The above video shows technicians loading an F-15 with what they say are a thousand rounds of 20mm ammo. (wikipedia.org reports that the F-15 Eagle maxes-out at 940 rounds.) In contrast, the Air Force’s new F-35A will be equipped with a four-barrel GAU-22/A gun limited to 182 rounds of 20mm.

The most ammo-heavy variant of the new F-35 — the Navy’s F-35C aircraft carrier version — will hold 220 rounds of 20mm. And while we’re at it, the A10 Warthog’s seven-barrel 30mm GAU-8/A Avenger gun can pack as many as 1,174 rounds, firing at a fixed rate of 3,900 rounds per minute.

Meanwhile, the Marines are talking up their desire to put a laser weapon on the F-35. You know; someday. Make of that what you will.

142 Responses to What’s Wrong With This Picture: F-35 vs. F-15 20mm Capacity

    • There is some seriously awesome advanced technology going into that plane. Unfortunately there’s too much advanced technology. The managers didn’t plan for there to be bugs in the development cycle, but you can’t have the latest and greatest everything and expect it all to work right off the bat.

      • The issue isn’t so much the technology.

        It is that we have ‘n’ “partners” who also get to put their requirements into the engineering cycle, as well as the multi-mission/multi-role aspect of the project. Why we’re catering to these other “partners” on what is supposed to be our bleeding-edge fighter is a mystery. When the crap hits the fan, none of these “partners” will actually use their F-35’s (or anything else) to back us up. We might as well be catering to the French on infantry rifle design.

        We’ve been down this road before. The result was the F-111. An over-schedule, over-budget, a jack of all trades that didn’t do anything well.

        Well engineered products come about as much due to what the engineers and designers left out of the design as what they decided to put in. The F-35 is a great example of engineering management failing to say “No” to anyone. The F-35 is having specs and requirements change late in the development cycle, and having been an engineer where people were coming to me late in the product cycle with large requirements changes, I can tell you that it has large, negative effects on the success of the project. I’ll bet I can walk into the F-35 engineering cubical farms, and in less than 10 minutes, I could find a bunch of engineers who want to hang their managers from a tall tree – because they’re furious about changing requirements.

        As it is now, some of our “partners” are dropping out of the F-35 program, due to the ever-increasing per-plane cost of the result, and this will just force the US taxpayers to pay a higher cost for the program.

        Want an example of a high-tech plane that was brought in on-time, under-budget? I can give you two.

        1. The U-2.
        2. The SR-71.

        Why was Lockheed able to hit their schedules and come in under budget twice, while creating bleeding-edge aircraft? Because there was only one customer: The USAF/CIA. There were only a very few requirements: a) fly fast(er), b) fly high(er), c) carry cameras deep into the USSR. That was it. Engineers looooove those sorts of projects – even if they’re not being led by a world-class engineer like Kelly Johnson.

        • Pretty sure the USAF and CIA are two customers. They had, largely, overlapping requirements, but they are still different customers. The problem with the F-35 is too many conflicting requirements.

        • Scott, out of all of that great reply, you chose to nitpick that? Ridiculous and unnecessary. Also pretty, untrue. The CIA and Airforce were partnered in useage of the craft. Find a hobby

        • “We’ve been down this road before. The result was the F-111. An over-schedule, over-budget, a jack of all trades that didn’t do anything well.”

          Well it did empower politicans and bureaucrats and enrich the military-industrial complex. That has to count for something, right?

        • “The result was the F-111. An over-schedule, over-budget, a jack of all trades that didn’t do anything well.”

          Hell, DP, the F-111 didn’t do anything *much*! Trying to remember anything at all, I come up with 6 went to Vietnam, and about a week later 3 went back, with no idea what happened to the other 3. After that, I don’t recall them ever being actually used for anything.

          I agree, we will be regretting the F-35 for decades.

        • Stewart, the point is, the number of customers doesn’t matter, it is that their requirements are compatible. The biggest issue with the F-35 is for the Navy where they are getting a shitty aircraft. The Airforce and Marines are actually getting ok aircraft. Someone will always be shafted when you have competing requirements.

        • I have it on good authority that one of the requirements from an unnamed Pacific nation was, “Mustu defeat Gojira!”

        • You are half correct about the F-111. Believe it or not, it was intended to fly off carriers as well but the Navy head said, “we’re not going to be launching 60,000 lbs. planes off our decks!” (or something close to that). But it wasn’t junk. It bombed Libya from the UK after flying the long way around France because those pussies wouldn’t allow us to fly over them. It was also used in Desert Storm. And don’t forget the EF-111, an excellent electronics jamming aircraft that was heavily used during the first Gulf War. And that bird was also the fastest plane at sea level we had due to it’s swing wing. But you are correct in that it was a disaster as a joint service project.

        • Maybe the A-10 didn’t come in on time or under budget, but it seems pretty badass per dollar from my perspective. But I’m just a former grunt who enjoys planes that a great at killing tanks and supporting ground pounders.

        • There was a quote by a USAF General about the F35 to the effect that the main role of the F35 was to provide money to Lockheed Martin executives.

          It was not a plane designed by engineers, it was a plane designed by bureaucrats and lobbyists.

    • its sooooo great that it cant even fire the main gun in combat yet because ….the software is ready. “CAS we need a gun run at target x…Negative gun is down it blue screened.”

  1. We have to keep relearning the same hard lessons, time after time. Sometime in the future a pilot will die, a mission will fail cause of a disregard for the gun in the missile age.

    • Because the jet had less ammo for the pistol? Hasn’t happened since The Korean War, and won’t as long as radar guided missiles are a thing.

      • Who in the world told you that? The F-4 Phantom was the first fighter aircraft designed without a gun, IIRC, circa 1958, because future conflicts would be with missiles only. The missiles failed to track rather routinely, except for the Sidewinders (heat-seeking) which sought any heat source, including your own or your wingman’s. The aircraft were eventually retrofit with a gun pod, and future production redesigned with an internal gun. And lots of enemy aircraft were shot down with the F-4’s gun. It was also handy for attacking ground targets like trucks or troops (though not with the pictured inert practice projectiles!). Aircraft like the F-35 do not need the ammo capacity of an A-10, since the gun is the chief antitank weapon on an A-10. But for air-to-air, any fighter should always have a gun, unless you can field an aircraft with 200 missiles.

