Defense Issues

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Posts Tagged ‘lightning II’

A fighter for Canada

Posted by picard578 on December 21, 2015


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). Read the rest of this entry »


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F-16 vs F-35

Posted by picard578 on October 21, 2015


F-35 is intended to replace the F-16 and is promoted as F-16s successor. However, closer look reveals that this is not true. While the F-16 was designed as daytime visual-range dogfighter, F-35 was always intended to be a multirole aircraft with primary focus on air-to-ground missions and limited air-to-air performance. This did not stop Lockheed Martin from advertising the F-35 as a dogfighter, before its obvious inability to actually achieve high maneuverability forced them to change rhetorics.

This comparison will use both F-16A and F-16C for comparison, where applicable. When not noted otherwise, data will be assumed to apply to either both versions or only F-16C. F-35 used for comparison will be F-35A, since it is a standard model and is intended to replace the F-16 (F-35B being a replacement for AV-8 and F-35C being a replacement for F-18).

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F-35 reality check

Posted by picard578 on July 16, 2015

CLAIM: F-35 can supercruise

Incorrect. F-35 can achieve and maintain speeds just above M 1 though usage of minimum afterburner. “Supercruise” claim can be discounted by comparing the F-35A with F-16A.

F-16A has a 40* wing sweep with a laminary wing profile designed for supersonic flight. Its engine has a frontal area of 6.082 cm2 while providing 64,9 kN dry (uninstalled) thrust, giving 10,67 N/cm2. F-16A also has wing loading of 338,5 kg/m2 at combat weight, span loading of 947,2 kg/m and TWR of 0,7 at combat weight and dry thrust.

F-35A has a 33* wing sweep with a supercritical wing profile designed for transonic flight. It also has frontal area about as large as the F-18s. Its engine has a frontal area of 10.715 cm2 while providing 124,5 kN dry thrust, giving 11,62 N/cm2. F-35A has wing loading of 427,9 kg/m2 at combat weight, span loading of 1.698 kg/m and TWR of 0,7 at combat weight and dry thrust. Read the rest of this entry »

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Comparing modern fighter aircraft

Posted by picard578 on August 30, 2014

Nature of air to air combat

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

—G. Santayana

Fighter aircraft exist to destroy other aircraft, and allow other aircraft to carry out their missions without interference from enemy fighter aircraft. That being said, there exists a colloqial – and incorrect – use of term “fighter aircraft” as being applicable to any tactical aircraft, even those that are primarly or exclusively designed for ground attack, such as the A-10 and the F-35. Task of the aircraft is to enable pilot to bring weapons systems in position for a successful kill.

You never make a big truck and tomorrow make it a race car. And you never can make a big bomber and the next day a . . . fighter. The physical law means that you need another airplane. . . . You should do one job and should do this job good.

—Colonel Erich “Bubi” Hartmann, GAP Read the rest of this entry »

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Why USAF hates A-10 and why it can’t be replaced

Posted by picard578 on March 23, 2013

A-10 was, along with F-16, one of two tactical aircraft created by Fighter Mafia for USAF. Notably, while USAF managed to screw up F-16 by adding bombing and BVR capabilities, A-10 is still relatively unchanged, with exception of new electronics. It is safe, efficient, durable, reliable and cheap, managing to operate in wider range of meteorological conditions than any other aircraft. Its design allows it to evade most of ground fire, and to soak up the rest and still bring the pilot home safely. It can fly at speeds comparable to WW2 turboprops, allowing it to carry out Close Air Support. While it has performed admirably, USAF wants do retire it, with explanation that it is old, vulnerable, and that precision weapons render its capabilities – including its massive 30 mm Gattling gun – unnecessary.

But the real reason for that move is because the A-10 goes against everything USAF believes in. A-10 is the ultimate proof that highly capable and effective weapons do not need to be complex or costly, and that going up close and personal with target is oftentimes the only way to get things done. In fact, USAF only rushed it in production so that the Army does not take over entire CAS mission.

Cost itself is probably the most damning aspect of A-10 in USAF generals’ eyes. Aside for the sexy appeal of new technologies, especially stealth, Air Force generals who have supported highly complex weapons get to work in firms producing these weapons after retirement, for a very high salary. As a result, generals have sabotaged F-16, loading it up with electronics, pushed for production of stealth aircraft, and always kept looking for ways to remove the A-10 from the Air Force. Despite the A-10 outperforming every other aircraft during Desert Storm (or more likely because of it, USAF has mothballed most of the fleet, while outright lying about F-117s performance during the war. During the war, A-10 took out over half of 1 700 Iraqi tanks that were knocked out by air strikes, and about 300 APCs and artillery emplacements.

In 2002 – 2010 period, 60 A-10s have fired 300 000 of ammunition over Iraq, and recorded an 85% success rate. It is also less expensive and more environment-friendly to operate than fast jets, due to its large wings and slow, but fuel-efficent, turbofan engines. In 2010, US military started operating it on biofuel. At maximum power, A-10s engines are five times or more efficient than F-35s engine.

Due to these concerns, USAF has turned to 200 million USD F-35, promising that it will be able to do by virtue of high technology what 20 million USD A-10 already does by virtue of its excellent design, despite F-35 being more vulnerable than the F-16 (an aircraft that was never designed for CAS in the first place), and being incapable of slowing down enough to find and attack tactical targets. In fact, the F-35 is vulnerable to being taken down by AK-47 fire. But the F-35 allows USAF to justify huge future budgets, and not fall behind in budget battle between departments of US military, which have displayed notorious rivalry in the past (to the point of harming overall US combat ability, such as USAF not allowing US Army to operate fixed-wing CAS aircraft).

However, history of USAF promises about A-10 replacements is not shiny. Out of 24 Apache attack helicopters sento to the Kosovo, 2 have crashed on training mission in the first week and rest were grounded for duration of the war. Seven Apaches sent to attack Taliban in Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda were shot up by the machine gun fire, with five being damaged beyond repair. In Iraq, 33 Apaches attacking Republician Guard positions in Karbala were forced to turn tail and run in face of the heavy machine gun fire and few RPG-s, with one being shot down and 30 sustaining heavy damage.

Fast jets proved even less useful: on July 24 2004, unit led by SSgt Jamie Osmon, and comprising of himself and two other soldiers, was escorting a convoy sent to disarm an Afghan warlord. They themselves crewed a multi-wheeled armored vehicle, with other six vehicles containing 26 additional troops, which were comprised of Afghan National Army and Global Security forces. During the way, convoy entered a 30-50 meter wide canyon, but decided to leave it, turning south towards mouth of the valley. Upon reaching the mouth, however, convoy was ambushed. Lead vehicle, belonging to ANA, was destroyed by an RPG, and Ford Ranger behind it took small-arms fire. Rest of the convoy managed to double-back after extracting passangers from the Ranger. Three kilometers later, they were ambushed again, by an estimated 800 ambushers. Humvee laid down suppressing fire while rest of convoy retreated, and after running out of ammo, Humvee crew went on foot to find the convoy.

On the way there, B-1 bomber attempted to help, but it didn’t have any effect. Once convoy regrouped, Osmon asked for A-10 support, and was said that it is about an hour away. After an hour, A-10s – callsigns Tonto and Lobo – arrived. Pilots managed to determine where friendly troops as well as opponents are without any radio contact. Once the A-10s opened up with Vulcan guns, enemy fire ceased, and ground team finally managed to establish radio contact with the A-10s. Soon after, enemy tried to have US troops call off A-10 support by using captured ANA troops as bargaining chips.

After enemy dispersed, convoy limped home, with the A-10s loitering over the convoy protectively during entire 6-hour trip.

Several lessons can be taken from this encounter:

  • high-altitude “precision” weapons are completely ineffective against dug-in opponent
  • A-10s have huge impact on enemy ground troops, both physical and psychological, which cannot be replicated by high-flying aircraft
  • entire encounter was accoplished by eyeball, with only barest information avaliable to A-10 pilots
  • radio contact was only established after the A-10s have already started attacking enemy positions

US Army Sgt. First Class Frank Antenori has said that ‘As much as the Air Force and Navy would like to think that, fighter aircraft that travel at speeds can’t slow down to identify the targets,’. (“Fast Jets Not Ideal Choice for Close Air Support” by Roxana Tiron, National Defense magazine, April 2004 ).

