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Why the USN and USMC Shouldn’t Buy the F-35: Newer Isn’t Always Better

by Author: Black Owl The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the leading edge in fifth generation fighter technology. The U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps have invested much into this aircraft along with many of our allies around the world. The United States armed forces are in need of new aircraft due to a “fighter gap” that will occur when many of our Cold War era strike aircraft become retired from service.1 However, buying the F-35 series aircraft for use by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps as an answer to this gap would be a grave mistake with terrible consequences. The F-35 series of fighters are simply not worth the price that they cost and will not be enough for the needs of the services. Let me first make it clear that when talking about fighters the costs given for aircraft can be measured in several ways. There is the procurement cost, which is the total price of the aircraft, then there is the fly away cost and several other measures that often have different names and different prices for the same aircraft since they include or exclude certain factors. For my analysis I will only be using the flyaway cost, which is also called the “per unit cost.” The flyaway cost is one measure of the cost of an aircraft. It values the aircraft at its marginal cost, including only the cost of production and production tools immediately accruing to the building of a single unit2. It excludes prior costs such as research and development (treating these as sunk

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Greg. “Managing the Navy’s Strike Fighter Gap” Defensetech.org. Published April 10, 2012. Accessed March 20, 2012. <http://defensetech.org/2010/04/14/managing-the-navys-strike-fighter-gap/> 2 "FY 2009 Budget Estimates." United States Air Force via saffm.hq.af.mi, February 2008, p. 81. Retrieved April 10, 2012.

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costs), supplementary costs such as support equipment, or future costs such as spare parts and maintenance.3 The number one issue surrounding the F-35 in the eyes of its potential buyers is that its cost is continually rising and has shown no sign of slowing down. When Lockheed Martin, the maker of the F-35, had first been awarded the contract in 2001 the advertised unit price for a production model F-35 was $50 million dollars, a reasonable amount for such an advanced fighter aircraft.4 However, since that moment the price of the F-35 series has drastically increased and now is well out of control. The F-35 A-model for the U.S. Air Force is currently at $172 million (unit cost). The F-35 B-model for the U.S. Marine Corps is $291.7 million (unit cost) and the F-35 C-model being made for the U.S. Navy is listed at $235.8 million (unit cost).5 The worst part about this is that the costs are still going up. The primary reason for the cost increases is that each model of the F-35 is plagued with terrible design flaws that are expensive and difficult to fix. Some of the flaws are specific to the type of model. The most notable is the F-35C, which as of yet cannot land on a carrier due to having a tailhook with an insufficient length to safely trap the aircraft aboard. Making a redesigned tailhook is not going to be easy to integrate into the highly complex aircraft and engineers have already said that there are no easy solutions.6 The F-35B is in a worse state. It is

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"Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Progress Toward Meeting High Altitude Endurance Aircraft Price Goals", Retrieved April 10, 2012. <http://www.fas.org/irp/gao/nsiad-99-029.htm> 4 Drew, Chistopher. “Cost of F-35 Said to have increased %60 to %90, Military Says” New York Times Official Website. Published March 11, 2010. Accessed March 30, 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/12/business/12plane.html> 5 de Briganti, Giovanni. “ANALYSIS: F-35 LRIP 5 Contracts: Unit Cost Tops $200M for First Time” Defense-aerospace website. Published March 12, 2012. Accessed March 15, 2013. <http://www.defense-aerospace.com/cgibin/client/modele.pl?shop=dae&modele=feature&prod=133433&cat=5> 6 Sweetman, Bill. “JSF-What’s Really Happening” Aviationweek.com. Published December 13, 2011. Accessed February 26, 2012. <http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/blogs/defense/index.jsp?plckController=Blog&plckBlogPage=BlogViewPost&n

