A fighter for Canada

Introduction

Canada is a Western country that at the first look has most at common with Russia. It is huge, but vast majority of its population is concentrated in a narrow swath of land to the south, near the US-Canadian border. It borders United States to the south and west, while to the east is rest of the NATO and to the north is inhospitable Arctic, with its vast natural riches and strategic importance.

Defense of northern Canada depends mostly on three or four forward operating locations – fourth one is the only with permanently assigned squadron, and that one consists of transport aircraft. Only the far east and south of Canada have proper air bases. CF-18s are based in Bagotville to the extreme south-east and Cold Lake to the south-west. Extreme north is patrolled by long-range patrol squadrons using CP-140 Aurora aircraft; no fighter aircraft are present there on a continuous basis, despite primary mission of Canadian fighter jets being to patrol Canadian airspace. Main warning system is a chain of radar stations making up the North Warning System (DEW Line).

However, threat from Arctic is not too realistic. Russia and the West going into an all-out war would be economic suicide for both (especially Russia and Europe, as European sanctions against Russia – which are forced onto Europe by United States – show). And while nuclear weapons are not likely to be used in such a war due to both sides having them, a possibility always exists, however slim.

Primary day-to-day operations of Canadian air force are interception of unauthorized civilian aircraft. Fighters intercept unauthorized aircraft afer these have been identified by ground radars or patrol aircraft. These fighters are sometimes deployed to FOLs, and CF-18s routinely conduct exercises from them. These FOLs are also the basis for protecting Canada’s interests in the Arctic.

Due to metal fatigue in wings, CF-18s no longer carry out dogfight training. Canadian Air Force is also taking great care to avoid any situations where dogfight might develop. Six CF-18s deployed in the Eastern Europe in 2014 were withdrawn six months later, as they were nearly useless for training Eastern European pilots and were of little deterrence value.

When it comes to overseas deployments, Canadian jets have seen almost no to no air-to-air combat, with United States mostly taking care of air superiority. In any case, all such deployments are optional, unlike the need to intercept the aircraft intruding into national airspace. Even if Canada does deploy fighters, that will be in support of United States military excursions where, as mentioned, United States will be doing most of the work, especially air-to-air combat and first-day strikes.

Selection and assessment

Candidates

As Canada is a NATO country, it is unlikely to select any aircraft external to NATO. This automatically disqualifies Su-35, which otherwise might be a good choice. Avaliable aircraft considered for Canada are F-18E/F, F-35, Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon. F-16 may also be a possibility.

Single or twin engined?

As it can be seen from introduction, fighter aircraft are not used to patrol the north of Canada. This alone makes discussion about potential survivability advantages of twin-engined fighters mostly moot. However, it should still be done, if for nothing then for the sake of completeness. Main reason for impression of single-engine lack of safety is the F-104s rather bad record. However, loss rate of the F-104 was 26,7 losses per 100.000 hours, compared to 12,2 for F-106 and 20,7 for the F-4. It can be seen that single-engined F-106 was the safest fighter of the three. Both less survivable fighters were multirole, indicating that mission, rather than number of engines, is the primary determinant of survivability. In fact, when used for the same mission, F-100, F-101 and F-102 had nearly identical accident rate. If anything, single-engined fighters were slightly safer. CF-104 was used mostly as a low-level strike aircraft, where its high stall speed and lack of agility made it prone to crashing. Another hazard are bird strikes, which strike aircraft suffer from; about a quarter of losses were attributed to bird strikes, which fragile early engines could not tolerate. In a more modern example, none of the Eurocanards – either single-engined Gripen or twin-engined Rafale and Typhoon – had any cases of aircraft lost due to the engine failure. In US example, twin-engined F-15 had higher rate of engine-related losses than single-engined F-16 despite F-16s overall loss rate being higher; most F-16s losses were FCS-related. Twin-engined F-18 also has higher loss rate than single-engined Gripen, despite using essentially the same engine. In fact, with modern twin-engined Western fighters, engines are set so close together that loss of one engine typically means that second engine will be lost as well – especially if the problem is something like engine fire. Even if problem does not spread, thrust imbalance typically causes aircraft to depart controlled flight, with low possibility of recovery. Overall, having a second engine significantly increases probability of aircraft loss due to an engine problem. Gripen had 5 crashes, two due to FCS problems, two due to flight situations outside FCS restrictions at the time, and one due to accidental ejection. There was one case of a collision with a swan, where aircraft landed with the engine running. This resillience to bird strikes is extremely important given Canada’s large bird population. F-18E and Gripen NG use F-414 engine, which integrates many of the improvements Swedes made to the original F-404, resistance to bird strikes being one of them.

As a general rule of thumb, single-engined fighter aircraft are smaller, cheaper to buy and operate, easier to maintain and use less fuel. They are also typically more agile in close combat, with smaller size and superior area ruling and mass distribution of a single-engined fighter facilitating better transient performance and oftentimes acceleration as well. They are also harder to detect. On the other hand, twin-engined fighters tend to have higher thrust-to-weight ratio, higher payload capacity, longer range and more powerful radar facilitated by larger size and power avaliable. Overall, single-engined fighters are better for air combat while twin engined ones are better for ground attack. However, single-engined fighters can, as a rule, generate more sorties, even though each sortie may be less effective, so even in ground attack situation is not entirely clean-cut.

