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Unhelpful words in the 2009 budget proposal

February 5, 2008 (by Eric L. Palmer) - Part of the 2009 budget proposal by the Department of Defense is a document called the DOD FY 2009 Budget Request Summary Justification.

F-35: Flowery budget justifications aren't needed

In the United States Air Force section, there are words about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that are lethal.

Quote: "The F-35 will be four times more effective than legacy fighters in air-to-air engagements, eight times more effective in prosecuting missions against fixed and mobile targets, and three times more effective in non-traditional ISR and Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses and Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD/DEAD) missions"

These words are a huge problem for a number of reasons. If one wants to have the USAF end up with less than half of the F-35s it wants, these words will certainly help. This is an election year and the outlook a new administration and political supporters have toward defense spending will be a real wild card. The person that put those words in the budget proposal may want to reconsider how dangerous they are. Those words can come back to haunt the F-35 program for years. While the quote above is technically unproven, that by itself isn't a big deal to a politician that may have other plans for tax dollars besides defense and is willing to use those words as justification. A more capabable replacement can bring up the idea that F-16s won't need to be replaced on a one to one basis. This idea has already been tossed around.

Let's break down the words: "The F-35 will be four times more effective than legacy fighters in air-to-air engagements." This sounds impressive at first, but consider that until this aircraft in it's Block III form is run through a Red Flag exercise and similar evaluations, those words are bunk. Adding to that: program officials have already stated that the airframe performance will at least equal what it replaces: For the USAF that is the F-16. The aircraft was originally designed to be a strike fighter or it was until recently when some have been over-hyping it as being an air domination machine.

Next: "eight times more effective in prosecuting missions against fixed and mobile targets...". Here, it is too bad "mobile targets" were put in the statement. Since the kind of mobile targets weren't specified, I'll pick some. Things like SCUD missile launchers will still be very hard to locate F-35 or no. Then too, events like the rocket attacks against Israel in 2006 show that any airpower has some severe limits against mobile targets.

"Three times more effective in non-traditional ISR ...." This is a reach. Since the F-35 isn't a two crewperson jet, no amount of "sensor fusion" will make it more effective in this role than lets say a two-seat F-18F Super Hornet with an ATFLIR pod or a two-seat F-15E with a SNIPER pod. No where in the original F-35 planning was "non-traditional ISR" even mentioned so believing some alleged ability about F-35 effectiveness in this role is letting the PowerPoint warrior lead the reader by the hand.

The last one is the killer: ..."and three times more effective in Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses and Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD/DEAD) missions". Again, since it isn't specified, I'll pick the threat: Russian made S-300 and S-400 super SAMs (Surface-to-Air Missiles). Experts in target planning like the very bright USAF General Deptula and others have already stated that the F-35 is not designed to face this kind of threat. This is important since the S-300, S-400 and follow-on variants will span the service life of the F-35. Those kinds of threats are meant to be faced with the F-22.

The F-22's high sustained dash speed and better stealth qualities allow for better chance against tracking solutions by those threats. Here, even the F-22 will have work to do given the increasing shortage of proper stand-off jamming platforms. While the F-35 may have some yet to be proven electronic attack ability with it's AESA radar, that ability is limited to it's frequency range. Strike planners won't be throwing the F-35 against such threats even if many F-35 briefings would want the viewer to believe it can "go it alone".

What is an example of the damage that can result from creative writing in F-35 budget proposals? Let's look at the F-22 program. The F-22 camp would like to see the USAF with 381 or so F-22's. This is based on the idea on putting 24 F-22s into 10 AEF's. AEF's (Air Expeditionary Force) are deployment packages that the USAF uses to meet worldwide commitments based on a rotation plan. The extra F-22s above the 240 for the AEFs would be for home training and defense, test and development and maintenance downtime.

Years from now, when the USAF ends up only being able to plug 48 F-35s into each AEF for 480 adding another third or more for 720-800 total jets in all of the USAF, consider all of those wonderful words back in 2008 stating F-35 mission prowess in budget proposals.

For the USAF, the F-35 can be justified on the grounds that it should provide a more survivable and sensor-rich replacement to the F-16. And of course: The near-common platform thing with other air-arms. Let it stand on that and press on. The F-35 is years away from proving mission performance.

An already shrinking Air Force doesn't need more help from budget proposals that over-promise the ability of an aircraft.

Disclaimer-opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent any government organization or corporation.