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designed to vertically take off and land. However, it can’t do this without cracks appearing in the airframe and other structural damage due to the fact that vectoring the nozzle down for vertical flight puts immense stress on certain crucial parts.7 Other flaws are unique to the complexity of the materials and technology used. During one of the tests where an F-35 made its first flight at maximum speed, mach 1.6, the JSF team reported the flight as a success. What they failed to mention during their reports was that the F35 had landed with “peeling and bubbling” from certain sensitive stealth coatings on the tails and damage to thermal panels that couldn’t handle the air friction of mach speed. The advanced helmet that provides the all around image through IR cameras to the pilot lags 130 milliseconds behind sightline movement and blurs when the pilot turns his head fast, which is something often done in combat.8 The current U.S. Navy strike fighter is the Boeing built F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block II, which has not only proven to be extremely reliable, but has been able to participate in every conflict since its service began and proven to be effective and flexible throughout the entirety of its use in the U.S. Navy. The Super Hornet Block II now has a price of $66.9 million (unit cost)9, which means that for every one F-35C the Navy purchases it could also purchase 3.5 Super Hornets for the same price. For every one F-35B the U.S. Marine Corps purchases it could also have purchased 4.4 Super Hornets for the same price. Not only is the Super Hornet cheaper to purchase, but it is also much cheaper to operate. The Super Hornet costs $18,900 per hour to fly
ewspaperUserId=27ec4a53-dcc8-42d0-bd3a-01329aef79a7&plckPostId=Blog%3a27ec4a53-dcc8-42d0-bd3a01329aef79a7Post%3abcb29d8f-6a85-40c5-8f1d-c84d20afe997&plckScript=blogScript&plckElementId=blogDest> 7 Trimble, Stephan. “New Cracks Stop Vertical Landings on Some F-35Bs” Flightglobal.com. Published November 18, 2011. Accessed February 29, 2012. <http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/new-cracks-stop-vertical-landingson-some-f-35bs-365059/> 8 Sweetman. 9 "Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 President's Budget Submission: Navy Justification Book Volume 1 Aircraft Procurement, Navy Budget Activities 1-4, p. 1-15." U.S. Department of Defense, February 2012. Retrieved: April 10, 2012.

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and is quick and easy to serve through maintenance. The F-35C and F-35B cost $30,700 an hour to fly and have a complex design that is difficult to maintain. The Pentagon made an assessment of the projected costs of operating a fleet of F-35 fighters for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps combined. They found that it would cost $1.45 trillion over the 50 years it is expected to fly.10 The ultimate fact is that the U.S. Navy could replace every Hornet in inventory with a Block II, add an extra squadron of Block IIs to all 11 carrier air wings, add an 11th Carrier Air Wing, and still save money by sticking with Super Hornets and choosing not to buy the Joint Strike Fighter.11 With the upcoming fighter gap approaching, it stands to reason that the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps are faced with the choice of buying either the F-35C and F-35B or more Super Hornets. A comparison of the these fighters reveals that the performance of the F-35 is not nearly worth how much it costs, while the performance of the Super Hornet is the inverse. The F-35C currently holds four main advantages over the Super Hornet Block II: longer unrefueled range, IR scanning cameras, a powerful IR-sensor in the nose, and stealth. Boeing has attempted to even these out by making an upgraded Super Hornet called the International Road Map, which is essentially a Super Hornet Block III with a different name. This Block III Super Hornet has a set of conformal fuel tanks that add a combined amount of 3,000 pounds and bring the F/A-18E/F’s internal fuel load to 17,950 pounds,12 not too

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Reed, John. “F-35 to cost $1.45 Trillion of next 50-years” DoDBuzz.com. Published March 30, 2012. Accessed March 30, 2012. <http://www.dodbuzz.com/2012/03/30/f-35-to-cost-1-45-trillion-over-next-50-years/> 11 Galrahn. “Hornet Math by DEW Line.” InformationDissemination.net. Published September 30, 2010. Accessed April 10, 2012. <http://www.informationdissemination.net/2010/09/hornet-math-by-dew-line.html> 12 Nativi, Andy. “Boeing Reveals Details of International F-18” Aviationweek.com. Published November 4, 2011. Accessed March 1, 2012. <http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_channel.jsp?channel=defense&id=news/asd/2011/11/04/02.x ml>

