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Could “Rapidly Proliferating Threats” Derail the F-35?

Posted January 30, 2015 by The Mound of Sound

(Remember, this is the plane that the Harper government wants to saddle our aircrews with for half-a-century, fifty years.  But, I digress.)

Trying to keep tabs on the development of Lockheed’s F=35 requires no end of reading between the lines.

One thing that comes through, admittedly in snippets and from different angles, is that the Americans are starting to conclude that their wunder-plane is less wunderful than they had hoped.

Months ago the journal of the US Naval Institute fretted that the F-35 was operationally flawed because it lacked “all-aspect stealth.”  Its stealth cloaking is mainly frontal aspect which means the F-35 remains detectable from the sides, above, below and behind.

The head of the US Air Force air combat command, General Hostage, has said the F-35 isn’t a stand alone warplane but requires fighter cover, that is to say the F-22 Raptor, to survive.

Word has leaked out that the F-35 has to steer clear of thunder storms and night flying is out, for now.  More recently it got out that the F-35 has a “heat management” problem that prevents it from flying fast at low altitude, the very place an airplane like this has to operate.  The proposed solution is to re-engine the already over-priced warplane in a few years as a new, adaptive engine is developed.  Keep those cheque books open, fellas.

One thing that has emerged in snippets is that both the US Air Force and US Navy are pressing hard for a new warplane to replace the F-35 ASAP.  They’re not sure that its limited stealth cloaking can stand up to rapidly proliferating threats.

There is a saying in Washington defense circles: The threat always gets a vote. It means that a valid strategic threat can influence decision-makers to derail or accelerate a weapons program. In the case of the most expensive aircraft program in history, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), senior Pentagon officials have begun considering what might happen if the still-developmental F-35 were compromised by the proliferation of ever-more-capable air defenses.

There is a “growing concern” among senior officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense about the proliferation of advanced air defense radars and anti-aircraft weapons, says an industry official familiar with these discussions. “We took a long time on this. The threat is taking some turns on us.” Senior officials are loath to cause alarm and jeopardize the coalition behind the F-35 and are thus tight-lipped about it.

The situation is not at a crisis point yet, one industry source says. Obsolescence is inevitable for any weapon system; the discussion now is about when that could happen for the F-35 and how to address it if it is sooner than hoped. “We are starting to see the emergence of some stressing capabilities to our conventional forces,” Al Shaffer, acting assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, told Aviation Week during an interview last March. He was referring to the emergence of radars operating in very-high-frequency bands that can detect stealthy aircraft at long range. The concern is that these VHF radars could eventually pass targeting data to fire control elements for air defense systems.


Bear in mind that killing off the F-35 would be about as simple as dismembering Goldman Sachs. It’s the biggest military aquisition programme in American history and there is a consensus in military, industrial and political circles that it’s simply too big to kill.  There are too many people with too much at stake to shut it down as Obama did when he killed off F-22 production.  This isn’t a ‘white elephant.’  It’s a diamond-encrusted elephant and, right now, everybody’s still prepared to double down.

My guess is that the military types see the way out from under the F-35 is to move on to a newer-technology plane, manned or unmanned, that, put up against the F-35, will be irresistible.  Keep the F-35 as a bomb truck while deploying a “6th generation” successor to the F-22 that will have full-aspect state of the art stealth and a genuine multi-role capability.  This is the scenario predicted by Pierre Sprey, one of America’s “fighter mafia” types responsible for the highly successful F-16 and A-10, who expects the US to wind up cutting the build of F-35s from the roughly 2,500 figure common today to around 500, no more.


“I do predict that they will have that much trouble within the next few years, and that we will never see them build more than 500 of these airplanes. That the airplane will become technically such an embarrassment that they’ll pretend they did not really need it anyhow, and that ‘it’s alright we have a better idea, we are working on a new airplane and forget about the F-35.'”
Foreign customers will have to realize their “F-150″ is the Ford pickup variety, not the Ferrari of the same designation.  But, so?  The only Ferrari part will be the price tag.



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The Disaffected Lib: Could “Rapidly Proliferating Threats” Derail the F-35?

Posted January 30, 2015 by The Mound of Sound

(Remember, this is the plane that the Harper government wants to saddle our aircrews with for half-a-century, fifty years.  But, I digress.)Trying to keep tabs on the development of Lockheed’s F=35 requires no end of reading between the lines.One thing that comes through, admittedly in snippets and from different angles, is that the Americans are starting to conclude that their wunder-plane is less wunderful than they had hoped.Months ago the journal of the US Naval Institute fretted that the F-35 was operationally flawed because it lacked “all-aspect stealth.”  Its stealth cloaking is mainly frontal aspect (Read more…)

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A Costly Fix for One of the F-35’s Achilles’ Heels?