Likely threats and missions

Primary mission of Canadian fighters is defense of Canadian airspace. In such cases, potentially hostile aircraft are initially detected by ground radar stations on Alaska or DEW line, after which fighters are scrambled for intercept. Typical targets are Russian bombers and other military aircraft testing Canada’s defenses, as well as unauthorized civilian aircraft. Secondary mission is using fighter aircraft themselves in the surveillance role, with possible necessity of maritime strike. Both of these necessitate quick response, especially Russian probes, with Russian aircraft flying near Canadian airspace 12-18 times a year – though most such flights are not intercepted, and none actually enter Canadian airspace.

This means that fighters should be based as closely as possible to Canadian border, which in turn means basing in FOLs. But FOLs have strict limitations in terms of aircraft they can accept, which will be adressed later. Supercruise is also a desireable characteristic, if possible with supersonic fuel tanks, in order to get to the target area as quickly as possible without extreme fuel consumption of afterburner.

When it comes to overseas missions, Canadian CF-18s have only been used in situations of guaranteed air superiority (mostly guaranteed by USAF, lack of enemy aircraft, or both). And as mentioned here, high altitude bombing – as necessitated by usage of fast jets – has proven itself completely ineffective. Therefore, dealing with ground threats necessitates either attack helicopters or dedicated CAS aircraft, not CF-18s or other fast jets. CF-18s themselves faced a shortage of obvious ground targets that they could engage, mostly wasting fuel at high altitude, such as in Iraq and Syria. A threat from SAMs is an obvious problem, but an extremely small fleet of F-35s (65 F-35s can support only 20 sorties per day) will not help in that regard. Radar stealth itself is far less relevant against modern VHF radars, and completely irrelevant against most dangerous weapons aircraft face – optically-aimed AAA and IR SAMs. Rather, combination of situational awareness, good EW suite and high maneuverability is the only way to ensure survivability against current and future threats. Further, even if it is assumed that stealth will be necessary against future SAMs (an assumption with no support), Canada has no need for first-day strike capability, unlike rather bellicose United States.

CF-18s have also been deployed in Europe as a part of air power diplomacy. In all these cases, small logistical footprint is a large asset.

Basing: locations and characteristics of avaliable air strips

As shown before, defense of northern Canada depends on forward operating locations, with all proper air bases being in the south. Thus fighter aircraft has to be able to operate from both air bases and FOLs; typical runway length requirement is twice the aircraft’s takeoff distance.

F-35A requires at least 8.000 ft for safe operations. All major fighter bases in Canada have at least one runway above 8.000 ft (CFB Cold Lake – 12.600, CFB Goose Bay – 11.051, CFB Gander – 10.200, CFB Comox – 10.000, CFB Bagotville – 10.000, CFB Greenwood – 8.000 ft). Most of them are in relative south, with only Gander and Goose Bay being to the north-east (Goose Bay is 53* north). Rest of the northern Canada depends solely on Forward Operating Locations – FOL Inuvik to NW, FOL Yellowknife, FOL Rankin Inlet, FOL Iqualuit and FOL Alert, which is also the northernmost air strip. Only aircraft from these FOLs can properly respond to Russian probing flights. With air strip lengths of 7.503 ft (Yellowkinfe), 6.001 ft (Inuvik), 6.000 ft (Rankin Inlet), 8.605 ft (Iqualut) and 5.500 ft (Alert), only Iqualut FOL is capable of operating F-35s.

F-18E/F, F-35, Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon all need lesser distances. F-18E/F needs 3.680 ft runway, Typhoon needs 2.300 ft, Rafale needs 1.475 ft, Gripen C needs ~2.130 ft and Gripen NG needs ~2.000 ft. Super Hornet, Gripen and possibly Rafale are also capable of rough field operations, though this may not allow them to operate from Alert air port’s gravel airstrip.

Another issue are low temperatures. At FOL Alert, warmest temperature is 10* C, and during winter hovers at about -40* C; runway is usually covered in snow and ice. Gripen has unquestioned cold weather performance, being able to take off from and land on snow-covered or frozen over air strip, and operating from a base north of the Arctic Circle. F-35 has been tested at -26* C, but other capabilities required are questionable.

Basing: wartime survivability

In modern war, air bases will become primary targets. Cozy bases with huge runways make easy targets for just about any precision and “dumb” weapon avaliable, which in turn means that they will not be avaliable. Consequently, any future Canadian fighter aircraft has to be capable of operating from roads and highways.

Airframe characteristics necessary are small size (with wingspan ideally being less than 8,75 meters) plus rough field and STOL capability. Saab Gripen is the only aircraft which fulfills all three requirements. During Libyan campaign, when Sinegolla air base was closed down due to a crash, Gripen was the only fighter which continued to operate thanks to its STOL capability.

Operational characteristics necessary are easy maintenance and small logistical footprint in terms of personnel, spares and fuel. Single engined aircraft tend to have advantage in terms of maintenance; however, F-35s engine is very heavy, complex and hard to maintain, not to mention rest of the aircraft. Gripen however is designed for easy maintenance – everything, including engine, is resillient and comparably easy to maintain. F-18E uses similar engine (identical in case of Gripen E) but has two engines compared to Gripen’s single one.

