Category Archives: Air Combat

The F-35 Lightning 2 Could Revolutionize Air Combat

An excellent picture showing the clean lines of the F-35. Photo courtesy of the Official US Navy Imagery account on Flickr.
An excellent picture showing the clean lines of the F-35. Photo courtesy of the Official US Navy Imagery account on Flickr.

Every now and then, you will see articles of how “poor” the F-35 Lightning 2 is in terms of Air-to-Air Combat, and how it will be easily defeated by other current fighters like Russia’s Super Sukhois, or the European 4th Generation fighters. Here are some examples of such articles:
The F-35’s Air-to-Air Capability Controversy, http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/the-f-35s-air-to-air-capability-controversy-05089/
F-35 Air Combat Skills Analyzed, http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,186349,00.html
New Pentagon super fighter will get pilots shot down, warns report, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/mar/6/report-super-fighter-will-get-pilots-shot-down/

The criticism against the F-35 air combat capability stems from observations like, “it’s cockpit doesn’t have a good view”, or that it “isn’t maneuverable enough”, blah-blah-blah. And the surprising thing is, ALL of it are TRUE.

‘Maneuverability’
First, let’s have a quick look at the F-35’s maneuverability in terms of WING LOADING and THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO compared to, say, a current generation fighter like the F-16C Block 52+ Viper aircraft. Below are the statistics for both planes (data for both aircrafts taken from these sources[1][2]):
2013-09-16_F-16_vs_F-35
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Air Combat Maneuver In The Missile Age

In the 1950s and 1960s, when the F-4 Phantom came out with its ability to use Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles like the AIM-7 Sparrow, the United States Air Force (USAF) and United States Navy (USN) declared that dogfighting was obsolete, that from thereon, air-to-air combat was going to be limited to whichever side had the better system. That was why both branches stopped training Air Combat Maneuver (ACM) training to their pilots then.

Then the Vietnam War came along and problems with the use of BVR missiles started coming out. First, there was the engagement problem wherein you need to be able to identify your opponent before shooting it down. If you can’t ID it, then you can’t shoot it down, so the F-4s had to fly in close to ID the aircraft. Second came the reliability issues wherein the Sparrows weren’t being maintained very well, and it also turned out that their electronics were a bit too sensitive for field use so they ended up having high failure rates after launch.

Then came issues like maneuverability (i.e., the early Sparrows couldn’t maneuver to follow the evading fighters), ground effect (i.e. low flying aircraft were harder to track), etc. which made the Sparrows even more unreliable in combat.
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