        • That was in 1958. Modern missiles are far more reliable. Effective laser platforms will make this trend even worse. Right now, the Air Force is experimenting with a laser system the size of the 155mm howitzer mounted on the AC130. In another decade, I expect them to easily shrink the platform down to something that can fit into the same space as a fighter’s main gun.

        • Meaning the last time a pilot died due to a lack of gun ammo was Korea. And that may be a little off by some years, old memories of the facts, but the point stands: guns haven’t been a primary or even secondary (Radar then IR) weapon since at least Vietnam.

        • pwr – I assume you thus will be the 1st in line to trade in your current sidearms for a “smartgun”. Naive would be the polite term.

          Lazers my ass. Missles only snort/guffaw.

        • “That was in 1958. Modern missiles are far more reliable. ” – but so are chaffs, flares and other jammers.

        • Apples and oranges. A smart gun doesn’t have twenty times the engagement range of a “dumb” gun and infinitely more accuracy.

        • I’m not a fighter pilot, but I am an Air Force Intelligence Analyst, and an instructor at the Joint Firepower Course and Joint Terminal Attack Controller Qualification Course. I might be able to provide some insight on this issue.

          Firstly, the F-35 is fitted with a 25mm cannon, not a 20mm. Bigger bullets=smaller ammo capacity, generally. The A-10 is an exception based on the massive size of its gun and ammo handling system. The F-15 was designed originally to be the ultimate air superiority fighter. Its big, fast, unbelievably powerful, it carries a large missile load and a large amount of 20mm optimized for engaging aircraft. while the 20mm guns on the F-15, 16, and 18 are capable of engaging ground target, their effectiveness is questionable. I’ve seen anecdotal evidence of an F-16 strafing an SUV on a training range and not injuring any of the vehicles occupants.

          As far as the capabilities of the F-35 as close air support platform, its not a direct replacement for the A-10. The two systems are completely different. The Hawg was build from the ground up to be a ground pounding, tank shredding ass kicker like nothing before. The F-35 is more like an F-16 for the 21st century, a multi role fighter that can do a little bit of everything in a high threat environment that the A-10 wouldn’t survive in.

        • “That was in 1958.”

          The *design* was in 1958, the screw-up was discovered in the late ’60s, and I recall hearing one fighter pilot in DaNang in 1971 reporting shooting down a MiG over Hanoi while supersonic at 50 feet. With. a. gun. His airplane was totally destroyed as well, somewhere in there he maxed out the G-meter at 10.5, airplane never flew again, was bulldozed. Both crewmembers were walking funny, too, may have hurt themselves. Wonder why they didn’t just shoot one of those megabucks Sparrow radar missiles at the bad guys, the bird had 4 built-in, wouldn’t that be easy? Except it has never worked..

      • About the “modern missile” remarks. During Vietnam the pilots discovered that the older, slower, less technology, enemy could turn faster and get closer then their planes. That often negated the fancy missiles.

    • Unfortunately, guns are becoming more and more obsolete in the modern air to air battle space. Guns are only really useful in the sorts of knife range dogfights that just don’t happen between stealth capable aircraft. With the ability of modern aircraft to datalink their targeting systems to powerful air based or ground based surveillance platforms that tend to loiter outside the primary engagement range of the aircraft involved, it becomes even harder to get into the sort of range where guns could be useful.

      I think you’ll see guns becoming less and less critical as our datalink and targeting technology advances. In 50 years or so, the only combat aircraft you’re going to see will be air superiority drones controlled from surveillance and control platforms as manned aircraft just won’t be survivable enough when put up against laser based intercept systems.

      Ground attack and CAS platforms will still be manned, but nobody is going to voluntarily climb into an eggshell armed with a sledgehammer.

      • Some future stealth fighter won’t even be concerned about radar missiles, possibly heat-seeking, either if equipped with flare dispensers. So, you are suggesting that an aircraft which cost the taxpayer zillions of dollars should be reduced to following such an aircraft around and giving the pilot the finger? If I *see* you, and I have a gun, I can kill you regardless of high-tech crapola in play.

        • Yeah… Of you can use relatively cheap and effectively disposable drone missile and laser platforms. With a gun, you need to be able to REACH your target to kill it. Given that directed energy weapons have orders of magnitude longer engagement ranges than guns… good luck.

          What I see is an airborne or seaborne command and control installation commanding entire wings of such drones. The total cost will be far lower than an equivalent number of manned aircraft and you can rotate active piloting between platforms as necessary.

          Realistically, once they get a directed energy weapon shrunk down to a size that can fit on an air superiority platforms, manned aircraft in the primary combat zone become little more than expensive death traps. It becomes a battle of who can burn the other side’s drones out of the air first.

        • I can sure live with that, so long as we don’t put all those eggs in that basket. But that is asking a lot, given the expense of the aux systems, The C2 aircraft, the drone drivers, maintenance and refueling, etc, I suspect the only way that will happen is if the drone systems *replace* another system. Then, when the drone system fails somehow, we’re left with nothing. I would like to see it *work* before going there. As for directed energy weapons, (I’ll believe it when I see it) I’m thinking the first overcast day will see payback time arrive with a vengeance.

        • That’s what the missiles are for. Missiles are better able to track evading targets and don’t need direct line of sight to engage.

      • Good thoughts, but I think a distinction needs to be made between high-tech and low-tech enemies (who will always lack drone and missile defense). For fifteen years we’ve been fighting low-tech enemies, and before that, Vietnam was no different. CAS is essential in these circumstances, and for now, the A-10 is very well-suited for that.This video describes the USAF’s long-running resistance to providing CAS. Eventually the Army developed its own solution (the Cheyenne chopper) to fill the gap, which then compelled the USAF to develop the A-10 in order to keep CAS within it’s mission profile. In spite of the success of the A-10 the USAF still wants to discontinue it.

        Air to Air has it’s place, no doubt. But so does CAS.

        • They want to retire the A-10 because the airplanes are getting old, very old. Even with dumping vast sums of money into the aircraft they still only have maybe 10-15 years of life left. And it is going to be a good 10 years for any A-10 replacement is fielded (assuming Congress actually give the USAF the money, instead of the usual budget cut that Congress likes to give the DOD).

