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Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Comparing options for Australia

Posted by picard578 on December 1, 2012

Some claim that Super Bug is a better solution than F-35 is… some claim that it is not. So I have decided to carry out point-by-point comparision between F-18E and F-35, throwing in Tranche 2 Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale C as examples of modern Western fighter, as well as possible alternatives.

What makes this comparision even more important is the fact that United States, Canada and Australia all have similar operational requirements and as such have very similar requirements for a fighter aircraft – for example, long range, twin engines and reliability.

Source for F-35 data is here.

Table

Aircraft F-18E F-35A F-35B F-35C EF-2000 T2 Rafale C
Length 18,31 m 15,7 m 15,6 m 15,7 m 15,96 m 15,27 m
Wing span 13,62 m 10,7 m 10,7 m 13,1 m 10,95 m 10,8 m
Height 4,88 m 4,6 m ? ? 5,28 m 5,34 m
Wing area 46,5 m2 42,7 m2 42,7 m2 62,1 m2 51,2 m2 45,7 m2
Weight with 50% fuel, 2 Sidewinder, 4 AMRAAM 18 721 kg 18 208 kg 18 491 kg 21 043 kg 14 427 kg 11 850 kg
Wing loading
– loaded 458,5 kg/m2 526 kg/m2 506 kg/m2 410 kg/m2 312 kg/m2 307 kg/m2
– 50% fuel, 2 Sidewinder, 4 AMRAAM 402,6 kg/m2 427,9 kg/m2 434,2 kg/m2 338 kg/m2 284 kg/m2 259,3 kg/m2
Thrust-to-weight ratio
– loaded 0,94 0,87 0,9 0,75 1,15 1,1
– 50% fuel, 2 Sidewinder, 4 AMRAAM 1,07 1,07 1,05 0,93 1,28 1,3
Maximum AoA 55* 50* 50* 50* 70* 100*
Speed
– dash M 1,8 M 1,6 M 1,6 M 1,6 M 2 M 2
– combat configuration dash ? M 1,6 M 1,6 M 1,6 M 1,8 M 1,8
– cruise M 1 M 0,95 M 0,9+ M 0,9+ M 1,8 M 1,8
– combat configuration standard cruise ? M 0,9 ? ? M 1,6 (est) M 1,6 (est)
– combat configuration supercruise N/A N/A N/A N/A M 1,3 M 1,4
Combat radius 722 km 1 082 km 868 km 1 139 km 1 389 km 1 852 km
Max G (standard) 7,6 9 7 7,5 9 9
Max G (override)* 11 11
Max G (airframe) 11,4 13,5 >=10,5 11 12,6 – 13,5 16,7
Max G reached in tests or use ? 9,9 ? ? 10,6 11
Instanteneous turn rate (max) 24 deg/s <14 deg/s ? ? 30-35 deg/s 32-35 deg/s
Sustained turn rate (max) 15-18 deg/s <12 deg/s ? ? 20-25 deg/s 24 deg/s
Roll rate (max) 120 deg/s 300 deg/s ? ? 240-250 deg/s 270 deg/s
Flyaway cost 60 000 000 197 000 000 237 700 000 236 800 000 118 600 000 82 300 000

*can be exceeded through changes to FCS

Maneuverability

Maneuverability is a sum of several factors: lift, thrust, drag, and inertia. Lift, thrust and inertia can be compared through wing loading, thrust-to-weight ratio, and weight; drag can be compared by comparing airframes’ physical size.

Turn is executed when aircraft uses control surfaces to change wing’s position relative to the air flow; thus, direction in which lift pulls aircraft is changed, producing excess lift (one not used on keeping aircraft in the air), which then pulls aircraft around the turn. Aircraft with lower wing loading have more excess lift on disposition, and as such can pull faster and tighter turns. Aircraft pulling tighter turn at corner speed has better chance to evade missile fire and can pull inside opponent’s turn diameter.

Roll is when aircraft rotates around longitudinal axis. Aircraft with faster roll can transit from one maneuver to another faster.

Thrust-to-weight ratio is important for overcoming drag during the turn, allowing aircraft to maintain energy and turn rate for longer time.

Drag bleeds off energy, thus reducing time during which turn rate can be maintained.

Inertia is a product of weight and speed. When entering or exiting a turn, aircraft has to use lift and thrust to counter inertia. Thus, heavier aircraft are, assuming identical wing loading and thrust loading values, more sluggish in maneuvering combat.

G-load is required so that aircraft does not fall apart during the turn. What it means is that, even if (aerodynamically) aircraft could turn faster at certain speed, it is limited by what its structure can take.

