samedi 2 février 2013

The Lockheed-Martin JSF (F 35): A curse for her creators?

The F35 Lightning II - or Joint Strike Fighter - is, for her conceptor company Lockheed-Martin, the nec plus ultra for the combat aircraft of the present times.

The JSF program is the most expensive ($400 Mds ) ever attributed by the Pentagon - thus, of all the Mankind History - and, nevertheless, it can be assessed as a gigantic failure.

The result of a wrong preception of History

The problem has its origin in 1992: The USSR had just disappeared and also it's internationnal influence and it's military capabilities. 

For all Anglo-Saxons observers (and most of the European journalists), the Cold War was over: The USA had won a planetary war that they had never declared. Bill Clinton, the actual POTUS, was triumphant.

Ok, but at that time, a huge problem appeared for the US companies manufacturing all kind of military weapons which were, since 1941, involved in many juicy military contracts giving work to millions of American workers. 

An important brainstorming (lasting 2 years) of the Pentagon comities issued a super "brilliant" concept: The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). 

This aircraft resulted from a merge of two programs, one for a light bomber dedicated to complete the F22 Raptor and the other which aimed to obtain a very cheap combat aircraft.

The main purpose was this one: The collapse of the USSR had left the USA alone as a superpower, so, it was necessary that the USA, alone, remain able to build combat aircrafts. 
Then, a lot of such aircrafts could be built in the USA, maintaining the employment. Moreover, the US government may, at will, decide what countries will be agreed to make some war actions.

Another (hidden) idea was to anihilate the remains of any European military industry, as the USA have done with Canada and Great-Britain.

The prototypes for the initial contest

The wanted aircraft was, ab initio, designated as a fighter. 

(Incidentally, such a christening is completely unfair for the peoples of the countries who would buy this aircraft as a tool able to give them the mastery of their own skies.
This aircraft has been conceived only as a pure bomber. Period.  
It's true the same company had conceived another bomber: The famous F 117, also claimed, initially, as a fighter. 

The English word fighter was used in UK, since the WWI , for the same use as for the French word chasseur or the German word Jäger, both signifying hunter

Originaly,  American planes dedicated to destroy the ennemy aircrafts were dubbed pursuit aircrafts.

One may say that fighter is a perfect word to say: combat aircraft. Yes, it's the kind of discourse of a lawyer. But, Mrs. or Mr. Lawyer, did you really think the B 17 or the B 52 were not true combat aircrafts? Sure, they were. 

But it is at least unfair to ensure anybody that such aircrafts were able to win the mastery of skies! Against true fighters, they were at risk, as will be the  JSF tomorow...)

Anyway, it was decided that the JSF will satisfy the needs of the land based USAF (the F 16 becoming old), of the USMC (because their AV 8B are old too) and the USN (the Intruders, also, are old).

Among these specifications, 3 kinds of landing were requested: Classical for the Air Force, vertical for the USMC and with an arrestor hook and several airframe strengthenings for the Navy.

The conceptors of this aircraft, Oops! of these three different aircrafts were not interested to give her any super fighting capability, because the same company has won the contest of the stealth fighter: The F22.

In 1996, Boeing and Lockheed-Martin launched their own JSF: the Boeing X 32 and the Lockheed X 35.

The Boeing F 32 
during vertical landing 

To realize the vertical landing, the X 32 used the combat proven solution of the British Harrier (invented by the Frenchman Michel Wibault). 

The Lockeed-Martin F 35 

The X 35, with some visual pattern reminding the F22 (that's being psychologically important, chaps !), used the solution illustrated by the Russian Yak 141. 

Both contenders were flying during the year 2000.

For some reasons (completely unclear and varying according to the sources), the X 32 was rejected in the following months: The F35 had won.

The target market was estimated as, at least, 5000 aircrafts, among them 3000 for the USA alone.

So, the cost of $60 millions for each aircraft was announced.

Along the 12 following years, agents were sent to allies of the USA by Lockeed-Martin to sell the JSF.

