F-35 Program - General Discussion

John Newman

The Bunker Group
I wonder how the USAF and allied airforces fell about the cancelled F-35 alternative engine from GE (F136)? As a side note, problems with a high performance engine like P&W’s F135 are a good example of why China’s J-20 isn’t likely to see the long promised high performance WS-15 anytime soon.
I disagree.

For all we know the F136 reliability could have been better, the same or worse than the F135 engine.

Then you’d have to have two separate maintenance centres, two groups of workers, two spare parts and supply chains, etc.

Two engines also means smaller production runs, which usually equates to higher per unit cost.

The DefenseNews article is suggesting that one of the two reported problems is due to the maintenance centre not processing the engines as quickly as projected (two different engines, twice the potential delays?).

And secondly a ‘small number’ of engines have a problem with rotor blade coatings.

As for the rest of the article quoting the ‘unnamed defense official’, how much of that is a beat up?
 

Boagrius

Well-Known Member

John Fedup

The Bunker Group
There have been numerous articles about DoD concerns about the shrinking supply chains. If the F-18 and F-15 programs had terminated, where does that leave GE wrt to fighter engines? Seems like a great deal for P&W, not so much for NG, Boeing, and even LM on future fast jets.
 

ngatimozart

Super Moderator
Staff member
Verified Defense Pro
There have been numerous articles about DoD concerns about the shrinking supply chains. If the F-18 and F-15 programs had terminated, where does that leave GE wrt to fighter engines? Seems like a great deal for P&W, not so much for NG, Boeing, and even LM on future fast jets.
Yes I have read those and it's not looking good. They may have to acquire European engines, either RR or IAI and that wouldn't go down well. It's not just engines where it's a concern either, but right across the US defence industry, where consolidation appears to be an ongoing process and it's reducing competition, variety, and innovation. It increases the cost of platforms and their LCC as the Primes increase their LCC support costings, because that's where they are making their money, and lots of it.
 

MARKMILES77

Active Member

This is now the third US service to apparently want to reduce their F35 buy.
What is the issue here?
Are the costs of operating the F35 felt to be prohibitively expensive or is there something else going on?
 

OPSSG

Super Moderator
Staff member
Post 1 of 2: Providing Context

This is now the third US service to apparently want to reduce their F35 buy.
And yet, the F-35 production run duration remains with buys from allies and partners from Japan, Korea, Poland, Singapore and so on which will make up for the reduced buy from three US military services. The current wait list for a new buying country without the US military adjusting its buy slots is 7 to 9 years.
What is the issue here?
1. The USAF needs to admit that it has a force structure issue that was created when the F-22A production was ended early at 187 — with its companion F-15EX buy and the USAF’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program’s demonstrator that is being tested (as a F-22A replacement). The USAF effort should not be confused with the US Navy’s effort that has the same program name.

