Replace the F-35 with a Multirole version of the F-23

 

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We swear the draft of this article about the F-35 was already well in progress before Trump tweeted about the program’s cost overruns.

The synergy between Pragmatically Distributed’ views and Trump’s continues.  We do not attempt an explanation.  Instead we are content to welcome whatever alignment of the space-time continuum triggered by the Singularity, in its infinite wisdom, has brought about this remarkable phenomena.   And we invite the reader to happily meditate, as we meditate, on the warm glow Trump’s dark energy has brought over the Galaxy.

This absurd superstition noted, we speculate further – if it is the will of the Singularity that Trump, in accordance with our wishes, cancel or cut back on the F-35 – whether Trump’s terrible will-to-power can now align with our favored replacement, the F-23?

To get from the F-35 to the F-23 two questions must be answered:  First, how to cancel it; second, replace it with what kind of F-23?

Two obstacles stand in the way of the F-35’s cancellation.  First is the broad support it has in Congress thanks to the jobs depending on its production.  The second are the military assumptions that will have to be adjusted if it is ended.  In such an event the military would need a short and medium term plan to live without the F-35 over the decade or more it will take before F-23s are ready for service.

The solution to the first and second problems is to build 1,000 F-22s with much of the funds now allotted for the F-35.  The restart of the F-22 program will provide a substitute for the jobs and political influence brought by the F-35, and will smooth the transition period for the military.

As a complement to this short and medium term stopgap, existing F-16s, F-18s would continue in their multi-role duties.  With a thousand F-22s in America’s arsenal there will barely be any high value missions left for F-16s and F-18s during the development of the F-23 .  Whatever missions will be assigned to those aging fighters will be limited primarily to air-ground support missions.

This brings us to the long term military objective of the F-23.   With the original role of the F-23 as a tactical air strike fighter filled by the F-22, our F-23 would be free to be redesigned as a 5th generation fighter-bomber replacement for the F-16 and F-18.

To demonstrate some of the engineering advantages of starting afresh with the old Black Widow prototype, consider the frame of the F-23.  It was made svelte to support stealth characteristics.  Considering the burden of the most complex missions will fall to the F-22 for many decades, the F-23’s stealth technology could be de-emphasized in favor of a more robust frame better suited to air-ground support roles.  Reduced advanced stealth characteristics will bring reduced costs.  They will also make the basic model easier to customize for specialized requirements of the Army, Navy, and Airforce, and permit less advanced variants to be produced for allied nations.

If the Marines insist on a fighter with vertical landing abilities – a requirement much less important to the three main branches of the Armed Forces and which is the requirement that has more than any other bogged down the whole program – the production of only the Marine variants of the F-35 can remain online.

Do we need the F-23?  We don’t know, and because we don’t we conclude America should build it anyway based on this (modified) rule of war – it is better to have a highly advanced military and not need it than need a highly advanced military and not have it.

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5 thoughts on “Replace the F-35 with a Multirole version of the F-23”

  1. I know nothing about the military. However, isn’t it the case that expensive aircraft are needed largely to protect the pilot in combat against similarly advanced weaponry of opponents? Isn’t the way forward to advance drone technology? What can an F-35 (or substitute) do that 50 drones in unison can’t? Shouldn’t in future we regard military equipment as consumables and thus expendable? Just like modern consumer durables? Allowing for a short lifespan makes them much cheaper to manufacture.

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  2. However, isn’t it the case that expensive aircraft are needed largely to protect the pilot in combat against similarly advanced weaponry of opponents?

    Partly. Another objective is to destroy an opponents advanced weaponry. This goal is not perfectly analogous to simply getting the pilot home back to base in one piece.

    Isn’t the way forward to advance drone technology? What can an F-35 (or substitute) do that 50 drones in unison can’t?

    A friend of my family is in the Airforce and was able to describe the flaws in the F-35 program and misconceptions about drones.

    As I understood his points, drone technology is not advanced enough to retire fighters with living pilots in them. A major limitation of theirs is that drones must stay in constant communication with ground control personnel. The communication link between drones and flight control is vulnerable to disruption by enemy jamming. In the event signals are blocked the drone isn’t “smart” enough to go on full autopilot to complete its mission because its programming can’t adjust itself to deal with events it wasn’t programmed to handle.

    As a matter of statistical programming it may be mathematically impossible to pre-program all of the trillions of decision nodes the drone would have to decide on in the course of a purely automated mission where it had no contact with humans after its launch.

