Airpower Analysis Phase II: F-35 – Flying Circus Center Ring

Blown Slick Series #10

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For some time now, center ring for the airpower flying circus has been the F-35 Lightning II. But since the F-35 was similarly noted as the elephant in the room in #8 in this series some time ago, much as transpired as the a/c moves into operational status within the USMC, USN, and USAF, along with the first Israeli F-35 Adir’s beginning to fly.

To date the Blown Slick series has discussed attack pilots, fighter pilots, fifth generation aircraft, analysis tools and metrics, offered selected books on air warfare and taken a broad look at the ideas behind airpower theory. This post focuses on the F-35 -in the center ring of the airpower “circus.” It serves to provide links to updated operational status before we continue on with more airpower analysis from the “attack pilot” side.

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Over time much F-35 writing has focused on cost/schedule/technical problems and with mostly end game agenda of cancelling the program.  For writing on the positive side, much  presented has been what the a/c is supposed to do, rather than what it has actually been able to perform. Only recently have articles begin to emerge from the pilots who are in the early stages of learning the a/c, its capabilities and developing tactical employment schemes. Bottom line, the “fat lady can’t end the opera” until day-day operational aviators have their say.

The first part of this post covers general considerations of the F-35 as it evolves into the airpower picture and the second part will provide several “reports” from the operational introduction environment.

First, a few general thoughts in observation of the JSF program over time:

  • Words mean something. The a/c is  called a “fighter” because that’s what the AF has always done and Navy is following that terminology.The “F” in F-35 de-focuses the issue. Had it  been A/F or A-35.  focus could have been seen more readily on the main mission of attack with air-air capabilities.  Indeed, the Marines needed to replace the Harrier, the Air Force wanted a strike compliment to the F-22 air-air capability, and the Navy beginning with F/A-18, driven a lot my CV deck space limitations and maintenance plus of limiting the types of a/c onboard had completely bought into the multi-role strike fighter concept.
  • The severe defensive threat environment drives fighter-attack a/c design to high powered/maneuverable multi-role concepts BUT one size fits all in a/c design is most likely a bridge too far
  • Somewhere fairly early on, I’m guessing some programmatic perspective got lost and  strayed beyond a reasonably foreseeable vision of needed capability, emerging technology, and understanding of the process required to reach the end game.
  • It is no longer 1965 and the beginning of Rolling Thunder. As the Vietnam War began, the AF and Navy had gotten way ahead of themselves both technically and operationally with expectations of air-air radar and the radar guided Sparrow missile and the whole idea that beyond visual range (BVR)  – no further phone-booth dogfighting engagements – with the F-4  was the new norm. That is not even close to the real world today. Facts from our Middle East air combat demonstrate that in 44 or so air-air kills, only one or two were even insight engagements and certainly were not the result of true dogfights. The fighter merge after exchange of BVR missiles is certainly possible but highly unlikely. Combat pilots need to and will ensure they can “fight” their a/c, but winning Red Baron events is not their mission. In that light the whole F-16 vs F-35 test data point thing was blown way out of proportion
  • The Close Air Support (CAS) thing with the A-10 is also very misconstrued  Here we get into language again.  Many authors seem to equate CAS with all of the bomb dropping air to ground mission. The A-10 is doing a remarkable job but its not all just CAS. The story line here, is that CAS is an attack mission and lots of a/c can do it along with other attack missions that aren’t in close regard to troops on the ground. A more important distinction is the level of threat. High level surface to air systems are available on the market.  An attack a/c like the A-10 needs a fairly low threat environment. While the F-35 replaces the A-10 programmatically, there’s more to this story, and as such will receive separate treatment shortly.
  • Finally, I think there are several story-lines here that complicate the issues. Because of 5th generation aspects (stealth, sensors, fusion, C2/AWACs type stuff, the real story is way behind compartmented walls. The story line that does come out is a function of all the elements above without good insight inside the security walls and this really muddies up the product. In addition,  the intel, info, sensor, C2 side story line is unlike anything we have ever done in a tactical strike fighter. This has been offered as a  re-norming of airpower application and would appear different from what  other country 5th gen a/c are doing. The 35 possibly suffers from a lot of just “well that’s not the way we do it.” I’ve called the F-35 the “Sheppard of the battlespace” and will remain interested to see where that train of thought goes.

