Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Time magazine on the F-35, and a boneheaded response.

Is the F-35 in trouble?  Does the Pope wear a funny hat?

Time magazine's latest issue has a rather nice piece on the trials and tribulations of the F-35 Lightning II.  In an article titled:  "The Most Expensive Weapon Ever Built", Mark Thompson examines the controversial fighter's problems and high costs at a time when America needs to seriously consider cutting its mammoth defence budget.  Put simply, the troubled and expensive F-35 program could be a tempting target for Washington lawmakers needing to slash the defence budget.

The Wild Weasel "YGBSM" patch would be more appropriate.
If the U.S.A. is unable to avoid sequestration, then cuts will have to be made.  Any deal to avoid sequestration could very well include cuts to military.  With its high costs, delays, and performance downgrades, the F-35 program is in serious danger of being cut back considerably, if not cut off altogether.  For Canada, this means any potential F-35 deliveries would be delayed and over budget, if delivered at all.

Naturally, a well researched piece in a respected publication like Time needs a counterpoint, and it's provided by the very pro-defense-industry Lexington Institute. published this article by Loren B. Thompson, PhD.  In a way, Canada should be thankful to Thompson as he was one of the champions behind the U.S.A's surplus C-17 production, allowing Canada to pick some up on the cheap.

In his article Dr. Loren B. (not "Hunter S.") Thompson states that UCAVs are not the answer, since they cannot survive flak or missile fire, ignoring the fact that squishy humans don't do well in those environments either.    He also states the F-35C's tailhook issue "has been solved" (not quite), and it can carry "three times the bomb-load of an F-16"(51,000lbs!  That's more than a B-2!)

To top it all off, Thompson misquotes Senator John McCain on the F-35 stating it "May be the greatest fighter in the history of the world." The hard truth is, McCain has been a staunch critic of the F-35 program, calling it a "scandal and a tragedy".  McCain had kinder words at a ceremony where his home state of Arizona welcomed a new F-35 squadron, but it wasn't exactly a glowing praise.

Looks like Dr. Loren B. (not "Hunter S.") Thompson doesn't like silly things like facts get in the way of a good argument.


  1. If the F-35 is cut back or canceled, I think for Canada, they should start looking at the F/A-18 E/F super hornet International Road map, Eurofighter, Rafele and Gripens. My bet is that the Super Hornet will be their top pick but the Eurofighter and the Gripen will duke it out for number 2 spot

  2. I think the "International Roadmap" Super Hornet could be a tough sell. LIke the F-15SE "Silent Eagle" it has a bit of a "Catch-22" element to it. It has yet to receive any solid orders due to lack of development, without any solid orders, it likely won't see further development.

    I doubt Canada would place itself in another situation similar to the Cyclone helicopter, being the only country buying a so far untested and undeveloped variant of an existing design. Unless the USN and RAAF decide to upgrade, Canada would likely choose the regular Super Hornet over the "International Roadmap" (Silent? Super Duper?) Hornet.

    The Gripen E/F has the advantage of being already ordered, and development paid for, by Sweden and Switzerland. The Eurofighter's further development is similar, with Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar demanding improvements.

    If the Super Hornet is selected, it is only to maintain Canada's "buy American" tradition and to keep the U.S. happy after ducking out of the F-35. The Typhoon is the "Cost no object" choice, and the Gripen is "bang-for-the-buck" choice.

  3. The Super Bug (SB) is a bad choice. It is at the end of its development. It is also more of a bomber/attack aircraft than a fighter/interceptor. Many will say that because we have older Hornets that it would be a easier and cheaper transition, but in reality only about twenty percent of the Super Hornet is the same as a CF-18. The engines are newer versions of what the CF-18 uses but the Gripen uses the same engine as the Super Hornet. What wouldn't be a bad idea is buying around 20 two seat Super Hornets pre-wired to become Growler aircraft. These could be use to replace of of the very tired CF-18's till the fighter of choice becomes available in greater numbers. Really the two choices is either the Gripen or Rafale. The EF-2000 is the best fighter/interceptor but costs to much(also heard it doesn't like cold weather that much). And the performance isn't that much better than the Gripen or Rafale. The Rafale is the best all-rounder able to do everything very well, while the Gripen is the light-weight cheaper plane that punches well above its weight class.

    1. The Rafale is a fine plane, but as I mentioned before, its reliance on French made weapons really hurt its usefulness with the RCAF. Canada could choose to modify the Rafale to use standard NATO weapons like the AMRAAM and Sidewinder (likely at an extra cost and delay) or purchase a stockpile of French MICA missiles that would cost more and be incompatible with legacy CF-18s or the rest of the fleet.

