Friday, February 13, 2015

The F-35 Lightning II- An Updated Look

The F-35, for those who are monitoring the actual progress and testimonials of the jet, is turning out to be an amazing, fantastic multi-role fighter.

For example, I have a military magazine where a current F-35 pilot/former F-16 pilot boasts it out-accelerates F-16s while carrying all the same pods and payload-per-weight. And he's flown side-by-side with Vipers to see this for himself. What's that saying? Speed is life: More is better!

At a briefing before Congress, a Navy Lightning pilot said it turns like an F-18. It's a longer video, but informative well worth the watch!

And, depending on who you talk to, ranges with them, or slightly farther than either.

The SA tools on this aircraft are coming into their own, and the targeting system is da bomb!

And 95% of the weapons delivery and other payload related tests have either gone according to plan or better. Find me another weapons development program with that kind of record?

Now I'm not stupid: This thing has taken a long, too long time to come about. And the cost has been way, way up there. But really, are they developing a single aircraft program with three versions? Or is it more like three different combat aircraft programs that kinda look alike? (See my previous entry, The F-15A/B/C/D/K/E/SG/SE/S/SA/WUT?)

And what else? A RADAR system that can track and jam F-22 radars while still looking for other aerial AND ground threats... what other super-secret capabilities does this aircraft have that can't tell us about? I'll bet the farm there's tons.

Are people looking for a new jet that goes Warp 6 and pulls 20G while keeping the pilot coherent enough to drop the bomb on the general in the train window while shooting down 50 Chinese fighters? Well sad news for ya- aircraft performance, in general, has been maxed out. Mach 2ish has worked just great for the last few decades (we can't make a metal that doesn't melt at higher speeds). Furthermore pilots can't turn more than 9 Gs more than a few times in a flight, and some only once at all. And despite the fun G test we all like to watch on the ground, routinely pulling 9 Gs (or even 7-8 Gs) while maintaining SA in a dogfight, watching out for other enemies, watching your target, monitoring your flight or wingman, etc. is even a real trick for most current aviators. So, yes, aircraft performance is maxed out, and the F-35 meets that max line just fine.

So take a look at the facts and relax. The F-35 is turning out to be the deadly strike fighter is was always projected to be, and more.

Feel free to comment in the space below!


The F-15 Eagle. Amazing plane, isn't it? 104.5 official kills. Some 30-50 more claimed but NON-official kills more. And no defeats in the air-to-air arena. Russian- and french- built jets have been running from it or falling in flames behind it for some 30 years now.

And now, with its amazing airframe and the advances in modern aerial electronic wizardry, there are all new versions of the jet coming out. The Israelis have several different versions now. The Saudis have the F-15S, and are getting all-new fancy F-15SAs, too. The Koreans have the F-15K Slam Eagle. And let's not forget the Singaporean F-15SGs, across the board considered the newest and best iteration of the Mighty Mighty Eagle.

And what is America stuck with? The F-15C.


Yeah, the F-15C. The F-15C came out back in the 80s. It included an engine upgrade (from P&W F-100-100 to P&W F-100-229), radar processor upgrades (from APG-63 v0 to APG-63 v1, and a few APG-70s), increased fuel (several hundred more pounds), more capable ECM housework (don't really follow ECM tech, tho I should. But you can see additional antennas under the nose and around it), and the ability to carry AMRAAM and track/kill multiple targets simultaneously.

And if you check modern records of what the F-15Cs of the USAF/ANG units are flying, they are still flying F-15Cs. Same jet inside and out for almost 25 years now, right?


Matter of fact, combined with the general rebuild of the entire Eagle fleet that happened in the late 2000s, these are entirely new jets. They might still have a few leaks, and a few hangar queens, but the Eagles sitting in hangars at ANG bases and so on are completely different fighters than the upgrades of the fleet in the 80s. Are they F-15Cs? No, they should be called something different- F-15Fs or something. Allow me to elaborate the whys:

Look at the other jets in the fleet: F-14s (RIP), F-16s and F-18s.

The F-14 Tomcat:

Three basic versions, but a couple more in reality. The F-14A had the famous AWG-9 radar system, TF-30 engines, extending glove vanes that worked with the sweeping wings at high mach speeds to restore COG lift, and a weak ACM suite. Basic model.

The Tomcat then got bigger engines, GE F-110 engines with more thrust, some computer upgrades with new HUD symbology, and some tweaking to the ECM. These changes alone got the jet a new designation, the -B.

F-14C was skipped for reasons I've long forgotten.

But then a bigger, more sweeping series of upgrades came to the aircraft... all of which were under the -D designation. New radar, newer computers, cockpit upgrades with newer screens and bigger, multi-function displays. Engines were tweaked more and the glove vanes were sealed shut, in some cases removed and built over completely. Faster, better, deadlier, smarter. Wow. Ladies and gentlemen, the F-14D Tomcat.