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far away from the 19,750 pounds on the F-35C and well above the 13,500 pounds in the F-35B.13 The Super Hornet Block III also features IR scanners that cover the entire area of the aircraft and a new internal Infra-red Search and Track sensor built under the nose. This gives the Super Hornet Block III missile warning capabilities similar to the F-35. The Super Hornet Block III still uses the standard Joint Helmet Mounted Queuing System, which is relatively simple and provides information at high speed. To increase the level of stealth Boeing made a stealthy enclosed weapons pod that can be mounted under the fuselage or under the wings. Each weapons pod has a stealthy shape and can hold two AIM-120 AMRAAMs and two bombs, a similar payload to the F-35’s internal weapons bays. Boeing attempted to do a similar type of change to the F-15 and created the Silent Eagle, which has stealth reducing features such as reshaping of the body, radar absorbent materials, and an angled AESA radar. Their radar testing showed significant reductions in RCS, and from the frontal aspect of the Silent Eagle the RCS was close to being as small as that of the F-35.14 The Super Hornet airframe already features some extensive radar signature reduction features, such as some stealth shaping, radar absorbent material added in crucial areas, and the addition of an angled AESA radar. The removal of external stores with the weapons pod will provide a significant increase in stealth that may not equal that of the F-35 from every aspect, but will definitely make a great difference. Included in these improvements are a glass cockpit display similar to the F-35’s and upgraded engines that have increased thrust by 20 percent.15 In short, the Super Hornet Block III, if fully developed, will be nearly as good as the F-35 series was meant to be and it will have a price that is cheap enough for us to produce in vast
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Official Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Webpage. Accessed March 31, 2012. <http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/products/f35.html> 14 Jones, Brad. "F-15 Future Fighters." Boeing, 16 March 2009 Briefing, p. 19. Retrieved: 10 April 2012. 15 Nativi.

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numbers to not only fill our fighter gap, but also have greater flexibility for all of our forces around the world. The Super Hornet Block III could easily replace the U.S. Navy legacy Hornet fleet and fulfill all the roles that the U.S. Navy currently performs. The great thing about these upgrades is that they can also be retrofitted on the Block II aircraft that the Navy currently operates. The Marine Corps has been resisting the idea of buying the Super Hornet because they want to commit all of the money in their budget for fighters to F-35Bs. Marine pilots have had the chance to fly the Super Hornet when a group of them were assigned to a Navy replacement squadron for training. The legacy Hornet and the Super Hornet squadrons have been and are continuing to be collapsed upon each other with aviators from both naval services being qualified in all models of the F/A-18 from the A-model through the F-model. They now fly whatever makes the most sense for any given training mission.16 A few Marines from this training squadron came across a retired Marine general who asked them what they thought of the fighter. These Marine pilots told the retired general that “there was much to be admired in the Super Hornet series, not least that it was here, now, and not theoretical. That it was, in short, a wonderful machine, perfectly suited to the role of supporting the combat infantryman.” They also said that the increase in fuel the Super Hornet had because of its larger size was a great improvement.17 The praise for the Super Hornet from these Marine pilots made its way up in the chain of command. Fighter pilots talking about the greatness and utility of the Super Hornet is not something that looks good for the F-35 nor the politics surrounding it. It does not matter that it is

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LeFon, Carroll. “Pull Your JSF Oar, Marine Flyboys.” Military.com News. Published November 22, 2010. Retrieved April 4, 2012. <http://www.military.com/opinion/0,15202,223139,00.html> 17 LeFon.

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the better aircraft for the mission of the Marine Corps. As a result, the senior general in charge of Marine Corps aviation told the Navy training squadrons that his Marines are no longer allowed to fly the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.18 However, the Marine Corps also has a certain type of fighter that no other American service has: the Short-Take-Off-Vertical-Landing AV-8B Harrier. Amphibious assault ships of the United States Marine Corps acquired the Harrier due to the difficulty required in getting naval gunfire to support an amphibious assault during the Cold War.19 Since then the Marines have never had to use it in that role and instead have used it just like a fixed wing aircraft off land or a carrier-based aircraft from an amphibious assault ship. The Marine Corps’ goal is to replace the AV-8B with the F-35B series completely. It is important to remember that during the several conflicts we have had with the Harrier involved three things were revealed that proved to be negative about the Harrier and the use of STOVL aircraft in general. The F-35B is no exception to these lessons either. A former Marine F/A-18 Aviator, Jay A. Stout, points out the main fault he saw with the Harrier during the Gulf War. The first lesson is that STOVL fighter designs usually have decreased overall performance than their fixed-wing counterparts. During the first Gulf War the Harrier’s were stationed on airbases closer to Kuwait for no other reason than that they had such a short range they needed to be stationed closer to get involved. To take off vertically the Harrier is limited in the payload it can carry, thus reducing its usefulness.20 The second lesson was that deploying STOVL fighters on air strips closer to the fighting in the modern era is not without its risks. As Stout notes, “If it is deployed too close to the
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LeFon. GlobalSecurity.org, “AV-8B Harrier History.” Page last modified: March 30, 2012. Retrieved April 9, 2012. <http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/av-8-history.htm> 20 th Stout., Jay A. “Hornets Over Kuwait.” Published May 1997 by Naval Institute Press. Retrieved April 9 , 2012.

