January 3, 2012

A bad idea: Supersonic flight

The Pentagon is supposed to cut its budget mildly as part of last summer's debt reduction agreement, and a lot of attention is finally being paid to the current plans to spend a trillion dollars or so on the new Lockheed-Martin J-35 supersonic stealth fighter / low altitude ground attack aircraft / dessert topping / floor wax. (Scott Locklin has a dyspeptic review of the Pentagon's goal of having the J-35 replace the slow-flying, ugly, but effective A-10 Warthog in Taki's Magazine.)

The J-35 sounds a lot like the F-105 Thunderchief, a big, heavy one-engined supersonic fighter-bomber which started out in the 1950s with the mission of penetrating Soviet airspace carrying a nuclear bomber, but in Vietnam was shifted over to ground attack. It was not very successful at it and acquired the nickname "Thud," perhaps because it kept crashing. 

In retrospect, most supersonic jets designed in the 1950s were kind of nuts. The whole idea of supersonic flight has turned out to be, at best, a luxury. We have this cliche of the 1950s as a carefree, innocent time, but to grown men who held positions of responsibility then, the 1950s were terrifying. Pearl Harbor and the blitzkriegs had shown the feasibility of the Sneak Attack, which was then multiplied in terror by the advent of the atomic bomb. Hence, the pursuit of jet designs that pushed the envelope of performance with the crude technology of the time to levels that seem crazy today.

My dad worked for years trying to keep the Mach 2 Lockheed F-104 Starfighter from crashing so often. As a little kid, I can remember begging my dad to come play with me but he couldn't because he had the kitchen table covered with papers describing the latest fatal failure of a West German pilot to successfully handle this "missile with a man in it."  

Wikipedia disagrees, but my dad's recollection is that the Starfighter was originally designed for more or less Kamikaze interceptions of Soviet nuclear bombers. This jet with one huge engine and stubby wings only 7-feet long was intended to get from the ground to the stratosphere and shoot down Soviet bombers over the Arctic before they took out Seattle or Chicago. If the pilot then managed to turn it around and land it safely, well, that was a definite bonus, but not completely essential to a successful mission. 

Thus, the F-104 could climb like a bat out of hell. Everything else, like turning, not stalling, being able to safely eject, not flaming out, was secondary. It was a handful to fly: the closing minutes of the movie The Right Stuff show an F-104 damn near killing the most famous pilot of all time, Chuck Yeager.

The Air Force flew the F-104 for a little while, then decided that a kamikaze interceptor wasn't exactly what they had in mind and handed it to the Air National Guard to deal with. The Starfighter would be a good thing to have if the Soviets attacked America, but in the mean time, well, it was a bit much.

Somewhere along the line, Lockheed decided to sell it to NATO ally air forces as a ground-support fighter-bomber. The West German defense minister Franz-Josef Strauss supposedly pocketed $10,000,000 in the Deal of the Century. Not surprisingly, the West German air force, which had been out of business from 1945-55, wasn't better at not crashing Starfighters than Chuck Yeager. Nor did flying it at low altitude over hilly West German country in cloudy weather prove ideal, not crashing-wise. My dad, a low-level engineer, spent a lot of hours trying to get fixes to work that would take turn this Mach 2 interceptor intended for Dr. Strangelove scenarios into an all-purpose aircraft.

Last summer, my father told me that he once was speaking to an Italian air force general whose unit had scores of F-104s. My father asked the Italian what their secret was. The West Germans were always complaining about how lethal the F-104 was to their pilots, but the Italians never did. 

"Oh, our pilots die too," the Italian general replied. "We just don't complain about it."

67 comments:

anony-mouse said...

'... the most famous pilot of all time, Chuck Yeager'.

Oh, I think I can name a 'couple' of more famous ones.

Isn't this an HBD site? That mentions Asbergy types a lot?

Polichinello said...

To be fair, Yeager's F-104 was not a standard issue, and his accident didn't happen in standard conditions. It was a specially designed bird that was supposed to manuever in near-outer space, and his accident occurred at 104,000 feet because he had a bad angle.

Germany is also a notoriously difficult place to fly in. We had a number of F-16s go down there IIRC.