          What we need is something to bridge the gap for low intensity conflicts, and it can be done cheaply (in DOD dollars). The AT-6 uses the same air frame as the USAF/USN T-6 trainers. And they are cheap to buy, and cheap to operate. And I am willing to bet some hot shots in AFSOC wouldn’t mind flying them around. Also buy a few more AC-130s, which IMO is simply the best CAS platform ever built. The A-10 doesn’t hold a candle with the ability of the AC-130 to pound a single area for an extended period of time, along with the ability to stay on moving targets.

  2. Directed energy weapons certainly make sense in an air to air engagement mission profile. It will be far harder for an aircraft or missile to generate a miss when the flight time of the energy to target is essentially zero. If you have a 20 degree or so variable targeting axis, the laser system would also be able to double as a point defense weapon for aircraft in a head-on engagement. Unfortunately, once this technology becomes widespread, it will mean that manned aircraft will become flying coffins in an air to air battle space so long as the enemy can target them.

    • Humans won’t be in first rate combat aircraft much longer anyway. They will not only be a waste of space and carrying capacity, they are a political liability.

    • Directed energy weapons only start to have effects when the energy is focused on one spot long enough to heat up and eventually degrade the structure.

      You gots two choices: Have an aiming system so good it keeps the beam on that one exact spot to do any good, or have a beam so powerful, you don’t need it to stay on one spot for any length of time.

      Don’t count on the guy you wanna fry to stay nice and still and be zapped…

      • Angular displacement becomes a critical issue then. To give you an idea, at 10,000 meters, a plane will need to move more than ten meters in a plane perpendicular to the laser axis in the time it takes the aiming system to adjust the aiming axis by a milliradian. That’s not a small feat given the difficulty of adjusting your flight axis quickly enough.

        The other thing to keep in mind is effective laser on target time. If, say, a laser can disable an aircraft with one second of proper exposure, your average pilot won’t be able to respond in time to start generating the miss. By the time he recognizes that he’s been “lazed” his plane will already be coming apart around him.

        • The chinese have developed a counter m1 abrams system on their tanks that reacts without input from the operators. It detects the targeting laser and automatically sends a round on a reverse azimuth to whoever is sending the laser. The technology to counter direct energy weapons without human input already exists.

        • It comes down to reaction time for that system. The reason it works with a tank is because the laser is not what causes the damage. With a directed energy weapon, by the time you’re detecting the laser, it’s already causing damage.

          To put thing in perspective, let’s assume that the laser system in question takes 0.1 seconds to adjust the targeting axis by a milliradian. That means that your aircraft would need to move more than 10 meters in 100 milliseconds in an axis the system is not already compensating for. So let’s do a best case assumption and say that the second your aircraft is lazed, it immediately starts evasive action. (Not realistic, but it helps remove the response time from the equation.)

          To move 10 meters in 100 milliseconds you need a relative acceleration of over 200g. That’s not something that’s readily survivable by any airframe.

        • pwrserge,

          How large is the laser spot beam and how long does it take that laser spot to melt/punch through the skin of an aircraft and then damage critical components? Is the laser spot beam 2 cm in diameter? Does it need to be in position for at least 2 seconds to melt through the skin of an aircraft? If so, the aircraft only needs to move about 4 cm for the illuminated spot to be in a new location and the clock to start over.

          Also, to what extent does the atmosphere column distort the light path? That column of air between the laser and the target is anything but uniform in density. That will bend and scatter the light beam. How does that affect the ability of a laser to melt/punch through a target?

        • The math I did assumes that the laser stays in the exact same place. The angular adjustments would be the same. Across a few kilometers of range, the air column properties aren’t as critical as you would think. A moving aircraft does not make that issue any harder or easier.

          As for lasers… Modern lasers are pulsed. It’s not a continuous cutting beam the way science fiction would make us think. What it is, is a series of microsecond long bursts transferring the energy. Basically, the primary damage mechanism would be thermal shock to the underlying material. You don’t actually need to do serious damage to an aircraft moving at air to air combat speeds to destroy it. Disrupt the continuity of the surface, and the air flow around the aircraft does the rest.

    • To my knowledge, the only laser so far effective at all is mounted in a 747. Thinking that it can be reduced to an F-35 within the next 50 years I consider unlikely, as well as running it on the energy available from the engine in a fighter. I think it’s a pipe dream.

      • The Air Force is already running a laser based on the power generated by the engines of a C130. Believe it or not, size and weight are the limiting factors, not power.

        • And even then they’re not going for really high power.

          An onboard laser to blind or otherwise disable a small drone, anti-aircraft or air-to-air missile is one thing. A laser with enough power to engage serious ground targets or heavy aircraft is another order of magnitude or two.

        • Not really. Ground targets, yes, but it does not take a lot of power to cause enough surface damage to get an airframe to shred itself. This is especially true if your engagement ranges are measured in a tens of thousands of meters rather than hundreds of kilometers. The inverse square law can work in your favor as well as against you.

        • Which was done in 1980s (see NKC-135). Little has changed in the last 30years as the earth’s atmosphere is pretty much the same (unless you believe in man cause global warming/cooling/etc).

        • @neiowa

          Laser systems have come a long way in the last 30 years. The only challenge now is shrinking the emitters and targeting systems. To give you an idea, a 300W industrial laser system was the size of a small shed a decade ago. Today, I can fit the same system on a desktop.

          With directed energy weapons, your biggest limitations are size, weight, and heat dissipation. The last one is a non-issue for burst style weapons that won’t be operating for continuous periods of over a second. Power is not much of an issue. The average wall outlet can provide well over 12kW.

      • It only took 65 years,7 months, and 3 days for man to invent powered flight and then land on the moon. I’m pretty sure we can get some kick-ass lasers in the next 50 years.

        • Yeah, they said we’d have flying cars by the year 2000 too, and the only emails the ‘Beast deleted were about yoga.

        • Sorry Billy, but those lasers already exist. The Navy has already successfully field tested a laser based drone intercept system. Right now, getting a laser small enough to fit into the space designated for a fighter’s gun is just an engineering challenge, not a science one.

  3. The only thing that keeps me from hating the F-35 is the idea that perhaps the “Stargate: SG-1” series was based on reality, and in fact the money we have been pouring into the F-35 is actually going into our X-302 Hyperspace Fighter program.

