In April 2008 Geoffrey P. Bowman, LCDR, US Navy published a Case study of the Joint Strike Fighter Program for the Air Command and Staff College - Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, USA.
It is interesting to read what this US military source (not an Aviation magazine journalist) writes about the Joint Strike Fighter program at a moment that selection processes in Norway, The Netherlands, Australia were in full process. Didn’t the DMO’s of these countries know the details of this US report? Or did they neglect the contents?
This US report can be downloaded at this link.
From page 12, Chapter 3 about the Performance, Weapons and Stealth:
The Operational Requirements Document lays out a seemingly robust list of requirements that covers everything from performance to maintenance and sortie generation rates. The high visibility items such as maintenance, sortie generation, logistics footprints, and C4ISR interoperability were addressed very responsibly. The JSF requirements called for significant improvements over legacy platforms in all of the above parameters. Although it is understandable that some concessions would have to be made in the name of affordability, the services may have come up short on basic design, performance, weapons, and dependence on low-observable/stealth technology.
The overall performance of the proposed JSF is highly inadequate to be considered a “next generation” fighter. The minimal, if any, increase in performance over the legacy platforms it intends to replace, proves that designers are completely dependant on stealth technology for its success. The services asked for adequate numbers in some areas, but fell drastically short in others.
Combat radius can be viewed as adequate. The numbers certainly provide a capability to outperform current fighters and do so using only internal fuel. That being said, it is naïve to assume that the JSF will operate in that configuration. With tankers as a limiting factor for any campaign, it is reasonable to assume that planners will quickly opt to add external tanks and stores to increase the range and weapons payload for the JSF. The effect of this will be twofold: the already low raw performance of the JSF will be degraded and, more importantly, the LO/stealth capability will be essentially eliminated.
The airspeed requirements are highly inadequate. They barely provide the performance of an F/A-18 and fall well short of the F-16. They are, of course, vast improvements over the AV8B
and A-10, but that is hardly an argument for success when referring to a “next generation” fighter. The CTOL model calls for a threshold of 1.0 Mach at sea level. This requirement is for internal stores only and falls short of the capability of an F/A-18 with external stores.
Maneuverability requirements also fall short. The instantaneous and sustained G requirements are adequate, although not impressive. The AOA threshold, however, is shortsighted.
A threshold requirement for a fighter that possesses AOA capabilities “similar to” a legacy fighter platform is irresponsible at best. An aircraft that expected to have a service life well past 2060 needs to have superior raw performance in addition to advanced avionics. Software and avionics can always be upgraded, significant performance modifications can never be made.
By stating that the JSF would be a “next generation” fighter, it is assumed that performance will fall into the fifth generation category. While there can be some debate over the exact definition of a fifth generation fighter, the following is generally agreed upon: “fifth generation fighters combine new developments such as thrust vectoring, composite materials, supercruise, stealth technology, advanced radar and sensors, and integrated avionics to greatly improve pilot situational awareness.”34 Clearly the JSF can only claim two of these characteristics: stealth and interoperability through avionics. Other platforms such as the F/A-18 E/F that possess two “fifth generation” capabilities but lack stealth have been coined “4.5 generation” fighters. Without the unproven effectiveness of stealth, the JSF becomes a slower version of the legacy fighters it is attempting to replace.
About CAS capability
CAS requires special training first and foremost, but also has specific weapons needs. The ideal CAS weapons are versatile, quick to employ, and usually must have a small but precise effect to avoid collateral damage. Although JDAM and MK-80 series weapons have certainly played a role in past CAS missions, they are hardly the weapon of choice. The main targets in CAS include vehicles, troops in the open, and occasionally buildings or other hardened targets. With the exception of the latter, the JSF does not have the weapons to be truly effective.
Moving targets will provide an issue for the JSF. Although laser guided bombs have been employed against moving targets in the past, their success rate is generally low. The greatest success against moving targets comes when using a Maverick air-to-ground missile (AGM) or the gun. The JSF will not be Maverick capable and currently only the USAF variant will have an internal gun. Troops in the open are the most common target in CAS. Although one could argue that the JSF will be capable of employing cluster munitions, these are only useful when adequate separation is available.”
The JSF team did not request the correct weapons to adequately perform a CAS role. First and foremost, they needed to require a gun on all three variants. The gun provides options when all other weapons are expended or a small precise effect is required.37 A capacity of greater than 180 rounds should have been requested; legacy fighters such as the F/A-18 and F-16 each carry over 500 rounds. Secondly, weapons such as rockets or the Maverick should have been included. Their capabilities have been proven time and time again against moving targets and can also be used in the place of an LGB or JDAM against larger targets such as buildings.
The JSF will be unable to adequately fill the CAS role of legacy strike-fighters, let alone that of the A-10. It does not bring the survivability, design, or weapons capability required to truly operate in support of ground troops in contact with the enemy. The JSF will leave a dangerous gap in CAS capability that will affect future conflicts for decades to come.
Low Observable/Stealth Dependence
The JSF has gambled much when it comes to survivability. It has put all its eggs in the proverbial stealth basket. Although this research has conceded that the JSF program will deliver on its promise of stealth technology, it is unknown whether this technology alone will be relevant in the future of combat operations. Because of the enormous investment made, the JSF needs to be the fifth generation answer for multiple services for decades to come. It may be naïve to assume that stealth technology alone will protect the JSF throughout its service life.
Many countries are currently developing technology to combat LO/stealth platforms. The USAF itself recognizes this and is currently working on the development of new versions of high-speed anti-radiation missiles for use in the F-22 and JSF. This could be a reaction to Russia’s current programs aimed at developing upgrades to the SA-21’s S-400 system.38 The USAF is further worried that as technology advances and network cabling becomes cheaper, enemy defenses will be able to link various radar types to increase their chances of detecting and engaging LO/stealth aircraft. The UK has been researching anti-stealth technology since 2001 and has even researched the ability to use cell phone tower transmissions as a detection method.
A small capability against LO may already be airborne in various platforms. In a 2003 article, David Fulghum claims that some current platforms such as the EA-18G Growler possess a capability against LO platforms such as cruise missiles and even stealth aircraft.46 Considering that there have already been significant advances in anti-stealth technology, it seems somewhat irresponsible to design an aircraft so dependant on its dominance. The F-22 is not considered the world’s most dominant fighter because of LO/stealth capability, but rather its overall performance. The services fell short by not demanding protection through additional means for the JSF.