To help them, they were supplied with a lot of computer simulations (translate it as video games) based on the most optimistic hypotheses and not on the qualities of the true operationnal aircrafts. 
Their main argument was: 
Our plane is absolutely undetectable by anybody in the World. 
The first day of an eventual military operation, you can use your AA missiles to destroy the naughty ennemy fighters. 
The second day, you will be able to destroy all the desired targets with the full capacity of the JSF.

Such a fairy tale was told to high rank generals (therefore no more operationnal) and politicians who were incompetent to detect the swindle for two reasons: 
i) They were addict to the American way of life; 
ii) They were not accustomed to the experimental scientific reasonning. 

So: no problem at all to sign juicy orders for the JSF.

The last ones were the Japanese in 2011. Previously, they had tremendously lobbyied to buy the F22 Raptor, the only American fighter able to act efficiently against North Korea...

A chaotic journey

All was perfect until the end of 2001, so, one might expect the JSF program was progressing smoothly.

Nevertheless, the prime contractor Lockeed-Martin was obliged to rectify the blue prints of the F 35, in order to reach the alledged specifications, this inducing an over-weighting of one metric ton!

So, the realization of the first (but uncorrected) testing aircraft began in 2003 and her maiden flight was issued on December 2006.

The weight excess being inacceptable, a complete redesign has been already launched and the rectified aircraft began to fly in 2008.

So, one may highlight the five years delay needed to transform the prototype into a pre-series aircraft. Three more years were needed to obtain the specified airframe (which is less complicated than the complete aircraft with its software, radars, weapons and so on!). 

Each year, obviously, the costs were increasing a lot! 

But no crucial tests were on their way. Remember: It was not one plane to test fly but three very different planes.

(All the following datas have been merged from Wikipedia pages in English, German, French and Italian because their writers are not interested by the same characteristics)

The A variant, dedicated to the Air Force has an empty weight of 13.2 metric tons, a wing area of ~43 m² and can use 8.4 metric tons of fuel. 

The top speed is Mach 1.6.
The tactical radius is 1080 km.
The claimed ceiling is 18300 m (60000') but only 13000 m (43000') had been reached in test (!).
Alone among the three variants, she is able to support 9 g (but only 4.6 g in sustained turn, LOL), the other variant being limited to 7 g (less than a F 15).

To be stealthy, all the weapons must be carried in a weapon bay, limiting the amount of armament to 1300 kg. 

Once the ennemy defenses have been annihilated, 6800 kg of external weapons can be added.

F 35 with her 6 pylones and only 2 AA missiles

The B variant - dedicated to the US Marines - has an empty weight of 14.7 metric tons. She claims the same performances as the A variant.
The over-weight is due to the specific additionnal engine needed to obtain the vertical landing. 
So 2 metric tons of fuel and 1.2 metric ton of armament have disapeared if you compare with the A variant...
The tactical radius fell to only 833 km (452 NM).

One may say that the US amphibious assault ships must be very close of the coasts that they have to attack, inducing a lot of vulnerabilities to cruise missiles, even to simple coastal submarines...

The C variant dedicated to the Navy has the same empty weight than the B variant. 
Her wing area is 58 m², allowing to carry the same amount of armament and one metric ton of fuel more than the A variant.

Her tactical radius is the best of the three variants with 1141 km.

Nevertheless, it's difficult for me to believe she conserves the speed capacity of the A variant.

Endless testing...

The following step was characterized by the constant will of Lockheed-Martin to product as much as possible standard aircrafts even the tests were just at their starting phase and they were not processing smoothly.

This is an ancient behaviour of the Lockeed company which displays aesthetically appaling aircrafts, even possessing (sometimes) good flying qualities, but, unfortunately, unable to fulfill the announced properties.

So, the customer will pay the company to allow his concepting team to learn how to conceive their planes! 

Such practices are absolutely dishonest but, nevertheless, gave Lockheed the possibility to sell thousands of aircrafts (with also a lot of bribes given to influent persons, as, e.g. the prince consort Bernhard of Netherland who admitted he received a bribe of  
$1 million, implying the queen's abdication!). 