      In the more likely scenario of converting Rafales to NATO spec, Canada may be run into troubles later on a newer weapons become available and have to be adapted and tested to a Canadian spec Rafale, at Canada's expense, naturally.

      Again, the Gripen, like the Typhoon, is built with both U.S. spec (like the AMRAAM) and Euro-spec (like the IRIS-T and Meteor) in mind.

    2. Hmm.. well, as far as I'm aware, the Rafale isn't much cheaper than the Typhoon to be honest..? When you throw all costs into the mix (including operations costs) you end up somewhere at; what do you want you enemy to face?:

      1 Typhoon
      1 Rafale
      2-3 Gripen

      Or from the opposite perspective perhaps, if you were the attacker, which alternatives of these would you like to exclude first?..

      If you say Typhoon or Rafale, I'd say you're suicidal..

  4. Here's the Thing, look at Canada's Location and distance between two ends of Canada. Also, look at Canada's Experience with Single Engine fighters such as the CF-104.

    For Canada's best alternative for the F-35, is to go with the F/A-18 E/F, Eurofighter and Rafale. Though if the Super hornet is not an option, The Eurofighter would be the second choice, because the Weapons are compatible with the US vs the Rafale because their weapons are French based.

    With the Gripen NG and Gripen E/F, I would be okay, if Distance wasn't an issue. But because of Canada's location and distance, the Gripen would a tough sell and something to argue with.

    1. Using the F-104 is a example is a bad choice. Every other air-force flying the 104 lost about half their fleet as well. It was because the f-104 was a rocket with little wings. Without power that thing flew about as good as a rock.

      Its engine was also 1950's technology. Engines of today are much more reliable. The Swedes have been flying the Gripen for about 10 years IIRC and haven't lost a plane due to engine failure.

      Most of the early bush planes that open up Canada were all single engine planes. Canada also flew the F-86 and didn't have to much trouble with loss of aircraft with that plane.

      Now there is some extra security in having two engines if one fails. But there are also extra costs with having two engines.

    2. The Problem with Canada is it's geographic location. On top of that a twin engine would be better than a single engine. Which is why I think the gripen is out and the Super hornet and Eurofighter may be Canada's best choice.

    3. Err..? what's the distance issue with Gripen E/F?.. By the looks of things it may well outrange all of it's competitors, bar F-15 perhaps..
      & regarding engines, no Gripen has been lost to engine failure yet. That's more than can be said for the Typhoon for exemple.
      If you are concerned with factors related to Canada's geographical location, how about the fact that the Gripen is the only one of these aircraft fully optimized for operation in Canadais climate..? Sure, it's just a side effect of it being designed to be used in Sweden, but still.. it's not all coincidence that both Canada & Sweden are good at winter sports like icehockey.. ;)

    4. "regarding engines, no Gripen has been lost to engine failure yet. That's more than can be said for the Typhoon for exemple."

      Hmm, let me slightly correct that. The plane that crashed was a pre-production model of the typhoon, which was being tested for development. None of the hundreds of production typhoons delivered to 6 different air forces has ever crashed due to an engine failure.

      What is the Gripen's record?

      "As of July 2011, the Gripen has been involved in eight incidents, including five hull-loss accidents, resulting in minor injuries.[177] The first two accidents occurred in 1989 and 1993; these were related to flight control software issues.[178] One aircraft was destroyed in a ground accident during engine testing."

      However, the danger of merely having a single engine becomes apparent from this incident with the Gripen:

      "On 17 November 2004, a Swedish Air Force Gripen had a birdstrike in the airspace south of Gotland. A seagull was sucked into the right air intake, and the pilot decided to make an emergency landing at Visby Airport."

      This incident had a happy ending. But, Jet engine ingestion is extremely serious due to the rotation speed of the engine fan and engine design. As the bird strikes a fan blade, that blade can be displaced into another blade and so forth, causing a cascading failure.

      Overall, the Gripen has been very reliable. Nevertheless, there are obvious advantages of having a two jet engines. But, you must be willing to pay for two jet engines instead of one engine. So the advantage comes at a price.

    5. From the DND's perspective, it would be a foolish argument to dismiss the Gripen due to it being a single engine aircraft since the F-35 is also a single engine aircraft and has been the top (though wrong) choice for a long time. We live in 2013, not 1950. Jet engine technology has come a LONG since the Starfighter days. I don't think that the single/twin engine debate is nearly as relevant as it used to be and it would be foolhardy to make itthe make or break factor for the Gripen.

