Modern materialistic society has ingrained many beliefs into human mind, beliefs which are typically taken for granted and thus rarely questioned. One of these beliefs is that having more of something is better than having less of it.
More information, for example, can have a positive effect of helping person reach a conclusion. But that is only true as long as person is capable of properly processing, analyzing and comparing the information. If not, thought process can be slowed down or stopped, something which, in combat, is almost invariably lethal – too much information is as bad as too little. For this reason, humans have many filters – most of them subconscious – which help them choose which information to process. This allows us to function, but also creates various different forms of bias. However, when it comes to fighting, system itself has to reduce the information flow, as pilot is too busy trying to kill the other guy and stop him from doing the same. Thus quality of presentation is far more important than amount of the information gathered. F-35s design team ignored this, resulting in pilots complaining about too much information – even in peacetime. And that is when F-35s inbuilt HAL-9000 isn’t doing its best to keep the aircraft grounded.
Above is part of a reason why large design teams on weapons project are not good. Having large teams complicates communication on a personal level, as people cannot really get to know each other. It also makes any innovative and radically different ideas less likely to be properly evaluated, let alone accepted, due to self-reinforcement effect that a large group of likeminded people invariably produces. This effect becomes obvious when comparing several projects: A-10, F-16, Rafale and Gripen were aircraft designed by relatively small companies (at least when compared to modern giants of Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Eurofighter), and perhaps more importantly, by small teams of people. Result are good, integrated designs with all the right tools for what they are supposed to be doing. On the other hand, F-35 had/has a massive design team, which complicated the design process and resulted in a bloated, underperforming design (albeit even greater problem was the perfectly illogical STOVL requirement put forward by USMC bureocracy).
This effect of design team size is one of the reasons why smaller companies tend to produce better designs; second one is that they are simply less able to afford mistakes. When designing Gripen, Saab was painfully aware of two facts: first, foreign aircraft would be evaluated as well in the process of selecting a new Swedish fighter to replace the Viggen; and second, it needed exportable fighter to guarantee survival in the reduced-threat post-Cold War world. End result is what is possibly the best fighter aircraft in the world on operational and strategic levels of war, if not on the (relatively irrelevant) tactical one.
Another consequence of the above is that aircraft’s price is perfectly unrelated to its capability. A properly designed aircraft will be both cheaper and more capable than an aircraft whose design process consisted of making a wish-list of technological capabilities. Further, an aircraft specialized for a single mission, or a single set of missions, will typically be both cheaper and better performing in said set of missions than an aircraft designed to do wildly different missions. Best example of this is comparing the A-10 to any fast jet. Due to air superiority and close air support missions having very different requirements, fast jets cannot do close air support and the A-10 cannot do air superiority missions. Both can, however, perform missions which are related to their basic design mission. While multirole jets can also drop bombs at ground targets, A-10 will always be superior in those roles due to being designed for ground attack, which results in both greater payload and greater precision (necessitating less bombs per target). Attempting to match the A-10s bomb-carrying capabilities with a jet designed for air combat results in size, complexity and cost increases which negate any theoretical advantages of using multirole fighters. Dassault Rafale is a perfect example of an air-superiority-fighter-slash-bomb-truck. Matching its air superiority capabilities with a properly designed fighter would result in a 40-50 million USD price tag, compared to Rafale’s current 90-100 million USD price tag. Current A-10 costs maybe 20 million USD. This means that for a price of one Rafale, one can have two air superiority fighters and one CAS fighter, or one air superiority fighter and two to three CAS fighters. Lesser complexity of single-role fighters would allow each aircraft to produce more sorties per day compared to Rafale. Further, designing an aircraft for a certain role means that one can immediately know what munitions aircraft will have to use (slim air-to-air missiles or big, fat air-to-ground missiles and bombs). Once that is known, aircraft can be optimized for performance with such weapons included. This approach is impossible with multirole fighters, unless one decides to optimize for one set of missions (typically air-to-air, which translates into penalties with air-to-ground payload).
Still, most important factor of using single-role fighters instead of multirole ones are pilots. Pilots of multirole jets have to acquire and maintain two very different and mutually conflicting skill sets. This results in a comparably shallow understanding of the mission and approaches. Focusing on one set of skills at the expense of another (as done in, e.g., AdlA) does not completely negate the problem, while making pilots effectively single-role (and aircraft is only as multirole as its pilot is). Single-role pilots are also unreplaceable caretakers of knowledge, as they can spend their entire time polishing and improving approaches necessary for their own mission. More complex the mission is more important this caretaking becomes, with the ultimate example of close air support which is impossible to do properly without a large basis of accumulated knowledge. This knowledge cannot be maintained, let alone improved and expanded upon, without having a cadre of pilots who specialize in the mission, as well as the appropriate platform to conduct said mission. Having aircraft in storage will not help, as even taking them out will mean little with knowledge having disappeared.
Lack of reasources often forces people to improvise and innovate, sometimes producing results that far exceed results of a classical, resource-intensive approach. Counterinsurgency warfare is a classical example. United States in Iraq and Afghanistan relied on firepower and numbers to deal with insurgents. This provided no results worth mentioning, with reliance on firepower producing more new insurgents than it killed old ones. French intervention in Mali on the other hand relied on maneuver, audacity, speed and initiative in attacking the far more powerful enemy on several key ponts of pressure. As a result, insurgents were broken and beaten back with minimum casualties and relatively low-scale involvement by the French, with reliance on African allies providing necessary legitimacy. This applies to conventional warfare as well. Germans in 1935-1940 were well aware that they were outnumbered and outgunned by Britain and France. As a result, they went back to old concepts of maneuver warfare, and newer concept of mechanized maneuver warfare (introduced by Poles in 1920). End result: only two years were needed to conquer most of the Europe, defeating almost all of its firepower-oriented militaries. Germans were only stopped once United States and Soviet Union – especially the latter – both accepted and implemented maneuver warfare against them.
From all of this, some lessons should be drawn for the future. Most important one is that not everything that can be done should be done. Before doing anything, first question that should be asked is: “Should this be done? (Is it necessary?)”, before asking “Can it be done? (Is it possible?)”. But that concept is something that modern science, and indeed the entire modern society, is seemengly very determined to ignore.
[P.S. Everything written above also applies to blogging. While it may seem wierd coming from me, with my tendency to write oftentimes excessively long articles, sometimes shorter articles are actually better and adress the topic more clearly (for example, this vs this). Similarly, a few comments that actually adress the topic of the article are better than hundreds of “This article is excellent!” or “This article sucks!” spam comments, and having a smaller number of readers who engage in discussion is better than a large number of readers who only – read.]