Monday, July 14, 2014

David Axe on the F-35: Still Making S**T Up…

Because He Can!

This is not the first time I’ve 'Fisked' the poster boy for Punk Journalism. I’m sure it won’t be the last. His 'piece' here reeks royally, but not to worry-- I take it all apart below for your edification and enlightenment.  Axe's labors are in pink italics, mine are in black.

We begin.....

The U.S. military has grounded all its new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters following an incident on June 23, when one of the high-tech warplanes caught fire on the runway of a Florida air base. The no-fly order — which affects at least 50 F-35s at training and test bases in Florida, Arizona, California and Maryland — began on the evening of July 3 and continued through July 11.

I know “attention span” isn’t one of Axe’s strong points, but there have been at least a hundred F-35s delivered and most news stories have mentioned 97-98 aircraft have been affected. How uninformed is Axe anyway?

All those F-35s sitting idle could be a preview of a future in which potentially thousands of the Pentagon’s warplanes can’t reliably fly.

To be fair, the Pentagon routinely grounds warplanes on a temporary basis following accidents and malfunctions to buy investigators time to identify problems and to give engineers time to fix them. But there’s real reason to worry. The June incident might reflect serious design flaws that could render the F-35 unsuitable for combat.

Yet there has been no talk of such a worry throughout the life of the safety stand-down-then-grounding. In fact, the reports have been increasingly positive that there is in fact NOT a ‘serious design flaw’ related to this incident. So no, there’s NO “real reason to worry” as long as you deal in facts and not your, or your fellow traveler’s fetid imaginations.

For starters, the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 — which can avoid sensor detection thanks to its special shape and coating — simply doesn’t work very well. The Pentagon has had to temporarily ground F-35s no fewer than 13 times since 2007, mostly due to problems with the plane’s Pratt &Whitney-made F135 engine, in particular, with the engines’ turbine blades. The stand-downs lasted at most a few weeks.


Repeat that faster and faster until you recognize the word, and then look up what it means. The F-35 is still integrating changes that have already been identified and until development is complete, further changes may come as well. Axe also doesn’t know dip-squat about Low Observability, but we won’t let that distract us.

“The repeated problems with the same part of the engine may be indications of a serious design and structural problem with the F135 engine,” said Johan Boeder, a Dutch aerospace expert and editor of the online publication JSF News.

1) Problems haven’t been found ‘with the same part of the engine’ and

2) I can’t think of any of the ‘problems’ lately that have been found to be ‘design-related’.

The last I can think of is the shaft length/spacer design for the lift fan, and that was a relatively simple fix. As an aside,  quoting an un-cleared, uninvolved, and therefore uninformed ‘engineer’ with a website is also just about the epitome of a Fallacious Appeal to Authority.

Pratt & Whitney has already totally redesigned the F135 in an attempt to end its history of frequent failures. ….

Put delicately, That’s a complete and total lie. The design remains fundamentally the same since it was first built. It is the same two-shaft engine with a three-stage fan and six-stage high pressure compressor. The hot section still has an annular combustor with a single-stage high pressure turbine unit and a two-stage low pressure turbine. The afterburner still consists of a variable converging-diverging nozzle. The design has been tweaked (details and materials) for reliability and durability…just like every other turbine engine development since the history of turbine engine development began.
Axe oversteps to feed the low information crowd on this point. The lie either reeks of desperation or supreme confidence that his mouth-breathing base won’t bother to call him out on such flat-out Bullsh*t-- because is suits them just fine either way.

But there’s only so much engineers can do. In a controversial move during the early stages of the F-35′s development, the Pentagon decided to fit the plane with one engine instead of two. Sticking with one motor can help keep down the price of a new plane. But in the F-35′s case, the decision proved self-defeating.

Assertion of belief unsupported by fact. The single engine approach was an affordability (procuring and maintaining half as many engines as a two engine plane) decision at the start.

Now Axe follows up with some  ‘narrative’:

That’s because the F-35 is complex — the result of the Air Force, Marines and Navy all adding features to the basic design…..

