The F-35

Marine Corps F-35B
Marine Corps F-35B

The F-35B reached initial operational capability (IOC) with US Marine Corps in July of 2015. There are three models of this aircraft, the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A which will reach IOC with the USAF this year, the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B, and the folding wing, heavy airframe, carrier version F-35C, which is due to reach IOC with the USN in 2018. Evolved from the JSF competition prototype, this aircraft is due to replace the F-15, F-16, F-18, AV-8B, and for some CAS missions the A-10, although there are rumors the USAF is considering opening a competition to replace the A-10 with a new aircraft.

Currently the aircraft is nearing the end of the test and evaluation phase and is in low-rate initial production. Lockheed is preparing to ramp up to full rate production in the near future at its massive Fort-Worth aircraft plant. To say this aircraft is controversial is an understatement and it has been the target of enormous criticism, speculation and western leftist and Russian disinformation campaigns. Probably the most egregious lie told is that $1.5 trillion has been spent on aircraft development thus far. In reality, around $1 trillion is the estimated total cost of ownership for the entire US buy of 2500+ aircraft for 50 years. That includes purchasing all the aircraft, bases, schools, pilot training, tech training, maintenance and spare parts. Politics and disinformation warfare being what it is though, the number increases whenever convenient just to increase its scariness and to make it seem as astounding as possible. It turns out, however and unsurprisingly, that if those numbers are run for any fighter aircraft you get similar or greater costs over that timeframe.

F-35B Carrying External Weapons
F-35B Carrying External Weapons

The aircraft has two flying configurations: all ordnance stowed internally in full stealth mode, and externally mounted stores, for when stealth is not a requirement but maximum carrying capability is. Stealth would be used in the first days of combat when radars and SAMs and other aircraft are threats. Once those threats have been degraded or eliminated, or in places like Afghanistan where they are not a threat, then the aircraft can be loaded with bombs and missiles under the wings.

The basic design goals of the aircraft were that it have the handling and maneuverability of an F-16, the bomb load and range of an A-7 Corsair, while having the stealth of an F-117 or F-22. That’s a pretty tall order, combining the weapons load of a dedicated light bomber with the handling of a dedicated air superiority aircraft. One requires a heavy duty fuselage and large fuel tanks and the other a light frame with small tanks. What they got was something that handles like an F-18 but with better range, has a larger bomb load than an F-16 but less than an A-7, and apparently better stealth and sensors than an F-22, though it’s less maneuverable and not as fast. Not a bad result really. In production it will be 1/2 the cost of an F-22 or Eurofighter Typhoon and about twice an F-18E Super Hornet. The fact it is not super maneuverable like an SU-27 through SU-35 series or F-22 and has a top speed of only mach 1.6 has been a point of criticism as well. However, Both of these issues are waved off by the fighter pilot community as non issues. The reason is this is not 1945, or even 1965. Top Gun aside, dogfights are a thing of the past, ‘furball’ gunfights just don’t occur anymore. Sensors and missiles have evolved to the point that if you’re inside the kill zone of a high maneuvering, high g, mach 3-4 missile, you’re not getting away. You can’t out turn it, you can’t out burn it, you can’t outmaneuver it. The way you survive on a modern battlefield is to not get yourself into that zone, either from SA-300-400 SAMs or from whatever the opposing aircraft is carrying. Modern missiles, like modern bombs, are very bad news. USAF analyses from Red Flag and battlefield encounters from the two Gulf wars have determined that aircraft are generally killed by other aircraft they were unaware of or missiles they could not escape. That’s where we get the F-35. While it appears to be conventional on the outside, it’s a flying supercomputer of sensors and communications and data handling electronics that, counterintuitively, is designed to minimize the number of ways it can be seen or tracked.

F-35 Fast Facts

Lockheed F-35 Photo Gallery

Lockheed F-35 Video Gallery


39 thoughts on “The F-35”

  1. The F-35 was a platform for all users and that means it will not be very good at anything. This approach was taken to cut costs, but after we has decided that mid to low intensity conflict was all we had to worry about. Hello Putin. Given the stuff the Russians and Chinese are developing, we better hope that is true and that the electronics will work. Its stealth is below par and that is built in for the most part. I seriously doubt the actual fighter pilots had much input in this decision. Likely only former members of their ranks who were carefully selected for promotion to flag rank based on demonstrated “flexibility”. Replace the A-10 with this thing is probably disinformation.


