General Charles R. Davis
Program Executive Officer
Joint Strike Fighter Program
200 12th Street South, Suite 600
Arlington, VA 22202-5402
Dear Major General Davis,
I am responding to your comments published in the 24th February edition
of Inside Defense. While I don’t usually reply to ad-hominem
attacks, I think that in this instance it is in the public interest,
and in the interest of the security of the free world, to publicly
address your statements.
General Davis, you
publicly lambast the Air Power Australia (APA) analyses. Did you
not recall that your Lockheed Martin colleague, Steve O’Bryan, Director
of Business Development, used and acknowledged APA’s future threat
assessments in his ‘Navy League 2008a.ppt’ briefing? In Slide 7 of that
briefing, O’Bryan correctly identifies the future threat as the
Su-35BM Flanker E Plus armed with
the R-77M Ramjet missile and
the ‘double digit’ SAMS. You mentioned the Su-30MKI as the threat being
assessed. It seems that Lockheed Martin’s Marketing Department has got
it right, and the JSF Project Office has got it wrong. Surely one would
expect it to be the other way around?
While you denigrate APA’s efforts, many draw heavily upon the APA
website, which receives over 200,000 ‘hits’ daily, with a monthly
information down load rate approaching half a Terabyte. There is a
constant stream of correspondence, from many serving and former
military personnel, thanking APA for its work and congratulating it on
the accuracy, focus, breadth and depth of the content.
I therefore take issue with your claim that “they [APA] have no concept
of the modern warfare and systems of operations and airborne battle
systems and coalition ops”. I am puzzled as to how you can make such a
statement given the sheer volume of high quality reference material on
future air combat posted on the APA website. Have you actually invested
the time to study any of the APA published works? You would be well
advised to do so.
APA’s concern about the F-35 is not that it will meet a single
Su-30MKI, as you claim, but that it will face a massed attack of
advanced air combat fighters in the class of the Su-35BM. Mr
O’Bryan correctly used the Su-35BM as the one to beat in his
presentation, not the Su-30MKI.
Recent variants of the Flanker have an inbuilt data networking system,
so each Flanker shares what it knows with its peers. Unlike the
Flankers, which have impressive fuel reserves, smaller aircraft like
the F-35 are heavily dependent on Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) tankers
for persistence, and AWACS for network centricity. The F-35’s
dependency on front-aspect stealth for survival forces “nose cold”
entry into combat and heavy reliance upon off-board AWACS data for
situational awareness, lest it give its position away by using its
radar. A few indiscrete sweeps could trigger the sensitive ESM
systems of the Flanker E Plus.
So, the reality is that in an intensive air battle, these so-called
‘assets’ become ‘liabilities’ that must be protected since readily
available Russian technology includes ‘AWACS killer’ missiles – such as
the 200 nautical mile R-172 and the 160 nautical mile R-37 Arrow.
While it is difficult to shoot down a networked Su-35BM, the network
centric AWACS and AAR tankers are big, slow, defenceless, lumbering
In air combat scenarios, I always make the AWACS and AAR tankers the
The attack plan is a simple overwhelming swarm: Offensive Counter Air
(OCA) Flankers engage the Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) protecting the AAR
tankers and AWACS, while other sections of Flankers simultaneously kill
the AAR tankers and AWACS. The fuel and missile payload advantage of
the Flanker over the F-35 makes this easy to do.
A probable scenario over vast areas of the Pacific Ocean where such air
battles might rage, is that after the tankers are dropped, the F-35s
exhaust their fuel and fall into the drink.
If you fail to recognise the vulnerability of AWACS and AAR aircraft,
and the risks in heavy dependency upon these exposed ‘assets’, then any
reasonable person might ask “who is the one who does not understand
future air warfare?”.
This brings me to the subject of ‘reference threats’. Your
assessments appear to be focussed on threats that are currently
deployed, while excluding those that the F-35 will actually face when
it eventually reaches Initial Operational Capability (IOC). As I
recall, you claim the F-35 is supposed to maintain air superiority over
the next several decades.
The air combat ‘reference threats’ in the reliably foreseeable future
(2015-2020) are represented by the Su-35BM Flanker E Plus, the MiG-35
Fulcrum, advanced SAM-based integrated defences comprising the SA-15,
SA-19, SA-20, SA-21, SA-22, and SA-23, supported by the new sensors
such as passive emitter locating systems, and active phased array
(AESA) VHF metric and L-band decimetric wavelength radars specifically
designed to counter aircraft ‘stealthed’ against X-band centimetric
wavelength radars. Look closely at Steve O’Bryan’s brief – he put
these SAMs, the Su-35BM and the R-77M Ramjet (RVV-AE-PD)
front-and-centre as the ‘reference threats’ .
