Beyond the Cusp

January 3, 2015

Losing Bets on an Aging Strong Horse

 

The idea was a noble and decent idea but the execution is proving the old adage of not putting all your eggs in one basket are proving true once again. The NATO allies and others who are dependent on the United States to build the gold standard weapons systems are starting to question that wisdom. The center of this controversy is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the latest stealthy fifth generation jet fighter which is being built largely by the United States and is supposed to use a single frame with different variants to cover all functions for fighter jets from carrier landing to straight forward air superiority fighter jet. Covering all of the faults which have become known and may require returning to step one would take more than one article so we will simply look at two specifics; the inability of the carrier model to catch the guide-wire, the problems with the 20mm cannon and the related software and other problems. Some of the other problems that have recently emerged are the latency of the helmet-mounted display, low reliability of the novel Integrated Power Package unit and fire hazards associated with emergency fuel-dumping system. This and the other difficulties have brought the design costs well beyond estimates and there will not be an operative all-encompassing software package until 2019 delaying delivery of a fully working aircraft on schedule impossible. Meanwhile, the cost of development is not the only problem and the concept of designing one fighter jet to master all the varying demands might have theoretically sounded like a great idea; however, the execution of that idea may be proving as daunting as the worst skeptics predicted it would be.

 

The carrier model F-35 problem is simple to state but is likely far more impossible to repair. The main problem is the F-35C (C denotes the carrier variant) has problems with its hook and its ability to grasp the arresting wire and retract properly. Testing showed the hook was placed in designs to be closer to the wheels than in any previous aircraft. This problem and many of the other problems appear to be the result of an overly engineered craft which was given parameters which were too close to theoretical limits resulting in a design which though technically possible in meeting all designed functions but in reality had cut things too close for them to work in the real world. The engineering probably used limits which ignored one crucial fact; the aircraft was to be flown with something which was not designed to tight specifications, an actual human being. A good example is that a car can be capable of doing a quarter mile in exactly ten seconds according to its design specifications. On paper, or should we say according to a computer rendering, the vehicle if every gear change took exactly the same number of milliseconds and the reaction to the starting light tree was perfect and every other action was performed perfectly, the ten second run is possible in theory. The problem comes in when the vehicle is placed in an actual race and for the life of its crew, the car simply never produces that ten second run. Every time going down the track the car times out at around ten and a half seconds. The racer simply never can match the computer model which it used in attaining that ten second result. We very likely have the same situation here. In theory the plane can catch one of the wires and land on an actual carrier but the human pilot cannot get the expected results as his landings do not follow the perfect guidelines of what is possible and instead lands to parameters of what is likely.

 

The other really horrendous engineering problem concerning the 20mm canon is such a mess that it almost seems like they added the weapon after the majority of the design was complete and only then did some engineer notice the F-35 was supposed to have this weapon, so he added it in without concern for it ever actually being used. I know, what makes me make such an absurd claim, of course the engineers placed a cannon or main gun on a fighter jet which was to engage other fighters. Well, not exactly and it would not be the first time either. Way back in the 1960s the air force geniuses designed the F-4 Phantom jet fighters to rely on their missiles only and were never thought to need to have any guns as missiles were to replace guns and dogfighting was never supposed to be required. You probably think this is hyperbole and could not be the case, but let me tell you this; they actually built the first Phantoms without any guns and placed them into combat in Viet Nam. The actual use of the weapons and the training of the pilots actually revolved around firing their missiles from a safe distance and then, once a pilot had used all his missiles, they were trained to run back to their base. The plane was designed without a gun and the pilots were trained such that they would never need a gun. The theory was sound but the enemy did not comply and once they learned that the Phantoms had no guns, guess what the North Vietnamese did; they placed squadrons of fighters closer to the front lines and would send them up to intercept the Phantoms returning after expending their missiles and being unarmed. They very quickly redesigned the plane with forward guns and a sufficient amount of rounds. They then realized the pilots would need training in the theories and actualities of dogfights.

 

Well, the same design apparently was used for the F-35 initially and then somebody remembered the lesson from Viet Nam and the Phantoms not having a forward gun. So, somebody snuck a gun, a 20mm cannon into the aircraft and put as many rounds capability into the gun as room allowed. Why do I think this and what evidence do I have, you ask. Well, the finished F-35 fighter when tested was unable to fire the 20mm cannon. Then, when they went to rewrite the software they likely wanted to know how many rounds the weapon would have and their answer might explain why the weapon was not included in the program for use. The cannon they are using fires at a rate of 3,300 rounds per minute yet the Air Force’s F-35A version can carry just 180 rounds for the gun. This works out to just the slightest bit over three and a quarter seconds firing time before expending all the ammunition. When inquiries were made the response was the gun should be removed anyways as the F-35 was designed for the utilization and requirement on missiles and would never enter into a dogfight situation as they would disengage once their missiles were fired. The reliance on missiles even extended to the argument that guided missiles would be all the pilot needed for any mission including the use of bombs and even more so when deploying weapons for close air support. Their claim was the F-35 was designed to perform all its functions from high altitude and for that reason it would never require bombs or a forward mounted gun. Israel has already cancelled the majority of their purchases of the F-35 and will hopefully use the remainder of the savings and design their own fifth generation fighter and return to producing their own war fighting equipment even to the point of firearms and the ammunition needed.

 

I have mentioned the critical weakness being so dependent on foreign sources for the very items, namely weapons systems, which are vitally necessary for the very existence of the nation. These references can be found towards the end of our article of “Time for Israel to Diversify her Relations in the World.” That became an actual threat which may have figured into the situational awareness during this past summer during the war with Hamas when United States President Obama added an additional requirement for sending military aid and resupply to Israel which prevented any needed resupply of Hellfire missiles. The extra approval requiring State Department signing off on any resupply to Israel was basically a way of cutting off any resupply while claiming to have just added a simple additional step required for such resupply. The White House response to any criticisms and their answer given to the media was that this extra requirement was basically the same requirement for any other sale of military equipment and not anything new, they simply were requiring for any resupply of arms to Israel to receive the same requirement other arms sales required. The difference is that the Israeli resupply had already received all the vetting required and was arranged through a military channel almost equivalent to an actual treaty, but what is a little red tape which equaled an embargo between ‘friends’?

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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