    Yeahhhhhh boy! And it would be even MORE sweet if when we tested our first X-302 (however many years ago THAT was) they had James Earl Jones say “They just made the jump into Hyper Space!” like in Star Wars.

    F-35 === X-302 Hyperspace Interceptor son.

    *confirmed.

  4. Also add the planes fly faster than the bullets can travel. So to use “guns” the plane would have to slow down. Using a laser might not be a bad idea. Hell, blind em with the laser for that matter.

    • Using a gun means red air has passed the radar and IR missile WEZ, entered the gun’s WEZ, and has turned into the merge. The jet has slowed to corner velocity for the fastest, tightest turn possible to target red air, well below the velocity of the rounds fired.

      Even if that weren’t the case, and someone fired the gun while supersonic, the bullet’s muzzle velocity is added to the jet’s velocity. The bullets would be traveling forward away from the jet at the same relative speed as if the jet was static on the ground.

      Take it a step further, and let the bullet travel a ways. It will slow down at a faster variable acceleration (negative acceleration, but not “deceleration” because that isn’t a word) than if the jet were static. For a given ballistic coefficient, the faster a bullet leaves the muzzle, the faster it slows down per second of travel. Ex: 2rds fired, one at 2000fps, one at 3000fps. The second bullet will lose more velocity in the first second of travel compared to the first bullet because the first bullet is traveling faster and has more drag.

      However, as the 3000fps bullet slows to 2000fps, it’s rate of acceleration will then match the profile of the 2000fps bullet at the moment the 2000fps bullet left the muzzle.

      So if the jet is traveling at 1000fps and fires a bullet at 2000fps, the combined velocity is 3000fps. The bucket will have the drag and flight profile of a 3000fps muzzle velocity. Do the same test on the ground and it will have the drag and profile of a 2000fps bullet.

      So a jet going fast (1000fps isn’t real fast, but you get it), firing a bullet forward, will have no issue with needing to “slow down” to take the shot.

      Additionally, bullets still drop when fired from an aircraft. After a mile or two, even a 3000fps combined velocity bullet is gonna have some serious drop and fall well below the aircrafts flight path.

      There are other design limits, such as aircraft body coverings on the muzzle which must open. That door may be limited, to avoid damaging the structure.

      Bottom line: guns on a fighter (or strike fighter) are of extremely limited value. The “A-10 replacement” line of thought doesn’t apply.

    • The GAU-12 projectiles leave the barrel at 3,400fps (relative to the barrel), that is 2,300mph. The F-35 can’t even dive that fast. Also if the aircraft and thus the barrel is traveling at 1,760fps (the aircraft top level speed) the projectile starts out at 5,160fps. It just slows down due to drag and no continued thrust while the airplane does not.

  5. I knew an A-7 pilot whose Navy squadron was aging and dreading moving over to the F/A-18, due to:

    the F/A-18’s smaller fuel tanks, no ‘hardening’/armor, smaller weapons load, weaker radar, smaller engines, more ‘glass’ in the glass cockpits, new heavy training requirements, etc.

    The joke went around “Q: How many A-7 pilots does it take to change a light bulb?, A; 12, one to change the light bulb, and 11 to stand around and talk about how good the old light bulb was”.

    The gist of the thing was, “Crappy planes lead to better tactics”, and the F/A-18 is on what version now?

    The U.S. military man has constantly been forced to handle the feast or famine of procurement/supply. Pray for them. Enough said.

    • Recently had a next-door neighbor who started on the F-14 and transitioned to the F-18 before he retired out.

      He related the Hornet was much more reliable than the Tomcat, but the ‘Cat was more ‘tossable’ at low speeds…

    • Being a plank owner of the first F18 at NAS Lemoore VFA 125 and someone who wrenched on an A7…yeah you have to train stick operators before sending them to a gun squadron, I can attest to Joe.R’s statement.

      Two F4 Marine pilots with 3000 hours apiece working as a team for the last year decided to show a Hornet driver a thing or two. Keep in mind what a pig the F4 was. Stay in the vertical, cockpit work load, hand flipping flap switches in maneuvers, a RIO to handle radar work, using up the sky just to get in position for a shot. Well the Hornet nugget with 200 hours in type, in 15 seconds defeated both. That’s when Phantom drivers finally understood what a Hornet sting was about and accepted the aircraft.

      Maintenance was vastly improved over the F4 – 20 minute motor swaps and a good crew could R&R an gearbox in 4 hours. In the early 80’s the fuel cells were a bitch, I’ changed all of them, including the vent tank. About 6 years in the fleet, the developed cracks on the engine mounts due to high AOA maneuvers causing airflow to burble against the verticals. Every time we visited the Airforce we were shocked how little flying those squadron did. 18 planes and 230-275 hours a month. Navy & Marine flew 300-400 hours per month with 12 and maybe only 10 flying, a real workhorse

      The Hornet replaced both the F4 & A7 and later variants replaced A6 and F14 and reduced the cost of Naval Aviation by billions. Jack Anderson a coloumist at the time wrote a scathing article on the F-18, yet 35 years later it the mainstay avaition asset of the fleet.

        • The YF-16 was simply a better aircraft than the YF-17 (what later was adapted into the F-18).

          Also the entire LWF program (the competition that spawned the F-16) was Boyd’s baby, but the Air Force and the prevalence of PGMs turned the F-16 into the aircraft that it is today, if they built the F-16 the way Boyd wanted it (a day fighter just using guns and IR missiles) they would’ve been sent to the bone yard man years ago. And it is unlikely that they would’ve been as prolific as they are today, as in addition to being an excellent fighter the added ability to do strike missions made it attractive to Air Forces that couldn’t afford to have single purpose aircraft.

      • I dunno much about bombing accuracy with F-18 or F-16, but I directed a bunch of strikes with F-4 and A-7 aircraft, occasionally others but mostly those 2. On average (there are always exceptions) the F-4s were lucky to hit South Vietnam, and the A-7s would put bombs in a bucket all day long. But A-7s didn’t shoot down many MiGs that I knew of, the question was what the aircraft were designed for. Hanging bombs on the wings and later dumping them at a mountain does not make an aircraft a bomber. If the F-18 is that good at air-to-air, can it drop a bomb in close proximity to your children? I would trust an A-7 for that, nothing else I’ve seen, though I bet the A-10 could do it as well or better, because that was what it was designed to do.