(a) There are known issues with shortages of the F135 engines that has hit the fleet and noted that in 2021 “roughly 5 to 6 percent” of the aircraft could be without engines due to a combination of scheduled depot maintenance and unscheduled engine removals.​
(b) In an interview Dr Will Roper (often referred to as the “USAF acquisition czar”) said that the F-35 sustainment point is not where it should be, explaining that “right now the F-35 has a good ‘sticker price,’ but its cost of ownership is not where it needs to be, making the quantities that the Air Force may need to purchase in question”.​
(c) F-35A cost per flying hour (CPFH) calculations can vary significantly but all of them add costs for the JSF program that they do not include for other 4.5 generation fighters they compare it to. ECM and a precision infra-red targeting system are built into the F-35, elevating its maintenance requirements and ultimately its CPFH. Fighters like the F-15EX, F-16V and FA-18E require additional equipment like external pods to give them similar capabilities but, because they are not “built in,” the pod’s acquisition price is not factored into those 4.5 generation jets’ purchase price, nor are maintenance costs for those systems included in their CPFH calculations.​
(d) The JSF program office hopes to bring the F-35A CPFH down to its eventual target of US$25,000. If that happens in 2025, the F-35’s CPFH can begin to compare much more favorably with the F-16 CPFH of US$25,541 (FY12 dollars).​
(e) Increasingly, the TRL level of an idea is important consideration (see point 7 below for the NASA link which explains). What we are seeing is digital engineering at work — the so-called eSeries concept — has also become a hallmark of the USAF’s new T-7A Red Hawk trainer, as well as the NGAD program, which is taking a system-of-systems approach to developing future aerial combat capabilities.​
(f) The USAF Chief of Staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. suggested the new tactical fighter would be tailored to work complementary to NGAD, as well as the F-35. Instead of exclusively buying the F-35, as had long been its plan, the USAF is studying a future fighter fleet that might include new-build F-16s or possibly a clean-sheet 4.5th-generation fighter, said USAF chief of staff General Charles Brown on 17 Feb 2021.​
(g) The USAF first strayed from its stealth aircraft buying plan in 2020 when it started buying the Boeing F-15EX to replace the F-15C. Brown has asked for a study into the service’s future force mix, which could include a “clean-sheet design” to replace the F-16.​
(h) If you ask me, I am less keen on loyal wing man to work along side F-35s and more keen on DARPA’s long-shot, which will enable non-VLO fighters and sensors operating in the maritime domain (eg. B-1B, P-8A, F-15J, F-15K, F-15SG, F-18E block 3, EA-18G Growler and so on) to remain threat relevant in the 2040s.​
(i) The EA-18G Growler is a serious EW and ECM asset to any operator. The Growler is in essence a combination of a SIGINT-platform gathering data from anything that is emitting, as well as a jamming platform blocking any system from emitting anything useful, be it communications or radars. The wingtip ALQ-218 RF Receivers are described as “extremely good” and tell the pilot not only what is out there, but also where it is. The crew can then decide what to do with that information, whether to engage with weapons, avoid, or jam. The amount of information on the electronic order of battle gathered by the Growler is huge (with the snapshot of what the Growler visiting during HX Challenge managed to capture simply through its passive sensors) and seen as “eye-opening” with regards to the “saturation of information”. This is where the dedicated crew member comes into play.​
(j) Certainly in the late 2030s, F-15SG’s CONOPS for WSO training program or EA-18G CONOPS for training the 2nd crew member, both in a maritime strike/SEAD role is going to be increasingly copied or replicated in a systematic fashion by various countries in the Indo-Pacific.​

2. I believe we will see resistance to developing certain types of CONOPS but easy adoption of certain CONOPS as an evolution of an existing idea. In Feb 2020, the US Navy flew two Boeing EA-18G Growlers as autonomous unmanned air vehicles, using a third Growler as a flight controller — the WSO is controlling the UAVs.

3. IMHO, DARPA’s long-shot is going to be more successful in FMS buys than LRSM will be in the medium term; where the WSO programs the flight profile of these munitions that are in essence loitering munitions — as a variation of SEAD mission sets, needed for modem maritime strike.

4. The B-21 program and its speedy roll out shows that the USAF needs to retire the B-1B faster than I expected. VLO requirements have evolved since the F-35 program has started testing.
 
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OPSSG

Super Moderator
Staff member
Post 2 of 2: Providing Context

5. Just as there was a high-low mix in the past, every Asia Pacific F-35 operator that has to adjust to China’s rise will have a VLO and non-VLO aircraft mix. I reject false punditry on the F-35 that uses a very restricted repertoire — criticizing known prior failures that is on the way to being resolved by additional engineering design work.
(a) IMO, the USAF is not immune from this logic a VLO and non-VLO aircraft mix; and a USAF buy if a clean sheet F-16 replacement is designed (and it may not due to an upcoming analysis of alternatives).​
(b) Just think of F-18E block 3 level of avionics, radar signature management, missile carriage ability and range, as a reference guide, that can result in a cost conscious product that is sellable to tier 3 partners in Taiwan, Indonesia and so on. This new eSeries concept aircraft type is also likely to have improved internal cooling to provide for self protection jamming and its AESA radar.​
Are the costs of operating the F35 felt to be prohibitively expensive or is there something else going on?
6. China’s rise and the design range of its air-to-air missiles (and the PLA(N) strike complex ensures that all air forces and navies need to evolve at a system design level). The increasing use of grey zone tactics — Russia SAM and aircraft use in Syria and Chinese aircraft use over Japanese and Taiwanese ADIZs means that the actual use of VLO aircraft is different from just war time use in the continuum of peace to troubled peace (and war) is different over time when the F-35 requirements were laid down, and the current air sovereignty patrols after 9-11, costs, security and so on, results in the USAF having to make changes to its force structure in a cost effective manner.

7. The answer is not found in a platform centric analysis but in how quickly the various air forces can mature an idea to TRL7 and above to meet certain CONOPS (for the multi-domain battle to come). It will take 10 to 15 years to mature the loyal wing man concept (beyond the Growler technology UAV control demonstration — which is an evolution beyond long-shot).

8. IMO, the F-35 should not be sold to countries like Taiwan or Turkey due to security concerns. A new single engine USAF fighter to replace the F-16Cs (in the Air National Guard), will certainly fill a gap in the future fighter requirements of Taiwan.
 
