JSF that well, yeah, that’s not much to brag about.

        That and the F-22’s problems (hypoxia and a few technical issues) have yet to be solved.

  4. I wonder how much of these problems are being caused by the massive subcontracting?

    Looking at civil aviation:
    – A380: Problem plagued aircraft for the first few years; a lot of it caused by sourcing parts throughout Europe, causing delays and in some cases cracks that later had to be repaired; it remains to be seen how the A350 will fare

    – Lately the Boeing 787 seems to be suffering from a lot of issues too, mostly relating to outsourcing, but also because Boeing’s management tried to cut down on salaries of the Washington state union shop workers; it’ll be interesting to see how the 777X does

    In the Western military aviation:
    – The F22 and F35 are both problem plagued aircraft, partly due to their complexity, but also because of the way the work was handled – fanned out to as many states in the US as possible.

    – Eurofighter seems to be suffering from a series of cost overruns and technical issues because it was made all over Europe too (or the parts anyways).

    By contrast, the Rafale and the Gripen seem to have been relatively within budget and met their performance targets.

    • Many of the F-35 problems where created by concurrency development and political climate that saw the Air Force’s management as a problem and sought to hand more authority to the contractor than we do today. And the software development issues that are still being worked through.

      That is not to say that scattering contractors over a wide geography does not create its own problems but that does not seem to have been the preponderant one.

      I know less of the F-22 because quite frankly I am not as interested in that aircraft but maybe some one can come up with some reasons of weight as to why it had run away cost overruns.

      • Concurrency played a huge role in the problems associated with the JSF I agree. The problem now is that they have to retrofit existing planes and change the production line.

    • Exactly. Simpler is better, and it is simplest to concentrate all work in one state / country.

      • Picard, manufacturing that is not concentrated that can certainly be a factor in design and cost issues and even manufacturing if tolerances are not met but are you suggesting that it should be the preponderant one?

      • Take a look at three most expensive Western fighters – F-22 (200-250 million USD flyaway), F-35 (150-200 million USD flyaway) and Typhoon (120-140 million USD flyaway). All of them have one thing in common – they were/are manufactured in more than one place. F-22 is a US-only project, but even it was manufactured in multiple states, and the F-35 is even worse in that regard.

        Now, is it a preponderant issue? Maybe, maybe not. But Typhoon is far more expensive than Rafale in both total price of a single aircraft and cost per unit of weight, which suggests that it is significant.

      • “Now, is it a preponderant issue? Maybe, maybe not. But Typhoon is far more expensive than Rafale in both total price of a single aircraft and cost per unit of weight, which suggests that it is significant.”

        The big issue here is that you’re not paying for a vastly better aircraft.

        Once the ECO engine comes out, and a few modest upgrades are applied to the Rafale, it is arguably a better plane in many regards compared to the Eurofighter.

        The other is that they have largely avoided the massive cost overruns and other issues associated with the Eurofighter.

        Again, I think that one reason why is the size of France, it’s budget, and its needs. That’s going to put a certain degree of efficiency … you simply won’t get an aircraft like the F-22 out of that procurement process (and hopefully it never becomes as dysfunctional as what has happened to the F-35 in the US0.

        Finally, there’s also the fact that Dassault has a lot of experience through the Mirage series in delta-winged aircraft.

        • “Once the ECO engine comes out, and a few modest upgrades are applied to the Rafale, it is arguably a better plane in many regards compared to the Eurofighter.”

          It already is a better plane than Typhoon, period.

          “Again, I think that one reason why is the size of France, it’s budget, and its needs.”

          Agreed.

          “Finally, there’s also the fact that Dassault has a lot of experience through the Mirage series in delta-winged aircraft.”

          Even longer, they had delta winged turboprop fighters before World War II (in development only, though).

      • “It already is a better plane than Typhoon, period.”

        Agreed. What I am saying here is that the “gap” between the Rafale and the Typhoon is going to get bigger the way things are going.

