tip off
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PAK-FA analysis and high level advice point to JSF crisis

The first public appearance of the PAK-FA on January 10, Sukhoi supplied picture

The first public appearance of the PAK-FA on January 10, Sukhoi supplied picture

About now Defence Minister John Faulkner is having tea and biscuits with William Lynn, the deputy secretary of the US Defense Office, who is breaking some awkward news about the JSF Joint Strike Fighter project.

Namely, that March is going to be a very difficult month for the troubled project.

But if the Minister had already read the very long and detailed analysis released early this morning by Airpower Australia of the Russian answer to the JSF F-35, the Sukhoi PAK-FA, which made its first ‘public’ flight on January 10, the conversation might have been even more fascinating, and difficult, for Lynn.

The analysis has very grim implications for the JSF project.

Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn ((centre) provides SA Premier Mike Rann (at map) with a photo opportunity at the Techport  shipyard. Photo DoD

Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn ((centre) provides SA Premier Mike Rann (at map) with a photo opportunity at the Techport shipyard. Photo DoD

But first, Lynn and the Defence Secretary Robert Gates are according to sources in DC doing the rounds of JSF client states bringing them up to date over the issues befalling the project in March

The anticipated unfavourable review of the JSF program by the US Government Accountability Office report to Congress next month will trigger the Nunn-McCurdy amendment to the Defence Authorization Act of 1982 which will force the government to get reauthorization to continue its funding because of unit cost overruns.

This embarrassment will occur less than two months after the official audit review into the project by Mike Gilmore, the US Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, which lead to the firing of the head of the project and the cancellation of $700 million in ‘progressive’ payments due to be made to the lead contractor, Lockheed Martin, this year.

In their report the co-founders of the Air Power Australia defence think tank, Dr Carlo Kopp and Peter Goon say:

“Analysis of PAK-FA prototype airframe aerodynamic features shows a design which is superior to all Western equivalents, providing ‘extreme agility’, superior to that of the Su-35S, through much of the flight envelope. This is accomplished by the combined use of 3D thrust vector control of the engine nozzles, all moving tail surfaces, and refined aerodynamic design with relaxed directional static stability and careful mass distribution to control inertial effects. The PAK-FA is fitted with unusually robust high sink rate undercarriage, intended for STOL operations.

“The available evidence demonstrates at this time that a mature production PAK-FA design has the potential to compete with the F-22A Raptor in VLO performance from key aspects, and will outperform the F-22A Raptor aerodynamically and kinematically.

“Therefore, from a technological strategy perspective, the PAK-FA renders all legacy US fighter aircraft, and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, strategically irrelevant and non-viable after the PAK-FA achieves IOC in 2015.

“Detailed strategic analysis indicates that the only viable strategic survival strategy now remaining for the United States is to terminate the Joint Strike Fighter program immediately, redirect freed funding to further develop the F-22 Raptor, and employ variants of the F-22 aircraft as the primary fighter aircraft for all United States and Allied TACAIR needs.”

They warn that, “if the US does not fundamentally change its future for the planning of tactical air power, the advantage held for decades will soon be lost and American air power will become an artefact of history.”

Their analysis also moves on from previous arguments by Air Power Australia that the F-22 Raptor is the comprehensive answer to air superiority to a qualified view that only with an investment in both larger numbers and upgrades of the type can the line be held against the PAK-FA and then only with significant losses on both sides.

Designed to compete against the F-22 in traditional Beyond Visual Range (BVR) and Within Visual Range (WVR) air combat, the PAK-FA shares all of the key fifth generation attributes until now unique to the F-22 – stealth, supersonic cruise, thrust vectoring, highly integrated avionics and a powerful suite of active and passive sensors. While the PAK-FA firmly qualifies as a fifth generation design, it has two further attributes absent in the extant F-22 design. The first is extreme agility, resulting from advanced aerodynamic design, exceptional thrust/weight ratio performance and three dimensional thrust vectoring integrated with an advanced digital flight control system. The second attribute is exceptional combat persistence, the result of a 25,000 lb internal fuel load. The internal and external weapon payload are likely to be somewhat larger, though comparable to those of the F-22A.

The authors say “Russia intends to operate at least two hundred PAK-FAs, India two hundred and fifty of the Indian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) variant, with global PAK-FA exports likely to add at least 500 more tails to the production tally. The stated intent is to supply the PAK-FA as a replacement for existing T-10 Flanker series fighter aircraft.

The PAK-FA from below showing some of the design issues discussed in the Air Power analysis

The PAK-FA revealing some of the design issues discussed in the Air Power analysis

“Initial analysis of PAK-FA imagery and public disclosures by the Russian government and Sukhoi bureau indicate that a production PAK-FA will yield greater aerodynamic and kinematic performance to the current F-22A design, and similar low observables performance to the F-35A JSF.

