Few months ago we published the interesting interview Maj. John Wilson, an F-35 pilot with 61th Fighter Squadron, gave to Christian Sundsdal of the Danish website focusing on military topics Krigeren, at Luke Air Force Base.
Answering one of the questions, Maj. Wilson clearly admitted that an A-10 Thunderbolt II will always be better in CAS than the F-35 because it was designed to perform that kind of mission.
Recently, Sundsdal has published the second part of the interview, that focused on the 400k USD Helmet Mounted Display System, that combines FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) and DAS (Distributed Aperture System) imaging, night vision and a virtual HUD (Head Up Display).
The HMDS provides the pilot a sort-of X-ray vision imagery: he can see through any surface, with the HUD symbology he needs to fly the plane and cue weapons that follow his head and get projected onto the visor through the line of sight imagery.
Still, Wilson is probably not worried by such troubles since he doesn’t use the helmet very much:
“It’s cool, but I don’t use it that often” he says.
The reason is pretty simple: “If I really wanna see what’s underneath me, I’ll just look outside, I just roll up….because it doesn’t take much longer for me to just bank the airplane.”
Interesting point of view.
According to the F-35 pilot, he would just “look” as he would see in much higher clarity with his own eyes. Pilots consider it an “added benefit” and use it sometimes for night flying but that seems to be the only time when the costly HMDS is used (at least by Wilson and his 61th FS colleagues).
Still, Wilson admits he’s an old school pilot, so there may be pilots who use it more often.
“What about if you need to look behind you?” asks one of the interviewers.
Wilson is quite sure: “I’ll use my eyes” because “I need to see things with my own eyes” to judge aspect, distance closure, and other details that you can’t get using a 2D camera.
The F-16, with no camera, has a really good visibility: “It’s just a kind of apple to orange comparison,” Wilson explains, highlighting the fact that the F-35 and the F-16 or F-22 were designed for different roles.
“If you are flying correctly and the jet is doing what it is supposed to do, [enemy] guys should die well before they get behind you” Wilson comments, suggesting, once again, that the JSF’s survivability in air-to-air combat (even against some of the aircraft it is supposed to replace) is based on its BVR (Beyond Visual Range), stealth and SA (Situational Awareness) capabilities, rather than in its agility (initially touted by LM test pilots…).
Ok now it’s time to watch the interview by yourself:
Two F-35 Lightning II took on a primary role as Close Air Support providers during GF 15-08.
For the first time, F-35s belonging to the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron played a major role during one of the 10 yearly iterations of Green Flag, an exercise conducted on the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, where more than 5,000 U.S. Army soldiers against simulated enemy forces in a 14-day long pre-deployment trial by fire.
Although the JSF has sporadically taken part in past Green Flag drills in the past, this was the very first time the F-35 had the primary exercise role of CAS providers: the pricey stealth multi-role planes penetrated a “contested and degraded battlespace” waiting for calls for support from JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) and liaison officers on the ground.
According to the Air Force, the F-35s did the job effectively “just like those that came before it,” a comment that seems to suggest that F-35 is already as capable as the an A-10 or an F-16 in the CAS role, at least in the type of support with Troops in Contact required during a Green Flag exercise.
“The roles played by the two operational test fighters seem relatively modest when examined within the immense scale of a National Training Center rotation. Fourteen days of maneuvering against adversaries in vast desert mountain ranges makes Green Flag a test of the mind and body alike. But when help from the air was called upon, F-35 pilots from the 31st TES communicated and used their systems with precision. They created strategic effects that left troops on the ground largely unaware and unconcerned of what airframe they might be using — seamless integration at its finest,” says the release by the 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs.
There is a widespread concern that the pricey, troubled multirole F-35 will not be as effective as an A-10 Thunderbolt II or any of the other aircraft the JSF is about to replace but the Air Force seems to be enthusiastic about its new combat plane, especially in the much debated CAS role.