Anonymous said...

Given the increase in the military budget, shouldn't the Pentagon have become an octagon by now? It's certainly controlled by the octopus.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you might want to check out Robert Coram's book "Boyd" which is about the legendary Air Force Colonel John Boyd. Boyd pretty much became the first pilot who understood the physics of combat aircraft, and used this to deconstruct bad fighters like the F-105 and the F-4 and the ridiculous F-111. He constantly fought the Pentagon bureaucracy and managed to create 3 outstanding aircraft that helped win the Cold War: the F-16, F-15, and A-10. BTW, I was the guy who posted about the F-35 being the new F-4. The F-35 is not only inferior to the F-22 as a fighter, but would be a joke as a ground support aircraft compared to the A-10. Thanks for linking to the article about it, though.

Alat said...

We need a guest post from Sailer Sr!

Lugash said...

I am Lugash.

Due to high speeds, the F-104 was a bitch to land as well. They ended up retrofitting blown flaps to help correct the issue.

I am Lugash.

Anonymous said...

The joke in West Germany went something like "How do you get a (f-104) starfighter? Buy a field and wait a few weeks."

dearieme said...

"the most famous pilot of all time..." is surely Lindbergh - who, rather like Edison, is famous principally for something he didn't do.

bgc said...

The US should have eaten humble pie and ordered a load of English Electric Lightnings from the UK - a plane which climbed just as fast as a Starfighter but the British pilots loved them (I believe).

The pilots particularly loved near vertical climbing at 50,000 feet per minute with the afterburners on - a very considerable thrill, apparently...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CDLbokf9sg

Anonymous said...

then decided that it wasn't exactly what they had in time

Do you mean "in mind"?

TGGP said...

Reminds me of the movie Pentagon Wars.

jody said...

F22 cruises at above the speed of sound. they call it supercruise or something like that.

steve i'm not sure if you are up on every nuance of military history, but 1950 was the era of the superbomber. what the engineers in the US and USSR were doing at the time made a lot of sense.

war was going to be determined by the biggest, fastest bombers that could climb higher than any AA gun could fire or any jet fighter could climb, cruise over the US or the USSR, and drop atomic bombs from a safe elevation.

in 1950 there were no missiles that could track and hit bombers flying that high, and no fusion devices from higher yield megaton bombs (hydrogen bombs), so you needed a payload of a couple fission devices for the lower yield kiloton bombs (atomic bombs).

the US was fielding the B-36 for most of this time period, then the B-52. the USSR fielded the Tu-95. so it made sense to try to develop better fighters that could maybe intercept these intercontinental bombers.

the superbomber era ended in 1960 when the USSR shot down a US U-2 with a guided missile. a famous incident, in which the US was caught red handed lying about spying. gary powers, dwight eisenhower, good times.

jody said...

"Steve, you might want to check out Robert Coram's book "Boyd" which is about the legendary Air Force Colonel John Boyd."

i read this. decent book. not enough details though, i thought.

Nadaav said...

Ah, so your dad was an engineer for Lockheed...that kind of explains why in your youth you got to play with the kids of the head designer on the SR-71. The dots are connecting...

Anonymous said...

Look for them to start telling us that the F-35 is more "green" than the F-22.

More "diverse".

More "in touch with its feminine side".

More "caring".

More "change we can believe in".

More "Ah feel yo' pain".

Lugash said...

I am Lugash.

Look for them to start telling us that the F-35 is more "green" than the F-22.

It's going to close the achievement gap!

I am Lugash.

Steve Sailer said...

"but 1950 was the era of the superbomber"

Right. We have this cliche of the 1950s as a carefree, innocent time, but to grown men who held positions of responsibility, the 1950s were terrifying.

Anonymous said...

Right. We have this cliche of the 1950s as a carefree, innocent time, but to grown men who held positions of responsibility, the 1950s were terrifying.

Also, weren't UFOs and alien fears pretty big around then?

Anonymous said...

Surely you meant Chuck Yeager - most famous test pilot of all time. Most famous in the US anyway.

I have a vivid childhood memory of standing at the end of the runway at RAF Lakenheath in England, a still a US airbase today and watching German F-104s taking off, incredible, the sound was amazing too, like the sky being ripped in half.