“While the basic shaping observed on this first prototype of the PAK-FA will deny it the critical all-aspect stealth performance of the F-22 in BVR air combat and deep penetration, its extreme manoeuvrability/controllability design features, which result in extreme agility, give it the potential to become the most lethal and survivable fighter ever built for air combat engagements.

“It is important to consider that the publicly displayed PAK-FA prototype does not represent a production configuration of the aircraft, which is to employ a new engine design, and extensive VLO treatments which are not required on a prototype. A number of observers have attempted to draw conclusions about production PAK-FA VLO performance based on the absence of such treatments, the result of which have been a series of unrealistically optimistic commentaries.

“PAK-FA Low Rate Initial Production is planned for 2013, and Full Rate Production for 2015, with initial deliveries of the Indian dual seat variant planned for 2017.

The analysis raises time line issues for the decision announced last November by Faulkner to spend $3.2 billion on 14 low rate initial production F-35s for delivery in 2014 in order to evaluate them. If the IOC for the PAK-FA is 2015, even the on time delivery of the early F-35s, which the Gilmore report describes as poorly defined, wouldn’t make sense.

In a position report on the PAK-FA and the US decision to limit production of the Raptor and deny its sale to allies, RAAF Wing commander (retired) Chris Mills says the killing of that program was a ploy to ensure that the F-35 JSF would become a forced monopoly in the production and sale of US air combat aircraft.

But he points out that this could fail massively if Israel, which already makes avionics for the Sukhoi range of military aircraft, and Japan, were to join India in buying the PAK-FA to ensure their future survival and combat superiority in battle zones in which the JSF would not prevail.

The quality of advice the Minister had received from defence at the time of embracing the early batch of F-35s needs to be called to account as it coincided with the quality of the review that Gilmore was conducting with such damning effect on the project in the US.

There is an obvious quality gap in the oversight this project is receiving in Washington DC and in Canberra.


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  • 1
    12bravo
    Posted February 16, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    It is very interesting that so-called “key aspects” of VLO have changed over time in the minds of some “analysts”…

    Once upon a time “asymmetric engine nozzles” were very much a no-no in the LO “game”, now apparently it’s not so much of a problem, so long as they are designed by the Russians…

    Once upon a time, F-35 showed a “remarkably” lower LO design than the F-22, but the PAK-FA now “has the potential to compete with the F-22A Raptor in VLO performance” but in the same article the PAK-FA has, “similar low observables performance to the F-35A JSF”.

    Que? How can this be? How can the PAK-FA challenge the F-22 in VLO when the VLO of the F-22 is reportedly “much better” than the F-35 and yet the PAK-FA only has “similar” LO performance to the F-35?

    Methinks someone is getting carried away with a new favoured toy…

    Even Vladamir Putin has dismissed an in-service date of 2015, in his admission that any new engine for the PAK-FA is at least 8 years away…

    It is also interesting that further F-22 production is advocated, despite this aircraft being so “kinematically outclassed” by the PAK-FA, especially when kinematic overmatch is given as the primary reason the F-35 JSF is outclassed by the threats prevalent within our region… Surely if “kinematic overmatch” is of such importance in air combat matters, than an immediate replacement for the F-22 should be advocated for and pursued with all haste, shouldn’t it?

    Furthermore, given the SU-35 is unlikely to achieve even IOC by 2015, the undeniable fact being that the very first purchase order was only made in 2009 for a non-existent production line, the PAK-FA has ABSOLUTELY no chance of making the same date.

    However given these “analysts” have been “consistently right” in their own minds for so long, I am absolutely certain reality is no longer even a consideration for them…

  • 2
    dickbev
    Posted February 16, 2010 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    From people who ordered submarines from a country which has been a peace for nearly two hundred years, with the inevitable results… nothing would surprise me me. Over ordering ..ordering the wrong equipment.. late deliveries..and sucking up to the Americans who then have the cheek to deny certain software and equipment to their erstwhile Australian ( ally ??) Overule these idiots ; if Russian is best buy it ……Richard……..

  • 3
    hcobb
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    First the T-50 is not the PAK-FA. The PAK-FA is a program and the T-50 is a prototype. The T-50 should be compared the YF-22 rather than the F-22.

    Second the final PAK-FA will have radars pointing in most directions while the F-35 has passive IR and visual sensors (along with radar detectors) pointing in all directions. (Which aircraft will detect the other one’s emissions first?)

    Third the F-35 does not attempt to turn withe the PAK-FA. In fact the F-35 does not close to sidewinder range with the PAK-FA. The F-35 spots the PAK-FA beyond the range where the PAK-FA spots the F-35 (which would be around Sidewinder range) and launches AMRAAM attacks against the flying blind Russian. The F-35 can and will do so from any direction.

    Fourth the projected numbers purchased give a massive numerical superiority to the F-35 over the PAK-FA, even though the F-35 beats the PAK-FA one on one.

