We all know that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) present operational challenges, and making them into stealthy, tailless jets and asking them to do combat is even more challenging. But what about an unmanned stealthy tailless combat jet that must take off and land on an aircraft carrier?
F-35 Lightning II
Is Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter a “bomb truck,” optimized for the stealthy attack of ground targets but of limited value as a defender of airspace? Critics and rivals of the multibillion-dollar international program have been sniping at the F-35’s air-to-air maneuvering performance for years.
Although the Pentagon last month declared that it was increasing the early production tempo of the F-35, the decision to buy 30 aircraft next year does not actually change previous plans. Moreover, there is still no U.S. commitment to multi-year procurement (MYP) before 2015. Mindful of repeated criticism by the U.S.
Boeing has applied some stealth design principles to the F-15 Strike Eagle, and is marketing the modified aircraft for export as the F-15SE Silent Eagle. On the new model, the conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) already added to the F-15E are adapted to carry weapons internally and the vertical tails are canted outwards to reduce radar-cross section under certain conditions.
The Pentagon is increasing production of the General Atomics Predator and Reaper armed UAVs and withdrawing 250 strike aircraft. The long-awaited statement on the U.S. Fiscal Year 2010 budget by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates confirmed an end to F-22 production at 187 aircraft, offset by a slight advance in the pace of the F-35 program.
Saab reacted with vigor to a statement by the Norwegian government that the Gripen fighter was inferior to the Lockheed Martin F-35 JSF in most aspects of performance–and was also more expensive. Norway had been evaluating the Gripen NG (New Generation) as an alternative to the JSF, and Saab had high hopes of launching the NG version with the help of its Scandinavian neighbor.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has exceeded Mach 1 for the first time–a timely achievement after a recent Rand study suggested that the design lacked maneuverability for air-to-air combat. Lockheed Martin said that the Lightning II accelerated to Mach 1.05 with a full internal load of inert weapons–5,400 pounds–on November 13. The design top speed is Mach 1.6. The Rand study on Air Combat discussed the potential performance of U.S.
Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway are all formally investigating alternatives to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to replace their F-16s.
Ahead of schedule and under budget, Boeing delivered the first of an expected 85 operational models of its EF-18G Growler to the U.S. Navy in early June, followed by three more during July and August. Electronic attack squadron VAQ-129 based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, received the aircraft, which are expected to enter operational evaluation in September as the fleet readiness squadron fills out to five aircraft.
Yesterday’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter briefing turned into a celebration of the recent first flight of the F-35B STOVL version. The three customers for the new-generation jump jet (the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.K. and Italy) lined up to sing its praises. Test pilot Graham Tomlinson from BAE Systems was on hand to describe the maiden flight.