Anonymous said...

The F-111 was never intended as a fighter though. The 'F' designation was political machinations at work.

In a similar vein, the F-117 Stealth Fighter wasnt really a fighter either.

Anonymous said...

In 1982 the Argentine airforce used this, the Pucara, against the British in the Falklands. OK, not greatly succesful as the British had Harrier jets.

FFW to the present day and operations in Afghanistan are being carried out using fast jets.

But the Taliban dont have an airforce.

For the price of a single fast jet hundreds of Pucara style aircraft could be bought. Cheaper to maintain, cheaper to train crew etc

Lemmy said...

re "How do you get a Starfighter? Buy a field and wait a few weeks."

That line is spoken in the rock concept album Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters, performed by a group made up mostly of Hawkwind members, including Lemmy Kilmister, in the mid-70s. It has lots of dialogue bits between songs that sound like Monty Python sketches. My favorite part is when the American plane salesman gives his pitch to the German commander (who sounds like Colonel Klink) in a very "American" accent that could only be spoken by a Brit "doing" an American accent.

The music is basically good hard rock for Hawkwind fans.

Anonymous said...

For sophisticated laughs, check out the MST3K take (available streaming on Netflix) of the 1964 flying "epic" The Starfighters, starring the future Congressman (and then-young pilot) Bob Dornan.

The film is laughably short on plot, but is essentially a Lockheed infomercial selling the notion of the F-104 as an all-around fighter-bomber. Even non-professionals like Mike and the Bots can see the ridiculousness of the scheme, and spot the aircraft's many shortcomings (like having to aerially refuel about 30 seconds after take-off).

BB said...

Manned (fighter?)flights will disappear in ten years time anyway. Replaced by drones.

Anonymous said...

It's going to close the achievement gap!


LOL'ed.

Shame it's only January 4th, 'cause that one's a strong candidate for POTY [Post of the Year].

SGOTI said...

"Look for them to start telling us that the F-35 is more 'green' than the F-22.

More 'diverse'."


It certainly is both of those.

a) Costs ungodly amounts of green for an underwhelming aircraft vitally important to so many nations and branches of the US military.

b) Is so diverse in its supply chain, manufacturers, operational requirements, etc. that it does nothing well, is a dogs breakfast of vendors/users, and but adds enormous complexity to every organization saddled with it.

DanJ said...

Many thanks for this post. Jet aircraft and Cold War politics make me all warm and fuzzy inside.

"We have this cliche of the 1950s as a carefree, innocent time, but to grown men who held positions of responsibility, the 1950s were terrifying."

Indeed, and precisely because there were grown men in positions of responsibility, regular people were able to live in comfort and peace.

In the early years of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was run by Stalin, by all accounts a madman. He had at his fingertips an enormous, battle-hardened military force with global reach. The Soviet navy and air force were able to deliver a nuclear warhead anywhere, anytime.

Today, the enemy is a loose coalition of unhinged bearded men. At the apex of their power they had the capability to hijack civilian aircraft or detonate roadside explosives.

Yet today is supposedly a time of danger, and US presidents claim the authority to seize, detain, torture or assassinate anyone, anywhere, indefinitely. Go figure.

Steiner said...

Some supersonic combat designs from the 50s were superb, like the F-106 Delta Dart, which the allies should have deployed instead of the Starfighter. There was nothing wrong the F-105 either, it took heavy losses because it was a single-engine ship pressed into a conventional strike mission against the heaviest AA defences in history, including Soviet SAMs. American airmen flew these missions with incredible courage and dedication.

The whole Boyd/"dogfighting never went away"/F-16 story is guff. The F-4 was deployed as an air superiority and missile fighter over Vietnam, and the initial poor results were reversed once Navy and (especially) USAF combat tactics were revised. By the late 60s, the MiG threat was decisively concluded. Note that by the time of the Linebacker II raids in December 1972, the NVAF played no role against the heaviest strikes of the war.

