Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Canada and the F-35: A non-story

David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen writes a pretty decent story about our plans to buy F-35s. But he already wrote the story last September, with rather an edge to it (full text subscriber only):
Critics doubt value of high-tech jets
More spending expected despite analysts' criticism of proposed fighters
Anyway, in today's story Mr Pugliese, for some reason, only mentions Australia amongst the eleven countries involved in the F-35 program:
* Tier 1 Partners: The USA (majority commitment), Britain ($2 billion)
* Tier 2 Partners: Italy ($1 billion); The Netherlands ($800 million)
* Tier 3 Partners: Australia ($150M), Canada ($150M), Denmark ($125M), Norway ($125M), Turkey ($175M)
* Observer status: Israel ($35M), Singapore.
At least he has some information from Aviation Week and Space Technology, even if it is from last year:
Australia has tentatively budgeted $9 billion to buy 100 JSFs, but could cut that in half if costs rise, according to Australian defence officials quoted last year in Aviation Week and Space Technology, a major U.S. industry publication. Canadian Defence Department documents obtained by the Citizen estimate the cost to replace the existing fleet of CF-18 fighter aircraft will be $10.5 billion.
However, current Australian plans still are for 100 F-35s; the final decision will not be made until 2008:
Defence said by the time the Australian government decides in 2008 whether to purchase JSF, the aircraft and its systems will have been subject to more detailed technical analysis than any other defence project in Australia's history...

Australia is planning to acquire up to 100 JSF aircraft to replace ageing Hornet and F-111 fleets. The first JSF will enter Australian service around 2014-15.
And for some reason Mr Pugliese's story closes with an anti-American bleat from a noted military aviation "analyst" (and NDP adviser, something not mentioned here):
But some analysts have challenged the wisdom of purchasing the JSF. In his new book, Intent for a Nation, Michael Byers argues that not only are none of the future contracts guaranteed for Canadian industry, but it is not certain that the JSF is the best equipment for the country's needs.

"What is certain is that the Canadian taxpayer will, once again, end up supporting the U.S. defence industry," writes Mr. Byers, a University of British Columbia international law professor.
Update: After going over the story several times, I think this is the main new information:
The Canadian Forces is creating a new office in Ottawa in August to deal with its future fighter needs and plan how it will proceed with replacing the existing CF-18 jets.

Babbler's Uppderdate: Lockheed Martin commissioned a number of paintings of the F-35 Lightning II for the Paris Airshow earlier this month. Here's the Canadian concept, as depicted by artist Robert Lundquist of British Columbia:


Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

What is the supposed "problem" with the JSF? Is it only that it's expensive and American? Or are there genuine concerns with its utility?

10:55 a.m., June 27, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

So far, there's no problem with the aircraft itself, as I understand things. Of course, it's a complicated weapons-system, which means glitches could pop up just about anywhere - but that's the nature of the business with such high-tech kit these days.

I think the only legitimate question about its utility comes from the prospect of UAV development. In many ways, a fighter aircraft is built around the cockpit, and the pilot is the limiting factor in the aircraft's performance. But any time you have live weapons on board, running the show exclusively by remote makes people nervous. Besides, there are questions about relying on complex communications relays for all your fighter needs, and how tempting it would be for an enemy to ground your fleet of aircraft by taking out the comms satellites used to control them.

The long and short of it is that the technology and comfort level for UAV's isn't there yet, but who knows where it will be in ten years? If there was no planned alternative to manned aircraft, there'd be very little debate about this aircraft among those who study such things.

11:13 a.m., June 27, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

From a humanism point of view, I'm a bit troubled by the idea of using UAVs for combat stuff (the global hawk strikes by the US for example). It's just one more step back for the operator from the reality of what they are doing. I know that military personal are well aware of the fact that they are taking lives etc, but I"m just bothered by it.

The whole idea of UAVs as your main fighter response is also a problem. The whole "single point of failure" issue with the satellite is something I'd never thought of before...

11:22 a.m., June 27, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

That's why I think we'll eventually end up buying the -35's. Pilots are a known and proven quantity, and the remotes aren't yet.

I'd give even money, however, that this will be the last generation of manned frontline fighter jets.

12:21 p.m., June 27, 2007  
Blogger Chris Taylor said...

I believe LockMart has said in the past that they are interested in UAV development of the F-35, but would not fund such research themselves.

In other words unless the USAF expresses an interest in funding the R&D for such a beast, there won't be a UAV version of the Lightning II.

At the low production rate Congress has funded, LockMart will only produce 48 F-35s a year (for a total US force buy of 1,736 aircraft). It will take 36-odd years to complete that buy... by that time there will be better manned and unmanned fighters available.

12:31 p.m., June 27, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

BB, the ground systems will have to get up to par though, it's one thing to call in CAS (again, all of this with the understanding that I'm a civilian) and not have a perfect fix on your location and say "ok, we're on the north side of the mud wall, please shoot up the south side" to a pilot, and all together another mater to do the same with a guy who's working a mountain range away, or back in Ottawa...

12:42 p.m., June 27, 2007  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Actually I would prefer we buy a couple of squadrons of used F-15s for airspace surveillance in Canada and some sort of CAS/COIN aircraft (and attack helos) to support the army abroad. I can't honestly see much Canadian need for an air-to-air capability in foreign deployments (others involved in an operation can provide that if needed).