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John Fedup

The Bunker Group
Yet another article on a possible F-35 reset. Between all the stories about new 4.5 Gen clean sheet designs, the recent F-15 EX purchase (albeit small) and the constant worries about CPFH, perhaps talk of cutting the numbers for the USAF may indeed be lead to a reduction. I think it is fair to say the F-35C isn’t lighting the USN on fire. If this happens, hopefully the NGAD program is going to advance. I understand the hi-lo argument but many nations can’t support two fast jet fleets. I fear junior may use this current debate to push for the lo options or the RCAF.
 

Terran

Active Member
The USAF indeed all the US Services need to have internal debates from time to time. With the shifts from counter insurgent operations to great power conflict roles the F35 has been in an odd position. It was I think blustered by asymmetrical conflict models due to it being built more as a bomb dropper than a missile launcher.
F22 by contrast fell into a political point of purely Air to air.
Now as the USAF moves back to Russia or China as prime targets, three aspects of the model set for the USAF have come into focus as potential trouble spots. Air superiority, Deep strike and homeland defense.
The USAF use of Predator and Reaper drones, conventional bomber forces and A10 as well as AC130 aircraft have been strong points in COIN ops around the world. Will likely remain such in joint operations with lesser treaty allies like the Philippines for example. However if you are facing off against even Iran or the DPRK Conventional forces the air denial systems make them highly susceptible to destruction. As we saw with the Global Hawk. Shoot down. These systems were not intended to be used in a contested space. With the shifts to great power threats Those are even more likely to fail.
The F22 cancellation has lead to NGAD and its push for a platform of similar mindset yet more advanced across the board including manufacturing.
B21 is part of deep strike but so should be advances in deterrence.
Its in the latter category where I see the most of the talk about F35 vs 4.5 gens and the talk of E7.
The USAF is In many ways two Air Forces the active and ANG that are intermixed. ANG has been I think the main target for F15EX and talk of a possible four and a half Gen buy. This is due to the costs of upkeep and slow rates of production by the USAF. In homeland security roles stealth is more of an option that might not be needed or in some cases a hindrance. The F15EX buy was based off not some huge advantage vs the legacy Eagle in capability but one of service life. Cap and Fourth Gen comes from a similar point keeping the price point of ANG down well maintaining capacity. This is why I find the clean sheet idea doubtful issues of cost entry into service and maturity I think would push a F16 block 70 or farther tailored version to the job than a unproven, immature design.
It’s also why it’s not a replacement or death for F35. Even if it happens in the future it’s only for a set number and laser focused to units primarily used in highly uncontested airspace roles.

In the other US Services other arguments are being made. For the USN part of what is happening is that the Navy is in the middle of a almost complete house cleaning of its air wing. Transition from Hornet to Rino Hornets is done now it wants to bring in the next block of super rino hornets. Greyhound are phasing out for Osprey, E2C for E2D. With MQ25 and F35C sitting in the spots of brand new emerging models but also with controversy.
Controversy as the USN is in a debate with the fate of the CVN at the heart of it. If the CVN is scrapped after CVN 82 than the whole mix may be forced to change. Forward as the USN moves to whatever. Currently in-debate has been a push to a smaller or simplified future carrier. Another aspect that has been in argument is Carrier air wing aircraft range. In the past the threat of Antiship weapons often ended at the horizon now its long long range and trying to get naval strikes against soft targets in denied spaces creates a problem as range is now an issue. F35C has excellent range but the goal posts changed. So what happens now is a head scratcher. Even F/A18 block III has hit limitations here. Proponents have proposed a new stealth bomber type carrier drone to take the strike mission something bigger than MQ25, stealthier and longer range to basically take a job not found in the USN since I would argue the A-5 Vigilante.

The USMC still seems all in on F35B but it’s questioning what it wants to do in the future as a whole. It’s cut back some yet it’s cut back across the board. Basically the Marines are past debating F35B and are debating the Corps itself. Naval infantry, Marine commandos, Air assault, Army jr, Coastal artillery? What is the future mission/fate of the Marine corps?

Other nations are falling into the question of budget and numbers. With nations like Canada who plans on ordering 88 fighters it’s a question of getting the most bang for the buck. Going with a lesser platform means that you have significantly less growth and mission capability for the long run of the missions. For some the answer will be tied to their navies as the F35B is the only option for the decks of S/TOVL carriers on the market that isn’t limited to rotors or decades old.
 
