Making the Most of The F35 B

One of the fundamental changes in SDSR 2010 was to select the F35C over the F35B. The rational for this was that the F35C could also replace the Tornado and cover the RAF’s Future Offensive Air System requirement as well as the Joint Combat Aircraft requirement designed to replace the Harrier. However once it became clear that the cost of converting the aircraft carriers would be in the £ 5 billion pound range the decision was taken to revert back to the B model. However despite the decision to revert back to the B model no decision was taken to replace the Tornado with something else. The F35B will now have to serve as both a Harrier replacement and a Tornado replacement.

F35 External Pod 640x502 Making the Most of The F35 B

On June 14, 2012, F-35B Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft BF-2 completed the first test flight for the short takeoff and vertical landing variant with an asymmetric weapons load. BF-2 flew with an AIM-9X Sidewinder inert missile on the starboard pylon, a centerline 25 mm gun pod, and a GBU-32 and AIM-120 in the starboard internal weapon bay.

Having F35B as a replacement for the Harrier will give us capabilities light years ahead of what we had. Despite the criticisms of the B model in comparison to the Harrier it is a major capability improvement. However as a replacement for the Tornado the F35B does have limitations. I believe there are some relatively simple fixes that the UK can use to overcome the limitations of the B model so that it can serve as an effective replacement for the Tornado.


The main criticism levelled against the F35B is its limited range on internal fuel. Most publicly available sources put the F35B’s range on internal fuel at around 900 nautical miles while the F35A has a range of some 1200 nmi and the F35C has a range of 1400 nmi. These range figures compare quite favourably with aircraft like the Tornado simply on internal fuel. However a Tornado would rarely fly a mission on internal fuel alone. Generally it would also use external drop tanks.

The issue for a stealth aircraft is that if it uses drop tanks it will compromise is stealth capability meaning there was little point in investing billions of pounds in an aircraft that can offer little improvement on the previous generation.

04e0130007pu4 Making the Most of The F35 B

However there is a relatively simple get around for this problem. The F22 uses a drop tank system that actually detaches not just the drop tank itself but the wing pylon it is mounted on. This means that once the tank is dropped the aircraft regains its clean stealthy form. It can then conduct the rest of it mission on its internal fuel.  According to Lockheed Martin the F35B’s internal fuel capacity is 13,100 lb. The inclusion of two under wing fuel tanks would increase this by an additional 8,000 lb, around a 60% increase.

Obviously the extra weight and drag from the tanks would mean that a 60% increase in fuel would not translate into a 60% increase in range but it should give a very substantial boost none the less.

Obviously dropping expensive stealthy fuel tanks would not be ideal but we should ask the question, on how many occasions will the F35 need to be in a stealthy configuration? probably only for the first few days of an air campaign while the enemies air defences are destroyed.

The Israeli’s are already reported to be working on such a design so there may well be an off the shelf solution soon. If not then it is probably not beyond the ability of the United Kingdom to develop such a solution on its own.

Bomb Bays

The other major criticism levelled against the F35B is that it has smaller internal bomb bays than the other two models. It will be unable to carry internally a 2000lb bomb such as the Paveway III.

However it’s worth noting that due to the size of the Paveway III kit that no version of the F35 can carry a Paveway III internally. Nor for that fact can the F22.

f 35 armament Making the Most of The F35 B

The other question to ask is how useful is the Paveway III in modern combat. As far as I can see in operations over Libya we did not drop a single Paveway III bomb. Paveway III’s main use would be for attacking bunkers and other hard and buried targets. With the development of weapons such as Storm Shadow the need for such a weapon seems to have been reduced substantially. All bombs dropped by the RAF over Libya were either Paveway II or Paveway IV in the 500lb range. With greater accuracy of modern munitions and less tolerance for collateral damage the smaller bombs seem to have become much more useful.

The F35B will be limited to only the Paveway II or IV for internal carriage. However it can carry the 1000lb JDAM internally. If there is a need for a bigger bomb then we could go to the extraordinary length of buying 1000 lb JDAM’s. This bomb will already be integrated on the base line F35B so the cost of procuring it will be very small.

This might seem a bit puny to some but it’s worth noting that the F22 can only carry the 1000lb JDAM internally and it has to sacrifice its AMRAAM missiles in its large bomb bay to do so. Our F35B’s could carry two JDAMS as well as 2 Meteors internally and 2 ASRAAM’s on the stealthy wing pylons. Not a bad load in my estimation. So the question over the B model vs. the C model in UK service comes down to, what can you do with a 2000lb JDAM that you can’t do with a 1000lb JDAM?

In addition with modern air defences I see little if any chance that any air force will be flying deep penetration missions like the F117 did over Baghdad in 1991 no matter how stealthy their aircraft are. Stand-off weapons will be used for such missions while the enemy’s air defence capability is picked apart.

Suppression of Enemy Air Defence

In my mind the major use for low observable aircraft will be clearing out an enemy’s air defence in the opening days of any campaign. The RAF has withdrawn the ALARM missile from the Tornado and has no plans to integrate it on the Typhoon or F35. Many critics see this as the RAF getting out of the Suppression of Enemy Air Defence business altogether. The F35B could certainly not carry the ALARM missile internally but given its size I don’t think any version could.

Spear Missile from F-35

However the RAF has commissioned the SPEAR 3 missile from MBDA specifically for the F35B. It will be able to carry eight of these missiles internally as well as two meteor missiles and two external ASRAAM’s.

Beam riding missiles like HARM and ALARM are an out-dated concept. What is far more useful are weapons able to recognise targets that can be targeted by the aircraft’s Synthetic Aperture Radar from long range.

Also weapons that can be re-programmed in flight to deal with evolving threats. Indeed the MBDA video for the SPEAR missile shows exactly how the RAF will use the F35B to attack an air defence system. So in comparison to the Tornado in the SEAD role we have a stealthy F35B equipped with up to 8 internally carried SPEAR missiles and a radar capable of not only imaging and targeting threats but also of conducting electronic attack vs. a Tornado with two Alarm missiles and a Sky Shadow ECM pod trying to find a missile battery by waiting until it has locked its radar on to the Tornado.

The F35B certainly seems like a major capability improvement over Tornado in this respect.


While the F35B does have its limitations there are some relatively simple fixes which can allow it to be every bit as capable as the Tornado.

The inability to carry the Paveway III bomb is a limitation but then this is a limitation shared by all present Fifth Generation aircraft. If such weapons are needed then it’s a job for the B2 and looking at recent operations it’s a niche capability that will be used rarely at best.

It’s also important to note that the F35B does come with some major advantages. Savings in commonality between the FAA and RAF are substantial and the aircraft’s ability to take off from ships at sea as well as short air strips gives it a level of operational flexibility un-matched by any other aircraft in the world today.

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230 thoughts on “Making the Most of The F35 B

  1. DavidNiven

    Or rather than buying a plane with the added complexities and cost of the lift fan and moving nozzle to replace a plane that is not VTOL, just buy the A model and save your money.

  2. Observer

    Be fair DN, they’re sort of committed to their carriers. And without the B, I can’t see too many other aircraft that can use an STO carrier.

  3. Simon257

    Excellent piece.

    What is the current position on acquiring an Anti-Ship missile for the UK’s fleet of F35′s? After spending Billions on acquiring CVF and the JSF. It does seem odd that we still have no FJ Anti-Ship Capability!

    I’m still not sure if the B, in the long term is the right aircraft for the RAF. Have the RAF said that they are planning to operate the B from Austere strips and hides, like the Harrier Gr3′s were during the Cold War:

    If they are not, then in the long term. Maybe we should look at either the A or the C for the RAF and leave the B solely to the FAA.

  4. RedTrousers

    I can’t see any single seated Kevin doing SAR target recognition from 100km+ (as the MBDA video suggests), gaining that much target quality resolution as the video showed. SAR imagery analysis is chuffing hard: it’s why the IMINT analyst’s course for Sentinel is 9 months long.

    Purely on physics, the resolution at that range is simply not there to classify target types.

    Fly round in tight circles close to the SA-11 maybe, but that sort of defeats the stealthiness.

  5. DavidNiven

    I understand the need for the B model for the carriers. I don’t however see the need in replacing the Tornado with the B model when the A model will fit the bill and for a less purchasing price.

    I just don’t get the argument that it will be handy to have a STVOL ability for the Tornado replacement when the Tornado is not used that way.

  6. DavidNiven

    Hi Nick,

    The rolling and vertical landings will be good to have for the B model and if we are required to use austere strips we can use the B models from them, but I still see no requirement for the B model ( with all its extra costs ) to replace the Tornado when the A model will fit the bill.

  7. Enigma

    “The inclusion of two under wing fuel tanks would increase this by an additional 8,000 lb, around a 60% increase.”

    There is a snowballs chance in you know where of 2000ltr drop tanks on f35. There is like anything positive and negative sides to anything you use somewhere like 30-40% of the fuel in external drop tanks to overcome the drag associated with carrying them dependant on various flight regimes why conformals are increasing in popularity but you can’t clean them off in flight if you need to. F35b range is fine as it is.

    Tornado is being replaced as much by typhoon and other things as it is with f35. Tornado and indeed harrier got some nice new pods from terma which proved popular in the EW/defence stuff but like anything f35 will introduce new sensors in that whole sphere were it is hoped software will play more of a roll in target ident with uploaded threat libraries, it remains to be seen how well that all works.

    F35 was design to do the f117 mission but with a better defensive capability it will I suspect spend most of its time clean wing as air defence networks can be difficult to take dwn as Bosnia showed. The ability for f35 to integrate fully with all other assets with be the greatest challenge we have.

  8. Nick

    Yes I agree. The RAF would be better equipped with the A or C variant as Tornado replacement in the long run. Presumably by then (2030/2040) the RAF will be using an evolved Tarantis as primary strike vehicle (surely in a self flying mode) ?
    From what I’ve read (and its very hard to tell how much is truth or exaggeration) it does seem hard to see F35s acting as air defence vehicle against other LO/VLO designed opponents, such as the PAK-50, may be something of an ask. That all rather suggests that something else needs to be designed to complement the F35 (for those of us that don’t have the F22) ?

  9. Sir_Humphrey

    There is no requirement for fj anti-shop and hasn’t been since the end of the Cold War. It’s great when the only vessel out there is a target, less useful when it’s a busy cluttered space where positive I’d is needed.

    The most likely contender would be brimstone marinised, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. This sort of issue is so far down the funding priority pile it’s untrue.

  10. Observer

    Is it? Typhoon was designed as a high speed interceptor, Tornado was designed as a strike fighter. Asking a fighter whose forte is high speed, high maneuverability dogfighting into a ground attack role where you have to go slow and maneuverability constrained is like asking a sprinter to do a marathon. Possible, but don’t expect good results.

    The Tornado managed it with variable geometry wings to change its flight characteristics. The Typhoon does not have that option.

  11. Enigma

    The f15 not a pound for air to ground, yet arguably the premier tactical strike aircraft of our time.

    Variable geometry wings were necessary to achieve desired speed and field conditions for aircraft of there time, technology advancements in aerodynamic, engine capability, materials and fbw software mean they are no longer required.

  12. Jules

    Well we can by B models for now and buy some C’s later on and at the same time re-fit the carriers for them too in about twenty five years time!
    That way we will have had B’s and C’s, STOVL and CTOL Carriers so everyone will be happy?

  13. All Politicians are the Same

    The Kevin does not do it, the onboard “super computer” does. SAR target classification will be automatic, the actual resolution is extremely classified but apparently incredible.
    MBDA do CGI that does cut out some stuff but in this instance he has ESM and an auto SAR classification in a non populated area so yes he may well engage.

  14. Martin

    @ David Niven

    “I understand the need for the B model for the carriers. I
    don’t however see the need in replacing the Tornado with the B model when the A
    model will fit the bill and for a less purchasing price.”

    The issue David is the additional cost of operating two
    aircraft types over one especially when we only have a total fleet of 48
    aircraft. The extra cost of the B model over the A pales in comparison with the
    extra operating expenses.