There are many reasons why fast jets are not effective as close air support aircraft, and why that ineffectiveness increases with speed and altitude. First is that battlefield is a very mobile environment, with many small, fleeting targets. As a result, high-altitude jets are incapable of reacting effectively to the changing environments, first due to the limitations of sensory systems (we have yet to design a sensor more versatile and precise than human eye), and second due to the time it takes weapons to reach target (thus effectively creating a delay between “decide” and “act” parts of the OODA loop). Oftentimes, immediate, pinning / suppressive fire is required, sometimes very close to the ground units – so close that even smallest precision weapons are too high-yield.

In the mountainous terrains, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft have a hard time finding targets, requiring boots on the ground to do it. Even when terrain is not a problem, it takes 18 hours to complete targeting process by using reconnaissance satellites in the low Earth orbit. If assets are moved every 10 – 12 hours, they become essentially untargetable.

In Afghanistan, F-15Es have saved a downed SEAL team – by doing gun strafing runs. When precision weapons are used, their point of impact has to be calculated so as to ensure that bombs do hit their targets – and that takes 26 minutes on average; sometimes, it took up to several hours. Until the arrival of the A-10s in Afghanistan several months after start of operations, USAF CAS was abysimal, as its aircraft were not allowed to fly low enough; thus, Army units relied almost exclusively on USN close air support, as Navy aircraft were allowed to perform low-altitude strafing and bombing runs.

Precision strikes can be effective against fixed targets, but their effectiveness against mobile targets is limited – in which case gun strafing is a far better solution. Precision strikes require ground Forward Air Controller to be attached to the unit that has requested strikes – but there simply are not enough FACs. Even when there is FAC attached to the unit, he may be injured or killed, denying the unit ability to call for high-altitude support. Against fixed targets, precision strikes have regularly proven useless if targets were dug in, such as in the war in Kosovo where 3-rd Serbian Army has marched back to Serbia unscatched by NATO air attacks. Laser guided weapons require someone to keep in line of sight of target until weapon hits, and both laser guided and especially GPS munitions are prone to fratricide.

Further, units are only equipped with the limited number of radios to communicate among themselves and with aircraft. Smoke and white phosphorus markers require slow aircraft to be fully effective. Marker baloons, though not used by the US military, are another option for situations where markers cannot be effective (such as in forests) but they also require aircraft slow enough to see them, and the radio contact between aircraft and ground troops.

Precision munitions themselves are also far from precise. JDAMs are not terminally guided and often go astray. Further, bombs bump into each other and often into the aircraft on release, making fins bend; a problem that only gets worse as speed increases. Even when that does not happen, trying to simply steer a “smart” weapon is another problem which also gets worse with increasing speed. In both cases, once that happens margin of error worsens with altitude. Guidance systems often fail, due to damage during transport or installation, or other reasons, and precision munitions go astray: something that performance testers completely ignore while calculating CEP, counting only weapons that have performed “as expected”.

To render any kind of tactical bombing, CAS or otherwise, aircraft have to be well below cloud level. F-35 carrying two bombs will thus be vulnerable to smaller weapons, and will not fly air support (close or otherwise) on bad weather. On good weather, it will be quasi-loitering at 4 500 meters, blowing up decoys, civillians, rocks and wrecks of vehicles from previous war.

While there were several friendly-fire incidents involving the A-10, these have always been result of human error on part of overencumbered pilot; thus A-10 should be equipped with back seat for observer who will operate optical identification devices so as to provide visual target identification superior to current “use the binoculars” avaliable to the pilot. But while these incidents are shot up to the sky to be as visible as nuclear detonation, far more numerous failures of high altitude aircraft are buried. In fact, even current attack helicopters (which fly at half A-10s speed) have two crewman, pilot and WSO; task of latter is purely to operate weapons, which includes identifying targets before attacking.

Per-sortie (in)effectiveness is not the only concern. F-35 simply cannot generate enough sorties per day to replace A-10. It also requires large, vulnerable air bases with concrete strips, while A-10 can fly from any surface flat enough that can carry its weight, which not only makes it less vulnerable but allows it to follow the front and stay near supported troops, much like German Stukas did in World War II. F-35 also does not even begin to approach A-10s loiter capability, meaning that it cannot escort ground troops out of dangerous situations, nor can it loiter near the front, waiting to be called upon.

For the end note, A-10s not only should not be retired, they (and tactical aircraft in general) should be employed in the same way Wehrmacht employed Stukas and single-engine fighters in World War II: keeping them under nominal command of Air Force, but assigning them to larger ground units, to be under operational command of that unit’s command staff, with CAS aircraft being permanently assigned to units, and air superiority aircraft assigned and reassigned as situation required.

Further reading

Flying blind

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 57 Comments »

News: F-35 could explode if struck by lighting

Posted by picard578 on January 26, 2013

Some bad news for F-35 programme: in addition to performance shortfalls, cost overruns and huge vulnerability to even small-calibre weapons due to the fuel tank design, F-35 is also in danger of weather. Namely, lightning.

It seems that, due to the deficient fuel tank design, F-35s natural namesake is very dangerous for the jet. If F-35 is struck by lightning, it could ignite the fuel

It is not only problem with lighting. Reductions in safety measures, done to save weight, have also left jet vulnerable to even small arms fire. For one, its fuel is kept all around the engine. Second, it is not self-sealing.

Another problem with fuel tank prevens it from rapidly reducing altitude.

More shortfaillings that articles didn’t mention include reduced level of radar stealth, as well as very large IR signature. Vaunted 360*360 vision helmet had problems with lag, though it could have been fixed,

Apparently, Lockheed Martin fails to understand difference between war and video games. Warfighting weapons should have minimum of electronics necessary: anything above that just means less reliability, and harms performance in required areas.

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F-35 Analysis

Posted by picard578 on October 7, 2012

Program history

F35 is designed to be LO interceptor / fleet defense / tactical bomber / ground attack / CAS / reconnaissance / air controller and intelligence plane built in CTOL, STOVL, and CATOBAR variants.

As Chuck Spinney puts it: “The problem was that each service had very different requirements. The Air Force wanted 1,763 cheap bombing trucks to replace F-16s and A-10s; the Navy wanted 480 “first day-of-the-war” deep-strike stealth bombers to compete with the Air Force in strategic bombing; and the Marines, still haunted by the ghosts of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher and Guadalcanal, wanted to replace aging Harriers and conventional F/A-18s with 609 short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) JSFs that will operate from big-deck amphibious assault ships if need be.” It also replaces Navy’s AV-8B, Sea Harrier and A-6.

For an example of how different requirements can cause trouble, one only has to take a look at requirements for fighters and strike aircraft: while fighter aircraft have to have as low wing loading as possible, so as to increase maneuverability to maximum, low-penetration strike aircraft work better with high wing loading and small wing. That fact alone makes it obvious what F35 is supposed to do.

Another problem was usage of computer models to settle final design before all issues have been found by flight testing.

In 2002, order was reduced by 400 planes, from 2853 to 2443 planes, and it is looking at further reduction. If F22 is any indication, US might end up with 713 planes (500 Air Force, 200 USMC), which will then cost 538 million USD per plane (F22s cost 421 million USD per plane as of 2012), and produce 383,6 billion total program expense. However, as with F22, F35 is simply too big to fail.

YF35 was even more limited than YF22 as technological demonstrator, and winner was determined by a flyoff demonstrating only low-speed handling, STOVL capability, and producibility with at least 70% parts commonality. Competitive prototyping, including working out bugs before large-scale production, was absent in both programmes. LRIP, meanwhile, escalates costs of any changes to design, essentially cementing it as well as allowing contractor to build up powerful political alliances by establishing nation-wide network of subcontractors. When weapon becomes obvious failure on performance and economical goals, it is already impossible to cancel, thus freeing contractor from obligation of having to fulfill its performance and cost promises.

Developing engine has incurred cost overruns of as much as 850 million USD.

There are also quite a few issues with the plane as well:

  • upper lift fan door actuator problems

  • ejection seat and pilot escape system failed tests

  • problems with restarting engine if it flames out in flight

  • braking on wet runaway is deficient

    • four above issues were known in 2011; reported cost to fix them was 30 million USD per plane in lots 2-5

  • no protection against cyber attacks

Also, it is not one airplane for three services; with part commonality of 30%, it is basically three different airplanes, with only looks being similar.

