Tag Archives: F-22

F-35 Test Pilot Confirms: F-35 Is Useless In Dogfights, Can’t Beat the F-16

This author, along with several others, has been warning for a long time that the F-35 “Joint Strike Fighter” is decidedly inferior even to legacy aircraft, let alone to the latest Russian and Chinese jets and air defense systems.

This conclusion has been drawn from several publicly-known facts, including the F-35’s limited stealthiness, poor weapons payload, limited range and endurance, poor situational awareness, and lack of maneuverability (i.e. sluggishness).

But until this year, any debate about the F-35’s performance and capabilities was purely academic. It could have been conducted only based on paper data and the laws of physics.

That debate is no longer academic.

It has now been established, through realistic testing, that the F-35 is indeed so sluggish, so unmaneuverable, and offers such poor situational awareness to its pilot, that it’s hopelessly outmatched in a dogfight (i.e. close range combat) – even by the legacy aircraft it’s intended to replace. In fact, those “legacy aircraft” can run circles around it.

It has now been publicly released that in January of this year, an F-35 engaged in a simulated dogfight against an F-16 Block 40. To make matters harder for the F-16, it was burdened with two heavy fuel tanks, while the F-35 flew without any external stores, thus impairing the F-16’s maneuverability and increasing the F-35’s odds of victory.

Yet, the F-16 trashed the F-35. It proved far more maneuverable, and it repeatedly sneaked upon the F-35 without the latter’s pilot being aware, because his helmet is so big that he can’t move his head freely in the F-35’s small, cramped cockpit.

WarIsBoring‘s David Axe narrates (emphasis mine):

The fateful test took place on Jan. 14, 2015, apparently within the Sea Test Range over the Pacific Ocean near Edwards Air Force Base in California. The single-seat F-35A with the designation “AF-02” — one of the older JSFs in the Air Force — took off alongside a two-seat F-16D Block 40, one of the types of planes the F-35 is supposed to replace.

The two jets would be playing the roles of opposing fighters in a pretend air battle, which the Air Force organized specifically to test out the F-35’s prowess as a close-range dogfighter in an air-to-air tangle involving high “angles of attack,” or AoA, and “aggressive stick/pedal inputs.”

In other words, the F-35 pilot would fly his jet hard, turning and maneuvering in order to “shoot down” the F-16, whose pilot would be doing his own best to evade and kill the F-35.

“The evaluation focused on the overall effectiveness of the aircraft in performing various specified maneuvers in a dynamic environment,” the F-35 tester wrote. “This consisted of traditional Basic Fighter Maneuvers in offensive, defensive and neutral setups at altitudes ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 feet.”

At top and above — F-35s and F-16s. Air Force photos

The F-35 was flying “clean,” with no weapons in its bomb bay or under its wings and fuselage. The F-16, by contrast, was hauling two bulky underwing drop tanks, putting the older jet at an aerodynamic disadvantage.

But the JSF’s advantage didn’t actually help in the end. The stealth fighter proved too sluggish to reliably defeat the F-16, even with the F-16 lugging extra fuel tanks. “Even with the limited F-16 target configuration, the F-35A remained at a distinct energy disadvantage for every engagement,” the pilot reported.

The defeated flier’s five-page report is a damning litany of aerodynamic complaints targeting the cumbersome JSF.

“Insufficient pitch rate.” “Energy deficit to the bandit would increase over time.” “The flying qualities in the blended region (20–26 degrees AoA) were not intuitive or favorable.”

The F-35 jockey tried to target the F-16 with the stealth jet’s 25-millimeter cannon, but the smaller F-16 easily dodged. “Instead of catching the bandit off-guard by rapidly pull aft to achieve lead, the nose rate was slow, allowing him to easily time his jink prior to a gun solution,” the JSF pilot complained.

And when the pilot of the F-16 turned the tables on the F-35, maneuvering to put the stealth plane in his own gunsight, the JSF jockey found he couldn’t maneuver out of the way, owing to a “lack of nose rate.”


And to add insult to injury, the JSF flier discovered he couldn’t even comfortably move his head inside the radar-evading jet’s cramped cockpit. “The helmet was too large for the space inside the canopy to adequately see behind the aircraft.” That allowed the F-16 to sneak up on him.

In the end, the F-35 — the only new fighter jet that America and most of its allies are developing — is demonstrably inferior in a dogfight with the F-16, which the U.S. Air Force first acquired in the late 1970s.

The test pilot explained that he has also flown 1980s-vintage F-15E fighter-bombers and found the F-35 to be “substantially inferior” to the older plane when it comes to managing energy in a close battle.

None of this is any secret to those of us who are knowledgeable about military aircraft and the F-35 program. These issues have been publicly known since at least 2008, when Dr John Stillion and Scott Perdue – both veteran military pilots – released their damning report on the F-35, which, they complained, “Can’t Climb, Can’t Turn, Can’t Run.”

Sadly, the Pentagon and 8 allied defense departments/ministries completely ignored their warning and proceeded full speed ahead with the development and procurement of the F-35, while also killing the only 5th generation stealthy alternative to it available to the US – the much better (and now also cheaper) F-22 Raptor.

Now the US and eight of its allies are stuck with a useless, hyperexpensive jet that is decisively inferior even to legacy aircraft – including those it is designed to replace – to say nothing of modern Russian and Chinese fighters like the Su-27/30/33/35/J-11/15/16 Flanker/Sinoflanker family, the J-10 Vigorous Dragon, the PAK FA, the J-20, and the J-31. The USAF itself has recognized that the F-35 stands no chance of surviving combat against the latest Russian and Chinese fighters and is now developing a sixth-generation fighter.

But that aircraft will not be available for purchase until at least two decades from now. Yet, the US and its allies need new fighters to replace their worn-out aircraft now.

Luckily, there are several options available. The most cost-effective, from both a military and a fiscal standpoint, is the procurement of European Generation 4+ fighters – the Rafale, the Typhoon, or the Gripen.

Obviously, the US will not procure a foreign fighter, but other F-35 program participant countries should not slavishly follow Washington’s diktats. They are under no obligation to do so.

Procuring the Rafale, the Typhoon, or the Gripen would cost-effectively equip their air forces with a modern, capable fighter and allow them to protect their countries for decades to come, at an affordable cost to taxpayers. This is especially true of the Rafale.

Moreover, the Rafale’s manufacturer, Dassault Aviation, offers the best economic benefits (including offsets) to countries now shopping for fighters. For Canada, for instance, it has pledged a full transfer of technology and of intellectual property, and would probably build jets for the RCAF in Canada itself.

There is absolutely no reason for America’s F-35 partner nations to remain involved in that completely failed and utterly unaffordable program. These nations should bail out of that program ASAP.

A Dassault Rafale fighter taking off. Photo credit: Dassault Aviation/S. Randé

Why the F-35 is DECISIVELY inferior to all competitor fighters

Even though F-35 program cost overruns continue to mount and its numerous flaws are manifest, Lockheed Martin’s PR wing continues to spew propaganda in its defense. If BS were currency, they could pay down America’s national debt by themselves!

So let us recount why the F-35 is the worst fighterplane currently on the market.

The F-35 is, in short, totally unsuited for A2A, A2G, or CAS missions. In this article, I will focus only on the former type of mission.

Success in A2A combat is determined not by “stealthiness” and not by fancy gizmos, but by four factors which have been true throughout aviation history – with Mach 2. jetfighters as much as with WW1-era biplanes:

1) SURPRISE: Throughout aviation history, 65-80% of all fighter aircraft shot down went down without their pilots knowing what hit’em. It is therefore crucial to detect the enemy before he can detect us. Thus, the bigger and hotter an aircraft is, the more chance it stands of being detected by the enemy. Using one’s radar increases the risk of being detected to 100%, because American and Russian radar operate at totally different frequencies and pulse rates, and if you lock a radar-guided missile onto an enemy, he’ll know it thanks to his RWR and duck it (or launch countermeasures). Leaving smoke, like the F-4, F-15, and F-16 do, or contrails like the F-35 does, is an even deadlier giveaway.

2) NUMBERS: While a nation should not procure cheap but decisively inferior aircraft, being able to significantly outnumber the enemy is a great advantage. In WW2, 2,000 Allied prop fighters defeated 200-400 German jet-powered Me-262s. The F-35 is by far the most expensive fighter in the world, costs more to buy and operate than any other, and spends more time in maintenance than any other (50 hours for every hour flown – even more than the Rafale). Thus, even with a larger US military budget (which will only be cut, not increased, in the years to come), fewer aircraft can be bought and flown compared to competitor aircraft. The Rafale spends only 8 hours in maintenance for every hour flown; the Gripen, 9 hours; the Typhoon, 10 hours.