    @ Nick

    That all rather suggests that something else needs to be
    designed to complement the F35 (for those of us that don’t have the F22)

    We already have it. Its called Typhoon with Meteor and
    CAPTOR E. More than capable of dealing with an aircraft like PAK-FA with a
    0.5m2 rcs.

    @ Simon 257

    As far as I am aware the MOD has zero desire to look at an
    antiship missile but if it did both the JSM and LRASM will be able to be
    carried on the wing of the F35B

    @ Observer

    “The Tornado managed it with variable geometry wings to
    change its flight characteristics. The Typhoon does not have that option.”

    True but it does have forward canards that give it great low
    speed handling.

    @ Enigma

    “The f15 not a pound for air to ground, yet arguably the
    premier tactical strike aircraft of our time.”

    At high altitude you are right. The Saudis are the only air
    force to operate both and I think they much prefer Tornado for low level.

    @ Jules

    “Well we can by B models for now and buy some C’s later on
    and at the same time re-fit the carriers for them too in about twenty five
    years time!”

    We may well end up getting the A version to replace Typhoon
    after 2030 but I see zero chance of us ever operating C. Its slower than the A
    and significantly more expensive. It was costing billions to convert POW to
    CATOBAR before it was even built and I can’t imagine a future refit is ever
    going to be cheap.

    Also operating CATOBAR aircraft is phenomenally expensive in
    terms of crew training and I see little advantage in the C model over the A except
    a marginal range increase.

  15. Ian Williams

    There’s no requirement outside of a hot war against another naval power. It would be foolish to suggest that is unlikely. A naval power doesn’t have to be a major one for its ships to be a threat to ours.

  16. Martin

    @ Enigma

    “F35b range is fine as it is.”

    You can never have enough range ;-)

    @ RT

    “Purely on physics, the resolution at that range is simply not there to classify target types.”

    Maybe things have moved on. We have spent $40 billion developing the thing and a big chunk of that has gone on software and the AESA radar.

  17. Ian Williams

    The other advantage of the B model is its potential for use in small numbers off suitably equipped LHDs and maybe even Heath-Robinson Class LHD substitutes. In an ever-shrinking navy with no head-room for attrition, that’s an attractive option when we begin to think about replacing the Navy’s heavy lift capacity.

  18. Observer

    Oh? I was unaware that stall speeds for aircraft have shifted due to technology. Oh wait, it didn’t.

    And I do need some evidence on the claim that the F-15 is the premier strike aircraft of our time. It seems to have made its name mainly as an air superiority fighter.

  19. Observer

    Martin, it’s not that the Typhoon is not maneuverable at low levels, though the air density may affect it. What is the main mobility killer is the fact that you can’t maneuver too drastically or you’ll lose your bearing to the target. You’re basically forced to go almost head first at the target before weapons release. Bombs can only get lofted into a narrow cone or do a straight ahead dive bombing weapons release. No propulsion system.

    I believe the Typhoon CAN move well at low levels. The problem is that to hit the target, it isn’t allowed to. It has the maneuverability. It may not be able to use it.

  20. RedTrousers

    APATS, such touching faith.

    As background, I ran the Training Line of Development for bringing ASTOR into service, and the most challenging aspect for training was SAR interpretation. I also know rather more than nothing of the capabilities of the Sentinel dual mode radar, with a 4.2 metre baseline. And physics.

    The F35 nosecone restricts any fitted AESA to about half a metre baseplane. It does not matter how much processing power you throw at it, the fundamental restriction is numbers of discrete T/R modules. The resolution at 100km is not adequate for targeting quality info. It is blobology after much less distance than that. To gain greater resolution, you need to fly longer baselines: the clue is in the phrase “synthetic aperture”: aperture length sharpens focus, the longer the sharper. Do you want to tell an f35 Kevin to fly straight and level for 15 minutes in order to increase resolution?

    Then there is the training. Understanding SAR is non trivial. For pilots, it’s completely alien, a whole new skill.

    The display matters. IMINT analysts have large high pixel count displays with typically 2-4 GPUs. Does the average 8 inch MFD in a jet have that? They have software tools to reduce noise, crop, zoom, invert contrast. Try doing that in a modern cockpit.

    Oddly, I am still involved in the world of radar, but on the commercial side of the fence. So I know the state of the current.

  21. All Politicians are the Same

    Ok :) You know more than LM and MBDA, when were you running this programme and with what level of tech?
    Flying straight nad level is actually useful for a stealth jet as you make minimal adjustments to your course in order to avoid presenting a “flash” to a threat radar but as I said the computer does the classification not your beloved Kevins.

  22. RedTrousers

    Answer the physics.

    I think you’ve bought the brochure, and forgotten to be sceptical, nor thought about how complex the Kevin tasks are while simultaneously trying to fly and survive in a high threat environment.

  23. All Politicians are the Same

    I am not a physicist and frankly have very little interest in maths but are you telling me that both LM and MBDA (who both employ people who are physicists and have more degrees than us added together) are telling lies that can so easily be disproven by physics or perhaps they have actually made some system advances that you are not privy to?

  24. bankslave

    Frankly, I think it is insane to give the RAF any F-35B. That version should be RN only. RAF strike would be better served in the short term by tranche 3 Typhoon with conformal tanks. Later on, F-35A, C, or the mooted E would be more suited to RAF needs. Perhaps even a handful of LRS-B.

  25. Observer

    APATs, one thing I have noticed is that marketing and the physics departments are often not next door to each other. :)

    RT relax, if someone oversells their product and there is no other information source that negates it out there, the people on the outside have no choice but to treat the infosource as reliable unless proven otherwise, if it is LM’s marketing department’s fault, you can’t blame APATS for that. Only information source and all.

  26. Simon

    Maybe I missed something over the last couple of hundred years but the main hurdle is penetration of enemy defences. To do this you need whatever technology advancement happens to be around at the time. It was high-speed / low-level. Now it’s stealth. Tomorrow it might be fighter escorted bombers with particle CIWS.

    However, you simply cannot penetrate deep into enemy territory with only 450nm of radius, whatever weapon current technology deems sufficient. Furthermore there is only one way to take out hardened targets and that is ma-hoo-sive bombs.

    I change my tune just about every day but I think F35B will be sufficient for fleet air defence, surveillance, interdiction and anti-armour. Back on terra firma I’m happy with Typhoon providing the same. What we then need is a strike aircraft that can take large payloads a long, long way. If you believe the “stealth” hype then F35A is currently the most cost effective way of doing this and getting away with it… I’m not sold on Storm Shadow (or son of TLAM) being our only SEAD capability.

    Why spend more on F35B to have less payload and less range than F35A?

  27. All Politicians are the Same

    Nope but things like CGI videos demonstrating capabilities are normally ran past quite a few departments.

  28. Observer

    You think? I’ve seen marketing twist reality into a pretzel before, up to and including a lawsuit by one of my university professors for misrepresenting her. On tupperware. And another lawsuit, this time family related for using a distant grandmother’s name on my father’s side, misuse of family name misrepresentation etc.

    Marketing can be real bastards when it comes to selling.

  29. RedTrousers

    Well, yes, I think I am.

    Oddly, it was the Andrew who sparked my love of both maths and physics. I was a rather typical Arts A level no degree cavalryman until I found in a tri-Service courses brochure the fact that the Lt’s navigation course at HMS Dryad was technically open to all services, which was handy as I had a girlfriend in Winchester at the time and being posted to Germany was reducing the shagging opportunities. The course was a pre-cursor to the main Andrew Navigator course, which I am sure you have done. Anyway, it was hoots of fun, running up and down the south coast in small patrol craft, taking bearings, working out currents and course made good sort of stuff. I passed. I was a bit challenged when the Colonel told me to navigate the entire Regiment across the desert and between the Iraqi minefields overnight through a sandstorm 18 months later, 44 turns and a dozen minefields over 80 kilometres, but it all worked out well enough and we got to where he wanted to be. So good for the Andrew on navigation, I think, and for teaching it well enough that it inspired in me a love of maths.

    Since then, I have got maths and physics A levels in my own time, and am about half way through an OU Maths degree (6 years).

  30. All Politicians are the Same

    Outside of actual reaction to combat or landing on a Carrier Kevin in an F35 is pretty much a computer minder. It fuses the data takes the inputs from sensors in up to 3 environments, calculates the best flight profiles and does SAR classification.
    Remember that the radar on an F35 is an AESA radar so we can steer the beams to minimise course alterations.
    Now I hate wiki but even they say ” Careful design and operation can accomplish resolution of items smaller than a millionth of the range, for example, 30 cm at 300 km, or about one foot at nearly 200 miles (320 km).”
    Now you may be a disbeliever but LM are making these claims quite publicly and even Dr Kopp has not published a rebuttal so maybe just maybe they have not wasted Billions developing the most advanced sensor system and powerful computing system ever to fly in a strike aircraft?
    Still wish it went faster :(

  31. All Politicians are the Same

    Perhaps but at this sort of level and involving 2 of the worlds largest DC? Nobody else looked at and said that cannot be true apart from RT? Really?

  32. All Politicians are the Same

    Now that is arithmetic, I could tell you exactly how long it takes to do x distance at Y, how far away something will pass based on angle of separation etc. I spent some time assessing the graduates of the modern equivalent of the course you did :)

  33. Enigma


    You would of course be aware that delta configurations offer considerably high aoa stall angles than conventional configuration aircraft due to a really flat lift curve curve slope. That was one of the many reasons why in the late 50s and 60s so much interest was in that configuration unfortunately a deltas produces certain helpful stability issues that either restricted the envelope of meant other parameters where effected to fix hence at that time the solution for best of both worlds was seen a variable geometry wings a la f14, tornado and f111. What has changed since to remove those issues has been a better understanding of flow physics and the grow of fly by wire computer technology to allow the use of unstable designs.

    As for f15 being the premier western tactical strike aircraft that is the general agreed principle due to is size which allow for large sensor carriage, carrying capacity

  34. RedTrousers

    SAR resolution takes time. Sustained trajectory without deviation. And once resolved, additional time for human interpretation. The F35 starts this at a disadvantage as the nosecone is so constrained in size.

    You won’t convince me with LM marketing blurb, as there are so many variables they do not acknowledge, and that you appear to not know of.

  35. Martin

    @ RT – which rule of Physics prevents the SAR imaging at 100km exactly. I realise you did work with ASTOR in the 90′s but computers have come along way since then.

  36. All Politicians are the Same

    Fair enough but as I have pointed out, never before have we had such an advanced AESA radar doing this combined with so much processing power. There is no human interpretation (I assume if he really disagrees he may override) but the classification is automatic.
    The F35 is probably the most criticised and scrutinised aircraft program in history yet quite public SAR performance claims have not been challenged.

  37. Simon


    I’m unhappy with the “careful design and operation” statement you picked out. It’s the “…and operation” bit, which probably means…

    “If you keep perfectly still and are working at 20C with excellent visibility and 0% humidity…”

  38. RedTrousers

    From arithmetic comes more complex maths… No one should ever stop learning.

    I recall being fined a case of champagne on a tri service course at Shrivenham, when an exasperated Cranfield professor was trying to teach about 100 JSCSC students about binary, probably on a Friday after noon. He put up 111111110 and asked us what it was. No one said anything, so I stuck my hand up and said 255. Was right, he rather stupidly thought I had computed it, I said no I didn’t, it was 256-1, and even a cavalryman was not challenged by that. He was disappointed that I had not a approached it from first principles, the rest if the course horrified that such an obvious answer had not been seen by anyone else.

    Cost me rather more than £256, but worth it as I got a straight A pass on that element of the course.

  39. Martin

    Not sure I understand. I can’t see what the Tornado can do at low level that the Typhoon can’t. Also given weapons like dual mode brimstone, Paveway IV and SPEAR I’m not sure of low level is that important in CAS.

  40. TED

    @disqus_JRbK1yGHJ2:disqus Excellent post, I could not agree with you more. I think some people here are guilty of reading the tabloid heading and not considering how the journalist arrived at this incredible conclusion.

    You however have looked at the sensational claims and put in the facts which is highly commendable.

    Now let the old debate of which is better continue… Wheres @M&S?

