Friday, November 23, 2012

Air Force Magazine on the Latest From the F-35 Program Vaults: Part 3

Part 3 of what looks like...yep, 3

Part 2 Here

Solomon over at SNAFU! posted a piece centering on an excerpt from an Air Force Magazine article “The F-35’s Race Against Time (November 2012 issue). I had read it already, and didn’t see anything ‘earth-shattering’ at the time. But with Sol’s posting, it occurred to me that it would probably become more interesting to people the further you got away from those familiar with the current state of aeronautics, and it may draw secondary comments from the anti-JSFers to boot.
 Situational Awareness? You need Data AND Understanding  (Source:

Networking & Situational Awareness

As F-35s criss-cross enemy airspace, they also will automatically collect vast amounts of data about the disposition of enemy forces. They will, much like the JSTARS, collect ground moving target imagery and pass the data through electronic links to the entire force. This means the F-35 will be able to silently and stealthily transmit information and instructions to dispersed forces, in the air and on the ground.

I don’t think at this time we can possibly overemphasize how the F-35 systems allow a pilot to gain and exploit superior situational awareness relative to legacy systems nor how much an edge it gives to any F-35 on the network. So I’m going to refer to Barry Watts’ excellent McNair Paper “Clausewitzian Friction and Future War” (Updated PDF version here) for insight on what this means in terms of reducing Clausewitzian Friction for F-35 drivers while increasing the same for their opponents. In the early part of his Chapter 9, Watts leans heavily on R.L. Shaw’s classic "Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering,"but there is much after it that I’ve read nowhere else.

I’m asking for a slight indulgence here. I’m going to beat a dead horse to again drive home a point the advocates of simple lightweight and ultra-maneuverable fighters NEVER come to grips with: ‘first look’ (almost always) equals ‘first kill’. [To keep clear which quotes are from where, Watts quotes are normal font and the AF magazine quotes are in italics]
What factors have tended to drive engagement outcomes in air-to-air combat? Surprise was linked to general friction in chapter 6. Air combat experience going at least back to World War II suggests that surprise in the form of the unseen attacker has been pivotal in three-quarters or more of the kills. In writing about his experiences flying long-range escort missions over northern Europe with the U.S. Eighth Air Force, P–38 pilot Mark Hubbard stressed that “90 percent of all fighters shot down never saw the guy who hit them.” Hubbard was by no means alone in observing that friction in the form of the unseen attacker from six o’clock played a dominant role in engagement outcomes. The American P–47 pilot Hubert Zemke (17.75 air-to-air kills in World War II) stressed that “few pilots are shot down by enemies they see.” Similarly, the German Me-109 pilot Erich Hartmann, whose 352 kills during World War II made him the top scorer of all time, later stated that he was “sure that 80 percent of kills never knew he was there before he opened fire.”
Subsequent technological developments in the means of air-to-air combat did not change the basic pattern observed by Hubbard, Zemke, and Hartmann during World War II. These developments include the shift to jet fighters for air superiority during the Korean War, the advent of infrared air-to-air missiles by the mid-1950s, and the appearance of radar-guided air-to-air missiles in time for American use in the Vietnam War. The best combat data are from the American involvement in Southeast Asia. From April 1965 to January 1973, American aircrews experienced more than “decisive” air-to-air engagements, meaning encounters in which at least one U.S. or North Vietnamese aircraft was destroyed. These engagements produced some 190 aerial kills of North Vietnamese fighters against 92 American losses. Detailed reconstructions of the 112 decisive engagements from December 18, 1971, to January 12, 1973, revealed that 81 percent of all aircrews downed on both sides either were unaware of the attack, or else did not become aware in time to take effective defensive action. In the jargon of contemporary American aircrews, such failures to be sufficiently cognizant of what is taking place in the combat area around one to avoid being shot by an unseen or unnoticed adversary have come to be described as a breakdown of situation (or situational) awareness. In an air-to-air context, situation awareness (or SA) can be understood as the ability of opposing aircrews to develop and sustain accurate representations of where all the participants in or near the air combat arena are, what they are doing, and where they are likely to be in the immediate future. This understanding of situation awareness is, of course, crucial to appreciating that the driver in 81 percent of the decisive air-to-air engagements in Southeast Asia from December 1971 to January 1973 involved more than just the “element of surprise,” although this was the interpretation at the time. Surprise can certainly affect combatant situation awareness on either side…
… Even without the evidence from subsequent tests like Air Combat Evaluation (ACEVAL) in the late 1970s and the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) Operational Utility Evaluation (OUE) in the early 1980s , combat data from Europe in World War II and Southeast Asia during 1965–1973 not only confirm the contention in chapter 8 (proposition I) that general friction can dominate combat outcomes, but indirectly quantify what the term “dominate” has meant in historical air-to-air combat. If some 80 percent of the losses have resulted from aircrews being unaware that they were under attack until they either were hit or did not have time to react effectively, then a relative deficit of situation awareness has been the root cause of the majority of losses in actual air-to-air combat. A deficit in situation awareness accounts for four out of five losses. While this statistic may not measure frictional imbalances directly, it does reflect the influence friction has had on outcomes over the course of large numbers of air-to-air engagements.
“You’re only about one-third as efficient as you think you are [at sorting in complex engagements], which is why you go out with a sexy missile and lose your ass anyway.”