3) MANEUVERABILITY: The F-35 sorely lacks it, Michael’s false claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Even at 50% fuel + ammo, the F-35A has a mediocre (by today’s standards) thrust/weight ratio (1.07:1) and a very high wing loading ratio (526 kg/sq m, or 107.7 lb/sq ft – far higher than ANY other fighterplane on the market!)

At full fuel and ammo, the F-35A’s thrust/weight ratio drops down to a pathetic 0.87:1, and its wing loading ratio climbs to an absurdly high 745 kg/sq m!

ALL competitor aircraft, and all contemporary US fighters, have a MUCH lower WL ratio at full fuel than the F-35A does at 50% fuel + ammo! The wing loading ratios for these aircraft at full fuel are:
Rafale: 305 kg/sq m
F-16: 431 kg/sq m
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet: 459 kg/sq m
Su-27: 444.61 kg/sq m
Su-30: 468 kg/sq m
Sukhoi PAK FA: 444 kg/sq m
Chengdu J-10: 381 kg/sq m
MiG-29: 403 kg/sq m

All these aircraft have MUCH lower W/L ratios at FULL fuel than the F-35 does at 50% fuel!

Thrust/weight ratios:
a) At 50% fuel +ammo:
F-22 Raptor: 1.26:1
Rafale: 1.12:1
F-16C: 1.095:1
Chengdu J-10 (with the WS-10A engine): 1.095:1
MiG-29: 1.09:1
F-35A: 1.07:1

b) At full fuel + ammo:
Rafale: 0.988:1
F-35A: 0.87:1

No figures yet for the Shenyang J-31 – the future Chinese stealth fighter – but because it doesn’t have a STOVL fan, isn’t even designed for one, and doesn’t have room for one, we should assume it’s much lighter and much more maneuverable than the F-35.

Please note these are figures for the F-35A variant; the figures for the B and C variants are even worse.

A lower wing loading ratio, coupled with a higher T/W ratio, enables an aircraft to turn faster and easier. F-35 marketers’ claim that the F-35’s body generates lift is utter nonsense and only shows they know NOTHING about aircraft. In aviation, aircraft need LIFT to fly, and lift can ONLY be efficiently generated by wings – that’s why aircraft (and birds) have them.

To see how the above-mentioned fighters can easily outturn the F-35, one doesn’t have to be an aviation expert. A lay person can see that after watching these aircraft maneuver and compare them to the clumsily-turning F-35 turkey.

4) TRANSIENT MANEUVERING: The fourth key factor is transient maneuvering, that is, the ability to transition quickly from one maneuver to another. This is determined primarily by an aircraft’s raw weight. The heavier the aircraft, the harder it is for it to execute. The F-35 being one of the heaviest aircraft on the market, it is utterly uncompetitive in that regard.

Regarding LF radar, F-35 supporters are utterly wrong to claim that it’s inaccurate and doesn’t know where the F-35 is or how it’s flying, and he’s also utterly wrong to claim it can easily be jammed. Modern (and even late Cold War era) Russian and Chinese radar is VERY difficult to jam – and was explicitily built to be tough to jam. This is true even of their LF radar, but even more so of their HF and VHF counter-stealth radar, which can easily detect and track down an F-35 (and even an F-22, but the Raptor is fast enough to avoid being shot down by simply running away fast; the slow F-35 turkey doesn’t have that option).

F-35 supporters are also dead wrong when he claims the F-35 is stealthy in many frequencies and from all directions. It isn’t. It was never even designed or intended to be. It’s stealthy ONLY in the frontal section, and only in the X, and to a lesser extent the S and K/Ku, radar bands. It’s absolutely not stealthy in any radar band – or even in those radar bands from any aspect but the front.

An aircraft’s stealthiness (low observability to radar) is determined in 95% by shaping and only in 5% by radar-absorbent materials. An aircraft has to be shaped properly to be stealthy – no bumps, no fat bellies, no radar-reflecting curves. The F-35 has a round donut-shaped engine exhaust nozzle and a deeply-sculpted belly – perfect radar return points. By contrast, the F-117, the B-2, and the F-22 all have flat underbellies and slit engine exhaust nozzles.

Claims that the F-35’s engine exhaust nozzle is somehow stealthy are utterly false. No matter the fuel flow system and the materials, it still “exhales” a HUGE amount of heat produced by the engine and is NOT LO to radar because of its shape – a perfect radar wave returner. This only increases the F-35’s already huge thermal signature resulting from its size, energy consumption, and all the heavy, exquisite gizmos it carries (the APG-81 radar, the EOTS, etc.)

And no, the F-35’s critics are not all laypeople. Among them are fighter pilots like John Stillion, Scott Perdue, and WGCR Chris Mills. As for Dr Carlo Kopp, whom the F-35 lobby has attacked here ad hominem, he’s a world-recognized expert on Russian fighters and air defense systems, and his knowledge of these is encyclopaedic.

Last but certainly not least, it is idiotic to spend $400 bn on a short-ranged tactical aircraft that can barely carry 4 small bombs internally when ALL US forward bases are within easy range of enemy ballistic and cruise missiles, as are carriers in the Persian Gulf and within at least 1,700 kms of China’s shore. That money would be better invested developing and procuring the Long Range Strike Bomber, the Virginia class of submarines with the Virginia Payload Module, laser missile defense systems, Prompt Global Strike weapons, the UCLASS drone, and hardening American and allied bases.

Smacking the J-20 threat deniers and Robert Gates apologists

In January 2011, China first flew its first stealthy fighter, the J-20. Days before, Air Power Australia experts Dr Carlo Kopp and Peter Goon conducted a holistic technical analysis of it, followed by a more thorough techno-industrial-military-strategy analysis which assessed not only the J-20’s capabilities, but also its usefulness and potential missions in light of these capabilities. They concluded (emphasis added):

The Chengdu J-XX [J-20] thus represents a techno-strategic coup by China, and if deployed in large numbers in a mature configuration, a genuine strategic coup against the United States and its Pacific Rim allies. The development of the Chengdu J-XX [J-20] represents an excellent case study of a well thought out “symmetrical techno-strategic response” to the United States’ deployment of stealthy combat aircraft, which no differently to the United States’ play in the late Cold War and post Cold War period, elicits a disproportionate response in materiel investment to effectively counter.

The only US design with the kinematic performance, stealth performance and sensor capability to be able to confront the J-20 [J-XX] with viable combat lethality and survivability is the F-22A Raptor, or rather, evolved and enhanced variants of the existing configuration of this aircraft.

The US Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is outclassed in every respect, and would be as ineffective against a mature J-XX [J-20] as it is against the F-22A Raptor.

All variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be equally so outclassed, assuming this failed project even progresses to any kind of actual production.

All US Air Force, US Navy and allied legacy fighters are outclassed in much the same manner, and are ineffective kinematically and in sensor capability against this class of threat system.

From the perspectives of both technological strategy and military grand strategy, the J-XX [J-20] is the final nail in the coffin of the utterly failed “Gates recapitalisation plan” for United States and allied tactical fighter fleets. Apologists for the “Gates fighter recapitalisation plan” will no doubt concoct a plethora of reasons as to why the J-XX [J-20] should be ignored, as they did exactly one year ago when the Russians unveiled the T-50 PAK-FA stealth fighter.

Those last words were prophetic.

Shortly after the J-20 first flew, a large group of pseudo-experts – some supporters of deep defense cuts with an agenda to deny and downplay threats to America, others being delusional megalomaniacs who don’t believe America could ever lose its military edge to other countries – began an unyielding spin campaign (which continues to this day) of downplaying the J-20’s capabilities, utility, impact, and prospects for production, and thus downplaying it as a threat to US air superiority.

But in doing so, they displayed their ignorance of defense issues, including the facts about the J-20. So, using Kopp’s and Goon’s work as the primary source, I’ll state the facts here (in a condensed version compared to the lengthy analysis Kopp and Goon have written) and refute some of the false claims made by deniers to downplay the J-20.

What are the J-20’s characteristics?

Little is known for sure about the J-20 in open literature, but it is known that the J-20 is a 70 ft long, twin engined Mach 2 class capable aircraft with long wings, large weapon bays, and quite likely, a large fuel load and much room for capability growth. Moreover, as images and videos of it revealed, its designers followed all the cardinal rules of stealth design (including stealth shaping) – and, as experts like to say, stealthiness depends on “shaping, shaping, shaping, and materials”. There are no surfaces that allow an easy radar wave return, not even its canards, which improve its aerodynamic performance and make it even more efficient in supersonic flight than it would be without canards. It’s clear that the J-20 was designed in accordance with the stealth shaping rules employed by the Raptor’s designers.