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battlefield, it becomes vulnerable to the enemy it is supposed to destroy. If it is located too far away, it can't carry a very large payload, or perhaps even get there. If it has to take off vertically, its payload is also significantly reduced.”21 On October 15, 2005, a base operating Harriers near the hotly contested area of Kandahar Afghanistan was struck with a rocket attack by terrorists. One Harrier was damaged and another destroyed.22 If we went to war against an opponent with better rocket artillery or just skilled special forces units with light artillery the damage could be devastating. Putting STOVL fighters closer to the fighting at a distance small enough for them to be effective poses risks that could be fatal against a smart opponent. The last lesson was that even if an amphibious assault ship is in a conflicted area where a super carrier is not available it does not provide enough capability to do much because of the limited range of its fighters. Using long range air refueled fighters is not only more economical, but much more effective. During the Libyan Civil War of 2011, a super carrier was not near enough to the conflict to get involved, but the USS Kearsarge, an LHD, arrived just in time to participate in Operation Odyssey Dawn. However, the Harrier did not perform most of the fighting despite being stationed very close to the contested area. A majority of the fighting was done with fixed wing strike fighters refueled from long ranges, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and UAVs.23 All of the faults that the Harrier possesses are inherent in the F-35B, which only improves in these areas with marginal significance. The F-35B may have slightly more range than the

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Stout. Rayment, Sean (16 October 2005). "Harrier destroyed by Afghan rocket". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 9 April 2012. 23 The Fight for Libya: A Tech Recap. Defensetech.org. Published October 20, 2011. Accessed March 31, 2012. <http://defensetech.org/2011/10/20/the-fight-for-libya-a-tech-recap/>

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Harrier, but it is still very short for a fighter. Its weapons load will be limited on vertical takeoff as well, but that is not the worst part. On top of these weaknesses the F-35B, like its sister variants, is stuffed with classified technology, materials, and black boxes. If one F-35 of any variant were shot down U.S. forces would need to waste more resources and time getting to the crash site since its technology is so sensitive. That is counting that it was shot down in a place where they could get to it before a hostile country that might have an interest in selling the wreckage to Russia or China for reverse engineering. If the Marines were looking to make their air wings fit for supporting infantry the F-35B was the worst choice. A STOVL fighter for the Marines should be built with the Close Air Support mission in mind. It shouldn't contain highly classified tech in it. It should be cheap, rugged, reliable, and heavily armed. The F-35B is none of these things. Even its ability to stand up to small arms fire is questionable since it is made out of the same sensitive materials other aircraft require to maintain their stealth.24 During the first Gulf War the Legacy Hornets were able to survive a hit from a shoulder-launched SAM and still make it back to base.25 The Super Hornet builds on that reliability and is much better suited for CAS as well as the mission of the Marine Corps. So if the only two choices for the Marine Corps are to have the F-35B or no STOVL aircraft at all, then it would be best to have no STOVL aircraft at all. The STOVL aircraft design simply doesn’t perform well enough to justify its existence or its expensive price. The F-35B won't do the job it’s called to do well and it costs ridiculous amounts of money that could be better used buying armored vehicles, Ospreys, Super Cobras, and Super Hornets to better support the Marine riflemen as they carry out the mission of the Marine Corps.
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Taylor Marvin. WHAT KIND OF WAR DO YOU WANT TO FIGHT? Prospect Blog. Published February 2012. Retrieved April 9, 2012. < http://prospectjournal.ucsd.edu/index.php/2012/02/what-kind-of-war-do-you-want-tofight/> 25 Stout.

