Saturday, April 28, 2018

(SITE BUSINESS) THERE'S NEW SHERIFFS IN TOWN!





Some of you have messaged me regarding the state of the comments section.  I apologize for not being able to police it given my hectic schedule and desire to spend what little time I have producing content over moderating.

In order to help remedy this, I have decided to bestow moderator powers on those that I trust.  If all goes well I will continue adding moderators as needed.

For the time being, please welcome Jim Leko (PlayLoud) and Harry White (Harry) in their new roles.    Both have proven themselves knowledgeable resources over in the Facebook group and I wish them well in their new roles here.

JAPAN WANTS A "HYBRID" F-22/F-35?

Can we mash these together and make a baby?
Unfortunately for fighter buffs, it appears as though Japan may discontinue its homegrown 5th generation fighter plans.

Despite a relatively successful run of its ATD-X, Tokyo has balked at the overwhelming cost of developing it into a combat-ready production model.  The decision is not yet final, but there seems to be little hope left for the "Shinshin".

While Japan is already on the list to receive the F-35, the JSF has always been considered a consolation price for not getting the F-22.  Unfortunately for  Japan, US law forbade any Raptor exports.  While many would argue that the F-35 is "good enough" it may have a hard time facing Russia's Su-57 and China's J-20.  This has left Japan pining for a high performance air-superiority fighter to replace its aging F-15J fleet.  

So what is Japan to do?

Like a superhero leaping into action (or a vulture swooping in) Lockheed Martin is there.  It has proposed a F-22/F-35 hybrid that "would combine the F-22 and F-35 and could be superior to both of them".   

Yeah...  Right...

So what would a F-22/F-35 hybrid even look like?

Option 1:  Modernized F-22


What Japan really wants...

It would be nice to imagine something as simple and elegant as an updated F-22.  This "F-22J" would use the Raptor's current airframe and engines but upgraded with F-35's improved sensor technology and avionics.  Such a fighter would maintain the F-22's supercruise and super-manueverability while adding much needed IRST (in the form of DAS/EOTS) and networking capability.  It would also modernize the cockpit with the F-35's touchscreen and helmet mounted display.  This would certainly be the "best of both worlds" and would undoubtedly peak the interest of other foreign buyers with deep pockets, not to mention the USAF.  

Unfortunately, the cost to restart F-22 production would be astronomical.  Even producing additional Raptors as is would be well over $200 million per unit.  Add to this the additional cost needed to modify and test those fighters to modern-day standards would push this even higher.  



Option 2:  New F-35 Variant

"F-35E" (from http://www.moddb.com/games/vector-thrust/news/report-045-f-35)
While an upgraded F-22 is a possibility, Lockheed Martin will likely propose a variant of the F-35.  Not only would this keep costs down for Japan, but it would benefit the JSF program as a whole by spreading out development costs and economies of scale even further.

An F-35 variant that emphasizes air superiority over multi-role capability would certainly be doable.  Such a beast would be radically different than the current versions, however.  Design emphasis would be on speed on agility rather than payload.  This F-35 would have to be placed on a massive diet, and its engine and wings would ideally be allow for supercruise capability. 

The image above applies the YF-23's trapezoidal wings and pelikan tail to the F-35's main fuselage.  It also replaces the F-35's conventional engine nozzle for the the F-22's two-dimensional thrust vectoring one.  While this is a work of fan fiction, the general idea seems sound.  Such radical reworkings are not unheard of (witness the F-16XL).

A new F-35 variant may not be practical however.  Given the F-35's troubled development, there may not be much desire to complicate the program more than it already is.  There is also the possibility that the JSF's design is "baked in" to the point that any major design changes are impossible at this point.  

Option 3:  An All New Aircraft



No point in letting this go to waste...
It would be a shame for Japan to abandon the ATD-X entirely.  It is an impressive technology demonstrator in its own right, utilizing fly-by-light (instead of fly-by-wire) flight controls and 3D thrust vectoring.  From a hardware perspective, the ATD-X is an impressive machine.  

Perhaps the answer is to utilize the ATD-X's (upscaled) design while relying on Lockheed Martin's expertise in avionics and stealth.  Whenever possible, technology would be shared with the F-35 to reduce costs.  Focus would remain on air-superiority, with a eye on affordability and sustainability.

In order to reduce costs even further, the aircraft should be marketed to other buyers.  Not the least of which should be the USAF which is facing a existensial crisis in replacing its rapidly aging fleet of F-15Cs.