  41. Martin

    How much range exactly is needed to do deep strike? As I pointed out the use of drop tanks will increase the range if the B model up to around the same as the A model with out. would that be enough?

  42. TED

    @disqus_G1bK69kVPn:disqus Why do you say radius 450nm? Who said they were coming back?

    More seriously as @disqus_JRbK1yGHJ2:disqus points out you have drop tanks and you can also use A/A refuel.

  43. Martin

    Its worth noting that EADS advertise a 1 meter resolution from the Terra X SAR satellite from low earth orbit approximately 300km high. 1 m resolution should be easily capable of spotting a SAM battery. Terra X is a commercial satellite so I am guessing the NRO has way way better and I doubt if the satellite has anything like the power of the AESA radar in the F35 which is powered by a jet turbine instead of solar panels. If the resolution is possible then the detection and analysis is simply a matter of software. I don’t see the physics involved.

  44. Simon

    2000km – sorry, that was stupidly glib.

    I think 2000km is about the maximum penetration needed.

    You can’t use drop tanks and still remain stealthy and A/A refuel is not stealthy unless you’ve got a new stealth tanker.

    PS: 2000km can just about be provided by buddy (stealthy) tanking on a pair of F35A/C.

  45. Martin

    Is that 2000km all in stealth configuration? 1000 km each way sounds quite far. What would we be bombing at that range.

  46. Martin

    Correct me if I am wrong but I thought the entire reason for forward canards was to substantially reduce stall speed. Not sure if the swing wing in the Tornado would be better at low level but I think the Typhoon has it beat hands down for manuverability at any level.

  47. Ed.H

    Possibly stupid question:
    Is the 900 nm range it’s total, or can it fly 900 nm away from CV and then fly 900 nm miles back (ergo, total range 1800 nm)?

  48. DavidNiven

    ‘The extra cost of the B model over the A pales in comparison with the
    extra operating expenses.’

    You’ll have to explain that to me, they both use the same engine and systems but the B model has the added complexity and cost of the servicing to the lift fan and all the moving doors etc and the moving engine nozzle.

  49. Simon


    I’ve given up with the nested comments. Yes, 2000km in, 2000km out, all fully “stealth-ed up”. It’s a bit plucked from the air but represents the distance to the interior of China or Russia (around the Mongolia area). The kind of area that might require bombing in WW3 from the perimeter of India or South Korea.

    Perhaps Teranis would be enough?

  50. Observer

    Martin, the point I was trying to make for agility is that in a bombing run, it does not matter. From the Initial Point to the Release Point to the Target, it’s mostly a straight line, you can’t dance around too much.

  51. Simon

    I don’t think canards reduce stall speed much. They just allow control at high angles of attack. I suppose being able to do that means we can sqeeeze extra AoA of the delta wing which delays the onset of stall by producing more lift.

    Semantics ;-)

  52. All Politicians are the Same

    So you are looking at a combat radius comparable to an F1-111 or F15E neither of which is stealthy but far greater than an F22 or any F35 variant.
    You need a bomber as the technology does not exist to design a multi role stealth aircraft with that sort of combat radius. It may come.

  53. RedTrousers

    “I don’t see the physics involved”.

    That is precisely your problem. Just because you have not got a big brain does not mean the problem becomes all fluffy and solvy at the level of brain that you publish.

    “I’m guessing”. Yes, you are.

  54. All Politicians are the Same

    I have seen some stuff from “repositioned” satellites in near real time in the last few years that would blow your mind.
    The advances in even the last decade are quite scary.

  55. RedTrousers

    APATS, all of your and Martin’s examples are commercial satellites. You don’t reposition them at less than several million dollars. Actually, more like hundreds of millions of dollars, given that they are launched into optimal orbits, and repositioning them causes their new orbit to become sub-optimal, so shorter, and that costs buckets of dollars. Buckets and buckets of dollars.

    Military satellites are different, in that you forget the cost, but then they are tied to strategic priorities. A Kevin flying by is both unimportant, and also too late to affect strategic priorities.

  56. Observer

    Ok guys, no point in any of us crying or not crying over this topic, best thing to do is just wait and see at how well it turns out. If it’s good, APATS gets bragging rights, if it’s not RT can tell us “I told you so!” :)

    We just have to wait a bit to see it in action anyway, so why not just see how it performs in real life before passing judgement?

  57. All Politicians are the Same

    You think I am talking about commercial satellites? We are talking about range and resolution, I am illustrating what I have seen of current military capabilities.
    You really fail to understand the sort of data transfer, sensor fusion and information sharing capabilities we currently have, never mind what something like F35 will bring
    Compare you 100M away from your recce wagon, seeing a field maybe and reporting what you see. Something like F35 can fuse your report, all your oppos reports, the AWACS info, ASTOR info, sat info, maritime data info, then the computer can collate it contribute to it via its own organic passive and active sensors before distributing it at the same time as adjusting advised flight plans based upon it. Then attack plans can be adjusted.

  58. All Politicians are the Same

    You really should get with the times :( We could do most of it 8 or 9 years ago on a ship running some systems that were tape based.
    It is a brave new world out there and things have moved and are moving on.

  59. Enigma

    Can I just say I think these nested replies are rubbish so I’ll follow Simon and just post here.

    Simon I’d have to agree with apas building a low observable platform of f15 esq range performance with that degree of fighter manoeuvrability would make the price of f22 look cheap. I think in general people way overestimate how far way from either a base or a tanker these aircraft operate. We’ve been over the range thing many times though and as I’ve said a few time f35b will be fine in that regard.

    Martin typhoon fore planes are for pitch rate control.

    Observer I’m really lost what you think variable geometry wings brings to the party now a days. Be it high speed straight line speed at any altitude or high or low level manoeuvrability typhoon will outperform a gr4 in them all. Tornado due to its high wing loading was considered better for low level ride in its day, but modern stability augmentation systems and correct positioning of the cockpit on the freq response curve can and do compensate. However while still an option terrain masking low level runs sort of went out of fashion with introduction of LGBs. Tornado due to the experience of its crews and the weapons options available to it an extremely capable aircraft.

  60. WiseApe

    Of course the real question is….will it be a replacement for Buccaneer?

    Things rarely work as advertised. Remember Microsoft. I’m also still sceptical about stealth; a jet remains a big chunk of noisy hot metal in the sky. Wouldn’t we be better off decoying/jamming rather than trying to render ourselves invisible?

  61. Observer

    Enigma, you don’t want high speed for the final phase of a bombing run, you want slow to extend your engagement time and to prevent overshoots, and the main reason low level runs ran out of fashion is that the enemies that the Coalition engaged in the recent years have never managed air superiority or managed to maintain a medium to high level altitude defence network, which as I pointed out in the tank posts, made it very very simple to drop LGBs (or even just a concrete bomb) from high/medium altitude and much much safer as nothing could touch you up there.

    Against someone who has an intact defence network for high altitude work, you’ll be forced to go low again.

    As for variable geometry wings, the high speed/low speed changes to the flight characteristics allows for a “dash” phase through obscured areas in the enemy air defences followed by a “slow” phase for the final run in past the Initial Point to the Release point, then an easier “air grab” phase past the Target to a safer energy level before switching to another “dash” phase for egress. After the Release Point, the plane’s energy level is extremely low (slow speed, low altitude), maybe even dangerously so.

  62. RedTrousers

    Go on then, name one modern system in a fast jet that can do all of you say. Not a floaty little boat, a fast jet crewed by a single Kevin who not only has enough time on MW4 and opposable thumbs, but has enough training to make sensible OF5 level decisions about targeting.
    Can’t be done at a level that I would find acceptable. You might have lower standards. Being in the Andrew, you probably do. :(

  63. Simon


    I wouldn’t design a penetration/strike aircraft to be super-agile. I’d give it small wings to reduce drag and increase range.

    I might opt for variable geometry so that I can slow down to land though ;-)


    Ahhh, the Buccaneer. Lift augmentation without variable geometry. Wonderful.

  64. Simon

    Just did some simple calcs and a Nikon D3X with a 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens can resolve 6000 pixels over 35mm at a focal length of 800mm.

    Which is about 7:1000000

    And that’s only £20K.

    Maybe these mm wave radars really can so amazing things?

  65. Monty01

    Martin, super article. Thanks.

    You’ve done a great job of convincing us that the B version versus the A and C is the right choice for CVF. And the responses to your article seem to suggest that, if and when we decide to replace the Tornado, the A or C might be preferable for the long range strike role.

    All this assumes that the F35 programme will deliver everything expected of it. I hardly need to mention how delayed and over budget all versions are, but my real worry is whether what we finally get will ‘do what it says on the tin’? Will the F35 be truly capable of fulfilling the original mission criteria set for the JSF. This is the elephant in the room.

    My question is threefold: 1. Do you think there a significant risk of the F35 being mediocre and ultimately not the step forward in capability we need and expect it to be? 2. Will there ever be a point when we should cut and run? 3. Would the UK ever bale on it?

  66. RedTrousers

    Don’t be ridiculous. What on earth does 6000 pixels over 35mm at a focal length of 800mm mean? Nothing at all. And when you sort of try to transfer equivalence between optical and radar bands, well anyone with appreciation for hard reality in the radar bands knows that you are howling at the moon.

    This single post by you confirms something I have suspected in every post you make: you haven’t got a fucking Scooby about anything you write about.

  67. Joe B

    Since when do strike aircraft do low level low speed bombing runs these days. All missiles and bombs are now long range stand off weapons, storm shadow, paveway, brimstone etc

  68. Martin

    They are both different aircraft requiring different weapons integration, different training for maintenance crew, different training for pilots etc.

    Our budget will only stretch to two squadrons so we would end up with one F35a and one F35b and the ability to have 6 F35 B on the carrier.

  69. Martin

    Don’t get upset and turn nasty James. Your the one with the physics a level so tell me what law of physics prevents SAR imaging with sufficient resolution for detection at 100km. Further research has lead me to believe that the US SAR satellites may be able to obtain a resolution of 0.25 m from low earth orbit. That means they could resolve something not much bigger than a Rugby ball.

    If it’s not resolution that’s the issue but processing then it’s just a matter of software and computer power.

  70. Martin

    I get that but would the low stall speed provided by the forward canards not allow for a reasonable speed for the bomb run. again will modern precision guided weapons I’m not sure how useful a “bomb” run really is unless using the cannon.

  71. Observer

    Since 2 years back and long long before that. The 2 years back was when I called in a practice airstrike from a pair of F-16s. Can’t remember if it was 250 or 500-pounders.

  72. Nick

    I agree with you, but… Why do I always get the impression (both from here and other sites) that the RAF will replace Typhoon with an F35 sometime after 2030 ?

  73. Andy

    I think it’s more complex than that.
    1. The F-35 will probably end up being very good at what it does best such as SEAD while being mediocre at BVR air superiority, very poor at dog fighting and (unfortunately for us) lacking in range for long-range strike. In other words those nations that buy only the F-35 will have a very limited air force. What you need is a dog fighter with longer range and stealthy cruise missiles to complement it. Oh wait that’s the Typhoon! So really the F-35B should largely be a Harrier replacement and SEAD Tornado replacement with Typhoon replacing Tornado in air superiority, strike and CAS. Funnily enough this isn’t too far away from what we’re going to end up with.
    2. Only if we sell both aircraft carriers at the same time and get out of providing any meaningful defence of the UK.
    3. No, because we make 15% of every F-35 and even if they only end up building 2,000 that’s still better than nothing!

  74. Nick

    I would add a sub-question to your 1. If we were to face technically savvy opponents today (eg China, Russia etc) are we sure that the F35 would be able to cope with their counter-stealth counter measures as well as whatever technical developments on this front they come up with over the 2020 to 2050+ period ?
    Presumably when designing your Stealth airplane you also end up having a good idea what the counter-stealth technology might look like ?

  75. DavidNiven

    ‘They are both different aircraft requiring different weapons
    integration, different training for maintenance crew, different training
    for pilots etc.’

    In the A model that would mean less training for pilots and maintainers, weapons integration would not be that big of a problem with hopefully other European buyers integrating Meteor etc as well.