In #8 Part 3 I suggested  a thought experiment:

Draw a straight line beginning with WWI and the Sopwith Camel. Continue through WWII with your choice of best fighter (Spits, Zero, Mustang, Corsair), on into the Korean War and the MiG-15 and F-86, then to Vietnam and the MiG-21 and F-4, and next on to the F-14/ F-15/16/18 group. If you think it makes sense  add the F-22 Raptor, all together depicting   a linear  evolution of fighter and multi-role a/c.

I noted that the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will not be found on that line. with caveat of course that it must live up to its potential, but does the F-35 with its stealth, sensors, information fusion and transfer capabilities not give a different perspective on future airpower? The following articles begin to provide pilot based experience that would seem to support the re-norming thought.

Key points:

USMC F-35B deployment

VMFA-121 departs for relocation to Japan

First Marine Corps F-35 Squadron Deploys to JapanMarine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 departed its former headquarters at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, on Monday en route to its new base at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan“The Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft is a true force multiplier,” Capt. Kurt Stahl, a spokesman for 3rd MAW, said in Tuesday’s announcement. “The unique combination of stealth, cutting-edge radar and sensor technology, and electronic warfare systems bring all of the access and lethality capabilities of a fifth-generation fighter, a modern bomber, and an adverse-weather, all-threat environment air support platform.”

Israeli F-35I

Israel Takes Delivery of First Pair of F-35I ‘Adir” Aircraft  The Israeli Air Force (IAF) took delivery of their first two F-35I ‘Adir’ stealth fighter aircraft on December 12th arriving in country at Nevatim AFB. The two F-35I’s are the first of 50 aircraft that Israel has agreed ofer-shafir-double-formation-passes-shot-sky-2-00020to acquire under an agreement that was signed six years ago. The IAF now will begin a process of training and testing to fully determine how to best utilize and integrate the aircraft into their defense program. The term  ‘Adir’ in Hebrew can mean mighty, powerful, noble and great.

Red Flag F-35C Results

At Red Flag ‘It’s Tough To Be Legacy Aircraft In An LO World’:  Most Red Flag coverage so far has focused on a statistic – the F-35A’s at the Air Force’s toughest combat training exercises are killing enemy aircraft at a rate of 15-1. But one of the pilots flying themaxresdefault F-35s — Lt. Col. George Watkins, 34th Fighter Squadron commander — says: “The kill ratio isn’t that important. We are more focused on the SAM and IADS threat.” Think Russian-made S-300s and 400s. Capt. Stephanie Anne Fraioli explains the fundamental difference between a fourth- and a fifth-generation aircraft: “With fourth-generation fighter airframes, speed and energy equaled life and survivability. In the fifth-generation realm, information equals life.”

Navy F-35C’s Arrive at Lemoore

F-35C’s Arrival at NAS Lemoore:   Naval aviation reached a significant milestone on January 25 when the first four F-35C Lightning II aircraft arrived at Naval Air Station160401092056-nas-lemoore-exlarge-169 Lemoore. Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, Commander, Naval Air Forces noted “the aircraft’s stealth technology will allow it to penetrate and conduct attacks inside threat envelopes, and its integrated sensor packages collect and fuse information to provide a common operational picture for the carrier strike group and joint forces, and most importantly, enable long range identification of air and surface targets. Without question the F-35 is required to win the future high-end fight, but it will be effectively complemented by the 4th generation capabilities and capacity of our Super Hornets – as well as the rest of our future air wing – to include carrier-based unmanned platforms.

The Aviators Perspective

F-35 pilot: Here’s what people don’t understand about dogfighting, and how the F-35 excels at it: According to Lt. Col. David “Chip” Berke, the only US Marine to fly both the F-22 and the F-35, the public has a lot of learning to do when assessing a jet’s capability inscreen shot 2017-01-03 at 31146 pm warfare. “The whole concept of dogfighting is so misunderstood and taken out of context, We need to do a better job teaching the public how to assess a jet’s capability in warfare.”There is some idea that when we talk about dogfighting it’s one airplane’s ability to get another airplane’s 6 and shoot it with a gun … That hasn’t happened with American planes in maybe 40 years.”

Gillette-300x264Squadron Fighter Pilots: The Unstoppable Force of Innovation for 5th Generation Enabled Concepts Of Operations: To understand the intangible of pilot performance and the future combat success of the F-35, Lightning II, one just has to listen to what the military pilots who actually are fly the aircraft are saying, all other critics are second order. (Note, this is a long article, but worth the read as it includes comments from all service pilots, test pilots and senior commanders.)

It would appear the day-in-day-out strike fighter pilot thinks we’re on to something.  No new high tech weapon comes in easily, but the F-35 is here. The next post will focus on the “attack mission” in more dept. Real added capability is still in work, and so….

