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THE ISRAELI F-35I “ADIR” DECLARED OPERATIONAL. SO WHAT’S NEXT?

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On Dec. 6, 2017, the Israeli Air Force has declared its first F-35 Lightning II jets, designated “Adir” (“Mighty One”) by the Israeli, operational.

“The declaration of the squadron’s operational capability is occurring at a time in which the IAF is operating on a large scale in a number of fronts, in the constantly changing Middle East”, said Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Commander of the IAF in an official blog. “The operational challenge, which is becoming more and more complex each day, receives an excellent aerial response. The ‘Adir’ aircraft’s operational status adds a significant layer to the IAF’s capabilities at this time”.

The Israeli Air Force has so far received 9 aircraft that have been assigned to the 140 Sqn (“Golden Eagle”) at Nevatim airbase. The first two aircraft were delivered on Dec. 12, 2016. Five have been chosen for the assessment that has been conducted to declare the fleet IOC. As a side note, the status of the F-35 was grounded after suffering a birdstrike last month, sparking speculations that it might have been hit by the Syrian Air Defenses during a covert air strike, is unknown. Anyway, the Israeli F-35 is the first outside of the United States to be declared operational, preceded only by the U.S Marine Corps and U.S Air Force. The Italian Air Force, that has received 8 F-35s so far, has not declared IOC yet (at least officially).

“The inspection examined missions and scenarios that include all of the operational elements required to fly the ‘Adir’, from the ground to the air”, shared Lt. Col. Yotam, Commander of the 140th (“Golden Eagle”) Squadron, which operates the “Adir”. “I am confident in the division’s capability to reach operational preparedness and feel that the pressure is positive and healthy”.

What does IOC mean? Using U.S. Air Force lingo, it means that the IAF has enough operational aircraft, trained pilots, maintainers and support equipment to conduct operational missions using program of record weapons and missions systems. In simple words, it means the aricraft are capable of flying actual combat missions.

Throughout 2018, the “Golden Eagle” Squadron is expected to integrate six more fighters, while the next aircraft are scheduled to land in Israel early in the summer.

“We have yet to complete our acquaintance with the aircraft. We still have tests, development of combat doctrines and extensive learning before us”, concluded Lt. Col. Yotam in the official statement. “We haven’t stopped learning thinking and developing upon being declared operational. The establishment of the division doesn’t end with this inspection, it just begins. Will the ‘Adir’ participate in the next military campaign? I have no doubt. An aircraft like this brings capabilities to the IAF that it didn’t have before; it is an important strategic asset”.

The IAF has always been enthusiastic and vocal about the fifth generation aircraft: “As the Middle East grows more and more unstable, and as groups that threaten to destroy us race to stockpile weapons, we need to stay a step ahead of the game. The F-35 gives us the edge we need to take on groups and armies with even the most advanced technology,” said the Older Forum in a blog that preceded the delivery of the new aircraft.

In a farewell interview with Haaretz, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, former IAF Commander said: “Not everything is perfect […] There are some things you only learn on your feet. This happens with every plane that we add. But when you take off in this jet from Nevatim [IAF base], you can’t believe it. When you ascend to around 5,000 feet, the entire Middle East is yours at the cockpit. It is unbelievable what you can see. The American pilots that come to us didn’t experience that because they fly there, in Arizona, in Florida. Here they suddenly see the Middle East as a fighting zone. The threats, the various players, are in short range as well as in long range. Only then do you grasp the tremendous potential this machine has. We already see it with our own eyes.”

“This jet brings us everything we’ve dreamed of doing, in one package,” said another senior air force source, speaking on the condition of anonymity to Al-Monitor media outlet earlier this year. “It’s all concentrated on one table for us. As we all know, the F-35 can reach places in a way that others can’t. But in addition, it integrates high-level operational capabilities as well as the ability to read and analyze a battle map. The earlier, fourth-generation jets are excellent at maneuvering and activating sophisticated weapons systems, but they are not able to collect intelligence and independently analyze battle movement. The F-35 can do all this by itself in real time, with only one pilot sitting in the cockpit. We have never had such an operational capability until today. Until now, attack aircraft were operated independently of air support aircraft. The former waited to receive analysis of the battle picture that came from the latter. But in the F-35, everything is on the same platform, and this is no less than amazing. When you connect that to several aircraft, you receive strategic capability for the State of Israel.”

Indeed, what makes the F-35 one of the world’s most advanced aircraft is its high-end electronic intelligence gathering sensors combined with advanced sensor fusion capabilities to create a single integrated picture of the battlefield. However, electronic intelligence capabilities similar to those that the Israeli aircraft can put in place to get a pretty detailed view of the Middle East, can be used by neighbouring nations to spy on their fifth generation jet.

According to the same sources who talked to Al-Monitor, the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

Although it was just declared operational, it will take a few years to “completely” understand and exploit the stealth jet’s capabilities. Even more so, considered that the Israeli F-35s will have some domestic modifications and components provided by Israeli companies, that the IAF has not even begun the process of installing and integrating on the jet. Indeed, the IAF F-35As will be different from the “standard” F-35s, as they will employ national EW (Electronic Warfare) pods, weaponry, C4 systems etc.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).

As we have already reported, IAF may also purchase some F-35Bs, the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) version of the Joint Strike Fighter, that would allow the Israeli to have a squadron or two of multirole aircraft able to take off and land fromaustere/dispersed landing strips should Iran be able to wipe out IAF airbases with precision weapons.

So, Israel’s “journey” with the F-35 jet has just begun.

The Israeli F-35I “Adir” Declared Operational. So What’s Next?
 
Dec 4, 2017
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Once again, UK doesn't rule out buying F-35A fighter jets

The United Kingdom is edging ever closer to buying F-35As, instead of the B model needed to fly from the Navy’s new aircraft carriers, as a senior officer once again refused to rule out a future F-35A purchase.

Lieutenant General Mark Poffley, deputy chief of the defence staff for military capability, told MPs “I don’t think we can rule that out” when asked if the British armed forces would buy F-35As as well as F-35Bs.

Last year defence procurement minister Harriett Baldwin MP similarly refused to rule out an F-35A purchase.

This matters because if the Royal Air Force secures a purchase of the non-navalised F-35A variant, it could leave Britain’s future flagships without enough fighter jets to deliver their intended effect.

Squadrons, numbers, deployments

To ever so slightly oversimplify things, the basic idea behind the two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers is that they can rock up off a hostile country’s coast and use their F-35B air wings to impress, scare, shoot down and potentially even bomb the uppity natives into submission. For non-hostile countries, the carriers rock up and become one of the world’s greatest floating cocktail bars with an awesome (and moveable) view, complete with a hangar that easily beats most London nightclubs for floorspace. In the British military argot, all of this is called “carrier enabled power projection”.

The astute reader will rapidly realise that the entire thing is based around there being enough F-35Bs aboard the carriers to project the power, in a warfighting scenario.

The basic F-35B deployment aboard the carrier will consist of one squadron, possibly two at a pinch. One squadron is 12 jets. Unlike the RAF’s ground-based operating model where small detachments from squadrons fly to a nearby airfield for combat operations, an entire F-35B squadron will have to deploy onto the carrier (singular – the rough idea is that one carrier will be deployed at sea while the other is alongside at home for crew training).

Roughly, you need around four squadrons in total to sustain one squadron at sea: one squadron aboard the Big Grey War Canoe™; one squadron that has just come off the Big Grey War Canoe™; one squadron at home on leave; and one squadron working up ready to take its turn aboard the aircraft carrier. The maths is not precise; in the modern armed forces, aircraft are pooled instead of being issued to particular squadrons for their exclusive use, while experienced personnel whose skills are in short supply may be unlucky and end up with back-to-back deployments.

Incidentally, the same four-owned-for-one-operational is the same model used for Britain’s nuclear deterrent submarines.

What has this got to do with the RAF turning some of Britain’s planned purchase of F-35Bs into F-35As, then?

Break out the abacus

The UK has long publicly committed itself to buying 138 F-35Bs. We know that the UK intends to use around 63 aircraft in its operational fleet at any one time, leaving the rest in reserve. That gives you five usable squadrons, not counting the permanent R&D jets based in America, which will never leave that country.

Of those five squadrons, one will be the operational conversion unit (ie, the training squadron). That leaves four squadrons … see where this is going?

Working on the assumption that the MoD has decided it will have no more than those 63 aircraft to fly at any one point, a purchase of F-35As would eat into the number of aircraft available for working up the carrier air wing. To make an RAF F-35A unit viable you’d need about 20 or so aircraft, allowing for testbed jets in America, operational conversion aircraft, and the 12 actually needed by the frontline squadron.

That would leave the F-35B fleet short by two squadrons’ worth of aircraft. Suddenly, absent a massively unlikely cash injection to operate another two squadrons of F-35Bs, your neat and predictable four-squadron model drops to a two-squadron one. You also need lots more trained and skilled personnel to fly two separate fleets; the F-35B is the vertical takeoff model, optimised for short field (and carrier) flying, whereas the F-35A is a conventional land-based aircraft.

In terms of what the F-35A can do, it’s not a million miles from the Eurofighter Typhoon, though its communications fit is far more advanced and, being 20 years newer, it’ll be around for longer. Perhaps the MoD’s intention is to buy F-35As at the very end of the F-35 purchase run, though this is pure guesswork.

In short, then, buying F-35As would lead to increased costs and less eventual capability. Which raises the obvious question: why on Earth is the MoD repeatedly not ruling this out?

Once again, UK doesn't rule out buying F-35A fighter jets
 
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sunstersun

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F-35s Could Shoot Down North Korean Missiles

"Imagine if seconds after North Korea’s Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile lifted off on Nov. 28, a Lockheed Martin F-35 armed with four Raytheon AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (Amraams) engaged the missile and destroyed it. This isn’t some far-fetched concept or marketing ploy. It is one way the U.S. Defense Department could conduct “kinetic” intercepts of North Korean or Iranian missiles in the future.

In early November, at an event in Washington hosted by the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) threw his support behind this concept. He said F-35s should be shooting down missiles before they can escape the atmosphere with their devastating nuclear payloads. Hunter said North Korea is only 75 mi. (120 km) wide in some places, well within the range of an AIM-120D, and Iranian missiles can be targeted from inside Kuwait....

...“It’s like an act of God,” Hunter says. “You have F-35s, you have Amraams, and you can shoot these things down as they go up.”

Tom Lawhead, who heads the Air Force Joint Strike Fighter Integration Office, says Northrop Grumman has been testing the F-35’s ability to detect and track ballistic missiles for several years. The company developed the F-35’s six-sensor, electro-optical/infrared AAQ-37 distributed aperture system and APG-81 active electronically scanned fire control radar, and it has been investing in applications for missile defense.

In October 2014, Northrop conducted an end-to-end test of this concept, using a ground-based distributed aperture system and radar-equipped testbed aircraft. The information was correlated via datalink to produce intercept-quality targeting data, accurate enough for an Amraam or Aegis guided-missile destroyer to use.

Lawhead says missile defense isn’t part of the F-35 program of record, and much more analysis needs to be done. But he says it is feasible, and Northrop believes it would take about three years from start to integration to unlock this potential in the F-35. He says operational F-35 squadrons would need to be trained on how to perform this mission, and pilots must have the authority to shoot the missiles down the moment they pop up. “Deep-strike missions really are the bread and butter of the F-35,” he notes....

...Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, says his office has been working with the Los Alamos and Livermore national laboratories to come up with a road map for using AIM-120-equipped F-35s for missile defense. The distributed aperture system was introduced to detect rocket and artillery fire and cue countermeasures, but the technology has far more applications...."
 
Dec 4, 2017
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Damaged F-22 makes comeback after six-year repair job

A Lockheed Martin F-22 grounded since a trainee pilot’s error led to a crash landing in May 2012 could be ready to return to service next March after a nearly six-year-long repair job, according to a new US Air force document.

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The process to return the aircraft, serial number 4037, to service condition offers a glimpse into the effort the USAF will undertake to keep as many of the limited number of F-22s flying rather than writing them off after extensive damages.

The return-to-flight effort was documented in a presentation two weeks ago to the Aircraft Structural Integrity Program conference in Jacksonville, Florida by Joseph Neslon, a USAF civilian working in the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center.

The repair effort began shortly after the mishap occurred on 31 May 2012. A trainee pilot at Tyndall AFB, Florida, attempted a touch-and-go landing, but mistakenly retracted the landing gear before advancing the throttle to military power. Instead of taking off, the aircraft settled on its metallic and carbonfibre belly and skidded 853m (2,800ft) down the runway until stopping. The pilot then exited the aircraft without injury by opening the canopy.

A team of USAF, Lockheed and Boeing structural repair experts convened to analyse damages valued at about $35 million, according to Nelson’s presentation.

In addition to repairing scratches to the skins of the wing and the stabilator, the USAF also replaced the skins and doors of the central and aft fuselage.

The analysis also showed that two internal components – a fuselage bulkhead and a section of wing skin – required the USAF to install metallic and carbonfibre patches, Nelson’s presentation shows. The most significant repairs were made to the bulkhead known as flight station 637, where buckled webs needed to be replaced with large structural patches.

The USAF is finalilsing the repairs to the FS 637 and the wing skins, Nelson adds, but the aircraft is due to return to service by March.

Serial number 4037 will return around the same time that the USAF plans to re-introduce another mothballed F-22 to flying status. Serial number 4006, one of the original test aircraft, had been parked in flyable storage, but is scheduled to return to service soon with Block 20 software.

The F-22 fleet stands at 137 combat-coded aircraft, 15 test aircraft and 31 training aircraft.

Damaged F-22 makes comeback after six-year repair job
 
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F-22 saves fuel by flying faster

On a Sunday morning just outside of Anchorage, Alaska, a group of Hawaii Air National Guard fighter pilots gathered around a desk at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to hear the day's operational briefing after three weeks of training at Red Flag Alaska.

As they sipped coffee and listened to the delivery control officer, they learned the mission was not difficult, but it was certainly unique.

In support of the Air Force Operational Energy Program, six F-22 Raptors flew from Alaska to JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, accompanied by two aerial refueling KC-10 Extenders Aug. 13, 2017, to determine if flying at an increased speed could optimize operational energy consumption.

“It’s important to preserve our resources,” said Capt. Dan Thompson, F-22 pilot and the flight lead. “Good training is an absolute necessity for our combat capability, so preserving resources and hours on the airplane gives us the ability to invest those [hours] in training opportunities and time back home.”

The concept of increased speed, although seemingly counter-intuitive, was first explored by the 618th Air Operations Center in 2014. They discovered that flying at a higher speed could save total fuel consumption and flight hours. But it still needed to be proven in action.

To demonstrate the concept, one cell of F-22s and an accompanying tanker for refueling, flew at a higher velocity, while the other cell flew the standard profile and acted as a control group. Throughout the five hour flight, researchers collected multiple data points in order to compare results from both cells.

The faster cell was able to cut about 10 percent off the total flight time and six percent of the fuel required for this type of aircraft re-deployment.

“Last year about 1,250 Air Force fighter aircraft were deployed/redeployed in this manner,” said Roberto Guerrero, Air Force deputy assistant secretary for operational energy. “Smart execution like this not only saves us operational costs, but more importantly, preserves time on the aircraft for higher value sorties like combat and training".

As the largest consumer of fuel across the U.S. federal government, spending nearly $5 billion annually, the Air Force aims to increase operational energy efficiency while continuing to ensure mission success. The next step is to apply this method across other fighter platforms.

“When it comes to operational energy, it’s important to be as efficient as possible, allowing us to maximize the number of fighters we move and saving both the government and the taxpayer money while doing it,” said Lt. Col. Russell Johnson, delivery control officer from the Air Operation Squadron at Air Combat Command headquarters.

The mission of Air Force Operational Energy is to break barriers by connecting Airmen with technology, data, and innovative thinking to develop and champion energy-informed solutions across the Air Force.

Could flying faster save the Air Force fuel? > U.S. Air Force > Article Display
 
Dec 4, 2017
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Russian MoD Reports Incident With US F-22 Fighter Over Syria's Euphates River

The Russian Defense Ministry has called the presence of the US air force in Syria illegal.

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"An American F-22 fighter actively prevented the Russian pair of Su-25 attack aircraft from carrying out a combat mission to destroy the Daesh stronghold in the suburbs of the city of Mayadin in the airspace over the western bank of the Euphrates River on November 23. The F-22 aircraft fired off heat flares and released brake shields with permanent maneuvering, imitating an air battle," Major-General Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry's spokesperson said on Saturday.

The Defense Ministry has commented on the US claims regarding Syria's airspace, explaining that the majority of near-misses between US and Russian planes in Syria and in the area of the Euphrates were connected with the Washington's attempts to hinder Daesh's defeat.

"The statements of the US Army representatives that a part of the Syrian airspace belongs to the US is puzzling," Konashenkov stated, reminding the Pentagon that "Syria is a sovereign state and a member of the United Nations, therefore, the United States does not own any part of sky."

At the same time, he noted that "after the appearance of a Russian multifunctional super maneuverable Su-35S fighter, the American fighter stopped dangerous maneuvers and hurried to move into Iraqi airspace."

The ministry's representative has also noted that the US has failed to give any answer to the Russian command at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria "concerning this and many other incidents in the Syrian sky," the general added.

US-Russia Possible Collision in Syrian Sky

The statement was made in the wake of The New York Times newspaper's Friday's report, citing US commanders as expressing their concern over a possible collision between Russian and US warplanes over Syria, which might take place because of alleged violations of the deescalation deal by the Russian side a dozen times a day since the agreement had come into force.

"It’s become increasingly tough for our pilots to discern whether Russian pilots are deliberately testing or baiting us into reacting, or if these are just honest mistakes… The greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces," Lt. Col. Damien Pickart was quoted as saying by the media.

Col. Jeff Hogan, deputy commander of the air operations center at the Qatar base, told the newspaper that he had daily phone calls with Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov, but because of occasional misunderstandings, he had to make additional calls.

According to the newspaper, the military explained Moscow's actions by the desire to entrench the positions of the Syrian army and cement its territorial acquisitions ahead of the peace talks aimed at ending the seven-year war.

The report was made in the wake of Putin's Wednesday's announcement, saying that that the Daesh terrorist group (banned in Russia) had been completely defeated on both banks of the Euphrates River in Syria, following a similar Gerasimov's statement on the same day, declaring that the remaining terrorists had been defeated in Deir ez-Zor.

US-Russia Deconfliction Deal

The United States and Russia signed a bilateral memorandum of understanding to ensure flight safety during combat missions over Syria in October 2015, specifying that the deconfliction would be implemented in different ways, with the help of separate telephone lines for air and ground deconfliction, as well as face-to-face meetings.

In November 2017, the Russian Defense Ministry said that the planes of the US-led coalition were trying to impede the Russian Aerospace Forces’ operations in Syria's Al Bukamal. However, the disagreements were later resolved and the sides agreed to fly on opposite sides of a 45-mile stretch of the Euphrates River to avoid collisions.

The US-led coalition of more than 70 members has been conducting airstrikes, ground-based and rocket-propelled artillery fire against Daesh in Syria and Iraq since 2014. These actions, however, were not authorized in Syria either by the government of President Bashar Assad or the UN Security Council.

Meanwhile, the Russian Aerospace Forces have been present in Syria since September 2015, following an official request from Assad. Since March 2016, following Vladimir Putin's order to pull out the bulk of the forces from the country, Russia maintains a military presence in Syria to train and assist local troops.

Russian MoD Reports Incident With US F-22 Fighter Over Syria's Euphates River
 

randomradio

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BMD

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It's always a problem. They cleverly obfuscate the contract, so an apples to apples comparison becomes impossible.
It's not a matter of obfuscation, it's simply a matter that you buy an entire system not just an aircraft. You need all the other stuff to operate the aircraft, otherwise it'd be like buying a car with no road tax, MOT, license, or insurance and never taking it for servicing.
 

randomradio

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It's not a matter of obfuscation, it's simply a matter that you buy an entire system not just an aircraft. You need all the other stuff to operate the aircraft, otherwise it'd be like buying a car with no road tax, MOT, license, or insurance and never taking it for servicing.

Nah, the F-35's contracts are structured in a way that you know nothing when it comes out in the media. Every country is signing deals with different prices.
 

BMD

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Nah, the F-35's contracts are structured in a way that you know nothing when it comes out in the media. Every country is signing deals with different prices.
Well, look at it this way then. India paid $8.8bn for 36 Rafales. So was that obfuscation by India or France, or simply a matter that they needed other things to actually make the aircraft operable as fighters. If you just want to pay for the aircraft, you'll have a great museum exhibit, but that's about it.
 

randomradio

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Well, look at it this way then. India paid $8.8bn for 36 Rafales. So was that obfuscation by India or France, or simply a matter that they needed other things to actually make the aircraft operable as fighters. If you just want to pay for the aircraft, you'll have a great museum exhibit, but that's about it.

You didn't get my point. I was referring to how we can't get a fix on the F-35's cost because all countries buying the F-35 are signing deals with different pricing. Nothing to do with other aircraft.
 

BMD

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You didn't get my point. I was referring to how we can't get a fix on the F-35's cost because all countries buying the F-35 are signing deals with different pricing. Nothing to do with other aircraft.
Yes, because they all have different requirements. Again using the Rafale as an example, Qatar lumped in Rafale purchase in with a load of other crap such that it came out at $14bn for 12 aircraft. Equally, if you buy a small number of aircraft, you might still need the same amount of training material and support equipment, so the apparent unit price seems higher. F-35 deals are no different to other aircraft deals.
 

BMD

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F-35 Program Met 2017 Goal with 66 Aircraft Delivered | Defense Update:

Home Aerospace Aircraft F-35 Program Met 2017 Goal with 66 Aircraft Delivered



F-35 Program Met 2017 Goal with 66 Aircraft Delivered
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Tamir Eshel
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Dec 18, 2017
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On Friday, December 15, Lockheed Martin delivered the 66th F-35 aircraft for the year, meeting the joint government and industry delivery target for 2017.

These aircraft bring to 265 the total number of F-35 aircraft delivered to U.S. and international customers. More than 530 pilots and nearly 5,000 maintainers have been trained, and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 115,000 cumulative flight hours.

The delivery rate in 2017 represents more than a 40 percent increase from 2016, and the F-35 enterprise is prepared to increase production volume year-over-year to hit full rate of approximately 160 aircraft in 2023. As production ramps and additional improvements are implemented, Lockheed Martin’s goal is to reduce the cost of an F-35A to $80 million by 2020.

“The team continues to overcome program challenges and achieving this milestone gives our customers confidence that the F-35 enterprise can deliver on the increasing production quantities year-over-year,” said Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President and F-35 Program General Manager Jeff Babione. Process efficiencies, production automation, facility and tooling upgrades, and supply chain initiatives are some of the improvements implemented through the F-35 enterprise, resulting in continuous cost reductions.

In contrast to these positive news, the Pentagon’s contract management agency said the number of aircraft delivered in 2017 came short of its annual goal, because the 66 delivered included nine planes that were supposed to be delivered in 2016. According to a report published by Bloomberg, monthly deliveries of F-35s through 2017 were slower than scheduled. Nevertheless, the agency said delays were smaller this year, compared to those recorded in the past four years.

After completing her qualification in a week long mission in the Atlantic Ocean last week CVN-72 Abraham Lincoln is the first aircraft carrier qualified to operate the navalized Lightning II – F-35C. Photo: US Navy, Juan CubanoFirst Aircraft Carrier Qualified to Operate F-35C
On the first week of December, while deployed at sea, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) successfully completed her qualifications to operate the F-35C Lightning II program. The Lincoln is the first aircraft carrier to qualify to operate the new fifth-generation fighter. Abraham Lincoln completed its four-year-long mid-life overhaul and refueling in May 2017 and is currently underway conducting carrier qualifications and training.

The Lincoln is considered the Navy’s most modernized and capable Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Apart from the F-35C support systems she also has enhanced air search and air traffic control radars, Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES), a modernized Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) suite and even new crew galley equipment.

The Nimitz class Lincoln deployed the F-35C using standard steam catapults, unlike the first next-generation carrier – CVN-78 Gerald R. Ford, that uses the new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS).

Abraham Lincoln operated in inclement weather during a portion of the qualification process, which gave the squadrons varying condition to test the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS). This all-weather system works with the ship’s navigation system to provide accurate and reliable guidance for the aircraft. Prior to this deployment, F-35Cs only used JPALS for developmental testing. The mission also included the operational use of Autonomic Logistic Information System (ALIS) – the F-35 logistical support system.

With 14 F-35B Delivered, RAF Scheduled to Achieve IOC Next Year
Among those recently supplied planes was the 14th F-35B delivered to the Royal Air Force. The British F-35s will be able to operate on land or embarked on the UK’s new aircraft carriers. The first of the two ships – HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier (QEII)was commissioned into the Royal Navy earlier this month. The aircraft are expected to arrive at RAF Marham in Norfolk by the summer of 2018, to join 617 Squadron that is scheduled to achieve Initial Operating Capability (IOC) from land next year. The unit will also perform the carrier flight trials on QEII and plans to achieve Initial Operating Capability Carrier Strike in 2020.

The UK has taken delivery of its 14th F-35B Lightning II which flew into Beaufort, South Carolina last week. Photo: Crown Copyright, UK MOD.
Marham will be the Main Operating Base for the Lightning Force in the UK and from here, they will deploy forward to either embark on-board our Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers or operate from Deployed Operating Bases. Following successful trials on the land-based ski-ramp design which is featured on the UK flagship, and with the RAF Marham runway infrastructure completed as part of a £250m major investment programme in preparation for the F-35 arrival, Defence Minister Harriett Baldwin earlier this year announced that the F-35 was cleared for take-off.

Other preparations include extreme cold weather testing of F-35A for the Norwegian Air Force. Tests on the icy runway were performed at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska as part of the certification process for the Norwegian air force. The second phase of testing will deploy the Norwegian drag chute during landing operations and is planned for first quarter 2018 at Eielson. The F-35A drag chute is designed to be installed on all of Norway’s F-35As and is form fitted to ensure it maintains stealth characteristics while flying.

Maj. Jonathan “Spades” Gilbert, U.S. Air Force F-35 test pilot, demonstrates the handling qualities of the F-35 during icy runway ground testing at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The Norwegian F-35A are equipped with a drag chute, designed to fit to ensure it maintains stealth characteristics while flying. Photo: Lockheed Martin,
 
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Lockheed Touts Non-Existent "Beast Mode" F-35 Configuration With 16 Air-To-Air Missiles

Lockheed Martin has an interesting graphic displayed on their websiteshowing the comparative max load-outs for stealth combat configuration and for non-stealth combat configuration—the latter of which the company refers to as "beast mode." In the "beast mode" configuration, the graphic depicts an air-to-air optimized load-out that includes a whopping 14 AIM-120 AMRAAMs and a pair of AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles—16 missiles in all. But does such a plentiful missile carrying configuration actually exist?

No, it doesn't.

Not only has this configuration not been tested but as far as we can tell it isn't even slated for development anytime in the foreseeable future. The hardware to make it happen doesn't exist either. It is likely that it's one theoretical configuration that has been studied in the past that could possibly be included in future block developments at some time if the will, and especially the money, is present for doing so.


LOCKHEED MARTIN

Usually these maximum load-out configurations don't matter much as they rarely if ever see operational use, but the F-35's ability to carry a lot of beyond visual range air-to-air missiles does matter. Beyond being able to carry large quantities of missiles for traditional combat air patrols, the idea that a tactical aircraft could operate as something of an arsenal ship for other tactical aircraft is becoming a very attractive capability set. Such a concept could potentially increase the magazine depth and effectiveness of stealthy fighter aircraft operating forward in the counter-air role. Boeing has touted their 2040C F-15 configuration that would be capable of this role and it could prove especially useful as long-range air-to-air missiles become a hot commodity once again. You can read more about this concept here and here.


BOEING - 2040C configuration for the F-15 Eagle capable of carrying 16 AIM-120s (possibly up to 20).

Having a stealthy flight of F-35s call up missiles on demand from non-stealthy "beast mode" configured F-35s operating many miles behind them could be a huge force multiplier and would help overcome the F-35's wanting internal air-to-air missile carriage capability, which is limited to four missiles at this time. This is tentatively planned to be increased to six missiles at some point in time, but exactly when this would happen, and what it will cost remains unclear. Lockheed's notional 14 AMRAAM load-out likely includes this modification.


F-35 JPO

In the end the graphic is disingenuous, but at the same time it also is somewhat exciting and hints at the possibility of some pretty awesome cooperative F-35 tactics in the future—that is if these notional capabilities get funded. What's so puzzling is why exactly the F-35 team chose to embellish the aircraft's current capabilities just in the "beast mode" air-to-air portion of the graphic. They could have as easily showed other various future possible weapons configurations, including internal carriage of smaller hit-to-kill air-to-air missiles in stealth mode, or far more exotic and diverse air-to-ground load-outs than those available today or in the foreseeable future.


USAF - F-35A's current weapons menu.

One potential answer to this question is that maybe they are trying and make it seem like the type can compete with non-stealthy advanced 4th generation fighters in the counter-air missile carrying capability realm—once again, an area that is becoming particularly attractive, especially to the Pentagon's air arms. And once again, this is also a capabilities set that Boeing, Lockheed's biggest fighter aircraft competitor, increasingly touts for its aircraft.


LOCKHEED MARTIN - Maneuvering test firing of an AIM-9X.

Little things like this are why trust in the F-35 program is so low. The Joint Project Office and the aircraft's prime manufacturer have a long history of making over simplified, misleading, absurdly positive, and not fully accurate statements and claims about the aircraft's capabilities, timeline, and cost. This only caused more trouble for the already troubled program. Instead, being open about the program, its issues, mistakes that were made, and what to expect in the future would have served the aircraft and its goals far better. If anything else this should be a lesson learned for future weapons development programs.


F-35 JPO - F-35A/C weapons stations capacities.

In this case, its puzzling why Lockheed wouldn't just say this is something that may be possible in the future instead of acting like it is a current capability. What it will take to realize this exciting capability is far more interesting and important than just putting it out there as a puzzling non-fact for people to decipher for themselves.

That being said, now that the USAF, USN, and USMC will end up with many hundreds of these fighters let's make the very best out of them, and making a notional F-35 air-to-air "arsenal ship" configuration a reality should be bumped up towards the top of the F-35's to do list.

Lockheed Touts Non-Existent "Beast Mode" F-35 Configuration With 16 Air-To-Air Missiles
 
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U.S. approves possible sale of F-35 jets to Belgium for $6.5 billion

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department on Friday said it has approved the possible sale of 34 Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) F-35 jets to Belgium for $6.53 billion, a potential new customer for the No. 1 U.S. defense contractor’s most important product.
The proposed sale would include 34 conventional takeoff F-35s as well as 38 Pratt & Whitney F-135 engines and other equipment for the radar-evading high-tech fighter, the Pentagon said.
“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of an ally and partner nation which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political and economic stability in Western Europe,” the State Department said in a statement.
The governments of Finland, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and others have also been eyeing a purchase of the stealthy jet as potential new customers.
Belgium is still in the midst of an ongoing competition for a new jet fighter. The announcement clears the potential purchase of the jets by the Belgian government. If Belgium elects to buy the F-35, it would become the fourth foreign military sales customer for the F-35 following South Korea in 2014. The F-35 is a vital product for Lockheed, accounting for about a quarter of its total revenue. During the third quarter, sales at Lockheed’s aeronautics business increased 14 percent to $4.7 billion, pulled higher by F-35 sales.
 
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