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F-35: When Your “Wingman” Is Miles Away Beyond Your Visual Range…

The F-35 next generation fighter program continues to receive criticism about its technical problems and delays but also takes positive reviews about its progress:

Pentagon sees risks, progress on Lockheed’s F-35 jet – Reuters

Top Pentagon officials on Wednesday cited both progress and continuing risks on the $396 billion Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter program, and said Singapore had shown “tremendous interest” in the next-generation stealth fighter. Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the Pentagon’s next generation fighter program chief, told a subcommittee that he expects to reach agreement with Lockheed about a sixth and seventh batch of F-35s by the end of May, followed by a contract award in June. Sources familiar with the matter said the deal would cover 71 planes and would be worth about $9 billion. Bogdan told a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Singapore would likely decide by this summer whether to buy the new warplane. He said he was also “cautiously optimistic” that South Korea would also join the multinational program when it announces the winner of a 60-plane competition in June. Boeing Co’s F-15 Silent Eagle and the Eurofighter Typhoon, built by EADS, Finmeccanica SpA and BAE Systems Plc, are also competing for the contract.

F-35 Multi-Country Patch 1

On the other hand, the latest problem that the next generation fighter program faced was a crack on one of its engine blades which lead the fleet to complete to be grounded for some days:

Pentagon: Crack won’t affect future of F-35 fighter – Fort Worth Star Telegram

A small crack on an engine blade of the controversial F-35 fighter jet means the planes will again be grounded, but the defect does not yet appear to have any effect on the future of the aircraft, a Pentagon official said Monday. Department of Defense Spokesman George Little insisted that, at least at this time, there’s no evidence of a wider problem with the plane. “This is one part, on one plane that had some kind of defect,” he said, but added that with safety of the aircraft paramount, “the logical and prudent thing to do was to ground the aircraft.” Despite a 12-year history of cost overruns and technical problems for a program that now is expected to cost almost $400 billion, the latest setback, for the time being at least, is seen as no more than that; just another setback. ”There is absolutely no backing away from our commitment to the F-35 program,” Little said. Later, he added, “We don’t know if this is a problem limited to this particular part of this particular plane, or whether it’s a more widespread design issue. We hope, of course, it’s a limited issue.”

More importantly, many military experts pay attention to the lack of information in terms of the F-35 joint strike fighter’s revolutionary capabilities in future air combat operations:

Game Changer: The F-35 and the Pacific – the Diplomat

The existing 5th generation aircraft is not well known either, because of its limited numbers and its condemnation by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and President Barack Obama as a “Cold War” weapon. One could note that when the latest Korean crisis flared up, those “Cold War” mainstays, the F-22 and the B-2 (which has been flying now for more than 20 years) were called upon very quickly. And the U.S. Air Force (USAF) began to do sortie surge exercises in Hawaii and Arctic exercises in Alaska to increase the quantities of F-22s available for immediate Pacific operations.  What is radically new about the F-35 is the fusion of data in the cockpit and the shaping of a new decision making capability within the aircraft and the fleet.  The aircraft permits situational decision-making, not just situational awareness.  It is a C5ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) aircraft, which allows the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) alone to replace three aircraft, including an Electronic Warfare Aircraft with the F-35B. This is also why Singapore has referred to the F-35B as a “cost effective” aircraft. But understanding the real value of the F-35 one must consider its operation as a fleet, not simply as an individual aircraft. The F-22 was built as an aircraft, which flies in 2, and 4 ship formations, but unlike the F-15, the “wingman” is miles away and not anywhere to be found in visual range. As one pilot put it to me: “When we take off together that is the last time we see each other until we land.” The F-35 also has the capability to operate miles away from one another, but with a major difference.  The individual airplanes are interconnected, operate in 360-degree operational space, and the machines pass the data throughout the network.  Each individual plane can see around itself for significant distances in 360 degree space, which has already underscored the need for a new generation of weapons, for existing systems such as Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) operate in half or less of the space which each F-35 can see beyond itself.

Finally, we can safely say that out of the budget costs and time delays are expected when we have to do with a revolutionary aircraft: F-35



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