Tag Archives: F-35

F-35, STOVL, Joint Force: will Italy follow the British path?

On Oct. 19, 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled the key changes to the Britain military that will be introduced as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review. Among them:
– decommissioning of the the Invincible-class aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal;
– cancellation of the Nimrod MRA.4 programme;
– early retirement of the Harrier fleet in order to retain a reduced number of Tornado GR.4s;
– early retirement of the Sentinel R.1 which entered in service in Dec. 2008;
– early retirement of the Hercules fleet by 2022 (tactical airlift duties will be undertaken by A400Ms and A330s);
– 12 new Chinooks;
– Tristar and VC-10 (this latter used only for air-to-air refueling until retirement) withdrawal by 2013

One of the most interesting ones is the reduced planned buy of F-35s that will not be the F-35B STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) ones but will be the carrier variant F-35Cs. The abandonment of the F-35B is tied to the decision to convert one of the two future British aircraft carriers in a “cat and trap” supercarrier, hence able to launch the planes by means of a catapult and to recover them by means of an arresting gear system.

This move will enable the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy to operate solely the F-35C naval model of the Joint Strike Fighter, with benefits in terms of interoperability, training, cost reduction etc. With an ever shrinking budget, the moment in which Italy will be compelled to lauch its own Defence review, to ensure the survival of the Services at the minimum level and the sustainability of the out-of-area operations, is not far.

In the meanwhile, what we can try to understand is: will the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) and Marina Militare (Italian Navy, ItNy) be, sooner or later, “invited” to choose a single version? According to the current plans, the ItAF is interested in both the conventional F-35A and the F-35B STOVL variant while, the ItNy can only use the STOVL version to operate it from its current and future aircraft carriers.

The most obvious consideration that could be made is that the only variant that could satisfy the requirements of both Services is the F-35B. Compared to the A, the STOVL version has, on the “pro” side:
– a higher flexibility, being able to operate on small landing strips (this is the reason why the ItAF wants this version too) and from ships.
on the “con” side:
– less space for fuel, hence, a lower maximum range
– an external (=in pod) rather than internal gun
– a reduced flight envelope (+7 G instead of +9 G)
– it is more expensive and burns more fuel.
The rest is identical or much similar.

So, as the F-35 will replace the Tornado and AMX fleets (this latter being a priority in the near term) I think that the idea of a single type procurement based on the STOVL can’t be completely dismissed: modern scenarios, like the Afghan one, where tactical aircraft are used for Urban/CAS support or recce, are perfectly suitable for a STOVL aircraft (even if Convetional Take Off and Landing – CTOL planes, in most case, suit as fine). Furthermore, I don’t think that, in a future dominated by stealthy UAVs and UCAVs, there will be any evident advantage in flying an F-35A instead of an F-35B to war. For sure, in a future warfare regime in which targets are dispersed, hidden, mobile and well defended, operational endurance can be a key performance indicator to measure strike platforms, but not on a tactical base. We are not comparing a STOVL plane to an extended-range bomber, capable of operating from its homebase….

If a proper analysis capable of evaluating the benefits of using a single type of aircraft againsts the costs of buying and operating the more expensive one would suggest the purchase of the STOVL variant, I think I would not be concerned. STOVL aircraft are the perfect platform for the Forward Operating Bases of any expeditionary operation. By being deployed near to the battlefield, the STOVL aircraft are ideal for on-call tasks: even if they have a higher hourly cost, they need less fuel, since they don’t need to remain airborne in CAP, and they don’t burn too much gas for transit from departure aerodrome to the operative area, etc.

That said, I don’t know if Italy is ready for a single type of aircraft for both ItAF and ItNy capable of operating from the Cavour aircraft carrier as a single unit, something that would logically lead to the creation of a joint force similar to the British Joint Force Harrier and the subsequent proposal of reabsorbing into the Air Force, an option that the Navy might not accept…..