The story of how the F-104 was foisted upon most of the major allies of the West is just about the most miserable chapter in the history of the Cold War alliance. Coolbert thrashed it out pretty thoroughly in his "Military Analyis" blog here: http://militaryanalysis.blogspot.com/2011/10/starfighter-i.html

and here: http://militaryanalysis.blogspot.com/2011/10/starfighter-ii.html

One can only imagine the glee with which the Soviet leadership observed this spectacle. No wonder Krushchev felt confident enough in 1960 to boast that they would "bury" the West.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they did not have the number of ground crew with explosive handling licenses and that is hwy they did not go with the Lightning.

Anonymous said...

Look for them to start telling us that the F-35 is more "green" than the F-22.

More "diverse".


Has not the place where some parts are made a workforce like the one in Detroit where the workers were filmed smoking weed during lunch break.

Anonymous said...

"steve i'm not sure if you are up on every nuance of military history, but 1950 was the era of the superbomber. what the engineers in the US and USSR were doing at the time made a lot of sense."

On Sailer's behalf, I thank you. Until this comment, I'm sure he assumed that his dad and everyone he worked with was a moron.

--Discordiax

Anonymous said...

The US should have eaten humble pie and ordered a load of English Electric Lightnings from the UK - a plane which climbed just as fast as a Starfighter but the British pilots loved them (I believe).


The Brit's used the Lightening as (very short-range) interceptors, which is what they were designed for. The F-104 was designed as a interceptor also, and then used as a low-level fighter-bomber with spectacularly bad results. If the US and its allies had stuck to using the Starfighter for the purpose it had been designed for, I have no doubt they would have loved it too.

John Mansfield said...

Many would enjoy the account at www.nf104.com by Lt. Col Bob Smith. NF-104A was a Starfighter with a rocket engine added and thrusters for manuevering in space. This is what Yeager crashed. Stealing the mission and messing it up didn't sit well with Smith.

Anonymous said...

I can remember a two page magazine spread of postage-stamp-sized photos of German pilots killed flying the F-104. I believe it was in the German magazine Stern. the Germans were not amused at the clever trick we played on them.

The 1950s were inded an interesting time. at the time my native Boston was surronded by Nike missile sites. I got in hot water suggesting that given the available guidance systems and the Nike's limited payload, conventional explosives were not likely to take out any Russian bombers and that the Nike was probably designed to carry a more non-conventional warhead package.

Svigor said...

Right. We have this cliche of the 1950s as a carefree, innocent time, but to grown men who held positions of responsibility, the 1950s were terrifying.

Don't worry, Kubrick gave us the definitive, sympathetic look at them.

Dan Kurt said...

re: " the blitzkriegs had shown the feasibility of the Sneak Attack"

Blitzkrieg does not depend on A SNEAK ATTACK.

Blitzkrieg warfare employes the concepts of SURFACES and GAPS. Attack through the gaps and avoid the surfaces ( defenses ) and isolate the defenders as the attacking forces bipass the defenses and attack behind the defenders who will be mopped up later as they will be surrounded and bereft of re-supply or support. Blitzkrieg warfare presupposes mobility and brisk tempo of operations. Great latitude is given to the personal initiative of front line officers and soldiers to exploit opportunities as they develop.

Dan Kurt

Anonymous said...

The F-35 seems a lot like the F-111 in many respects. "Let's hold costs down by building one plane which can do all sorts of very different things and fill the roles of several existing planes!"

The F-111 turned out to be indifferent to poor at the various tasks it was supposed to perform.

Anonymous said...

The fact that bureaucrats like the JSF so much is reason #1 it should have been canceled pre-emptively.

It should suprise exactly no one that an internationalist all-in-wonder is going to fail hard, and yet people will be suprised when it does.

Anonymous said...

Manned (fighter?)flights will disappear in ten years time anyway. Replaced by drones.

Right, but the point is that we aren't living in 2022 - that we are still living in only 2012.

The F-22 was supposed to have been the platform which would tide us over until that new generation of air warfare emerges.

Yet the weasels in Washington want us [to pretend] to wait until the fantasy of the F-35 is made into reality [maybe in 2015?], at which time:

1) The F-35 platform will be largely obsolete [as you have indicated], and

2) The F-35 platform will still be VASTLY INFERIOR to the F-22 platform which had gone live all the way back in 2005.