F-18E is said to have quick turnaround time. While I could find no specifics, “quick” likely means it is comparable to Eurocanards. F-35 has 36 hour turnaround time, though that will (hopefully) get reduced with time. It is unlikely to ever get shorter than several hours, however. Gripen requires only 6 conscripts, and has 10 minute turnaround for air-to-air mission and 20 minute turnaround for air-to-ground mission. Rafale has air-to-air turnaround time of 30 minutes, with air-to-ground turnaround of 90 minutes. Typhoon has turnaround time most likely similar to Rafale.

Comparing fuel load with range and combat radius on internal fuel gives some numbers. F-18E has internal fuel load of 6.780 kg and range of 2.346 km clean, for 2,89 kg/km. F-35 has internal fuel load of 8.280 kg and range of 2.222 km on internal fuel, for 3,73 kg/km. Gripen C has internal fuel load of 2.400 kg and range of 2.000 km on internal fuel, for 1,20 kg/km. Gripen E has internal fuel load of 3.130 kg and range of 2.500 km on internal fuel, for 1,25 kg/km. Rafale has internal fuel load of 4.750 kg and 2.100 km range on internal fuel, for 2,26 kg/km. Typhoon has internal fuel load of 4.940 kg and 2.600(?) km range on internal fuel, for 1,90 kg/km. It is clear that Gripen C is by far the best candidate, with Gripen NG close behind. F-35 is the worst, with F-18E being the second worst.

Overall, Gripen has the best wartime survivability. It is optimized for operating from improvised road bases, with no need for luxury air bases required by most other fighters (especially F-35 and other “stealth” fighters). This gives it a massive advantage in survivability, deployability and wartime upkeep costs.

Logistics: airframe

Current CF-18 fighters use F-404 engines. Only other fighter aircraft which uses this engine is Saab Gripen (A/B/C/D models), which utilizes RM-12 engine – Swedish-built F-404 modified for single-engined operation. F-18E/F and Gripen E/F both use F-414 engine, which is based on the F-404 engine but with some major differences, many of them being upgrades based on the RM-12. This means that Gripen and Super Hornet (especially SH) have advantage in terms of necessary adjustments during introduction.

Logistics: weapons

Canada already has a large stockpile of US Sidewinder and AMRAAM missiles, which gives an advantage to every fighter other than Rafale.

Logistics: customer support

United States are very close, but tend to be quite restrictive when it comes to customer support, especially with more advanced weapons. Eurofighter consortium, thanks to the nature of production of fighter in several countries, has hell of a time trying to maintain its own fighters.

This leaves France and Sweden. Both of them have downsides. Gripen uses large number of parts from United States (most notably the engine) while French weapons tend to be expensive, and Rafale is (currently) not capable of using non-French air-to-air missiles. This is an issue since Canada has a large number of US missiles in stock due to using F-18s for long time.

Logistics: aerial refuelling

All fighters on the list are capable of probe-and-drogue refuelling method, which means that no changes to current Canada’s tanker fleet are necessary. However, Gripen’s low fuel consumption (see “Basing: wartime survivability”) means that it gets more mileage out of given tanker capacity than other fighters would.

Aircraft capabilities: situational awareness

What has to be understood first is that in situational awareness typical specifications such as radar range, number and type of sensors and data links do not matter as much as typically assumed. Modern fighters can easily collect more information than pilot can process. Presentation is thus the most important aspect in situational awareness; this includes sensor fusion.

F-35 presents huge quantity of information, typically in numerical form. This can easily overwhelm the pilot despite extensive sensor fusion. It is driven partly by US drive to centralize command and control, and do things “by the book”. This approach significantly reduces pilot’s combat effectiveness due to less freedom of action and due to information overload.

In Sweden, pilots have more freedom of action, and focus is on combat effectiveness, creativity and improvisation. Consequently, Gripen’s presentation of data is far more graphical, less cluttered and easier to understand. Important factor in this type of presentation is doing away with unnecessary information; Gripen’s data presentation is minimalistic when compared to other Western fighters. This allows for significant compression of decision-making cycle, allowing pilots to adapt far more quickly to changing circumstances in combat, giving Gripen major advantage beyond technical specifications. Rafale’s Human-Machine Interface is similar in concept to Gripen’s, trying to avoid potentially lethal data overload.

Super Hornet, F-35, Gripen NG and Rafale all have “glass” cockpits, doing away with large number of switches. In terms of sensors themselves, onboard IRST is a must. F-35, Rafale, Typhoon and Gripen NG are all equipped with it, while Gripen C and F-18E have to use IRST pods.

Aircraft capabilities: close combat

Aircraft maneuverability in close combat can be roughly summed up in two maneuverability areas: transient maneuverability and energy maneuverability.