  2. Deferred maintenance is a tax increase laid out over time with fuzzy dates when it comes due. The cure to the maintenance problem is to monitor things in terms of TCO and to fly red flags whenever politicians start skimping on maintenance because that’s viewed as identical to a tax increase. You do not have to wait for politicians to change any law, bureaucrats to change any regulation. You just have to enumerate the capital goods and the maintenance requirements and monitor whether it gets done or not. That’s real work and better if the government does it for us. But then again, if they would be happy to do it for us, we wouldn’t have a maintenance problem.

  3. I realize this puts me at risk of being labelled as a leftist, but I have to agree with Death6 on this. And I know some people who have been involved in a little thing called the Navy Fighter Weapons School [aka TOP GUN]. In addition to what he has said, the cost growth [and the unit cost growth as the foreign order cancellations drive the cost per unit up] will limit the number the US will purchase. It is a big world and without enough squadrons; we will not have them where we will need them. So the bad guys win.

  4. >>Its stealth is below par and that is built in for the most part.

    The USAF has stated publicly it has better stealth and sensors than the F-22. This will smoke anything in the Russian air force. They won’t know what hit them.

  5. >> n addition to what he has said, the cost growth [and the unit cost growth as the foreign order cancellations drive the cost per unit up] will limit the number the US will purchase.

    Actually, the cost growth as a percentage of total program cost is way overstated (surprise!). The aircraft unit cost has been tracking very close to predictions (in constant dollars) and has been on a downward slope as production numbers have increased. In full rate production it should be right on target.

  6. “They won’t know what hit them.”

    I sure hope that is true because, if not, this thing is a titanic F 111.

    Leatherneck has an article on a friend of mine named Manfred Reitsch, who was a Marine fighter pilot and was passed over for general because he took too good care of his men. The article doesn’t say so, of course, but that’s what happened.

    He is famous in the Marine Corps as “Fokker,” his call sign. I even discovered an autographed picture of him is for sale on Amazon.

    Anyway. he commanded MAG 11 in Gulf War I and flew something like 60 missions in that war. That got him into trouble with his wing commander, who was a crook. The CO was later cashiered for flying a girlfriend around in a Marine Corps aircraft. Manfred flew over 500 missions in Vietnam.

    Manfred had the last laugh because he recently sold his latest company for $23 million.

    If I see him (He lives in Wyoming now) I’ll ask him what he thinks of the F 35.

  7. I would argue the point with you. But I think that the F35 is a symptom of a deeply dysfunctional system. An example of the old joke about a camel being a horse designed by a committee.

    I don’t trust any of the people involved in creating the F35, especially this administration, which clearly hopes to cripple US military power. The best evidence that the F35 is a disaster that will cripple US airpower for a generation, is that this administration has not moved to shut it down.

    As for what we should do next. My best guess is that the next generation of military aircraft (air defense, attack, reconnaissance) will be unmanned remotely piloted vehicles. They can be much smaller, more maneuverable, and have longer flight times than can airplanes with pilots on board. With those parameters, aircraft carriers which are costly and vulnerable due to their size, and limited maneuverability, could be much smaller.

    But, until then we are in deep, deep, trouble.

  8. We definitely have to avoid the mistake of preparing for the last war. The past 25 years have seen small wars against insurgents and irregulars. It isn’t always going to be that way forever, so we need to develop systems for the challenges of high intensity conflicts with near peer enemies in the 21st century. We can and we should make the big guns that will fight and win against the big enemy.

    Having said that, the A-10 was originally developed not to fight guerrillas but to defend against a Soviet invasion of Europe. The F-16 was built to outmaneuver Soviet MiGs. The B1 bomber was designed to be rapidly deployed to counter Soviet invasions and incursions.

    Obviously technology has advanced and so the viable missions of those systems, born in the 70s, have narrowed. What hasn’t changed is the concept of how they faced off against the enemy – repeatedly recognizing, deciding, and acting more effectively than the enemy in order to bear maximum force upon them at the points in time and space that will have maximum impact. Those systems did that so well that they won the war.

    The joint strike fighter was originally conceived out of a doctrine that seeks to apply the maneuver warfare tactics to logistics and operations. The idea of combined arms is to hit the enemy in different ways with different methods from different directions in order to collapse his ability to respond. All these different arms are integrated so as to act as one force seemingly enveloping the enemy.

