Skip to comments.USAF Plans for Fighters Change
Posted on 09/20/2004 1:23:10 PM PDT by GOP Jedi
The U.S. Air Force's top leaders say the service will buy several wings of the short takeoff/vertical landing F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, following the news from Lockheed Martin's engineers that the aircraft is shedding more than a ton of weight and gaining thrust.
The service's vision includes changes to the basic short takeoff/vertical landing (Stovl) configuration that could be so extensive as to represent a fourth Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) version--in addition to the design for the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B, the USAF F-35A and the U.S. Navy F-35C. But program managers have adamantly rejected the notion, so far, of deviating from the stated program plan.
Air Force Secretary James G. Roche says the service will buy "hundreds" of the Stovl F-35Bs in addition to the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35As that will be bought in larger numbers. Stovl aircraft are needed to operate from short, unprepared airstrips near the front. With each wing requiring roughly 100 aircraft, the ground support force would equate to at least two wings, but more likely four or more.
"We learned in Afghanistan and Iraq the importance of air support to land forces from austere locations," Roche told those attending the Air Force Assn. convention. "We must be rapidly available to land forces, particularly the American Army. That's why we will procure a short takeoff/vertical landing version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter."
Adding to the battlefield impact of new and modernized aircraft, "the next step is to perfect our ability to engage moving targets with precise munitions as well as increasing precision from both lighter and smaller but more effective weapons," he said.
While Roche and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper would only say that the F-35B buy would be in the hundreds, the final number depends on how the Army reorganizes itself into smaller, more widely dispersed units, Jumper says.
USAF will only need to see broad outlines of the Army strategy, though, before committing on a Stovl plan, says Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hal Hornburg. A decision on how to proceed isn't needed until 2006, he added.
The average cost of the CTOL F-35 is now $45 million each, says Rear Adm. Steve Enewold, the Pentagon's program executive official. The Stovl for the Marine Corps and the larger deck carrier design for the Navy are now in the $55-60 million range, he said. That could mean that the Air Force would have to buy fewer total F-35s. It also echoes broader decisions about reducing USAF's force structure in the next several years.
Jumper contends that paying more to buy the F-35B capability is both good leadership and good finance.
"I DON'T THINK THAT even reduced numbers of the kind of capabilities we intend to buy will produce any less killing capacity," Jumper says. "The lethality of even a reduced number of systems will be extraordinarily increased over what we have right now. It's neither right nor proper for us to argue that the same force structure and size is required when the killing capacity of each of these systems goes dramatically up."
JSF program officials say there are options for modifying the F-35B for Air Force service. These include the installation of an interior cannon (instead of the Marine Corps' gun in a pod) and a probe for hose and drogue refueling (in addition to the boom capability) for operations with special forces, Marine Corps and British tankers. Whether that would require the Air Force to pay for development of an electrical refueling system to replace the standard hydraulic model is not yet known.
There were also hints that Air Force F-35Bs could evolve with a propulsion system designed for more emphasis on short takeoff and less on vertical landing. Other possibilities include a tailored combination of fuselage and wing to carry more fuel and weapons once the program office relaxes its rigid control of the fighter's three versions. Other JSF options could include development of reconnaissance, electronic attack and laser armed versions, say senior industry officials.
"WE WANT TO MAKE that [USAF F-35B] the dedicated close air support capability for the future, beyond what [number] we keep of the A-10s," Jumper said. "I say the number [of F-35Bs] will be in the hundreds. But the Army is in the throes right now of completely redoing their concept of operations. But before we declare a number, we will need to understand more than we understand now and learn with the Army about their new concept of operations. We plan to work very closely with the Marine Corps as well with the Stovl version of the aircraft."
JSF program officials said they have identified 2,700 lb. in weight or weight equivalent reductions for the Stovl aircraft using strategies that include:
* Reducing the distance between interior structural elements in the wing so the aircraft's exterior skin can be thinner.
* Reducing the size of the weapons bays by 14 in. as well as the size of the vertical tails.
* Rounding the shape, the loft line, of the fuselage behind the cockpit to hold more fuel. That was one of several changes that decreased drag.
* Redesigning the electrical system to decrease the battery size and the amount of wiring.
* Redesigning the wing-mate joint.
* Rerouting some thrust from the roll post outlets to the main engine thrust.
Additional equivalent weight reductions will result from changing carrier operations requirements from those demanded for the Harrier including instrument flight patterns and vertical hover rate ratios.
The weapons bay reduction will eliminate certain weapons from the Stovl configuration, including the Joint Standoff Weapon and 2,000-lb. bombs. However, Hornburg doesn't see that as an impediment to the Air Force embracing the Stovl aircraft. Since that model will be dedicated to close air support in the Air Force, it won't need the large weapons. Instead, it would likely carry 250-lb.-class small-diameter bombs.
The Lockheed Martin team also recaptured a 600-lb. equivalent reduction by redesigning the auxiliary inlet on top of the JSF's fuselage for better pressure recovery, said Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and general manager for JSF. Predictions are that the changes will decrease takeoff roll by 100 ft., he said, and allow the bring-back weight for a carrier recovery to include two 1,000-lb. bombs, two air-to-air missiles and reserve fuel. Critical design review is slated for late 2005 with first flight of the production-configured aircraft in the summer of 2006 and funding for low-rate initial production to begin in 2007. Production in 2014-15 is expected to reach one aircraft per day.
