Friday, 21 December 2012

The F-35, fuel and firepower, less is less.

A RCAF CC-150 Polaris refuels a CF-18 mid-air.

Buried deep in the now infamous KPMG report on the F-35 is a mention how the RCAF won't be able to refuel the F-35 in the air.  Instead, a Canadian F-35 will have to refuel from an "ally" or "private company".  What "private company" offers air-to-air refuelling isn't something one can find in the yellow pages, but apparently such a thing exists.  Either way, Canada's military will need an outside source to keep it's F-35s up in the air.

Why is this?  Because Canada's choice of F-35, the "A" variant, designed primarily for the United States Air Force, uses what is known as a "flying boom" method for air-to-air refuelling.  This method is preferred by the USAF for a variety of reasons, including it being much faster at fuelling larger aircraft like bombers and heavy transports.

The F-35A and the "flying boom".
Canada's current fleet of CF-18s and its current in-flight tanker counterpart, the CC-150 Polaris, use what is known as a "probe-and-drogue" system.  This system is by far the more common type and is used by just about everybody other than the USAF, including the U.S. Navy, Great Britain's RAF, France's ALA, even the Russian air force!

Not for Canada.  The F-35B and it's "probe-and-drogue".

Oddly enough, the other two variants of the F-35, the V/STOL "B" and the aircraft carrier compatible "C" version, both use the more common "probe-and-drogue" method.  Both versions are considerably more costly than the "A" variant and, since Canada doesn't have any aircraft carriers, don't make much sense for the RCAF.

I wonder if the drag chute is still a go?
So why not take the "probe-and-drogue" system from the F-35B or F-35C and fit it on the F-35A model?  Lockheed Martin's own literature mentions this and a staffer has stated that it is an easy fix.  Such a design change would likely take time and money to test and develop.  It would also require Canadian F-35s to be "custom" orders rather than "off the lot".

If Canada wants to take advantage of the F-35's stealth, it's going to have to buy new missiles.

Also in the report was a mention that the ammunition budget for the F-35 will be dropped to $52 million from $270 million and that infrastructure upgrades will be dropped to $244 million from the planned $400 million.  What these numbers actually mean is anybody's guess, but buying a new fighter jet then skimping on the ammunition would seem rather pointless.  Why buy new fighters without the missiles to arm them?  Canada's current air-to-ground missile, the AGM-65 Maverick, nor the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles can be carried in the F-35 weapon's bay.  This limits Canada's current choices for the F-35's weapons bay to either the AIM-120 AMRAAM medium range air-to-air missile or guided bombs.  If Canada wants to engage ground targets from a distance it will have to use a lot of that $52 million to buy the Brimstone air-to-ground missile, currently the only air-to-ground missile that fits in the F-35's weapon bay.  If Canada wants to arm its F-35s with short range heat-seeking air-to-air missiles, it will have to purchase the AIM-132 ASRAAM or carry legacy AIM-9 Sidewinders on pylons that compromise the F-35's stealth.

So what is it going to be?  Is the RCAF going to fly a cutting edge stealth fighter that it needs to ask others to refuel in the air?  Is the project so expensive it leaves nothing in the budget to actually arm the things?  What point is a jet fighter without the proper armaments or a way to keep that fighter in the air?

Maybe we should concentrate on smarter munitions and keeping our airpower in the air.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the info. I haven't submitted my article yet, so I can add this info to the long list of reasons of why the F-35 is not the right choice for Canada.