    The conception was sound. The key is, while the forces are integrated under guiding orientations and principles, they each have enough autonomy to act on their own initiative and retain flexibility to adapt to evolving environments. The concern with the F-35 is that it grew into something that puts so many airpower missions – close air aupport, air superiority, and tactical bombing – into one system making them too integrated and thus not flexible enough anymore to outmaneuver the enemy.

    For the F-35 to really be effective in future combat it need not be the single jack-of-all-trades do-it-all system, but it does need to be a hub in an integrated but still dispersed war fighting network. There are going to have to be other planes in the air with it, whether it will be swarms of drones or the A-11.

    In fact, we’re moving in this direction now with talk about an arsenal ship.

    The best hope for the F35 is to assume this type of role of an aerial command center.

  9. Actually Robert, The F-35 has been cruising along through two administrations. It’s had the longest test run in the history of the world, with thousands of data points collected. I think that was a way to slow walk it, to kick production into the future so the money could be used for other things. I’ve done a lot reading on this and listened to a lot of experienced pilots who’ve flown it and they all tell a similar story and have similar conclusions. That’s what gives me confidence we’re OK. Did you watch the video above? It very typical of what pilots from around the world – Aussie, Brit, Dutch, Canadian and US – say about the F-35.

    As for the US military in general, it so over-matches anyone else our adversaries immediately resort to threatening nuclear strikes. That should tell you something. In addition no one – I mean no one – can project power in any way similar to the US military. The US Navy alone is more powerful than most full militaries on the planet. The US Marine Corps can bring more power to bear by itself than any navy except the US Navy. They operate ten small carriers and support ships and carry their own assault force. That’s why the F-35B STOVL version was so important, it puts F-35 capability on all their carriers now.

    Marines practicing takeoffs and landings in Yuma Arizona:

    Regarding China and their carrier killer missiles, they’re talking about a situation where the USN operates off their coast in the South China Sea. It would be like the Chinese navy operating in the Gulf of Mexico. If you’re that close to them and their lines of supply and communication are short, and your logistics tail is really, really long, then yes, it’s very difficult. Outside of a situation like that, it’s no contest.

  10. >> We definitely have to avoid the mistake of preparing for the last war.

    Actually, that’s what all the critics are doing, preparing for the last war. It doesn’t dogfight and maneuver like aircraft X! The professional air forces are all saying, So what? You want maneuvers, get a biplane. This is designed to counter 4th generation technology by leaping ahead of it. Take this for comparison, it was written about the F-22 and its performance against 4th generation aircraft in exercises:

    The Raptor has a huge advantage against its adversaries as demonstrated by the F-22’s incredible kill ratio against USAF Red Air (which play as enemy air forces during exercises) and its F-16s and F-15s, during the exercises undertaken in the last decade: for instance, during exercise Noble Edge in Alaska in June 2006, few F-22s were able to down 108 adversaries with no losses, while during the 2007 edition of the same exercise, they brought their record to 144 simulated kills.

    In its first Red Flag participation, in February 2007, the Raptor was able to establish air dominance rapidly and with no losses.

    As reported by Dave Allport and Jon Lake in a story which appeared on Air Force Monthly magazine, during an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) in 2008, the F-22s scored 221 simulated kills without a single loss.

  11. I think the F 22 has a better envelope. The F 35 has too many missions in one package. So did the F 111.

    Plus it is way too expensive. It may be that manned aircraft in this environment are just obsolete.

  12. I agree with Mike.

    I know it has specialized adaptations for each role model, but that still required the basic envelope to be compromised. If maneuver, speed, range and weapons load, reduced stealth from external weapons/ancillaries didn’t count for different roles, then there wouldn’t be as much concern about a one size fits all platform.

    I’d be interested in an objective simulated force on force evaluation between the F-35A and the F-22. Problem is the DOD will never do it objectively. They would tilt the scenarios until they get the results they want. For example, the F-22 vs, the F-15’s and -16’s evaluations could be doubted as putting those platforms on a tilted field as far as electronic packages (which are transferable), support command and control and even the tactical scenarios. Controllers and umpires have a great deal to do with such force on force exercise results. The evaluation flag officer understood what the results were supposed to show.

