The new CDS on the F-35

As John Geddes notes, Lt.-Gen. Tom Lawson is an avowed fan of the F-35.

He was, for instance, asked about the plane by Conservative MP Ray Boughen during a March 2011 committee hearing.

Everything that the air force has done by way of analysis of all those aircraft available to Canada suggests that there is no comparison.

A month earlier, he’d been in Mississauga to talk up the purchase.

We’re not only defending Canada,” said Major-General Tom Lawson, assistant chief of Canada’s air staff, “we’re also doing that with a partner to the south who expects us to meet our NORAD obligations.” … Buying the fighters will give Canada the best and most inexpensive method of fulfilling its obligations to its military partners, including the United States, said Lawson, a former Commandant at the Royal Military College in Kingston.

There is also what Lt.-Gen. Lawson wrote in the Canadian Military Journal this year.

As mentioned earlier, one of the characteristics of symmetric warfare is a clearly delineated front line. In peacetime, these are the borders between sovereign nations. A nation’s claim to sovereignty over a region implies that nation’s ability to exercise and enforce its national will, providing security and rule of law for its people within the region. NORAD’s mission of aerospace control is how Canada and the U.S. largely perform this task within North American airspace. This is accomplished by tracking, identifying, and, if necessary, intercepting and potentially destroying aircraft that enter the airspace with malicious intent. It is this final option that brings us to the choice of the subject of Canada’s next fighter.

Fighter aircraft must possess a wide variety of capabilities, including extensive range, endurance, speed, survivability, the ability to perform air-to-air refueling, advanced reconnaissance capabilities, and interoperability with other military assets. While our current fighter aircraft, the CF-18 Hornet, is capable of performing its tasks at this time, it is reaching the end of its effective operational lifespan. It needs to be replaced. Analysis of these capability requirements for a new fighter has “… made it clear that only a 5th generation fighter could satisfy our needs in the increasingly complex future security environment.  We need a capability that helps us carry out our core missions of defending the sovereignty of Canadian and North American airspace through NORAD, providing Canada with an effective and modern capability for international operations, and effectively conducting joint operations with our Allies though NATO or a coalition.”

Currently, both Russia and China are in the process of developing 5th generation fighters of their own. If they have the capabilities provided by these advanced aircraft, and NORAD cannot match them, the current symmetry would end. As a simple example, a 5th generation fighter, due to its stealth properties and its more advanced sensor suite, will ‘see’ a 4th generation fighter well before it is spotted in return.  Also, it must be noted that it is impossible to upgrade a 4th generation fighter into a 5th generation fighter.  Stealth must be expressly designed and built into a fighter from the outset.

“Fifth generation” is a description often applied to the F-35. In his report on the procurement, the auditor general wrote that “fifth generation capability” is used to describe “fighter jets that, according to manufacturers, incorporate the most modern technologies, such as stealth, advanced radar, and integrated avionics,” but that “there is no accepted or objective definition of fifth generation capability.” “It is important to note,” the auditor general also wrote, “that the term ‘fifth generation’ is not a description of an operational requirement.”

In committee testimony two years ago, a representative from Boening argued that F-18 Super Hornet qualified as “fifth generation.”

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, in response to an order paper question from the NDP’s Matthew Kellway in June, acknowledged the subjectivity of the phrase.




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The new CDS on the F-35

  1. Lawson’s new post hasn’t even gotten off the ground and he’s already making a mess of it.

  2. The real advance and advantage of the F-35 is its 360 degree by 360 degree remote sensing capabaility and the ability to present that information to the pilot in nice cohert picture of the battle space. Also since the F-35 is networked to other aircraft and other F-35′s the F-35 pilot has unparralled situation awareness of the battle space. It like the difference between looking at the world with a little flash light or the sun at high noon.

      • Actually the engineering fixes for the HMDS (helmet mounted display system ) seem to be on track. By the time the F-35 goes operational in USA, probably the Spring of 2017 the problems with HMDS will be a distant memory.
        http://ainonline.com/aviation-news/2012-07-06/lockheed-martin-reports-progress-f-35-helmet-display

        Here is what the F-35′s 5th generation avonics are capable of: http://www.viddler.com/v/eebd59ed
        Compare that to the F-18E Super Hornets cockpit.
        http://www.simpits.org/database/RealCockpits/FA18E_1.jpg
        Honestly now, which aircraft would you rather fly into battle with?

        • I still think I’d rather fly in to battle with 190 Super Hornets rather than 65 F35s.

          • That is probably because you still do not yet comprehend the concept of a remote sensing networked fighter like the F-35 vs a simple radar carrying fighter such as the F-18E.

            Also in the old days you would need 190 fighters because only 95 of them would be servicable at any given time because of maintenance requirements. You also had fighters that had special avionics for day and night roles so that would have left you with 47 real operational aircraft for any given moment of time.