Paul Rain said...

The F-111 wasn't all bad- they didn't do such a bad job on the Libya raid- but they weren't well fitted to the rest of the US's capabilities. Australia, on the other hand, is only just now getting rid of them. Whether the not-quite pie in the sky F-35's supplemented by tankers which are only just coming into service are a true replacement for the capabilities of the 1960s beasts is a matter of debate.

Eric said...

For the price of a single fast jet hundreds of Pucara style aircraft could be bought. Cheaper to maintain, cheaper to train crew etc

The US inked a deal for 200 Embraer Super Tucano in 2010. But they're really only useful for COIN. We'll always need something fast that can get in, drop bombs, and get out before the enemy can react.

Doug1 said...

The F-22 should be scrapped, but the cheaper (though still expensive F-35 kept in development). Gates didn’t like it and cut back the program as much as he could. The latest imposed austerity on the pentagon should kill it. The F-35 has both aircraft carrier and land based slightly different versions, and Britain has orders for it. The F-22 is hideously expensive to maintain, mostly because it’s stealth skin keeps rapidly peeling off, needing costly replacement.

Anonymous said...

Back in the sixties it was believed that by the year 2000 civilian aircraft would all be zipping around the world at Mach 3 or 4. It took a while to discover that supersonic flight is also a bad idea (that is, an uneconomical idea) for civil aviation. Concorde ended up being an interesting footnote in history and not the wave of the future.

Maguro said...

The F-22 was supposed to have been the platform which would tide us over until that new generation of air warfare emerges.

Yet the weasels in Washington want us [to pretend] to wait until the fantasy of the F-35 is made into reality [maybe in 2015?]


In fairness to all the other weasels in Washington, the decision to close the F-22 assembly line and put all our eggs in the F-35 basket was made by one particular weasel: Robert Gates.

Because the F-35 was supposedly going to be cheaper - he'd seen that on some Powerpoint chart and apparently believed it. More's the pity, he killed precisely the wrong program.

Anonymous said...

Steiner, The F-4 Phantom was a dog, just because they improved it's relative performance near the end of the Vietnam War doesn't mean it became a great fighter. Boyd did an analysis of the Phantom and found that it was deficient in a great many areas, just not nearly as many as the F-105 or the F-111 were. The F-111 was completely useless in air to air combat, whereas the F-4 could win in certain situations, but in most the MiG-21 was a better fighter. If the USAF and USN started winning dogfights later, it was because they played to the fighter's strengths and not it's numerous weaknesses and where up against less experienced North Vietnamese pilots.

Remember that during the Korean War, despite the rough equivalence between the F-86 and MiG-15 in dogfighting, the American pilots had a 10-1 kill ratio. In Vietnam, the ratio never got close to that, because the MiG-21 was better at air combat and needed inferior pilots to lose. Additionally the Israeli Air Force used French fighters like the Mirages and Mystere when they won the Six Day War, and when they nearly lost the Yom Kippur War six years, most of their aircraft losses were F-4 Phantoms and the A-4 Skyhawks ( Another US Navy design, btw ) whereas the French made fighters did much better against Soviet AA defenses. The next time Israel went up against a major Arab country in the Lebanon War in 1982, The F-16 and F-15 ran circles around the Syrian MiG's and didn't lose a single fighter in air to air combat. That loss was so complete and unexpected that according to some high ranking Soviet military leaders it lead to a feeling amongst the Soviet leadership that they had been lapped technologically by the US and that lead to many to support a young technocratic leader named Gorbachev. Learn some history.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the notion that manned fighters will disappear in the next few decades.

They've worked well against people who don't really have the capability to shoot down aircraft, and where we have an overwhelming economic advantage. However, as the recent incident with Iran 'capturing' a drone suggests, they have pretty substantial flaws when faced with an opponent who can claim anything close to technical parity.

Against a near-peer opponent, 'man-in-the-aircraft' becomes much, much more critical.

Anon87 said...

Sure, this could actually be technical difficulties, but boy does the timing lend itself to speculation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Br5I3UcB5-A

Support our troops......unless they don't want more war.