    Now do I believe the F-22 was far superior- yes far. Do I believe the kill ratios- no. To much political capital was at stake and I know how that works inside the services. I’m a fan of the F-22, but leery of the F-35. Too much political capital, funding and sunk costs at stake. At the time of the decision, I believe the operational preference of the Air Force was the F-22. The buy got so small (last two administrations and congressional actions) that the unit aggregate cost exploded. At that point, the Air Force decided the F-35 was the only way they could get a step up in capability in sufficient numbers. This was fundamentally a political, not an operational decision.

    Can we live with the F-35. I think we can, but if we get into a high intensity war, there may be a price to pay in blood. Just my humble opinion. That will accelerate the move to unmanned aircraft, which has its own political and operational issues.

    Western liberal? Wow, that’s a first. A western liberal wouldn’t argue for a better, more efficient military weapons selection and production system to increase combat capabilities, they would just want to cut its funding and provide it minimal means. I’m looking for more combat capability, not less. The F-35 comes from the do-more-with-less mentality that avoids the realities of life at the point of the spear.

    When western liberals use efficiency as a cover for capability and funding cuts, they generally do not use increased operation capability as their primary argument point. It goes more like this: “You are proposing capabilities beyond the current and projected threat, this other alternative provides sufficient capability for current and near term probable threats and operations, but at much lower cost (at least in the short term). That is more efficient and what we can afford (since your function is, after all, a necessary evil that impinges on my ability to buy political support by expanding social welfare, regulatory reach and feed my crony capitalist support).” Parenthetical is implied of course.


  13. >> For example, the F-22 vs, the F-15’s and -16’s evaluations could be doubted as putting those platforms on a tilted field as far as electronic packages

    I recall reading an Aussie pilot’s experience flying an F-18 against an F-22 at Red Flag. He said that planes were being ‘killed’ by aircraft that never appeared on any of their sensors. He said there were occasions where he could actually see the F-22 but none of his targeting systems could lock on it. He likened flying against F-22’s to fighting ghosts. There are reasons that the USAF has pursued this technology.

    The Russians have started to to try develop a 5th generation fighter in the PAK-FA, but they don’t appear to have either the resources or the technology base to get there. They built 5 prototypes, one caught fire and the others don’t fly much.

    The Chinese have stopped buying Russian 4th generation aircraft and are fully dedicated now to developing their own comparable 5th generation aircraft. Take a look at the J-31, it appears to be a hybrid of the F-22 and F-35. What they have under the hood is another question, but nations are pursuing this technology because it works and it’s lethal.

    Every air force in every developed nation is either buying the F-35 or trying to develop 5th generation aircraft themselves.

  14. Michael Hiteshew,

    The best and most thorough non-contractor evaluation of the F-35 says it is a tarted up with stealth F-105.


    Joint Strike Fighter

    In keeping with the F-105 theme — AKA the lack of air-to-air capability — see this:

    The F-35’s Air-to-Air Capability Controversy
    May 30, 2013

    Air Power Australia’s witness before the Australian Parliament, Peter Goon, stated the F-35’s issues this way”

    “It has all the hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme,” he said.

    “When the product fails recruit as many clients as you can, promote the product as loudly as you can, keep the cash flowing for as long as the market remains blind to its failure.”

    link for article where the above quote was pulled in context —

  15. Trent, I’m afraid you’ve been taken in. Air Power Australia is a well known anti-F-35 website and is not given much credence by the professional pilot community. If I have to trust someone, I’m going to trust the Naval Academy physics major grad, then US Navy pilot now F-35 test pilot in the video above, just for example.

    By comparison, the folks at AAP know nothing about the aircraft other than publicly available documents. In addition, if you read through their analyses it’s always like this: The Su-27 flies rings around Jupiter, and that’s just what they admit publicly! Meanwhile, Lockheed claims the F-35 will X, but we think that’s a crock because… Etc, etc. They also do things like wing loading calculations, like this was a tube & wing design from 60’s (like the F-105). It’s a lifting body design with LERX, so wings are only part of the lift.

    And really, some of the claims and comparisons are just asinine. The intakes are shaped like the F-105, and it has a similar body size, so it’s a lead-sled F-105! Whatever. I prefer sources who are in the flight program and knowledgeable of the capabilities. Those folks all seem quite happy with it.

    One more anecdote. I listened to interview with an early F-35 test pilot. He was USAF, flew F-4’s then F-16’s then became a test pilot. He ended up at Lockheed as the lead test pilot on the F-22 then the F-35. He was being asked about the maneuvers the SU-27 makes at airshows and how the F-35 compares. He smiled and nodded his head. Impressive, isn’t it? Totally useless in combat. You tried that in battle and you’d be shot down in 5 seconds, you’re like a kite hanging there with a target on you. He said, yes, I can all that in the F-22 and more. So what.