        I suspect that the Gripen too will make relative gains compared to the Eurofighter. Although the NG will likely see a rise in unit costs, in this case, it may prove that the extra spending is justified.

        “Agreed.”

        On paper at least, any of the Western European powers should have the money and technical expertise to build something like the Rafale or the Gripen.

        Spain, Italy, the UK, and Germany all easily have the money to build a Gripen-like aircraft, provided they had the discipline to stick to what makes an air superiority fighter “good”. Heck, even the Eastern European nations, or nations like Switzerland could potentially develop an internal fighter, judging by the success of the Gripen project.

        What I am surprised by is the Germans especially. They had their share of good fighter aircraft in WWII, but it seems they’ve stalled post-war. Perhaps I should not say that, since they do hold a huge share of EADS manufacturing, but it seems that others have made relative progress.

        “Even longer, they had delta winged turboprop fighters before World War II (in development only, though).”

        Ah, I did not know this.

        Maybe that’s why the Rafale and the Gripen are the 2 best fighters in Europe. They’re “closer” to the FLX and to what made the YF16 successful, although there’s certainly room for improvement and they both had the experience.

        Saab and Dassault both have a line of delta wings that they’ve had plenty of time to draw upon and refine.

        • “Heck, even the Eastern European nations, or nations like Switzerland could potentially develop an internal fighter, judging by the success of the Gripen project.”

          Developing a new aircraft is prohibitively expensive and small countries can only guarantee to the manufacturer a tiny market… and there is a glut of offering that keeps the prices down. The Gripen has been relatively successful because of it is cheap enough to obtain export orders from countries that do not have dangerous neighbors.

          The Rafale is on its dead bed… not because it is a bad aircraft but because they do not have enough production to guarantee keeping the line open or periodic up-grades as time goes by. The Eurofighter has the commitment of several countries to keep it up-graded.

          And despite the rhetoric to the contrary the Eurofighter is a top notch aircraft that can provide security in tough neighborhoods. Will be up-dated periodically and has the commitment of four modern European countries.

        • “And despite the rhetoric to the contrary the Eurofighter is a top notch aircraft that can provide security in tough neighborhoods.”

          Indeed it is. Basically, Rafale > Typhoon > F-22 >= Gripen C > F-16 > F-15 > F-35.

        • “Spain, Italy, the UK, and Germany all easily have the money to build a Gripen-like aircraft, provided they had the discipline to stick to what makes an air superiority fighter “good”.”

          Money is not the problem. Take a look at the Eurofighter project – they had the money, but they didn’t have the expertise and France (which did have the expertise) went out of the project in order to preserve the Snecma’s technological level. As a result, Typhoon’s aerodynamics and EW suite are significantly inferior to Rafale’s.

          ” They had their share of good fighter aircraft in WWII, but it seems they’ve stalled post-war.”

          True, but they all had problems. Me-109 had the potential but it had weak wings so pilots rarely took the full advantage of its maneuverability. Me-262 had unreliable engines.

          “Saab and Dassault both have a line of delta wings that they’ve had plenty of time to draw upon and refine.”

          Exactly. Typhoon designers didn’t have such experience, and take a look at its problems… transonic bump, inlet vibrations, low-speed recovery… all the problems that Rafale and Gripen don’t have.

      • If they built their own:

        1. The first 2-3 generations of aircraft would have issues
        2. It would get progressively better with time as they avoided past mistakes
        3. if they had design discipline and kept it as simple as possible, many issues could be avoided

  5. Picard and Chris… you guys can always use a break… enjoy!

    Mission creep at its best!