What are its capabilities?

Based on what is known for sure and on the known capabilities and utilities of similar aircraft, the J-20 will be capable of a wide number of roles, including medium range bombing, long range interception, air superiority, escort of other aircraft, AWACS/tanker killing, long range recon, electronic attack, and anti-satellite attack. In other words, missions of which the F-15 and the F-22 are also capable (except EW, which they can’t do).

Basically, a fighter/attack jet with the fuel load, efficient engines and design, range, and payload as large as the J-20’s gives you the capability to strike a lot of targets out to the Second Island Chain and conduct the full range of the above-listed missions by virtue of that range and payload as well as the J-20’s stealthiness, albeit some of them, such as recon, would require a specialized variant.

What are the deniers’ claims?

The deniers claim, inter alia, that:

  1. The J-20 lacks engines sufficient to power this plane; Russian AL-31F engines, even their 117S variant, are insufficient, and the Chinese are not capable of producing sufficiently powerful engines themselves.
  2. The J-20’s canards are inconsistent with being stealthy (i.e. with a very low radar signature).
  3. The J-20 will be primarily a bomber, not a fighter.
  4. The J-20 is unlikely to enter service in the stated 2017-2019 timeframe because the F-22 took over 15 years to develop and field, and so will the F-35.
  5. It’s unlikely that more than a few hundred J-20s and more than a few hundred Sukhoi T-50 PAKFAs will be produced, while the US will, by the 2030s, have 2,600 F-22s and F-35s.
  6. The J-20 has traditional, round engine nozzles and no thrust vectoring places.
  7. The J-20 is 70 feet long, “big for a fighter”, claims defense issues ignoramus David Axe.
  8. Chinese fighters are low-grade copies of Russian fighters.

I’ll refute each of these false claims in turn:

  1. The J-20’s engines are sufficient to power this plane. How do we know? Because it already has flown multiple times and hasn’t crashed. It’s as simple as that. Moreover, the Russian AL-31F 117S engines (originally designed for, and used on, Su-35 fighters) that were probably supplied for it are sufficient to power it fully – just not to extract its full potential, as Kopp and Goon have stated. A single AL-41F117S engine provides 142 kN (31,900 lb) of thrust; since the J-20 is a twin-engine fighter, you can double that to 284 kN. But if you think that’s not enough thrust, fear not. Vladimir Putin, who seems to be hell-bent on harming the US in every we he can and to harbor irrational hatred toward America (he blames all of Russia’s problems on the US), will be quite happy to supply NPO Saturn (formerly Lyulka) AL-31F and AL-41F engines to the Chinese, who are now testing their own supersonic, thrust-vector-control WS-10G engine, and have pre-G variants of the WS-10 already in service on their J-10, J-11, and J-15 fighters*. By the time the J-20 enters service (2017-2019), the WS-10G will almost certainly be ready for use. A single WS-10G engine produces 155 kN (35,000 lb) of thrust; double that for a twin-engine fighter. (WS stands for Woshan, which simply means a “turbofan engine” in Chinese.)
  2. The J-20’s canards are not inconsistent with stealth performance, and neither is any part of the J-20’s planform. Moreover, the canards are only a stopgap measure used on J-20 prototypes and are unlikely to be used on final design aircraft.
  3. The J-20 will be every bit as much a fighter as it will be a bomber.  Its large size does not inhibit it in any way from being a capable fighter, and its large weapon and fuel loads will actually come in handy in A2A combat. They will also be useful for the interceptor role. The F-22 is a large fighter like the J-20, and larger than the F-35 – yet it’s the one optimised for air superiority, while the F-35 is optimised for ground attack.
  4. The long development time of the F-22 and the F-35 is the result of DOD bureaucracy, tons of overregulation, 40 committees setting (and changing) requirements, and, in the F-35’s case, misdesign and inefficiency of the US defense industry. The idea that China’s highly efficient defense industry is unable to quickly develop and produce next-gen weapons just because the US defense industry is so inefficient is absurd. Even Bill Sweetman admits that: “I would submit that the simplistic approach—comparing this aircraft to the YF-22 or X-35 and therefore projecting an (Initial Operating Capability) well beyond 2020—is philosophically wrong, dangerous and stupid.” Even David Axe admits that (and thus contradicts himself): “China has proved capable of producing new weapons quickly and in large numbers. Beijing’s Type 022 missile boat, designed for coordinated attacks on US aircraft carriers, first appeared in 2004. Just three years later, the Chinese navy possessed a whole flotilla of 40 Type 022s.”
  5. Any idea that the Chinese or the Russians, once they field their 5th generation stealth fighters, will suicidally stop producing them at a few hundred aircraft is absurd, ridiculous, foolish, and naive. The Russians, in fact, plan to produce hundreds of them, and India plans to produce further hundreds. China’s production figures are unknown, but Kopp and Goon – two credible analysts – say China will likely produce “hundreds”. Indeed, striking so many bases and shooting down so many aircraft in the Western Pacific will force China to produce many hundreds. Furthermore, the Air Force Association projects that the J-20 will be produced “in quantities rivalling F-35 production estimates.” China, India, and Russia can clearly afford to do so, because 1) in those countries, $1 can buy much more than in America; and 2) these 5th generation fighters will be relatively cheap, costing well below $100 mn per copy. Furthermore, both fighters will be exported and be available to anyone able to pay for them. Vietnam is likely to be the first non-Indian export customer. Meanwhile, what is America doing? It has killed the F-22 at just 187 aircraft. The F-35 has been delayed many times and won’t achieve IOC until the late 2010s – maybe 2016, maybe 2017, maybe 2018, maybe 2019, maybe never. The entire program may not survive the next few years (and will certainly be killed if sequestration goes through). Orders for it have been cut and may be cut further even if the program survives. Furthermore, America’s Pacific allies may withdraw from the F-35 program (if it isn’t killed), and they plan to procure no more than ~150 of them. (Only two are F-35 customers: Australia and Japan.) So it’s quite likely that when the PAKFA and the J-20 achieve IOC, America’s only 5th generation fighters will be its F-22s. Any projection of 2,600 fighters by the 2030s is wildly speculative and will likely be proven wrong.
  6. This is technically true, but only of the prototypes. It’s important to remember that the aircraft examples of the J-20 we’ve seen so far are prototypes, and that final design aircraft will likely have all of these problems solved. We should not delude ourselves that the Chinese won’t do that and don’t know about these issues.
  7. The J-20 is not too big for a fighter, although it is certainly large – about the size of an F-111. However, its size likely won’t prevent it from being a successful fighter; otherwise, the F-22 couldn’t be, as it is significantly larger than the F-35. The J-20’s size will likely be a strength, not a weakness: it will allow for a large fuel and weapon load, necessary for long range interception and air dominance missions, similar to an F-15, which has an unrefueled combat radius of 1,967 kms. The J-20 can serve as a long range interceptor, air superiority fighter, and theater strike aircraft without modifications, and its large size makes it “a natural candidate for lateral evolution” into the reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and ASAT missile-launching aircraft roles, as AirPowerAustralia rightly says.
  8. This is utterly false. Modern Chinese fighters are high-quality aircraft and are, in most respects, superior to the F-15, not to mention, of course, the F-16, the F/A-18 Bug, and the Super Bug. Once again, defense cutters are deluding the American people into a false sense of security. When the J-20 enters service, it will render every Western fighter except the F-22 and the F-35 irrelevant, impotent, and useless.

In sum, the deniers’ claims – like their other claims about the capabilities and weapons of America’s adversaries, also designed to downplay and deny threats to America – are a mixture of lies, speculations, rosy projections, delusions of grandeur and invincibility, and delusions of unchangeable inferiority of adversaries. During the Cold War, many people harbored similar views about the Soviets, claiming they were inferior people who couldn’t produce any high-quality weapons, even though they often designed and produced weapons superior to their American counterparts. Today, many people harbor similar views about the Chinese and the Russians, even though Chinese and Russian defense industries have already absorbed the most modern Western technology (freely available in this globalized economy) and have already produced high-quality weapons superior to their American counterparts.

David Axe mocks those of us who warn about the J-20 thus:

“(…) the Cope India incident marked the birth of a theme—that America could no longer reliably win battles in the sky.

It’s a theme that’s never fully faded. In the summer of 2009, Gates ordered the US Air Force to stop purchasing F-22s after the 187th copy, and instead channel funding into the planned fleet of 2,400 F-35s. This switch made the United States ‘less safe,’ in the words of Michael Goldfarb, a writer for the conservative Weekly Standard. ‘This is also a very good day for the ChiComs,’ Goldfarb wrote of the F-22’s termination, using a slang term for ‘Chinese Communist.’