As we can see from the table, Super Bug is superior in both wing loading and G factor to two out of three F-35 variants. It also has superior thrust-to-weight ratio to all F-35 variants when loaded for air combat, and only F-35A has comparable thrust-to-weight when at 50% fuel. It is, however, slightly heavier than most F-35 variants, which means more inertia and thus worse response time.

Eurocanards, meanwhile, are superior to both Super Bug and F-35 in all listed areas. Rafale fares better in wing loading and thrust-to-weight ratio areas than Typhoon does, mainly by virtue of its higher fuel fraction, and its close-coupled canards allow it to achieve highest AoA value of all compared aircraft, which greatly benefits its low-speed agility. Only characteristic where F-35 is superior to Eurocanards is roll rate, mainly due to its shorter wing span.

Situational awareness

Here, Super Bug is convincingly the worst of the compared aircraft, as it lacks IRST. As such, it has to use its radar to detect the enemy, immediately betraying its location at far longer range than it itself can detect the opponent. All three other aircraft have IRSTs of, apparently, roughly comparable characteristics.

Range

Here, Super Bug takes last place again. Rafale has the best range, owing to its good aerodynamics and high fuel fraction. Whereas some F-35 variants have comparable or better fuel fraction, their low speed and large aerodynamic compromises required by stealth mean that range is lowered considerably, and is worse than that for Eurofighter Typhoon, which itself has low fuel fraction.

Weapons loadout

Standard weapons loadout for all listed aircraft is 2 Sidewinders and 2-6 AMRAAM. However, F-35 has no option of carrying more without compromising its already questionable X-band radar stealth, whereas other aircraft don’t go to such legth to achieve LO characteristics, relying instead on other approaches (maneuverability + countermeasures + passive sensors). Thus, F-35 is limited to 4 missiles if it doesn’t want to loose radar stealth, whereas Super Hornet can carry 6, Eurofighter Typhoon 12 and Dassault Rafale 8-10 AtA missiles. In non-LO configuration, F-35 can carry 10 missiles.

In bombing missions, F-35 can carry 2 AtA and 2 AtG weapons in LO and 4 AtA and 8 AtG weapons in non-LO configuration. Super Hornet can carry 4 AtA and 7 AtG weapons. Typhoon can carry 7-9 AtG weapons, assuming all stations are cleared for use. Rafale can carry 4 AtA and 5-16 AtG weapons.

As F-35 has to rely on LO, its AtA and AtG weapons loadouts are the worst. If LO requirement is ignored, weapons loadout improves considerably, but only to the point of being barely comarable to that of far lighter Eurocanards in AtA configuration; in AtG configuration, assuming one weapon = one pylon, it is the best of compared aircraft, in keeping with its design role of a bomber.

Cost and battlespace presence

As it is obvious, situation is not good for F-35: for a cost of the 12-aircraft squadron, one can buy 19 Typhoons, 28 Rafales, or 39 Super Hornets. All three aircraft, especially Eurocanards, are likely to be less maintenance-intensive than F-35, and can thus generate more sorties per aircraft, thus increasing numerical disparity even more.

Per-aircraft, Super Hornet requires 10 maintenance hours per flight hour, Typhoon requires 9 and Rafale 8 (? Typhoon and Rafale figures have to be confirmed), meaning that bought aircraft will generate 85 1-hour sorties per day for Super Hornet, 45 for Typhoon and 74 for Rafale. Aforementioned 12-ship F-35 squadron will most likely be able to generate 7 to 8 1-hour sorties per day. However, Rafales and Typhoons will have better survivability when facing both VHF-radar SAMs and IRST-equipped enemy aircraft than either Super Hornets or F-35s.

Conclusion

Neither F-35 or Super Hornet are good choices for Australia; former is too expensive, too maintenance-intensive, too short-ranged and lacking in maneuverability, whereas latter is far cheaper to buy and operate, and easier to maintain, but is also lacking in range and maneuverability. All options considered, Dassault Rafale would be the best choice, followed by the Eurofighter Typhoon. However, with Dassault having secured contract in India, it is questionable wether acquirement schedule for Australia could be accomodated, in which case Typhoon becomes the strategically better choice.

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How F-35 is destroying USAF (and other air forces)

Posted by picard578 on October 8, 2012

F-35 is the latest technological wonder-weapon of United States Air Force. It is advertised as a “do-it-all” LO fighter, which is supposed to carry out a list of diverse missions, such as interception of enemy aircraft, fleet defense, tactical bombing of static targets, close air support, ground interdiction, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, acting as a forward air controller, carrying out SEAD and low-altitude penetration. It is a replacement for Harrier II, F/A-18, AV-8B, Sea Harrier and A-6. It is also pushed as a replacement for F-16 and A-10, despite vastly different roles and requirements.