Watts goes on to iterate the ‘surprising’ (to some) AIMVAL/ACEVAL and the AMRAAM OUE results, then follows up with a discussion that hints as to what the F-35’s SA advantage brings to the mix (Boldface mine):
By 1984, Billy R. Sparks, a former F–105 “Wild Weasel” pilot with combat experience over North Vietnam, had been involved in analyzing or running three major humans-in-the-loop tests: AIMVAL/ACEVAL, the AMRAAM OUE, and the Multi-Source Integration test (also conducted in simulators). Yet, in reflecting on all that experience, Sparks felt that he had not once witnessed perfect sorting in 4-v-4 and more complex engagements. “You’re only about one-third as efficient as you think you are [at sorting in complex engagements], which is why you go out with a sexy missile and lose your ass anyway.” As Clausewitz wrote, in war “the simplest thing is difficult,” and it is hard for normal efforts to achieve even moderate results. Such observations go far to explain why even small SA deficits relative to the opposition have been statistically more dominant in engagement outcomes than differences in aircraft, weapons, force ratios, or other conditions such as having help from GCI. It also strongly suggests that friction’s influence on outcomes in air combat during World War II was not noticeably different in Korea’s “MiG Alley,” the Vietnam War, the Middle East in 1967, 1973, and 1982, or even in Desert Storm. In this sense, general friction’s “magnitude” does not appear to have diminished noticeably over the course of all the technological advances separating the P–51 from the F–15.
Could information technology be used to mitigate this longstanding pattern of very low sorting efficiencies in complex engagements arising from seemingly small lapses in situation awareness? Early experience in 4-v-4 and more complex engagements with the recently fielded Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) indicates that the answer is “yes.” JTIDS not only provides integrated, all-aspect identification of friendlies and hostiles based on available information, but even displays targeting decisions by others in one’s flight. The aggregate gains in air-to-air effectiveness resulting from these improvements in situation awareness and sorting have been nothing less than spectacular. During Desert Storm, F–15Cs, aided in most cases by E–3A Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft, downed 28 Iraqi fighters without a single loss, including 15 kills from engagements that began with BVR shots. When JTIDS–equipped F–15s flew against basically the same fighter/AWACS combination that had done so well in the Gulf War, the JTIDS “information advantage” enabled them to dominate their opponents by exchange ratios of four-to-one or better. Hence technology, properly applied, can certainly manipulate the differential in friction between opposing sides to one’s advantage at the tactical level.
The F-35 MADL capability adds another dimension beyond the JTIDS/LINK16 capability: More information and more kinds of information integrated and synthesized for easy (i.e. transparent) operator consumption and shared over a more secure link for use while skulking about in ‘Indian Country’. The system ‘sorts’ for the pilot. (Now you know why Northrop Grumman bothered with highlighting this capability in producing this video.)

Hey, Here’s That ‘Maneuverability’ Thing Again!

Because it was designed to maneuver to the edge of its envelope with a full internal combat load, the F-35 will be able to run rings around most other fighters, but it probably won’t have to—and probably shouldn’t.
"If you value a loss/exchange ratio of better than one-to-one, you need to stay away from each other," said O’Bryan, meaning that the fighter pilot who hopes to survive needs to keep his distance from the enemy.
He noted that, in a close-turning dogfight with modern missiles, even a 1960s-era fighter such as the F-4 can get into a "mutual kill scenario" at close range with a fourth generation fighter. That’s why the F-35 was provided with the ability to fuse sensor information from many sources, triangulating with other F-35s to locate, identify, and fire on enemy aircraft before they are able to shoot back.
The F-35’s systems will even allow it to shoot at a target "almost when that airplane is behind you," thanks to its 360-degree sensors.
According to O’Bryan, the F-35 also can interrogate a target to its rear, an ability possessed by no other fighter.
If you survive a modern dogfight, O’Bryan claimed, "it’s based on the countermeasures you have, not on your ability to turn."
I think that last comment is a slight overstatement. You want to be able to get out of a jam if you get your self into one. The fact that the F-35 probably won't lead you into a bad spot, doesn't mean it won't keep a really determined pilot from getting into one on his own.

Options… Options…

If the situation demands a turning dogfight, however, the F-35 evidently will be able to hold its own with any fighter. That is a reflection on the fighter’s agility. What’s more, a potential future upgrade foresees the F-35 increasing its air-to-air missile loadout from its current four AIM-120 AMRAAMs to six of those weapons.
Since the F-35’s biggest advantages (that are talked about publically anyway) in going up against large numbers of adversaries are its Stealth and its situational awareness provided by on-board/off-board systems, I’d say even the 4 AMRAAM loadout should be seen as ‘sufficient’ for otherwise pretty scary “bad guy/good guy” ratios of 3-4 to one. A 6 AMRAAM (or follow-on missile in perhaps greater numbers) loadout? Even better.
The F-35, while not technically a "supercruising" aircraft, can maintain Mach 1.2 for a dash of 150 miles without using fuel-gulping afterburners.
That works out to about 12 ½ minutes of ‘dash’ at 30K feet. The fact there is a time limit indicates that supersonic drag is slowly pulling the plane down to subsonic at Mil Power. The fact that it would take about 12 and a half minutes at 30K feet is indicative the plane is pretty slick aerodynamically without external stores. Even if the reason has to do with having no external stores and nothing else, that makes the F-35 far superior to any alternative that would be dragging around external stores.
"Mach 1.2 is a good speed for you, according to the pilots," O’Bryan said.
This is a mildly interesting data point, as M1.2 is commonly understood as the point where the definition of “transonic” ends and true “supersonic” begins (see chart below).