If the Lockheed P 38 Lightning was really a fast plane, she was not a good fighter. The success of the American top aces Bong and Mac Guire against the Japanes fighters may be attributed to the far greater tactical adaptability of the USAF pilots, a good use of radar and also, likely, to the declining level of the manoeuvring skill of the Japanese pilots. Against the Luftwaffe pilots, she was not a match at all.

The Lockheed F 104 was another totally abnomal case: It was also a very fast aircraft which was unable to do the job. In Vietnam, this so-called "fighter" had no victory but was downed 14 times. 

I wrote that the Morane-Saulnier 406 in the French Armée de l'Air was a poor fighter, her pilots had downed ~180 German aircrafts, even some Bf 109! A poor fighter, yes, but a better fighter...

Could you say that the American pilots of the F 104 were not sufficienly skilled? It's not serious!

In the Royal Canadian Air Force, 50 % of these aircrafts crashed. 
In the German Luftwaffe, 292 crashs (30% of the aircrafts) and 116 crews dead. All these crashs occured without any war action.

The surviving pilots of that... thing never speak ill of it.
May be they think the crashs they avoided demonstrated their superior skill...

A problem of proficiency?

You can read comments of some fans who are convinced that the JSF is only experiencing teething troubles.

But, for the JSF, the plane is not operationnal at all. 

Remember, the first prototype flew in 2000. The pre-series aircrafts were flying since 2006. 

The lengthy testing time has nothing to do with a lack of money.

One cannot say one part of this aircraft is faulty, as the problems affect all parts of this aircraft.

Lockheed seems to have made a complete missestimation of the numerous hard points of the job.

Infortunately, at the same times, the international context evolved quickly, destroying a lot of all the cloaks protecting the program.

Already in 2006, the GAO expressed serious concerns about the shift affecting the costs, especially when one launch the mass production of an insufficiently tested aircraft: After the test, all producted aicrafts have to be upgraded to fix the defficiencies.

In 2008, the most important economic crisis of the World History has begun, triggering a consequence for the JSF: Her huge over-costs became public. 

At this moment, a lot of deffects have been detected by the test pilots. 
  • The fuselage structure is insufficiently robust,
  • The skin of the aircraft does not accept to fly fast,
  • There is some high speed flutter,
  • The arestor hook of the C variant is unable to catch the wires of the carrier on which she is landing (LOL),
  • The super sophisticated helmet, of tactical crucial importance, does not work as it was pledged and the relief BAE helmet is not satisfactory. Following  the Quick Look Review (on AOL defense), the core of the computer system must be completely redesigned.
  • The stealth qualities may be are not as decisive as expected.

An amazing element for the observers was the long US refusal to allow their better customers (UK and Israel), to access the source codes of the JSF computer. 

May be, it was done to avoid that unfriendly persons discover, not a lot of miraculous technological advances, but some hazardous shoddy work ;-). 

Don't worry, I was jocking!

I have forgotten that the price of 1 aircraft, initially $60 millions, has climbed up to $300 millions for the C variant.

War hazards: the return

Contrarily to Bill Clinton dreams, the great USA see a new weapons race occuring in China, India and Russia.

Some hackers (assumed to be Chineses - may be -) have made their trips inside the databases of Lockeed-Martin and BAE.

The combat capabilities of the JSF being very far from what was claimed initially,  have triggered a lot of criticisms. 

Today, the official tactic for AA engagments of the JSF is: BVR or die

All your chances are strongly linked to your AIA missile. 

Obviously, as usual, the ennemies are stupid, they don't know the existence of stealth bombers and they had no mean to use BVR combat methods.

That looks like a problem of Faith.

If you believe that the stealth of this aircraft is as efficient as the cloak of invisibility of Harry Potter, and, also, that the AA missiles of the F 35 are invisible too, you will be quiet in your JSF... until a naughty ennemy shot you down.

But you have been warned in time by a lot of competent persons (as Bill Sweetman, Peter Goon and Dr Carlo Kopp)! These experts were never heared at all.