    ‘Our budget will only stretch to two squadrons so we would end up with
    one F35a and one F35b and the ability to have 6 F35 B on the carrier’

    My understanding was that the B model was to replace the Harriers only, and that the Tornadoes were being retired early as a cost saving measure with a replacement in the future, is it the case that two B sqn’s you mentioned are now the default permanent replacement for Tornado as well? If so then the carriers are not worth the price of gutting the FJ fleet in the RAF.

  76. Martin

    a few reasons, Firstly it has already gotten a bit late to start developing a Typhoon replacement if we want one then we should really be starting now and other than a bit of work with the French on a UCAV no one seems to be any where near starting a new project. Secondly I think if we don’t eventually raise our F35 orders LM will cut our work share. It’s worth noting that the 2030 date was for the retierment of the tranche 1′s which are already getting the boot and we are liklely to be flying the later versions well into the 2040′s.

  77. Martin

    The B models are being used for the carriers but the total number of squadrons will only be 7 with 5 Typhoon and 2 F35B. The budget for the Tornado replacement around 1 billion was cut as part of the SDSR 2010. So if we want more F35 A or B then we will have to reduce the number of Typhoon squadrons. This is why the F35B has effectively become the Tornado replacement although I suppose the Tranche 3 Typhoons could also be considered a replacement. The RAF fast jet fleet has already be gutted but it happened long before the F35B. Its the ubber cost of the Typhoon project that is to blame around 3-4 times the JCA project in cost.

  78. Martin

    Hi Monty, thanks for your questions. The F35B has had its performance greatly reduced from what was originally envisaged but its the new reduced figures I am quoting. At this stage the aerodynamics and flight characteristics are fairly well established and unlikely to change much. I think cost will also be contained in the future as well. The biggest risk is software but that will be more of a delay factor than a show stopper. Given its sensors and computing power alone I think the F35 will be an excellent aircraft but it is not and never will be a high performance fighter. its a stealthy bomb truck with a really good radar which 9 times out of ten is what we need. It will certainly give us power projection capabilities that we have never had before even with the short legged B version. I see no risk of the UK pulling out as there are 25,000 employed in the UK by the project.

  79. Martin

    Hard to say, I think both China and Russia and a long way off of deploying a fith generation aircraft like F35 let alone F22. The PAK-FA in my mind is about as stealthy as the Typhoon and I dont think the J20 or J31 will be that low observable either. Modern air defences are increasingly lethal and able to defeat stealth and increasing ranges but then such systems are quite noisy themselves and easily targeted with stand off weapons such as JASSAM and Storm Shadow. Techniques like decoys and stand in Jamming as provided by thinks like MALD also seem quite effective then their as AESA radars and the next generation jammer. But no matter how stealthy the F22, F35 or B2 no one is going anywhere near a double digit air defence without firing a lot of stand off missiles at it first.

  80. Martin

    its wroth noting that China and the Russia are at about the same period with their stealth aircraft as the USAF was in the early 1990′s and neither is a patch on the F22 from that period.

  81. Martin

    I think we are liklely to need all of the above to defeat a top end air defence. Even as radar’s get better LO aircraft are still harder to detect and always will be. But you are right that stealth is no magic cloak and its does have its limitations.

  82. Martin

    Not sure if we have the aircraft numbers to have a sustained period of low level attacking. The Tornado’s took some horrific loses in 1991 back in the day we had 30 squadrons. The RAF could be out of the game by the end of the week on accidents alone.

  83. Monty01

    ‘The F35 will be very good at what it does best… but those nations that only buy the F-35 will have a very limited air force.’

    Very good summary. Luckily, the UK has Typhoon. When it comes to replacing Tornado, if the A or C versions aren’t good enough, then I’d like to see us adopt / develop a TSR2 Mk2. What it could do seems to be just the capability we’re looking for.

  84. Nick

    Martin thank you. Presumably you invest in CIWS to protect the Radar/launcher sites as well as multiple mobile systems (using various frequencies) combined with data links and random emission timing (from individual sites) to make it as difficult to attack.

  85. Simon


    It means that passive EMR sensors can get a 7:1000000 resolution and since any radar is simply a passive EMR sensor (oh and a mighty big torch) I’m starting to wonder if 1:1000000 is not too unreasonable an ask with some clever FFT/DCT data processing on the sensor array.

    Am I digging a deep enough hole yet ;-)

  86. Bluenose


    not sure why you feel modern aircraft voluntarily bomb
    at slow speed – I have not seen any indication of this and it does not
    make much sense. For survivability and energy impartment to the weapon,
    one would want to be moving at whatever was both fast and economic,
    relying on the weapon guidance to ensure a good hit. While there are
    undoubtedly release limitations for any given piece of ordinance, you
    would always want to be at the upper end of these.

    As others have
    pointed out, apart from a better ride at low level owing to the lower
    wing-loading, there is nothing kinetically that a Typhoon cannot do but a
    Tornado could. Indeed, given far better thrust-to-weight ratio, the
    Tiffie is arguably better-suited to decelerating if needed (not
    convinced it is, mind), manoeuvring round awkward missiles and then
    getting out of Dodge tout suite

  87. Andy

    As others have said I think the answer to long range strike after 2030 will be something based on the unmanned Taranis rather than any manned vehicle.

  88. Observer

    You don’t “maneuver” around “awkward missiles”, that is Hollywood. SOP is a pass over the target, drop your payload, hit the flares/chaff and get out or at least that’s the situation from what I’ve seen. Not sure if the chaff/flare dump is automatic or a response to a simulated launch, never got to asking the flyboys about it, but the view from ground level is you see the guys go in, dump their load, climb out while releasing a stream of countermeasures.

    The speed thing is a targeting problem, you go in too fast and your window to shoot becomes very, very narrow. Of course you are right in saying that you want to get in and get out fast, but it’s meaningless if you go in so fast that you miss your shot.

    And if you do get a chance to call in the fast jets, remember, ear plugs. Once was enough of a painful lesson. It actually hurts when they pass by overhead.

  89. The Other Chris

    @Simon You’re getting there far faster than @redtrousers:disqus.

    There’s a lot of “old” physics being applied by commenters without understanding the “new” physics involved. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. If you can grok “old” you can grok “new” as they’re at the same level of complexity, just requiring a different model. I think a lot of the issue is due to hardware such as AESA being seen as an evolution of Phased Array when it’s more revolutionary than that.

    T/R’s can and do detect waves directly, however that’s not the limit of their detection capacity.

    CAVEAT: T/R Arrays have their own problems. Thermal efficiency is one, diffracting lobes at the edges of the transmissions another. PhoDir sourced phased arrays (opposed to the single sources currently being tested) are going to be things of beauty… but I digress…

    Mentioned previously, however the biggest shift of thinking when talking about an AESA is moving away from single waveform reflection mechanics. The ability to shift frequencies and pulse arrays with sub-nanoscale timing precision (this is important as it allows you to begin to operate within wavelength timings) means that a field of waveforms can be established. You can then apply techniques ranging from interferometry to bleeding edge photonics (remember the particle “half” of wave-particle duality).

    You can establish a background “spiders web” of a constructive frequency of waveforms to what you’re trying to detect, whether it be your own waveform or a passively received one, as just one example of the techniques being applied.

    Waves cross this background field and interfere, creating secondary effects that your T/R’s may receive when they otherwise wouldn’t receive the primary waveform. The hardware allows software to tune the field accordingly at blistering speed (speed of light + calculation time + hardware implementation) allowing fluctuations in what is being detected from the background field to be combined with what is being received directly.

    The F-35 carries dedicated Field Programmable Gate Arrays (Xilinx Vertex 7 for the current LRIP) to handle image processing from all of it’s sensors before passing results to the Integrated Processor (Motorola’s) which determines what it’s seeing and presents this information to the pilot for a decision.

    Linking these together, the F-35 MADL system allows for very high bandwidth communication between airframes. The system is able to share the raw data being received with another aircraft.

    This allows you to add techniques such as those used in very long base interferometry. Two AESA’s separated by a known baseline that can coordinate their fields and waveforms. How about a synthetic aperture radar effect with a baseline of 200m? What could that detect?

    All of a sudden techniques that work beyond perceived brick walls such as inverse square and angular resolution mathematics become available. VLBL Telescopes have resolutions far beyond their receiver sizes. Auditoriums allow the audience to hear a performer with a signal to noise ratio beyond the power of the performers voice with no third party power amplification.

    Bottom line, I’m with @allpoliticiansarethesame:disqus in that the physics, mathematics and hardware are at the point where this on-board processing will present the pilot with the necessary information in his field of vision to make a decision immediately rather than the pilot requiring an operator to interpret what the set(s) are providing.

  90. Martin

    You can but it’s all expensive to do. A mobile SAM battery is not like a ship and not so easy to protect with CIWS type systems

  91. Simon

    AESA and SAR just seem to be a load of simultanuous cosine equations to solve to me.

    I can completely understand why it is only possible nowadays with modern cpus (it took holographics yesteryear).

    Still, they don’t overcome the unfortunate reality of weather, difraction, refraction and bloom – unless the “weather” is always considered to be a uniform vector field.

    Quick question but assuming we’re talking about SAR how many samples in the direction of travel would usually be buffered before an (evolving) “image” were generated?

  92. RedTrousers

    Sorry Martin, I missed this one. The point I am making is not that SAR CANNOT resolve to that level of resolution, but that I am deeply sceptical that a small AESA in SAR mode in the nose of a fast jet can resolve something like an SA-11 at over 100 Kms, and even it it could, the resulting image would not IMO be targeting quality, would still require interpretation by a specialist, and that I do not believe that there is either time or training for fast jet pilots to do all of that while engaged in a combat mission.

    Re software automated classification: there are all sorts or practical constraints such as ROE that would tend to collectively rule out automated engagement in all but WW3 scenarios. What’s the difference at over 100 Kms between a SCUD or SA* TEL and a bus full of nuns and orphans? Visually very little. If the TEL is emitting some form of military RF then you have some corroboration, but if it is in silent mode…..?

    Anyway, LM are in trouble for the ropiness of their software, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  93. RedTrousers

    Simon, I know the generic data for Sentinel, but it really is classified, and would now I expect be superseded by modern processors anyway.

    SAR resolution is about baseline length, anyway. Satellites can achieve tremendous resolution quickly because they travel at about 16,000 mph, so getting lots of data from a great variety of angles is easy. The wide bodies or U2s fly sideways to the target, so generating a differential set of angles. Unless you constrain a FJ to the same profile, it has only a narrow set of angles to play with.

    @ all, there’s also Johnson criteria and target attitude relative to the SAR to consider

  94. RedTrousers

    TOC, interesting on the co-production, but I wonder how sensitive that is to even tiny differences in relative separation? You would require absolute precision flying to maintain a gap of 200 metes: any variability of even centimetres will introduce fuzziness and distortion.

  95. The Other Chris

    If you can apply a technique akin to First-Photon Imaging (Kirmani, A. 2013) then it will just be the one! :)

    White Paper:

    BBC Summary:

    In all seriousness, completely agree with regards the changing medium (weather). As far as I’m aware the AN/AGP-81 is billed as a X Band where the wavelengths tend not to penetrate thick weather very well. Doesn’t preclude constructive intereference to generate a different wavelength mind, and there’s always the chance of something more “secret squirrel” in there…

    Holographics have been used for a while now. S Band PSR and SSR’s in Air Traffic Control use some of the techniques to cancel clutter from the returns without requiring the receiver to alter rotation.

  96. The Other Chris

    You’re not wrong. The method that has been discussed publicly for the “sensor fusion” process, but between platforms, is the shipping of the stamped raw data from the appropriate sensor to each other rather than trying to coordinate “live”.

    The two platforms log their own data as they go along and then perform the same calculations on what happened a few fractions of a second ago i.e. once the figures from the other aircraft are in, rather than trying to account for drift on what’s currently happening right now.

    The FPGA’s and the Real-Time OS (Green Hills) being used is deterministic, so the two aircraft can compare notes with certainty. Note I say aircraft and not pilot. The aircraft present their pilots with the details they’ve calculated together via the head mounted displays worn and the two multifunction displays heads-down.

