CeeVisK - Flight

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CeeVisK - Flight

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Over the last decades, air forces have always been the first military component engaged in all crises or conflicts, from the Falklands to the Gulf, from Bosnia to Kosovo, in Afghanistan, and more recently in Libya and Mali.

Military aviation is undoubtedly…


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Over the last decades, air forces have always been the first military component engaged in all crises or conflicts, from the Falklands to the Gulf, from Bosnia to Kosovo, in Afghanistan, and more recently in Libya and Mali.

Military aviation is undoubtedly the most strategic weapon today, both in terms of combat effectiveness and of critical technologies implemented.

In modern warfare, air dominance from day one is a must, so that air-to-ground and air-to-sea operations can be conducted safely and efficiently.

In the course of asymmetrical and counter-insurgency conflicts, the air arm also remains at the forefront of the military effort, its flexibility and firing power helping to ensure that allied forces prevail.

The September 11 events have shown that, in peacetime, it is essential to secure the national airspace with easily deployable control and air defence assets.

The decisive place of the air component in modern warfare is demonstrated by the defence strategies decided by those nations who want to keep a leading role on the world stage.

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  • CeeVisK

    Lockheed Martin's (LMT) F-35 flew alongside older fighters from the U.S. and allied forces during its recent European deployment, providing the Air Force with new lessons on how the stealth jet can be supported and integrated with other forces.

    Pentagon officials envision "fifth-generation" F-35s and F-22s entering a battle space first to suppress any airborne or air-defense threats, allowing older, but more heavily armed "fourth-generation" fighters to follow.


    Autoplay: On | Off Eight Air Force F-35A variants from the 34th Fighter Squadron deployed to RAF Lakenheath in the U.K. in April and were later sent to Estonia and Bulgaria as a show of force in the region and to test the procedures and logistics of moving the F-35 around the area.

    While the F-35 didn't fly with any Bulgarian or Estonian aircraft, they did train with U.S. Boeing (BA) F-15s stationed at Lakenheath and flew with British, Dutch and Norwegian Lockheed F-16s.

    The last of the F-35s returned to the U.S. on May 9, and officials from Hill Air Force Base offered more details Wednesday about the plane's first deployment to Europe.

    "We continue to learn again and again that the 5th gen is making our 4th gen more survivable, and the 4th gen makes us more lethal or deadly with their fire power," Lt. Col. George Watkins, the 34th Fighter Squadron commander, told reporters during a briefing.

    Here are some other takeaways:

    Despite Bulgaria's and Estonia's proximity to Russian territory, officials said the F-35s didn't have any contact with Russian forces. On Monday, officials from the F-35 integration office said proper procedures were ensured so that the plane could be flown are the region without worries of adversaries collecting data from the plane.
    The flight from Hill Air Force Base in Utah to the U.K. was 9.5 hours, and the F-35s were refueled eight or nine times during the crossing. The Air Force keeps the jets topped off in case there is an issue with the refueling tanker, so the planes must have enough fuel to make an emergency landing.
    The F-35s flew 80 out of 84 scheduled sorties. Four were canceled due to minor maintenance issues.
    A total of 15 contractors from Northrop Grumman (NOC), United Technologies' (UTX) Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed were deployed.
    Lockheed shares were down 0.8% at 269.51 in late-afternoon trading on the stock market today, dipping below their 270 buy point amid a broad sell-off. United Technologies, whose Pratt & Whitney unit makes the plane's engines, dropped 1.6%, re-entering the high end of its buy zone. Northrop, a major F-35 subcontractor, dipped 0.1% to 247.18 but still near a 249.53 entry.

    As tensions heat up in the region, Germany could be the next NATO ally to buy the F-35 outside current NATO partner countries like the U.K., the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and Italy.

    According to a Reuters report Wednesday, the German air force requested classified data on the F-35 as it looks to start replacing its older fourth-generation jets between 2025 and 2035. There are no plans yet for a procurement program from Berlin.

    The F-35 will attend the Paris Air Show next month, but Lockheed, not the Air Force, will get the plane over to the show.

    by CeeVisK

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    American taxpayers could soon find out if they got their money's worth from the costliest fighter jets in the U.S. arsenal, as new air-defense systems render the legacy fleet too vulnerable to lead the charge in contested airspace.

    Russia's S-400 system, which is deployed in Syria and spreading to other U.S. adversaries, poses a particular threat to "fourth generation" aircraft like the F-16, F-15 and F/A-18. Analysts and military officials believe that Lockheed Martin's F-22 and F-35 as well as Northrop Grumman's B-2 bomber could be the only aircraft effective against the S-400 due to their stealth capabilities.

    "Fourth gen will continue to have a role in some of these other areas we are looking," said Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris — the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for strategic plans, programs and requirements — after a Senate hearing in March. "But, again, as the world grows and these threats proliferate in Syria and Iran and other locations, they are going to push fourth gen out quicker than planned."

    The accelerated threat assessment comes as President Trump looks to add at least 100 combat aircraft to the U.S. fleet. He hasn't specified which models will be in the mix but has been critical of the F-35's $400 billion acquisition price tag, hinting it could be pitted against Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and saying in February that he was "looking seriously at a big order."