The official account is very similar to the one the French deciders used in 1936, about the Morane-Saulnier 406, the so-called "best fighter in the World"!

No deciders, but Sen. McCain, tried to stop this mad train.

Among the experts, Bill Sweetman, of Aviation Week & Space Technology, was "convinced" to interrupt his comments on the JSF during a long while, some years ago.

In my country, it is seen as a pure censorship... Interresting, in the USA, THE homeland of the 1st Amendment!

Why so much failures? 

The Cold War History had reminded that Lockheed had been able to develop very quickly the nuclear missile Polaris (1961). This very success was mainly based on a carefull analysis of all hard points to overcome.

On the blog Ares of Bill Sweetman, in Aviation Week, it was written, some months ago, that all Lockheed's team had been replaced. 
Ok, that is normal, but have the experienced persons really briefed the newbies?

From the other hand, the F 35 is considerably more complex than a rockett launched from a dived nuclear submarine.

Two non exclusive explanationsmay be suggested.

The first one is that Locheed never belonged to the top fighter manufacturer, even it has been selected frequently for this job: P38 (very good only in close air support) , P80 (completely outclassed by the Mig 15, but her sister T33 was a very good training aircraft), F104 (!), YF12 (very fast but too brittle), F22 (the only one successful fighter). 
  • Other American companies have a more brilliant curriculum vitae:
    • North American: P51, P86, F100, F108; 
    • Grumman : Wildcat, Hellcat, Bearcat, Tomcat. 
  • Other companies in the World demonstrated also very better skill:
    • Dassault: MB 152, 155, 157, Ouragan, Mystère IV, Mirage III, Mirage 2000, Rafale; 
    • Mikoyan & Gourevitch: Mig 3, Mig 15, Mig 17, Mig 19, Mig 21, Mig 29.
All these companies had demonstrated that they know perfectly the subtle complexity which is necessary to create a great fighter.

The second explanation is the choice about the sofware general conception.

The JSF software has to manage a lot of completely different tasks. 

The computers embedded in a modern combat aircraft allow the pilots to stay inside the best flight parameters, to manage the engine in the most extreme conditions, to hit the targets and to evade the multiple threats. Obviously, a special database is dedicated to each particular task.

Nevertheless, these computers do not avoid collisions between team mates or with the ground: Our modelization of the human behaviour is unsufficently accurate.

The JSF software is announced to be able to do all the tasks the fighters of the present operational generation do, but, also, to give the pilots a perfect view on the exterior world.

Moreover, the same computer is able to manage a perfect landing on the deck of an amphibious assault ship even in bad wether.
Impressive !

The huge size of the software (26 millions of code lines) results in an inexpected level of software complexity
This is a different concept than the algorithmic complexity, which is a theoretical mesure of the time used by a computer to solve a problem in function of the amount of data.

I'm not sure that the theoretical tools are sufficiently mature today to solve the difficulties occuring in this domain.

Obviously, the computer scientists of Lockeed-Martin may work a lot in such directions but there is no garantee of success.

A part of the solution may be fund in quantum algorithms, which cannot work on classical computers, needing quantum computers instead.

Lockheed-Martin, in 2011, had bought a D-Wave One system which use quantum chips.

I guess there is a clear relationship with the JSF.

But all specialists are saying that no quantum computer will be ready for use until 20 years. 

So, you will go to combat with your perfectly operational JSF in 2033? I guess this aircraft will be completely outclassed at that time.

Is the Pentagon able to make the necessary U turn?

At the end of my aircraft private pilot training, my instructor made it clear to me that, at each step of a flight, I have to wonder if it would be better to make an U turn before any crash may occur. 

Likely, he was learning this fundamental lesson during his own training of fighter pilot in USA during the year 1944.

I had the chance to make an U turn during a flight, just one month later, when the VFR conditions were degrading quickly. My U turn, even a bit late, saved my life.

Today, the USA deciders seem to be no more able to decide such an U turn.

I have read, about the JSF, some assertions, as "too many money spent to be stopped". 
The common sense would be to stop this spending. Period.

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