Six months later, the T-50 flew for the first time. Once the plane is fully deployed in squadron strength, ‘the United States will no longer have the capability to rapidly impose air superiority, or possibly even achieve air superiority,’ Kopp and Goon wrote. Goldfarb, for his part, again declared the ‘end of air supremacy’ for the United States.

Yet a year later, the T-50 has flown only a few times and there are apparently no serious plans in place for mass production.”

Aside from the fact that there are plans for T-50 mass production in both Russia and India, with about 1000 aircraft to be ordered by those two countries alone, the fact is that the threat deniers have repeatedly been proven wrong, and they will likely be proven wrong again when the J-20 enters service; and the J-20 IS a gamechanger. The J-20 will, for the reasons stated here and here, be decisively superior to the F-35 and to all legacy aircraft, including the F-15, the F-16, the Bug, and the Super Bug.  So will the T-50. Thus, unless the US resumes the production of F-22s on a large scale, it WILL lose air superiority someday. So yes, killing the F-22 made the US less safe, and the day it happened was a good day for China and Russia. It’s no coincidence that the Kremlin’s propaganda network in the US, RussiaToday, hailed that decision and downplayed the J-20: the Russians gladly welcome everything that weakens America’s defense.

When you kill the weapon systems needed to win wars, that DOES weaken America’s defense, jeopardize US national security, and create the risk of losing wars – or, in fighters’ case, losing air superiority, which is the sine qua non of any successful war.

The fact is that Kopp, Goon, and Goldfarb were and are absolutely right, and the threat deniers are absolutely wrong. Instead of continuing to blather nonsense and further spout their ignorant garbage, they should stop pontificating on issues they know nothing about and admit they were wrong about the J-20 and the PAKFA.

Pierre Sprey’s ridiculous, wildly optimistic claims about the F-16 debunked

Pierre Sprey, the co-designer (with Harry Hillaker) of the F-16, continues, to this day, to extol the virtues of his brainchild and deride newer, better fighters (American and foreign) such as the F-22 and the Flanker family. In 2009, he ridiculously claimed that:

“The Su-30MK is simply another modification of the Su-27, a not-very-high-performing Russian imitation of our F-15 that had its prototype flight in 1977. The new version is significantly heavier and has poorer dogfight acceleration and turn than the original, mainly because of all the weighty and draggy gadgetry (e.g., canards, vectored thrust nozzles) added to allow these spectacular maneuvers [performed at airshows – ZM].

The more of these turkeys the Russkies sell, the longer the now-ancient F-16 (designed in 1972) will reign supreme as the world’s best fighter. And the less reason we will have to buy F-22s at $355 million each.”

Sounds very optimistic and bullish. But are Flankers “turkeys” and is the F-16 “the world’s best fighter” as Sprey claims? Absolutely not.

In this analysis, I will repeat some of what I said in September in rebuke to Sprey’s similar claims and add new information.

The F-16 is decisively inferior to all Flanker variants, including the Su-27, Su-30, Su-33, J-11, and Su-35. This is for a number of reasons.

In BVR combat, its inferior radar and missiles of inferior range, combined with its significantly inferior speed of Mach 2.0 (compared to Mach 2.25 and Mach 2.35 for the newest Flanker variants) and combat ceiling (60,000 feet versus 62,000 feet for the Su-35) would get it killed. If you have a superior radar, missiles of superior range, and can increase their nominal range still further by flying faster and higher than the enemy, you get a first look, first shot, first kill capability, and that makes you a winner.

If it comes to close combat, you will win if your fighter is better kinematically and aerodynamically, i.e. has better thrust/weight, thrust loading, and wing loading ratios than the competition. You also need to have a faster fighter which can egress safely out of the fight if need be.

Why does this matter? Because in air-to-air combat, victory is determined first and foremost by who can enter and egress from the fight with impunity, and who can acquire and hit the enemy first (i.e. first-shot capability). If you don’t have these capabilities, you will inevitably lose.

The F-16 flies far lower and far slower than the F-22 or its foreign competitors, with at a top speed of just Mach 2.0 and even that on a heat-emitting afterburner (compared to the F-22’s Mach 2.25 top speed, its supercruise ability, and its slit, stealthy engines). It cannot egress from the fight safely if it runs out of missiles. It would be easily chased, tracked, and shot down by the F-22 or by enemy aircraft.

The F-22, with its AIM-120D AMRAAM missiles and its APG-77 AESA radar, can have a first-look and first-shot capability, shoot down its enemies or, if it runs out of missiles, egress from the fight safely, quickly and undetected. It can engage and disengage at the pilot’s wish.

But of course, the F-16 won’t be fighting against the F-22. It will be fighting (if at all) against enemy aircraft such as the Flanker, the PAKFA, and the J-20. So let’s compare the old, 1970s’ vintage F-16 fighter to these modern Russian and Chinese aircraft:

The metric          F-16      Su-35S           J-11                       PAKFA          J-20           Su-30        Su-33
Dry thrust (kN)          76.3       86.3×2     89.17×2           N/A          74.5×2       74.5×2
Thrust w/afterburner (kN)           127        142×2     129.4×2                     157+x2           180         122.5×2     125.5×2
Max speed (Mach)               2          2.25          2.35                            2+               2                  2          2.17
Combat radius (km)           550            NA             NA                            NA         2000                NA             NA
Service ceiling (ft)        50000        59100        62523                        65600        65617           56800
Rate of climb (m/s)           254         280+           300                           350           N/A               230            246
Wing loading (kg/m2)           431           408           385                    330-470           N/A               401            483
Thrust/weight ratio     1.095:1         1.1:1       1.04:1                       1.19:1           N/A              0.98          0.83
Number of weapons carried (max)             11             12             10  4 internal, 6 external           N/A                 12              12
Supercruise             No           Yes             No                           Yes           N/A                No             No
Range (mi)           N/A          3600         2070                           N/A         3418             3000          1864
Internal fuel capacity (lb)           N/A                        22711
G limit               9                               9               9             8+

As you can clearly see from the table, the newest Russian and Chinese designs (with the partial exception of the Su-30 and Su-33) outmatch the F-16 by almost every criterion, including dry thrust, thrust with afterburner, thrust/weight ratio, wing loading (a lower one is better), service ceiling, top speed, rate of climb, and, in most cases, the number of weapons carried. Furthermore, the only A2A missiles American fighters carry today are the radar-guided BVR AIM-120 and AIM-7 missiles and the infrared guided AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. The US currently has no long-range (BVR) IR or passive anti-radiation missiles, while Russia and China do. Thus, a Flanker, PAKFA, or J-20 could launch mixed waves of radar-guided, infrared-guided, and passive anti-radiation BVR and then WVR missiles at the F-16, making sure that if one missile fails to kill the F-16, another missile will.

And the F-16 cannot prevail in WVR combat. For a dogfighter, the F-16 has an usually high (by modern standards) wing loading of 431 kg/sq meter, a low T/W ratio of 1.095:1 (compared to 1.19:1 for the PAKFA and 1.1:1 for the Su-35S), and a poor rate of climb (just 254 m/s). The J-11’s wing loading is just 385 kgs/m2, the Su-35’s is 408, the Su-30’s is 401, and the PAKFA’s will be only 330 kgs/m2.

The only advantages it has over some of these aircraft is that it can carry a grand total of 1 weapon more than the J-11 or the PAKFA, and it has a better T/W ratio and a better wing loading ratio than the Su-30 and the Su-33 (i.e. two older Flanker variants). Still, it is inferior, by most counts, to these aircraft as well.

For WVR combat, aircraft agility (determined by the T/W ratio, wing loading, and drag) is of supreme importance. And by that standard, the F-16 is inferior to all comers (except the Su-33, found only on Russia’s Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier).

Moreover, the Flankers’ thrust vector control engine nozzles and canards actually improve their agility and turning capability instead of inhibiting it.

Furthermore, the F-16 is not stealthy, while the PAKFA and the J-20 are, and has no supercruise ability, while the Su-35 and the PAKFA do, and the J-20 likely will (especially if Russian Saturn type AL-31F117S, Lyulka AL-41F, or Woshan WS-10G engines are used; it has been alleged that the Russians supplied AL-31F117s engines for J-2o prototypes).

