For the Fourth More Thoughts on an F-23 Program

1024px-yf-23_top_viewA highly appropriate post for the 4th of July intended as an update to earlier thoughts on reviving the F-23.

And a post with the rare virtue of having its information supplied from acquaintances of my own in the Air Force and Navy who are familiar with both the F-22 and F-35 programs – i.e., no mere speculation on my part.

We’ll start with the F-35.

Its many flaws are ultimately the product of too many design tradeoffs in its fool’s quest to please everyone.  The design specs were “iPhone”:  Let’s have this shiny widget do everything design specs.   This “iPhone” mentality is almost always the wrong design principle to work from when the shiny widget in question is a shiny weapons system.

When it comes to military widgets combined arms is still King of air, sea, and land; and his Royal Majesty’s golden rule is for weapons to be designed at the outset with a focus on a few major functionalities that will complement other systems with different core functionalities.

When the rule of combined arms is adhered to, the gods of war smile brightly as they recently have on very successful combat tests of the F-22 flying in combination with the F-15.  The spectacularly advanced Raptor complements the lower tech functionality of the Eagle.

Or, to put this pleasant Raptor-Eagle synergy another way – Stealth functionality requires many, very significant, design tradeoffs in other key mission areas; therefore, to make up for what stealth planes lack, different non-stealth planes should be given.

Alas, the F-35 ignored the golden rule, the gods frowned, and the Joint Strike Fighter’s functionalities have fallen victim to much rust.  As a result of specifications insufficiently specialized, the F-35 does little very well or great.

Its stealth capabilities are limited; its range mediocre; speed and maneuverability both unimpressive.

The VSTOL version for the Marines in particular should have been developed for an entirely separate fighter.  That’s assuming VSTOL was needed at all for the Marines; I’ve been told by my Navy chums that vertical takeoff brings little to no advantage on a carrier where traditional takeoff and landing approaches are more than adequate for Marine aircraft.

More than anything else the requirement for VSTOL derailed the program; not only for the Marines but for the non-VSTOL capable Navy and Air Force variants that inherited design constraints due to their sharing very similar airframe mechanics with the Marine variant.

What the current state of the JSF means for Air Force, Navy, and Marines:

Air Force

The F-35 might be a good enough replacement for the Air Force’s fleet of F-16s. No plane flies alone.  The JSF will be flying backed up a great arsenal ranging from AWACs, to satellites, and cruise missiles.

But it will need more support from other military assets than usual, bordering on babysitting the F-35.

You see, it cannot be pushed on missions too ambitiously on account of its mediocrity in every way except for its impressive electronic warfare suite.

Contrary to public reports, the JSF does not normally lose to a single F-16 in simulated combat.

Unfortunately, in real testing results the F-35 struggles to keep up with just 4 F-16s. By contrast, the F-22 Raptor routinely and easily defeats 10 F-16s simultaneously.

By the way, none of the Russian or Chinese fighters supposedly meant to take on the Raptorwould survive against the Raptor.  I’m told DoD warns new Russian and Chinese planes are competitive to keep pressure on the simpletons in Congress to fund the military as much as possible.

But in truth America is far, far, ahead of any other power; whether enemy or ally.

On balance the F-35 is an improvement on the F-16. And so the Air Force can live with it. But they will regret for decades that much better could have been had.

Navy

The F-35 looks like it will provide the Navy still less value than for the Air Force. It’s “blah” range is its greatest drawback for use on carriers where range can never be too great.  Its lack of stealth means carriers can’t look forward to an extra element of surprise.

In a dogfight it should be adequate.  But captains would prefer it win quickly and crushingly instead of needing AEGIS and other support systems to “finish the F-35’s homework”.

Marines

What the fuck were you thinking?

Out of all three Branches planning on including the F-35 in their inventories the Marine version is, as it was from Day 1, plagued with the worst malfunctions.

That whoever insisted on VSTOL hasn’t been thrown out of a helicopter into the Pacific is a blight on the Marine Corps.

F-23

My beloved hypothetical.

The version I would love to see is one with stealth features deemphasized in favor of a more robust airframe (especially for landing on aircraft carriers) and some of its other tech dropped to make it an affordable, still excellent, twin-engine replacement (or complement) for the F-18 Hornet.  The F-23s potential maneuverability, range, and speed would make it the greatest multirole fighter in the world even if it had stealth no better than the F-18.

The one downside is that even stripped of advanced stealth my ideal F-23 would probably not be available for export because its other abilities would be too close to the Raptor’s.

While the Air Force can live with the F-35 for reasons already discussed, a stopgap measure would be needed for a decade or two to make up for cancelled F-35s intended for the Navy and Marines while the F-23 is developed.

Existing and upgraded F-15, F-16, and F-18 fighters are sufficient for the Marines and Navy to deal with any threats that might arise over the next two decades. The most complex air superiority missions can be spearheaded by the F-22 and, in a few years, the B-21 Raider.

As the greatest air superiority fighter of all time the F-22 production line deserves to be restarted. The expense of an F-22 restart could be mitigated by cancelling or reducing Navy and Marine F-35 purchases, smoothing the restart over several years, and finally having production run indefinitely with at least 5 produced every year to gradually build up Raptor inventory as well as make up for F-22s lost over time in combat or accidents.

But always remember that the gods are happiest when the Raptor is paired with the Eagle.

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