Sheesh. More Axe B.S.
The F-35 is as complex as it needs to be as far as the users are concerned, and he can’t name anything on any of the variants that adversely affect the other variants. The irony here is that if the F-35 was a two engine plane, it WOULD be necessarily more complex.

In airplane design, such complexity equals weight. The F-35 is extraordinarily heavy for a single-engine plane, weighing as much as 35 tons with a full load of fuel.

Complexity does not necessarily equal weight; complexity can in fact reduce weight. Proof please? And the F-35 is not 'extraordinarily heavy (see F-16 data that follows), But moving on...

In structures, a truss is more complex than a beam but can weigh much less for the same purpose. In components, a multifunction box (GPS-INS) can weigh less than having separate INS and GPS boxes (incidentally, the F-35 uses separate, less-complex GPS and INS components).

 Axe is therefore making another sweeping generalization on a topic for which he possesses no consequential knowledge, and is so typical of Punk Journalism. He uses this complexity-weight ‘Strawman’ to build his narrative further:

By comparison, the older F-15 fighter weighs 40 tons. But it has two engines. To remain reasonably fast and maneuverable, the F-35′s sole F135 engine must generate no less than 20 tons of thrust — making it history’s most powerful fighter motor.

An 'interesting' comparison, selected no doubt to feed the meme machine, and executed with complete ineptitude from an engineering perspective. (But probably counts as a profundity to the Ignorami.)

The only F-15 variant that weighs around ’40 tons’ is a max-loaded F-15 Strike Eagle, the air-to-mud optimized variant of the F-15 air-superiority fighter. The F-35 weighs ‘a lot’ for the same reason as a fully loaded F-15E would weigh ‘a lot’, and at the same point in time (takeoff or after aerial refuel): it is loaded down with fuel and weapons.

The air-superiority version of the F-15 would be much more lightly loaded, but….. so….. what?
Why not compare say, a ‘fully loaded’ F-16's weight and power to weight with an F-35? The F-16C Block 50 has a max takeoff weight of 37K lbs (18.5 tons) and an engine that ‘only’ produces 27K lbs of thrust.

Alternatively, we may want to compare same generations of technology. So why not compare the F-35 power/weight with the F-22’s? Especially since the F135 is a derivative of the F119 in the F-22?

Answer: It doesn’t support Axe’s little lamentations and story line

All that thrust results in extreme levels of stress on engine components. It’s no surprise, then, that the F-35 frequently suffers engine malfunctions...

No, not really…since the ‘frequency’ is more in Axe’s imagination than reality. Maybe he should add jet engine technology to that long list of things he knows nothing about?

…Even with that 20 tons of thrust, the new radar-dodging plane is still sluggish.
The F-35 “is a dog … overweight and underpowered,” according to Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight in Washington.

Winslow Wheeler is a paid hack for Strauss (first name Phil), trust-fund baby and itinerant ‘photographer’ who by the way is an anti-defense sponsor of Wheeler’s work for ages now. First at the Center for Defense (Dis-)Information and now under the POGO umbrella. Strauss is Board Chairman of that (sarc) bastion of Pro-American thought (/sarc) 'Mother Jones'.  [But don't question their 'patriotism'!]

I think all indications are that the F-35 is anything BUT a dog. But then, I’ve done the math.

In 2008, two analysts at the RAND Corporation, a California think-tank that works closely with the military, programmed a computer simulation to test out the F-35′s fighting ability in a hypothetical air war with China…

This is an obfuscating oversimplification to say the least. RAND did not sponsor what produced the now-infamous slide-show, and RAND disavowed any so-called ‘findings’. In short it was a ‘rogue operation’ at best.

…The results were startling.

NO. The results were deterministic Garbage-In Garbage-Out.

They are now known to have been based on ‘simulations’ run on 'Harpoon 3' (yes….. the video game) using performance, tactics and strategy ‘data’ of unknown pedigree by people who had no current working knowledge of the classified and/or technical data required to realistically model the ‘problem’ in the first place.