A few years ago, AirPowerAustralia subjected the F-35 (the F-16’s planned successor) to a comparison with the Su-35S. In all categories, the F-35 was rated equal or inferior to the Sukhoi. If you substitute the F-16 for the F-35 and know the Fighting Falcon’s characteristics, you’ll know that the F-16 is just as inferior to the Su-35S, for the reasons already stated, including: lower top speed, lower combat ceiling, inferior missiles, inferior turning capability, lack of capability to outturn enemy missiles, a smaller missile load, inferior countermeasures, a vastly inferior radar (with just 1000 modules), lack of capability to safely egress from a fight, etc. Just compare the F-16 to the Su-35S and you’ll realize this. In fact, in 2008, APA did compare the F-16 (and all other Western fightertypes) against the Flanker family, and found that the F-16 is decisively inferior and the only Western fighter capable of defeating the Flanker family is the F-22.

Nor does it surprise anyone who is not biased and is knowledgeable about combat aircraft: the F-16 was NOT designed to compete with the Flanker family. It was designed to act as a battlefield interdictor and to defeat 3rd and early 4th generation Soviet fighters such as the MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-25, and early MiG-29 models. Defeating Su-27s or Su-30s was not its intended task; and these older Flanker models are not actually representative of the air threat facing America today. Newer Flanker variants, such as the Su-35S and the J-11, are.

Very simply, the F-16 is no match for the F-22 – or for the adversary aircraft it would encounter today (or tomorrow) if it were to engage in WVR or BVR combat. It would be easily shot down by these aircraft. The introduction of the Flanker, in its many variants, already made the F-16 obsolete and irrelevant, but the induction of the PAKFA and the J-20 into service will make it totally obsolete, irrelevant, impotent, and useless against anyone except insurgents.

UPDATE: On April 1st, 2013, the USAF deployed F-22s to the Korean Peninsula for the second time in three years, proving that they’re far from being useless hangar queens.

Why the F-22 is superior to all competitor aircraft

Of all the blatant lies the F-22’s ignorant critics have stated about it, probably the most ridiculous one is that it’s inferior to competitor aircraft. This is downright laughable, given that, according to numerous experts from AirPowerAustralia analysts to dozens of USAF generals (many of whom have flown the F-22 themselves) to currently serving F-22 pilots (including the two guys who appeared on 60 Minutes to warn about its oxygen problems), the F-22 is the best fighter in the world.

So who’s right? Is the F-22 superior or inferior to its competitors? Let’s find out ourselves.

But before we do, let’s consider what actually makes a good fighterplane and gives it an edge in combat.

Answer: a lot of things. In order to be survivable and lethal, a fighterplane must consist of many superlative elements which, only if applied together, make a great fighter. There is no silver bullet. Stealthiness alone does not make a great fighter, and neither does agility alone.

A good fighterplane needs the following:

  • Superlative aerodynamic and kinematic performance (which means, among other things, a high thrust/weight ratio, a decent wing loading ratio, ability to sustain high Gs, high speed, high maximum altitude, and good climbing capability). This can be enabled only by a properly shaped and built airframe with powerful twin engines. The F-22 has an unrivalled thrust/weight ratio of 1.26:1, a low wing loading ratio of 375 kg/sq meter, the lowest thrust loading ratio on the market (excluding the F-15), and engines that enable it to climb quickly, achieve a 65,000 combat ceiling, and fly at speeds of up to Mach 2.25, i.e. more than twice the speed of sound. Even without afterburners, it can supercruise, i.e. fly at supersonic speeds of up to Mach 1.8 without using its afterburners. Furthermore, its engines have Thrust Vector Control capability, allowing it to turn easily.
  • A superlative radar. The F-22 has the excellent APG-77 AESA radar with 1500 modules, and this radar is rated by AirPowerAustralia as superior to those of all competitors, American and foreign.
  • A respectable weapon payload. In stealthy mode, the F-22 can carry 8 air-to-air missiles. In the nonstealthy mode, it can carry 12.
  • Lethal weapons. The F-22 can carry the AIM-120D AMRAAM, whose maximum range is over 180 kms (better than any other A2A missile except the K-172 and the R-37), and the infrared guided AIM-9X Sidewinder, the newest and most capable variant of the proven Sidewinder missile.
  • A low radar signature, and thus, high survivability. The F-22’s RCS is 0.0001 sq m, thus making it undetectable to all modern radar; futhermore, its thermal signature is also low due to its slit, stealthy engine nozzles and its ability to supercruise (which means there’s no need to use afterburners).
  • The ability to engage and disengage opponents at will. The F-22 has that ability, with its combination of stealthiness, long-range radar, long-range missiles, and supercruise capability. It gets the first look ad the first shot, and if it runs out of missiles, begins running out of fuel, or is in danger, it can egress out of the fight and come back home safely.
  • Experienced, skilled pilots. The F-22 is flown by the best, most skilled, most experienced pilots of the USAF.
  • A gun to be able to prevail in close combat if it runs out of missiles. The F-22, like other American fighters, has a 20mm Gatling gun that can spit hundreds of rounds per minute.

In short, it needs to be able to prevail in both BVR and WVR combat. In the first case, missile range (which can be enhanced with higher speed and altitude), accuracy, radar range and tracking capability, and stealthiness are essential. In the second combat regime, aircraft agility and maneuverability and pilot skills/experience are essential. While historically most air combat has occurred, and (excepting Desert Storm) most kills have been scored, in Within Visual Range Combat, a good fighterplane needs to be proficient at both.

The good news is that the F-22 excels at both.

Now let’s look at how the F-22 compares to foreign competitor aircraft in Beyond Visual Range and Within Visual Range combat.

Below is a table comparing the F-22’s cardinal parameters to those of its competitors:

The metric                         F-22      Su-35S          J-11                       PAKFA          J-20            Su-30
Dry thrust (kN)                       104×2       86.3×2     89.17×2                           N/A           74.5×2
Thrust w/afterburner (kN)                       156×2        142×2     129.4×2                     157+x2          180           127.5×2
Max speed (Mach)                          2.25          2.25          2.35                            2+              2                     2
Combat radius (km)                           759            NA             NA                            NA         2000                  N/A
Service ceiling (ft)                       65000        59100        62523                        65600       65617              56800
Rate of climb (m/s)                           N/A         280+            300                           350                 230
Wing loading (kg/m2)                           375           408            385                    330-470                 401
Thrust/weight ratio                          1.26         1.1:1       1.04:1                       1.19:1              0.98:1
Number of weapons carried (max) 8  internal, 4 external             12             10  4 internal, 6 external                   12
Supercruise                          Yes           Yes            No                           Yes                  No
Range (mi)         3600         2070                           N/A         3418                3000
Internal fuel capacity (lb)                       18000                        22711
Longest missile range (km)                           180
G limit                              9                               9              9                     9

As you can see, the F-22 leads all comers in almost all criteria. It has a decisively superior thrust/weight ratio, is much faster than any competitor but the J-11, can fly higher than anyone else but the PAKFA, has a lower wingloading ratio than anyone else, and can carry 8 A2A missiles internally, while the PAKFA can conceal only four, and all others can carry weapons only externally.

What do those parameters mean?

In BVR combat, the F-22 would get a “first look, first kill capability”, itself being stealthy yet armed with a very powerful radar and with AIM-120D missiles whose nominal range is over 180 kms and can be increased further by flying at high altitudes and speeds. Whoever gets such capability, wins.

But let’s assume that all or most AIM-120Ds miss and the enemy makes it close to the Raptors, thus initiating close combat. What then?

The F-22 still leads all comers with its superior thrust/weight ratio, lower thrust loading ratio compared to anyone else, lower wing loading ratio than anyone else’s, and thrust vectoring capability (which only the Su-35 currently shares; the PAKFA and the J-20 will likely have it as well, especially if both are fitted with AL-31F or AL-41F engines). A 2008 study by John Stillion and Scott Perdue concluded that only the F-22 and the F-15 are agile enough to compete with enemy fighters (and found both of them superior to competitors), but the F-15 lacks TVC capability, while the F-22 has it.

Furthermore, if any of these opponents exposes his rear end to any F-22 for any reason whatsoever, he will be shot down easily, as his classic superhot engine exhaust nozzles make a perfect target for the F-22’s heatseeking AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles. This wouldn’t work against the F-22, which has slit, stealthy engine exhaust nozzles.

And if the F-22 runs out of missiles and gun rounds, or is in danger for any reason, it can egress out of combat and return home safely. Its opponents cannot, owing due to their classic engine exhaust nozzles and lower speed than the F-22’s.

