Will this F-35 survive its enemy? We doubt it.

The survivability of the future main combat jet of the US armed forces and many of their allies is again in doubt. Despite praising Red Flag Exercise after-action reports on deployed US Air Force and US Marine Corps F-35s, Airheadsfly.com feels the effectiveness in tomorrow’s air war against – let’s say – Russian or even Swedish fighter jets is not as rosy as we are “made” to believe.

A “Twenty-to-One kill ratio” by US Air Force F-35As and “extremely capable across several mission sets” for US Marine Corps F-35Bs. Wonderful statements in beautiful analyses on the most modern 5th generation fighter jet of US-allied armed forces going to “war” over the combat ranges of Nevada from Nellis Air Force Base. If we believe these reports flying the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II into combat is like winning the jackpot on The Strip in adjacent Las Vegas city.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force is one of the many countries that will field the F-35 as a successor to the F-16 (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Royal Netherlands Air Force is one of the many countries that will field the F-35 as a successor to the F-16 (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Vegas

But what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas? What is not clear in neither the US Air Force statements as in the recent released report written by Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121’s Lt. Col. J.T. Bardo is how realistic the scenarios played at Red Flag are. We have no doubt they do mirror future war situations, but we do question if the more capable enemy aircraft are really put into play.

“Overall, the F-35 was far more survivable than the participating legacy aircraft,” commander Bardo writes on the six Marines F-35Bs participating in Red Flag 2016-3. Of course, the newer jet should be able to do a better job than the 4th generation F-16 Block 30 and 40s that were deployed. But can it match the Russian Sukhoi Su-37s or Swedish SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen MS20s?

The Sukhoi Su-35S (Flanker-E) (Image © Sukhoi Company)
The Sukhoi Su-35S (Flanker-E): F-35 killer? (Image © Sukhoi Company)

Adversaries

The “professional adversaries” (Aggressor aircraft) during the Red Flag 2016-3 were above all 1980/1990s-era F-16s of the US Air Force 64th Aggressor Squadron as well as 1960s-era McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks flown by the Draken International paramilitary organisation. Hardly comparable to the most modern aircraft of today.

When it comes to manoeuvrability and range the F-35 is by far outmatched by its modern Russian rivals, such as the Sukhoi Su-35BM/S equipped with trust-vectoring (movable) engines. The Lightning II flies only a two-thirds (1,200 mls / 2,200 km) of the distance the Su-35 (1,980 mls / 3,600 km), while having tankers in a bandit-rich environment is not considered a likely scenario.

Once upgraded to MS20 standard Swedish-made Gripen aircraft are said to be able to “see” stealthy adversaries very clearly (Image © Elmer van Hest)

JAS 39 Gripen MS20

True, the F-35 has the stealth advantage but according to sources within Swedish SAAB and the Swedish Air Force the newest MS20 software upgrade of the JAS 39 Gripen jet enables the aircraft’s radar and other systems to detect and counter these stealthy aircraft quite well. Although it is unlikely American jocks will fly against Vikings the new Meteor missile has given the JAS 39 Gripen – as well as the French Rafale – a lethal weapon against enemy aircraft over the 60 miles (100 km) range.

The Swedes have fielded the upgraded Gripen MS20 and Meteor mainly to cope with the Russian Sukhoi PAK A/T-50 stealthy air-supiority fighter and the non-stealthy Flankers of the 4+ generation. But the technology as such can – in the wrong hands – quite likely turn a F-35 into a smoking hole in the ground as well.

A French Rafale launching the new BVR Meteor AAM (Image © French Ministry of Defence)
A French Rafale launching the new BVR Meteor AAM (Image © French Ministry of Defence)

S-400

What the largest country of Scandinavia has, is quite likely to be available soon in some sort to the jocks flying for Moscow. Add the newest generation of Russian electronic counter measures and the Red Bear outclasses the American Eagle. Especially if the threat from the ground is added. Russia’s S-400/40N6 surface-to-air missile system can kill targets up to 250 miles (400 km) away at speeds up to Mach 5.9 (4,500 mph or 2,000 m/s).