As such, aircraft maneuverability will be measured by following: time to turn 90 degrees at maximum instantaneous turn rate, time to roll an equivalent of 135 degrees at maximum roll rate, time to turn 90 degrees at maximum sustained turn rate, time to roll an equivalent of 135 degrees at maximum roll rate, time to climb an equivalent of 2.500 meters at maximum climb rate, for a total of three transient and two energy maneuvers. Note that all values are increased from optimum in order to account for factors such as energy bleed or higher than optimum speed. Aircraft endurance will be measured by number of times that aircraft can perform said sequence with 30% of internal fuel avaliable (external tanks are assumed to be used to get to the combat area). A total amount of internal fuel used for maneuvers is thus 2.034 kg for F-18E, 2.484 kg for F-35A, 720 kg for Gripen C, 939 kg for Gripen E, 1.425 kg for Rafale C and 1.482 kg for Typhoon. At 30.000 ft, jet engine produces 30% of its thrust and also has around 1/3 of its fuel consumption (SFC is actually slightly higher than at sea level). Turn rate at 30.000 ft is around half of what it is at sea level. Consequently, fuel consumption in full afterburner will be 12.075 kg/h for F-18E, 12.246 kg/h for F-35A, 4.888 kg/h for Gripen C, 6.037 kg/h for Gripen E, 8.375 kg/h for Rafale C and 10.152 kg/h for Typhoon.

F-18E has enough fuel for 10,11 minutes of maximum afterburner. It will take 7,5 seconds for instantaneous turn, 2,26 seconds for roll, 24,44 seconds for sustained turn, 2,26 seconds for roll and 10,96 seconds for climb. This gives a total of 47,42 seconds for the entire sequence, and a total of 13 maneuvers.

F-35A has enough fuel for 12,17 minutes of maximum afterburner. It will take 6,77 seconds for instantaneous turn, 0,9 seconds for roll, 17,95 seconds for sustained turn, 0,9 seconds for roll and 9,65 seconds for climb. This gives a total of 36,17 seconds for the entire sequence, and 20 maneuvers.

Gripen C has enough fuel for 8,84 minutes of maximum afterburner. It will take 6 seconds for instantaneous turn, 1,08 seconds for roll, 9 seconds for sustained turn, 1,08 seconds for roll and 9,84 seconds for climb. This gives a total of 27 seconds for the entire sequence, and 19-20 maneuvers.

Gripen E has enough fuel for 9,33 minutes of maximum afterburner. While it will likely have better maneuvering performance than Gripen C – significantly so in terms of sustained turn rate and climb performance – I will use Gripen Cs figures. It will take 6 seconds for instantaneous turn, 1,08 seconds for roll, 9 seconds for sustained turn, 1,08 seconds for roll and 9,84 seconds for climb. This gives a total of 27 seconds for the entire sequence, and 21 maneuver.

Dassault Rafale has enough fuel for 10,21 minutes of maximum afterburner. It will take 6 seconds for instantaneous turn, 0,94 seconds for roll, 7,5 seconds for sustained turn, 0,94 seconds for roll and 8,20 seconds for climb. This gives a total of 23,58 seconds for the entire sequence, and 26 maneuvers.

Eurofighter Typhoon has enough fuel for 8,76 minutes of maximum afterburner. It will take 6 seconds for instantaneous turn, 1,12 seconds for roll, 7,83 seconds for sustained turn, 1,12 seconds for roll and 7,94 seconds for climb. This gives a total of 24,01 seconds for the entire sequence, and 22 maneuvers.

Overall, Rafale is the most maneuverable fighter with Typhoon close second, and F-18E dead last. Rafale also has by far the best combat endurance, with Typhoon being in second place, and F-18E again dead last. All figures are approximate, but I used as precise figures as possible to avoid additional additive errors.

Weapons relevant for close combat are gun and IR missiles. As far as gun is concerned, GIAT 30 is again best by far, with BK-27 coming in the second place, as can be seen here. Primary missiles used by fighters listed are AIM-9X, IRIS-T, ASRAAM and MICA IR. MICA IR is disadvantaged by being a dual-role WVR/BVR missile, which causes it to lack maneuvering performance compared to other missiles listed. ASRAAM is similarly disadvantaged, but less so than MICA, as is AIM-9. IRIS-T is likely the most agile of missiles on the list, being optimized for maneuverability over range. It is also capable of intercepting enemy BVR missiles.

F-18E uses AIM-9X. F-35 can use AIM-9X and ASRAAM, but only ASRAAM can actually fit its internal weapons bays. In other words, it either has to sacrifice much of its stealth advantage, or accept penalties of using internal missile, such as 1-second delay due to need to open weapons bay door.

Rafale uses MICA IR, which as noted is disadvantaged due to being a dual-role missile. Gripen and Typhoon both use IRIS-T as their main missile. Typhoon can also use Sidewinder and ASRAAM, while Gripen can use Sidewinder and MICA, giving both aircraft an option to use long-range IR missile.

Aircraft capabilities: BVR combat

For BVR combat, most important maneuvering characteristics are acceleration, climb, cruise speed, cruise endurance, service ceiling and top speed. However, ability to achieve surprise is even more important. This in turn requires small IR signature, low RCS and completely passive sensors suite.

While F-35 has the lowest RCS of fighters listed, its IR signature is enormous due to powerful engine and inability to supercruise. Since any fighter wanting to achieve surprise will use IR sensors for firing solution, this drawback is more important than it seems. Only other fighter on the list that is incapable of supercruise is F-18E. Without reheat, Gripen C can achieve Mach 1,1, Gripen E can achieve Mach 1,3, Rafale M can achieve Mach 1,4 and Typhoon can achieve Mach 1,5. All fighters can do so with a loadout of 6 missiles and no external fuel tanks. With two fuel tanks, Gripen E can cruise at Mach 1,1, Rafale M can cruise at Mach 1,2 and Typhoon can cruise at Mach 1,3. Given that all fighters have similar “base” fuel fraction, this capability gives three fighters mentioned significant advantage over other fighters on the list.