While some countries – such as South Korea, Japan, Norway, Italy and UK – are considering F35 as option for their air forces, evidence exists that they are only doing so due to heavy political pressure from United States; as discussed in F22 analysis, US Military Industrial Complex has unprecended influence on US Government, to the point that it could be said that Federal Government is owned by MIC. South Korea plans to buy 60 of aircraft. Situation in Korea is similar to 2003 deal in Poland, where Lockheed Martin and US Government exerted heavy political and diplomatic pressure to ensure that Poland will choose it over Eurofighter and BAE deals. United States themselves have a long history of threatening allied nations if they are unwilling to purchase US weaponry. Basically, countries aren’t buying US weapons, but alliance with United States. Similarly, United States have refused to upgrade South Korean F16s so as to make F35 only answer – excuse was that they did not want new radar technology to fall into Chinese hands, despite the fact they offered same technology on F35.


Like F22, F35 is more famous for its perpetual increase in costs than for its hyped abilities. There are many reasons for such increase, such as false cost estimates made by Lockheed Martin, reduced orders and problems with aircraft itself. Official numbers are 122 million USD as a flyaway cost, and 150 million USD as unit procurement cost. However, these numbers are outdated.

Unit costs

In 2011, one F35 of unspecified model had a weapons system flyaway cost of 207,6 million USD and unit procurement cost of 304,15 million USD, as opposed to official numbers of 122 million and 140-150 million USD, respectively. Developmental costs have increased due to many patch-ups (such as structural strengthening of rear fuselage) and fixes; costs were additionaly increased by abandonment of “fly before you buy” policy – some aircraft were bought before development was finished, and thus had to be brought up to standard later – which is extremely expensive.

In 2012 weapons system flyaway costs were 197 million USD for F35A, 237,7 million USD for F35B, and 236,8 million USD for F35C. Unit procurement costs per aircraft may have been as high as 352,8 million USD per aircraft, if 16% increase in per-unit cost is correct, giving 861,2 billion USD total program cost.

Maintenance and operating costs

F35s estimated cost per hour of flight is 35 200 USD in 2012 dollars. And that is for F35A, CTOL variant which, logically, should be easiest to maintain. Also, a leaked Pentagon report estimated that Canada’s fleet of 65 aircraft will cost 24 billion USD to maintain over next 30 years.

However, more logical would be to use F-22’s cost per flying hour as beginning point of estimate; assuming F-35 costs 80% of F-22s cost per flying hour, its operating cost will be 48 800 USD.

Strategical analysis

Effects of numbers

Effects of numbers are various. First, fewer planes means that these same planes have to do more tasks and fly more often, therefore accumulating flight ours faster and reaching designed structural life limit faster. Also, smaller force will attrite faster; more flight hours per plane will mean less time available for proper maintenance as well as greater wear and tear put on planes, further reducing already limited numbers.

In combat, side capable of putting and sustaining greater number of planes in the air will be able to put a larger sustained pressure on the enemy.

F35s shortcomings – force size and quality

F35, as it is obvious, is NOT a “low cost, affordable solution”. With its flyaway cost of over 200 million USD, it is more expensive than F15, let alone F16 it is supposed to replace. Moreover, its low reliability and high maintenance requirements are going to reduce that number even more.

Effects of training

Wars in history – such as Yom Kippur War, Croatian War for Independence or Ottoman invasion of Europe – have proved dangers of overreliance on technology as replacement for doctrine, tactics and training. Whenever technology has been solely relied on, it had failed.

F35 does not have a double-seat version, therefore harming training further; which is exceptionally noticeable with high training requirements for complicated operations like vertical landings. Simulators, meanwhile, cannot replace training – meaning that lack of training in two-seat STOVL variant will result in preventable accidents.

Strategic bombing

Whereas from World War II to modern day, Close Air Support missions carried out by variety of aircraft – perhaps most famous being WW2 German Stuka dive-bomber and modern A10 Close Air Support plane – were very effective at winning the wars, strategic bombing missions were a failure.

It can be safely said that Germans lost World War 2 due to spending too much on strategic bombers, and too less on Stukas. Despite the fact that one multi-engined bomber cost as much as five Stukas, five times more bombers were produced than Stukas – out of 114 000 aircraft produced by Germany in World War 2, 25 000 were heavy bombers, but only 4 900 were Stukas. If investment in heavy bombers had been transferred to Stukas, 130 000 Stukas would have been produced.

At Dunkirk, RAF lost 60 aircraft, mostly fighters – Luftwaffe lost 240, mostly heavy bombers. And while British shipping took a fearful beating – 6 destroyers lost, 23 warships damaged, 230 smaller ships and boats were lost – losses were caused primarily by Stukas.

Meanwhile, Allied strategic bombing failed to do as much as scratch on German war production – while in beginning of 1940, monthly production figure for Me-109 was 125, it was 2 500 in autumn of 1944. If that figure had been reached in 1940, Battle for Britain would have taken completely different course.

During German attack on Russia, strategic bombers failed to do anything except consuming scarce fuel. Strategic bombers were part of Soviet retaliation on attack – Me-109s shot down 179 of these. Meanwhile, only 300 Stukas were present to cover entire front – utterly understrength when compared to what was required to exploit numerous opportunities for turkey shoots that disorganized Red Army presented during its wild retreat. It is safe to say that Stukas could have won the war in the Eastern Front for Germany – but they were not given enough attention.

During 1941, Luftwaffe had lost 1798 heavy bombers from the beginning number of 1339. Stuka losses were 366 from the beginning number of 456. Also, during same year, several Stuka raids sank Soviet battleship “Marat”. The cost of all 4 900 Stukas produced during 10-year period was cca 25 million USD – about same as the battleship. Meanwhile, British sent 299 heavy bomber attacks against German ships “Gneiseau”, “Scharnhorst” and “Prinz Eugen”, which were in harbour right over the Channel. 299 attacks and 8 000 sorties later, they accomplished nothing, aside from losing 43 bombers (and no fighters) and 247 men. When ships moved in 1942, British sent heavy bombers to stop them, losing 60 aircraft and 345 airmen. Meanwhile, two highest-scoring Stuka pilots on the Eastern front had a score of 518 and cca 300 tank kills, respectively.

Similarly, V-1 and V-2 missiles achieved close to nothing – and 6 000 V2s equaled cost of 48 000 tanks (it should also be noted that Germany produced a total of 29 000 tanks during entire war) or 24 000 fighter planes.

In Great Britain, sir Arthur Harris was convinced that his bombers could kill enough German civilians to force Germany to capitulate. It did not work – not only losses in heavy bombers during 1942 totaled 1402 heavy bombers (while total number of heavy bombers in service during same year never went above 500), but it did not achieve any effect – German war production soared.

During First Gulf War, high-altitude bombing by B-52s and F-16s against dug-in Iraqi forces was as ineffective as above-discussed strategic bombing campaigns. 300 high-altitude sorties were flown daily by F16s, without effect. On the other hand, two A10s and single AC130 demolished Iraqi convoy moving towards Saudi city of Khafji – 58 out of 71 targets were destroyed.

In Kosovo, 78-day strategic bombing by NATO against Serbia achieved nothing.

In Second Gulf War, “Shock and Awe” 10-day strategic bombing campaign achieved nothing. Saddam’s regime toppled 21 days after beginning of ground invasion.

Tactical analysis

BVR combat

Since development of first BVR weapons, each new generation of fighters would make someone declare that “dogfighting is a thing of past”. Invariably, they have been wrong. In 1960, F4 Phantom was designed without gun – and then Vietnam happened.

US went into Vietnam relying on a AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missile. Pre-war estimated Pk was 0,7 – Pk demonstrated in Vietnam was 0,08. Current AIM-120 has demonstrated Pk of 0,59 in combat do this date, with 17 missiles fired for 10 kills. However, that is misguiding.

Since advent of BVR missile until 2008, 588 air-to-air kills were claimed by BVR-equipped forces. 24 of these kills were by BVR missile. Before “AMRAAM era”, four out of 527 kills were by BVR missile. Since 1991, 20 out of 61 kills may have been done by BVR missile, while US itself has recorded ten AIM-120 kills. However, four were NOT from beyond visual range; Iraqi MiGs were fleeing and non-manouvering, Serb J-21 had no radar, as was the case with Army UH-60 (no radar, did not expect attack), while Serb Mig-29’s radars were inoperative; there was no ECM use by any victim, no victim had comparable BVR weapon, and fights involved numerical parity or US numerical superiority – in short, BVR missile Pk was 50% against “soft” targets. Also, 16 BVR missile kills in Desert Storm are far from sure – it says that “sixteen involved missiles that ‘were fired’ BVR”, meaning that these could have WVR kills prefaced with BVR shots that missed. Five BVR victories are confirmed, however – one at 16 nm (and at night), one at 8.5 nm (night) and three at 13 nm, which more than doubles number of BVR victories.