    6. So if Canada wants Gripen E/F or NG, I hope Canada can afford to get Tankers such as Airbus A330 MRTT, Boeing KC-767, Boeing KC-46 or have the ability to convert CC-130's to Tanker/Transport.

      I think a Gripen is perfect for small to Medium Air forces where Distance is not a major issue and that they have Air refuelers on hand. Countries such as Switzerland, Sweden and Thailand are perfect for the Gripen.

      For Canada, my bet would be the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet or the Eurofighter. The Gripen, Unless Canada has Air refuleing Aircraft on hand, then I would be for it. As of now, NO way.

    7. The gripens range is comparable to all the other aircraft available. From must data I have seen it alone has slightly less range than the rest and that's the c/d version. The e/f is getting 40 percent more eternal fuel. The gripens is also much more aerodynamically cleaner than the super hornet. It just uses less fuel.

      Just because it is a smaller plane don't discount it's abilities. In terms of fighters smaller is better., they are more nimble and harder to see. They also tend to need less engine for the same performance as much bigger fighters. Larger planes make better bombers. Canada priority should be fighter first, and attack aircraft second.

      As for bird strikes they happen but sometimes have multiple engines doesn't even help than. Remember the airliner that crash landed in the Hudson river. I always wonder why they don't have some kind of foreign object detection in the intakes? Couple it with a high speed shutter and you could save an engine or aircraft. The engine in most fighters are far enough back to have time to make this work. Since the gripens has two intakes it should be able to limp home with one intake blocked.

    8. "I don't think that the single/twin engine debate is nearly as relevant as it used to be and it would be foolhardy to make itthe make or break factor for the Gripen." I agree that it shouldn't be a "make or break factor". Nonetheless the single/twin engine factor shouldn't be discounted altogether. It does matter in particular in a vast setting like the Canadian airspace.

    9. Nicky, there would be no need to procure those tanker aircraft you mention, as the Gripen is compatible with Canada's current Polaris tanker aircraft, as well as the CC-130s. Something that can't be said about the F-35.

      As far as single vs twin-engine, I do think a twin-engine would be preferable, but certainly not a "make-or-break" issue and certainly not strictly for safety reasons. Twin engines cost more to procure and maintain, no doubt about it. Twin engines usually allow for increased payload and perceived safety. Whether the benefits of twin engines outweigh the additional costs is the question. I don't believe so, as Canada doesn't really need "bomb trucks" and the safety benefits seem dubious with current engine technology.

    10. I simply think that a twin engine is much safer than a single engine. If distance was not an issue, than a Gripen would be ok for Canada. It's why I think the Eurofighter or the Super Hornet would be a perfect fit for Canada.

    11. Range problem?
      Boeing F/A-18E/F/G Super Hornet
      Range: 1,275 nmi (2,346 km) clean plus two AIM-9s[13]
      Combat radius: 390 nmi (449 mi, 722 km) for interdiction mission[114]
      Ferry range: 1,800 nmi (2,070 mi, 3,330 km)
      Service ceiling: 50,000+ ft (15,000+ m)

      Saab Gripen JAS 39E
      Ferry range: 4000+km
      Combat radius: 1,300km

    12. Again, The Gripen is not a good choice for Canada because of the geographical distance. I can understand the need for a Gripen for smaller to medium Air forces who don't have Tankers. Where as Canada has Tankers available and can call on the USA for Tanker support.

      Now with the Gripen, I'm more concern about the Single engine in a place as big as Canada. I think the Super Hornet and the Eurofighter would duke it out as Canada's next fighter.

      IMHO, I think Canada should go with the Super Hornet because of their experience in the Hornet. Transition to the Super hornet would be easier and current Canadian Hornet pilots would not have any problems with the Super Hornet. The back up choice, would be the Eurofighter and the last resort would be the Gripen.

  5. The US is preparing to bail out. That's a good sign. Everyone should roast this turkey and then get a decent aircraft. The US has the choice of several affordable old school fighters, F-15, F-16 and F-18. Canada can choose to get a better fighter, like the Gripen, Rafale or Typhoon.

    I think a critical evaluation of the so called "stealth" capability should take place. The stealth design of the F-35 is going to be obsolete before the first plane is delivered to Canada. Passive radar can detect stealth aircraft:

    1. I addressed that same concern in my article on Defence Watch (

      Given the F-117 incident in Serbia and the Eurofighter and Growler both scoring kills against the F-22, stealth as we know it is bunk.