As mentioned before, at 30.000 ft, jet engine produces 30% of its thrust and also has around 1/3 of its fuel consumption; figure at 40.000 ft (where supercruise performance is likely to be the best) will be lower, but 30.000 ft performance will be used here. Consequently, fuel consumption at maximum dry thrust should be 1.549 kg/h for Gripen C, 1.618 kg/h for Gripen E, 2.603 kg/h for Rafale C and 3.312 kg/h for Typhoon. Again assuming 30% of internal fuel avaliable, fuel load is 720 kg for Gripen C, 939 kg for Gripen E, 1.425 kg for Rafale C and 1.482 kg for Typhoon.

This means that supersonic endurance at internal fuel is 27,89 minutes for Gripen C, 34,82 minutes for Gripen E, 32,85 minutes for Rafale C and 26,85 minutes for Typhoon. Given speeds noted, Gripen C can cover 543 km, Gripen E can cover 801 km, Rafale can cover 814 km and Typhoon can cover 712,6 km.

Service ceiling is 50.000 ft for F-18E, 60.000 ft for F-35, 50.000 ft for Gripen C, 55.000 ft for Gripen E, 59.055 ft for Rafale and 64.993 ft Typhoon. Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen all have maximum dash speed of Mach 2,0 and operational speed limit of Mach 1,8. Since Mach 2 limit is caused by air intake design, as opposed to thrust-to-drag limit, direct comparison of endurance at that speed is difficult. Closest would be comparison of endurance with external fuel, albeit even that would only give an extremely rough outline. This does give them advantage over F-18E and F-35, which are limited to Mach 1,8 and Mach 1,67, respectively.

Eurofighter Typhoon has the highest climb rate at 315 m/s, closely followed by Rafale at 305 m/s. Climb rate for other fighters is: Gripen C 254 m/s, F-18E 254 m/s, F-35A 259 m/s. Gripen E climb rate is not avaliable.

In terms of weapons, all fighters except F-18E will be getting ramjet MBDA Meteor missile. AIM-120 is used by all fighters on the list with exception of Rafale. Some IR missiles, such as MICA IR and ASRAAM have long enough range to be qualified as BVR missiles as well, and provide major advantage in surprise attacks when combined with IRST (AIM-9X Block III was cancelled). Unlike MICA, ASRAAM lacks datalink, leading to inferior BVR performance (wide miss is also a certainty if target performs a significant change in course).

Overall, Eurofighter Typhoon is the best BVR fighter in terms of airframe performance. However, superior endurance and IR missile means that Rafale may be able to match it, or at least come close to matching it.

Costs

Low operating costs are necessary to allow Canada to maintain its own training programme at CFB Cold Lake, which is known for turning out some of the best fighter pilots in the world. Ideally, cost of conversion to the new fighter would be low as well, which requires high parts commonality with CF-18 fighters. Cost-wise, best options are Saab Gripen and F-18E/F. F-18 Super Hornet has high commonality with its F-18 predecessor, which will reduce conversion costs. JAS-39 Gripen has major advantages over other competitors as well – it has the lowest operating cost of all Western fighter aircraft, very low acquisition cost, and its RM-12 engine is just upgraded version of F-18s F404.

All other fighters are more expensive than Gripen in all regards. F-35 is the most expensive option, followed closely by Rafale and Typhoon. While Rafale is cheaper than Typhoon, procuring it also entails costs of weapons integration as it currently cannot use Canada’s stocks of AIM-9 and AIM-120 missiles. Unlike Gripen and Super Hornet, it has no parts commonality with in-use F-18.

Other

Gripen is already envisioned as a control fighter for groups of UCAVs. This requires a two-seater, however, and the only fighter on the list which does not have a two-seater variant is the F-35. SAAB has also offered Gripen to be produced in Canada, remiscient of CF-5 which was produced by Canada and purchased by Turkey, Greece, Venezuela, Botswana, and the Netherlands.

Conclusion

Overall, the best fighter for Canada is Gripen E/F. Out of existing, non-prototype fighters (a requirement which eliminates Gripen E/F and F-35), best choice would be either Gripen C/D or Rafale. Ideally, that fighter would be paired with the A-10, but that is unlikely. Other possibilities for ground attack aircraft are Super Tucano, L-159 and BAe Hawk. Based on admittedly quick look, best choice of the three would be Super Tucano, with L-159 as a second choice.

When Canada selected the F-35, it did so by using US “threat”-based scenarios, and using abilities that F-35 was projected to have, not those it is has or is likely to have. “Threat” scenarios are not based on country’s actual or possible needs, but on worst possible case scenario (short of alien invasion). But while these may make sense for a global superpower, they do not make any sense for any country that is *not* a superpower. In other words, selection of the F-35 was based on US’ (perceived) needs, not on Canada’s own, actual needs. However, this selection makes sense in view of Canada giving up its sovereignity to United States, becoming, in essence, 51st US state, and it is foolish to expect Canada to select any other fighter – no matter how much more sense it may make.