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If the Marine Corps wants to have a STOVL fighter then a logical decision would be to take the Harrier and give it a longer fuselage, bigger size, room for avionics growth, more fuel, some stealth shaping, RAM coatings in crucial spots, heavier armament, added light-weight armor, an AESA radar, and an engine that is modernized with today’s technology to make it powerful enough to perform tasks that the present Harrier can’t do. This “Super Harrier,” for lack of a better term, would be cheap to make and easily do the missions the F-35B would be tasked with doing. Perhaps the Marines Corps could team up with the British and the Italians since they are the only ones interested in buying the F-35B. They could work together, making it suited for their own needs and specifications. If the Super Hornet’s development is anything to go off of, then a Super Harrier would also not take long to design and build since it is a remake of an older proven design. The Super Hornet was first funded in 1992 and the first prototype quickly went through testing three years later in 1995.26 It is highly likely that a Super Harrier design could be made within a span of four years. By comparison, Lockheed Martin won the contract for the F-35 design in October of 200127 and yet the JSF series has yet to finish its testing or have its major design flaws fixed. As of March 30, 2012, the F-35 is only 20% complete with its testing. It has yet to do any of the really dangerous tests such as live weapons firing or spins.28 It is also important to note that while the flawed F-35B is in production now it would still be better to cancel the F-35B and invest in a Super Harrier. Who would think otherwise must ask themselves the question of what type of force they would want in the next five years. Would they want to have a tiny force in five years of flawed, risky F-35Bs that provide little fire power and
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Official Boeing Website. F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Milestones. Retrieved April 9, 2012. <http://www.boeing.com/defense-space/military/fa18ef/fa18efmilestones.htm> 27 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program site. “F-35 Introduction.” Retrieved April 9, 2012. <http://www.jsf.mil/f35/> 28 Reed.

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are extremely expensive to use? Or would they rather be five years down the road and have a force of reliable, flexible, cheap Super Hornets made in good numbers with a prototype Super Harrier near production? If the F-35B and the F-35C are cancelled then two things need to be considered. The first thing is how we would answer our international customers and allies that had a stake in the F-35 program. I believe that the F-35 A-model has a chance to be fixed since it is the least complex and least expensive of the three. If the other two models were dropped then all of the focus could be shifted toward making the F-35A refined and ready for use, which we could then offer to our international customers at a fixed price with Lockheed paying for the overhead. Whether or not our allies will still want the F-35 in the near future is questionable as well. The drastically increased price of the F-35 has been a stain on the defense relationship with some of our most trusted military allies: Australia, Canada, and Japan. Australia was the first to show signs of waning in its commitment to the F-35 when it decided to purchase 24 F/A-18F Super Hornet Block IIs as an interim gap. For almost a year now the Australian government has been discussing within itself the need to purchase 18 more Super Hornets due to the delays with the F-35.29 Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith was not satisfied with the state of the F-35 program and even implied that Australia may not buy past the 14 aircraft they have committed to. This is telling considering that early in the program they once had a goal of acquiring 100 F-35s.30 Canada has frozen the funds that it devoted to buying the F-35 and stated that “Funding will remain frozen and Canada will not purchase new aircraft until further due diligence,
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Taylor, Rob. “Australia May Buy More Super Hornets amid F-35 Delays.” Reuters. Published April 10, 2012. Accessed April 11, 2012. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/10/idUSL3E7FA0EN20110410> 30 Ewing, Philip. “Aussies losing patience on F-35?” DoDBuzz.com. Published July 26, 2011. Accessed April 12, 2012. <http://www.dodbuzz.com/2011/07/26/aussies-losing-patience-on-f-35/>

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oversight, and transparency is applied to the process of replacing the Canadian Forces' aging [Legacy Hornet] fleet." On top of that the Canadian government is also considering the idea of holding a fighter competition to determine what fighter would be the best option for them to buy instead of the F-35.31 The Japanese, who are relatively new to the F-35 team, quickly discovered that the rising costs were a significant problem. They have even threatened to pull out of the program all together if the F-35 price becomes too high.32 The actions of our allies speak for themselves. If the F-35 program is cancelled many of our allies might breathe a sigh of relief that they don’t have to pay such high costs for so few aircraft. In order to smooth our relations with them over the cancellation of the F-35 it would be good to offer them discounts on our other fighter alternatives such as the F-15SE Silent Eagle, the Super Hornet Block III, and the F-16E/F Fighting Falcon Block 60. Secondly, it is worth considering what tactics will be used to defeat the primary assets that our enemies around the world use often and will continue to use in an attempt to halt our efforts. The main assets that our potential enemies possess and are the biggest threat are advanced SAM systems. With the Super Hornet Block III as the main aircraft certain tactics will need to be devised to use them for maximum effectiveness as opposed to the original method of relying entirely on stealth with the F-35. In Operation Odyssey Dawn, the Libyan military had a formidable SAM system that aimed to defend against NATO air intrusions. The allied NATO forces relied on long range air
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Berthiaume, Lee. “F-35 Program Proving Difficult For Troy Government.” Postmedia News via Canada.com. Published April 3, 2012. Accessed April 11, 2012. <http://www.canada.com/technology/fighter+jets+Defence+officials+waged+stealth+campaign+jets+approved+au ditor+general+report+says/6403024/story.html> 32 So Japan May Ax its F-35 Buy If Costs Go Too High. Defensetech.org. Published March 2, 2012. Accessed April 7, 2012. <http://defensetech.org/2012/03/02/so-japan-may-ax-its-f-35-buy-if-costs-go-too-high/>

