Friday, 1 March 2013

Boeing starts its push, the F-35 continues its slow slide.

Coming to a RCAF base near you?
Well, we all knew it was going to happen sooner or later...  The first shot has now been fired in the battle over Canada's next fighter jet.  Boeing has started its marketing push for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Smelling blood in the water, Boeing is using terms like "paper airplane" and a "shiny brochure of promises" to describe the F-35.  Hot off of scoring a likely conquest sale in Australia, Boeing is naturally marketing the Super Hornet as the cheaper, more sensible alternative to the F-35.  The "Rhino" (the Super Hornet's unofficial nickname), has a proven combat history, sturdy landing gear capable of landing on rougher runways, two engines (for those that believe single-engine jets are deathtraps), and the promise of easy transition from Canada's current CF-18 fleet.

Sounds great, doesn't it?  Well...  I'm not convinced.

First of all, why isn't Boeing letting us "kick the tires" of its F-15SE "Silent Eagle" currently being marketed to South Korea?  The faster, longer ranged F-15SE would be a much better choice for interception duties, and its internal weapon storage make it a stealthier option.  There are those who think that the F-15 was the preferred choice for Canada during the NFA process that led to the F-18s selection.  One of the reasons why the two-engine requirement was put in place was to steer selection to the F-15 over the cheaper F-16.

Of course, the Silent Eagle has yet to see any firm orders, and the F-15 is notoriously expensive to fly.  It still would have been nice to have have the Silent Eagle offered however.

Second:  As I have posted elsewhere on this blog, the Super Hornet isn't a bad fighter...  But it's not particularly good either.  It's still basically a 40-year-old design that was built primarily to fill the carrier based bomb truck role.  Don't get me wrong, it's a great carrier based bomb truck...  But Canada doesn't use aircraft carriers and I don't think most of us would approve of bombing foreign lands into oblivion. As an air-superiority fighter, the Rhino is too slow and its high-speed performance is seriously lacking compared to the Flanker family.

Lastly, although the Super Hornet compares well to the F-35, the Lightning II doesn't exactly set the bar particularly high.  I find it quite interesting that Boeing's Super Hornet sales push seems to ignore the Gripen, Typhoon, and Rafale.  That silence speaks volumes.  Considering how much they are willing to trash-talk the F-35, I'm sure Boeing wouldn't have any problem doing the same to those "European models" if the Super Hornet was remotely better than any of them.

Unfortunately, the European jets have an uphill battle in the fight for Canada's next fighter jet.  Lockheed is the world's largest defence contractor, and has the full support of the Pentagon behind it.  The F-35 easily outguns the other fighter when it comes to lobbying and political influence.  Boeing is a close second, lacking the Pentagon's full support.  Meanwhile, Eurofighter has its ever growing "partner nation" political influence behind it, while Dassault and Saab must go it alone.  Considering Sweden isn't even a member of NATO, it faces a serious handicap.  But then again, Canadians enjoy rooting for the underdog.

U.S. Budget cuts incoming!

In other news, sequestration happened.  Short-term, this won't have much effect, rather than the F-35 being cancelled outright, Lockheed Martin managed to secure more funding for the F-35 project just before the deadline.  Over the long-term however, expect to see more delays as the F-35 is slowly starved of its funding in order to cover the mandated "across-the-board" defence spending cuts.

The F-35 will live, but it will be on life-support well into the future.  Perhaps "undead zombie" would be a better term, slowly shambling on, devouring anything living it comes across.

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