          • in the old days you would need 190 fighters because only 95 of them would be servicable at any given time because of maintenance requirements.

            I put the notion that we already know that one of the most complicated weapons systems ever designed is going to have less down time and maintenance necessities than proven front line fighters before it’s more than a third of the way through it’s testing in the same category as I put the notion that we don’t have to worry at all about an F35′s single engine ever failing over the arctic because its engine’s never going to fail.

            Admittedly, at least that’s not as ridiculous as the notion that we need three squadrons of “fifth generation” fighters in case the Russians or the Chinese ever try to invade.

          • True the F-35 is more sophisticated then legacy fourth generation aircraft but it was also designed for ease of repair and maintenaince from the start of the program. In fact a lot of the routine system checks that ground crew had to manually do on previous fourth generation aircraft is now done by the aircraft computers. (Here is a good article on the subject).
            http://www.sldinfo.com/shaping-the-f-35-maintenance-approach/

          • Call me crazy, but I’m still going to wait on deciding whether or not a plane that dropped it’s first dummy bomb in a test flight THREE WEEKS AGO is the cat’s pajamas.

          • I dunno, can you comprehend the concept of the US developing a remote sensing network jammer, or worse, worm, the result of the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, and Indians having their own version working six months later? And then there’s the matter of the notorious porosity of US server systems… Or was that the first thing?

          • LOL, you can’t jam infared remote sensors, the best you can do is try to remove the heat from an object and try to make it blend in with the ambient temperature objects around it.

          • F-18s can be upgraded with the latest sensing technology. It is only the stealth capacity that they would lack. The F-18 is also a superior aircraft in other performance capacities. It is however quite inferior to the latest Russian and european fighters.

          • By the time you incorprated the new computers and avionics into the F-18E and wrote the 10 million lines of code to operate the sensors and the weapons systems you would be ten years further down the road and you would have trippled the cost of the F-18.

        • So, assuming you think for some reason that Lockheed is a reliable source when it comes to reporting to stockholders how their stuff really isn’t broken, did you even read the article you cite?

          Even *Lockheed* doesn’t trust that their fixes will do the job “Until we are sure that we can meet the needs of the warfighter, we’re going to have a ‘dual-path development’ with the alternate display,”

          Read that carefully.. they’re not sure they can meed the needs of the warfighter right now, so they’re trying dual path development.. that is.. working on two projects for the helmet at once — neither of which currently function properly — in hopes that maybe.. just maybe.. one of them might work out.

          Which means that right now you’re claiming it’s a better plane based solely on tech specs which they have no idea if they can even meet.

          • Lockheed is confident that they can work out the bugs in HMDS in fact the test pilots given the option to wear the helmet or not wear always opt to wear the helmet because of the many advantages it offers when flying the F-35 even with the few technical problems the early prototypes have. Here is another good article the details the problems of the HMDS.

            http://www.dodbuzz.com/2012/06/19/lockheeds-comprehensive-qa-on-the-f-35/

    • I hope the F35 lives up to its billing, because the F35 needs to be amazing. If the government sticks to their $9 billion budget we’ll be lucky if we can get 45 of them, likely just enough for TWO, maybe three, active squadrons.

      Unless our F35s can shoot down 8 or 9 fighters for every Canadian F35 that goes down, we’re gonna have a Hell of a time stopping the Russians when they invade.

      • F-35s only carry 4 missiles. And the latest Russian planes so outclass the F-35 that we would lose all 45 in less than 10 minutes. That is with zero Russian losses. Good thing we aren’t enemies eh!
        Seeing as we can’t buy Russian or Chinese planes, our best bet would be Eurofighters or F-15s. Or price wise the super hornet. The F-35 would need to have it’s airframe totally redesigned to compete. Bigger wings, more fuel, less weight and thrust vectoring engine. Then cut the price in half.

        • F-35s only carry 4 missiles.

          Not QUITE true. They can only carry four missiles in the INTERNAL weapons bay. You can load an F-35 up with more missiles (up to about 10 I think, 4 in the internal bay, 4 under the wings and two near the wingtips). Of course, you sacrifice stealth when you start mounting stuff on the external pylons.

          That said, if the Russians invade, and we send up every F35 we have to stop them, even fully loaded they can’t afford many misses if each plane needs to take out 8 or 9 Russian planes.

  3. Lawson’s – norad demands we choose f35 – makes no sense at all really. Unless they’ve fixed the deficiencies the F35 was found variously to lack air refueling capability, only have a single engine, raidio/communications interoperability difficulties , limited range and inability to take off from short northern airstrips. On top of which none of those fifth generation Russian and Chinese fighter are capable of encroaching into our arctic.[ unless they have taken a serious leap forward over us? That would make a case for the F35 - if it can do what the manufacturers claim?] Isn’t the threat still relatively slow bombers and cruise missles?
    Sounds to me as if the military is chasing after the brightest shiny toy in the box and isn’t particularly bothered if it doesn’t fit our needs. Sure we should probably buy some of them if they are the right aircraft for our NATO commitments but they’re hardly the ideal plane for the north.