Anonymous said...

Another comment, this one aimed more at the article on the F-35.

The USAF has been trying to kill the A-10 for a while now, mostly because it's slow.

Slow is fine when you're in a low intensity conflict, or your aircraft are based twenty miles from the area of operations. It gets pilots, aircraft, and ground troops killed when you're covering a multi-hundred mile front line, or against an opponent who posses significant anti-air capability.

Faster planes like the F-16 or, hypothetically, the F-35 can get in and get out before the enemy has time to react, and can get high enough to make any infantry-carried or light-vehicle weapons useless. They can also carry enough air-to-air weapons (in addition to ground stores) to operate in relative security behind enemy lines.

The A-10 relies entirely on being able to survive enough hits to limp back to base. Fine if you're busting tanks a hundred yards in front of friendly ground troops - Less so when you're striking enemy logistics operations two hundred miles away from the fighting.

There's also the fundamental limitation of capabilities that comes with a single-seat ground attack aircraft. The pilot quickly becomes to preoccupied flying the aircraft and working the weapons to pay attention to what's happening on the ground, and that's resulted in more than a few friendly-fire incidents. Troops may prefer an A-10 to an F-16 or a helicopter, but they prefer a B-1 or Strike Eagle to an A-10.

The F-35A (Air force) mounts it's cannon internally. The F-35B (Marine) and -35C (Navy) both have it as an external gun pod. Using the cannon as a ground-attack weapon is a little dicey - The 30mm on the A-10 is no longer as effective against tanks and other armored vehicles as it was when it was introduced. It also requires the aircraft to attack from low-altitude, which is where the aircraft is the most vulnerable. Operations in Bosnia restricted pilots to altitudes above 20,000 feet to reduce the danger of man-portable heat-seeking missiles. At that altitude, it's pretty much bombs and guided rockets only.

Darfur Miller said...

Simply put, Steve, this is one of the rare posts where your lack of either any actual flying experience or even a detailed review of the literature has caused you to get it not only not right, but "not even wrong", as Don Lancaster likes to say.

The Thud WAS devastatingly successful as a low level penetrator, when its crews were allowed to deploy it to fuull effect. Jack Brougham's two books are pretty informative on this.

The 104 was never intended for low level fighter bomber work, and was a pessimal choice, YET once the air forces involved learned some very expensive lessons, it came to be much more successful than one would have thought possible. The simplest fix-give it a bigger wing-was never implemented, but its very high wing loading DID give it an advantage in the turbulent air over Europe if it was flown with sufficient technique.

The F-106 was the real Cinderella of the Century Series, a MUCH more capable aircraft than it was generally credited as, and the best of the bunch to fly.

Anonymous said...

The Israeli aircraft losses in the Kom Kippur war had a lot more to do with the air defenses they were up against than the inherent capabilities of the aircraft. The box score in air-to-air combat against the Arabs was 334 to 5. Israeli losses were almost entirely due to SA-6 and AAA fire against aircraft doing close air support, particularly fighter-bombers like the A4 and F4.

The real revolution between 1973 and 1982 was in electronic warfare and the suppression of enemy air defenses.

For something like Afghanistan old OV-10 Broncos would be better than the F-35. They'd have longer loiter time and operate from more austere airfields, and still drop JDAMS just fine.

Anonymous said...

Remember that during the Korean War, despite the rough equivalence between the F-86 and MiG-15 in dogfighting, the American pilots had a 10-1 kill ratio.

But perhaps we should remember that there were a lot of very experienced WW2 fighter pilots flying F-86s in Korea.

Anonymous said...

Manned (fighter?)flights will disappear in ten years time anyway. Replaced by drones.

The British government thought so too - 1957!

Well, they thought missiles rather than drones. A descision that, at a stroke, destroyed a whole sector of the British aircraft industry and one it never fully recovered from. Given that most major combat aircraft programs were then cancelled. The Lightning, already mentioned in this thread, being well advanced by this stage and thus not cancelled.

Paul Rain said...

"Troops may prefer an A-10 to an F-16 or a helicopter, but they prefer a B-1 or Strike Eagle to an A-10."