Further reading

Single- vs twin- -engined fighters

Comparing modern Western fighters

Ret. Maj. Stephen Fuhr on F-35

F-35 was Defence Department’s clear choice

Canada rates F-35A and rivals as equal on most missions

Arctic Canada leads NATO to confrontation with Russia

Fighter Aircraft – defence home and abroad

Problems make F-35 an aerial missile platform, not a fighter

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22 replies

  1. “Gripen is already envisioned as a control fighter for groups of UCAVs. ”

    A little nitpick with the above quote. So is Rafale. The testing for Gripen to be used as control fighter for UCAV was done during NEURON program which was led by Dassault and Saab with Dassault as first fiddle and Saab as assistant, all other participants (Finmeccanica, CASA, EADS ) had much smaller work-shares then those two. I don’t know if both aircraft tested controlling the NEURON but I know that controlling groups of UCAVs is also envisioned for Rafale.

  2. On the upside, our new Prime Minister here in Ottawa has promised to revisit this issue now that we’ve had a change in government.

    The downside is of course, being politicians, whether their word is worth anything is clearly not determined.

  3. I thought the F35A was not probe and drogue ( only B/C are ) therefore not compatible with Polaris and Herc. Which would totally rule it out, no?
    Ps great article.

  4. Hello there : ” Canada is a Western country that at the first look has most at common with Russia”..Indeed with0ut gulf stream russian population would reduce quickly to canadian levels,and most of norhern europe too…We are on the edge of witnessing major impact of climate changes that dfwarf by many orders of scale even a world nuclear war; merry christhmas.

    • Merry Christmas to you too. And yes, you are correct about the Gulf Stream, but as far as climate changes go, I’d rather not discuss them just yet. There are many unknowns. BTW, do you know that animal farms (meat producers) account for vast majority of anthropogenic greenhouse gasses?

  5. Great article, hope this puts finishing nails on F35’s coffin.

  6. I have read several times now that the f-35 needs an escort. I never hear anybody elaborate on that. The f-22 is the escort for the f-35 in the states. Could you please comment Picard578. If i’m rightthen someone has to tell our Canadian government because i never hear anybody talk about this in Canada.

    • F-35 relies entirely on stealth for survival. But once it is detected – by IRST, radar or visually – it is in trouble. In stealth configuration, it has a loadout of two bombs and two air-to-air missiles, and is still slower than most new fighters, even with latter carrying 6-8 external missiles plus supersonic fuel tanks. It also has limited first turn ability – about the same as F-16C – and nearly nonexistent ability to recover energy after that first turn. In other words, only way for it to survive against enemy air superiority fighters is to have an escort of its own.

      There is a high possibility that Canadian government already knows this, they just don’t care. Military procurement is about many things, not just weapons capability.

  7. thx Picard578 for responding. Too bad Canada wants to buy this jet so bad when people keep saying that the f-35 is not even combat ready yet. Like buying a car without test driving.

  8. forgot to mention,i am a gripen fan. You also wrote a very good article.

    • Thanks. I’m also a gripen fan, albeit that was not always the case (I used to favor the F-15, then F-22, followed by F-16, Typhoon, Gripen, Rafale and now Gripen, in that order).

  9. Well, I don’t really agree about the alleged Rafale non-road capacity : it was the preferred by Swiss military, F-18 was previously bought and they fully operate from roads so why your maximum 10m wingspan I noticed several times? F-18 being 12.3m…
    Moreover, Rafale has shorter take-off/landing than Gripen. Even some French malls, due to their huge parking and serious ceiling heights could be made hidden airbases, so could many industrial zones with their warehouses…
    Add to this that Norway drills proved they can be operated by -40°C.
    Maintenance has been proven extremely easy during the infamous Libyan operations as several Rafale-Ms were pushed to 10-11 missions a day for a full week. The modular side and auto-diagnostic added to the great ease at changing engines proved absolutely awesome.
    Rafale has serious stealth capabilities while they are cost effective : baked-in RAM, active cancellation instead of bulky weapons bays, one can considerate underwing stealth pods and if the tail is transparent to radars, why the underwing pylons and the canard wouldn’t?
    If having he RCS of a bird may not be as small as the one of a gulf or tennis ball, in some way the capability at flying very slow could even be used at really being mistaken for a real eagle, falcon or some buzzard (??? Don’t know if realist but I’ve already seen them doing air-police job at escorting some slow 3-axes ultra-light, Storsch-style!).
    The Swiss tests deemed Gripen as nonetheless inferior to Super-Hornet but even to legacy Hornets (!)
    The loitering time ended the worst of the 4 competing and definitively not adapted i.e. to protect airspace around the Davos forum while Rafale was the most able to patrol for long,Typhoon being 2nd and Super-Hornet 3rd.