Wait. I mean, Bombcat. LANTIRN pods were added. Minor, and very clever, computer upgrades were added. Wiring and software for bombing was added, in phases, until the jet could drop (almost) every dumb and smart bomb in the US' inventory. As Tomcats deployed for war, bom drop pallets were being manufactured and uploaded onto the carriers as they loaded the `Cats too.

But wait, there's more! ROVER and GPS were added, allowing Bombcats greater troop communication abilities. Should some of these upgrades earned the venerable Naval Cat a new designation? Well, I think so. How's "F-14E Super Cat" strike you? Shoulda been.

And then it was retired.

And then there's the Iranian Tomcats, originally -As, that Russia helped them keep running with Russian Tumansky engines, Russian radars, arming them with SAM missiles, etc. No way of knowing (for the lay person) just how many different versions the Iranians are flying now.

Then the F-16. Baseline model, F-16A. upgrade its radar and give it newer, bigger engines, bigger computers, and it's the -C Viper. BUT... then upgrade its computer and engines again and start hanging all sorts of HTS and Lightning pods on it? Well, according to the F-14 model, it kinda qualifies as a new designation. But they didn't.

Not until they started shipping new F-16E/Fs (Block 60 or 50+) to other countries did it get a new designation. New AESA radar, hardware for overwing fuel tanks, built-in FLIR pods, new ECM suite built into the spine... See it? Looks really different, too. New designation, then.

Then there's the F-18.

Despite my personal, opinionated dislike for the Hornet, I am forced to admire it. But there have been SO. FREAKIN'. VARIATIONS. Even in USN service alone. F-18As, F-18A+, F-18B, F-18C, F-18D, F-18E, F-18F, F-18S, CF-18, I don't even know the Swiss or Kuwaiti designations off the top of my head. And how many different software and hardware (engine, radar, computer, ECM, etc.) upgrades has it gotten? Good grief!

And then there's the jump from F-18C/D to F-18E/F. It was sold as having 80% parts commonality with the older vanilla Hornets. But come on, in reality, it is an entirely new aircraft. Bigger wings, big strakes, cockpits 50% different, more store stations canted outward at that weird angle (I know, to prevent vibration and stores collisions on weapon release). Boeing was recently forced to admit there's only really about a 20% commonality of pieces. No kidding, this was not an upgrade. It was a different jet. Entirely. F-27 or something.

I could go on, but I've probably already killed the point.

Back to the F-15.

These new F-15 Eagles we have. Here, I'm referring to upgrades that all happened in the 2000s. Well, these upgraded and re-built F-15s that we have, aren't your daddy's -Cs anymore. They all have new engines. Upgraded with digital input/controls that make an already higher thrust engine work turns, climbs and so on more efficiently and efficiently add a "fake" couple hundred pounds of thrust.

And there are three different kinds of radar across the fleet now: The APG-63 v1, -v2 and v-3. The -v1, if I'm not mistaken, is the same mechanical dish with upgraded software. The -v2s are AESA radars (longer range, tons more reliable, etc.) , and the v3s are better AESAs that track and guide AMRAAMs onto stealthy targets. Targets like cruise missiles, T-50s, J-31s, and F-22s at Red Flag (Yes, the F-22 has lost its advantage at Red Flag).

The ECM suites have also been upgraded- you'll notice the antenna farm under the nose in 2000+ Eagles is different than the 90s Eagles. Included are new antennas and bumps on the back of the Eagles now... some of them. "Command Jets" I've heard them called, as they carry a kind of SADL local network for flights within 10-20 miles, in addition to the Link 16-based communication/SA link.

Then there's JHMCS (I didn't mention this for the -16s and -18s, but they have it too). This isn't some independent system a pilot just stick his head into. It's an integrated part of the aircraft. It's an expensive integrated part of the aircraft. And it is amazing how it lends such incredible SA to the pilot.

No, this is not an F-15C. At least, an F-15F, or more.

So why wasn't it re-designated? One word: Politics. (I hate politics)

Congress is kind of full of dumb people. Most of whom will go the way the prevalent wind is blowing. In an atmosphere of fund cutting for the DoD, Congress will not buy "new" military hardware. Congress would never fund all the new systems if they were numbered like brand new combat systems. "New stuff?" they would shriek in fiscal terror, "We can't afford new stuff!" So the DoD, in order to do the job they have to do (which includes protecting the dumb people) says, "New? Oh, no, sirs. This isn't new, we're just putting a new sticker on something we already have. It's  not new. No, sirree bob! Nothing new to see here!" They have to do this because it's easier to get Congress to fund new stickers to slap on aircraft, than it is to get them to fund an entirely new combat system. Nothing fancy, just dummy psychology.

Perhaps if the DoD had called the Raptor an upgrade to the Eagle... F-15R? ...we'd have gotten all 400 like we need.

Feel free to comment in the space below!