According to AW&ST the Lightning IIs achieved an important result during GF 15-08: not a single F-35 was “shot down” during the drills, a significant achievement for the JSF at its first active participation in a major exercise, especially considering that A-10s and F-16s were defeated in the same conditions.
On the other side, several other analysts claim the participation of two test aircraft in the exercise was just a PR stunt, since the aircraft is still quite far from achieving a combat readiness required to really support the troops at war: it can’t use the gun, it is limited to a couple of JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) and it is still flawed by a long list of serious issues, including those to the 400K USD HMD (Helmet Mounted Display).
The debate between F-35 supporters and critics was made more harsh by a brief obtained by War Is Boring, according to which the JSF was outclassed by a two-seat F-16D Block 40 (one of the aircraft the U.S. Air Force intends to replace with the Lightning II) in mock aerial combat.
Although we have already debunked some theories about the alleged capabilities of all the F-35 variants to match or considerably exceed the maneuvering performance of every fourth-generation fighter, to such an extent we already highlighted that there is no way a JSF will ever match (for instance) a Eurofighter Typhoon in aerial combat, it must be remembered that the simulated dogfight mentioned in the unclassified report obtained by WIB involved one of the very first test aircraft: the AF-02 is quite a basic JSF that lacks a mission systems software to use all the onboard sensors, does not have the special stealth coating that makes it virtually invisible to radars and it implemented an obsolete software code full of limitations.
This does not mean the F-35 will ever be as maneuverable and lethal in aerial combat as an F-22 or an F-16, but it will probably perform a bit better than AF-02 did during its simulated dogfight against the F-16D Block 40.
F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter performs first launch from ski-jump in the hands of a British pilot.
On Jun. 19, BAE Systems Test Pilot Pete ‘Wizzer’ Wilson launched the Lockheed Martin F-35B from a land-based ski-jump for the very first time, at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
The trials aim at validating the troubled fifth generation multi-role aircraft’s ability to take off safely and effectively from a ski-jump ramp similar to that which will be used on the UK’s new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier.
A former F-14 squadron, the VF-101 “Grim Reapers” was disbanded after the retirement of the Tomcat and was reactivated in 2012 to receive the controversial plane that is going to become the backbone of the U.S. carrier air wings strike capabilities: in fact, by 2025, the Navy’s aircraft carrier will operate a mix of F-35Cs, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers electronic attack aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye battle management and control aircraft, MH-60R/S helicopters and Osprey tilt-rotor Carrier Onboard Delivery aircraft.
During the six-day visit, two F-35C Lightning II jets flew in formation over the Sierra Nevada mountain range with an F/A-18E and an F/A-18F belonging to VFA-122 from Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore.
…and (quite obviously) the F-22 will always be better in Air-to-Air combat. But, in all the other missions the F-35 wins.
It’s wrong to compare the F-35 with any other asset that was designed to perform a specific mission: this is, in simple words, what a U.S. F-35 pilot said in an interview he gave to the Danish website focusing on military topics Krigeren.
For sure, aircraft designed for a specific role are going to be more effective in that one than other multi-role platforms. The problem in this case is that the F-35 is going to replace these assets, even though many believe this is not cost-effective, and could even cost some human lives as far as CAS missions, with Troops in Contact is concerned.
Furthermore, according to Wilson, once all the limitations are removed and it can carry weapons, the F-35 will be as capable as the F-16 in the CAS role.
According to Wilson, the majority of CAS missions that have been flown in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, were flown by Predators, F-15E Strike Eagles, F-16s and F-18s.
“The A-10s make up a very small percentage [and the fact that] every JTAC or guy on the ground that has been saved, has been saved by an A-10, that’s just not true” Wilson says.
“If the guys on the ground are concerned about that…I’d say they shouldn’t be. They should only be concerned that the pilots of whatever aircraft it is, is properly trained and doing his job, dropping the right bomb, on the right target, at the right time.”
Wilson admits the aircraft is expensive, but he says that maintaining several different types in service is even more costly.