        • The Colorado Air National Guard, flying A-7s, routinely spanked active duty Air Force F-15 and 16 squadrons in air to ground competitions such as Gunsmoke. And they still do pretty well with Block 30 F-16s.

        • Using PGMs the F-16, F-18, and now the F-35 can almost decide what window they want to put a bomb through. I don’t know how much more accuracy you want?

      • I worked on the A7E at NAS Cecil Field. I remember the F18s doing fly-bys as we would do FOD walkdown. When my squadron decommissioned, I transitioned to the A6 at NAS Oceana. What little I remember of the A7 is that it had a 20mm cannon, and I thought it held quite a bit of ammo. I rarely remember my squadron (Ubangi, Ubetcha) firing the cannon, but it seems like when they did, we had to replace the rattled avionics gear affected by the barrage. Ahhh…Sea stories.

  6. They made a choice that stealth was more important than ordnance loadout with the F-35.

    Interestingly enough, Boeing still has the F-15 production line running at a reduced rate.

    Really, there’s a place for both aircraft in the overall scheme of things…

    • Not necessarily the case. The F-22 is the stealth king, with a much smaller radar cross section, and better air-to-air capabilities. The F-35 was designed to be a multi role fighter. Unfortunately, it was designed to do to much, and suffers because of it.

    • Actually no, no they didn’t.

      Loading up for a typical strike mission the F-16 realistically only has 2 additional stations available, than a F-35 in a stealth strike configuration. And in the stealth strike configuration the F-35 has nearly twice the range than the F-16. The difference comes from the fact that the F-16 has to dedicated 4-5 of the stations it has available to drop tanks and sensors. The F-35 has those built into the aircraft which not only makes it so it doesn’t need as many stations to do the same mission, but it is more fuel efficient in stealth mode.

      OTOH the F-35 has the ability to go non-stealth which adds another 6 stations. Of course this sacrifices range probably to the point that it is equal to a F-16 in range, but end the end the F-35 can carry a greater load out farther, in fact the useful load of the F-35A is about 40% more than the F-16.

      People don’t realize that the F-35 wasn’t designed in a vacuum it was specifically designed to replace the F-16, F-18, F-117, and the AV-8B in strike roles. In that role is exceed the aircraft it is designed to replace by a WIDE margin.

      The problem with the F-35 is the roles it is being forced to take on due to budget cuts and cancellation of other programs in the post-Cold War DOD budget cuts. The F-35 was never meant to be a primary CAP fighter. It isn’t helpless in ACM, but that role was supposed to go to the F-22 and the canceled NATF (the Navy’s attempted at making a F-22). The CAS role was supposed to go to the A-X.

  7. I’m no Air Force genius but cost per aircraft is about $110,000,000. That’s is DODs estimate, so it’s really $220,000,000 per copy.

    A $110,000 drone can be bought at the rate of 1,000 for every F-35. We field 100 F-35’s and our future enemy fields 100,000 drones.

    Is it possible? It’s first flight was in 2006 and in 2014 the Pentagon admitted it was $193,000,000,000 over budget and 7 years late. If you believe $193,000,000,000, contact me for beachfront property in North Dakota for sale, 75 degrees year round too.

    The only thing AF generals want is a fighter jet, they even killed a two engine turbo prop the Army wanted for intra theater logistics. And the AF won’t build one either, though the Army needs one.

    You can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig.

    • I could write a novel on how limited drones are in engaging other aircraft, I’ll save it though. One example: the lag in comms is measured in several seconds, one way. Lag a fire control order that long against a pilot that sees you, and you’re dead 9 times over. We could send dozens of drones against a manned formation, and they’d kill as many as weapons they have available.

      • I suspect that the lag won’t be seconds. It will be micro-seconds. The aircraft will have to be largely autonomous. Why? Because it has to be. That is the only path to victory. Humans think and act too slow. (They also can’t be expended in war by our politicians as readily as machines can.) The advantages of autonomous UAV decisions will out weigh the risks. The future is coming whether we want it to or not.

        • Have you heard about the secret weapon known as “hacking”? What do you suppose will be the future of all those thousands of autonomous drones the day after someone hacks one near Chicago O’Hare and it shoots down 6 or 8 fully loaded airliners? With a pilot on board that won’t happen.

        • This generation is unlikely to hand over fire decisions to an AI. Personally I hope that never happens, the idea that you take a man out of the loop in taking a life is scary. At least when you turn defensive systems like the CWIS to autonomous mode you know that you can easily turn them off, and they are relatively short range.

        • It didn’t take much for Iran to get our Reaper by spoofing the GPS. And al Qaeda was hacking the video feed of Predators all the time.

          No fighter planes carries enough weapons to win a 10×1 dogfight. The internal bay of the 35 is limited. Once you hang some external missiles on it, it isn’t stealthy. A wave of drones would, like the Soviet air forces planned during the Cold War, take heavy losses, but they would obliterate our forces.

        • Spoofing GPS or disrupting avionics is hardly the same thing as taking control of the aircraft and getting it to do what you want.

        • Larry, the cyberwar has to be won either way and hack proof weapons are no good if they are destroyed because they react to slowly. I also wouldn’t be surprised if you could compromise an F-35 through hacking as it is.

      • Your lag assumes…

        1. The drones are not semi-autonomous.
        2. The drone operator is on the other side of the planet. (Not riding in the back of a AWACS platform a hundred miles or so from the engagement area.

        • True, that comment assumes current RPA ops. An airborne C2 platform that sends line-of-sight control signals to a front-wave RPA will cut that down to fractions of a second.

          That infrastructure is at least a few years out, as is the sensors suits incorporated/miniaturized in the RPA that’s required to bring the same level of battlespace awareness to that operator in a C2 platform.

        • The idea is that the airborne C2 platforms is hundreds of miles away from the engagement area. Well outside the engagement range of enemy air assets. It could be something as simple as a AWACS just over the radar horizon bouncing the comm signal off of the stratosphere. Your lag time is still cut down to milliseconds rather than seconds.

          Assume 400 kilometer flight path for the signal. C ~ 300,000 km/s means a round trip signal time of 2.7 ms. Far below the margin of error in human response times.

