Strike Two

By Jason Simpson / February 27, 2009 at 5:00 AM

In a Defense: Next post earlier this week, titled “Strike Back,” the Joint Strike Fighter program executive officer, Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Davis, commented on criticisms over the past several years made by an Australian think tank on the F-35 program and its applicability for Australia's future combat.

Well, it didn't take long for the group's head of capability analysis, Carlo Kopp, to respond with an open letter on the Defence Professionals' Web site.

First, Kopp noted “Air Power Australia's” agenda -- which Davis said was to extend the life of the F-111 and demand Aussie use of the F-22A:

Our agenda is simple: to ensure that the Western alliance never again suffers the humiliation of defeat in combat by opponents with superior air combat capabilities.

Your suggestion that Air Power Australia (APA) somehow has a primary focus in criticizing your program is false, in fact, of the thirty three (33) papers published in our APA Analyses research journal since its launch in 2004, only five, or 15 percent, are specifically focused upon the F-35 program. Moreover, APA has argued widely and strongly for acquisition reform, and proper force structure planning for Western Air Forces.

On APA's Web site, found six articles from the group itself in the F-35's subpage, as well as more than a dozen from other publications. When browsing the site's F-22A subpage -- which notes that “there are no alternatives to the F-22 Raptor" -- there are yet another handful of articles from other publications related to the JSF, with titles such as “Is the JSF really good enough?” and “Is the JSF right for Australia?” -- a two-part series.

Kopp continues:

Make no mistake, the world is changing around us and many of these changes are not for the better. Our ability, as the Western alliance, to maintain global military superiority, will depend upon us having genuinely superior capabilities. There is no room for the intellectual sloth which has pervaded much of the Joint Strike Fighter Program since its inception.

He also states that Davis misrepresented APA as having “a very 1950s-type of mindset” in how it looked at future aerial combat, contending, “had you taken the time to study this work, you would not have falsely claimed that APA made no allowances for radar-absorbent materials in our analysis, as APA made unusually generous allowances, favouring the F-35. In fact the analysis produced by APA also included the impact of refraction upon target aspect angles in long-range missile engagement geometries, a factor usually in such analyses, also favouring the F-35.”

“You failed to mention the principal point made by the APA, which is that inevitable evolutionary advancements in Russian radar power-aperture, signal and data processing, and missile performance, have surpassed the stealth specification to which the F-35 is being built,” he added.

Both the fifth-generation F-22 and the F-35 are built by Lockheed Martin.

Kopp's claim:

APA invested considerable effort in finding the optimal escape manoeuvre for the F-35, to minimise its exposure to a Surface to Air Missile battery, giving the aircraft every advantage we could. The aircraft consistently died in combat, because its poor aft sector stealth and low escape speed allowed the missile to run it down and kill it every time. The key factors were improved radar power-aperture and missile kinematic performance in the Russian Surface to Air Missile batteries. When APA applied this very same model to the F-22, it survived every time, due to much better aft sector stealth and supercruise.

Davis also mentioned that APA has not been briefed to the extent that partner nations have been, to the “special access required” level.

Kopp responds in his letter that “Your comments on classified access are curious, insofar as the Laws of Physics and Rules of Probability have no respect for such bureaucratic devices. Hiding information by such means merely makes it harder for an analyst to divine the ground truth, not impossible.”

He also contends that the JSF “program is a techno-strategic failure” and discounts Davis' leadership by saying he “became infatuated with marketing the program over managing it.”

But, based on Davis' recent comments -- that the program has “wasted more time on this group than we needed to” -- it's doubtful that this debate will be long-lived.

Meanwhile, 2009 will be a year of many firsts for the JSF program, in terms of testing new aspects of the plane. Check out Davis' less controversial comments on these activities in this week's Inside the Air Force.