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refueled strike aircraft, UAVs, sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, and carrier based strike fighters.33 None of these combat machines possessed stealth on the level of the F-35, but they were easily able to defeat the SAMs with very few losses due to superior training and skilled tactics. We should continue to build on these in the future. However, Russia and China have been able to develop new and better SAMs, such as the S-400 and the HQ-19, which both have advanced missiles with ranges that exceed 200 miles.34 It is important to note than if an aircraft possesses a certain level of stealth then it would greatly decrease the range than an S-400 or HQ-19 could detect it. This does not change the fact that these SAMs are still a major problem. The current way to answer this problem that America has been putting its money toward is stealth. Unfortunately, the SAMs are not the only problem as advances in counter-stealth technology, such as L-band radar and long range IRST sensors, are slowly eroding away the advantage stealth brings to the warfighter. Aside from that the F-35 and F-22 are too expensive to be made in enough numbers for our national defense needs. The F-22 Raptor, which costs $150 million (2009 unit cost)35, was only able to be made for the USAF in 187 units. This is despite the fact that a study by Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Norton Schwartz showed that for our global defense needs we would require 381 at the very minimum.36 The F-35 series has now exceeded the price of the F22 and will obviously not be able to be made in nearly enough numbers to do the job that our strategy requires.
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The Fight for Libya: A Tech Recap. Defensetech.org. Published October 20, 2011. Accessed March 31, 2012. <http://defensetech.org/2011/10/20/the-fight-for-libya-a-tech-recap/> 34 "S-400 Triumf (SA-21 'Growler') (Russian Federation), Defensive weapons". Jane's Information Group. February 11, 2010. Retrieved March 31, 2012. 35 "FY 2011 Budget Estimates", p. 1-15. US Air Force, February 2010. Retrieved April 10, 2012. <http://www.saffm.hq.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-100128-072.pdf> 36 Michael Donley and Norton Schwartz. Moving Beyond the F-22. Published April 13, 2009. Accessed April 2, 2012. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/12/AR2009041202268.html>

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As per the NOC2010, our goal is to be a global force for good around the world while defending our interests as well as the interests of our allies. If we are to stretch our forces around the world, then we will require an aircraft that we can make in numbers. The Super Hornet Block III is an acceptable aircraft for this task, but dealing with the primary threat of SAMs will require a slight addition that is cheap and can be proliferated to our forces quickly. I believe the answer is to upgrade a version of our current weapon that is often used to kill enemy SAMs with ruthless efficiency: the AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation missile. Hypothetically speaking, say the stealth on the Block III Super Hornet decreases the range that an S-400 or HQ-19 could detect it to 100 miles. Current AGM-88s have a speed of mach 2.37 An upgraded AGM-88 type anti-radar missile with a speed equal to or greater than mach 5, a range of over 120 miles, and a size that is small enough to fit inside of the stealthy weapons pods on the Block III Super Hornet could very easily allow Super Hornet pilots to lock onto enemy S-400s or HQ-19s the moment they turned their radar on. The time from launching the missile to killing the SAM from a distance would be short if the missile had enough speed. A missile of this type is well within our technological capability to make. For example an AMRAAM missile, also made by Raytheon like the AGM-88, has a top speed of mach 4. New AESA radar modules that could be made for passive detection would make the AGM-88 extremely precise.38 This new AGM-88 type missile would also force SAMs to fire at the targeted aircraft from longer ranges if they wanted to survive. This would give the targeted aircraft more time to