In Vietnam, Pk was 28% for gun, 15% for Sidewinder, 11% for Falcon, 8% for Sparrow, and essentially zero for Phoenix. Cost of expendables per kill was few hundred dollars for gun, 15 000 USD for Sidewinder, 90 000 USD for Falcon, 500 000 USD for Sparrow, and several millions for Phoenix. Overall cost for destroying enemy with BVR missiles – including training, and required ground support – has never been computed.

In Cold War era conflicts involving BVR missiles – Vietnam, Yom Kipuur, Bekaa Valley – 144 (27%) of kills were guns, 308 (58%) heat-seeking missiles, and 73 (14%) radar-guided missiles. Vast majority of radar-guided missile kills (69 out of 73, or 95%) were initiated and scored within visual range. In true BVR shots, only four out of 61 were successful, for a Pk of 6,6 %.

In Desert Storm itself, F15s Pk for Sidewinders was 67% as compared to Pk for BVR Sparrow of 34%. However, Iraqi planes did not take evasive actions or use ECM, while there was persistent AWACS availability on Coalition part – none of which can be counted at in any serious war.

Post-Desert Storm, there were 6 BVR shots fired by US during operation Southern Watch – all missed.

There are other examples of radar missile engagements being unreliable: USS Vincennes shot down what it thought was attacking enemy fighter, and downed Iranian airliner, while two F14s fired twice at intruding Lybian fighters, missing them at BVR with radar-guided Sparrows and shooting them down in visual range with a Sparrow and Sidewinder.

BVR combat cannot – for obvious reason – fulfill critical requirement of visual identification. IFF is unreliable – it can be copied by the enemy, and can be tracked; meaning that forces usually shut it down. As such, fighter planes have to close to visual range to visually identify target. Moreover, presence of air-air anti-radiation missiles, such as Russian R-27P, was shown to be able to force everyone to turn off radars – possibly including AWACS. Radar signal itself can be detected at far greater range than radar can detect target at – even when it is LPI – meaning that enemy has ample time to use countermeasures and/or maneuver away from incoming missile. Uplinks to AWACS can be jammed, and if AWACS is shot down/scared away, it means that some F22s, with far weaker uplinks, will have to act as spotters for other F22s.

While modern IRST can identify aircraft by using its silhouette, range for such identification is low (~40 km for PIRATE).

Moreover, F35 is far from stealthy; since shape is far more important than RAM, and F35 is far larger than F16, its RCS will be closer to that of F16 than that of F22.

WVR combat

In Desert Storm, US forces fired 48 WVR missiles, achieving 11 kills, for Pk of 0,23. However, historically, Pk for IR missiles was 0,15, and 0,308 for cannon. While F16s fired 36 Sidewinders and scored zero kills, at least 20 of launches were accidental, due to bad joystick ergonomy, which was later modified.

While missiles have become more reliable, countermeasures have advanced too; as such, while IR missiles may be aircraft’s main weapon, gun kill remains most reliable way of getting rid of enemy.

Effects of numbers

In WVR, numbers are usually decisive. F35, even more than F22, relies on a (flawed, as shown above) concept of decisive BVR engagement to compensate for larger numbers of enemy fighter planes it can be expected to engage – especially since it is proving to be anything but low cost counterpart to F22.

However, even in BVR, numbers do matter. Lanchester square criteria, which holds that qualitative advantage of outnumbered force has to be square of outnumbering force’s numerical advantage, is even more applicable for BVR combat than for WVR, due to lack of space constrains. Thus, due to Su-27s costing 30 million USD, as opposed to F22s 250 million, F22s would have to enjoy 70:1 qualitative advantage just to break even – which is extremely unlikely. Historically, 3:1 was usually a limit of when quality could no longer compensate for enemy’s quantitative advantage, in both BVR and WVR.

Superior numbers also saturate enemy with targets, and cause confusion. USAF itself has always depended on superior numbers to win air war.

F35s shortcomings in air combat

F35 is overweight and underpowered – with a wing loading of 446 kg/m^2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,07 (at empty weight), it cannot hope to outmaneuver any modern fighter plane – even ancient MiG-21s, with wing loading of 308 kg/m^2 can outmaneuver it. Actually, F35’s wing loading is slightly worse than F105 Thunderchief.

Indeed, many fire safeties had to be removed to save weight.

Sukhoi fighters, which many countries which are member of the program want it to counter (UK will use far more capable Typhoons in AtA role, instead using F35 as self-defensible tactical bomber, which it is), are far more capable than F35 in air combat.

Number of different capabilities and electronical systems in airplane necessitates second crew member – luxury that no F35 variant can provide. Task saturation can, and often does, result in “close calls” and mishaps. Place for second crew member was not put in – due to vertical landing requirement. Airborne Air Controller missions also require second crew member – in F/A-18 D/F, that work is done by Weapons and Sensors Operator (WSO) in back seat.

While F-35 does have jammers, all that jammers do is to turn missile into unguided rocket; aircraft still has to have maneuverability to evade missile.

F35s shortcomings in WVR combat

F35 is, so much is obvious, designed as tactical bomber with limited capacity of self-defense. Its maximum G load is 7 – 9, depending on version (7 G for F35B, 7,5 for F35C and 9 for F35A), versus 9 which is standard for modern fighter planes. Last time 7 Gs were acceptable was Vietnam war. Its wing loading is high – 526 kg/m^2, worse than the famous F-105 “Lead Sled”, and thrust-to-weight ratio is 0,87, at loaded weight. At 50% fuel, with 2 Sidewinder missiles and 4 JAGM, F-35A would weight 17 858 kg, for a wing loading of 418 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,09. In same configuration with 100% fuel, it would weight 22 221 kg, for a wing loading of 520 kg/m2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 0,88.

Worse, naval version – one rated at 7 Gs – has best turning capability due to lowest wing loading, as long as it doesn’t go fast enough that G limit does not limit its turning ability.

Its high wing and thrust loadings, as shown above, do not allow F35 to achieve maneuverability required for a modern front line fighter. It is double inferior – in both wing and thrust loading – to most modern fighter planes. It also does not have a bubble cockpit; pilot’s rearward visibility is literally zero, while its weapons, which require doors to open, do not offer it ability to perform dogfight-critical “snapshots” in order to shoot down enemy aircraft. It’s large frontal crossection does not allow it to achieve acceleration comparable to fourth generation aricraft, such as Rafale, Typhoon, Gripen or F16.

It is also very noisy and relatively large aircraft, making it very detectable at visual range.

F35s shortcomings in BVR combat

First, it is not stealthy at all. Stealth is measured against five signatures – infrared, sound, visual, and radar footprint as well as electronic emissions. Visual, by definition, is not important for BVR combat; but sound and infrared signature are impossible to lower enough for plane to be VLO, especially when supersonic. While it is not a shortcoming by itself, legacy fighters not even making any effort to lower it, it becomes one when coupled by its low numbers and maximum of two BVR missiles carried in VLO configuration – essentially necessitating use of 6 to 8 F35s to kill a single target (growth to four BVR missiles is planned, halving numbers given). On better note, F35 is equipped with IRST; however, it is optimized for ground attack.

While F35s only hope to survive air combat is to “launch and leave”, its maximum speed of Mach 1,6 means that most fighter planes in the world can easily overtake it and shoot it down – even if that means ejecting missiles. Also, it means that its BVR missiles won’t have very good kinematic performance.

Moreover, F35s stealth capability has been downgraded from VLO to LO, meaning its frontal RCS is roughly comparable to that of modern European 4,5 generation aircraft. Also, at ranges stealth is effective at, BVR missiles have already expended fuel and have extremely low Pk.

F35 shortcomings in ground attack missions

F35 is completely incapable of providing close air support. First, many major safety measures in regards to fire safety have been dropped due to increasing cost. Second, its high wing loading and high drag make it unable to slow down, and its lack of maneuverability, thin skin as well as fact that engine is literally surrounded by fuel – which is also used to cool down aircraft’s skin – coupled with lack of fire safety measures, make it extremely vulnerable, and unable to go low enough and slow enough to provide effective close air support.

