A Second Look – Aviation Week Debate on the F-35

Blown Slick Series #12

Last summer Aviation Week conducted a podcast debate between the first commanding officer of a USMC F-35B squadron, retired  LtCol. David Berke,  and former “fighter mafia” participant during the Light Weight Fighter competition (YF-16/17) Pierre Sprey.


Berke has an  extremely unique  flight experience background in that he’s instructed at TOPGUN, conducted operational test flights of the F-22 and has significant flight time in the F-16, F/A-18, F-22 and F-35. Sprey was a participant in the LWF program and heavily involved with the A-10 program development. Their views of the F-35 and future airpower needs and application are significantly different.

Given the RememberedSky thought that like it or not the F-35 is THE elephant in the room for assessing future airpower application, upon listening for the third time, it seemed an appropriate post. A few comments are provided below the links.

Aviation Week Podcast: F-35 in the Crossfire, Part 1

Aviation Week Podcast: F-35 in the Crossfire, Part 2

Brief Comments

  • As both men agree, context is extremely important when looking at this extremely controversial aircraft. Here the “context” of perspective for each is very different. While Sprey makes a good point about cost being a significant factor in airpower application in terms of numbers in the fight, Berke notes the need for level of capability required in light of emerging threat systems and future uncertainty. Thus “saving money” by purchasing more of an outdated capability (such as more F-16’s) is a recipe for combat failure.
  • While Sprey makes good points about the value/knowledge gained through operational testing (OT) in stressing environments, and the impact of delays in  OT, he completely disregards Berke’s points about the experience being gained with the first squadrons in Red Flag training events in the Nellis AFB range complex.
  • Sprey focuses almost entirely on the air-air dogfight issue, despite agreeing that no fighter pilot since WW I wants to engage in a turning fight. Berke capably discusses what is emerging in the air-air environment, noting when critics bring up wing loading – a major aspect of turn capability – he notes immediately that they are not knowledgeable about the future of air-air engagements.
  • Berke asked several key questions:
    1. What are the Russians and Chinese building? A/c like the F-22 and F-35
    2. Can we believe their cost figures?
    3. What are the Captains and the Majors saying?
  •  Sprey seems to put little stock in what the F-35 pilots are saying about their aircraft and its capabilities.

In the end, we are still left with a very expensive and technically complex multi-role fighter, but we are also left with an ongoing high threat environment, noted most quickly by the S-400 surface-to-air-missile system and Chines and Russian 5th generation fighters. World politics for the future is unknowable. Saving money on pushing out irrelevant capability is not cost savings.

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