    More important is what followed. He discussed the airshow performance of an F-16 versus and F-35. There’s a saying in aerospace design that ‘holes are heavy’. If you create a cavity in an aircraft (or spacecraft) it must enclosed by structure. If you mount heavy things inside that cavity and subject those heavy things to high loads, the structure must strong and heavy. One reason the F-35 looks fat and is heavy is that it encloses two large ordnance cavities on either side of the fuselage. However, with the ordnance being enclosed, there is no additional aerodynamic drag imparted by it on the aircraft, there is no radar reflecting off of it, and being close to the center-line, has very little effect on performance. By contrast, once you hang missiles or bombs and fuel tanks on an F-16, like you would if you were actually going into combat, the performance is degraded dramatically. It’s far heavier out on the wings and has far more drag. So it’s far slower and less maneuverable. The Sukhois suffer from the same thing, as do all aircraft. So a combat configured and fueled F-35 has far better performance than a combat configured F-16. But a stripped ‘airshow’ F-16 has better performance than an F-35. So his conclusion: If he was going to an airshow, he’d take a stripped F-16. If he were going to war, no question he’d take an F-35. He went on to say, that’s just raw performance. That does not include all the additional things the F-35 brings, like stealth, sensors, targeting and communications.

    So who’re gonna believe? An experienced old combat and test pilot like him, or Air Power Australia?

  16. “The USAF has stated publicly it has better stealth and sensors than the F-22. This will smoke anything in the Russian air force. They won’t know what hit them.”

    You should understand that Stealth is no panacea. Any modern low frequency radar can see Stealth fighters and bombers. Both the Russians and Chinese are working hard in this area. It’s targeting that’s difficult with these radars and that can be dealt with to some extent by extremely maneuverable, very fast fighters. Once inside of the comfort zone the F35 needs and the F22 wants, things change. The off bore sight, Russian close range missiles are very good. If they see you, you die.

    I will continue to hope we never find out.

  17. dearieme: Dear God, are you buggers planning to attack Russia now?

    A U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane flying over the Baltic Sea was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 jet in what the U.S. military said Saturday was “an unsafe and unprofessional manner.”

    The statement from the U.S. European Command said the incident occurred Thursday in international airspace and at no time did the American plane cross into Russian territory.

    * * *

    Days ago, Russian fighter jets flew very close to the USS Donald Cook in international waters in the Baltic Sea. The crew aboard the warship was dumbfounded to see the apparently unarmed SU-24 planes fly as close as 9 meters from the destroyer — close enough to create a wake in the water.

    The more relevant question is whether Russia is planning to attack yet another of its neighbors?

  18. Michael: I am sure that Obama is thrilled with the F-35 because he thinks that it it does what he wants it to do: cripple America’s air power and destroy its military effectiveness.

    More generally I think we are ignoring the The fundamental insight of the technological revolution of the past 40 years that came from Carver Mead. He saw that it was possible to create a virtuous cycle: smaller, faster, cooler, cheaper.

    In 2002, the DoD conducted the Millennium Challenge 2002 war game. It was an embarrassment for the conventional ideas of the Pentagon. The Pentagon is a giant bureaucracy that seems committed to producing bigger, more expensive, gimcrack laden weapons like the F-35.

    Airpower based on the F35 and quarter-mile long aircraft carriers is like agriculture based on elephants. Smaller creatures are more manageable, and less risky and costly to deploy. The UAV opens an opportunity to replace the brontosauruses with mammals.

    We need to fix the bureaucratic monster that the Pentagon has become.

    “The New Rules of War: The visionary who first saw the age of “netwar” coming warns that the U.S. military is getting it wrong all over again. Here’s his plan to make conflict cheaper, smaller, and smarter.” By John Arquilla February 11, 2010

    “Why a Big-Ship Navy Can’t Win the Wars of the Future” by Mike Fredenburg August 26, 2015

    “Railguns: The Next Big Pentagon Boondoggle?: The Navy’s replacement for traditional artillery may be an expensive fantasy.” by Mike Fredenburg December 18, 2014

  19. The A-10 seems to be a bit of spare change in ones pocket when compared to the F-35, yet it will be sent to Davis-Monthan without a valid replacement just to save a few dollars. The projected use of F-35 for CAS, with no real planning other than moving budget dollars, may possibly have a deleterious effect on Army personnel.
    If I were king for a day, that would not happen.