So should we dismiss Axe for being incompetently uninformed on the topic or for lying about it? IMHO, either one is unforgivable.

  “The F-35 is double-inferior,” John Stillion and Harold Scott Perdue concluded in their written summary of the war game, later leaked to the press. The new plane “can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run,” they warned.

John Stillion left RAND for ‘greener pastures’ shortly after this cockup, and the reader can make their own assumptions as to perhaps “why”.
Stillion was supposed to be doing a study on what he is perhaps best known for: Airbase Vulnerability. I own some of his stuff on the topic and it is generally very good. IF he was suckered into an anti-JSF operation as part of that, then that’s tragic. But if that brief was his production he is still wrong in how he thinks about modern air combat.

His experience, his air combat worldview as came out in the briefing: that very much of a SEA back-seater. Given post-SEA air combat experiences, it very much looks like the rules for success have progressed way beyond Boyd’s first-generation-think on Energy-Maneuverability, so he should have showed a little humility in recognizing the possibility he was perhaps ignorant of important facts.

Yet the F-35 is on track to become by far the military’s most numerous warplane. It was designed to replace almost all current fighters in the Air Force and Marine Corps and complement the Navy’s existing F/A-18 jets. The Pentagon plans to acquire roughly 2,400 of the radar-evading F-35s in coming decades, at a cost of more than $400 billion.

Like it or not, the stealthy F-35 is the future of U.S. air power. There are few alternatives. Lockheed Martin’s engineers have done millions of man-hours of work on the design since development began in the 1990s. Starting work on a new plane now would force the Defense Department to wait a decade or more, during which other countries might pull ahead in jet design. Russia, China and Japan are all working on new stealth fighter models.

So then, what’s the point of all Axe’s B.S.?

The Pentagon sounds guardedly optimistic about the current F-35 grounding. “Additional inspections of F-35 engines have been ordered,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, a military spokeman [sic] said, “and return to flight will be determined based on inspection results and analysis of engineering data.”

If Axe had bothered to read Reuters the day before he would have found Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall saying :

  • …..the grounding had halted testing but he did not view the incident as a "fundamental setback" for the $400 billion program, the Pentagon's biggest, which still has about 40 percent of developmental testing to complete.
  • ….. the engine had suffered two issues involving fan blades in the past few years, but they appeared unrelated and not systemic to the airplane.
  • "None of those things that have happened, including this recent one as far as I know, suggests that we have a fundamentally flawed design," Kendall said.
  • ….detailed inspections of engines on the fleet of 97 F-35s already built had not shown signs of the kind of excessive rubbing founded on the engine that broke apart, although there were signs of milder rubbing in several other engines
  • . … the evidence being compiled did not point to a systemic issue, but the analysis was still going on. In this case, engineers found evidence of significant rubbing by the fan blades against a cowl.
  • "We’re not noticing it throughout the fleet," he said.
  •  "The design allows for a limited degree of rubbing, but it was enough in this case to cause a structural reaction that ultimately led to failure."
If Axe read more, the rest of us wouldn’t have to suffer through his Beta-boy handwringing:

Minor fixes might get America’s future warplane flying again soon — for a while. But fundamental design flaws could vex the F-35 for decades to come, forcing the Pentagon to suspend flying far too often for the majority of its fighter fleet, potentially jeopardizing U.S. national security.

….and monkeys might jump out of Axe’s nether regions.

If it is between Axe’s ‘potentials', ‘coulds’ and ‘mights’, and F-35 evidence to date, all indications are we should expect those monkeys first.

My interest now is seeing who picks up Axe's ramblings and repeats the same uninformed drivel Axe just spewed.

NOTE: Work and family demands (and an illness or two)  are the reason for my hiatus have prevented me from posting regularly these days. I still have a couple of major posts in the fire, but don't know when I can complete them. As Axe's commentary proves, it is much more easy to just make up stuff or repeat other people's made-up stuff.  The only reason I had time to do this post was that Axe's drivel spun me up and it was getting in the way of me being able to clear my head for working on real life problems.