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Thinking Airpower in Context: American War in Seven Charts

Blown Slick Series #9

Rough Riders

 Seven Charts That Help Explain American War

  1. How Many Years In Its History Has America Been at War?
  2. Where Has America Fought?
  3. Why Has America Fought?
  4. How Does America Fight ?
  5. Who Are America’s Formal Defense Partners?
  6. Why Is the American Military So Attracted to Technology?
  7. So How Much Does It All Cost?

Give the focus of the Blown Slick series, upon reading this article by Aaron Bazin*, it seemed only natural to question what then is the impact of airpower on these seven and how is airpower influenced by how we approach the issues? In a concise way, the issues and charts highlight airpower usage in war and need to be one piece of Blown Slick’s airpower mosaic. Below are quotes from only two of the questions/charts. I will leave it to the reader to explore the  complete article here. Continue reading

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Airpower, Elephants and Such (Part 3)

Blown Slick Series #8 (Part 3/3)

Continuing from Part 1 & 2 – the “something new”

Airpower Application and 5th Generation Aircraft

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The term “fifth-generation aircraft” is part of the problem facing the future of airpower. The usage of the term might suggest a linear relationship to preceding aircraft, so that one could argue that F-18s and F-16s can be upgraded and become 4.8-generation aircraft, closely replicating 5th generation capability. For the proponents of F-22 and F-35, they believe this is simply not the case.  For them, the fifth-generation aircraft are a benchmark for a new approach to air power, and leads to the thought by some that 5th generation aircraft will result in “Re-norming” of Air Operations. This will be the subject of a separate post, but for now from Re-Norming Air Operations: Continue reading

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Airpower, Elephants and Such (Part 2)

Blown Slick Series #8 (Part 2/3)

Continuing from Part 1 – drilling down

Airpower threads

To make reasonable decisions in regard to analysis of future airpower, and also how implementation of emerging technical and derivative tactical concepts plays into the application of airpower, one must certainly have some understanding of these elements:

  • current potential crisis and warfare environments (subjects of future articles)
  • overall theories of airpower (some discussion in this series)
  • necessity for a truly joint, even integrated, approach to warfare that has been provided through experience (to be discussed in future articles but can be particularly seen in the AirSea Battle concept and in regard to potential problems related to operations in the South China Sea)

Historical context also must guide airpower’s future evaluation and application.  Quoting from Part 1:

Airpower is all about power projection and mobility. It is the theoretical and eventual conceptual application that comprises the application of military strategy and strategic theory to the realm of actual aerial warfare via strike warfare tactics, techniques and procedures.  

And so our background on airpower moves to the historical context of airpower application in regard to power projection, and strike warfare.

Application of Airpower (Something Old) Continue reading

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Airpower, Elephants, Fallacies, Bonfires, Something Old, Something New

Blown Slick Series #8 (Part 1/3)

Airpower characteristics itemizes strictly enduring physical features:
speed, reach, height, and as a consequence ubiquity, agility, and concentration.

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A relatively high technological focus by air forces is inevitable, necessary, and indeed desirable. But the balance is wrong if that focus translates in practice into an air force that bears some resemblance to a costly and exclusive combination flying club and science and engineering society at the expense of what should be the dominant features of a fighting force… Colin Gray

What follows is a perspective of airpower in light  of its history, current application and future trends and potential. The discussion is not focused on airpower theory per se, nor is it anywhere close to being comprehensive. In 3 parts, it is intended to be viewed in context of previous and future articles as offering some pieces of the  mosaic.

Introduction

Continue reading

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Users’ Guide Part 2 – Tools

Blown Slick Series #7 (Part 2)

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… We will use this scheme of pulling things apart (analysis) and putting them back together (synthesis) in new combinations to find how apparently unrelated ideas and actions can be related to one another.     Boyd

Part 1 provided an introduction to the Blown Slick analysis process and the boundary conditions and related operational threads as airpower’s past and future are perceived.  Throughout the time since airplanes were first employed in warfare, there have been many rules/assumptions/lessons learned, some good, others proven outright wrong, and some still staking their ground. Here in Part 2 the concepts of intersections, triangle perspective, and snowmobiles are introduced. Their application in a manner in which the elements are combined and contrasted with past elements and with those potentially significant as the result of emerging technology will hopefully assist in gaining usable perspective for future airpower. Continue reading

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Users’ Guide for Building A Blown Slick “Snowmobile”

Blown Slick Series #7 (Part 1)

To discern what is going on we must interact in a variety of ways with our environment. In other words We must be able to examine the world from a number of perspectives so that we can generate mental images or impressions that correspond to that world. More to the point We will use this scheme of pulling things apart (analysis) and putting them back together (synthesis) in new combinations to find how apparently unrelated ideas and actions can be related to one another.   John Boyd

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Proposed theories and historical use of airpower  are discussed in detail in many excellent books, PhD theses, and blogs covering air warfare, its organizations, people, technology, and operations. In the previous post in this series selected key references were provided that are currently in use for Blown Slick – Light Attack Fast Pursuit Airpower Analysis.