  97. RedTrousers

    In which case, both platforms will require synchronisation before flight, to allow for individual T/R modules variances in output and sensitivity to be cross-mapped. I think that would be non-trivial engineering. Both platforms would also need to be at the same software version: less of an issue, but still needs to be addressed. And there would have to be some common assumptions about baseline length, which might by themselves become constraining.

  98. The Other Chris

    Explains the cost overruns and lines of code! :)

    I suppose the question is would it be worth it? I don’t know.

    *If* they can produce an airmobile precision synthetic 200m baseline array that works, then probably yes. It’d be an astounding application if they can achieve it really.

    The software blocks suggest they’re cracking these problems, even if it’s not all fully IOC yet. It’s in this realm that the importance of the aircraft sits in my opinion i.e. “sensor fusion” and “decision making”.

    Whether it can sustain a 7G turn, land vertically or misses with its tailhook on landing are “straight forward” engineering problems by comparison, but nothing that hasn’t been engineered before.

    What’s the loss of ALARM in the SEAD debate if the aircraft can pick out all three launcher sites fed by two radar sets (currently “off”) for precision targeting with SDB? Do you need a 2000lb JDAM carried internally when the system can pick out a multitude of infrastructure targets for hitting with precision weaponry?

    EDIT: With live damage assessment.

    I simply love the Hawley Brief [1] where 80 independently targetable 500lb JDAM’s are illustrated for B-2 carriage. The rates move from “Runway Takedown’s per Sortie” to “Airbase Takedown’s per Sortie”.

    Images and words and all that:


  99. RedTrousers

    I still think the sort of SAR capability in the MBDA video is decades away from being in a British fast jet cockpit in a usable fashion.

    Which returns us to Martin’s main question. How useful is F35B? To my mind, not very apart from in a narrow set of circumstances of carrier borne defensive counter air. Certainly, for the money it costs, you could have better capability however you define that with other platforms that are not compromised by needing to park themselves on a boat.

  100. Enigma

    Well I would give a strike aircraft as big a wing aspect ratio as possible to increase range and reduce drag and funny enough it may indeed turn into a bat wing. However if I give it a short wing the life induce drag would go up and turn rate would go dwn but I bet it would be fast if I stuck a great big donk in it and the roll rate would be pretty sporty too.

    As tried to point out to observer there’s a reason we stopped designing variable geometry wings in the 60s to much weight and complexity for no benefit thanks to modern techniques.

  101. bankslave

    Among my junk was a Paris 05 issue of Flight International with an article on how Harrier GR9 could stay in UK service til 2020. Made me want to cry, though it could be the Saharan dust.
    Re. F-35B. It really only makes sense for the FAA & the elephants. The RAF would be better off with the A or C. If the long range E with the Advent engine is ever built, then playing fantasy aircraft, I would also add the cranked arrow wing of the F-16XL prototype. Now that would be a good Tornado GR4 replacement ( i.e. an F-35A with Advent engine & cranked arrow wing).

  102. Simon


    I suppose those “modern techniques” are the fact that modern military thinking seems to be happy to yield top-end speed for low-speed handling.

    Re “…as big a wing aspect ratio as possible…” – does that mean I can sign you up to the Buccaneer fan club ;-)

  103. Enigma

    Happy to yield top end speed for engine efficiency ,inlet design plus a few other things.

    I did like the banana jet, pretty bad fatigue cracking near the end joys of never getting above 50 ft! You tried to get me into that club before Simon why I changed my name when we signed up to this comment system of which I am not a fan

  104. thinkdefence

    B always made the most sense for the UK, most sense in a financially challenged world with lots of other draws on a finite defence budget. I don’t understand why people have a hard time recognising this.

    The replacement for Tornado is in the near term, Typhoon and Reaper, in the medium term Typhoon, Reaper and the F35B and in the longer term, Typhoon and some unmanned system in whatever guise Taranis eventually takes plus maybe, just perhaps, F35A

    I don’t think we need a long range strike bomber because that role is now covered by Storm Shadow and Tomahawk.

    What we actually need is some means of quickly and cheaply delivering missiles, because in the near future this will be the several Billion pound Typhoon programme, the several billion pound Astute programme and the several billion pound carrier strike programme.

    None of which are cheap

  105. accattd

    Has it occurred to anyone that Stormshadow and Tomahawk can actually be countered?
    - they are the Bleheim bomber…. Invincible because they fly “fast”
    - and “perhaps” undetected?

  106. bankslave

    TD. Well its your site, but I cannot see the point of spending taxpayers cash on shiny short range jets that cannot reach the enemy. For 4 F-35B, you could buy 1 LRS-B. What is a better use of cash, 40 F-35B that cannot reach the enemy, or 10 LRS-B that can? We never need long range strike until we do i.e 1982, opening shots of Afghanistan, endurance to loiter over battlefields, etc.

  107. Observer

    If the LRSB ever makes it to project completion. And avoids a 4x price inflation. You’re talking about Boeing (not so bad) and LM (very bad rep) here you know.

  108. Martin

    I know that your are fond of your helicopters James but assuming we have to have fast jets what else would you buy for the money if not F35. there is little choice out their and other advanced FJ’s are not cheap.

  109. Martin

    Agreed that we need additional methods of delivering long range missiles. Its quite annoying that the MOD has a one platform one mission approach. The T45′s could be carrying TLAM very soon with a bit of money invested. MBDA has already developed a C130 Launch for the Taurus missiles so I can’t see why it can’t be done with A400M. With the mid life upgrade to storm shadow it could well have a range approaching 1000 KM launching ten or 15 from an A400M is quite a capability but then would it take away for the need for a manned Tornado style aircraft.

  110. Martin

    Off course they can as can any weapon system. However unlike the Blenheim they are un-manned and we can launch hundreds of them at once. Its all a matter of how many the enemy can intercept and how quickly his ability to intercept is degraded by the missiles he can’t take out.

  111. Martin

    Even the USAF has dropped the pretence of the LRS-B costing $550 million. They now claim this is the figure without R&D cost. Its also highly unlikely the UK would be able to buy any. Also I would ask the question of how effective would the LRS-B be at providing fleet air defence? In all the examples you site of the need for long range strike would an A400M with a dozen extended range storm shadows not be just as effective. Its also virtually a free bomber as we already have the aircraft and the missiles.

  112. bankslave

    For pity’s sake! Where did I say to use an LRS-B for fleet air defence? My point is that UK F-35B should be for the FAA operating from the elephants , so 40 to 60. The RAF should not get near them. The RAF does need a Tornado GR4 replacement, so a longer ranged aircraft is needed. It could be a tr3 Typhoon with conformal tanks & the largest drop tanks, LRS-B, F-35A or C, or the mooted long range strike F-35E. Any of those will do.

  113. Observer

    It was your comparison with the -35Bs, if you want the LRS-Bs to replace the 35Bs, then they’ll have to take over all the jobs of the former. If you had compared it with the -35As, you would not have hit that question. :) Slight oops there.

  114. Martin

    Sorry Bankslave, not sure if you are aware but we are only getting 48 total and their is barely enough of a budget to get that many. So like it or not it has to replace the Tornado because as you say the RAF has a need. Buying anything else like LRS-B or a different flavour of F35 will have to come out of the budget for the F35 B JCA and if its coming out of that budget then it has to be able to provide fleet air defence.

  115. The Other Chris

    “The defence secretary said that initially the UK would buy 48 jets for the aircraft carriers and announce at a later date what the final numbers would be. We will not finalise our decisions on the F-35 programme until SDSR in 2015″

    - MoD Spokesperson to IHS Jane’s 27/12/2012

    Original source from IHS Jane’s, reproduced on Defence Talk:

  116. Alexander Harrowell

    quality post. interesting point about the analyst workstation. also, fly straight and level while staring heads down at a radar, in order to identify a SA-11 site of all things? An aircraft that is meant to be stealthy, trying to image enemy air defences with active radar? this seems utterly madheaded. like boiling hydrogen peroxide on a kitchen stove.

  117. The Other Chris

    Can discuss the AESA Low Probability of Intercept, passive EO, secondary designation, MADL cooperation, the DAS and the fusion presented via the Elbit/RC HMDS and L-3 MFD’s if you’d like, however I’m unsure how interested you would be?

    Would you like to know more?

  118. Nick

    A cost/benefit analysis then. Just how many Mobile SAM/Radar/CRAM units can you buy for the ? $150million each F35 will cost allowing for loss rate and effectiveness in the air defence role. No doubt somebody has a complex mathematical model.

  119. Martin

    I’m only guessing but it seems fairly clear to me we will get 48 F 35B in the early 2020′s then a further order post 2030 replacing Typhoon with either more F35b or F35A. Given we are operating with a fixed ten year equipment plan I seriously doubt there will be no surprises on F35 selection or numbers in SDSR 2015

  120. bankslave

    Britain got a 10% workshare on the F-35 on the basis that the UK bought 150. I cannot see how we will remain a credible industrial partner if we only buy 48. Granted US/European defence cuts take the pressure off the UK to buy 150 straight away, but we will still need to buy at least 100 over time. So 48 F-35B for the FAA/elephants pre 2020, then 50 F-35A, C or E as RAF Tornado replacements, post 2020. The GR4 could be kept going til then.

  121. bankslave

    The F-35E is a potential replacement for USAF F-15E. New engine technology allows high bypass for economical cruising, with the ability to switch that bypass off for moments of high intensity combat. The engine demonstrator is called Advent (GE/RR). They claim it could be ready for production F-35 by 2016. I would add 4 years to that, realistically.

  122. Simon

    How the strewthy-flip-n-heck do we fire hundreds of Storm Shadow at once when we don’t have hundreds of jets to launch them from and could only probably “tanker” a dozen to theater?

    Remember too what APATS said. We only have 2 or 3 TLAM to our name ;-)

  123. The Other Chris

    There won’t be a variant beyond the A/B/C designations. If there is to be a new engine it will be included in a Block designation.

    ADVENT/AETD under the VAATE program is the most likely candidate for re-engining beyond more straight forward F135 increments.

    PAVE PACE doesn’t yet include integration of FADEC operations into the ICP. I think you’ll see that before a new engine given the F135 would be a “known” to work against.

  124. 9DangerousDave

    But how much commonality *is* there in operating a mixed fleet of F35-A and F35-B? We’re looking at the overall through life cost of a single-type fleet here, and then using the money saved to increase the size of the fleet initially, or after time. Also, didn’t the RAF operate Harriers, too? And they found them somewhat versatile in the CAS task?

  125. wf3

    Given the majority of the support spend is going to be software, which is identical across F35A/B/C, if we do a split buy of B and C, I doubt there will be much difference in support costs

  126. bankslave

    TOC. The F-16 first flew in 1972. They are still making new ones now. If the F-35 lasts that long, how can you be sure there will be nothing beyond C?

  127. DavidNiven

    Given that all 3 variants land and take off with different flight envilopes ( and differing wings in the C model ) there must be some differences in software?

  128. Enigma

    Advent engine tech by 2016 not a chance in hell its in very early testing for availability on f35 your talking 2030 time frames if at all.

    There’s that many issues to sort out with the current aircraft no one will rocking up with new bit for at least a decade. Even the uk went a bit wobbly on timescales after the recent lot.

  129. DavidNiven

    This is an illustration of the commonality ( I don’t know how accurate it is)

    The engines and systems are common as well, so I would have thought that this is the area where you would benefit the most from commonality. Plus the ownership of the B would be more expensive than the A model due to its VTOL components, such as the lift fan and doors and nozzle that would require inspection, servicing and parts.

    The RAF did operate Harriers and they were almagated under a joint command with the FAA harriers and both the RAF and FAA were operating the same versions (with the same role) at the time of it’s withdrawel, but the Tornado replacement would not need to be VSTOL to fullfill it’s role and so would be an uneeded extra expense.