Super Hornet road map

The F-18F Super Hornet was one of the highlights of the recent Farnborough 2010 not only because the multi-role aircraft displayed during the Air Show, but also because Shelley Lavender, Vice President and General Manager Boeing’s Global Strike Systems unveiled the new Super Hornet International Road Map, a disclosure that may indicate that slippage in the F-35 program has encouraged the company to market the Super Hornet more aggressively in order to persuade some countries that are evaluating the F-35 to opt on the F/A-18E/F.
The upgrade equip the Super Hornet, whose effectiveness in combat has been proven in years of operations in Irak and Afghanistan (that I was able to witness in October 2009 during my visit to the USS Nimitz involved in combat operations in support of Enduring Freedom) with conformal fuel tanks, enhanced performance engines, enclosed weapons pod and other systems. The modifications, include:

  • Conformal Fuel Tanks
  • Enhanced Performance Engines
  • Spherical Missile/Laser Warning
  • Enclosed Weapons Pod
  • Next Generation Cockpit
  • Internal IRST

that could be retrofitted to any Block II aircraft. The most interesting change is a stealth-configured weapon pod designed to accommodate a range of weapons, including four AMRAAMs, or a mix of two Mk82-class bombs and two AIM-120 missiles. The external pod would help to reduce the Super Hornet’s RCS (Radar Cross-Section) by removing missiles and bombs from external underwing pylons. Furthermore, the internal IRST (Infra-Red Search & Track) is another interesting upgrade. IRST offers a passive way to locate and target enemy aircraft – one that won’t trigger radar warning receivers. When coupled with medium-range IR missiles an IRST system offers a fighter both an extra set of medium-range eyes, and a stealthy air-to-air combat weapon. For instance, the Italian F-2000s are equipped with the IRST.
So far the systems that provide long range thermal imaging against air and ground targets was integraded in the Super Hornet in quite an unusual way: modifying a 480 gallon centerline fuel tank to carry 330 gallons of fuel + the IRST system. This approach would allow refits to 150 existing Super Hornets even if the drawback was that a centerline tank with IRST needed to stay on the airplane in combat, compromising its aerodynamic performance and radar signature (fuel tanks are often jettisoned in combat to improve manoeuvrability).

F-35C first flight (and heat and noise concerns…)

On Jun. 6, 2010, piloted by Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Jeff Knowles’, a retired Naval Aviator and test pilot who flew F-14As and F-14Ds operationally’ and who was also chief test pilot on the F-117 “Nighthawk” stealth fighter program, the F-35C Lightning II carrier variant performed its made its inaugural flight taking off from NAS (Naval Air Station) Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base at 11.46 A.M. LT. The aircraft performed a 57 minute flight that, according to Vice Adm. Thomas J. Kilcline’ Commander of Naval Air Forces marked “the beginning of a new chapter in Naval Aviation” as the new long-range’ stealthy’ carrier-based aircraft “will provide the Carrier Strike Group Commander with an unprecedented ability to counter a broad spectrum of threats and win in operational scenarios that the current legacy aircraft cannot address”.
The F-35C was specifically developed to fulfil the requirements of the US supercarriers and, as such, it has a larger wing and control surfaces for safe’ precise handling and low approach speeds, and additional structural strength for at-sea operations. Furthermore, the aircraft’ stealth materials are designed to withstand harsh carrier conditions with minimal maintenance. However, even future aircraft carriers will have to adapt to the new aircraft: the F-35C demands more launch energy than a “Rhino” (F/A-18E/F) and for this reason a new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (Emals) was developed and tested for the Ford-class nuclear ships. Emals is a part of a much more powerful electrical generation and distribution system than the predecessor
Nimitz-class ships that employed steam-energized services with 10 km of steam lines. With Emals, the future aircraft carriers will be able to launch the JSF at maximum weight with less wind-over-deck even if, with lower energy levels than those required by a steam catapult, it will be able to lauch also lightly loaded small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). Furthermore, the Ford-class will embody a new landing guidance system: the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (Jpals). Jpals is also associated with the F-35C, because the new aircraft’s reduced RCS (Radar Cross-Section) means that current radar-based autolanding systems could acquire it.
In the previous months, DoD Buzz  obtained some testing documents which raised serious questions about the effects of heat and noise from the F-35B on pilots and ships’ crews, on ship decks and on critical flight equipment.