        • Which prez gave up that drone? It landed on it’s gear, not damaged in flight by a chinese kamikaze.!

          Which prez gave Iran two fast boats? Which prez put more terrorists and criminals back on the streets?

          Which prez gave more gov’t contracts to people who produced nothing, and to “Sovereign Indian Tribal companies” through the SBA, when the Tribes profess to be foreign countries. What percentage of those people register/vote (D)? 5th column, Brown is the new blue.

          That said, gov’t procurement is the graft suck-zone of the universe, and the items procured under need to also make back the companies’ R&D, and grab ankles for the EPA/DOT/garbage carting/WHATEVER, gov’t contracts are expensive and intrusive to comply with.

          A while back, people complained about a $600 toilet seat or $300 hammer, to comply with those contracts, that price-per probably netted $12.

          Any of the plane’s mfr’s or bidders could’ve built or concept to mock-up, nearly 1 per every two years. The rest of the slippage and shrinkage was Harry Reid’s boys.

    • You can’t buy one of the missiles hung on our drones for $110,000. Probably between 500K and 1 mil. Point taken, but don’t be dreaming the difference will be that great (1000:1), especially with all the other expenditures that will be required to facilitate the technology. The biggest difference (I think the drone system will end up more expensive) will be no deaths, no risks, no political pain, we can go to war over and over, no one will care.

  8. Another irrelevant post indirectly bashing a platform about which the author has little knowledge. TTAG’s articles on the 35 for the last year or so have started from the mindset of baseline metrics: speed, gun ordnance, maneuverability, etc. Against those, jets produced in the 1970’s fare better. Start from an understanding of an entire OCA or strike package, and the Comm links/EMS signature/targeting capes/advanced weapons available in a year 2000+ designed aircraft, and it’s an entirely different picture.

    Read the comments under the last F-35 article. TTAG has several commenters (excluding myself) who have an understanding of modern air combat and how the 35 is invaluable for today and tomorrow’s fights:
    http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2016/09/robert-farago/first-test-fire-f-35s-guns/

    I swear I’m not a douche in real life…I just play on stupid F-35 articles.

  9. Remember the F-35 is replacing the A-10 in the close air support role. That means this super expensive airplane has to get down and dirty, however unlikely that seems. The gun is needed for CAS with a decent number of rounds of ammo. For the air-to-air the guns won’t see that much use.

    • The A-10 has already, largely, been replaced and will be completely replaced in the coming years. Between drones, gunships, and attack helicopters, there isn’t really space for the A-10 on the modern battlefield. The A-10 was built to survive in a restricted airspace long enough to do serious damage to an armored column. We don’t really deal with contested airspace much any more, and if we did, we’d send in drones and F-35s to take out air defenses (see opening air battles in Syria where drones and F-22s went in first) before Apaches and AC-130s would come in and stomp on whatever ground troops are there. The only place the A-10 currently wins is speed to the battlefield. You can get there quickly with the F-35 (and largely the F-15E for a few more years), then bring in the Apaches and AC-130s as they get there. I’d also expect the next generation attack helicopter to have better speed and staying ability whenever it comes time to replace the Apache. One can even imagine an AV-22 combines to replace the gunship, attack helicopter, and ground attack aircraft in one platform if we expect to not face a near peer in battle for many years to come.

      • You say this, but I’m a little worried about the “Fighting the Last War” symptoms. The AC-130 and helicopter gunships are incredible force multipliers in uncontested airspace. Given Russian and Chinese actions and their status as near-peer powers who are training for the next war- against the U.S. or a U.S.-trained, U.S.-armed, and U.S.-organized ally power, the survivability of CAS assets against aerial threats does become a serious concern.

        • And A-10s won’t survive long is contested air space either. They were meant to allow the pilot to survive long enough against MANPAD and AAA. But often a hit still takes the aircraft out of the battle. Thus it isn’t a good idea to get shot up. That is why the A-10s were pulled back from hitting Iraqi Republican Guard units during Operation Desert Storm. We had already had a dozen A-10s shot up, and we could ill afford more when due to air space dominance a strike aircraft with LGBs can do the same job.

          Heck even for the designed mission of defending the Fulda Gap from a Soviet Invasion the planners fully expected the lose the entire A-10 force in the opening day of such invasion.

      • I love the “the A-10 wasn’t designed to survive in contested airspace” argument that always comes up.

        It was designed to engage ground targets in the European theater (Fulda gap) during a conventional war in the 1980’s. It was assumed from day 1 that the A-10 would be operating in a highly lethal environment filled with both ground and air threats.

        • You are forgetting that the USAF also believed that they would lose almost the entire deployed force (either damaged or destroyed) in the process. And that would be acceptable.

  10. Is that even a fair comparison? Isn’t the F-15 more analogous to the F-22?

    I love both those. I want to love the F-35. It’s no A-10, though. 🙂

    • It was never designed to be replace the A-10.

      When the F-35 was being developed, the program name was Joint Strike Fighter. The USAF had two additional fighter programs the Advanced Tactical Fighter, the F-22, and an A-10 replacement called AX. The Navy had a NATF program.

      With the Fifth Generation bringing stealth we saw the return of more purpose built aircraft, they could do only limited functions for roles that it wasn’t explicitly designed for. The F-22 was designed for air to air combat being the best ACM fighter we could build while being stealthy, but the small weapons bays made it a bad stealth strike platform. And the F-35 was designed for strike missions including the stealth strike done by the F-117. But the larger weapons bay took up wing area which makes it less suited for ACM.

      • AND! IIRC, both are supersonic cruise, which will probably end up more useful than stealth. Being able to depart the area without contest would always be nice.

        • Not only can they both do Super Cruise, but they can go super sonic with a descent amount of weapons. F-18 and F-16s configured for strike missions can’t. The weapons and fuel tanks create too much drag.

          While the F-35 can carry 2 bombs (possibly more with SDBs or JAGMs), two AAMs, and enough fuel to have nearly twice the combat radius as a F-16 with the same weapon load, all while going super cruise, and not having to drop the ground attack weapons plus drop tanks if they encounter enemy fighter aircraft.

  11. The more I see how modern fighting forces work, as well as those from the resent past, it seems to me that with complex weapon systems it is less about the initial design and more about if shot callers have enough desire & pull to keep it/them around long enough to fix the bugs in them. Occasionally, a weapon is a hit right out of the gate but it seems many need a fair amount of tinkering. Loads of politics involved too.