  6. “What I am surprised by is the Germans especially. They had their share of good fighter aircraft in WWII, but it seems they’ve stalled post-war. Perhaps I should not say that, since they do hold a huge share of EADS manufacturing, but it seems that others have made relative progress. ”

    German military fighter development was curtailed following WWII. US had a lot to say in what the germans could and could not do. For example the development of the MBB Lampyridae ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MBB_Lampyridae) an early stealth air superiority fighter contemporary with the F-117 was halted after a visit by USAF generals at the research facilities. The Lampyridae was a small single engine BVR fighter designed to use IRST as it’s main sensor (Germans actually developed the technology behind the current PIRATE probably during this program). Nobody knows why the project was canceled, but it’s probably a safe bet that the US wanted to keep a monopoly on stealth. The Lampyridae was much more advanced then the F-117 and would have come out maybe only 5 years after. It’s probable that much of the research from this program found its way in Eurofighter (PIRATE and RCS reduction which is bigger then in smaller Rafale). Same for UK. Due to Lend Lease for 50 years (that is until 1995) UK had to give any technology that they developed before US to US. That’s why the Harrier originally a UK only project became a US dominate partnership. That’s probably why they delayed the Eurofighter they didn’t want Americans to get their hands on advanced IRST.
    France on the other hand was free from these restrictions. One of the reasons of the bad blood between the French and Americans now is that the French didn’t feel in any way that they owed anything to the Americans after WWII (at most they were like: we’re even we helped you with your independence war we helped us from the Germans). So that’s one of the reasons why the French were capable to develop aircraft similar in performance to the US, while the British and Germans lagged behind the Americans.

    • “That’s why the Harrier originally a UK only project became a US dominate partnership.” – I am old enough to have seen those hearing in congress when the Marines requested the plane for the first time and at first it was a 100% UK product. But in a subsequent up-graded version that was supposed to be a partnership between the USA and the UK the latter unwisely decided to back out and not to participate. That latter version of the Harrier did turn into a USA dominated programs. But that was a choice that the UK made to save money; they could have been full partners.

    • That would make sense. Of course that’s why a lot of the WWII plane makers are gone now.

      I don’t see why the barriers haven’t been lifted now though, seeing that WWII was close to 70 years ago and the Cold War is now over for Germany. Similar thoughts now about the UK.

      The US is losing any monopoly on radar stealth anyways and a lot of other technologies.

      In retrospect, although I think De Gaulle made some decisions I would not have agreed with, the decision to keep French military hardware independent was a good one.

      • “the decision to keep French military hardware independent was a good one.”

        Very good one. But I’d say that a decision to make Rafale a larger aircraft (Rafale C: 9.550 kg empty, Mirage III: 7.050 kg, Mirage V: 7.150 kg) was a wrong one.

      • “Very good one. But I’d say that a decision to make Rafale a larger aircraft (Rafale C: 9.550 kg empty, Mirage III: 7.050 kg, Mirage V: 7.150 kg) was a wrong one.”

        There is that. It seems apart from the Gripen, all the new fighters are now bigger and heavier.

    • Yes, that is a major factor too, but not the only one.

      • What else do you think may have influenced this?

        Germany in particular – they seem to be dominating in manufacturing in pretty much everything else. In fact, Germany is now so dominant in Europe’s manufacturing that they seem to be having a “squeezing out” effect on everyone else.

        • Germany’s economy is export driven and aided by large amounts of self generated capital from savings. They do not consume what they make, are too frugal and save too much. The value of their currency is artificially diluted by their participation in the Eurozone making their exports cheaper than they ought to be and this helps fight inflation elsewhere.

          France has a far more balanced economy. A better economy for the long term. They export luxury goods and high end manufactures and consume what they make.

          Problems are just around the corner for Germany.

      • “Germany’s economy is export driven and aided by large amounts of self generated capital from savings. They do not consume what they make, are too frugal and save too much. The value of their currency is artificially diluted by their participation in the Eurozone making their exports cheaper than they ought to be and this helps fight inflation elsewhere. ”

        There is that.

        If the Euro falls and the Mark is reintroduced, it’s very likely that at least in the short run, the German Mark would appreciate and that would put Germany at a disadvantage relative to all the other currencies.

        Domestic consumption is weak in Germany (relative to their wealth). They do resemble the East Asian economies in this regard. The interesting questions are,

        1. Is Germany’s economic lead entrenched (ex: can the rest of Europe catch up)? If not, will there even be a large export market for German goods?
        2. Can Germany’s domestic consumption make up for any falls in exports?
        3. Will Germany devalue the Mark if this situation were to occur?