Docs Say F-35B Too Hot, Noisy

By Colin Clark Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 3:44 pm
Posted in Air, International, Naval, Policy
UPDATED: Lockheed Says Test Data “Out of Date;” Hill Aide Responds
When the Marine Corps commandant says equipment he is buying for his people works and is safe, we listen. So when Gen. James Conway told us the vertical takeoff version of the Joint Strike Fighter was not too hot to damage carriers or amphibious ships and was not too loud to harm crews or communities, we listened. So did some folks on Capitol Hill and they questioned whether the Marine leadership was singing too sweet a song. Testing documents obtained by DoD Buzz, said by congressional sources to be the most recent available, raise serious questions about the effects of heat and noise from the F-35B on pilots and ships’ crews, on ship decks and on critical flight equipment. For example, an operational assessment of the JSF says that heat from the STOVL version may result in “severe F-35 operating restrictions and or costly facility upgrades, repairs or both.” The OT-IID report says “thermal management” will “increase the number of sorties required to prepare an operational unit for deployment during summer months” at most American bases. Overall, it rates basing as red: “unlikely to meet criteria — significant shortfall.”
Another document, a briefing chart rating the plane’s systems, rates as “red” flight operations noise “below deck and island structure” and “on the flight.” Direct exhaust “deck personnel burns” are rated red, as is “personnel blow down” and “off-gassing.” On top of that, the non-skid coating is rated red, as is the impact of the plane’s power systems on “spotting” and the plane’s outwash “on spotting of adjacent aircraft.” A congressional aide was biting in his reaction to Conway’s assurances that the plane was marginally hotter than the AV-8B Harrier and about as loud as existing planes.
“AV-8B and F-35B temperatures might be the same, but so far they haven’t shown anyone their data; plus, you have to look at it from the perspective of total kinetic energy of the engine thrust. AV-8B has a thrust rating of 23,000lbs, whereas an F-35B thrust rating is 41,000lbs. He’s comparing a cigar torch lighter to a blow torch. Additionally, he’s got other thermal issues he needs to worry about as well, like overheating avionics and cockpit temperatures,” the aide said. The testing report says that “continued cycling” of the engine for carrier takeoff raises “serious issues” because a pilot’s backup oxygen supply is depleted when the integrated power package (IPP) is disengaged to give the plane more thrust. Cutting off the IPP also means there is “potential that overheating of the radar and avionics may result.” On top of all that, temperatures inside the cockpit on the ground and in low altitude, high-speed fly “will be high,” more than 90 degrees even during a day when the mercury hits 59 degrees outside. That could “hamper pilot performance” during such missions. The congressional aide then went on to noise. “As for the noise issue, the concern is not in the aircraft flying pattern, the noise concern is for those onboard ship, both above and below deck that are going to have issues. If none of this is a concern, why is the risk matrix still red after developmental testing mitigations are removed?” the aide asked. We showed the documents to Winslow Wheeler, a top defense analyst at Washington’s Center for Defense Information. “The documentation makes extremely clear that the Navy and Marine Corps know they have a problem on their hands. But they don’t know the dimension of the problem and they don’t know how to address it. But the problem is very clear,” he said. Lockheed Martin spokesman John Kent responded to the story this morning, saying, without providing any documentation, that the documents “cited in your story are out of date and incorrect.The information presented in those documents was based on worst-case analysis before extensive testing of the actual F-35B aircraft was conducted during January through March 2010. Results of the aircraft testing show that the difference between F-35B main-engine exhaust temperature and that of AV-8B is very small and is not expected to require any significant CONOPS changes for F-35B.” Kent also said that the “noise data is wrong.” He cited testing conducted by the Air Force Research Laboratory in October 2008. However, that data pertains to the F-35A. That version of the plane was “found to be comparable to that of other high-performance jets — louder than some, quieter than others.” We showed the Lockheed comments to a congressional aide familiar with the data and the reaction was pointed, and skeptical: “Temperature may be the same, but at what force over time is the temperature being applied to the flight deck material and surfaces? The ‘extensive test results’ have not been provided to date. However, if that’s the case, then why was all the modeling and simulation of forecasted heating effects contained in the material incorrect, and why is the risk chart mostly red? Why is the test community very concerned about it in their [annual test] report? Why is the Naval Facilities Engineering Command concerned about it in how they build the VSTOL landing pads? What’s the temperature difference between AV-8B and V-22 engine exhaust, and why does V-22 require special landing mats aboard ship? Why does the Navy plan to not allow the Marine Corps to land F-35B aircraft on aircraft carriers?” As to noise levels, the congressional aide noted that the “test report was dated September 2009; the briefing was dated April 2009. If the test community was convinced by the April briefing, they wouldn’t have included the concern in their September 2009 report. ” Hopefully, we will get more details from Lockheed or the JPO. Those who know can provide data to us without any fingerprints. The congressional staff who spoke said they were concerned that the Marines are unwilling to address what could be fundamental problems for the fifth-generation STOVL plane and, one said, “are purposely disingenuous in their misrepresentation of facts.”