    I think the M-16/Ar platform is a success in part because so much money was pumped into it and so many adjustments were made. The B-1 had some issues when it was first rolled out. The F-104 is both a success and failure in this regard. A few countries stuck with it long enough to get it to work. Ours did not. The list goes on.

    It seems a bit like the movie/TV industry. Shows that are first in their time slot sometimes get cancelled where as pieces of crap or shows that are way passed their prime keep going on. And their is no shortage of movies that should never have been made.

    • The B-1’s little “problems” have gone away? The B-1 was pushed on USAF because it employed people in every state, so Congress loved it. That did not stop it from being a POS. The ejection capsule was done away with due to cost, back to individual rocket seats. Last time I was briefed (LONG ago!), when on a training mission it was possible for 6 people to be aboard with 4 ejection seats, so after being roasted by being beneath 4 separate rocket blastoffs, the extra crewmembers are to walk down the steps to the door and jump out. Shades of WWII. Without extensive tanker support it’s not capable of going anywhere, much less coming back. And the whole idea was to have a supersonic bomber, but the parts allowing supersonic flight were expensive, so they were cancelled, it is not supersonic. Compared to the ancient B-52, the B-1 has no advantages at all. So why did we buy the POS instead of more B-52s? Because the B-1 was cheaper. Good grief.

      • So much wrong…

        Max speed of the B-1: 1.2M (700+ knots true). A mile every few seconds.

        4 ejection seats, yes. But the 2 extra seats and manual bailout procedures have been gone for decades now.

        The B-1 was chosen over the B-2 for Odyssey Dawn (strikes in Libya in 2011) because it needed less tanker support.

        Cost per flight hour is on par with the B-52, and far less than the B-2.

        The B-52 only this year received the capability to carry guided weapons in its internal bay. Even with that addition, the B-1 can carry a much heavier payload.

        The radar cross section of the B-1 is significantly smaller than the B-52, allowing for greater movement in contested areas.

        The B-1’s link and Comm suite is more thoroughly integrated with modern CAF assets. I’ve seen B-52 do some awfully stupid stuff at large exercises because they couldn’t see or react to the air/ground threat picture. The EWO is still using a damn o-scope to identify threats.

        The only reason we still have B-52s is that we don’t have enough B-2s to carry on the airborne nuke mission. When the B-21 is operational and can stand up as part of the bike triad, the B-52 is history.

        • I seem to have said my latest info was very old. So, now that the problems I addressed have been fixed, how much *did* the POS cost per unit, to go 200 mph faster than a B-52? And which one costs more to maintain? I really don’t know, the B-52 is 40 years older, seems like it would cost more to keep it going, other than fuel.

    • “She did things your mother would never do – LIKE HAVE SEX FOR MONEY!” – Grampa Simpson

      (Best line in that whole episode)

  12. ITT: Instant experts in aviation history, modern airpower/air-combat doctrine, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, systems engineering, and a whole host of other disciplines.

    Is the F-35 program perfect, in both its concept and in it’s execution? Of course not. Is it the greatest boondoggle in american military contracting, or even a particularly bad example? Not at all. Its got flaws and shortcomings, from whatever POV you choose (budget, capabilities, etc) just like every large-dollar high-technology procurement effort. But going by what the internet hivemind says, we’d have been better off burning $500 Billion cash in a tire fire, and fielding a few dozen Sopwith Camels than the F-35 program. Its a little ridiculous.

    • So much this.

      The reduced gun ammo capacity is because, unlike when they made the decision for the F-4, we haven’t had a gun kill since Vietnam. The Air Force had room for the gun so they kept it, but limited the capacity because it is a last ditch weapon that history in the last 30 years has shown has gone unused in ACM. And almost all air to air kills have been at extended distances.

      Heck we haven’t done much ACM outside of training since Vietnam either, and yet ACM was a minor consideration on the F-35 (which has a primary mission being strike not ACM), and a huge consideration on the F-22 (which has a primary mission as CAP/ACM).

    • I can understand that attitude. But does anybody actually expect us to believe that it is possible to build one aircraft in both standard and VTOL configurations without some MAJOR sacrifices in capabilities of either? A bit of truth would be nice!

      • The V-22 is a thing. There is no reason to believe that you can’t just mount ordinance on one with a few tweaks to the airframe.

      • That is why the aircraft are considered brothers/cousins not the same aircraft. Other than the core air frame there are significant differences in all three versions.

        The F-35B has 500lbs less capacity per the main weapons bay and the VSTOL Equipment. But for the Marines even with these limitations it still blows the AV-8B out of the water.

        The F-35A has the gun’s ammo drum where the VSTOL fan is mounted.

        The F-35C has a larger folding wing, larger control surfaces, beefier landing gear/tailhook, and a fuel tank where the VSTOL fan was.

        The big limitations that VSTOL has had on the F-35 program is time. Due to all the time required to get the VSTOL to work well the program has taken longer than if it had been CTOL.

        • Are you saying the A model is the only one with a gun? What would Ahnold do without a gun in his Harrier?

        • The Air Force was the only one that had room internally for a gun. Both the B&C models (for the USMC and USN respectively), lack the room. So they have a dedicated station center line for a stealth gun pod. For the Marines this will be nothing new, the AV-8B also has a tacked on gun pod.

          The USAF was also the only one to put an internal gun on the F-4, the E models included a gun.

          But as a mentioned previously based on past history we haven’t made an air to air kill with a gun since Vietnam, so it isn’t a huge deal.

        • I had heard that the biggest limitation VSTOL imposed was that the fuselage had to be broader which had a negative affect on maneuverability?

        • Maybe but I doubt it. looking at the cut away I can’t imagine making the airframe slimmer without repositioning the intakes to the bottom.

    • I’ve heard this type of sophistry before. I actually had to peddle some of this stuff myself, straight out of engineering school when I worked for, or consulted for, defense contractors. My ethical compass wouldn’t allow me to sit in meeting rooms and lie in a bald-faced way to people, so I got out of the defense industry. I should NB that I’m a defense hawk, and my idea of fighting wars is to pull out of the UN and divest ourselves of these silly treaties that prevent our fighting war in totality to an unequivocal win.