Inability of fast jest to provide effective close support was graphically demonstrated when, in Afghanistan war, 2001, 30-man combined US/Afghan team was ambushed by 800 Talibans. Single B1B which was nearby tried to help, but couldn’t fly low and slow enough to reliably identify targets. Two A10s were sent – as soon as they opened fire with cannons, Taliban attack ceased, and A10s covered team for next 6 hours. (Taliban also tried to negotiate a release of some captured ANA members if US team was to call off A10 support).

As far as bombing is concerned, it can only carry two 907-kg bombs in its bomb bay – anything else, and it rapidly becomes non-stealthy.

Despite STOL/VTOL capability, F-35 can only fly from prepared concrete airfields, due to vulnerable engine.

Comparasion with other planes

“Fifth generation fighter” label has been coined as PR trick by Lockheed Martin. In fact, Lockheed Martin officials claim that fifth-generation fighter should have ALL following characteristics to qualify:

  • VLO

  • supercruise

  • supersonic performance focus

  • extreme agility

  • high-altitude ops

  • missile load-out for fighter performance

  • integrated sensor fusion

  • net-enabled ops

Eurofighter Typhoon lacks only VLO. Dassault Rafale also lacks supersonic performance focus, however, its supersonic performance is very good. F-35, on the other hand, lacks VLO, supercruise, supersonic performance focus, extreme agility, high-altitude ops, and missile load-out.


F16 is far better fighter and bomber than F35. F16 does not carry weapons internally, allowing it to fire off shots quickly. Its cockpit visibility is far superior to that of F35; it has lower wing loading (431 vs 526 kg/m^2 loaded) and higher thrust-to-weight ratio (1,08 vs 0,87).

Cost issue is completely in favor of F16. Whereas F35 has unit flyaway cost of over 200 million USD, F16s unit flyaway cost is 60 million USD for latest model, easily giving it 10:3 advantage in numbers.

In Gulf War I, F16s flew 13 340 sorties, and had 3 confirmed losses to enemy action, 7 losses total; thus, loss rate was one plane per 4460 sorties for confirmed combat losses, or one plane per 1900 sorties for total losses – both far better than F117. In Kosovo war, one F16 was shot down out of 4500 sorties.

F16 was also designed to be able to operate from straight stretches of motorway if airfields were to be destroyed.

Moreover, while one F22 can fly only one sortie every three days, and F35 seems to be in similar vein, F16 managed to fly 7 – 9 sorties a day in Israeli service (in USAF one F16 usually flies 6 sorties per 5 days).

F35 is also four times louder than F16 (and twice louder than F-15), making it easier to detect by ground-based acoustic sensors, and presenting an environmental hazard.

Whereas est F-35s cost per hour of flight is 48 800 USD, F-16s cost 4 600 – 7 000 USD, depending on version.


F18 is also better fighter and bomber than F35. Unlike F35, which can only carry two 900-kg bombs without becoming non-stealthy, F18 can carry a total of 6 200 kg of external ordnance and fuel. Also, it costs up to 57 million USD, enabling numerical advantage of 3,6 to 1, in essence being able to deliver 12 times more payload for same unit cost – and that without going into its superior sortie rate.

Its wing loading of 441 kg/m^2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 0,96 (both for loaded) are superior to these of F35. Also, its cockpit design allows for rear visibility, unlike F35.

F-18 cost per flying hour ranges from 11 000 – 24 000 USD, and flyaway cost is 67 million USD per aircraft for E/F version.

Saab Gripen

Saab Gripen is probably the best dogfighter in the world – or it would be if it got F16-esque bubble canopy, although Saab tried to remedy the lack of rearward visibility by installing mirrors.

Its wing loading is 283 kg/m2 loaded, and thrust-to-weight ratio is 0,97 – both better than F35s. Moreover, its close-coupled canards allow it to achieve and maintain high AoA, thus giving it even tighter turns at subsonic speeds than its wing loading would indicate. Usage of external missile carriage and revolver cannon allows it to use split-second opportunities, which F35 cannot. To top all that, its flyaway cost is between 40 and 60 million USD. Gripen NG will also have thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,08, and even lower wing loading, as well as IRST.


In over 8 000 daytime missions in Gulf War One, A10 suffered 3 losses to IR missiles – in other three cases, plane was hit but returned to base safely. Meanwhile, 83 % of A10s that were hit made a safe landing. In Gulf War and Kosovo campaigns, A10s flew 12 400 sorties while suffering 4 losses – a one loss per 3100 sorties, far less than F117, which had 1 loss per 1300 sorties.

In Afghanistan in 2001, 4-man US special ops team leading 26 ANA troops was ambushed by 800 Taliban. B1B bomber, sent to do “close support”, failed to achieve any effect. Team leader, sgt. Osmon, asked for A10s. Two A10s were sent – after A10s opened fire with their cannons, Taliban ceased attack and dispersed. A10s escorted team during entirety of next 6 hours, a trip that would have normally taken 2 hours.

This incident only serves to prove that F35 has no capacity whatsoever to perform Close Air Support missions – it is too vulnerable, so it cannot fly as low and as slow as CAS missions require it to fly; it does not have a required loiter time – inefficient aerodynamics, small wing and large weight necessitate both high speed and high fuel consumption for it to stay in the air; and it lacks armament required to perform such missions, such as specialized cannon like GAU-8 A-10 is equipped with. A10 is also slow enough, survivable enough and maneuverable enough to enable pilots to use binoculars and night vision googles to find and identify targets, often coupled with simple radio link to troops on ground, in keeping with KISS principle.


Rafale is of aerodynamically unstable canard-delta configuration. It has wing loading of 307 kg/m^2, and thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,1, loaded. Moreover, its close-coupled canards provide additional boost to its maneuverability by allowing it to achieve higher angle of attack, and it is equipped with advanced IRST and weapons systems. Its price – 90,5 million USD flyaway, 145,7 million USD unit program cost for most expensive variant – also mean that it is also far superior design from strategic standpoint, easily providing 2:1 advantage for same price. It’s IRST has maximum range of 100 km against fighter-sized targets. Operating cost is 16 500 USD per hour.


In Gulf War I, 42 F117s generated, at 0,7 sorties per day, less than 1300 sorties out of 33 000 flown, and made 2 000 laser-guided bomb attacks. Out of 15 SAM batteries in Baghdad reported attacked by F117s on first night, 13 continued to operate – these 15 strikes were also only strikes launched by F117s during war. In same night, 658 non-stealth aircraft also hit targets, with no losses whatsoever.

While F117s did have zero losses in the war, as opposed to 2 F16s, and 4 A10s lost, night was a much safer combat environment than day, and the F-117 flew only at night. Two squadrons of A-10s flew at least as many night sorties as the F-117. Their losses were the same as the F-117’s: zero. F-111Fs also flew at night and also had no losses.

The A-10s and the F-117s flew in both the first Gulf war and the next war in Kosovo in 1999. The day-flying A-10s suffered a total of four losses in both wars. The night-flying F-117s suffered two casualties, both to radar missiles in Kosovo. However, F117 suffered 1 loss per 1 300 sorties, as opposed to 1 loss per 3 100 sorties for A10 in Kosovo and First Gulf War (F117 has flown 2 600 sorties in both wars, compared to 12 400 for A10). Moreover, both F117s were hit by same SAM battery, whose commander was apparently only one to use the tactic of combining VHF radar with IR SAMs.

In Kosovo war, Serbs launched 845 radar-guided SAMs – 2 F117s and one F16 were hit, for effectiveness rate of 0,36 %.


F35 will be far less capable bomber than B2. Unlike B2, which was designed for nighttime low-level penetration and similarly low-level bombing, F35, being designed for daytime operations, and having far higher wing loading (446 vs 329 kg/m^2) cannot fly as low and slow, making it unable to reliably hit small targets. F35 is also far smaller, and has shape reminiscent of legacy fighters, making it more vulnerable to VHF radars. Compared to B2, which can carry 80 230-kg GPS-guided bombs, F35 will, in stealth configuration, carry two 910 kg (A and C models) or two 450 kg (B model) weapons, and unlike B2, it cannot carry long-range air-to-surface standoff weapons.

While B2 is seven times as expensive as F35, it does not have to be built in so large numbers (necessitated by F35 being replacement for five different airframes) and is easily several times as effective as F35 in bombing role; its size and shape also make it, in theory, harder to detect by low frequency radars, albeit its RAM is useless against them. Downside of B2 is that it cannot defend itself if it is detected (by IRST, for example); and while F22s in service may be used to provide it, they will be detected by VHF radars.

