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Last Updated: Mon Jan 27 11:18:09 UTC 2014

JSF: Dr Kopp Responds to Maj Gen Davis

Air Power Australia - Australia's Independent Defence Think Tank

Air Power Australia NOTAM

  27th February, 2009

Dr Carlo Kopp, SMAIAA, MIEEE, PEng

Contacts: Peter Goon
Carlo Kopp

Mob: 0419-806-476 Mob: 0437-478-224

In this open letter, Dr Carlo Kopp of Air Power Australia responds to the public attack on Air Power Australia made by Maj Gen Charles R Davis, Program Executive Officer of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program, published on the 24th February, in the “Inside Defense” journal, under the title “Strike Back”.

Major 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 writing in response to your comments published in the 24th February edition of Inside Defense. Whether your comments to journalist Jason Sherman were made with the intent to publish, or off the record “in confidence”, is immaterial, as they are now public knowledge.

You have accused me, and my colleagues, of “having an agenda”, as if an agenda were bad, but you have misrepresented that agenda, whether wilfully or by failing to study our work. Our agenda is simple: to ensure that the Western alliance never again suffers the humiliation of defeat in combat by opponents with superior air combat capabilities.

Your suggestion that Air Power Australia (APA) somehow has a primary focus in criticizing your program is false, in fact, of the thirty three (33) papers published in our APA Analyses research journal since its launch in 2004, only five, or 15 percent, are specifically focused upon the F-35 program. Moreover, APA has argued widely and strongly for acquisition reform, and proper force structure planning for Western Air Forces. APA has dealt with a wide range of problem areas, including aerial refuelling, airbase hardening, regional and national military strategy, the proliferation of advanced Russian weapons technology, and matters of governance, military culture and ethos. We have produced the most complete and up-to-date technical analytical study of the fundamental, pervasive and unprecedented changes taking place in the way Russia and China build, deploy and intend to operate their fighters, guided missiles and radars.

Make no mistake, the world is changing around us and many of these changes are not for the better. Our ability, as the Western alliance, to maintain global military superiority, will depend upon us having genuinely superior capabilities. There is no room for the intellectual sloth which has pervaded much of the Joint Strike Fighter Program since its inception.

You have misrepresented the numerous works produced by APA on modern air combat, claiming that APA has a “a very 1950s-type of mindset”. Most of the work produced by APA deals specifically with Beyond Visual Range missile combat in a networked environment, with modern digital technology and stealth, none of which was even possible two decades ago. Had you invested the time to study these works, you would know that Lockheed-Martin’s briefing on JSF air combat simulations, detailed recently in Janes Defence Weekly, directly validated the two principal concerns raised by APA about the air combat simulations your team performed on the JSF: the failure to model the latest generation of adversary fighters, and the failure to address the very frequent scenarios in which Beyond Visual Range engagements devolve into close combat engagements. I will leave others to elaborate on this matter in more detail.

You accused APA of a “rudimentary understanding of stealth”, a remarkable claim given that APA employed the very same computational electromagnetics modelling techniques used by every US contractor and research establishment in the business. Had you taken the time to study this work, you would not have falsely claimed that APA made no allowances for radar absorbent materials in our analysis, as APA actually made unusually generous allowances, favouring the F-35. In fact the analysis produced by APA also included the impact of refraction upon target aspect angles in long range missile engagement geometries, a factor usually not considered in such analyses, also favouring the F-35.

You failed to mention that the analysis produced by APA validated the public claims made by Lockheed-Martin and the Air Force, that the F-35 has respectable -30 dBSM class front sector stealth performance. If the simulations and analysis produced by APA are so poor, as you have claimed, why do they validate Lockheed-Martin’s public claims? By implication, do you therefore have similar doubts about the work emanating from Lockheed-Martin and the Air Force? And if not, why not?

You failed to mention the principal point made by APA, which is that inevitable evolutionary advancements in Russian radar power-aperture, signal and data processing, and missile performance, have surpassed the stealth specification to which the F-35 is being built.

APA invested considerable effort in finding the optimal escape manoeuvre for the F-35, to minimise its exposure to a Surface to Air Missile battery, giving the aircraft every advantage we could. The aircraft consistently died in combat, because its poor aft sector stealth and low escape speed allowed the missile to run it down and kill it every time. The key factors were improved radar power-aperture and missile kinematic performance in the Russian Surface to Air Missile batteries. When APA applied this very same model to the F-22, it survived every time, due to much better aft sector stealth and supercruise.

Your comments on classified access are curious, insofar as the Laws of Physics and Rules of Probability have no respect for such bureaucratic devices. Hiding information by such means merely makes it harder for an analyst to divine the ground truth, not impossible.

Your program is a techno-strategic failure, because its initial definition was predicated on fundamentally wrong assumptions about the future threat environment in which the aircraft would have to survive. At the root of that failure was intellectual laziness on the part of the architects of the Joint Strike Fighter Program, who failed to account for future evolutionary and revolutionary growth in opposing radar, missile, and aircraft technology.

We are left with an aircraft that will never be able to do the job it was intended to do and survive, in high intensity combat, even if it can be made to eventually meet its key performance targets.

What was most disappointing about your comments, is that you chose to attack APA for doing the difficult critical thinking and rigorous analytical work which your office should have done in the first place, and clearly failed to do. The Joint Strike Fighter Program Office, under your leadership as PEO and previously DPEO, became infatuated with marketing the program over managing it. Given your professional and academic background in engineering, science and test flying, you should have known better. Others I am sure can and should elaborate on this matter further.

I have had the privilege of knowing a great many serving and former United States Air Force officers over the three decades I have been involved with military aviation, and I take much pride in being able to say that nearly all of them remain good friends and professional colleagues. People often ask why I keep a framed picture of Gen Curtis E LeMay in my office. The answer is simple – the values of integrity, honour, persistence and hard work, which Gen LeMay promoted so long and so hard, are worthwhile and necessary if anything good is to be achieved.

In conclusion, your comments to Inside Defense are mostly misrepresentations and errors of fact, and not what should be expected  from a General Officer in the world’s finest Air Force.


Carlo Kopp, BE(Honours), MSc, PhD(Monash), SMAIAA, MIEEE, PEng

Head, Capability Analysis, Air Power Australia
Editor, Air Power Australia Analyses,
Editor, Air Power Australia NOTAM series,
Defence Analyst and Consulting Engineer

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