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spoz

The Bunker Group
For the immediate future (say 10 to 15 years) the US services have little choice but to go F35, or return to designs which are being replaced due to some identified capability challenges in the current environment. Sure they can, indeed should, be hard at work on what the next gen should be (and that is how I read the discussion going on in the USAF) but they can’t sit on their hands as regards current procurement unless they want to face a real gap in their both their qualitative and quantitative ability to discharge their missions.
 

Boagrius

Well-Known Member
Yet another article on a possible F-35 reset. Between all the stories about new 4.5 Gen clean sheet designs, the recent F-15 EX purchase (albeit small) and the constant worries about CPFH, perhaps talk of cutting the numbers for the USAF may indeed be lead to a reduction. I think it is fair to say the F-35C isn’t lighting the USN on fire. If this happens, hopefully the NGAD program is going to advance. I understand the hi-lo argument but many nations can’t support two fast jet fleets. I fear junior may use this current debate to push for the lo options or the RCAF.
A piece from F35 pilot Hasard Lee on this:

 

Boagrius

Well-Known Member
Interesting little promo from LM here about the F35's EW capabilities. One of the criticisms leveled at the F35 by detractors like APA was that it lacked a towed decoy (then the AN/ALE-70 became public knowledge) and that its jamming capability was confined to the forward 120 degree arc covered by the APG-81 AESA, only within its native X-band. The clip below is the first piece of promotional material I have seen that explicitly depicts a 360 degree active emitting/jamming/EA capability, which would make sense if present.

Now, given that this is merely marketing material, it is obviously not safe to make any assumptions about what features are or are not present on the aircraft. Rather, my take-away is that it is never safe to make superficial assumptions about highly secretive systems, with the EW capabilities of a state-of-the-art stealth fighter being a prime example.

 

OPSSG

Super Moderator
Staff member
The U.S. Defense Department’s most recent estimate in 2020 shows that Block 4 development is now projected to reach $14,4 billion, that's quite a lot for just a modernisation program.
The Block 4 modernization contract award, is so large it is almost a separate program, and this was given in late 2018 or early 2019. Rather than one large monolithic refresh, Block 4 will be released in waves, with a Block 4.1, 4.2, and so on.
(a) Block 4 aircraft will boast faster computers (x25 times faster), more missiles, panoramic cockpit display, longer ranges, AI-flown wingmen and increased electronic warfare capabilities, allowing the F-35 to quickly jam enemy radar and radio signals. The result is a strikingly different F-35 that comprises of 53 improvements to counter emerging threats.​
(b) Part of that contract will entail creating an open architecture environment for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) that would allow sensors and other equipment to be more easily integrated onto the aircraft. This is a major effort that would be considered a MLU in other fighter programs.​
(c) Block 4.2 or 4.3 in the 2023 timeframe will affect the ability of the DoD to upgrade the JSF through competition, reducing DoD reliance on Lockheed Martin.​
(d) These upgrades include 13 electronic warfare updates, cockpit and navigation upgrades, and a new wing-mounted fuel tank system should increase the F-35’s range by 25%, at the cost of greater radar visibility.​
(e) The F-35 has four basic missions: air superiority, or offensive and defensive counterair; suppression or destruction of enemy air defenses (known as SEAD and DEAD); close air support; and strategic attack against high-value strategic and mobile targets. Block 4 also adds a fifth basic mission, Winter said: “extended surface warfare.” Upgrades will enhance radar “for maritime surveillance, identification and targeting.”​

Q: Why do you think Singapore delayed buying the F-35B for so long (and that the contract signed is limited to 4 F-35Bs with an option for 8 more)?

I would speculate the in 2026, Singapore is likely to receive block 4.2 or 4.3 aircraft, when the 1st four are delivered.
 
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Sandhi Yudha

Well-Known Member
The Block 4 modernization contract award, is so large it is almost a separate program, and this was given in late 2018 or early 2019. Rather than one large monolithic refresh, Block 4 will be released in waves, with a Block 4.1, 4.2, and so on.
(a) Block 4 aircraft will boast faster computers (x25 times faster), more missiles, panoramic cockpit display, longer ranges, AI-flown wingmen and increased electronic warfare capabilities, allowing the F-35 to quickly jam enemy radar and radio signals. The result is a strikingly different F-35 that comprises of 53 improvements to counter emerging threats.​
(b) Part of that contract will entail creating an open architecture environment for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) that would allow sensors and other equipment to be more easily integrated onto the aircraft. This is a major effort that would be considered a MLU in other fighter programs.​
(c) Block 4.2 or 4.3 in the 2023 timeframe will affect the ability of the DoD to upgrade the JSF through competition, reducing DoD reliance on Lockheed Martin.​
(d) These upgrades include 13 electronic warfare updates, cockpit and navigation upgrades, and a new wing-mounted fuel tank system should increase the F-35’s range by 25%, at the cost of greater radar visibility.​
(e) The F-35 has four basic missions: air superiority, or offensive and defensive counterair; suppression or destruction of enemy air defenses (known as SEAD and DEAD); close air support; and strategic attack against high-value strategic and mobile targets. Block 4 also adds a fifth basic mission, Winter said: “extended surface warfare.” Upgrades will enhance radar “for maritime surveillance, identification and targeting.”​

Q: Why do you think Singapore delayed buying the F-35B for so long (and that the contract signed is limited to 4 F-35Bs with an option for 8 more)?