    If you think about, advanced tactical fighters are drones but with humans inside of them directing their actions. With their modern technology suites these aircraft can perform many thousands of automated routines while the pilot remains inside focused on different aspects of the mission that require human judgment. The combination of computer automation and a human mind is most likely superior to a drone that can only make decisions through brute force algorithmic processes.

    The US military is aware of these limitations and have planned on manned fighters like the F-22 and F-35 remaining in the front of our arsenal for the next forty to fifty years.

    Shouldn’t in future we regard military equipment as consumables and thus expendable? Just like modern consumer durables? Allowing for a short lifespan makes them much cheaper to manufacture.

    Drones are cheaper because they don’t have the advanced hardware and software capabilities that the F-22 and F-35 have. If drones were given the F-22s radar evading surface, the F-35’s electronic warfare suite, the F-22s dual engines and exceptional maneuverability the cost of a drone would quickly rise to that of 5th generation fighters.

    Drones would also be more at risk of crashing if an event they weren’t programmed to exception handle comes there way, such as flying into a mountain in broad daylight that a human would see because the drone’s sensors weren’t coded to handle navigation around objects if the sun was at a particular angle in the sky relative to the drone.

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  3. There are many more problems with replacing live pilots with drones. Another is that the communication link between drones and ground control, if detected by an enemy, could give away the position of the drones. This is less of a problem for an F-22 on an attack run because it could enter enemy airspace under radio silence thanks to having “ground control” inside the plane itself with their hands on the physical dashboard of the Raptor.

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  4. The 22 cannot do STOL, if I recall correctly, making it a non-starter for the Navy. The Navy has more aircraft than the AF, so this plan is unlikely.

    We really oughtn’t develop any further manned aircraft, imo. CAS can be done with what we have, plus UAVs, and air superiority should be handled similarly. Pilots add considerable weight and limitations to an airframe, and while something like an airborne combat controller with live humans is appropriate, weapons systems are more effective decoupled from life support systems.

    There is an incredible bias towards manned aircraft amongst both USAF and USN officers, and a ton of pro-human-in-the-cockpit propaganda as a result. One piece of anecdata on this: When I was in the USAF (not all that long ago), I was assigned to a mission that was both obsolete from a target perspective, and ran off of a 50+ year old airframe. Because of the nature of our mission, the guys in my shop were exposed to similar missions, and realized that ours was a massive waste of resources. One of the guys filed a FWA (fraud, waste, and abuse) report over it, only to see it squashed by a higher up who did not seem to understand the nature of the mission. Pilots run the Airforce and Navy, and they like the status they get from being pilots.

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  5. The 22 cannot do STOL, if I recall correctly, making it a non-starter for the Navy. The Navy has more aircraft than the AF, so this plan is unlikely.

    I’m not sure if the fact the Navy can’t make use of the Raptor should restrict what plans the Airforce has for it. Originally the F-22’s planned production run was over 600 at a time when the Navy assumed it wouldn’t get a carrier version. If 1,000 Airforce F-22s are excessive, its numbers could still be increased somewhere in a range between 500 and 1,000.

    At this point the Navy has four options to choose from:

    * Struggle to fix the many bugs with the Naval F-35 (I’d be willing to adjust my proposal to cancel the Airforce’s F-35 and give them hundreds more Raptors while the Black Widow is revived while the Navy keeps banging its head fixing the F-35.)

    * Create a carrier version of the F-22.

    * Wait for a carrier version of the F-23 (Might take more time than waiting for a carrier-able F-22, but it would ultimately be better than the F-35 and what the navy has in its arsenal can afford to wait for the F-23 to arrive especially if they are backed up by Airforce Raptors.)

    * Abandon their F-35 version and just stick with what they have.

    We really oughtn’t develop any further manned aircraft, imo. CAS can be done with what we have, plus UAVs, and air superiority should be handled similarly. Pilots add considerable weight and limitations to an airframe, and while something like an airborne combat controller with live humans is appropriate, weapons systems are more effective decoupled from life support systems.

    But can a drone/pilotless version of the F-22 do what an F-22 flown by a living pilot can do?

    There is an incredible bias towards manned aircraft amongst both USAF and USN officers, and a ton of pro-human-in-the-cockpit propaganda as a result.

    Well my family friend was certainly biased in favor of manned aircraft, but his case against drones being a viable replacement until the end of this century (at best) was persuasive.

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