In that sense I actually agree with part of the piece Mr Pugliese wrote last September. But he did not address the issue of airspace surveillance.


4:24 p.m., June 27, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

That is one thing I'm a bit curious about, at this point, in terms of modern airframes etc etc what is there that is tasked solely for CAS?

Actually what is there for COIN (that sent me to google I'll tell you... you military folks and your bloody acronyms...)?

4:47 p.m., June 27, 2007  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Cameron: Nothing much new for CAS--Google the A-10. As for COIN check the link at my previous comment for further links.

G2G, without the usual SNAFU.


5:49 p.m., June 27, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

Isn't the a-10 nearing the end of it's life cycle?

Ok.. that's an interesting plane... the COIN one..

ok, here's my acronym for you, it's military as well, SCORM.... the first one who gets it with no google will get... well nothing. But mb I'll do a dance or something

6:57 p.m., June 27, 2007  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Cameron: The USAF is upgrading its A-10s which will be around for some time. But production ceased quite a while ago.


8:23 a.m., June 28, 2007  
Blogger Iron Oxide said...

Cameron asked what the problem is with the F-35. Beyond the UAV issue there are a number of identified problems with the aircraft.

First and foremost it is very expensive. Second; it's slower then the F-18, which was criticized for being too slow for Canada's defence needs. Third; it has a small payload in its clean configuration (smaller then the F-18) and if you aren't flying in the clean configuration then you lose the stealth and range advantages of the aircraft. Fourth; it can't supercruise, which is a hallmark of the rest of the '5th generation fighters'. Fifth; it only has one engine, the Canadian airforce has a long standing requirement for fighters operating in the arctic to have more then one engine (issues with engine failures).

9:08 a.m., June 28, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Useful points, Iron Oxide (or should I just call you Rusty?).

I'm curious, though, as to what you mean when you say "the rest of the '5th generation fighters.'" Other than the F-22, do you see any other options for a CF-18 replacement?

9:38 a.m., June 28, 2007  
Blogger Iron Oxide said...

No, I don't see many alternatives to the F-35. F-22 is an interesting thought (expensive?) but Eurofighter has its own set of problems.

It is interesting to note that Korea recently (2002) selected the F-15E over the Su-35, Rafale and Eurofighter. Apparently they didn't buy into the entire '5th generation fighter' idea. I wonder if it might be a good idea for Canada to do something similar.

11:49 a.m., June 28, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

I'm just trying to get up to speed here: the theory behind needing full on fighters for CDN airspace defense is that we need the speed/range that a jet gives us right?

Conversely the theory with the prop COIN/CAS planes is that they are operating relatively smaller theaters against un-armored targets?

1:26 p.m., June 28, 2007  
Blogger Chris Taylor said...

Iron Oxide, I am reasonably sure that the F-35A is not going to be appreciably slower than the CF-188.

Keep in mind that what the public sees now are test figures, and both Boeing and LockMart are smart manufacturers who consistently understate their performance specs. The F-35A is commonly described as having a top speed of mach 1.6+ (vice the CF-188's mach 1.8). Given the F135 powerplant's military and afterburning thrust capabilities, plus the weight of the -35A, there is plenty of room to push it up to mach 1.8. And right now nobody is saying just how far beyond 1.6 it'll go.

As far as payload goes, you are mixing apples and oranges; an F-35A's "stealthy" clean configuration vice a CF-188's un-stealthy warload configuration. In its clean configuration an F-35A can carry 2x med range AMRAAM and 2x 2,000lb bombs in internal bays, in addition to its cannon. An equivalent "clean" configuration for the CF-18 would give it 2x short-range Sidewinders on the wingtips in addition to its internal cannon.

The CF-188 can carry 15,500lbs in external stores, and the F-35 is listed as capable of 15,000+ lbs on external hardpoints. Once again, who knows what the actual figure is at this point.

Of course using the external hardpoints affect the weight, drag and range for both aircraft. The CF-188's range with max payload is about 740km. Who knows what the figures are for the F-35, I haven't seen them yet. LockMart's literature places it at 2.5x legacy (F-16) for the -35A, and 2x legacy for the -35C. Keep in mind that the -35C has bigger wings which actually give it greater range despite the increased empty weight.

Finally, supercruise. The F-22 and the Eurofighter Typhoon are the only two 5th generation birds with supercruise ability so far, and they are both primarily air dominance fighters. Precision air-ground capability will be integrated into the Typhoon next year; right now it has what the manufacturer terms "austere" air-ground capability. There is no other strike fighter with supercruise ability.

1:52 p.m., June 28, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

The Super Hornet might be an alternative, as you say IO, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable with simply upgrading an older frame in this particular case. While there's something to be said for a proven airframe, I wonder if the missions that airframe can reasonably fly won't be degraded over the years. I mean, the F-4 flew forever, but its usefulness as anything other than a recon and jamming bird was gone years before it stopped flying.

I have questions about a "jack-of-all-trades" aircraft myself, but if you're going to buy one airframe to fit every conceivable mission, the F-35 looks like the way to go.

At least, that's my preliminary assessment with the information I have at my disposal today. (Howdja like that caveat?)

4:26 p.m., June 28, 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home