Thursday, February 16, 2012

F-35: "No plan B"?

What do you mean, "no plan B"?
Other allies, such as Australia, have placed orders for Super Hornets -- the newer, beefed up version of the CF-18 -- to hedge against F-35 delays.
It's not necessary for Canada to go down that road, said a high-level defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"We have no back-up plan. We have a reserve and flexibility in the life extensions we've done structurally to our F-18s and in weapons systems," said the source, referring to the $1.8-billion modernization that's took place over the last decade.
"One foot on the ground" means never move without someone or something covering you, and is the basic principle behind military tactical thinking, from a two-person fire team moving toward an objective all the way to entire army groups cross territory. Emergency rendezvous points are constantly established enroute, just in case something goes wrong and the formation always moves with one element static so as to provide cover for the other. Ships, aircraft, and formations of ground forces have layered defences, involving long-range and short-range munitions, physical disposition, and active and passive decoys and countermeasures. The basic engineering of ships and planes and other big equipment also contains redundant systems. Everything is designed ensure that in case the something doesn't work at first, or second, there are layers of options backing it up.

So ingrained is this way of thinking, that it should be impossible to consider that no back-up plan had been envisioned, especially as project delays and cost estimates increased. It would be appalling if there is any truth to this. On the other hand, the RCAF and its political masters did sign on to a plane with one motor, when for decades they've insisted two were necessary given the survival challenges of the vast, harsh, and sparsely landscape under Canada's airspace.

But then again, the F-35 is symptomatic of a much larger problem. Paul Mitchell, writing the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, which devoted most of an entire issue to the F-35, nails it.

However, the F-35 project demonstrates that there is something seriously rotten in how we design modern armament. Weapons are made to be risked, used, and destroyed in due course. Modern weapons are so expensive, so precious, and so rare that we dare not risk them. An individual fighter, in the end, is simply a tactical platform, of little strategic worth. However, with costs surpassing a hundred million dollars, increasingly these weapon systems have to be treated as though they were strategic assets like aircraft carriers, especially within small militaries like the CF. Our “way of war” is increasingly unsustainable – economically and especially strategically. In the F-35, we will acquire a weapon which will be of limited utility to deal with the challenge of terrorist use of small commercial aircraft (the only realistic domestic challenge). Furthermore, it will be acquired in such limited numbers as to make expeditionary operations very difficult, the only reason such a sophisticated platform is being considered in the first place, very difficult.(p. 195)

The military-industrial-political complex and associated cultural machine fetishism seduces military thinkers and civilians alike to the point of addiction-insanity. Consider that the technology to intercept and destroy large aircraft has been around since about 1940 when ground-based radar was first employed to vector Spitfires and Hurricanes onto Heinkels and Dorniers crossing the Channel. Intercepting large aircraft moving at .8 to .9 Mach has been viable since the 1950s. Destroying a hijacked civilian airliner isn't difficult. 

Then again betting the farm on unwieldy projects like the F-35 might well be a good thing. Delays and expense save lives by preventing adventurous politicians from following their allied counterparts into whatever little hobby war they talk themselves into next.


kootcoot said...

My biggest criticism of the F-35 is that it is unsuitable for the Canada we were and hopefully will be again. My understanding is that it is designed to be a cog in an assault, Shock and Awe, type operation with a strike force (run by that nice old Uncle Sam dude).

As a single engine plane that requires a mother ship for many navigation and targeting tasks (in order to maintain its (perhaps obsolete?) "stealth" ability it is highly unsuitable for patrolling the north to protect Canadian sovereignty in the very area that is most likely to be under threat (assuming the Yanks don't just annex Canada for the goo pits of Northern Texas North, or Alberty.

I know if I was a jet jockey patrolling the arctic in winter, I would prefer a twin engine, self contained machine - and who needs stealth features when the mission is protection of one's OWN territory?

BTW, these new two word authentications are really almost indecipherable - maybe a robot could do better!

I've tried TWO, that I THOUGHT I COULD READ, out of about ten and still haven't got it right.....

Edstock said...

"However, the F-35 project demonstrates that there is something seriously rotten in how we design modern armament."

For sure when it comes to aircraft. And it's been like that since the early 60's.

For the depressing details, I would recommend reading the biography of Col. John Boyd. He's the reason (He was the USAF Top Gun, made a presentation showing USAF fighters were inferior to the latest Warsaw Pact for manoeuver at most speeds and altitudes) the F-16, F-18 and F-15 are as good as they are, but they did not really listen to him, and they are not nearly as good as they could have been. I may be wrong, but I am given to understand that the latest blocks of F-16's have porkage problems: the weight gain and wing-loading increase is causing concern.

Also the biography on John Northrop, who got mugged by the Pentagon is a bracing view of how the Pentagon does biz.

islandpapa said...

How about we start a "tweeting" campaign to the "state" info rags of the Republic of Enbridge convincing their citizens to OFFICIALLY secede from Canada and take their fuhrer and his state police and f-35's with him. Maybe they can put one of his think tanks to figure out a way for the fighters to run on bitumen.

Mark, Ottawa said...

Related, note comments:

"Canadian Media UCAV Hysteria–and the F-35"