    Used weapons : Rafale isn’t limited to French-used weaponry at all! If R.550 Maic II is OK, Sidewinder is so. several GBU are OK : GBU-12/22/24/49 BUT all the typical Indian weaponry has been integrated so, mostly Russian and Israeli stuff, Elbit’s HMD is also integrated. I don’t think there’d be problems to integrate AMRAAM, JDAM or anything. BTW, French DGA should HIGHLY consider giving a try to Russian and Israeli stuff : we may have serious surprises in both efficiency and pricing… Frankly, @100k€ the SDB or Hellfire, builders can use these as suppository! We should also consider some SVP-24-like targetting system onboard and use dumb-bombs instead…

    Rafale has serious advantage at being able of buddy-to-buddy refuelling. Hourly cost of $16.5k is surely higher than Gripen but definitively inferior to Hornets ($24k) and well, due to the huge size of the country, I definitively wouldn’t want have an engine fail in a single engined aircraft…

    IMHO, even if some case, some dual engines occurred, I’m likely to think that there were serious advances since the J79 era when talking fail-proof. Now, accidentology should be studied about the reasons of crashes but F-104 wasn’t nicknamed the Widowmaker and the Flying coffin without reason, both in Canada and Germany, thus, the warmer weather in Spain or Italy was visibly kinder, anyway, hopefully, there weren’t any Soviet attack which’d had proved these as irrelevant as in Vietnam, anyway, Russians were never our enemies and if we except their need for buffer zones, they clearly neither need land-grab nor stealing resources from others. What many seem have a hard time to understand is that the Russian doctrine is defensive.

    I may shake some minds but from a geopolitical POV and the usual bellicose politics of the house, being Canada, it wouldn’t be some Russian attack or invasion that I’d fear but something nasty from the southern neighbour! Having only F-35, thanks to the ALIS system, may just block the full air-force ANY day on a simple decision from the White House!
    “they are buying the US friendship.”
    => “USA has no friends, only interests!”-Gen. Charles De Gaulle

    Gripen may be interesting as point fighter, a little like old 80’s Mig-29 was. Nevertheless, without serious IRST, Gripen NG might compensate this but at such a price, it loses a lot of interest. Actually, Dassault should have considered relay the end of Mirage-2000 by a Mirage-3000, taking profit of all Rafales features on a light single engined aircraft : Gripen looks like a lightly shrinked M-2000 with canards but losing 25% wing area for only 26cm less length and 73cm wingspan. Something really more interesting could have been created from M-2000, had Dassault considered to follow up but it’d had needed the French govt will to have both a medium and light fighter, thus, with the shrinking numbers of Rafales planed, considering having these and complete them with a lighter M-3000 would really had made sense.
    Note that the 28 Gripen-NG for Brazil are ending with more cost than the 36 Rafales for India, Brazil ending paying $1bln more fo this contract (!!!) Moreover, if buying from SAAB may seem to buy from a neutral country, according to the fact there are a good % of both US and UK parts, you’re likely to end pressured by both. There are some at the Brazilian MoD that ae likely to bite their nails.

    “Other possibilities for ground attack aircraft are Super Tucano, L-159 and BAe Hawk. Based on admittedly quick look, best choice of the three would be Super Tucano, with L-159 as a second choice.”
    => Boeing proposes, thanks to DEVGRU McCain-cancelled Combat Dragon II program, to rebuild the Broncos as OV-10X!!!!
    http://www.boeing.com/history/products/ov-10-bronco.page
    https://tinyurl.com/hv9td8c

    Thus, I’d favour some kind of Super-Bronco, somewhat Mohawk sized but the Bronco form factor is more pleasing, being a little bigger/powerful with a double Nexter 30M791 (and elongated barrels for added range+accuracy) as a belly turret, 3000 shells (825kg) in the cargo bay. Opting for the LOGIR guidance kit ($5k) fit on CRV7 rockets seems very promising in a Matra JL-100 like pod (with a 250L fuel tank joined). 6 of these 19xCRV7 pods would be OK, being the typical onboard weaponry, add to this two hard points, with a typical 4x Hellfire or 4x XM395 (more pleasing at $10k each). I think two wingtips and two over-wing, Brit Jaguar style may be interesting for A2A self defence and… I consider that some IR version of IronDome interceptors could be very nice : they’re no more expensive than ManPADS while having a 70km range and show impressive manoeuvrability.
    Ideally, the aircraft shall be able to fly for 8 hours with the 1500L rocket-pods-fuel-tanks. Full payload should so be about 3-3.5t. Assuming a max-speed of 700-750km/h is more than wishable : A-10 flies 706km/h max. Some armour, maybe based on ceramic plates and other methods have to be seen with the goal to cope with ZU-23-2 on cockpit and engines. Engine exhaust shall be over wings. Wings should be foldable and it should be usable without catapult or arrestor gear from a Mistral-class sized helicopter-carrier as much as being able to use totally unprepared landstrips, dirt roads, etc…Maybe tilting propellers could be considered to get more STOL effect without going into quasi-copter size. Having the two propellers being able to connect in case of failure of an engine or simply to loiter on a single engine is to be considered. Such an aircraft MUST be “cheap”.
    Interesting point : isn’t it Pierre Sprey who recommands some kind of A-10 in smaller and cheaper?
    Such thing would really fit in such niche while having features from both a chopper gunship and an AC-130 with much more survivability for pilots and a secondary use as small cargo, very likely to transport 8-10 paratroopers if the 30mm shells are removed.
    Note that, as it was planned, a pure civilian version with wider body could highly be regarded, especially with thousands of Antonov An-1 near the end of their lives. Could end being near from a concept like IAI Arava in more aerodynamic.
    Note that if I don’t deny their interest but I consider that choppers are too much used and always with huge useless losses, anyway, gear procurement is worst a scam than our car-mechanics or plumbers here…

