Saturday, January 7, 2017

F-35 In National Review. The STOVL Issue-I

I never was a fan of National Review, a rather neocon leaning rag, but when even National Review has had enough with F-35 program it is time to see it for what it is--it is a corporate welfare.

I will abstain here from "analyzing" this bird as a weapon system. First, I am neither a military aerospace analysts with the intimate knowledge of aircraft design, nor a military pilot, but it is kinda self-evident by now that F-35 program is becoming increasingly an embarrassment, despite the stream of opposite views (by hacks and biased observers mostly) praising F-35 for what it certainly is not. I am not even talking here about this stupid obsession of many with the so called "stealth" whose real utility was blown out of proportion, until it was blown out of the skies, especially against modern signal processing and power of radar capable of seeing it just fine. My thing with F-35, since I pretend to be a sort of "analysts" (in reality a free-time dispenser of my, not always precise, thoughts) was not in the fact that it is a "fifth generation" flop, after all, United States has an impressive history of producing a world-class cutting edge weapon systems, in general, and combat aircraft in particular. My spiritual doctrinal connection, as a former Soviet naval professional, was with namely F-35B STOVL. On paper, this Short Take Off Vertical Landing bird looked very promising. Yes, it is not SU-35 but as a carrier aviation this looked extremely attractive. Forget my personal bias towards STOVL carriers--it is understandable since Project 1143 "Krechet" Kiev-class aircraft carrying cruisers were just that  and, despite initially having a mediocre Yak-38 as the backbone of their air wings, they had a really monster of a fighter, V/STOVL Yak-141 Freestyle, coming to them instead of Yak-38s. That is until Soviet Union collapsed. Later, some Yakovlev Design Bureau's technologies, including nozzles' design, were used in F-35B.   

But the issue with Yak-141 and, now, with F-35B were not just some advanced technologies. It was in the fact, that after rather clumsy and fairly limited in their performance, however legendary and rightly so, Harriers, Yak-141 (and later F-35B) offered performance comparable (range, speed) to a regular carrier-borne aircraft. That had a major strategic implications, this time for ships or, rather, aircraft carriers. In the end, since the end of WW II the only carriers which saw an actual combat, not being parked outside some third world hellhole's shore blowing this hellhole's shit with impunity, were Royal Navy's small STOVL carriers of the Invincible-class. They actually fought a battle with more or less competent adversary who had a viable Air Force and, actually, bloodied Royal Navy pretty badly. Yet, British jump-jets came away from their Falkland battlefield bathed in totally deserved glory. They also left a lesson which today remains as relevant as ever. This lesson I would like to ponder in coming weeks, especially against the background of old-timer Admiral Kuznetsov leaving her Syria station and setting sail back home to Severomorsk. She did her job, earned awards but raised the issue of CATOBAR against STOVL carriers yet again and that issue is survivability--Kuznetsov's arresting wires performed dismally and, at some point, forced the whole wing of  her Su-33s and MiG-29Ks to redeploy to the Khmeimim Air Base. The pondering starts with this question: whatcha gonna do when your arresting wires are gone and the deck is partially damaged in real combat, with real opponent?   


In the end, Royal Navy decided to go with STOVL F-35Bs for its brand new carriers. Hm, I wonder, why the devil, those bloody Britons went with STOVL option. What do they even know about naval combat. I am being facetious, of course. Royal Navy can tell us a lot about carrier operations...I wouldn't disregard the lessons they can teach. 

To Be Continued....

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