By contrast F/A-22s are now priced at $130 million each with engines and are expected to reach a production rate of 32 per year. So far, 83 aircraft are on contract or delivered with another 24 in the Fiscal 2005 budget. The 41st aircraft is to be the first delivered to Langley AFB, Va., where the initial operational squadron will be established.
Officials discussing the program hinted at new roles for the stealth fighter. Researchers believe the stealthy design of the Air Force's Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (Jassm) will allow them to carry the missile externally on the F/A-22 without a large sacrifice in low observability.
The desire to carry Jassm on the F-22 stems in part from the development of new high-power microwave (HPM) payloads for the missile that are expected to be key weapons in disabling the electronics of enemy air defense, communications and command and control systems.
However, Jumper appears testy when asked about development of these directed-energy weapons which Pentagon officials have said could be ready for production in 2-4 years if funded.
"If the contractors say we will have production-ready, disposable HPM weapons in 2-4 years that means 6-8 years," Jumper says. "I already have lots of good ways to kill targets. Why invest in a technology I won't be able to use for years?" Replying to a call by top Air Combat Command officials for the rapid development of such non-kinetic, or non-explosive weapons, Jumper says, "If ACC wants more non-kinetic weapons then let's see it in their budget."
Advocates of the technology who have intimate knowledge of work at the Air Force Research Laboratories at Kirtland AFB, N.M., say the HPM weaponry is indeed nearing a production capability. However, they also caution that directed energy weapons such as HPM are not magic. There are defenses against them. You can't use them all the time and expect success every time. Only in specific circumstances should they be brought into play.
HPM PAYLOADS also are being designed for the conventional air-launched cruise missile and Tomahawk land attack missile with an eye to further reducing the capability to fit in the miniature air-launched decoy missile.
USAF officials are still wrestling with what to do with the bulk of their existing fighter fleet and are trying to keep options open to see what happens with the F/A-22 and F-35. One example is the A-10 force. USAF leaders had suggested they would retire A-10s to free up money to upgrade the rest of the fleet. However, Air Combat Command has devised a strategy to pay for upgrades without sacrificing existing airplanes. Some A-10s will probably be retired nonetheless, Hornburg says, but mainly because they are so near the end of their service life that upgrading them doesn't make sense.
The Air Force expects to begin flight testing of the first A-10s with the precision engagement upgrades late this year, with the hope of fielding the first aircraft next year. The enhancement allows the A-10 to drop GPS-guided bombs and integrates a targeting pod into the system, notes Roger Il Grande, Lockheed Martin's A-10 manager.
Similarly, the Air Force is moving to give its F-15C an air-to-ground capability, while also enhancing its strike F-15Es. The full extent of the F-15C upgrades is still under review, however, Jumper suggested.
"laser armed versions"
I love the way that's casually thrown out. Dude, it's a jet fighter with friggin' lasers on its wings!
Hrm. Tactical lasers a la THEL? Ever hear of this?
Very cool. USAF zot!
"Lock S-Foils in attack position."
Is this the dream of every woman for her man "fighter?"
I sense a disturbance in The Force ....
"All I want are some frikken strike fighters with some frikken laser beams on their wings! Throw me a bone here!"
Great. Now the USAF will have the same underpowered, underarmed, no-legs version as the USMC. They should take a close look at the Harrier before signing on to this one.
Haha. Seriously, though, I wonder how easy it would be to aim and hit another craft with a fixed-mount laser?
How well do you suppose it will do in strafing womp-rats?
Probably no harder that hitting with guns. Perhaps easier because they are essentially instantaneous and non-ballistic, so you don't have to lead the target. Devastating with enought power and the right frequencies of light.
**YOW. I'm gettin' all excited!**
"MOS EISLEY: In other news, Captain Biggs Darklighter, USAF, crashed his F-35 in Beggar's Canyon today. Air Force authorities are investigating reports that he was trying to shoot womp-rats."
First thing you see and it doesn't take a close look is the extraordinary Harrier accident rate. Also, I believe they're long out of production.
Nope. I'm on the losing team (Boeing), and I admire the platform itself.
President Kerry will put a stop to all of this.
From what I've read elsewhere, the laser would be a miniature, solid-state version of the Chemical Oxygen Infrared Laser (COIL) carried on the AL-1 Airborne Laser aircraft. The laser unit would be packaged in a "drop-in" turret that would take the place of the ducted lift fan located in the F-35 fuselage and would take power from the same drivetrain that powers the fan. My impression from conceptual art is that the laser turret would be steerable.
Just so you all know, when it comes to these aggressive weight reduction campaigns, the proof is "in the pudding" as the saying goes. When faced with a bloated design, program managers scramble to pull the weight back into design margins. Typically, they stand up and ask all the engineers to "sharpen their pencils" and put together a list of potential solutions to hit their new target.
Many of these changes are already known about and require some form of concession or trade-off with the customer. Others are suddenly viable because cost targets are seemingly lowered to absorb impacts. Finally, many of the proposed changes are just SWAGs that many fine design engineers are challenged by and jump through hoops to try and achieve.
The bottom line is the old saying "you can't put 4 pound
of sh*t into a 3 pound bag" still applies. Trade-offs from the specification (as the design matures) proving what was possible over what was fiction is the name of the game.
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