True, and it's certainly sensible to have plenty of B-1's and Strike Eagle's around if the US intends to engage in a full on conventional war the next time Russia invades a country. In the meantime, it still takes a lot less time and money for a A-10 (if you're facing enemies with manportable SAMs or old Soviet antiair cannons) or a whole squadron of loud heavily armed turboprop cropdusters to travel across a country, than it does for a B-1 to come from another continent.

DanJ said...

Seems the Norwegians had a better run with the F-104 than the Germans did, at least according to these enthusiasts:

http://www.starfighter.no/

Of course, the Norwegian planes were mostly used for recon flights intercepting Soviet aircraft along the coastline and over the Arctic, for which they were well suited.

Anonymous said...

1. There are 2 types of tactical air to ground operations.... 1. cas which is attackinf enemy troop concentrations like tanks and infantry and 2. interdiction which is the general bombing of C4isr asset- command, control, supply, intelligence, communications, roads, bridges, serbian tv and radio stations, chinese embassies...lol. Jsf is optimized ofr interdiction, it's pretty inefficient and worse in all other areas when compared to the planes that are coming online with other nations esp russian and chinese.

2. Which leads us to foreign developments, the russians have developed sukhoi t-50 and is in pre production testing stage, the same thing with the chinese ( who have taken amazing leaps in indigenous Fighter peoduction ) who have multiple stealth programs with j-20 being the only one known to the world. These planes are definitely better at air to air combat and at first sight is better in stealth features when compared to f-35. Which means in the future USAF or allies ( who are screwed becasue f-35 is the best they will have ) can't operate against t-50,j-20 other semi stealth fighters without f-22s else f-35 will be toast. Now tehre aren't that many f-22s anyway. Add to that the russians have been working with multiple sensors liek IR and radars of various wave band to counter stealth, and have made their planes the most manuveearable on earth. Even datalinking degrades stealth advantage to some extent. IOW any small advance in anti/counter stealth tech will have disproportionate effect on USAF.

3. f-35 itslef becomes completely useless against capable opposition. Yet at teh same time it's going to cost at least a 1/3rd of an f-22, and is supposed to be the backbone of usaf. It was supposed to be a cheap $50-70 mil plane, now it is shaping to be more expensive than european semi stealth 4.5 generation planes. This is a disaster of epic propertions really, the amount of money ( $.5-1 tril ) that will fund a lemon, the indiffernece of the general populace and lack of interest or knowledge about this, the corruption of lobbies and special interests, the deteroriating performance of government entities to such a an extreme degree. This is f-111*100 times the failure, worse still f-35 is the only option, it's the only thing they have.

Justthisguy said...

My favorite German Starfighter joke:

Q. How do you define an optimist?

A. That's a Starfighter pilot who quits
smoking so he won't die of lung cancer.

Propeller Island said...

"To grown men who held positions of responsibility the 1950s were terrifying."

And the 2010s aren't?

I know the paleos will poo-poo any talk about nuclear threats, but they are just as real now as they were then.

Steve in Greensboro said...

I guess the F-104 was the Air Force equivalent of the Chevy Volt.

Eric said...

The F-35 platform will still be VASTLY INFERIOR to the F-22 platform which had gone live all the way back in 2005.

The F-35 was never intended to be as capable as the F-22 in the air superiority role. It was supposed to be almost as good for a fraction of the cost. It probably is almost as good, if for no other reason than the avionics are newer. The problem has been spiraling costs make it half as expensive as the F-22 instead of much cheaper.

Were I in charge I would have built more F-22s and cancelled the F-35. The F-15 would have been just fine for strike missions going forward.

As much as I love it, I'd retire the A-10 as well. It's too expensive to be kept around for cost reasons and technology advances mean there's no longer any need for a "low and slow" tankbuster. Besides, nobody has anything like the tank force the Russians could field during the cold war.

David Davenport said...

Why the Air Force doesn't want more F-22's:

PICTURE: Lockheed reveals concept aircraft for post-F-22 replacement

NOTA said...

propeller:

Sometime in the 60s, and from then on until the end of the USSR, the world was always a few hours from a civilization-destroying nuclear war. The threats we face now from nuclear proliferation are real, but they're also orders of magnitude less horrible (New York, Tel Aviv, or Bombay getting nuked is horrible, but not anywhere in the same league as, say, a nuclear exchange between the US and USSR in 1970. The risk is also further away--some nut may have a nuke and be planning to ship it into New York or something, but it's not like there are two contries wit hair triggers set up to ensure that, come the day, they can get all their missiles launched before the other side's missiles arrive.

Anonymous said...

Both Scott Locklin and you have not the foggiest idea what you are talking about. And I say that as somebody who is a strong critic of the F-35 (not J-35) program. By the way, if you don't even know the proper designation of the aircraft, that is a pretty good clue.

syon said...

dearieme:"the most famous pilot of all time..." is surely Lindbergh - who, rather like Edison, is famous principally for something he didn't do."

Since Lindbergh is famous for being the first man to make a solo, non-stop trans-Atlantic flight, how is he famous for doing something that he didn't do?

RE:Edison,

I always though that he was famous for inventing the phonograph and for pioneering the concept of the industrial research laboratory.

Ash said...

This is very interesting, but an editor might have suggested you change the title: you don't really establish that supersonic flight was a bad idea in this article.

You establish that the F-104 is a freaky and dangerous aircraft, but to establish that supersonic flight is bad per se you would need to refer to a host of other aircraft.

scottlocklin said...

@ Darfur Miller: did you read the same Jack Broughton books that I did? While he had an obvious emotional connection to the gizmos he flew (as do I for some weird reason); his books were a testament to what turkeys the F-105 were for the role they were expected to perform in Vietnam. I mean, half of Thud Ridge is recounting how his comrades died.

scottlocklin said...

Contra anonymous: the F-111 was indeed intended to be fighter, bomber, interceptor, and for all three air forces. Google on McNamara, TFX and "commonality." It was an unutterable failure at this. It also cost multiple times what it was supposed to cost. The parallels with the F-35 are obvious. The '111 wasn't a complete failure; it turned out to be reasonably OK as a low level radar-avoiding bomber. Pretty much no reason to use it at high speeds at all though. When they built the B-1B, which fulfilled the same role in a heavier capacity, they ended up admitting as much, and that particular ridiculous contraption tops off at an anemic mach 1.2. Might as well use a B-52 at that speed.

I wouldn't compare the F-35 so much to the F-105 as the '111. The '105 was designed for a very specific role: it was a TAC bomber, designed to fly low and strike Soviet targets in the event of WW-3; it only had to do this trick once. It was reasonably good at this; word has it it could outrun an F-15 close to the deck, with that stubby little wing. It was pretty much a manned cruise missile. Deploying it in Vietnam, with the dense AA system in place and without the time consuming maintenance schedule it required to work properly was stupid. Not that there was much alternative at the time. One way you can compare the F-105 to the F-35: they are both about the same size, and have the same shitty little wing. While the F-35 will have thrust vectoring: wings are important in airplanes, the last time I checked.

I don't know much about the '104, but I always admired the thing for its clean lines. Someone pointed out that the 50s (and 60s) were the era of the superbomber. That's very much true, and a lot of the reasons American fighter planes sucked so badly in that era, is all they were designed to do is go fast and shoot down Russian bombers. It was the era of the "bomber mafia" in air force politics. That's also why we had completely bonkers contraptions like the B-58 Hustler (which cost more than its weight in gold) and the XB-70 Valkyrie. The soviets had theirs as well. Oddly, the Soviets managed to produce decent fighters in this era. I think this is in part by leaving the interceptor role to specialized (and otherwise useless) devices like the Su-15 Flagon, Yak-28 and the Mig-25 Foxbat.

FWIIW, my introduction to the F-35 was bidding on Navy SBIR contracts in 2006 (when the blasted thing was supposed to start flying). They were soliciting bids on landing gear, paint, turbine blades, clutches and shit which would tell you when the thing was about to rattle itself to pieces. It screamed "failed program" .... even 6 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Scott - I stand corrected on the F-11's fighter origins. I assumed as it was never used as a fighter and was so obviously too big and heavy for such a role that it was never conceived as a fighter.