I would speculate the in 2026, Singapore is likely to receive block 4.2 or 4.3 aircraft, when the 1st four are delivered.
Thank you for your detailed explanation.
So in fact with this upgrade Lockheed-Martin modify the F-35 into a 5,5th generation fighter.

Then it is indeed better to wait for Block 4 for more orders.
 
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OPSSG

Super Moderator
Staff member
So in fact with this upgrade Lockheed-Martin modify the F-35 into a 5,5th generation fighter.
I would think block 4 series of upgrades makes the F-35 a 4.2 gen; and a “Block 5” JSF upgrade in around 2028-2030 make it 5.5 gen. These 2030 JSF upgrades to be rolled out will feature “what we think of today as really ‘out there’ stuff...”

The bar for 4.5 gen (via F-15EX has been set super high). The French or Swedish fanboys like to set a low bar and that is not good for an informed air power discussion, at a systems level.
 
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Boagrius

Well-Known Member
The Block 4 modernization contract award, is so large it is almost a separate program, and this was given in late 2018 or early 2019. Rather than one large monolithic refresh, Block 4 will be released in waves, with a Block 4.1, 4.2, and so on.
(a) Block 4 aircraft will boast faster computers (x25 times faster), more missiles, panoramic cockpit display, longer ranges, AI-flown wingmen and increased electronic warfare capabilities, allowing the F-35 to quickly jam enemy radar and radio signals. The result is a strikingly different F-35 that comprises of 53 improvements to counter emerging threats.​
(b) Part of that contract will entail creating an open architecture environment for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) that would allow sensors and other equipment to be more easily integrated onto the aircraft. This is a major effort that would be considered a MLU in other fighter programs.​
(c) Block 4.2 or 4.3 in the 2023 timeframe will affect the ability of the DoD to upgrade the JSF through competition, reducing DoD reliance on Lockheed Martin.​
(d) These upgrades include 13 electronic warfare updates, cockpit and navigation upgrades, and a new wing-mounted fuel tank system should increase the F-35’s range by 25%, at the cost of greater radar visibility.​
(e) The F-35 has four basic missions: air superiority, or offensive and defensive counterair; suppression or destruction of enemy air defenses (known as SEAD and DEAD); close air support; and strategic attack against high-value strategic and mobile targets. Block 4 also adds a fifth basic mission, Winter said: “extended surface warfare.” Upgrades will enhance radar “for maritime surveillance, identification and targeting.”​

Q: Why do you think Singapore delayed buying the F-35B for so long (and that the contract signed is limited to 4 F-35Bs with an option for 8 more)?

I would speculate the in 2026, Singapore is likely to receive block 4.2 or 4.3 aircraft, when the 1st four are delivered.
Possibly one of the most underappreciated aspects of the F35 seems to be the amount of modularity baked into the design from the start. Well highlighted by your post above. Thanks for yet another excellent update.
 

Boagrius

Well-Known Member
JSM integration seems to be progressing. Successful test drops conducted recently:
(English Translation)
Defense Equipment was responsible for conducting successful test drops of the JSM missile from the F-35A in the desert at Edwards Air Force Base in California in February.

Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace (KDA) is developing JSM. The testing takes place as part of the program to integrate JSM into the F-35, under the JPO (Joint Program Office) which is responsible for the F-35 cooperation program, and is carried out in close cooperation with US authorities.

The first phases of the JSM integration work have been contracted directly with the US authorities. The testing started in 2020, and was carried out with drops from planes parked on the ground, and down into a foam rubber pit. Now the first drop is made from the air.

"With this first drop, it was checked that JSM can be separated from an F-35A in a safe way. For that, we use an instrumented aircraft," says Brigadier Jarle Nergård, who is head of the F-35 department in Defense Materiel. This is an aircraft with a number of sensors for speed, movement, and vibration, as well as recording of the bus traffic in the aircraft and communication to the weapon.
 

aussienscale

The Bunker Group
Verified Defense Pro
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