Posted January 29, 2015 by The Mound of Sound
Word is out of yet another problem for the F-35.  It has an overheating problem that is said to keep it from going fast at low altitude, right where this less than stellar warplane needs to operate.

Two big drawbacks to the F-35 are its limited range and mediocre speed.  It doesn’t go very far in stealth mode on its internal fuel and it is incapable of the modern fighter sine qua non, supercruise.  Those are enormous shortcomings, especially for an uber-expensive warplane.

Good news.  It seems the Americans have noted the problems and have come up with a partial answer – a new engine.  Think of it as a cross between your kid’s Transformer toy and a modern, high-powered jet engine.  It still won’t achieve supercruise but it’s a significant but very costly improvement.

The future fighter will be required to not only fly farther than today’s aircraft, but will also need more speed and power when engaging the enemy. But from a propulsion perspective, up until now these objectives have been mutually exclusive. Longer range and subsonic loiter require lower fuel burn and good cruise efficiency, while higher thrust for supersonic dash demands larger cores and much higher operating temperatures, neither of which is good for fuel burn or stealth.

To solve this conundrum and combine both capabilities in one propulsion system, engine makers are working under the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Adaptive Engine Technology Development (AETD) program to test technology for a new generation of engines that can be reconfigured in flight. Although AETD is set to end with a flight-weight core demonstration in 2016, the Air Force is planning a follow-on initiative called the Adaptive Engine Transfer Program (AETP). This will pave the way for an adaptive, 45,000-lb.-thrust-class combat powerplant for sixth-generation combat aircraft as well as the possible reengining of the Lockheed Martin F-35 in the 2020s.


Adaptable engines use an array of variable geometry devices to dynamically alter the fan pressure ratio and overall bypass ratio—the two key factors influencing specific fuel consumption and thrust. Fan pressure ratio is changed by using an adaptive, multistage fan. This increases the fan pressure ratio to fighter-engine performance levels during takeoff and acceleration, and in cruise lowers it to airliner-like levels for improved fuel efficiency.


The AETP-based engine design “is more aggressive than today’s standard F-35 requirements but not to the level of [powering] directed energy weapons,” comments McCormick. Instead, the potential benefits of the third stream would be aimed at opening up the low-altitude/high-speed corner of the F-35’s flight envelope to enable extended operation at Mach 0.8/0.9 and 500 ft. “Today, the F-35 has flight restrictions at lower altitudes because of thermal management. You just can’t get heat off the airplane,” he adds. “The program we have laid out says you could be in the F-35 before mid-2020s. It depends on funding profiles and how big AETP is, but it’s early in the 2022-24.”


The F135 engine currently equipping the F-35 costs about $16-million a copy. Given its advanced and more complex engineering it’s a safe bet that the AETP engine will cost at least as much, probably a good deal more.
As a light, first-strike bomber, the F-35 needs to be able to go very low and very fast to defeat a sophisticated enemy’s air defences.  With the existing engine’s heat problems, it can’t do that.  This raises the question of whether customers should buy now and be prepared to take a big hit to re-engine the fighter with the AETP engine or be content to remain with an over-cost, under-performer.  Or, they could play it safe and just look elsewhere.
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Guns n’ F-35s and the CF-104 II

Posted January 5, 2015 by Boris

MoS has great post on the F-35A’s gun problems. 2019 and they think it might finally be OK to shoot the thing! The other F-35s are gunless and require and externally mounted gunpod, and in all cases carry ammunition quantities far below any current f…

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Stealthiness and the F-35, Harper style

Posted December 24, 2014 by Boris

Back here, Dave asked:

Why is the coward bearing the title "prime minister" so hell-bent on
sole-sourcing the F-35? BECAUSE HE’S MADE A DEAL HE HASN’T TOLD YOU
ABOUT. He’s hiding something – he always is!
Now Bill Sweetman at Aviation Week asks the same after some delicate words regarding the results of the new fighter secretariat’s review in the context of the Harper government’s handling of

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Pay no attention to the liar in the cupboard

Posted November 8, 2014 by Dave

Nothing demonstrates cowardice in a politician as much as attempting to sneak things, which should be completely public, past the citizenry in a clandestine fashion intended to hide the truth.
Boris laid the groundwork here.

Why is the coward bearing the title "prime minister" so hell-bent on sole-sourcing the F-35? BECAUSE HE’S MADE A DEAL HE HASN’T TOLD YOU ABOUT. He’s hiding something – he

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