        Compounding all of this is their rapidly aging population combined with their reluctance to allow for more immigrants – particularly from East Europe.

        That being said, Germany is entering all of this from a position of strength.

        • “Will Germany devalue the Mark if this situation were to occur?” – normally this is done to alleviate debt… you pay old debt with a depreciated currency. They do not need to do that.

          They can raise taxes and use the proceeds to invest in infrastructure or urban renewal and therefore stimulate the economy. They can also use some of the money to re-arm (wink). Both of these measures will bring some inflation.

          They also can use the tax code to create incentives to have larger families… it would have to be a big differential with the ones that choose not to have large families. In 14 to 20 years these policies can reverse the population decline. They also can reverse population loss by lengthening lifespan of current adults through better medicine and healthier lifestyles. Immigration is not the only answer. It is the answer the USA used but that was because this continent was so empty.

      • I should mention that although its true I think Germany is likely to face challenges in the future, it’s likely that it will remain the dominant economy in Europe, particularly if the status quo stays the way it does.

      • “They can raise taxes and use the proceeds to invest in infrastructure or urban renewal and therefore stimulate the economy. They can also use some of the money to re-arm (wink). Both of these measures will bring some inflation.

        They also can use the tax code to create incentives to have larger families… it would have to be a big differential with the ones that choose not to have large families. In 14 to 20 years these policies can reverse the population decline. They also can reverse population loss by lengthening lifespan of current adults through better medicine and healthier lifestyles. Immigration is not the only answer. It is the answer the USA used but that was because this continent was so empty.”

        I agree that there are incentives that could be used – infrastructure in particular is a big one. That being said, we North Americans ought to get our own infrastructure together before criticizing others (I live in Canada, btw).

        But one issue: People in Europe don’t resent the fact that Germany is doing well. They resent the fact that it is doing well because they feel that it is happening at the expense of the rest of Europe. That in many ways just isn’t sustainable.

        The real question is, can tax incentives really reverse a drop in birth rates? They don’t seem to have worked anywhere else.

        • Tax incentives are like grease… they make things happen.

          Say for example that you are allowed to reduce your taxable income by $20,000 if you are the only wage earner in the family with child dependent and if two wage earners you would get $300 per month per kid. Other than dedicated professionals that would make it un-economical for one partner to work unless it was a really high earning job.

      • About German economy being on the brink of collapse. They avoid that by exploiting East European UE members like Romania and Bulgaria. Banking systems here are dominated by German banks that practically remove huge capital from local markets and transfer it to their own economy. They practically use the EU to keep fuel their own economy. The effect of this is that the economy of new EU members are being driven in the ground.

        • Andrei… ” Banking systems here are dominated by German banks that practically remove huge capital from local markets and transfer it to their own economy ”

          Here is the problem in a nut shell… foreign capital flows into the economies in need of development freely and with out constrain creating a surplus and facilitating loans galore. In that new environment the local banks with limited capital are unable to compete not just for loans but also for deposits and consumer lending. Local banks often make up for their lack of deposit by borrowing from the larger banks in this instance Germans. Profits from the loans flow back to the lenders now in Germany plus large capital inflows typically bring inflation.

          The danger lies in the foreign capital exiting the economy with the same freedom and lack constrain that it entered it. Greece and Spain are good examples. When that happens there is a liquidity crisis. That typically happens when the economy slows down and it becomes hard for the local businesses and governments to re-pay debt… so the lender (Germany) starts to call loans in and bankrupt the locals.

          So yes… massive German capital inflows should have been regulated so no to ruin the local banking system and their exit blocked in order to avoid liquidity crises.

          But the same happens with businesses. The locals do not have the economy of scale of their German counterparts, can’t compete in price or designs and are left with nothing to sell but cheap labor back to the Germans. At first there is a great availability of everything from abroad and cheaper prices so it seems great. Just think about it… what can a country like Rumania or Croatia make that the Germans need in large enough quantities that it will balance the books against their capital inflows or manufactured goods?