  20. The problem with the F-35 is that the program is too big and tries to do too much. They are using variants of the same airframe for VTOL and air superiority. There are too many compromises. This was exactly the problem with the F-111. However, since the F-35 is already being deployed and we don’t have anything else in the pipeline, we are going to have to make the best of it. If we’re lucky the system will be good enough and will be refined over time.

    The big lesson here, not that everyone doesn’t already know it, is that our military procurement system is hopelessly corrupt and inefficient and due for major reform.

  21. Michael Hiteshew,

    I believe the DOT&E 2015 F-35 Annual Report, of which I have a copy.

    The F-35, as currently fielded, will fail in air-to-air combat.

    Via page 37 of the DOT&E 2015 F-35 Annual Report —

    Weapons Integration
    • The program terminated Block 2B developmental testing
    for weapons integration in December 2015 after completing
    12 of the 15 planned WDA events. The program planned to
    complete all 15 WDA events by the end of October 2014,
    but delays in implementing software fixes for deficient
    performance of mission systems sensors and fusion delayed
    progress. Three events were deferred to Block 3i (one event)
    and Block 3F (two events) developmental testing.

    Eleven of the 12 events required intervention by the
    developmental test control team to overcome system
    deficiencies and ensure a successful event
    (i.e., acquire
    and identify the target and engage it with a weapon).
    The program altered the event scenario for three of
    these events, as well as the twelfth event, specifically to
    work around F-35 system deficiencies (e.g., changing
    target spacing or restricting target maneuvers and

    – The performance of the Block 2B-configured F-35, if used
    in combat, will depend in part on the degree to which the
    enemy’s capabilities exceed the constraints of these narrow
    scenarios and the operational utility of the workarounds
    necessary for successful weapons employment.

    IOW, the only way that the F-35 could win in simulated combat tests was with “Cheat Codes.”

    See the Michael Gilmore comment via Popular Mechanics.

    “…Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, which casts serious doubts on whether the Marines’ current version of the F-35, the Block 2B, is capable of entering combat on it own.

    Writes Gilmore: “If in an opposed combat scenario, the F-35 Block 2B aircraft would need to avoid threat engagement and would require augmentation by other friendly forces.”

    Deficiencies like the above make the credibility of APA reports on the F-35 all but bullet proof.

    Especially since they predicted that the F-35 weapon bay’s internal heating would fry any internal guided missile carried, and sure enough, guess what has shown up as a testing deficiency.

  22. “What they have under the hood is another question”: it’s probably wise to assume that what the Chinese have under the hood is anything that the US has developed recently, plus anything that China might have developed itself.

    As for the F-35: if I were looking for a new car I don’t think I’d want a vehicle that claimed to be a convertible, an SUV, an RV, a hovercraft, and a family sedan all in one.

  23. dearieme Says:
    April 18th, 2016 at 9:20 am

    “This will smoke anything in the Russian air force.” Dear God, are you buggers planning to attack Russia now?

    Aside from the recent Russian probes in the Baltics, in our own airspace, and off our coasts; there is the matter that most of our adversaries [yes we have them] for the last couple of generations have used Russian made equipment. And it is not unknown for those adversaries’ Russian equipment to be operated by Russian “volunteers”.

    If Britain had an aerospace industry that made and sold aircraft to our adversaries to be used against us, Britain would be the benchmark we would use in judging threat levels.

    China has gained the advantage of having access to all American designs and classified materials, so it makes sense that they would use that advantage as a starting point. And they have an advantage in that their government is not an enemy of their own country, so their efforts will be consistent and single minded.

  24. “The more relevant question is whether Russia is planning to attack yet another of its neighbors?”

    You have this backwards. It’s the US that’s steadily upping the ante and preparing to go to war with both Russia and China. This is to preserve it’s preeminent place in the world.

    The Ukraine job was a masterpiece of political engineering, but also an attack on Russia and it’s influence in Europe. The reason Russia took Syria away from the US was, in part, an answer to the Ukraine.

  25. “are fully dedicated now to developing their own comparable 5th generation aircraft.”

    China has all our classified info plus anything they have developed their own.