The risk with going with an all-new fighter is letting "feature creep" take over.  What would be a new "5th Generation" (5.5th gen?) fighter turns into a proposed 6th Generation fighter with all the complexities, budget overruns, and development delays that inevitably follow.  


Uh oh...

As usual, budget considerations will likely be the driving force behind a decision. 

Fighter jet program budgets tend to spiral out of control quite quickly.  Building a fighter custom-tailored a single nation's needs would seem to be incredibly inefficient in this day and age.  

One would think that Japan learned its lesson after the Mitsubishi F-2 debacle, which resulted in a slightly upgraded F-16 at nearly quadruple the cost.  It is unlikely Japan would be willing to fund development of a new fighter or even a variant of an existing one on its own.  At the very least, additional partners willing to share the cost (and risk) would be needed.

Amalgamation with other 5th generation fighter programs; like South Korea's KF-X are a possibility, but generations-old animosities could get in the way.  One might also wonder if Japan would be willing to swallow some of its pride as the world's third largest economical power to do so.  

Given Japan's current debt crisis; it may not be able to afford to do anything at all.  







Tuesday, April 17, 2018

F-35 UPDATE: IT'S STILL A MESS.



With all the political animosity going on against Boeing, one might think that Lockheed-Martin's F-35 has returned to its rightful place as the likely CF-18 replacement.

Time, and the passage of it, works out in favor of the F-35 in Canada.  It has now been over three years since the Liberal Government's rise to power on the promise to scrap the F-35 purchase.  During that time, the JSF program has hit milestones and began to enter service with the US military.  Costs have come down.  Most important of all, its chief sales rival has seen a catastrophic fall from grace.  Given all this, it would seem the F-35 could very well make a Canadian comeback.

Well...  Not so fast.

In the past, two of the JSF's most worrying issues have been its costs and its mission readiness.  Recent reports do little dissuade these fears.

While increasing the F-35's production rate has resulted in a decrease in production cost, its sustainment cost is still outrageously high.  So high, in fact, that the USAF has threatened to cut its future orders until Lockheed Martin is able to reduce the F-35's cost per flight hour (estimated at $50,000/hr).

Obviously, if the JSF is too costly for the USAF, it is certainly to costly for the cash-strapped RCAF.



Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that the F-35 is still woefully unready for combat.  While the USAF and USMC may be willing to declare the aircraft operational, it will likely be some time before the the fighter is actually put in any sort of harm's way.  Despite more than a decade of flight testing, the JSF is still riddled with bugs and falling short of its planned capability.

Concerns about the F-35's reliability are not helped by the fact that the U.S. Department of Defense has begun to refuse new deliveries of the aircraft.  This stems from a dispute last year which saw F-35's delivered without proper rust-proofing.  A fix has been devised, but neither side is willing to pay for the expensive retrofits.

Once again, this proves that the true cost of the F-35 is very much unknown.  In its rush to get the JSF into full-rate production, Lockheed Martin and the Joint Program Office have scores of fighter jets that each require tens-of-millions worth of retrofits.

The JSF program is quickly approaching 300 aircraft...  And they still lack the reliability and the affordability required of them.

The F-35 is the "MAX POWER" of fighter jets.


Friday, April 13, 2018

CAN BOEING MAKE NICE WITH CANADA?


Block III Super Hornet
The Boeing/Bombardier brouhaha can now be delegated to the annals of history.  The C Series is alive and well, thank you very much.

After encouraging the Trump administration to impose stiff tariffs on the Canadian-designed airliner, Bombardier fought back with an Airbus partnership.  That partnership would render those tariffs moot by building C Series in the USA.  If that was not enough, the U.S. International Trade Commission unanimously voted to overturn those tariffs.  After suffering that one-two punch, Boeing has decided to drop its case against Bombardier.

In its zeal to smother the C Series in its crib, Boeing stepped on toes and made enemies.  First, it raised the ire of the Canadian government.  This resulted in Boeing losing a $6 billion Super Hornet order which otherwise would have been a sure thing.  Not only that, but Boeing also ticked off Great Britain (which builds part of the C Series) and Delta Airlines (the C Series most prominent buyer).

Like a Looney Tunes antagonist, Boeing's plans to defeat a seemingly harmless opponent blew up in its face.

Boeing's current state.
Lucky for Boeing, it still has allies in the US government.