However, above theorizing is made noot by reports that B2 “has radar that cannot distinguish a rain cloud from a mountainside, has not passed most of its basic tests and may not be nearly as stealthy as advertised”. While B2 is able to “hug” the ground to evade radar, legacy platforms can be equipped with same systems – and radar used for that type of flying can easily be detected (as proven in Vietnam, where several F111s were lost due to that radar). Also, like F22, it is vulnerable to rain – specifically, its stealth coating is.

Moreover, B2 carries only 4 times more payload than F16 despite costing – at 2.2 billion FY 1995 USD per plane – or 3,17 billion in FY 2010 USD – 52 times more. It is also maintenance-demanding, requiring environment-controlled hangars which exist only at Whiteman AFB – if these are destroyed, maintenance of B2 will be rendered impossible. To add injury to an insult, during entire Kosovo war, 21-plane, 66-billion USD B2 fleet delivered a meager one sortie per day. 715 A10s, bought for cost of 4 B2s, were procured, and 132 A10s sent to First Gulf War managed to generate over 200 sorties per day.

One more problem is that B2 has design lifespan of only 30 years – as such, it costs 8 300 USD per hour, regardless of whether it is flying or not.

Su-27 variants

All Su-27 variants are capable of defeating F35 in one-on-one combat, due to combination of IRST, RWR, and good maneuverability. Moreover, they are cheaper than F35 (Su-35 has estimated cost of 45 to 55 million USD, enabling them to outnumber it as much as four to one).


MiG-21PFM from first half of 1960-s has wing loading of 339 kg/m^2 and thrust-to-weight ratio of 0,79 at gross weight; MiG-21-93 has wing loading of 384 kg/m^2, and thrust-to-weight ratio of 0,8 at gross weight. As such, both fighters can outmaneuver F35, while F35 probably can outaccelerate them. However, both have advantage in that they don’t require weapon bays’ doors to open before firing a shot, and even ability of F35 to outaccelerate MiG-21 can be questioned, due to bad aerodynamical profile of former.

Aircraft comparision table

Thrust-to-weight ratio at 50% fuel:

F35A: 1,07, F35B: 1,04, F35C: 0,91

Typhoon: 1,35

Rafale: 1,3

Wing loading:

F105: 452 kg/m2 @ takeoff weight

F35A: 408 kg/m2 @ 50% fuel; 745 kg/m2 @ max takeoff weight

F35B: 416 kg/m2 @ 50% fuel; 639 kg/m2 @ max takeoff weight

F35C: 326 kg/m2 @ 50% fuel; 512 kg/m2 @ max takeoff weight

Typhoon: 262 kg/m2 @ 50% fuel; 459 kg/m2 @ max takeoff weight

Rafale C: 259 kg/m2 @ 50% fuel; 536 kg/m2 @ max takeoff weight

Rafale B: 265 kg/m2 @ 50% fuel;

Rafale M: 275 kg/m2 @ 50% fuel;

Counter-stealth technologies

Stealth versus classical radar

Su-27s radar performance has doubled over past 8 years, and by 2020 Flanker family radars will be able to detect VLO targets at over 46 kilometers. Also, US stealth planes fly mission with same radar jamming escorts that accompany legacy platforms.

During the Gulf War, the British Royal Navy infuriated the Pentagon by announcing that it had detected F-117 stealth fighters from 40 miles away with 1960s-era radar. The Iraqis used antiquated French ground radars during that conflict, and they, too, claimed to have detected F-117s. The General Accounting Office, Congress’ watchdog agency, tried to verify the Iraqi claim, but the Pentagon refused to turn over relevant data to GAO investigators.

Also, even modern VLO planes have to operate alongside jamming planes, such as EA-6B or EA-18, when performing ground attack, confirming that even legacy radars are far from useless against VLO planes.

Main way to reduce plane’s radar signature is shaping – stealth coating simply deals with last few percentages. Which means that F35 is going to blow its radar stealth as soon as it maneuvers; additionally, its stealth capability was far lower than that of F22 from get-go. Moreover, it was downrated from VLO to LO by US Defense Department (for reference, Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale are LO from front).

Moreover, target RCS is determined by 1) power transmitted in direction of target, 2) amount of power that impacts the target and is reflected back, 3) amount of reflected power intercepted by radar antenna, and 4) lenght of time radar is pointed at target. While normal procedure was to slave IR sensor to radar, advent of IRST makes it possible to slave radar to it.

That is not only solution. In a series of tests at Edwards AFB in 2009, Lockheed Martin’s CATbird avionics testbed – a Boeing 737 that carries the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s entire avionics system – engaged a mixed force of F-22s and F-15s and was able to locate and jam F-22 radars, according to researchers. Raytheon X-band airborne AESA radar – in particular, those on upgraded F-15Cs stationed in Okinawa – can detect small, low-signature cruise missiles.

VHF radar

While VLO planes are optimized to defeat S- and X- -band radars, VHF radars offer a good counter-stealth characteristics.

Simply put, RCS varies with the wavelenght because wavelength is one of inputs that determines RCS area.

VHF radars have wavelengths in 1-3 meter range, meaning that key shapings of 19-meter-long, 13,5-meter-wide F22 are in heart of either resonance or Rayleigh scattering region. Same applies for F35.

Rayleigh scattering region is region where wavelength is larger than shaping features of target or target itself. In that region, only thing that matters for RCS is actual physical size of target itself.

Resonance occurs where shaping features are comparable in wavelength to radar, resulting in induced electrical charges over the skin of target, vastly increasing RCS.

However, their low resolution and resultant large size means they are limited to ground-based systems.

Russians and Chinese already have VHF radars, with resolution that may be good enough to send mid-flight update to SAMs. Also, it is physically impossible to design fighters that will be VLO in regards to both low power, high-frequency fighter radars, and high-power, low-frequency ground-based radars. Such radars can, according to some claims, detect fighter-sized VLO targets from distance of up to 330 kilometers (against bombers like B2, their performance will be worse, but such planes have their own shortcomings – namely, IR signature and sheer size). Manufacturers of Vostok E claim detection range against F117 as being 352 km in unjammed and 74 km in jammed environment.

Also, RAM coatings used in many stealth planes are physically limited in their ability to absorb electromagnetic energy; one of ways RCS reduction is achieved is active cancellation – as signal reaches surface of RAM, part of it is deflected back; other part will be refracted into airframe, and then deflected from it in exact opposite phase of first half, and signals will cancel each other on way back. However, thickness of RAM coating must be exactly half of radar’s frequency, meaning that it does not work against VHF radar for obvious reasons – no fighter plane in world can have skin over half a meter thick.

There is one detail that apparently confirms this: in 1991, there was a deep penetrating raid directed at destruction of VHF radar near Baghdad; radar, which may have alerted Saddam at first wave of stealth bombers approaching capital. Before US stealth bombers started flying missions, radar was destroyed in a special mission by helicopters. Also, during fighting in Kosovo, Yugoslav anti-air gunners downed one F117 with Russian anti-air missile whose technology dates back to 1964, simply by operating radar at unusually long wavelengths, allowing it to guide missile close enough to aircraft so as to allow missile’s IR targeting system to take over. Another F117 was hit and damaged same way, never to fly again.

These radars, being agile frequency-hopping designs, are very hard to jam; however, bandwidth available is still limited.

Also, while bombers like B2 may be able to accommodate complex absorbent structures, it is not so with fighters, which are simply too small.

Another benefit is power – while capacity of all radars for detecting VLO objects increases with greater raw output, it is easier to increase output of VHF radars.

It is also possible for VHF radar to track vortexes, wake and engine exhaust created by stealth planes.

Another advantage of low-frequency radars is the fact that they present poor target for anti-radiation weapons, making them harder to destroy. Moreover, new VHF radars are mobile – Nebo SVU can stow or deploy in 45 minutes, while new Vostok-E can do it in eight minutes.


All Su-27 variants, as well as most modern Western fighters, carry IRST as a part of their sensory suite. Russian OLS-35 is capable of tracking typical fighter target from head-on distance of 50 km, 90 km tail-on, with azimuth coverage of +-90 degrees, and +60/-15 degree elevation coverage.