    This is nothing new. In World War II we learned in Navy fighters and submarines but at great cost.

    The bombing campaign in Europe was failing until the P 51 came along.

    The P 38 was great in the Pacific for a couple of reasons. It’s range and the warmer conditions. Plus the Japanese had inferior fighters once we learned about them.

    We will not have the time to learn this time. The MiG 17 and 21 could defeat the F 4 Phantom in Vietnam even though the pilots loved them.

    Israel is probably a better military to copy but politically, the present administration is devoted to fallacies all down the line.

  26. “What they have under the hood is another question, but nations are pursuing this technology because it works and it’s lethal.”

    They have Russian engines or their own copies of them. This is a test of capability. Only the US, Russia and Britain can make good jet engines. It’s very difficult and requires a whole host of advanced technology.

    The Russian fighter jet engines are among the best there are, maybe better that the US equivalents. They can do that crazy stuff with their super maneuverable Su 27 – Su 35 jets as their engines won’t go out. A real problem for an engine that has to deal with a wide range of conditions, while putting down oddles of power.

    The Chinese are not really there yet, although very close, and they have the Russians to supply both plant and ideas, so it won’t take long.

  27. We will not have the time to learn this time. The MiG 17 and 21 could defeat the F 4 Phantom in Vietnam even though the pilots loved them.

    Again Mike, this is not 1965. You keep fighting the last war. Do you take nothing from the air exercise results above, with 4th gen aircraft pitted against the stealthy, sensor laden F-22? And that is one of the goals of those exercises, to learn what works and what doesn’t.

  28. Mike K Says:

    >>The bombing campaign in Europe was failing until the P 51 came along.


    It was doctrinal change, and not the P-51, that won air superiority over Europe.


    History Friday: Deconstructing the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative‏
    Posted by Trent Telenko on September 27th, 2013

    The Battle of Britain in 1940 made clear that killing enemy fighter pilots faster than well trained replacements can arrive is how one achieves air superiority. The key innovation that created air superiority over Europe wasn’t the technical and organization triumph that Kennedy describes with the introduction of the P-51 into combat. It was a _doctrinal change_ that allowed the use of existing fighters with droppable auxiliary fuel tanks. Fighters with drop tanks were used in three shifts to cover the bomber formations during a. Penetration of enemy air space, b. At the target area and c. During withdrawal, too which the long range P-51 was added. The three shift fighter escort doctrine allowed USAAF fighters to drop fuel tanks and dog fight for 30 minutes with full engine power with German fighters, while still protecting the bombers. Enemy fighters that attacked American fighters were not attacking US bombers, and enemy pilots dying in such fights did not come back to kill anything.

    Recognition of the need for this doctrinal change was only possible after the Bomber Mafia’s Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) approved self-escorting heavy bomber doctrine failed the test of combat during the 14 Oct 1943 Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission over Southern Germany

  29. “this doctrinal change was only possible after the Bomber Mafia’s Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) approved self-escorting heavy bomber doctrine failed the test of combat”

    Yes. The doctrine change needed a fighter with the range, The 15th Air Force in north Africa continued to use P 38s until end of the war.

    The P 38 had good range but the buffeting problem when diving was not solved until the P 38J. By that time, it was 1945. Also the P38 had problems with cockpit heat in Europe.

  30. Mike K,

    The War Production Board killed the highest performing Allison engine powered P-38 in May 1943, and refused to authorize a Merlin engine powered version, for production reasons.

    Had the P-38K gone forward in May 1943, it would have been available in the Fall of 1943 at the same time as the P-51B with superior performance.


    and especially:

    There was only one P-38K-1-LO built. This prototype (42-13558) combined a P-38G-10-LO airframe with more powerful 1425 hp V-1710-75/77 (V-1710F-15) engines, rated at over 1875 hp war emergency power. The engines were housed in nacelles similar to those of the P-38J and driving broader-chord propellers. In order to accommodate the new propellers it was necessary to increase the diameter of the propeller spinners slightly, which affected the top cowling lines and the interface at the oil cooler/intercooler inlet.

