By John Venable
August 5, 2016
Argues for Full Program Procurement and Concurrent Development Process
The F-35A Lightning II’s sensors, stealth, and overall capability have been defended by the government and industry, while pundits and politicians have concentrated on developmental issues, cost overruns, and maneuverability limitations. The F-35A is a generational leap beyond other multirole fighters, and thanks to concurrent development, its technology will be the freshest ever fielded. Its performance in an air-to-surface (attack) mode has been well accepted, but many have questioned the Lightning II’s performance in aerial combat. Only the pilots who have flown the fighter actually know how well the Air Force version of the F-35 can perform, and the 31 who were surveyed for this paper expressed a high degree of confidence in this extraordinary fighter. The U.S. government should fulfill the entire programmed acquisition of the F-35A on its current schedule and apply the lessons learned from its concurrent development to every other major acquisition program in the future.
This paper will discuss benchmarks for classic fighter technology, maneuverability, stealth, and tactics. It will examine the F-35’s faculties and compare them with the technology, performance, and cost of the generation of multirole fighters that precedes it. That examination will reinforce the jet’s faculties for the air-to-ground missions of all three F-35 variants:
-F-35A Conventional Takeoff and Land (Air Force);
-F-35B Short Takeoff/Vertical Landing (Marine Corps); and
-F-35C Aircraft Carrier-based (Navy).
All three are designed for different basing environments that affect the way each variant performs in the air combat arena. This paper will explore the handling characteristics and air-to-air performance of the Air Force version of the jet, based on the opinions of 31 experienced U.S. Air Force fighter pilots currently flying the Lightning II. Their depth of experience in front-line, fourth-generation fighters, as well as with the F-35A, delivers unrivaled perspective and confidence in this extraordinary fighter.
Evolution of Fighter Technology