At Mach 1.2, you are usually still high on the supersonic drag rise. Source: DESIGN FOR AIR COMBAT,, Pg 46,  Ray Whitford   Update: Graphic now showing drag rise for swept wing configuration vs. straight wing.
 If Mach 1.2 is a ‘good speed’, then I would deduce that probably means that the F-35 supersonic aerodynamic drag, the F-35 installed thrust, or simply the F-35 thrust/drag ratio is among the best possible for a fighter operating within the laws of physics and given current propulsion/airframe technologies.Though may not be a ‘worldbeater’, it will hold its own aerodynamically, and it definitely means the F-35 is nowhere near a ‘dog’ as some might fear (or hope).

A Questionable Advantage (AKA “4th Gen Fighter Think in a 5th Gen World”)

The high speed also allows the F-35 to impart more energy to a weapon such as a bomb or missile, meaning the aircraft will be able to "throw" such munitions farther than they could go on their own energy alone. 
As I noted in the comments at Sol’s SNAFU! site, I really don’t see a very large benefit here. I do see an artifact of the speed is life’ religion.

'Fairly Easily'?

There is a major extension of the fighter’s range if speed is kept around Mach .9, O’Bryan went on, but he asserted that F-35 transonic performance is exceptional and goes "through the [Mach 1] number fairly easily." The transonic area is "where you really operate."
But I wonder about the earlier ‘warning signs’ that the transonic acceleration time KPPs were unlikely to be met? Perhaps this hints at changes to the KPP? If so, I believe it would be completely justified: The spec was originally written to surpass or equal those of legacy systems, but as far as I can determine, all legacy aircraft performance was verified/validated using a clean, unarmed configuration.
Since there is no aerodynamic difference between the F-35 in its primary unarmed or armed configuration (internal stores only), the KPP should have been written to be one that was based upon legacy platforms combat capabilities with loadouts comparable to the F-35’s internal load. This would have kept the relative measure comparison an ‘apples to apples’ exercise. A potential side-benefit of changing the KPP might be the entertainment value from inducing know-nothings to whine about the F-35 ‘cheating’ on KPPs…again.

More Range? Mo Bettah!

In combat configuration, the F-35’s range exceeds that of fourth generation fighters by 25 percent. These are Air Force figures, O’Bryan noted. "We’re comparing [the F-35] to [the] ‘best of’ fourth gen" fighters. The F-35 "compares favorably in any area of the envelope," he asserted.


The F-35 is an all aspect low observables, net-centric systems, long-range, yankin’, bankin’, killin’ machine.

Works for me.


Nuno Gomes said...

If you read Bill Gunston book«An illustrated guide to future fighters and combat aircraft» (1984)you would see that he asks for a fighter identical to the F-35.Asking for 4th gen.fighters todayis just stupid.If you buy an F-16 today you have to use it for the next 20 years...its just bad business...
I am very surprised that nobody posts on your blog(or on «why the F-35»)in suport of the JSF...
No matter what keep up the good job...its just outstanding to read your texts...

SpudmanWP said...

It's preaching to the choir :)

SMSgt Mac said...

Thanks guys.
My whole purpose for this series (and quite a few other posts) is just to make it simpler to slap down the stupid stuff: By having a place I can point to when it pops up elsewhere I don't have to deal with the limits of a comment thread contriolled by others. Feel free to use it for your own purposes as well. On the 'F-35 Affair', we are rapidly approaching the point in time where all the dipsh**s with low opinions of it are going to have to do one of four things:
1. See the error of their ways and recant (least likely).
2. Change their internet 'handle' and deny their past positions.
3. Build a political 'narrative' around why the F-35 succeeded in spite of all the so-called 'negatives'. (most likely)
4. Pray for a political/economic decision independent of program merit that cuts the number of planes which allows them to cling to their original story(ies) without having to defend it. This may happen in conjunction with #3 for a while.
Note: I recognize there are people who are not dipsh**s who hold anti-JSF opinions, but it is on a purely design philosophy basis - they generally don't post or contribute to stories online denouncing the JSF for imagined or irrational 'flaws'.

Houston1125 said...

Nice article. Where is the source material? Would like to read more.

SMSgt Mac said...

OK, just for those who don't want to go alllllll the way back to Part 1, I put most of the opening in Part 1 in Part 2 and 3 at the top so the link to the article will be handy. [;-)

Houston1125 said...

Thanks. For the record did go all the way back :-)

But looking for more background books, articles, etc.