Fighter supercruising at Mach 1,7 generates shock cone with stagnation temperature of 87 degrees Celsius, which will increase detection range to 55 km head-on. Not only that, but AMRAAM launch has large, unique thermal signature, which should allow detection of F22 and missile launch warning up to 93+ kilometers, while AMRAAM moving at Mach 4 could be detected at up to 83 kilometers. That is worsened by the fact that F35 cannot supercruise, therefore additionally increasing its IR signature by requiring afterburner.

Integrating Quantum Well Infrared Photodetector technology greatly increases performance – Eurofighter Typhoon already has one with unclassified detection range for subsonic head-on airborne targets of 90 kilometers (with real range being potentially far greater).

Infrared imaging systems (like Typhoon’s or Rafale’s) provide TV-like image of area being scanned, which translates into inherent ability to reject most false targets. Also, while older IRST systems had to be guided by the radar, newer ones can do initial detection themselves. Given that stealth planes themselves rely on passive detection in evading targets, using passive means in detecting them is logical response for fighter aircraft. Missiles themselves can use infrared imaging technology, locking on targets of appropriate shape.

While there are materials that can supress IR signature of a plane, most of these are highly reflective in regards to radar waves, thus making them unusable for stealth planes, and other ways of reducing IR signature are not very effective.

Moreover, these systems do not adress fact that air around aircraft is heating up too – whereas, as mentioned, shock cone created by supercruising aircraft is up to 87 degrees Celzius hot, air temperature outside is between 30 and 60 degrees Celzius below zero.

Moreover, Russian Flankers use IRST together with laser rangefinder to provide gun firing solution – althought that is redundant, considering that any modern radar can achieve lock on F22 at gun-fighting ranges. Historically, Soviet MiG-25s have been able to lock on SR-71 Blackbird from ranges of over 100 kilometers by using IRST. Fortunately, order to attack was never given.

IRST can also provide speed of target via Doppler shift detection – IR sensors used in astronomy can detect velocity of star down to 1 meter per second, whereas fighter travelling at Mach 1,1 moves at 374 meters per second. Laser ranger can also be used to determine range to target.

While F35s IRST has tracked ballistic missiles to ranges of 800 kilometers, that claim is misleading as ballistic missiles are extremely large, extremely fast and make no effort to hide their IR signature. In similar vein, Typhoon’s PIRATE has tracked planet Venus.

Passive radar

Passive radar does not send out signals, but only receive them. As such, it can use stealth plane’s own radar to detect it, as well as its IFF, uplink and/or any radio traffic sent out by the plane.

Also, it can (like Czech VERA-E) use radar, television, cellphone and other available signals of opportunity reflected off stealth craft to detect them. Since such signals are usually coming from all directions (except from above), stealth plane cannot control its position to present smallest return. EM noise in such bands is extensive enough for plane to leave a “hole” in data.

However, simply analyzing and storing such amount of data would require extreme processing power as well as memory size, and it is prone to false alarms. It is also very short-range system, due to amount of noise patterns being required to detect, map and store.


Similar in principle to passive radar, two RWR-equipped aircraft could use uplink to share data and triangulate position of radiating enemy aircraft.


Infrared doppler LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging; doppler LIDAR senses doppler shift in frequency) may be able to detect high altitude wake vortices of stealth aircraft. While atmospheric aerosoils are not sufficient for technique to work, exhaust particles as well as contrail ice particles improve detectability to point that aircraft may be detected from range well beyond 100 km; exhaust particles themselves allow for detection of up to 80 km.

Wake vortices are byproduct of generating lift, and are, as such, impossible to eliminate – aircraft wing uses more curved upper and less curved or straight lower surface to generate differences in speed between two airflows. As result, upper airflow is faster and as such generates lower pressure when compared to airflow below the wing, generating lift. That, however, has result of creating vortices behind the trailing edge of the wing.

Background scanning

In that mode, radar does not look for stealth plane itself; instead it looks for background behind stealth plane, in which case sensory return leaves a “hole” in data. However, that requires radar to be space-based; or, if stealth plane is forced to fly at very low altitude due to defence net, radar can be airborne too.

Another possibility is using surface-based radio installations to scan the sky at high apertures and with high sensitivity, such as with radio telescopes.

As it is known to radio-astronomers, radio signals reach surface uninterrupted even in daytime or bad weather; and since map of stars is well known, it can be assumed that any star not radiating is eclipsed by an object, such as stealth plane. And as with very sensitive radio-astronomical equipment, every part of sky is observed as being covered with stars. It is also doable by less sensitive detecting equipment, simply by serching for changes in intensity of stars.

Over-the-horizon radar

Over-the-horizon radars invariably operate in HF band, with frequencies around 10 Mhz and wavelengths of 30 meters, beacouse it is band in which atmospheric reflection is possible. Also, at that point, target will create some kind of resonance and shaping will be largely irrelevant, as will be RAM coating, as explained above.

However, lowering frequency of radar means that size of radar aperture has to grow in proportion to radar wavelength to maintain narrow beam and adequate resolution; other problem is that these bands are already filled with communications traffic, meaning that such radars are usually found in early-warning role over the sea.

Such systems are already in use by US, Australia (Jindalee), Russia and China.

Bistatic / multistatic radar

Since VLO characteristics are achieved primarly by shaping airframe to deflect radar waves in other direction than one they came from, and thus make it useless to classic systems. However, such signal can be picked by receiver in another position, and location of plane can be triangulated.

While every radar pulse must be uniquely identifiable, that feature is already present in modern Doppler pulse radars. What is more difficult is turning data into accurate position estimate, since radar return may arrive to transmitter from variety of directions, due to anomalous atmospheric propagation, signal distortion due to interference etc.

Acoustic detection

Planes are noisy, engines in particular but also airflow over surface. In former case, bafflers are added, while in latter, noise is reduced by shaping plane so as to be more streamlined. However, internal weapons bays, when opened, create a great amount of noise.

Ultra-wide band radar

UWB radar works by transmitting several wavelengths at once, in short pulses. However, there are problems: 1) it is more effective to transmit power in one pulse, 2) UWB antenna must work over factor of ten or more in wavelength, 3) it would offer numerous false clutter targets. In short, if, for example, UH frequency and VH frequency were used, such radar would combine UHF’s and VHF’s advantages AND disadvantages.

Also, it is very hard to make RAM that would be effective against multiple frequencies.

Cell phone network

Telephone calls between mobile phone masts can detect stealth planes with ease; mobile telephone calls bouncing between base stations produce a screen of radiation. When the aircraft fly through this screen they disrupt the phase pattern of the signals. The Roke Manor system uses receivers, shaped like television aerials, to detect distortions in the signals.

A network of aerials large enough to cover a battlefield can be packed in a Land Rover.

Using a laptop connected to the receiver network, soldiers on the ground can calculate the position of stealth aircraft with an accuracy of 10 metres with the aid of the GPS satellite navigation system.

IR illumination

IR illumination – famed “black light” of World War 2, used in Do 17Z-10 and Bf 110D-1/U1 night fighters – works on exact same principles as radar, with only difference being EM radiation’s wavelenght, which is in IR range.

Since it is active technique, it also betrays location of emitter, and thus cannot be relied on for regular use by combat aircraft – althought it can be fitted instead of radar – but can be used by air defense networks.

Detecting LPI radar

F35s, like F22s, radar uses frequency hopping to counter radar recievers. However, it can only use relatively low spread of frequencies, and can be detected by using spread-spectrum technology in RWRs.

Another way to hide radar signal is to include spread-spectrum technology; it is intended to reduce signature of radar signal and blend it into background noise. However, such radar still emits a signal that is 1 million to 10 million times greater than real-world background noise. It is relatively simple to build spread-spectrum passive receiver that can detect such radar at distance four times greater than radar’s own detection range.

There are other ways of making radar LPI: 1) make a signal so weak that RWR cannot detect it, and increase processing power, 2) narrow the radar beam and 3) have radar with far higher processing gain than RWR. Option one is impractical, and is only viable for few years, until newer RWR’s are avaliable, even assuming it is initially successfull. Option two does not affect target being “painted”, and option 3, closely connected to option one, is only, again, viable for few years.


F35 is overweight, overpriced, underperforming and unnecessary aircraft, terrible at everything it is supposed to do, and extremely expensive to operate and maintain. All missions that F35 is supposed to perform can be done more effectively and at lower cost by legacy aircraft, and as such, it would be better for US to scrap F35 until separate, non VLO replacements for F16, F18 and Harrier can be developed.