Dr Kopp has used this ‘reference threat’ approach to developing Air
Power Australia analyses. His technical knowledge of Russian SAM
systems and radars is encyclopaedic, and it has been a deliberate
strategy of his to conduct research and publish a comprehensive
database of these threat systems on the Air Power Australia website. He
is also an experienced engineer, and much of his doctoral thesis dealt
with the design of AESA radars. He cannot be simply written off as a
So, when you made the derisory comment, “That's a very 1950s-type of
mindset”, you would have been more accurate to use a 2015 date. An
informed observer might reasonably conclude that the Air Power
Australia analyses are focused in time much closer to 2050 than 1950.
The JSF’s combat
effectiveness is totally dependent on the thesis that ‘you cannot see
me, therefore you cannot kill me’. If this premise is proven to
be false by the standard due diligence process, like testing and
evaluating the JSF against representative threats, then the consequence
is the conclusion that the F-35 fails to meet the standards required of
a future air combat aircraft.
However, the glacial pace of development of the F-35 appears to have
missed this crucial aspect in its DT&E program, and you must now
rely on simulations alone to make your evaluations.
Lockheed Martin recently conceded, refer Janes Defence Weekly, that
their air combat simulations failed to examine the full spectrum of
engagements with aircraft like the Su-35BM. They also disclosed that
the 1990s technology Sukhoi Su-30MKI was used to represent Flanker
This choice is a fatal flaw in assessing the F-35’s capability – the
Su-30MKI is not the future air combat threat – the much newer and more
capable Su-35BM and the MiG-35 are. Surprisingly, no mention is even
made of the potential of Sukhoi’s planned stealthy PAK-FA to overmatch
In low-observable operations, the F-35 will likely carry a maximum of
four air-to-air missiles and operational planners must make an
agonising choice between the long range AIM-120 and the close combat
AIM-9X missiles. This is a ‘damned if you do, damned if you
If four AIM-120s are carried and they don’t kill all the enemy
fighters, then the inevitable result will be that the much faster
Sukhois and/or MiGs will run the defenceless F-35s down and kill them
from close range with R-73/74 missiles or GSh-301 gunfire.
If two AIM-120s are dropped for two AIM-9Xs, then the
Beyond-Visual-Range capability is halved, increasing the chance of the
F-35s being run down and engaged within-visual-range (WVR) by the
Sukhois, which enjoy a substantial advantage in energy, height, speed,
agility, range and number of missile shots available.
The Lockheed Martin briefing cited by Janes exposed a further serious
defect in these F-35 simulations, which is the unrepresentative 72
percent / 31 percent / 7 percent mix between Beyond Visual Range /
transitional / close combat engagements. With only four missiles and
inferior egress speeds, deadly ‘end game’ WVR engagements are more
likely than BVR engagements.
Where have you addressed the inevitable situation where the F-35 JSF
runs out of missiles, or gas, or both, and must disengage and head for
home with a supercruising Su-35BM, renowned for its large fuel
reserves, rapidly closing for a 6 o’clock shot?
Air Power Australia analyses are based on scientific method evaluations
of future air combat and, not surprisingly, reach the same conclusions
as did the RAND study entitled ‘The Future of Air Combat’. You
know the one – it is the prestigious work that resulted in Dr John
Stillion losing his job for making this perceptive assessment:
‘F-35A is “Double
Inferior” relative to modern Russian/Chinese fighter designs in visual
range combat Inferior acceleration, inferior climb, inferior sustained
turn capability. Also has lower top speed. Can’t turn, can’t
climb, can’t run.’
Your incorrect and misleading public statements only serve to
demonstrate that it is you who lack the necessary understanding of the
likely threats that will be in the Asia-Pacific region when the JSF
becomes operational some time after 2015.
You have also fallen into the trap of the ‘garbage-in, garbage-out’
syndrome sometimes seen in simulation studies, by misrepresenting the
future threat as the Su-30MKI, when in reality the networked,
super-cruising, digital Su-35BM with a massive 20 Kilowatt radar and an
onboard arsenal of missiles will be the air combat aircraft the
Lightning II must engage. At least the LockMart sales boys got it right.
As a former F-15 flight commander, and a weapons and tactics officer,
you should know the likely outcome of a massed air battle of F-35s
versus Su-35BMs. But if you cannot tell the difference between a
Flanker E Plus and a Flanker H, the results will be ugly.
WGCDR C. L. Mills (Retd), AM, BSc (Physics), MSc (USAFIT)
Air Combat Analyst, Air Power Australia