Only a few years ago, it seemed that the Super Hornet assembly line would be coming to a close.  Boeing's salvation came in the form of a hawkish new President backed by Republican-controlled House and Senate.  While the Pentagon previously preferred to throw money at the F-35, now the prevailing wisdom seems to be: "Why not both?"  This has given the Super Hornet has a new lease on life.

One has to wonder how Boeing will now fare in international sales, however.  The Super Hornet is still officially a contender to replace the CF-18...  But Boeing has been rather blasé about it, being the only manufacturer to skip an information session.

Boeing may instead decide to focus its efforts on the Indian market.  Like its rival Lockheed-Martin, Boeing has offered to partner up with Indian manufacturers in producing Indian-made Super Hornets.    This deal, while lucrative, may very well end in frustration as India's convoluted military procurement history make's Canada's seem straightforward by comparison.  One simply has to study India's history with the Rafale and the HAL FGFA.

F/A-18E Block III
What are the Super Hornet's chances for a Canadian sale?

The current ice-cold relations between Canada and Boeing do not bode well for the fighter.  Boeing's half-hearted attempts to remain in the contest could be a matter of too little, too late.  It does leave the door open to future damage control, however.

I, for one, am glad to see the Super Hornet is still a candidate to replace the CF-18.  The Block III improvements go a long way to making Rhino more competitive...  Even though Boeing's latest PR material omits the "Enclosed Weapon Pods".  The Super Hornet is a great workhorse.

Can Boeing do anything to rid the sour taste left in Canada's mouth?  Has the Super Hornet been delegated to the role of "also ran" after once being considered the defacto replacement for the CF-18?  Do the Block III improvements do enough to make the Super Hornet competitive against is sexier competitors?

I guess we will see.

Friday, April 6, 2018

I'M BACK!



The house is back together in (relative) order and I have a computer again.  Time to get back to work.  

Thanks to all of those who sent concern and well wishes.  We made out more or less unscathed from the whole process.  While I wouldn't recommend it, having a house fire turns out to be a great way to get some renovations done.  Of course, my hands are now calloused from assembling IKEA furniture and I have a few more grey hairs.

Once I get my bearings, I'd like to find the answers to a few questions:
  • Can Boeing and Canada make nice again?
  • Is the F-35 program still a mess?
  • Will the Aussie Hornets be lemons?
  • Will Canada ever get a new fighter to replace the CF-18?
  • Should I buy a drone?
  • What's the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
Hopefully we can find the answers to these question (and more) in the upcoming months.  

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A QUICK UPDATE...



I just wanted to give a quick update to those wondering where the hell I’ve been for the last couple of months.

As you may have heard; I am still very much alive and well after a house fire.  The main floor and all our belongings in it was pretty much a loss due to extensive smoke damage.  This included the computer in which I used to research and write this particular blog.  Thankfully, my house is slowly but surely being repaired and we are hoping to move back in sometime late next month.  Then begins the long process of replacing furniture, electronics, appliances, etc.  Needless to say, I already have a desk and computer all picked out.

With any luck, I should be able to get back to blogging in earnest somewhere in late April to May.  Since we now have confirmation that Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Eurofighter, Dassault, and Saab are participating; it should be a hell of a ride.

Thanks for your patience and please stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

USED AUSSIE HORNETS: IT’S OFFICIAL



Well...  We all saw this coming, didn’t we?

It was announced today that the the Canadian government will acquire 18 used RAAF F/A-18 Hornets. This will address the “capability gap” that the RCAF finds itself in thanks to an aging fighter fleet.  

Along with this announcement, it was announced that Canada would begin its search for a permanent CF-18 replacement.  If all goes according to plan, a contract will be awarded by 2022 with deliveries beginning in 2025.  Interestingly enough, it was announced that the new fighter analysis will include an assessment of "overall impact on Canada's economic interests," (take that, Boeing!)

So...  I looks like it’ll be ANOTHER four years (at least) before this long, winding CF-18 replacement saga.  (And me without my iMac!)


p.s:  I want to thank all of you who have offered support after my recent personal challenge.  It is very much appreciated.  

Just to give you an update, my family and I are safe and sound. We have a place to stay and the insurance company has been great so far.  While the house fire was limited to the kitchen, smoke damage has written off most of the interior of the house. It’s all mostly stuff that can be replaced or repaired and we we are looking at it as chance to do some much needed renovations. 

This holiday season is going to be different for sure, but it’s driving home what is really important:  Family, friends, and good will toward mankind. 

I hope to make the occasional post here over the next few months. Luck willing, things will be back to normal just in time for Canada’s fighter search to begin in earnest.