F-22 critic and defense cuts supporter Pierre Sprey, who co-designed the F-16 fighter and is so wedded to this anachronic aircraft, wants the USAF to fly it instead of the F-22 and claims that it’s better at air superiority than the Raptor. WarIsBoring.com says that

“Sprey, a long-time critic of a military bureaucracy that consistently produces bigger, heavier and more expensive aircraft that can be bought only in limited quantities, now is poking holes in the Air Force’s rationale for wanting more F-22 stealth fighters.”

But Sprey is poking holes in nothing except the F-16’s clothes. The rationale for more F-22s is sound. The F-22 may be bigger and heavier, but it’s irrelevant given that it has a far better thrust/weight ratio than any other contemporary or projected fighter – American, European, Russian, or Chinese (except maybe the J-20, itself being a large, heavy fighter). This is because the F-22’s engines give it thrust that give the F-22 its superior T/W ratio of 1.26:1. By contrast, the Russian PAKFA “Raptorski” T/W ratio is 1.19:1, the Eurofighter Typhoon’s is only 1.15:1, the F-15’s is 1.12:1, and the F-16’s is a pathetic, laughable 1.095:1.

As for being expensive, the F-22 would’ve been far cheaper if the planned 600 Raptors were bought, instead of only 187, which precluded economies of scale. Even so, an F-22 is a far better investment than an obsolete F-15 or F-16.

The F-16 is decisively inferior to, and the F-15 offers, at best, parity against, the Flanker family, a topic which will be discussed in more detail later.

In summation, the F-22 is decisively superior to all competitors in beyond and within visual range combat, while legacy US aircraft are inferior. The DOD should reverse its decision to terminate F-22 production.

Rebuttal of Tom Coburn’s lies about defense spending

Tom Coburn’s newest book, the Debt Bomb, has recently been published. In that book, Coburn suggests many useful fiscal reforms and savings… except when it comes to defense spending.

Coburn, who is an anti-defense libertarian and not a conservative, is an ardent opponent of defense spending per se, and in his drive to deeply cut (and thus gut) America’s defense, he’s made up a litany of blatant lies that he wrote into Chapter 13 of his book, wrongly titled Defense: Peace Through Strength Through Streamlining.

The title is misleading because what Coburn actually advocates is not peace through strength, but peace through weakness, and the spending cuts he advocates go far beyond streamlining. He advocates massive cuts to actual military capabilities. He calls on Congress to implement the disastrous defense cuts proposals he has made in his ridiculous “Back to Black” plan. To reiterate:

1) Cutting spending on the nuclear arsenal and the arsenal of means of delivery by $7.9 bn per year, i.e. $79 bn over a decade, for purely budgetary reasons, by:
a) cutting the nuclear stockpile down to the inadequate levels allowed by the disastrous New START treaty (former SECDEF James Schlesinger deems them “barely adequate”);
b) cutting the ICBM fleet from 500 to 300 missiles (i.e. by a whopping 200 missiles);
c) cutting the SSBN fleet from from 14 to 11 subs;
d) delaying, again, for purely budgetary reasons, the Next Generation Bomber program until the mid-2020s when it hasn’t even been allowed to begin; and
e) maintaining a reserve stockpile of just 1,100 warheads;
f) cutting the strategic bomber fleet to just 40 aircraft compared to the current 96 nuclear-capable B-2s and B-52s and 66 non-nuclear-capable B-1s.
This is the worst of all his proposals by far. The disastrous New START treaty, which does not cover tactical nuclear weapons (in which Russia has overwhelming advantage), ordered the US to cut its nuclear arsenal to already-inadequate levels, so that Russia could keep nuclear parity status with the US. Cutting the US nuclear arsenal down to levels authorized by this treaty is a mistake; cutting it further would be an ever bigger mistake; cutting it by a whopping 200 ICBMs, 3 SSBNs, and hundreds of warheads would be an egregious blunder which would make America much less safe and invite a Russian nuclear first strike. Coburn also proposes to forego any modernization of the deterrent until the mid-2020s, and then only of the bomber fleet. A requirement for a Next Generation Bomber Type is real and was officially acknowledged by the DOD 5 years ago, in 2006, in that year’s Quadrennial Defense Review.(1) It was later confirmed by the 2010 QDR.(2) It was subsequently acknowledged by the then leadership of the DOD, including Secretary Gates. Later that year, the CSBA – which Coburn likes to cite as a source – released a report (authored by retired USAF Colonel Mark Gunzinger, who participated in all defense reviews to date) stating that an NGB is an urgent requirement which must be met by 2018 at the latest and that consequently, the NGB program must not be delayed any longer. (3)
In short, the nuclear triad is the last part of the military that should be cut. And for all of these draconian cuts, Coburn would “save” only $7.9 bn per year, whereas my proposals of cutting the administration budgets of the DOD alone would save taxpayers well over $10 bn per year.
2) End the purchases of V-22 Ospreys at no more than 288 aircraft, thus allowing some Marine H-46s to retire unreplaced, leaving the USMC with far fewer V-22s that they believe they need, and not having the V-22 Osprey as an option for the USAF’s CSARX competition or the Navy’s Carrier Onboard Delivery Aircraft Replacement plan. The savings: a meagre $0.6 bn a year, or $6 bn over a decade.
This proposal is just as dumb as the first one. Barring the USAF’s bombers (B-52s, B-1s, and B-2s), there isn’t a single weapon type in America’s inventory that is as combat-proven and as battle-tested as the V-22, which has been widely used in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. It is more survivable, and can fly much farther and faster, than any other rotorcraft in history, and can fly to places where other rotorcraft cannot. When an F-15E was downed in Libya earlier this year, it was a V-22 that rescued its crew. The V-22 is a must-have aircraft type. Orders for it should be increased, not cut. And contrary to Coburn’s claim, it costs only a little more than an MH-60: $67 mn for a V-22 vs at least $44 mn for an MH-60.
3) Cancel the Marine (STOVL) and Navy (CATOBAR) variants of the F-35, buy F/A-18E/F Super Hornets instead. The saving: a paltry $700 mn per year, i.e. $7 bn per decade.
This proposal, frequently stated by those who wish to cut the defense budget deeply, is fundamentally flawed, because it’s based on two wrong assumptions: a) a Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing variant is not needed; b) the Super Bug is interchangeable with the F-35.
There is clearly a requirement for a STOVL variant, as confirmed by USMC Commandant Gen. James Amos, who is himself a Naval Aviator. He knows the F-35B better than anyone. Coburn’s assumption that a STOVL variant won’t be needed is based on wishful thinking. As for the second assumption: no, the Super Bug is not an alternative to, nor even substitute for, the F-35. It’s basically a redo of the F/A-18 Hornet, a plane that first flew in the 1970s. It is not stealthy, has a much shorter range compared to the F-35C, and a higher maintenance cost. It can operate only in benign, uncontested airspace.
4) Retire the USS George Washington early, cutting the carrier fleet permanently to 10 and cutting the number of carrier air wings from 10 to 9. This would save a paltry $600 mn per year, i.e. $6 bn over a decade, at a large cost to America’s defense.
This would also be reckless. Contrary to Coburn’s claim, during the Cold War, the USN needed – and always had – at least 15 carriers. Throughout the Cold War, the Navy had no fewer than 15 carriers. The flattop fleet was not cut until after the Cold War. In 2007, the Congress reluctantly agreed to cut the carrier fleet from 12 to 11, while simoultaneously writing a well-grounded requirement for at least 11 carriers into law. Last year, the Congress again reluctantly agreed to waive that requirement – but only for two years, from 2013 to 2015, until the USS Gerald R. Ford is commissioned. As studies by the Heritage Foundation have repeatedly shown, the Navy needs no fewer than 11 carriers at any one time. Cutting the carrier fleet and the number of CAWs would be reckless.
5) Cancelling the Precision Tracking Space Satellite (PTSS) program of the Missile Defense Agency.
This program is necessary to create a constellation of 6 dedicated satellites tracking ballistic missiles, a capability that none of America’s current satellites offer.
6) Cutting the total number of troops deployed in Europe and Asia to just 45,000.
While Europe can certainly defend itself on its own, having only one plausible enemy (Russia), this cannot be said of America’s Asian allies. The US can afford to withdraw troops from Europe but not Asia, where any American drawdown would be viewed as a sign of weakness and disengagement, which Sec. Panetta and President Obama have both recently tried to prevent, trying to assure America’s Asian allies that this will not happen.
7) Using the $100 bn savings that Secretary Gates for deficit reduction, not for military modernization as Sec. Gates wanted and the Services – which worked hard to find these savings – were promised by Gates, President Obama, and the Congress.
These savings were to be used for a number of military modernization programs, including purchases of additional ships, modernization of the Army’s combat vehicles, and the forementioned Next Generation Bomber program. Taking that money away from them and using it to pay the bills for a deficit caused exclusively by runaway civilian spending would not just be dumb, it would be an act of heinous betrayal.
(8) Delay the Ground Combat Vehicle for purely budgetary reasons. The saving: a paltry $700 mn per year, i.e. $7 bn per decade.
For purely budgetary reasons. Do I need to say more?
9) End the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program without replacement, not with a replacement as Sec. Gates proposed.
The decision of Sec. Gates (whom Coburn quotes selectively) to cancel the over-budget, delayed Marine amphibious truck vehicle known as the EFV was the right one. However, as a replacement, Gates proposed starting a new, less complex, less costly amphib program that is scheduled to produce the first amphibious trucks in 2014, so that Gen. Amos can ride in them before he retires in late 2014. As both Gates and Amos have stated, there is a clear requirement for such a vehicle. The USMC’s obsolete, Vietnam War era AAVs must be replaced. Coburn proposes not to replace them.
1o) Cutting DOD weapon R&D spending by 10% in FY2012, then by another 10% in FY2013, and then freezing it for a further 8 fiscal years.
Again, this is motivated purely by budgetary concerns, not military ones. Coburn claims that from FY1981 to FY1988, the DOD received, in constant dollars, $407 bn, and he claims that is only $51 bn per year. He’s wrong, and apparently can’t do simple math. $407 bn divided by seven is $58.142857 bn, i.e. ca. $58.143 bn. He proposes to cut R&D spending to a paltry $58.0 bn and keep it there, even though that is LESS than what was invested during the Reagan era.
Furthermore, Coburn claims (in the “What to cut from defense” subchapter) that his B2B defense cuts proposals are not just prudent but “necessary”. No, they are not. They would actually be deeply damaging, as they deeply weaken America’s defense and thus imperil national security. Furthermore, as the RSC, the Heritage Foundation, Paul Ryan, and Rand Paul have shown, it is possible to balance the federal budget WITHOUT significant defense cuts (even while Rand Paul, like me, proposes to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan quickly).
Furthermore, Coburn opens this chapter of his book with a selective quotation from President Eisenhower’s farewell address and falsely claims that Ike’s worst fears about the “military-industrial complex” have realized. No, they haven’t. Not even close. While the defense industry surely does a lot of lobbying on Capitol Hill and in the DOD, they have abysmally failed to prevail in the vast majority of cases, as evidenced by all the defense cuts (including the closure of over 50 weapon programs) since President Obama took office.
If the military-industrial complex exists and is so powerful, how come could it not even defend save any of those 50 weapon programs from termination?
Coburn claims that defense spending is a sacred cow. He writes:

“Of all the sacred cows that need to be tipped in Washington, defense spending is the biggest and the most stubborn.”

But the truth is that defense spending is NOT, and has never been, a sacred cow. Defense spending was deeply cut during the late 1940s, the 1950s, the 1970s (throughout the entire decade), and the 1990s, and has now been slated for $1.087 TRILLION dollar cuts over the next decade ($487 bn plus $600 bn through sequestration); on top of that, GWOT (OCO) spending is being cut annually and is set to zero out by FY2016, after the last US troops leave Afghanistan. Any claim that the DOD has ever been, or currently is, a “sacred cow” is a blatant lie.
Coburn acknowledges that

“First, it is one of the few legitimate Constitutional roles of the federal government. Also, peace through strength is not a mere slogan but a reality of life. Maintaining a strong national defense is vital to our national security. Our strength is our best deterrent. Without it, our economy, freedoms, and liberty are all placed at risk.”

and that
“Knowing what to keep and what to cut in the defense budget is our first responsibility as elected officials. Thinking critically about defense is your responsibility as well.”
 That is well said, but Coburn’s actual policy proposals are totally inconsistent with these principles that he CLAIMS he professes. On the one hand, he admits that a strong defense is necessary, but on the other, he advocates deep defense spending cuts, including draconian cuts to actual military capabilities and arsenals such as the ICBM fleet.
Coburn then commends the ignorant, biased, anti-defense hack Chris Edwards of the CATO Institute for bashing the F-22 program as a parochial project, and commends its cancellation, but the F-22 was NOT the parochial pork project Edwards and Coburn portray it to be. It was a NEEDED 5th generation fighterplane program which was WRONGLY cancelled by the Obama Administration, with Congressional consent, in FY2010. Now the future of the entire US fighterplane fleet relies on a single, troubled program – the F-35 – while Russia and China are testing their stealthy 5th generation Raptor-like fighterplanes.
Coburn also decries the former second engine for the F-35 as a pork project, yet it was actually a necessary program which was sustaining competition in the F-35 program. By killing it, the Congress gave Pratt&Whitney a monopoly on F-35 engines and forced three American military services as well as many foreign countries to rely on a single engine type. That was a reckless decision, yet Coburn lauds it.
Coburn furthermore complains that

“Congress has a rich history of ordering ships and planes our generals did not ask for and do not need.”

But the generals are hardly infallible, and per the Constitution, it is the CONGRESS, not the generals, who is supposed to decide what weapons the military needs and in what quantities. The Constitution vests the prerogatives “to provide for the common defense”, “to raise and support Armies”, and “to provide and maintain a Navy”, and to build military facilities SOLELY in the Congress. Deciding what weapons the military needs and in what quantities is exclusively for the Congress to make, not for the generals, the SECDEF, or the President. Although, to be fair, some of the earmarks he mentions were indeed irresponsible and harmful for the troops (such as the polyester clothing inserted by Congressman David Wu).
In the last 20 years, the generals, forced by successive Administrations to toe their propaganda lines and understate real military requirements, have usually testified (under White House pressure) in favor of ever fewer ships, planes, ground vehicles, and other weapons. So their testimony is not credible.
While on this subject, it’s worth noting that his own B2B plan proposes to cut many military capabilities that the generals deem necessary and worth protecting from cuts, including many procurement programs the generals deem necessary (including 2 variants of the F-35 and the V-22).
Moreover, earmarks constitute only a tiny part of the defense budget and the total federal budget, and are currently banned due to a moratorium. It is, however, only a moratorium, and needs to become a permanent, total earmark ban.
Calling us, opponents of deep defense cuts, “defenders of the status quo”, he calls defense spending’s tiny share of GDP a “misleading” figure. But I am not a defender of the status quo, merely an opponent of defense cuts (especially deep ones), i.e. of cuts to MILITARY CAPABILITIES and needed programs. I do not oppose DOD reforms; I’m actually the author of the largest DOD reform proposals package ever devised. Coburn also falsely claims that the nonwar (core) defense budget is larger today than it was during the height of the 1980s.
The current core defense budget is $531 bn. The FY2010 budget was $534 bn. The budgets for FY1987, FY1988, and FY1989 were, respectively: $606.35 bn, $574.23 bn, and $585.60 bn. So from FY1987 to FY1989, defense spending was MUCH HIGHER than it is now.
Coburn decries the fact that despite defense spending growth, the military is not stronger than it was in 2001 and is significantly smaller than in the 1940s or the rest of the Cold War. But the deep defense spending, force structure, and procurement cuts he advocates would make the problem much worse.
He also claims that “the growing cost of military hardware has been a key driver of our debt”, but that is not true. Although many weapon programs have suffered serious cost overruns, their cost (and even total military spending) has NOT been a key driver of America’s public debt. The military budget amounts to just 19% of total federal spending and accounts for only a tiny minority (less than 10%) of the spending growth that has occurred since FY2001.
The savings he proposes besides acquisition reform, while laudable and worth pursuing, would save taxpayers only $15.9 bn per year (or, including eliminating fraudulent Agent Orange compensation, $20.12 bn per year) – a tiny share of the over $100 bn worth of annual defense spending cuts his B2B plan calls for and the amount that the sequester would cut out of defense.
Coburn then cites a lobbyist (!) for Americans for Tax Reform as a credible source. The lobbyist falsely claims that the sequester would cut only $500 bn over 10 years (in reality, it would cut at least $550 bn over a decade, IN ADDITION TO the $487 bn cuts already ordered by the first tier of the BCA). The lobbyist, while admitting that sequestration would cut the core defense budget by $140 bn n FY2013 alone, ridiculously claims that this is
“hardly a huge pill to swallow, ESPECIALLY since the bill doesn’t include limits on supplemental spending. Who’s to say the 050 cut doesn’t just show up in additional supplemental spending? Something to ponder for conservatives who are concerned about ‘deep’ defense cuts.”
These claims are blatant lies. Firstly, a $140 bn annual cut (which would be deeper than even I previously thought) WOULD be a huge pill to swallow. It would amount to more than 26% of the DOD’s core budget for FY2012 ($531 bn) and its requested FY2013 budget ($525 bn). Such cuts would completely gut the military. That is inevitable. They would mean drastic reductions in end-strength, the military’s size, compensation for the troops, maintenance and training funding, and modernization (i.e. very few purchases of new equipment, at a time when the vast majority of the military’s gear is old, obsolete, and worn out and needs to be replaced). There isn’t that much waste in the defense budget. (BTW, ATR’s lobbyists waste more money every year than the DOD does.)
Why won’t these items show up in the supplemental? Because 1) the White House has explicitly prohibited the DOD from doing so; 2) to do that, they would have to increase the ANNUAL supplemental request by $140 bn per year, up from $88.5 bn requested for FY2013, and not even the stupidest Congressman will buy that trick; 3) supplemental funding is shrinking annually and is slated to shrink further every year (to $88.5 bn in FY2013 and $44.5 bn in FY2014) and eventually zero out when the last American troops leave Afghanistan. That shrinkage has been ongoing and will continue regardless of whether sequestration proceeds. Any claim that the DOD will simply move sequestered budget items worth $140 bn PER YEAR to the supplemental is a blatant lie.
That’s something to ponder for those callously unconcerned about the sequester’s deep defense cuts and those who make light of these cuts. But of course, ATR lobbyists are not on Capitol Hill to tell the truth; they are there to lie.
Coburn buys into ATR’s lies, and falsely claims that “regardless of how deep the defense cuts may look, they will never materialize.” This is a blatant lie, as proven above; the supplemental cannot be used to avoid sequestration, and the sequester itself will kick in on Jan. 1st absent Congressional action.
Furthermore, while Coburn admits that sequestration is bad because it would cut everything equally deeply – the necessities along with waste – he falsely claims that “the dollar goal of sequestration (…) was not the problem, just the method.”
He’s completely wrong, however. It’s not just sequestration’s METHOD of cuts that’s bad, it’s the DOLLAR GOAL as well. A $100 bn or $140 bn ANNUAL cut of defense spending would be deeply damaging for America’s defense, as it would cut waste ALONG WITH actual military capabilities and crucial modernization programs. That is an inevitable consequence of such deep budget cuts to an arbitrary figure. There isn’t that much waste even in the DOD. Not even close. As proven by Coburn’s failure to find more than a paltry $20.12 bn in efficiencies. Even under a different method, if required to cut its budget by $100 bn per year, the DOD would HAVE to dramatically cut military capabilities and thus weaken America’s defense. (For specifics, see here.)
Coburn claims that “even with sequestration, defense spending would still increase by 16% over the next ten years compared to 23% without sequestration.” That is a blatant lie. Under sequestration, defense spending will grow by only a few points over this year’s level, and only at the end of the decade. At the start of the decade, it will be dramatically cut, and from then on, will be growing very slowly, not reaching FY2011/2012 levels until FY2019 at the earliest, as proven by the first graph (produced by the CBO) below. As the second graph below (from the Bipartisan Policy Center) shows, under sequestration, defense would be cut to a record low, not seen since before WW2.
Coburn claims that “streamlining will strengthen, not weaken, our national security”, but the massive, reckless defense cuts he advocates (predominantly cuts to military capabilities and modernization, not to DOD waste) would gravely WEAKEN America’s defense and jeopardize national security. He ends this chapter by quoting a proverb saying that all great powers destroy themselves from within, but defense/military spending is not destroying America at all. It constitutes just 19% of the federal budget, a small share. It is not responsible for America’s fiscal woes.
In short, this entire chapter of Coburn’s book is completely worthless and ridiculous. It’s a litany of blatant lies. Conservatives should not waste their money buying that book.
[1] The 2006 QDR, as released by the DOD.
[2] The 2010 QDR, as released by the DOD. The author will send you a copy of both Reviews at request.
[3] Mark Gunzinger, Sustaining America’s Advantage in Long-Range Strike, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2010.

Defense: What would Reagan do?

Today is Reagan’s 100th birthday.

An often-asked question is “What would Reagan do?”

As America is struggling with $1.4 trillion annual budget deficits (and the deficit planned by Obama for FY2011 will raise the debt-to-GDP ratio to 100% if federal spending is not significantly reduced), the Congress and the nation are pondering what to do about defense spending – whether to reduce it or not. Many people, however, don’t ask whether to reduce defense spending, but how deeply to reduce it.

And what would Reagan do? Would he call for reductions of defense spending if he was alive today?

Because he’s no longer alive, it isn’t possible to say for 100% sure what he would do or say. But it is possible to say what he would probably do, on the basis of what he actually did or said while he was President.

When Ronald Reagan assumed office, the budget deficit was also big – it amounted to 6% of GDP! Nonetheless, Ronald Reagan chose NOT to reduce defense spending, as some people (e.g. William Kaufmann) called on him to do. He chose to increase it while shrinking domestic federal spending (e.g. by closing the Education Department and the DOE). He increased defense spending by 35%, from ca. $400 bn in FY1981 to ca. $554 bn in FY1985, and from 4.7% of GDP in FY1981 to 6.2% of GDP in FY1986. In fact, even during FY1981, Reagan and his Defense Secretary, the Honorable Caspar Weinberger, asked for and obtained a “supplemental” to the defense budget, because the defense budget devised by the Carter Administration was inadequate.

Dr Kim Holmes, Vice President of the Heritage Foundation, wrote in the WaTimes:

“On national defense, the lessons are clear. Reagan came to office after years of neglect of our armed forces and launched a military buildup that we live off to this day. He let the threats, not the bottom line, determine defense spending. He revived the B-1 bomber program that President Carter canceled and initiated many other defense programs. He famously told his military planners, “Defense is not a budget issue. You spend what you need.”And by the time he left office, he boosted defense spending 35 percent.

If not for Reagan‘s military buildup, we would not have had the advanced weaponry and excellent fighting force that won the Persian Gulf and Iraq wars with historically low U.S. casualties.”

Please note that, folks. Reagan said, “Defense is not a budget issue. You spend what you need.” That is because America’s defense budget should be based on the real needs of the military, not on artificial budgetary restrictions imposed by the OMB. Of course, the military should not get more money than it really needs, but during Reagan’s time, it did not, and nowadays, it doesn’t, either. The FY2011 defense budget ($525 bn) is actually inadequate.

Reagan was willing to spend whatever was necessary on defense, but not a cent more.

His budget recommendations were based on what his Joint Chiefs told him, NOT on what pacifist politicians like Barney Frank claimed was the real requirement. Reagan accepted the expert advice of his Joint Chiefs of Staff and his Secretary of Defense, although he did think independently.

Would Reagan endorse the defense cuts imposed by the Obama Administration and its mediocre Defense Secretary Robert Gates (who has never seen war)?

The answer is no. During the 1970s, Reagan saw crucial weapon programs cut or closed. When he became president, he reestablished them and started some new ones (e.g. the SDI). If he were alive today, he would’ve opposed the closures of the F-22, C-17, MKV, KEI, CSARX, NLOS, and European missile defense programs, and the cuts of the Airborne Laser, F-35, Ground Based Interceptor, and carrier replacement programs. He would’ve opposed Gates’ delays of the Next Generation Bomber program (de facto dictated by the OMB) and the ludicrous 2010 NPR and BMDR. He would’ve protested against the large force structure reductions conducted by the Bush and Obama Administrtions.

And what about the New START treaty? Would Reagan have signed it as it is now, or would he have rejected it?

Reagan called for a world without nuclear weapons, but in such a world, the US was to be protected by a vast missile defense network which would’ve negated the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal (not to mention the Chinese arsenal). This was the very goal of the SDI. The New START treaty not only calls for reductions of America’s nuclear arsenal and its arsenal of delivery systems down to inadequate levels, it also greatly restricts America’s missile defense. Moreover, even before the treaty was signed, Obama unilaterally gave up many missile defense programs, including the ABL, MKV, KEI, GBI and European missile defense programs (the latter was surrendered as a part of the price of Moscow’s signature of the treaty). Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave.

Reagan’s arms reduction treaty negotiators, including his chief negotiator General Ed Rowny, and many other former diplomats and Reagan Administration officials, including Ed Meese and Frank Gaffney, protested against this disastrous treaty.

So, what would Reagan do? He would’ve opposed reductions of defense spending. He would’ve opposed the Obama-dictated closures of crucial weapon programs. He would’ve opposed the New START treaty.

As the US celebrates Reagan’s 100th birthday, it is necessary to learn lessons from him and follow his guidance when determining America’s defense policies.