    Tests of the P-38K were carried out between Feb 24 and Apr 30, 1943. The performance of the P-38K was quite a bit better than that of the production P-38J–in fact its performance was superior to all other fighters then in production in the USA, including the P-51B and the P-47D. Maximum speed at 29,600 feet was 432 mph. At 40,000 feet, maximum speed was 40 mph faster than that of the P-38J. It was expected that maximum speed at war emergency power could be as high as 450 mph. Initial climb rate was 4800 feet per minute, and an altitude of 20,000 could be reached in 5 minutes. Service ceiling was expected to be above 48,000 feet, and range was expected to be increased by 10 to 15 percent. However, the War Production Board was unwilling to allow even a short production suspension in order to retool for the required changes to the engine cowling. Consequently, the P-38K was not developed any further.

    There was some talk throughout the war about fitting the P-38 airframe with a pair of Rolls Royce Merlin XX engines. However the War Production Board was unwilling to shut down the Lightning production for the several months it would have taken to retool for the engine swap. As a result, the Merlin project was shelved and no P-38 was ever flown fitted with Rolls Royce Merlin or Packard Merlin engines. So far as I am aware, no P-38s were ever even retrofitted in the field with Merlin engines.


    1. Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1987

    2. The P-38J-M Lockheed Lightning, Profile Publications, Le Roy Weber Profile Publications, Ltd, 1965.

    3. War Planes of the Second World War, Fighters, Volume Four, William Green, Doubleday, 1964.

    4. Famous Fighters of the Second World War, William Green, Doubleday, 1967.

    5. The American Fighter, Enzo Anguluci and Peter Bowers, Orion Books, 1987. United States Military Aircraft since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.

    6. Whatever Happened to the Lockheed P-38K? Corey C. Jordan,

    7. The Lockheed P-38 Lightning, The Definitive Story of Lockheed’s P-38 Fighter, Warren M. Bodie, Widewings Publications, 1991.

  31. PenGun Says:
    April 19th, 2016 at 2:35 pm
    “What they have under the hood is another question, but nations are pursuing this technology because it works and it’s lethal.”

    They have Russian engines or their own copies of them. This is a test of capability. Only the US, Russia and Britain can make good jet engines. It’s very difficult and requires a whole host of advanced technology.

    The Russian fighter jet engines are among the best there are, maybe better that the US equivalents. They can do that crazy stuff with their super maneuverable Su 27 – Su 35 jets as their engines won’t go out. A real problem for an engine that has to deal with a wide range of conditions, while putting down oddles of power.

    The Chinese are not really there yet, although very close, and they have the Russians to supply both plant and ideas, so it won’t take long.

    Penny, if I were you, I would avoid commenting upon subjects that you have absolutely NO expertise on. The Russians actually build crappy jet engines. The French and Japanese build much better ones that they do. The Chinese cannot even build good monkey copies of Russian engines they buy.

  32. The MiG 17 and 21 were better at dog fighting but had no avionics aside from basic navigation.

    Jet engine technology is even more important than the piston engine technology of WWII.

    If I were going back to engineering, I would go for engine design. The bang for the buck seems more although airframe design is sexier.

  33. I remember as a kid (late 80s early 90s?) I watched an HBO movie about the development of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. “Fraser Crane” (can’t remember his real name) played the crooked pentagon general who pushed through the Bradley, which the movie showed as a bunch of junk, by faking tests etc. etc.

    Just like the F35, they criticized the “too many missions” the Bradley was supposed to do, but Fraser Crane kept pushing the project forward.

    Then Gulf war 1 happened and the Bradley seemed to work just fine.

  34. The purpose of the Bradley is to haul troops carrying lots of gear while protecting them from small arms fire and shrapnel. Anything else it does is icing on the cake. Michael Yon deployed with troops in the Bradley and they loved it. The one serious complaint he had was that it lacked air conditioning and it could get really hot in there in the desert. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone nixed the AC because it would appear to be gold plating.

  35. “Then Gulf war 1 happened and the Bradley seemed to work just fine.”

    Let’s think about this for just a minute.

    The events depicted in that movie happened in the 80s when the Bradley allegedly had serious vulnerabilities with its large, lightly armored, belly mounted fuel tank. One person in the Pentagon, Col Jim Burton recognized the corrupt procurement process could cost the lives of soldiers, so he fought so much for live fire tests to the point that he eventually resigned rather than be part of a system that sacrificed human beings for pure greed, thus answering John Boyd’s famous question:
    To be or to do? Which way will you go?

    Fast forward to the Gulf War in 1990 and the Bradley, with its fuel tank heavily armored and relocated to an external position, performed adequately. Some might even conclude changing that tank saved lives.

    Yeah, I just don’t see any connection either.

Comments are closed.