Export successes are no proof of aircraft’s capabilities: if country has done business with firm in past, it is more likely to go for that firm’s product. All countries that bought F-35s (Italy, Japan, Norway, etc.) are ex-F-16 users; similarly, India, which has a long history of using French products, including Mirage-2000, opted for Rafale instead of either Typhoon, Gripen, F-35, F-16 or F-18. Saudi Arabia, which has/had Tornadoes in its air force, opted for Eurofighter Typhoon.


RCS size vs detection range

Target – RCS size in m2 – relative detection range

Aircraft carrier – 100 000 – 1778

Cruiser – 10 000 – 1000

Large airliner or automobile – 100 – 1000

Medium airliner or bomber – 40 – 251

Large fighter – 6 – 157

Small fighter – 2 – 119

Man – 1 – 100

Conventional cruise missile – 0,5 – 84

Large bird – 0,05 – 47

Large insect – 0,001 – 18

Small bird – 0,00001 – 6

Small insect – 0,000001 – 3

F117 to VHF radar – 0,5 – 84

Effective range is calculated by formula (RCS1/RCS2) = (R1/R2)^4, where RCS = radar cross section, while R=range.

RAM coatings

RAM coatings can be dielectric or magnetic. Dielectric works by addition of carbon products which change electric properties, and is bulky and fragile, while magnetic one uses iron ferrites which dissipate and absorb radar waves, and are good against UHF radars.

Outside links

Further reading

F-22 analysis

Saab Gripen analysis

Eurofighter Typhoon analysis

Dassault Rafale analysis

Saab Gripen vs F-35

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

Why F-35 cannot replace the Harrier

On F-35 export success

“Why we must continue to fund the F-35” rebuttal

F-35 and its troubles

F-35s air-to-air capability or lack thereof

How stealthy is the F-35

Actual F-35 unit cost

EDIT 22.5.2015.:

I found this response to my article while looking at stats. I don’t feel like registering on forum, and in any case thread is several months old, so I’ll just post reply here in hope that it will clean up some questions to people who might read it.

“This can only be an approximation of lift, and fails in the case of non traditional wing and body geometry, like that which the F-35 uses. ”

F-35 and most other modern fighters (Rafale, Gripen, F-16…). But even so, wing “area” as measured accounts for most of the body lift, and remaining part is typically too small (no more than 10-15% of the wing area) to have a decisive impact on performance. It might change the outcome of comparing, say, F-16C and F-35A, but comparing Rafale and F-35A? Forget it. Further, Rafale has close coupled canards which can increase maximum wing lift by as much as 35% compared to what wing-body configuration alone can achieve, yet people rarely point this out. Considering this, difference between the F-35 and Rafale will be greater, not smaller, than what wing loading suggests. Complaint is valid, however, when comparing the F-35 with more traditional configurations such as the F-15, F-16, Mirage and Flankers.

“Furthermore, the wings on it aren’t that small at all, and the body isn’t that wide. Here are some comparison images, thanks to u/norouterospf200 on Reddit:”

Wing size is driven by aircraft’s weight. Absolute wing size doesn’t matter as much as wing loading. F-35A, a pre-weight growth aircraft, has worse wing loading than F-16C after all weight growth it undertook. Now, F-35 will not suffer as much weight growth as the F-16 did, but it is not a rosy picture.

Also, images used compare top view of the F-16 and front view of Rafale with the F-35. But F-35 is in Typhoon’s weight class, so both top and front view should use Typhoon for comparison.

“To compute a loading, these must be considered as lift surfaces, and thus the simple computation fails.”

Most of the body area is accounted for in wing area.

“The design of several components was radically altered after the aircraft was first built. One example is the removal of fueldraulic shutoff values, a change made to save weight after testing revealed that additional systems had to be added. He criticizes the F-35 for not identifying issues through flight testing, then criticises it when they identify issues through flight testing.”

Bullshit by the bucket. I’m not criticizing using flight testing to find out issues, I’m criticizing decision to cut on flight testing because “computer models, har har har” and usage of Low Rate Initial Production to saddle USAF with few hundred F-35s before design has been finalized and issues fixed.

“So, the author would rather the F-35 go to full rate production immediately?”

No, I would have no production at all until testing has been finished. Is thinking really that hard?

“LRIP is to allow the F-35’s design to change as flaws are identified and production processes are improved, without having to modify gigantic fleets of aircraft.”

Incorrect. That is what pre-serial production testing with operational prototypes (that is, post-development aircraft used to test the finalized design) is for. Five to ten production-version aircraft is quite enough for that, no need to saddle military with dozens of flawed LRIP prototypes sold as production aircraft.

In fact, specific purpose of LRIP is to increase profits of contractors by increasing number of aircraft to be modified.

“Which is why the aircraft was in low rate production, so that issues wouldn’t have to be fixed on many many more aircraft.”

And it would have costed far less if it were discovered on production-model prototypes than on LRIP aircraft.

“The most recent LRIP costs were $106 million for an F-35A.”

Without engine.

BTW, I really like how he thinks that I should have used figure from the article written two years after I have finished my article. I didn’t know I was to be aware of the articles that haven’t been written yet. This time travel stuff really must be easy; I’d like to learn it, if possible?

“One from Bill Sweetman of all people is that F-35A costs $31 thousand and hour, and the program estimates that the aircraft will end up costing approximately $24 thousand per flight hour For context, the F-16 costs $22 thousand/flight hour.”

Time travel again. RE: F-16, he is comparing apples to oranges here. F-16 operating cost includes base maintenance as well, direct operating cost is 7.000 USD for the F-16 and estimated at cca 20.000 USD for the F-35.

“The USAF is buying 1,763 F-35As.”

Is hoping to buy. Unfortunately, that number is science fiction at best, pure fantasy at worst.

“As such, the USAF will have to deal with a deficit of negative 518 aircraft.”

PR bullshit at its finest. Also, F-35 is expected to replace F-15 as well, not just the F-16, since the F-22 numbers were cut.

“on twin engined medium bombers.”

Which were used for strategic bombing. Ergo, they were strategic bombers.

Heavy bomber =/= strategic bomber.

“A number of other points are also totally unresolved – the Stuka was outdated by 1941”

And had far more capable replacement in the pipeline, one that was never built in susbstantial numbers.

“the equivalent number of tanks weren’t logistically possible to make”

Even 10.000 extra tanks would have been a huge boon.

“Furthermore, do you want to know how many gun kills there have been air to air since (and including) desert storm? 2 – both made by A-10s against Mi-8s. Yes, they’re helicopters.”

Yes, because shooting down nonmaneuvering POS with no RWR, no MAWS, no IRST, no EW/ECM suite, and a pilot who’s barely able to take it off the ground is same as shooting down a maneuvering 4th generation fighter. </sarcasm>

“Clearly, F-16C was an unmitigated failure.”

F-16 was designed as an air superiority fighter, and BTW there was F-15E to take over such tasks. F-18 also has a variant with second crewmember.

“and is not noticeably noisier, either.”

Competition being the F-15?

“Additionally, the F-35 has substantial IR plume reduction technology built in, contrary to his assertion.”

Which is only relevant when aircraft is cruising at low speeds and low altitudes. High up where air superiority fighters operate, it is nothing more than trying to hide a bull elephant behind a laptop.

“You know, I would have thought that there was another system called EO-DAS that was specifically designed for air to air use, in addition to the EOTS sniper pod equivalent.”

EO-DAS is a WVR MAWS, same as Rafale’s DDM NG. It has no BVR targeting capability.

“He carefully ignores the fact that the internal bays let it fly at mach 1.6 while carrying much more fuel, forcing most pursuers to RTB before they can catch it.”

Most pursuers can fly at Mach 2,0 with missiles and with throttle set at less than 100%.

“However, stealth lets you get closer than would otherwise be possible, increasing Pk proportionately. ”

Not if the enemy has IRST. In IR spectrum F-35 is as stealthy as a drunken elephant in a porculan store.

“Irrelevant at altitude – the F-35 simply won’t need to take AAA or missile damage, because it flies above their operational altitudes and thanks to EOTS can deliver munitions effectively from that height.”

And kill very troops it is trying to save.

“Nice – making 2000lbs sound smaller by converting to metric for no reason whatsoever.”

Weight stays the same, and in the cause he didn’t notice, most of the world uses metric system. World does not consist solely of United States and United Kingdom.

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