  130. wf3

    Yeah, but this is flight control software, which will both be a very small portion of the total (it’s real time control system) and will not change that much over the lifetime of the system since the physical shape of the aircraft will not change. The weapons, EW, sensors etc will change massively over that time, and that’s where the money will go

  131. Martin

    Each variant will need its own weapons trials for every system we put on it. They will also require a separate maintenance training program and a separate logistic foot print for spares etc. Not unlike Merlin and Westland Apache sharing same engine and some sub systems and from the same manufacturer but still very different aircraft. The C and B models are the most different to each other different wings and different engine assemblies. short of radar I am not sure how much commonality there is between the two. The A model would be better in this regards but still to separate from the B model. The RAF does not even want to operate different tranches of Typhoon on cost grounds let alone different versions of F35.

  132. Martin

    We fire them off the back of A400M bomber :-)

    As our politicians are in favour of saying we will not be going to war on our own but as part of a coallition hiding behind american skirts so it won’t just be our aircraft firing them :-)

  133. Repulse

    Was there ever confirmation from the MOD that they have ordered 14 more F35bs? Saw chat from Janes / BBC etc that an order was imminent in Jan but nothing more.

  134. wf3

    We’ll have to agree to disagree there Martin. The weapon systems, communications, navigation are all going to be identical, and that’s where the money is: no one is obsessing about the engine or STOVL systems not being ready for the F35B, they are obsessing about what software level the weapons fit will be worthwhile :-)

    BTW, the RAF is going to mix Tranche 2 and 3 variants of Typhoon…

  135. wf3

    They won’t be making an F35E because there’s very little weight margin in the design, given the F135 is pushing the envelope even now. A better engine might help, but it will require more mass flow, and that will have big knock ons given the density of the aircraft and stealth. Better to take the systems and engine and put them in a new airframe

  136. The Other Chris

    Because the variant designations are not based on role or export classifications, as happens traditionally, but on primary basing capability instead e.g. Airbase, STOVL, CATOBAR to use the general descriptions.

    This is needed as the aircraft is a common base, with the variation pretty much limited primarily to how it takes-off and lands. You’d need a whole new way of deploying the aircraft for a D model under this classification system.

    The program consciously designates the sweeping capabilities via the Block system instead. Specific capability is based on which payloads your fleet has had the modules been released for and is easily identifiable by user.

    e.g. UK F-35B Block 6, SK F-35A Block 6, etc. will tell you the difference in operation (STOVL vs CTOL in this case) and what the possible payloads would be between those two fleets as the UK would likely have a different set of ordnance and payloads software modules released to the FAA compared with the South Korean Air Force.

    LM have established ongoing facilities to handle the qualification process for payloads and perform this in conjunction with the payload manufacturers and appropriate Governments if necessary.

    Having said this, what I can see are users applying their own monikers and handles within their own fleets, though this hasn’t happened yet and the program will resist for the purposes of clarity. It won’t be reflected back officially to the program as a whole.

  137. TED

    I agree on your financial argument and also it was supporting the extra British Business withing the B model

  138. DavidNiven

    Given the extra cost of the B over A of roughly $6m excluding engine
    F-35A — $98

    F-35B — $104

    F-35C — $116

    (excl. engine) From Wiki.

    Also the cost of the engine for the B will be more expensive to buy and service and added infrastrucure costs over the A ( reinforced landing pads being constructed ) at what point will the benefits in single fleet savings kick in?

    It sounds like spending an extra tenner to save a pound to me, rather than spending an extra pound to save a tenner.

  139. The Other Chris

    As an aside, without double checking sources, those look like the LRIP 7 negotiated purchase prices. For context the program’s heading into LRIP 8 now.

    Worth highlighting the agreed budget per aircraft in LRIP 7 was around the $125m mark. Expectation for the FY2019 is $85m. I’m guessing that’s for the A.

  140. Enigma

    While using unit recurring values to price aircraft is an interesting comparison for fighters it bares little resemblance to how much they will cost defence. Korea has recently announce its intention to purchase 40 f35a aircraft for delivery from 2019 at a cost 6.8 billion dollars.

  141. bankslave

    Yes, but if sequestration means no money for a whole new jet, then new variants of the F-35 may appear. For example, a carrier variant of the F-35A to replace the F-18 for air superiority(F-35C is a naval bomb truck). A long range strike variant such as the proposed E. A dedicated SEAD/electronic warfare variant to replace the Growler eventually.

  142. DavidNiven

    If the manufacturer gives them to you for free and you then only need to maintain them then I’d agree, but the aircraft industry operates the same as any other manufacturing industry ;-)

  143. Enigma


    We maybe talking at cross purposes I was merely highlighting that the acquisition costs are considerably higher than the numbers quoted. More highlighting that instead of increasing f35 numbers beyond those planned for ships (real reason why an all f35b is being pushed by some). we should perhaps stick with what we has for the next 2 decades.

  144. Kent Horton

    Considering the bunch we have in Washington, D.C., there may be no skirts to hide behind. Y’all best figure out how many Storm Shadows you can hang off your A400s.

  145. Martin

    @ Bankslave

    The carrier variant of the F35 A is the F35c, the wing design is as much about carrier landing as increased range and let’s face it the F35A is a fat bomb truck as well. Even the USA is not daft enough to spend billions on another carrier variant for a slightly marginal increase in manuverability.

    if the F 35c makes it into production and it is still the most vulnerable variant in my mind then I. Think it will eventually replace the F 18 E/F. As for the growler the base model of the F35 is reported to be every bit as capable as the growler and their is no reason why the next generation jammer could not eventually be out on F35 A,B and C.

    There are simply no budgets for future dedicated speciality aircraft in the future and one of the points of the F35 software is to provide true multi role capability.

  146. Tim

    The hot air above about the JSF assumes that the promises LM made will be delivered. Considering the disastrous project management there has been to date there has to be major doubts the jet will ever deliver the superiority the western air forces have been promised.

    The JSF is no fighter its a bomb truck relying on huge computing power for its advantage , problem is the advances in sensors , missiles and counter measures other nations as well as ourselves are making due to accelerating computer power could quickly negate any supposed superiority.

    To bet your entire strategy on on the chinese and russians not finding a solution to counter stealth jets is one hell of a gamble.

  147. martin Post author

    @ Tim , I believe the Russians and Chinese already have such counter measures but its al a question of range of detection. The only thing the F35 can’t do that the F 22 can is perform very high g manuveres and travel at Mach 2+ neither or which will be that useful in evading AA missiles travelling at Mach 4.

    well F35′s electronics might not live up to the hype on day one they will still easily be the best in the world by a mile. eventually they will live up to the hype. But for UK forces it will be a massive capability increase over the harriers and even tornado it is replacing.

  148. ArmChairCivvy

    Some pixel calculations (for effective range) so that the ones so inclined won’t get bored over the weekend. Projet ARGUS is an AESA repeat , just not radar based:

    ” The 1.8-gigapixel sensor has four optical telescopes, each with 92 5-megapixel focal-plane arrays – cellphone camera chips, says BAE. The airborne processor combines the video output from all 368 arrays together to create a single mosaic image, with an update rate of 12-15 frames a second.”

  149. Simon

    …massive capability increase over the harriers and even tornado…

    Yes, but at what cost? And is that cost actually worth it?

    F35B will be less agile than Harrier (no VIFFing)
    F35B will be much more difficult to maintain (more complex moving parts)
    F35B carries less payload than Tornado
    F35B goes slower than Tornado
    F35B has less range than Tornado (basically due to the need to “stealth up”)
    F35B is significantly more expensive than either

    Are you sure you’re not simply talking about the software and weapons systems that come with F35 that could be fitted into any other aircraft?

    If “stealth” is defeated the whole aircraft makes absolutely no sense at all.

  150. Mark


    I think you are significantly under selling the f22 in all air to air combat missions and I think you are underplaying high g capability particularly in bvr combat.

    Simon harrier never used viffing operationally and would be a sitting duck if it did in all but 1 v 1. To soon to say on the maintainability. Payload debatable and is it operationally relevant. Operationally a f35b and a Tonka gr are prob about the Same speed. In certain configurations yep Tonka does have more range but Tonka is less survivable. Very much agree on the last point.

  151. ArmChairCivvy

    Unclear (to me) what sort of capability strides F22 has been taking while F35 has been struggling into service?
    - at one point it was proposed that the first 60+ a/c be used in a SEAD role, due to some restriction they had as for receiving upgrades!

  152. ArmChairCivvy

    Thanks Mark,

    No mentionkf quantotoies,butloks like they are fielding precision Ground Attack to all, on equal basis.

    Whetherany A2A improvements can be fielded on that same basis is a moot point. So, unlike our early tiffies, whih adre fine for A2A but mightbe long in the tooth for other upgrades, the early batch of F22smay become the allocated precision strike with stealth force by default,if they are equally good at it as theothers, but not quite as good inA2A.
    - just putting together some older proposals and the current fiscal rationale… They don’t always build on each other, rather, theremay have been a changeof course or of priorities in between.

  153. McZ

    Apples and oranges.

    “F35B will be less agile than Harrier (no VIFFing)”
    …but higher velocity and turn-rate, higher payload, better electronics and sensors. And a comprehensive A2A-weapons load, not to forget.

    “F35B will be much more difficult to maintain (more complex moving parts)”
    …true. As is the Typhoon, as is Tornado, and virtually every other state-of-the-art aircraft.

    “F35B carries less payload than Tornado”
    Payload in lb is not a real figure here. F-35 has four pylons cleared for Storm Shadow, Tornado only two.

    “F35B goes slower than Tornado”
    …true, in a clean configuration. Which is easier maintained on the F-35, in general.

    “F35B has less range than Tornado (basically due to the need to “stealth up”)”
    …sources, please. Do we accept Wikipedia? Then it’s 870mi to 900nm.

    “F35B is significantly more expensive than either”
    It is also significantly more capable and survivable than either. If that Argument holds true, we should operate some Suuuuuper-Tucanos in the AD-role. Or, so far as perceived cost efficiency goes, a half-squadron of F-35B carries up to 72 A2A-missiles and costs less than a T45. I don’t dispute the need for the latter, I only want to make clear: this is a complete rubbish argument.

    “Are you sure you’re not simply talking about the software and weapons systems that come with F35 that could be fitted into any other aircraft?”
    What other aircraft? Do you think, the RAF has clearance to build that software into a Typhoon, for that matter? I seriously don’t get, what you are proposing. Service-life-extension for Tornado? Converting the equally expensive Typhoon?

    “If stealth is defeated the whole aircraft makes absolutely no sense at all.”
    Yes, if – and that’s a big if – stealth aka VLO is defeated. It’s a matter of fact, that you need a vast AD-network and massive computing power to defeat VLO. The real interesting question is, what to make of all that signals. How can you realistically sort out signals, if that damn bastard of next-gen jammer or some of the AESA-transceivers are delivering false positives to you. You will need a big data background to make heuristics work. I seriously doubt, that any current adversary has that data. I seriously doubt, that week 1 of a major conflict will suffice to deliver that data. And if that is not the case, your AD-network will be gone. I seriously doubt, that this problem is easily solved.

  154. Simon

    Well you’re all wrong about F35 :-)

    Actually as McZ (must work for Lockheed) points out – it’s apples and oranges (used to be pears). I just fancied throwing down some points that try to demonstrate that F35 is no panacea.

    Only time will tell if it is obsolete before it comes into service.


    “It’s a matter of fact, that you need a vast AD-network and massive computing power to defeat VLO”

    Dangerous word “fact”, especially if you’re brainwashed by Lockheed ;-) So shining a light behind it and looking for the shadow doesn’t work any more? I think it will be defeated by passive sensors once people catch on to looking at EMR that for some reason doesn’t come from a particular part of the sky.

    Tornado radius of action with heavy weapons load on hi-lo-lo-hi mission: 750nm – source = Janes, All the World’s Aircraft 1982-83.


    You say “harrier never used viffing operationally” – I’m not sure that’s correct? Maybe the RAF never used it and/or were not allowed to but I’m pretty sure Mr Ward would state the opposite.

  155. Kev99

    Storm Shadow weighs approximately 2700lbs.

    Weapons stations 3 & 9 are the only pylons that are capable of carrying more than 2500lbs weapons on an F35 (all variants). Additionally stations 2 and 10 are only rated for 1500lbs on the F35b.

