[FoRK] "Two faces of the Tea Party"

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at ceruleansystems.com
Sun Jun 27 09:24:22 PDT 2010

On Jun 27, 2010, at 2:36 AM, Damien Morton wrote:
> This is wrong. The F-22 is clearly designed as an air superiority weapon - a
> fighter, while  he F-35 is intended as a more multirole weapon - a
> fighter-bomber,  replacing F-16, A-10 etc etc etc, which is a statement in
> of itself. When anyone looks at the F-35, do they see an A-10 AND an F-16?

The F-22 was designed as a multirole aircraft, including ground strike and AWACS, but its nominal primary role is air superiority since it was to replace the F-15C first. Some of these other capabilities were intended to be finished after the initial release in an air superiority configuration. The delivered F-22 has external hardpoints rated for 20,000 pounds, more than either the F-16, F-35, or the F-15E (F-15 strike variant).  Deep, fast bombing runs were always on the menu.

The F-35 is replacing the F-16, an inexpensive and export-friendly multirole strike fighter. A difference is that they tried to glue more roles onto the F-35 program than the F-16 supports.

> Its hard to see how the F-35 can perform all those roles well, in particular
> the CAS role of the A-10, but then maybe the A-10 has been supplanted by
> systems such as GMLRS and other precision strike artillery. Certainly, it
> doesnt make sense to have 500kg warheads being carried around by 140 million
> semi-stealthly aircraft when they can be lobbed just as effectively by 0.7
> million rockets with no stealth requirements.

The problem with the A-10 is that it was never designed to be upgradeable in the way that modern fighter aircraft are. They've gone through heroic efforts to get the avionics and weapon systems out of the 1970s with only partial success. There is no money to design a new airframe so they are stuck with what they have, which limits support for new armaments.

The F-35 is not a replacement per se.  A-10s are explicitly designed to survive multiple SAM strikes. The Soviets learned the value of this in Afghanistan and they eventually redesigned their CAS airframes to integrate many A-10 features. The F-35 doesn't have any of these types of survivability features but the idea is that they can use stealth to loiter over a battlefield without getting shot at. This still doesn't make a great CAS platform but I think they believe that role can be handed off to other weapon systems in bits and pieces.

The problem with MLRS and artillery is that they have limited range. Battlefields no longer organize along lines. Having strike aircraft flitting around is a low-latency and high-precision delivery mechanism that can adapt to much more complex battlefields. The US military has pretty much canceled all new artillery platforms, only spending money to increase the range of the old artillery systems. Artillery is inexpensive, but that doesn't help much if its limits render it useless for most strike missions going forward.

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