    • Given how much of Lawson’s training and development was spent at the US, it’s little wonder that what he thinks is the best plane is the one that will work best for the US’s goals.

      The F35 is a strike fighter. It’s designed to go in first from a friendly base nearby, bomb the hell out of some brown people, and have done the job well enough that it doesn’t get shot down on its way back. It needs support from F22s and american refuel jets to do anything else of significance.

      Basically, if we want our troops to be cannon fodder for the U.S.’s imperialism, then yeah, this is the right plane.

      If we want it to defend our shores and airspace, it most certainly is not.

  4. I’m in the process of developing 5th generation spectacles so that I can see other near sighted people with 4th generation spectacles before they see me.

    • Just make sure they have air to air refueling and stealth capability.

      • I’ve seen the specs (pun intended!) and the glasses are indeed stealthy. However, their air-to-air refuelling system doesn’t actually work with the system we use on our tanker planes. So, we’ll either need to pay to change the air-to-air system on the glasses, or pay to re-fit all of our tankers.

    • Ha! Big deal! They won’t work without a special helmet-thingy that has a 360 degree field of vision.

      • Not sure if I can turn my head that far. I’ll need a note from my chiropractor before I try the helmet …

  5. More on the Canadian Military Journal piece at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s 3Ds Blog:

    “F-35: Flim-Flammery From a Senior RCAF General…”
    http://www.cdfai.org/the3dsblog/?p=1307

    Mark
    Ottawa

  6. Currently, both Russia and China are in the process of developing 5th generation fighters of their own. If they have the capabilities provided by these advanced aircraft, and NORAD cannot match them, the current symmetry would end.

    Again, this RIDICULOUS notion that we need 65 F-35s to defend against the RUSSIANS. This ignores two important points. One, that the United States Air Force is part of NORAD. Two, that if the Russians wanted to attack Canada they could outnumber our active duty F35 fighters 4:1 while leaving 50% of their Air Force at home.

    Protecting ourselves from Russia (somehow without the support of American F35s and F22s!) isn’t an argument in favour of Canada buying 65 F35s. That’s an argument in favour of Canada buying 300 F35s.

    When it comes to protecting our sovereignty from the Russians, I’m just not convinced that 65 F35s would really be more effective than 190 Super Hornets (what you could get for the same price). If the Russians are coming (btw, they aren’t), and the Americans aren’t going to help us stop them (btw, they would) then I’d rather take my chances with 8 active squadrons of 4th generation fighters rather than face them with 3 active squadrons of F35s.

    Or, why not get F18 Super Hornets for now, invest the difference, and replace the Super Hornets when needs be? Even if the Super Hornets won’t be operationally effective for as long as the F35s theoretically will, so what? 65 F35s will cost at least $12 billion at their current estimated flyaway cost (plus whatever we ask LM to add to customize them for our forces, like making them compatible with our current air-to-air refuelling technology). 65 F18E/Fs on the other hand would cost about $4.3 billion in flyaway costs. By what rationale does it make more sense to spend $12 billion now, rather than spending $4.3 billion now, and putting the extra 7.7 billion in some GIC to gather investment income to put towards whatever we want when the F18E/Fs are no longer good enough??? This also saves us from potentially being in a situation where we’re still flying the “most advanced manned fighter ever built”, 10 years after everyone else stops using manned fighters all together.

  7. Let’s just buy some used Sopwith Camels from the Brits. Maybe then progressives will stop crying.

    • The Brits were initially going to buy 138 F35Bs for their carriers. Now they’ve reduced the order to 48. At this rate, they’d better hold on to the Camels.

      • The real problem is that they should have held on to the Harriers. LKO, I agree with what you say except that I think you’re an incurable optimist. I doubt seriously that they have a single airframe with any real long-duration flight experience. I doubt the helmet will work for a long time, so scratch the entire fire control system (other than the Korean Conflict bubble-gum-on-the-gun-window system, or a Leupold 3.5-8 mounted on the “dashboard”). Moving the mounting point for the tailhook will NOT be easy, and no one talks much about the C model anymore. Worst of all, if you believe anything Lockheed or USAF say about the current actual status of the airplane, you probably got pregnant in the 10th Grade, regardless of sexual proclivities. Remember, the F-22 was “operational” in 2007, and the original Sparrow was “the most effective missile in the Vietnam conflict” (well, it was almost as effective as a rock sling). And what is all this Canadian worry about “long transarctic flights”? Just send an aircraft carrier up with the new $2.5 Trillion ice-breaker system…

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