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Official Navy Website. AGM-88 page. <http://www.navair.navy.mil/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.display&key=AF4153AA-5454-44D2-B01AAA69417C5B49> 38 FAS.org. AMRAAM page. Retrieved April 4, 2012. <http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/missile/aim-120.htm>

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employ jammers, counter-measures, and, if available in the environment, terrain masking to avoid getting hit. This combination of Super Hornet Block IIIs and upgraded AGM-88s would be cheap to use, easy to operate and maintain, as well as provide great capability that can defeat our current and projected SAM threats as opposed to buying a few expensive and problematic F-35s of questionable capability. Seeing as how SAMs are advancing quickly it would be much better to focus on the more aggressive approach of finding and destroying SAMs rather than the passive approach that involves sneaking around them with stealth. The second primary threat that our fighters will be facing in the future are a numerically superior opposing force of inferior enemy fighters made by foreign powers, specifically Russia and China. It has been well known that the USAF has often been assigned the task of engaging enemy fighters for aerial superiority; whereas the USN and USMC are often tasked with strike missions and support missions. Air-to-air combat is the USAF’s responsibility, but that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Navy or Marine Corps strike aircraft finding themselves in an air battle against a numerically superior enemy. The F-35 can only hold 4 AMRAAMs in its stealthy air combat configuration. It can internally carry 2 AMRAAMs with 2 bombs, or 8 SDBs and no AMRAAMS in its stealthy strike configuration.39 This is not enough fire power to bring to the battle field on a regular basis. To increase the amount of fire power an increase in aircraft per strike group would be required, but the F-35 will be expensive and made in small numbers so the odds of being able to do that often are low.

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Air Force Brief. Accessed April 11, 2012. <http://www.afa.org/professionaldevelopment/issuebriefs/F-22_v_F35_Comparison.pdf>

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If an enemy possesses enough money to buy fighters in large numbers, then this would make American military forces be forced to fight at a serious disadvantage. The potential adversary wouldn’t need fighters of equal quality, but merely ones that are cheap and have decent heat-seeking missiles or IRST sensors such as the Chinese J-10 ($27.84 million per unit)40 or the Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum ($29 million per unit).41 If an adversary purchased these or similar fighters in large numbers then pitted those in a 5-to-1 ratio against a force of F-35s it would be to the disadvantage of the F-35s. The F-35 force would more often than not run out of missiles before they could finish off the enemy force. This is counting on every AMRAAM missile always hitting and killing its intended target and the F-35s always being armed with 4 AMRAAMs when they encounter an enemy force. The common mindset is to refit the F-35 so that it can carry external missiles to solve this problem. Once missiles are mounted on the F-35 series externally it then loses the stealth that was so expensive to build into them. Not only does it lose stealth, but the small numbers it will be made in only make the odds of victory even worse. For comparison, the Super Hornet Block II can be fitted with 12 AMRAAMs externally and the Block III can also hold 12 AMRAAMs in three stealthy weapons pods. This ensures that there is a balance of stealth and plentiful armament, which is much more ideal for fighting an enemy with numerical superiority. Of course many people will say that we can easily disable most of our adversaries’ runways by using Tomahawk cruise missiles as we have in the past. The problem is that we cannot predict when certain politics restrict American forces to certain levels of destruction that will not permit them to destroy enemy air fields. What may be even worse is the potential for an
40

Hornby, Lucy (2010-04-13). "reuters, China J-10". In.reuters.com. Retrieved April 9, 2012. <http://in.reuters.com/article/2010/04/13/idINIndia-47657420100413?pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0> 41 "Russian MiG-29 Jets 'Attack' China in Myanmar." Pravda, 24 December 2009. Retrieved: April 9, 2012. <http://english.pravda.ru/world/asia/24-12-2009/111368-mig29-0/>

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enemy to develop an air defense system that is capable of defending an air field against Tomahawks. If a future adversary possessed several small mobile SAM batteries or simply enough S-400s or HQ-19s that could defend against cruise missile assaults the result could be an air battle. The conclusion is simply this: what the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps need is not simply the best aircraft in the world. What they need are aircraft that are better than the enemy’s, good enough to get the job done, and are able to be made in large enough numbers to be flexible in tactics. The Super Hornet Block III fits this mold down to the letter. The F-35 does not even come close.

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th

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