Deck and noise issues are not trivial. After visiting an aircraft carrier during blue-water ops I know that heat, gas, noise on and below the deck are extremely important since they influence the way people work (and, consequently, the way an aircraft carrier fights). It is not a problem of one landing but it is the repetitive type of retrievals that may get the steel deck hotter for hours since the last aircraft has recovered. Since the deck holds the heat for a long time this may cause the sailors shoe to melt onto the deck causing safety problems and serious injuries. Furthermore, since noice levels are already extremely high below the deck in both private rooms and quarters, undermining sailors possibility to rest, something that would be unproductive at war.

First F-35's STOVL propulsion system in-flight test video

The F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) currently deployed at NAS Patuxent River conducted the first of a series of planend STOVL propulsion system in flight tests that will include short takeoffs, hovers and vertical landings. Piloted by the F-35 Lead STOVL Pilot Graham Tomlinson of BAE Systems, the aircraft took off at 1:53 p.m. EST, climbed to 5,000 feet and engaged the shaft-driven LiftFan propulsion system at 210 knots (288 mph), then slowed to 180 knots (207 mph) with the system engaged before accelerating to 210 knots and converting back to conventional-flight mode. The STOVL propulsion system was engaged for a total of 14 minutes during the flight. The aircraft landed back at 2:41 p.m. EST. The testing campaign will continue in the next week. Progressively, the aircraft will fly slower, hovering and ultimately landing vertically. Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 program general manager, commented: “The joint F-35 industry and government team has already shown during extended ground tests that the STOVL propulsion system performs well, and thousands of hours of component testing has validated its durability. Now we are seeing early proof that the system operates in flight as our team predicted”.
The following video was released by Lockheed Martin and shows the aircraft engaging the LiftFan system while being chased by a Navy F-18B.

F-35 JSF: not an open source platform

I’ve recently read with much interest a Reuters news dealing with the software code that the controls the F-35. According to the article, a senior Pentagon program official has affirmed that no foreign partner will be granted access to the source code of the Joint Strike Fighter. Even if it is not clear which computer hosts such an important code, the 8 million lines software code (!) will not be made available to any of the 8 partners that have co-financed the F-35 development (Italy comprised) told Reuters Jon Schreiber, who heads the program’s international affairs. Instead, the US will set up a reprogramming facility, most probably at Eglin AFB in Florida, where F-35 software will be developed in order to provide the required upgrades.
New aircraft largely depend on software. The Italian Eurofighters are among them. The Italian Typhoon fleet is made by single seaters F-2000As and two seaters F-2000Bs in many different configurations: Block 1, 1B, 2, 2B, 5, 8 and 8B. Aircraft of different Blocks are much similar one another externally, as the main differences deal with the software releases. Functionalities evolve in terms of production software packages (PSPs): the manner in which the aircraft fight, employ the weapons, communicate and exchange data with other assets, largely depend on the PSP software version. However, “new” is not “better”: some of the aircraft hosting the old version of the software are more efficient and capable of the new aircraft coming with the “beta releases”, as the old software has been completely developed while the new one is in the early development stages. That’s why Italian Tranche 1 Typhoons are currently more mission capable of the recently delivered Tranche 2 examples.