    Lastly the F-22 really doesn’t have the IR sensors to play in this game or the helmet mounted sight for high off-boresight kills or the ability to turn with the PAK-FA, so it had best be escorted by F-35s to keep it safe from any dogfights. (The F-22 beats the PAK-FA if and only if the engagement is kept BVR.)

  • 4
    Bushranger 71
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    “Therefore, from a technological strategy perspective, the PAK-FA renders all legacy US fighter aircraft, and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, strategically irrelevant and non-viable after the PAK-FA achieves IOC in 2015.’’- APA

    Really! Neither the PAK-FA (T-50) or the F-35 are anywhere near being proven with all of their intended onboard systems integrated. It is only if and when they reach that stage of development they might be reasonably compared with the in-service F-22 however it might be upgraded by that time. And; the F-35 is really not a fighter should the project survive, so no point in comparing apples with oranges.

    Seems to me there are a lot of presumptions being made about systems and weaponry performance based somewhat on specifications rather than operational proving. Recall how early versions of Sidewinder and Sparrow were supposed to give huge advantage in air combat, but the reality was quite different. Air-to-air missile technology has of course advanced much since the Vietnam War.

    Reality is the big multinational arms conglomerates are pricing their products beyond the reach of many nations with more countries at increasing risk of economic insolvency or at least recession for a protracted period. The world is therefore unlikely to be flooded with top end unaffordable technology from any source during the next decade at least.

    It is a very big stretch to contend that all legacy fighter aircraft will become non-viable after 2015. As has happened throughout military history, multiple aircraft types would probably be involved in future conflicts and affordable enhanced legacy types might perform very well depending on the quality of the opposition as much as their gear.

    The Australian Defence White Paper 2009 and the associated Defence Capability Plan are arguably unjustifiable on economic considerations alone and it would seem wise for any progression of defence acquisition initiatives to be at least frozen pending a more objective assessment of the rapidly changing world strategic and economic scenarios.

  • 5
    Dan the man
    Posted September 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting Yesterday was the RAAF air show at Willamtown were the air force showed us their new toy the F/A 18 Super Hornet that is suppose to be taking the baton from the F111 and tying us over until the JSF turns up. It was interesting it was almost 25 years to the day when the air force put on a similar air show and showed of the brand new F/A 18A. It was a great day and I’ll never forget one of the displays was a turning contest between the F/A 18 and the Mirage III and not surprisingly the Hornet smoked the Mirage.

    If we ever get the Joint Strike Fighter we are not going to get that similar display because quite frankly the airframe simply is not up to it. I’m an Aeronautical engineer by profession and I seriously considered a career in military aviation but life circumstances took me elsewhere but it has remained a lifelong interest. If we do acquire the JSF (to my knowledge we have committed to 14 of the aircraft) it would be the first time in Australian military history that we’ll acquire a fighter aircraft that will be a downgrade in performance from it’s predecessor.

    The ADF tells us that all the whizbang electronics and stealth offsets all this but the PAK-FA changes this completely. The stealth aspect of the PAK-FA cancels out the BVR engagement, which brings us into a heat seeking/guns engagement and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the JSF would last 10s in the ring with the PAK-FA.

    I have been observing the whole JSF debacle and F111 retirement fiasco with considerable alarm. Indeed it’s the first time I’ve felt very real fear that if God forbid the RAAF had to go into action the consequences could be disastrous. I have it in on good authority that about the time our troops where going to hit East Timor, the F111 card was used on the Indonesian government to say, boys play nicely or Jakarta will be blasted back into the stoneage. I doubt they’ll be having the same sort of fears about the Super Hornets.

    No matter which way you cut it the JSF program has disaster planted all over it. The JSF is the spiritual successor to the F16/F/A-18 program. The USAF and US Navy had developed the F15 and F14 respectively as the all conquering fighters to maintain air superioty over the then Soviet Bloc. Unfortunately there where too expensive to be produced in mass quantities which is where the F16/F18 came into play. According to all the glossy advertising the JSF is suppose to take up where the F16/F18 left off. Unfortunately all the delays, cost blow outs and technical failures would indicate that this project is well on its way to a pretty ordinary outcome. I for one would be terrified of having to fly that thing in combat.

    However the most disturbing thing about this whole affair is the failure of the politicians and senior officials to recognise this train wreck coming. Politicians we fully expect to be average. Its harsh but recent form would indicate this to be so. However the ADF and in particular our senior serving military officers have no such excuse. They have the information and I just hope to God some of them have the balls to make the hard decisions before it’s too late.

2 Trackbacks

  1. ...] He was tipped off by the US deputy defense secretary William Lynn, about the parlous state of affairs on February 15-16 when he came to Australia with the bad news. [...

  2. ...] discussion in individual articles as Russian aviation, whether the stories of its airliners, or the Sukhoi PAK FA or T-50 rival (and it seems likely, terminator) of the JSF, closely followed by debate over numerous [...

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