          So the exploitation of the local economy takes place with the profits sent back to Germany.

      • “About German economy being on the brink of collapse. They avoid that by exploiting East European UE members like Romania and Bulgaria. Banking systems here are dominated by German banks that practically remove huge capital from local markets and transfer it to their own economy. They practically use the EU to keep fuel their own economy. The effect of this is that the economy of new EU members are being driven in the ground.”

        I don’t think that the Germans are on the brink of collapse. Certainly not compared to the rest of Europe.

        But the Germans are running massive unsustainable export surpluses at the expense of the rest of Europe. That could lead to long term problems, not just for Eastern and Southern Europe (along with others like Ireland), but also for Germany itself (export dependent nations by nature need to have buyers for their exports or they face a collapse in demand).

        It’s a cyclical problem:
        1. Other nations cannot compete with Germany due to lack of funds & technology
        2. They are often dependent on Germany for certain advanced machinery and capital goods (Germany is a leader in this field)
        3. Gotta import those from Germany, which worsens trade deficits
        4. Massive capital investments come in from Germany
        5. The problem is even with those goods, its often hard to compete
        6. So again, you struggle to compete as another nation

        Oh and if 4 pulls out, you’ve got serious problems.

        Interesting read:
        http://www.dw.de/german-exports-fall-in-2013-but-trade-surplus-widens/a-17415592

        • China is like Germany on steroids. The problem with massive economies relying on exports is well known since it has occurred in the past. Countries have fought wars to control markets; in particular during the colonial age.

          And industrial exporters do not have subsistence economies to fall back to… so loss of markets can devolve into social chaos from the unemployed’s pressures. This is particularly true of societies that have become accustomed to high living standards (Germany) or that have no social safety net (China).

          We have to see what will happen because while trends and probable outcomes are easy to spot or predict the actuality hardly ever follows a script.

      • “Germany in particular – they seem to be dominating in manufacturing in pretty much everything else. In fact, Germany is now so dominant in Europe’s manufacturing that they seem to be having a “squeezing out” effect on everyone else.”

        They are dominant exactly because of that “squeezing out” effect, Germany basically turned rest of the Europe into its own private market. But while they are powerful politically and economically, Germany simply did not have the experience and it should have never had a lead in the Eurofighter project – both French and British proposals were, aerodynamically, head and shoulders above the German proposal.

      • “But while they are powerful politically and economically, Germany simply did not have the experience and it should have never had a lead in the Eurofighter project – both French and British proposals were, aerodynamically, head and shoulders above the German proposal.”

        They didn’t. British had. The curent Eurofighter is an evolution of the British Aerospace https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Aerospace_EAP. Aerodynamically the only major difference between the 2 is the wing which on the EAP was cranked delta, while on the Typhoon is cropped delta.

      • Then why was EAP produced by BAe and not MBB? The P-110 was one of several configurations BAe studied before the EAP, they froze the configuration on the EAP before they started the Eurofighter program. MBB was working on something completely different at that time, that I already posted the link to above (the Lampyridae ).

        • How BAE got a hold of it doesn’t matter, but a configuration with long-arm canards and a ventral inlet was proposed by Herbst. X-31 came out of that, and EAP drew from the X-31 (BTW, EAP was a joing German-British venture).

  7. Another troubled program it seems:

    http://www.aviationweek.com/Portals/AWeek/ares/DOTE%20F-35%20Report%202013.pdf

    20-page report on the F-35. It’s well worth a look.

    – The software is not looking good
    – There are serious durability problems (worsened by the weight savings)
    – DAS is not working and cannot tell between missiles and flares
    – Stealth coating is flaking again
    – Helmet issues persisting
    – Sometimes the aircraft does things it was not commanded to do
    – Did not meet reliability targets, although it did meet certain “test points”
    – Cracks in airframe

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