      As bald-faced and mendacious as the defense contractors were in the 80’s (and thank heavens I never darkened the door of Northrup, who turned out to be the grand master of criminal grifters of that time), they were choirboys, deacons and saints compared to today – and especially compared to the F-35 program, where the program’s operations are deliberately flung across the entire CONUS area, employing people in 46 states (my state of Wyoming is notable for our complete lack of program involvement) and several foreign countries (yea, that’ll be a real winner for program security in the future – just watch). So I’ve the luxury of ranting about this program, knowing full well that none of my neighbors, and none of my state’s tax revenues, depend upon this boondoggle program’s expenditures. LMT has done a fine job of making sure that they can extort more funds from the DOD and Congress every time they have a cost or schedule over-run, because they can threaten recalcitrant Congressional delegations with a loss of jobs and tax revenue back home.

      The cost escalation issue has been quite well documented – by more than one source. I’ll put just two reports out there:

      The GAO on the O&S cost under-estimation of the DOD and program office:

      http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-778

      And a RAND study on the acquisition costs of a joint program vs. single-customer/single-purpose projects:

      http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/MG1200/MG1225/RAND_MG1225.pdf

      There is no dimension in which the F-35 covers itself with glory for the US taxpayer.

      As for the capabilities: It doesn’t matter whether we field an air force of F-35’s, F-15’s/F-18’s or Brewster Buffalos. The political class will prevent the US armed forces from actually winning any war in which we are engaged.

  13. Off the top of my head, the F-15s A and C models, pure air to air models, hold 940 rounds. The B, D, and E models, two-seaters, hold 510 rounds.

  14. Wait. Why do we need stealth fighters to bomb guys in mud huts? Did I miss something? Oh? We’re going to use them to fight China instead of using F-22s? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense…

    /sarc

    • The thing is that the F22 has exactly zero ground attack capability. It is a pure air superiority platform. The F35 is a multi-role aircraft capable of doing a bit of everything.

      Sort of like the difference between the F15 and the F18.

        • Yeah, I was sent a flight of “fighters” to drop bombs once, the drivers told me not to count on accuracy, they had no bombsight. Nixon administration was demanding increased “bombing sorties”, so they hung bombs on an airplane not designed for that, we tossed the bombs in the weeds and struck the target with their guns, with which they were superb. Seems like they were F-8s, don’t hold me to it.

  15. Hate to bring this up but, who would we be fighting that we would need all these manned fa-18,22,36-24-36 air platforms? Kinda like rabbit hunting with a Browning Citori Black Gold instead of an H&R single.
    I just don’t get it, you gentlemen are always rasing hell about wasteful USG spending this is no different that the wasteful welfare giveaway problems in our country.. Just because it looks like a flying penis and can drop 500lb penis shaped charges that makes it ok for OUR TAX DOLLARS to fly away faster than these planes go? I’m sick of footing the bill for more useless (overpriced) bullshit. I think any “mission” that these planes can do was done by the A-6’s 45 years ago. Just look at what happened in Desert Storm A-6’s scrambled to get the job done that the modern super hi-tech planes couldn’t.

    • The whole point is to have enough of them so we don’t HAVE to fight. The pax Americana exists because no country in their right mind wants to take on our military in an open war.

      Besides, the Pentagon budget is less than 1/4 of the federal budget. There’s plenty of fat to cut before we start taking money from programs Congress is actually constitutionally empowered to enact.

      • Ok. So they are just pizzing away 1/4 of the taxes on nonsense.. We haven’t had a marching uniformed enemy since 1945. (Black Pajamas don’t count) And the “The whole point is to have enough of them so we don’t HAVE to fight” is insane Russia did the same thing, how did that work out?. Do we need to ramp up whistle production so we can dig ditches and run from one to the other? No. WARFARE and WEAPONS have changed. In 2016 it’s a game of hide and seek, not Sgt. Rock pulling pins with his teeth and chucking em’ into an enemy machine gun nest. I’m just tired of seeing young servicemen/women dying, not when we have the resources and F*CKING Tecnology to keep this from happening.(not to mention keep them out of the shit in the first place)

  16. If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, we need to get a rifle with a “legitimate sporting purpose” that can chamber a 20mm round.

    Potential sporting purpose: Some of those Kodiak bears can get pretty big. Nothing like a 20mm round for good bear medicine.

    What do you guys think?

  17. I don’t know what’s wrong with video besides the title. The F-15E only holds 150 rounds, the counter goes up to 999 and when you see that it means its unloaded.

  18. F-22 is a better, cheaper AC than F 35 which was made to kiss everyone’s ass so it will be a complete Failure as the Missions are different, if they would have made new Warthogs for Attack Planes and get rid of the F/A configurations as they are not as good as a dedicated AC

    • The A-10 would be a failure at the missions that the F-35 would be tasked for. They are different aircraft meant for different missions.

      At the time that the F-35 program was conceived, the USAF had two other programs in the work, the Advanced Tactical Fighter, and another program called A-X at the time.

      The F-35 was built specifically to take the strike roles have the F-16, F-18, and AV-8B. It was also designed to take over the stealth strike roles from the F-117. In those roles it achieves it by nearly every measures. It can carry more weapons farther, while not being helpless in ACM like dedicated attack aircraft. On top of that it has stealth.

      The F-22 was purpose built to be an air to air fighter aircraft. It has large wings, powerful engines, and large control surfaces. With equal level of pilots the F-22 should run circles around the F-35 in ACM. But to achieve that while having a reasonably small RCS it had to sacrifice weapon space, the largest weapon it can carry internally is a 1,000lb JDAM. Also it has a much smaller combat radius due to the fuel hungry engines. Compare that to the F-35 where even the most restricted model can carry a 1,500lb JDAM, and has 50% more range.

      Finally they had the A-X which was meant to be a true replacement of the A-10. But in the post-Cold War budget cuts the A-X program got canceled. And the F-35 is forced to take on some of the CAS role. Also in Obama budget cuts the SECDEF Gates cut the F-22 fleet dramatically, over the objection of Air Force Generals, which has resulted in the F-35 going to be forced to take on some CAP roles. Note neither of these roles was the F-35 supposed to inherit it was forced on it due to budget cuts. While having no money, or spare capability to make changes to improve the ability to handle those roles.

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