How to Defeat the F-35

The US military seems to be afflicted with simultaneous cases of nostalgia and amnesia. We forget the lessons of history, and keep doing what we’ve been doing, historically. Part of it is institutional/organizational. A lifetime ago, the entire inventory of weapons could turn over in a decade. Today, it takes more than a decade to get a new weapon approved for production. That means we are stuck with a military infrastructure and inventory designed for the world as it was, not the world as it is, or might be.

Case in point was last week’s discussion of low-speed turn performance of the F-22. This week it’s the F-35’s turn, no pun intended. Both the F-22 and the F-35 were designed to solve last century’s problems of penetrating dense patterns of advanced SAM systems, the kind of thing you’d have to do when fighting WWIII. For both those fighters, a great deal of traditional fighter wisdom was sacrificed on the altar of the stealth gods. As a result, the F-35 has out-of-the-cockpit visibilty problems. Interestingly, the old Soviet fighters tended to have the same problem.

from wikipedia

F-35 pilot drops bomb, wonders if he should do a “Crazy Ivan” maneuver to clear his six, given that the external Sidewider has destroyed his stealth characteristics

You see, the Russian approach was to build the smallest airframe possible that would still hold the engine and cockpit. That’s why the triangular wingspan on the MiG-21 Fishbed was almost exactly the same size as the triangular horizontal stabilizer on the F-111. As they modified their aircraft they had to add bumps and lumps and cableways on the outside of the fuselage, to hold the new equipment. For example, the Fishbed D and later versions had additional fuel and electronics in a large bulge along the spine, one that ran right up to the back of the cockpit, and totally blocked rearward vision. How did they solve the problem? With the addition of a periscope/rear-view mirror.

CAF Fishbed J. The mirror is in the little dark bump on top of the canopy

CAF Fishbed J. The mirror is in the little dark bump on top of the canopy

It’s better than nothing, but I’ve sat in a Fishbed cockpit, and I can tell you that the mirror is not very useful. And the “Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear” doesn’t help at all.

The solution for the F-35, the article says, is to have the 21st Century equivalent to that rear-view mirror — a 360° multi-screen networked camera system, projected into the pilot’s helmet. If it works (and it hasn’t yet), and if it doesn’t increase the pilot workload (how do you switch between/among views?), it would still seem to require extensive training if it’s to become a natural part of the pilot’s task flow.


Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: