“Semper Fi” to beachheads all over, maybe you missed it over the weekend between the Iron Dome coverage and the Magnitsky Act (good one by the way, DC finally doing what it is supposed to do) but the F-35B was officially declared operational on Friday November 16th when the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 became the first operational F-35 Squadron in the Department of Defense, and the World.
As the officials called it “To be used to conduct a full spectrum of aviation operations in support of combat missions and maritime readiness worldwide”.
Some pretty important words in that single phrase, guess somewhere in a mountain cavern some guy is wondering why he didn’t leave those Harriers be. Gibbs’s rule nr. 1b; never mess with the marines.
So everyone likes to trash the F-35, myself included, but honor where honor is due, we were all so busy criticizing and kicking the thing around we did not see it coming of age and it is going to pick up speed from here on. Forget the helmet, they will fix that in the end, sure it will cost but look at the B-52; you think that went OK from the start? And more importantly, is anyone still complaining about that 50 years later?
That brings us to an important sideline; those who like to simplify debates for the sake of populism… Quite different form what General Powell meant when he said that great leaders have the ability to simplify complex issues for everyone to understand which is really an art.
The first category would make you believe that they do not go with stealth or the JSF because the value added is not worth the initial cost in this time of budget responsibility bla bla bla etc.
Sounds great the first second or so but let me compare this for size; “We are not investing in the jet engine because it is so much more expensive than the Spitfire and the Me-262 has yet to win a war.”
See the fallacy of such arguments? Much as I love the Spit (which was really pretty), it is an Me-262 world out there so stop your yapping and get with it.
It is impossible to foresee the value of a system but when its time has come, like all evolutionary steps, there is no going back. You figure out the value as you go along. The guy who invented the wheel probably didn’t think of using it underneath a plane for take-off and landing.
So yes, the F-22 has issues and the F-35 will have teething problems and yes, it is not the prettiest jet around, but all that is no longer relevant (OK, maybe it is for the sex appeal part )
What is relevant is that the US and it’s allies now have effectively changed the face of conflict, forever. Every now and again something important happens, a real game changer; the invention of black powder, the advent of carrier aviation, Precision Guided Munitions, Playboy, the I Phone…
So can we please get off the RCS comparison bandwagon, please stop to argue Terabits of blogs over whether the JSF is better than the Su-35, if the S-400 will kick the JSF etc etc etc. hot air, pure lounge room theory, going nowhere and completely besides the real point.
The F-22 / F-35 combo is out there and will not be surpassed anytime soon, not by the PAK-FA, the J-31 or anything… Not because of some square centimeters in Radar Cross Section, no. It is not going to be surpassed because of all that is associated with it; the capabilities, the tactics, the knowledge, the networking, the penetration capability, how to use it, the huge bandwidth needs, the computing power and cooling required, the datalinks waveform, signature management… The Russians and Chinese have just started to follow the White Rabbit, and they have yet to meet the Cheshire Cat…
The F-35 – F-22 are a fantastic coalition tool with high connectivity, integration and cross platform intel and data sharing capacity. That and the fact that they are extremely tough to spot, let alone lock onto.
What does that mean? To the bad guy it means that he does not want to be anywhere in the air, ground or on water with these 2 up and about. This duo will find the bad guy faster, engage it in a much different way than ever done before, and… apply more precision then ever before, without the other guy even knowing what happened; ”the bomb out of nowhere”… “my electronics just fried”… “I was hit by some sort of light and my engine started to smoke”…”the radar scope on that latest SAM said the skies were clear”…
The only guy who will not go to a Court Martial for desertion is the odd one out who will be downed by some AIM-9X variant and forget the days that those things went straight for the heat source and the flare.
I can hear you laugh but did you know that US bombers who kept missing target over Tokyo (extremely high speeds knocked off the bomb sights precision completely) were initially suspected of psychological disorders, or worse, treason?
That is before they re-discovered the pre-war work of a rather obscure Japanese scientist who explained that the speeds those pilots spoke of were actually for real; it was called the Jet-stream. Before the B-29 the US Army Air Force never went up that high. Oops…sorry guys.
The first kids to go home, hit by the Navy’s new laser SHORAD, or Boeing EMP weapon, or JSF’s electronic attack capability will likely go down that same road.
The strategic effect of Air Power is difficult to measure but it is always present and this is no different for the F-22 / F-35 combo. A possible aggressor now has to take into account that he will attack a force that can be multiplied by allies in a matter of hours, plug and play. Multiply their targeting network, share their data, share their computers and their weapons, get live UAV feeds and satellite link updates on the whereabouts of those tank columns, just like his sons video games but this time for real.
So this would be aggressor goes back and looks at his soviet style centralized Command & Control structure, his SA-2 guidelines upgraded in the Ukraine with a computer from heaven knows where, his Chinese CB radios… He looks at his disparate, under-serviced would be air force operated by hired thugs, his jamming sensitive radar network bought by his predecessor in the 60’s. He looks at all that, thinks, goes home and joins his son in front of that Play Station.
Like the helmet, hate the helmet, adore the looks, abhor the looks but do not negate the bottom line; the F-22 / F-35 / B-2 trio are, in a way, the most Chinese aircraft that the US has ever built:
“Speak softly….Carry big stick” Old Chinese proverb.