    • “Well, I don’t really agree about the alleged Rafale non-road capacity : it was the preferred by Swiss military, F-18 was previously bought and they fully operate from roads so why your maximum 10m wingspan I noticed several times? F-18 being 12.3m…”

      Rafale is fully capable of taking off from and landing on roads. In fact, even US intended to operate their teen-series fighters from highways (F-16 and F-18 at least are capable of such operation). But my definition of road basing capability is far stricter than that and includes:
      1) low wing span to maximize number of usable roads
      2) low logistics requirements to minimize ground footprint
      3) easy maintenance and repair – fighter must be able to operate without depot visits for a long time

      Number 1 is not strictly necessary, but Numbers 2 and 3 are. And it is from second and third requirements that other requirements for an “ideal” road-based fighters are devised, such as single engine, light weight and so on. So Rafale does have the ability to operate from roads, but it is significantly inferior to that of Gripen.

      “The Swiss tests deemed Gripen as nonetheless inferior to Super-Hornet but even to legacy Hornets (!)”

      For their needs, yes.

      “Rafale has serious advantage at being able of buddy-to-buddy refuelling. Hourly cost of $16.5k is surely higher than Gripen but definitively inferior to Hornets ($24k) and well, due to the huge size of the country, I definitively wouldn’t want have an engine fail in a single engined aircraft…”

      “Engine fail in a single engined aircraft” is mostly a non-issue today, most losses are not due to the engine-related problems. And when it comes to physical causes of engine failure, most modern fighters – Rafale included – have engines so close together that whatever affected one engine is likely to affect second engine as well. I adressed the issue in more detail here:
      https://defenseissues.net/2014/08/09/single-vs-twin-engined-fighters/

      “IMHO, even if some case, some dual engines occurred, I’m likely to think that there were serious advances since the J79 era when talking fail-proof. Now, accidentology should be studied about the reasons of crashes but F-104 wasn’t nicknamed the Widowmaker and the Flying coffin without reason, both in Canada and Germany, thus, the warmer weather in Spain or Italy was visibly kinder, anyway, hopefully, there weren’t any Soviet attack which’d had proved these as irrelevant as in Vietnam, anyway, Russians were never our enemies and if we except their need for buffer zones, they clearly neither need land-grab nor stealing resources from others. What many seem have a hard time to understand is that the Russian doctrine is defensive.”

      Most F-104 losses were not due to the engine but due to the incorrect utilization. It was designed as a high-altitude interceptor yet it was used as a low-level ground attack aircraft. I adressed it in the link above, read it so I don’t stretch out this reply too much.

      And yes, I am aware that the Russian doctrine is defensive. Hence their emphasis on rough field operations in fighters, dispersed basing… much like Sweden, actually. But Russia is still a great power, and great powers tend to have itchy trigger fingers.

      “I may shake some minds but from a geopolitical POV and the usual bellicose politics of the house, being Canada, it wouldn’t be some Russian attack or invasion that I’d fear but something nasty from the southern neighbour! Having only F-35, thanks to the ALIS system, may just block the full air-force ANY day on a simple decision from the White House!”

      Agreed. Makes you wonder what the politicians are thinking… but then again, politicians typically do not think.

      “Gripen may be interesting as point fighter, a little like old 80’s Mig-29 was. Nevertheless, without serious IRST, Gripen NG might compensate this but at such a price, it loses a lot of interest. Actually, Dassault should have considered relay the end of Mirage-2000 by a Mirage-3000, taking profit of all Rafales features on a light single engined aircraft : Gripen looks like a lightly shrinked M-2000 with canards but losing 25% wing area for only 26cm less length and 73cm wingspan. Something really more interesting could have been created from M-2000, had Dassault considered to follow up but it’d had needed the French govt will to have both a medium and light fighter, thus, with the shrinking numbers of Rafales planed, considering having these and complete them with a lighter M-3000 would really had made sense.”

      Gripen NG is expected to use Skyward G, which is improved version of PIRATE. That would make it the best air-to-air IRST available on the market right now. It will also be implemented on Gripen C+ (basically Gripen C brought up to the MS-21 standard). As for Gripen’s wing area, canards+wing-body blending add enough lift that smaller wing area is not so much of an issue. BTW, my ideal fighter is this:
      https://defenseissues.net/2014/08/02/air-superiority-fighter-proposal-6/

      “Note that the 28 Gripen-NG for Brazil are ending with more cost than the 36 Rafales for India, Brazil ending paying $1bln more fo this contract (!!!) Moreover, if buying from SAAB may seem to buy from a neutral country, according to the fact there are a good % of both US and UK parts, you’re likely to end pressured by both. There are some at the Brazilian MoD that ae likely to bite their nails.”

      Unless I am mistaken, Brazil is a development partner so development costs are included into contract. I do agree about problems with outsourced components though.

      “Interesting point : isn’t it Pierre Sprey who recommands some kind of A-10 in smaller and cheaper?”

      Yes, and I got an idea for my ALX proposals from there.

      “Note that if I don’t deny their interest but I consider that choppers are too much used and always with huge useless losses, anyway, gear procurement is worst a scam than our car-mechanics or plumbers here…”

      Yes, I never saw much use for helicopters beyond transport. They are too vulnerable for proper CAS, albeit they can be useful in some highly specific circumstances.

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