  156. Mark

    Simon from a really interesting read

    AVM Johnson: During the campaign I read newspaper reports about the Harrier’s VIFFing tactic, and some correspondents claimed that if you saw an enemy fighter astern you could VIFF vertically upwards or downwards, and if the enemy helpfully carried straight ahead you easily manoeuvred into a good attacking position. Was this tactic used in the Falklands?

    Cdr Ward: No. Although the Harrier is capable of VIFFing it is not a good combat tactic because you lose a lot of energy. The Harrier’s success was due to its great manoeuvrability and our sound training.

  157. topman

    f35 isnt cleared for any number of SS at the moment, trials havnt started. tonkas can carry 4, not sure if it made rts but it did in trials, loose to much fuel so a bit moot anyway.

  158. Simon


    Sorry, I bow to your greater knowledge.

    Not sure I fully understand why though – I’d have thought VIFFing (even if it does bleed energy) is actually a good thing if you want to turn faster and drop behind an enemy. You’d usually have AIM-9 ready to fire.

    Maybe I’m showing my ignorance (as this only seems to work most of the time on simulators) but if the enemy has the general aerodynamic advantage and is pursuing you and you try to out-turn them then obviously you lose. You therefore VIFF which tightens the turn (a lot) and slows you down, both of which give you the ability to be outside the enemy engagement cone and also allows you to drop in behind them if you scissor* at the same time.

    * I don’t mean scissor in terms of the normal air combat manoeuvre more in terms of “chicane” (hard left, slow and hard right).

    You then end up in a sort of (proper) scissor manoeuvre with you at the back and able to simply stop in mid air if you want to, watch the bandit fly off into the distance and fire a couple of Sidewinders in his general direction.

  159. McZ

    I honestly don’t get your plan B. You need to have one, because you are propagating defence planning assumptions, that would invalidate the whole current RAF-inventory, not just F-35. And indeed any conceivable adversaries inventory, too.

    “I think it will be defeated by passive sensors once people catch on to looking at EMR that for some reason doesn’t come from a particular part of the sky.”

    That only shows a complete misunderstanding of VLO. It’s not totally unobservable. It’s VERY LOW observability. The aircraft is not invisible, it’s only harder to detect. And VLO is indeed a rather relative term, as it has to be validated again and again over time. There is no evidence, that the Russians or Chinese have made any real progress in countering VLO, while there are a lot of possible extensions to the VLO-principle in the guess-work.

    Remember, we don’t talk about occasionally catching signals. We are talking about a reliable method to defeat VLO, anytime, everywhere. The way from observing a spot of EMR-less sky to getting a firm firing solution for SAMs or AAMs is indeed a hairy task, and you can bet it requires a lot of computing power and experience (and when I say experience, I mean hard data including wrong and false positives in every conceivable situation).

    Btw, if I were a LM employee, I would reiterate LMs bold claims about F-35 out-accelerating a A2A-eqiupped Typhoon. I think, this is utter bollocks.

  160. Simon


    “That only shows a complete misunderstanding of VLO”

    What it demonstrates is that one can design a detection solution that works for 100% non-reflective “stealth”, VLO, LO, and/or any other aircraft. You simply cannot avoid blocking EMR with anything, so if you look for the absence of UV (for example) you have something in the way.

    Obviously there is a counter for this which is to emit the very same EMR that you are blocking, at exactly the correct amplitude and polarisation… or just fly low-level on a cloudy night ;-)

  161. martin Post author

    @ Simon

    I think Mcz makes a valid point. It will always be more difficult to defeat VLO compared to conventional aircraft. It will take significantly more time and effort than just buying an S400 battery. Maybe the Chinese and Russians will invest the billions required for such an adversary but how many others could afford it. In all likely hod if we are bombing China or Russia it is probably a moot point because we will have all been glassed long before an F35 gets anywhere near their air defence.

  162. Nick


    I’ve been thinking about the SEAD point you make in the post.

    So far as I can tell the Spear 3 missile must be pretty small size, if you’re going to be able to fit 4 into the weapons bay along with ASRAAM/Meteor (can’t find any specs at all). Even with wings, I would guess that means a relatively limited range.

    I doubt that you would want to take a F-35, even with VLO and low probability of intercept AESA that close to the AD target(s), as their radar warning technology is likely to detect the aircraft (perhaps more so, if you have to use SAR to scan an area to detect the mobile radar/missile batteries ?) and risk launch of IR SAM as well as active Radar guidance weapons, which VLO might not be able to overcome if you’re that close in.

    To get the most out of F-35 capabilities in the SEAD environment, I would have thought you’d need to have much more of a stand-off launch capability for your ground attack weapon. An upgraded ALARM/HARM, which appear to have a range closer to 100 km (if you believe Wikipedia) might be more useful in practice ?



  163. ArmChairCivvy

    The Growler article linked above has good comments to it.

    Growlers, together doing triangulation and working with HArMs, for speed, and JASSMs for reach, are the stateof the art, but do not have ” the range or mission hold to support the F35 depth of play”.

    Never fear (if this hasn’t been cancelled, without me noticing) there will be a good number of converted B52s entering service from 2018. This quote is from a very old doc ” added lo-band Jam capabilities inherent to a B-52 sized asset” …B52 sized indeed, because of radom size, power output and cooling needs , to be effective at range.

  164. Alex

    I find the idea of “low probability of intercept” for a radar very hard to take seriously because of basic physics. I can see it in the context of a communications link, but a radar by definition has to paint the target – which is presumably also the intercept threat – with enough RF energy that it can pick up the returns. Thanks to the inverse square law, “enough RF to hear at the radar” means “a hell of a lot more RF” at the target.

    To paint someone with radar without them noticing, you have to so arrange things that a) you can detect the reflected energy coming back and b) they can’t detect the radar transmission coming in, although it is stronger than the reflection that you by definition can receive by the square of the range.

    Now a radar is directional, but in the context of SEAD, the intercept threat you’re most interested in is one colocated with the target (or a target), so this is no help. A radio receiver is not new or mysterious technology, and I think we are hugely underestimating pretty much any conceivable enemy if we think they can’t hear a bloody great radar yelling at them. It is after all enough to DF it and fire a big rocket in home-on-jam or IR mode back down the bearing – not necessarily from the same location – and then the F-35 has to manoeuvre, thus giving the possibility of a wing flash radar solution and the opportunity for the CAP to charge it and try to get in WVR, its weakest point. At the very least, good luck with the station keeping for the SAR tricks when the warning receiver lights up…

    Arguably, a group of F-35s trying to be an SAR array to do SEAD is a high value asset, because it strikes me that being a single fighter pilot, bomber pilot, and electronic warfare operator is a specialised job and the same squadron will probably end up specialising.

  165. Alex

    Also, if something “requires a huge amount of computing power”, then it will be done and probably has been done. We live in an enormous abundance of computing power. Computing power is cheaper than water. Your mobile phone has a quad-core CPU, and your PC has a GPU that’s basically a supercomputer if you know what you’re doing. You can get tiny low-power system-on-a-chip devices that will run a PC environment. There are CPUs in SD cards and you can run Linux on them.

    I mean, Amazon probably won’t let you run your air defence processing network in EC2 but if the NSA keeps pissing them off…

  166. Alex

    ****LOON TRIPLE POST****

    That Aviation Leak piece is pretty good. Does anyone else think “HitOrMiss” in comments is our very own acronym-spouting technobabbler M&S?

  167. Zaitsev

    @Alex I may be wrong but i believe that you can only detect radar returns over time because you are getting a constant signal that is distinct from the background noise. If you detect a signal at a particular moment there is no way that you can distinguish it from a random noise spike. With aesa you can randomly change the frequency of the radar. This means that the plane being painted can listen of any number of frequency’s, and will never get a constant signal on any of them that will be distinguishable from noise. However the receiving aircraft knows the random pattern of different signals and so can distinguish from noise over time by listing only to the right frequency’s at a particular time and so building up a record of the returned signal against noise.

  168. The Other Chris

    Boeing’s only real shot at keeping the Super Hornet production line open is to sell Growler’s, so their claims that F-35 needs EW support aren’t surprising.

  169. Alex

    However the receiving aircraft knows the random pattern of different signals

    Look, if I keep flashing a fuck-off big searchlight at you from a roughly consistent direction, I think you’ll get the point even if I keep putting a different colour filter over the front end.

  170. Alex

    If the idea is that the total energy radiated onto the target, integrated over the transmitter’s frequency range, is going to vanish in the noise floor, then the return is going to be *much* harder to pick out of the noise. If we dial down the radiated power to hide, we’re also hugely dialling up the receiver performance we need for this to be useful. And a land-based or shipboard receiver can use a bigger antenna.

  171. Zaitsev

    @Alex Im sure that if you can monitor every frequecny you can still pick the signal out of the background because you could compare the signals across all the frequecnys at once and pick out the signal from the nosie. However one this requries a much more sophisticated system, and two your noise to singal ratio is much higher because your dealing with the signal on one frequencey vs the nosie on all frequencys, which the reciving aircarft does not have to do because it knows which frequecny the signal is on. This reduces the advantages the tacked aircaft normal has in intercepting the search radar meaning that you can actual detect them at longer ranges than they can detect your signal.

  172. Zaitsev

    But the radiating aircaft knows the frequecncy the signal is on so dosnt have to deal with nosie from the other frequencys

  173. Alex

    However one this requries a much more sophisticated system, and two your noise to singal ratio is much higher because your dealing with the signal on one frequencey vs the nosie on all frequencys

    True, but first of all, parallel processing in a world of computational abundance is cheap (although not simple). Second, I think the s/n ratio issue is easier to solve than you think. Radio noise is often used as a source of high entropy randomness. As it’s genuinely random, and therefore decorrelated, most of it can just be thrown away. The ratio will be worse, but not linearly.

  174. Nick


    I had exactly the same thought as I read HitorMiss’s comment :).


    As an ignorant civvie, I assume that even the F35 AESA would have a relatively limited range of frequencies it could use. I wouldn’t have thought it would take that much signal analysis on the RWR data to combine the individual detections of an above background radar signal into something more meaningful. I understood even LPI radars were detectable these days.



  175. Observer

    Actually, I think both are right in this case, there was an article describing how radar works in fairly great detail, and one very, very important point that it repeatedly pointed out was that “detection” is massively different from “tracking”. You may “detect” enemy presence with infrequent blips of RF noise, but all that will tell you is that they are in the area, you still can’t “track” them enough to localize their position.

    Think this is where AESA and frequency agile radar helps, by changing the situation from radar activation = tracking to radar activation = detection and degrading the danger and situational awareness of the enemy. Not invincible/invisible, but not an insignificant advantage too.

  176. Mark

    To many sweeping statement. Will there be missions where f35 does not need jamming aircraft I would think so as is the case with aircraft today. Will there be missions that do require jamming aircraft i would think so but potentially less than today. They would not have looked at fitting next gen jamming pods to f35 if they didn’t ever need them. But the question would be why do you want your low observable platform doing jamming? Would you want a ssbn running round like an ssn?

  177. Observer

    Mark, why not? :)

    EW craft are meant to make the enemy’s life difficult and to draw attention away from the package. So I don’t see anything wrong with an F-35 making a nuisance of itself while his friends sneak under the wire. The important point would be to know when to start running after annoying the enemy. :P

  178. ArmChairCivvy

    That ” But the question would be why do you want your low observable platform doing jamming? ” is exactly the point

    … even before you go into the practicalities of what you can actually fit in on a LO/ VLO a/c, ref:
    ” radom size, power output and cooling needs , to be effective at range”.

  179. ArmChairCivvy

    That “don’t see anything wrong with an F-35 making a nuisance of itself while his friends sneak under the wire” is why the ozzies have been so clever. Remember,
    - they knew F35 would come in late (and expensive, especially for those wanting the early units)
    - they got all their S Hornets (for a peanuts sum) prewired on the production line for the EW/G conversion
    - they tooks up the option to actually fit out quite a few
    The beauty of it is that all of them are under a ten-year lease… as we know, you can always convert a lease to ownership, but you can pick and choose across the fleet.

    PS Guess what the US will do when they get some of them back? By that time there will be quite a few F35 sqdrns; they too will need buddies

    So the “Observer scenario” is actually a combination of EW Growlers and F35s, the former staying at a safe(r) distance and the F35s sneaking in.
    - but the avg unit cost, across the mixed fleet is bearable + the ozzies built a nice bridge for the time-wise transition, too.

  180. Think Defence

    Where do you guys see the role of unmanned decoys fitting into the mix?

    Personally, I think we have yet to realise the potential to simply to overwhelm an enemy defences with emitting decoys, possibly launched from fast jets themselves or just dumped off the ramp of an A400.

    I am always interested in exchange rates on a monetary basis, at the minute, missiles are cheaper than aircraft so this drives stealth. Reverse the equation, where decoys are less expensive than missiles and interesting things start happening

  181. Observer

    ACC, that’s how the Aussies are planning their playbook tactics wise. Strategy wise, I’m not so sure that they are so Machiavellian. They’ve been pretty straight shooters from what I know of them. Probably one of those happy coincidences. Or I could be selling them short.

  182. Alex

    TD, I imagine the future of radar is probably dumb but precisely located and synchronised emitters everywhere, with a smaller number of much smarter receiver/processing units dodging about among them. one big aperture, and the high value nodes are the quiet ones.

  183. The Other Chris

    No, emitters need to be just as smart. You need serious computing power with sub nano-second control of elements in the array with accurately timed and geo-located positioning of an equally smart receiver to create the complex interference patterns of modern military radar.

    Dumb emissions and smart detection is the 90s-era (e.g. Balkan Conflict) baseline.

    Present developments are in the expanded functions that an AESA or cluster of AESA’s can supply, such as data transmission, interferometry and active electronic warfare.

    The future is in photonic generation of EM waves, which will require even smarter emission control than even AESA, assuming no other game-changing techniques crop up in the meantime.

  184. Martin

    @ TD – it’s a good point. The MALD basic configuration comes in at around $30,000 each with the jammer version at $120,000. Not cheap but compared to heavy AA missiles a bargin. Most potential enemies will be able to afford very few of the latest AA missiles. But again I see items like MLAD, VLO aircraft stand off weapons and jamming all working togther. Very difficult for any fixed defensive system to stand up to that for too long.

    I would like to see the MOD rekindle its interest for the MALD system and especially the J version. If we could launch them from A400M all the better.

  185. Mark


    It seems odd to me that you would spend hundreds of millions of dollar to design and acquire an aircraft who primary function is to slip “unseen” thru an enemies defences and the first thing you want to do is turn into a big jamming beacon that’s say I’m here when that could be done by any aircraft.

    TD interesting didn’t something like that happen in the first gulf war with target drones? Alternative you could scatter a load of these about in a throw back to window in the war.

  186. WiseApe

    As we all know, chaffing is very unpleasant.

    Sorry all, just wanted to put the new spam filter to the test. :-)

  187. Observer

    No worries Wise, we’re used to you monkeying around. :)

    Mark, what happens after you turn off the jammer? You get an aircraft that is easier to slip away from the people chasing after you. You are right that you can use other aircraft for what is essentially a standoff job, but there isn’t anything wrong with using what you have on hand either. Unless you want to buy a whole new class of aircraft just for that job, which is something like what the Aussies did, except that the base plane (F/A-18) is in use by the RAAF as a front line fighter too.

    What’s wrong with using what you have on hand? If you want a new aircraft just for EW, god only knows how much that is going to cost, add to the logistics tail and how long all the tests and research and budget fights are going to take.

    I don’t see anything wrong with using an F-35 as an EW aircraft, might even help when someone comes sniffing around, you cut the jammer and try to slip away.

  188. ArmChairCivvy

    Observer, nothing “wrong” but quite limited:

    AESA jamming is not (?) effective against low-band radars. So for that part you will need stand-off support (from a fairly sizeable a/c, for reasons I have mentioned above), anyway.

    Talking about F35 specifically, AESA is facing forward and in a limited way, sideways (yes, it is electronicall directed, but…). Wideband aft jammers would be difficult to fit into an airframe of that size and the a/c is jammed full anyway, as we know from other discussion.

    So when would you need that most? When turning away (with true stand-off weapon drop) or having passed over the target area. Not much stealth in the F35 seen from behind; especially once you’ve turned on the afterburners. That is when you need a buddy, and if it is another F35 (still facing that way), you will just pass on the problem seconds or minutes later.

  189. Zaitsev

    @Alex You obviously know a lot more than me about this but it doesn’t seem obvious to me that pure processing power solves the problem for the RWR. Say the emitting aircraft emits at 1000hz at a strength high enough that after 1000 samples of the received signal (1 second of receiving) the signal can be separated from the noise. The emitter chooses this level of power in order to keep his signal as low as possible while still being able to track a target at a reasonable rate. Now let’s say that the target has the same level of sensitivity in his receiver but due to the advantages of the inverse square law and the fact that he is detecting the signal before it is reflected and scattered to some degree he can separate the signal from the noise in 10 samples. Whatever you’re doing to extract the signal involves using the consistency of the signal other time to differentiate it from background Nosie. The stronger the signal the more pronounced the difference from background noise so the fewer samples you need to differentiate hence the advantage of the RWR in this scenario. However with AESA the emitting aircraft changes randomly across a 1000 frequency’s at 1000 hzs when emitting their signal. For the emitting aircraft, as they know the random pattern they are still receiving a 1000 samples a second to use to differentiate their signal from noise. However things do not stay the same for the RWR on the target. Before the RWR could analyse 30 samples and see that there was a signal there because it remained consistently high throughout 30 samples where as the noise would randomly go up and down. However even in a thousand samples (of a single frequency) there may now only be one sample of the signal and so it can not remain consistently high and be differentiated from the noise. Now the RWR is just as sophisticated as the AESA and so it can actually look for the signal on all 1000 frequency’s and process the information together. However as far as I can see (and this probably due to my lack of knowledge) there are only one way it can do this. At a 1000 hertz it can aggregate all the frequency’s into one sample and then look for a consistent signal over time. However to my mind this will be a thousand times more difficult than before, as for a frequency with a signal you will have 999 without the signal brining the aggregate down to the mean and flattening out the consistent high of the signal. Is there something I have missed here? I accept that this is a very simplified version and relies on things like the emitter knowing the exact distance to the target aircraft and a high return of energy from the target aircraft. However my intention was to show that aesa might be able to reduce the interception range of RWR to something lower than its detection range in some situations, and it is no longer as simply as if you emit you will be seen. Of course as soon as the emitter has to use a signal strength that can be detected reliabley in one sample all of this will go out of the window.

  190. Nick

    Hi everyone

    Surely the biggest problem with using an F35 (today at least) as a stealth EW aircraft is the lack of a second seat. No matter how good the software will be by 2020 (given its probably not actually written yet) and how good the database of standard profiles of known weapons is, I think you’d need a very clever AI computer system to manage the EW activities of a sort that doesn’t exist outside the lab environment at the moment. No matter how good the F35′s cockpit interface is, I very much doubt that the pilot could fly the plane in a high risk combat environment and manage the EW electronics at the same time. Surely the G model is the only fighter sized game in town for the immediate future (to at least 2030 perhaps) ?


  191. KRT

    Aircrafts fly in squadrons and are now linked by powerful short range data transmission devices. It’s not necessary for everyone in the aircrafts toconstantly pilot his ride. Via datalink you can download flight instructions from one piloted aircraft of the formation, leaving the rest of a typical “crew” of four = three, to do electronic warfare and reconnaisance stuff.
    During the era of two-seater aircrafts, the technical capability for outsourcing data on sufficient scale was not yet perfected. Add to this mix the far away datalinks with satellites(and ground stations), command and control aircrafts and AWACS and the manpower behind each flying aircraft that works on targeting, tactics and electronic warfare problems increases exponentially.

    During transit to a target, communication can be limited to short range directed energy within the group. Upon reaching destinations or for orders of new tasks, the long range communications can be activated. This includes a higher risk of being spotted. In air to air combat, data links allow to integrate a lot more remote manpower into the task of handling the decoys, situational awareness and analyzing&predicting enemy moves. The individual capability of each pilot gets supplemented by a staff, boosting the human capabilities available on single aircrafts.
    With all these datalinks it is possible to have a human remote maneuver missiles, who does not only rely on the tiny processing power on the missile with its seeker, but a more complete data fusion from the overall situational awareness. This makes the whole array of countermeasures against today’s stupid missiles outdated. There are two routes to deal with this situation. Either improve deception and maneuvre capability in defensive air platforms with stand off bomber capability or improve low observeability in non-stand off bomber offensive air platforms. The F35 is an offensive air platform, but not optimized for air combat at the same cost level as the F22.

  192. Nick


    Thanks. I’ll try not to be too much of a pain. If the F-35 is carrying extensive EW equipment similar to the G, then its not likely to be as stealthy as the F35 strike package. Wouldn’t you then route the two groups of aircraft on separate flight paths to avoid detection of the less stealthy EW aircraft compromising the attack ?


  193. Nick


    Personal opinion. I think if you’re going to leave the pilot to fly the plane and weapons systems and fully automate the operation of the EW equipment to replace the EWO, then you’re going to need extremely sophisticated software. Not only are you going to have to compare the data received against standard data, probably from multiple sources simultaneously, but the system will also have to interpret whether the analysis is correct and determine the next step(s) to take. This sounds much more like you need an AI system to me.

    By analogy, I don’t know if an EWO running the systems on a F18G is as complex as flying and fighting the plane, but if it is (and it sounds like it to me), then if modern military software can fully replace the EWO today, we no longer need manned fighter aircraft.


  194. KRT


    The F35 will be detected without electronic warfare equipment if operating against any developed country. There are enough TV, radio and mobile phone broadcasting stations, creating a pattern of emissions that interferes with any high or low observeable aircraft. It’s just a question of computing power that has already been solved.
    Low observeability lowers the chances of deriving a targeting solution from that information without a hunt that exposes the defence system. So each and every F35 flight needs limited EW capability to fool the reception from all the emission sources in order to lower useful information a computation can derive from this input. The Typhoon is just more dependant on that solution for localization avoidance.

  195. Peter

    The marines were talking about temporary replacing the LiftFan with a fuel ‘cell’ when operating from land.

    Increased range on internal fuel, with about 1000kg more.

    Obviously conventional landing/take off only but it could be swapped out in 8hours if required.

  196. Mike Wheatley

    @ Nick,
    Automation is generally rubbish at completely replacing any job.
    But it is very good at reducing the demands of most jobs.
    So rather than replacing the EWO (or pilot) with an AI, it is much much more practical to use automated assistants to reduce the workload of both piloting and EW to 25% – 33% of before, so that one person can make the executive and strategic decisions for both roles.
    …which isn’t to say that the technology can do that today. But that is the approach to take.

  197. Nick


    Thanks. I agree with you to a large extent. I think its clear that the interface between the F35 and its pilot will set the bench mark for what C21 (manned) fighters need to be and it will only get better through the operational life of the aircraft. The pilot will be able to spend more time on fighting the plane and much less time of flying it as you describe.

    However, adding a demanding EW role to the F35 pilot on top of his fighting role (and I assume a SEAD aircraft will still carry both self-defence and offensive weapons internally) will still be counter-productive exercise even if the next generation systems operating from 2025 (?) onwards are even more automated than the current Growler system.

    It makes quite a lot of sense to me, to think the future might lie in a network centric EW multi-platform approach going forward. For example, using the secure data comms links (see @ KRT above), I can envisage a non-stealth aircraft sitting a few hundred kilometres back, where trained and experienced staff manage the EW systems on several F35s in a forward SEAD role being a better solution to future requirements.

    There’s a separate discussion here (



  198. Ian

    You have to ask the question why has the government only ordered 4 F35b up to now! Is it a lack of confidence in the F35 it was strange last month that a UK stealth research program thought to be dead & buried the BAe Replica suddenly emerged in broad day light for Radar cross section testing at BAe Warton! Are we developing a manned program with the French? Having watched footage of the F35b at last months airshow at Yuma the thought being clubbed to death like a baby seal came to mind!

  199. WiseApe

    They’ve built around 100 of them so far – can we really keep calling it a prototype?

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