This series, as noted in previous offerings, intends to  provide and discuss elements that appear to have significance for understanding and future application of airpower in a mosaic style . The metric of the series success will depend on not only the what and the how of the analysis, but also most importantly on how critical aspects are pieced back together to offer a future view for consideration and critique.

Given that the mosaic approach will most certainly jump around, here in this piece,  I am providing short descriptions of the mental and organizational  tools I’m using -sometimes in combination – for not only gaining perspective on future airpower, but also for how I offer the information to Remembered Sky readers for their own consideration. The following (in two parts) is both a guide and a reference, certainly for me to stay focused and hopefully for readers to comprehend why certain elements are discussed in a particular manner. Continue reading

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“It’s Only Reading If You Do It”

Blown Slick Series #6

It is a true statement but not an indictment, that the fleets of the world never had a formal requirement for an airplane, or a submarine, or a communications satellite. Instead, in all cases, a debate was established within the fleet (indeed, within the fleets of the world) and over time, doctrine, technology, people, and organization came to fruition.

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Requirements cannot be divorced from detailed understanding of their implementing strategy. In practice, the best requirements come from operators who understand technology in detail and who can, in their mind’s eye, envision the new tactics it makes possible.
Vice Admiral Jerry O. Tuttle

Googling “airpower” will get you nearly 41,600,000 links and Amazon Books near 2000 entries. So prior to getting into more specific topics, this post offers for reader consideration a small handful of books and studies covering multiple aspects of airpower and war in the air that I have found of great interest and use, and indeed to certain different degrees, are references for future articles. Continue reading

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The 4th of June – Remembered Sky Day

Blown Slick Series#5

The A-7 Corsair II carried a healthy fuel load for a carrier based strike aircraft.  On major strikes – those to significant, highly defended targets – into North Vietnam called “Alpha Strikes” with 30 -40  A-7,s, A-6’s, F-4’s, bombers, fighters, Iron-Hand MiG Cap, tankers, Electronic Warfare birds and an E-2 control – the A-7’s mostly took off first, landed last. The strike group launched and rendezvoused in a circle above the USS Midway before heading into as we non-PC called it, Indian Country. It took a bit and once

Inbound

joined on my flight lead, it was both a time of anticipation and building tension, and additionally, a somewhat relaxed reflection period of just waiting. You can take this as gospel or not, but over several dozens of these Alphas in an 11 month cruise, I don’t think I ever did not think and wonder about Pat Patterson in his Dauntless and all those guys doing the same thing – looking out over the partially cloud covered Pacific Ocean – on the 4th of June, 1942 as they launched from Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown on their way to the most significant naval battle of World War II.

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And so today -4 June 2015 – for me “officially” becomes the first remembered sky day. Continue reading

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Memorial Day 2015: Mondo and Arlo

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Sometimes on days like today, I find myself lost in the abstract -service to country, freedom, sacrifice, the flags, the tombstones of Arlington. The feelings are not wrong, indeed they are most important and necessary, but at the base are people who laughed, cried, drank beer – sometimes too much – told dirty jokes, howled at the moon, chased women, and jousted at a few dragons, all the while loving their wives, kids, dogs, squadron mates, …. and their country.

The video below was just published on You-Tube on 14 May. It provides the memorial service on USS Midway in San Diego Harbor for Mike “Mondo” McCormick and Alan “Arlo” Clark. Their names were added under the cockpit of the VA-115 A-6 on Midway’s flight deck. Mondo and Arlo were shot down over North Vietnam on the tenth of January, 1973 and were the last A-6 crew lost in the war.

While some may find the video long at a little over an hour, it is very well edited and  reflects not only the memory of loss and sadness, but also the joy of squadron aviation and love of family and friends. Great job by former VA-115 aviator John Stubbs.

Worth your time and for me, perfect tone for Memorial Day.

Those who came home will never forget those who could not.

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