Moreover, Russia is traditionally keeping a better pace between aircraft and missile technology, while US puts more money into its aircraft technology and let its pilots often fly with somewhat antiquated anti-air weaponry and having its ground forces operating with less-good-than-what-the-Russians-have missile batteries.

An F-35A inflight. (Image © Lockheed Martin)
An F-35A inflight. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Believe vs Make-believe

We do believe the F-35s state-of-the-art sensors give its users a great asset in any war scenario, but with still lacking basic things as stand-off weapons, the ability to bring just four air-to-air missiles to the air war in order to remain stealthy (all weapons internal) and with the newest electronic counter and detect developments made by other defence manufacturers worldwide the survivability as advertised by the Red Flag after-action reports may very well be nothing more than make-believe.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: Killer or prey? A hoovering F-35B at the Royal Internationl Air Tattoo in 2016 (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Fourth and final A400M delivered to Malaysia

Airbus delivered the fourth and final Airbus A400M military transport aircraft to the Royal Malaysian Air Force on Thursday 9 March. The delivery comes exactly two years after delivery of the first A400M to Malaysia.

A Malaysian delegation formally accepted the fourth A400M at the Airbus production facility in Seville, Spain. The aircraft will soon head to Malaysia for participation in the LIMA airshow in Langkawi  in Malaysia, which kicks off on 21 March.

Meanwhile, A Royal Air Force A400M this week visited Indonesia during a round the world trip. Indonesia is said to be a potential customer for the A400M.

Belgian F-16s to fly until 2028

Belgium’s F-16 jets are to keep flying until 2028, when the last will be replaced by a yet to be determined new fighter jet. According to reports in Belgium, the first new fighter jet should enter service in 2023. For five years, the new jet will operate alongside the F-16, after which the curtain will fall for the latter.

The Belgian government in Brussels has put aside 3.5 billion EUR to replace 54 F-16 with a total of 34 new jets. Candidates are the Lockheed Martin F-35, Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen, Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon.  The F-35 is widely regarded as the most likely choice for the Belgians. A final decision is expected in 2018.

Of the original European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) in the seventies, Belgium will use the F-16 the longest. The other participating countries – the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark – all already selected the F-35 as their F-16 replacement. Norway is expected to loose its F-16 by 2021, with the Netherlands following in 2023. Denmark should not be far behind.

Belgium back then was actually also the very first European nation to receive the F-16. The first jet was delivered on 29 January 1979 after being assembled by SABCA

 

Indian Navy to bid farewell to the Albatross

The Indian Navy is set to bid farewell to its mighty Tupolev Tu-142 maritime patrol aircraft later this month, according to reports in India. The move comes as no surprise, since the aircraft – nicknamed Albatross in India – are being replaced by Boeing P-8i aircraft.

India received eight Tu-142s from Soviet hands back in 1988. The Tu-142 is basically a navalized and lengthened variant of the famous Russian Tu-95 Bear bomber. Only three have remained in Indian service over recent years. On 29 March, the curtains also falls for these three aircraft.

India has ordered 12 fare more advanced Boeing P-8i Poseidons. The Tu-142 farewell fits perfectly into the modernisation efforts by the Indian Navy, which is also seeking 57 new multirole fighter jets for operations on board its current and future aircraft carriers.

France: Airbus H160 as new tri-service chopper

France on Friday announced the selection of the Airbus H160 as the new helicopter for its  air force, army and navy. Around 170 new helicopters are needed to replace many dozens of older rotorcraft of various types. Deliveries of the H160, which currently is still under development, should start in 2024.

France is looking to replace many dozens of AS342 Gazelle, AS365 Dauphin, armed AS365 Panthers and AS555 Fennecs, plus SA330 Pumas.

The choice for the H160 is somewhat surprising, given the fact that Airbus only presented this new helicopter last year and is still busy developing the new chopper. The H160 includes many innovative features, including oddly shaped main rotor blades, which according to the manufacturer reduce noise and increase payload lift.