Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ride Level into the Danger Zone

The F-35 is not a dogfighting plane. That's how it was designed.

This should not be news to anyone:

A test pilot has some very, very bad news about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The pricey new stealth jet can’t turn or climb fast enough to hit an enemy plane during a dogfight or to dodge the enemy’s own gunfire, the pilot reported following a day of mock air battles back in January.

“The F-35 was at a distinct energy disadvantage,” the unnamed pilot wrote in a scathing five-page brief that War Is Boring has obtained. The brief is unclassified but is labeled “for official use only.”

The government defends the F-35 by noting the plane wasn't fully equipped, that the exercise wasn't a dogfighting scenario, and that the plane really doesn't dogfight, anyway.

As I wrote back in 2008, the F-35 is designed to have situational awareness and the ability to launch a missile at a target in any direction:

Rather than entering a turning fight at the merge, the F-35 barrels through and takes an over-the-shoulder defensive shot. As a Northrop Grumman video puts it, "maneuvering is irrelevant".

So the test pilot is only confirming that the plane flies as designed. What I want to know is whether the plane can fight as designed.

More on Distributed Aperture System (DAS) that is supposed to enable this capability.

As I said in that older post, I don't know nearly enough to say that the F-35 design concept is wrong. But I know enough about past claims about the end of dogfighting to worry that it is wrong.

And if we're wrong, we don't have another plane to take up the slack.