As with so many “omnipotent” weapons, instead of doing everything equally good, it ended up doing everything equally bad. To explain: every of listed missions has its own set of specific, and often contradictory, requirements.

While Lockheed Martin and USAF are spewing bullshit, F-35’s designation as a “JointStrike Fighter” says it all; it was intended as a bomber and low-altitude penetration and strike aircraft, not as an air superiority fighter. Proof of that can be easily acquired by simply taking a look at F-35 itself: small wing and high wing loading are ideal for low-level penetration, by making aircraft less susceptible to air fluctuations common near the ground. However, fighter aircraft rely on a lift from the wing to turn, using excess thrust to overcome the drag and keep the energy during the turn; thus, good fighter aircraft has to have low wing loading and high thrust-to-weight ratio; exact opposite of what F-35 has.

Close Air Support aircraft has to be heavily armored, slow and armed with cannon in 27-30 mm range, in order to be able to fly close to the ground, identify targets on its own and pull off a precise Close Air Support. While “smart” bombs and missiles are assumed to be perfectly precise, reality is often different – guidance systems are easily jammed, and all complex weapons malfunction often. Thus CAS aircraft has to be able to go low and slow and attack targets with minimum of sensors and communications required. It also has to be able to loiter for a long time, providing continuous support to troops on the ground; with F-35s high fuel consumption, any notion of F-35 doing such thing is a wishful thinking. F-35 also cannot identify targets on its own.

Tactical bomber has to be able to carry relatively large amount of ammunition and strike as many (static) targets as possible. With F-35 being able to carry only four bombs at most, plus two AA missiles, it means that far more F-35s will be required as opposed to F-16s.

Air controller has to have two crew members; F-35 only has one.

Moreover, any aircraft has to be affordable enough to be procured in quantities large enough to carry out missions, at an affordable cost. At procurement costs that might be as high as 352,8 million USD per aircraft (from 2011 cost of 305 million USD per aircraft), and per-aircraft weapons system flyaway cost ranging from 197 to 238 million USD (for comparasion, Eurofighter Typhoon costs 120 million USD w.s. flyaway, and 200 million USD unit procurement), F-35 is anything but affordable. F-35’s maintenance cost can be estimated at 48 800 USD per flying hour, going from F-22s maintenance cost of 61 000 USD per flying hour. In short, F-35 costs up to 4 times as much to buy, and over 10 times as much to maintain as F-16.

All of that means that small F-35 force will be completely unable to maintain sufficient presence in the air in face of cheaper, simpler 4th generation aircraft.

F-35 has to rely on unproven dream of BVR combat to shoot down the enemy. BVR missiles did have a Pk of 50 % against “soft” (non-maneuvering, not using ECM) targets in a war where BVR force outnumbered the enemy. However, even in such circumstances, majority of BVR missiles were themselves fired from within visual range. Moreover, emerging technologies, such as air-to-air anti-radiation missile, will make radiating in war even more impractical than it is today; and any aircraft that uses active sensors to find targets is very easy to spot far before it can spot the enemy. Meanwhile, HF and VHF radars – which have already been used to detect aircraft in war (UK’s Home Chain in World War II) can as easily detect stealth aircraft, as can increasingly common IRST. Unique radar signal can also be used to solve IFF problem, so important in BVR combat – and enemy using air-to-air anti-radiation missiles can easily force everyone to shut down radars.

In both BVR and WVR, only chance F-35 has is to “launch and run”. However, it’s maximum speed of Mach 1,6 means that enemy fighters can simply eject BVR missiles, catch up with it and shoot – or gun – it down.

F-35 has also been compromised by different service requirements – for example, Marine’s VTOL requirement meant that fighter had to be short and fat, increasing drag. In the end, despite all compromises and accomodating performance penalties, three F-35 variants share only 30% of all parts. And much like F-111, F-35 can only serve as a bombing truck, being too underperforming and too vulnerable in any other role. Both aircraft are extremely flammable and have heavy lack of maneuverability, making them vulnerable to anti-aircraft artillery and SAMs. As a result, both can only fly bombing missions in low-threat areas.

F-35, like F-22, is limited to highly-visible, very vulnerable concrete air fields. Due to extremely hot and strong engine exhaust, STOVL/VTOL variant may never be able to fly from amphibious landing ships without destroying deck in the process.

It seems that realities outlined are being realized: UK may halve its F-35 buy, and other countries, such as Australia, Canada and Norway, are also looking for alternatives, despite all the PR, spin-doctoring, diplomatic threats and bribes Lockheed Martin has used to secure foreign sales. US Navy is also thinking about backing from the program.

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