    The implications for the defense industry extend beyond Lockheed's F-35, which several U.S. allies are buying in addition to the 2,443 the Pentagon is procuring for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

    Boeing is trying to maintain a foothold in the combat aircraft market after losing the B-21 bomber contract to Northrop, and wants to keep its Super Hornet in production despite international demand for more advanced fighters. And last year, Congress asked the Air Force to assess the costs of restarting Lockheed's F-22 program, which was canceled in 2009 less than halfway through its production run due to spiraling costs.

    For now, the still-limited availability of fifth-generation fighters like the F-22 and F-35 means the backbone of the U.S. fighter fleet will continue to be older planes. The Air Force said earlier this month that it will extend the service life of the F-16 by 50% to 12,000 flight hours as the service hopes to keep the plane flying until the 2040s. And Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein recently sounded ambivalent about retiring the F-15 next decade as planned.

    IBD'S TAKE: The Aerospace/Defense industry group ranked No. 63 Monday among the 197 industries tracked by IBD. While that is down from earlier this year, top defense stocks like Lockheed Martin, Northrop and Raytheon are in buy zones.

    Why The S-400 Is Different

    While U.S. airspace dominance has gone unquestioned for decades, the S-400's introduction has helped tip the scales, and growing tensions with Russia and its allies are making the skies above the Middle East more dangerous.

    After the U.S. launched Raytheon Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase April 6 in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack by President Bashar Assad's forces, the Kremlin vowed to deploy more air defenses to Syria "very soon," according to Russia's Interfax.

    And on Monday, Russia threatened to target U.S.-led coalition aircraft and drones in Syria after a Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 that had bombed positions near a U.S.-backed militia combating the Islamic State.

    "All flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected west of the Euphrates, will be followed by Russian air defense systems as targets," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.

    Before the Tomahawk strike, the U.S. had avoided Assad's military. But with the U.S. mission in Syria possibly expanding, American pilots may find themselves intentionally or unintentionally in the S-400's cross hairs.

    Russia already has one of its S-400 systems in western Syria near Turkey, but it's possible another could be among those deployed to beef up Syrian defenses. Meanwhile, Syrian forces have moved most of their fixed-wing aircraft to Russia's Khmeimim airbase, where the S-400 is also deployed, for protection against another U.S. strike.

    Russia claims the system can track 300 targets simultaneously and has an operational range of up to 250 nautical miles. China finalized an order for the S-400 in 2015 with delivery expected next year, and an even more advanced S-500 is in the works.

    Moscow may be exaggerating the S-400's details. But what's widely accepted is that it represents a unique threat to the U.S. because of its ability to detect incoming aircraft from longer ranges.

    The S-400's radar can spot a fourth-generation fighter before the fighter's radar can pick up the air-defense system, according to Mark Bobbi, an aerospace, defense and security analyst at consultancy IHS. A stealth fighter, however, would only be detectable at close range.

    The F-22 has 360-degree stealth, while the infrared signature of the F-35's engine makes it more vulnerable from the back, Bobbi noted. Still, he thinks the F-35 "would lead the parade" if and when it's deployed to Syria.

    Even before this month's Tomahawk missile strikes, the shift in the threat landscape was already becoming clear.

    "We think the only thing that can operate in and through that environment is going to be fifth generation," Harris told reporters after the March Senate hearing.

    F-22s are currently flying in Syria, where they flew their first-ever combat missions in 2014 as the U.S. began hitting Islamic State targets. The Air Force said earlier this year that F-35s will deploy to the Middle East in a few years but have demonstrated their readiness to deploy with recent exercises in Europe and Asia.

    For more on top business trends and how to make more money in the stock market, follow IBD on Facebook.

    Balancing Stealth Vs. Firepower

    Maintaining a military edge comes at a cost. The Trump administration has vowed to boost Pentagon spending but is also scrutinizing individual programs.

    Earlier this year, Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered a review of the F-35's costs as well as options for upgrading F/A-18 Super Hornets. The basic F-35A model costs about $95 million each under the latest production contract, but versions for the Navy and Marines are more expensive. The current Super Hornet version costs $52 million to $61 million, depending on the model.

    By the time F-22 production ended, the per-plane cost was about $140 million, though total procurement topped $60 billion to get 187 planes in operation. Advocates periodically have called for making more, even though Lockheed has shut down the production line. A 2011 RAND study put the cost of building 75 more F-22s at $13.7 billion to $17.4 billion in 2008 dollars. The Air Force has maintained that a restart would be too expensive and would take away resources from the F-35 and other programs.

    To be sure, fifth-generation fighters aren't invincible — and aren't invisible.

    "Even fifth generation would be challenged to penetrate in certain ranges against these very capable air-missile-defense systems," said Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a retired Air Force colonel, noting China has developed its own "very advanced" HQ-9 air-defense system.

    But he said the S-400 wouldn't create "no-go zones" for the U.S. and allies.

    And a trade-off of stealth fighters is that maintaining a low-observable radar profile means they can't carry as many missiles and bombs under their wings. As a result, fourth-generation fighters can bring more firepower, and there are ways to reduce their detectability too.

    Boeing has proposed a stealthier version of the Super Hornet, which would have a special radar-evading coating and wouldn't have fuel tanks under the wings, Dan Gillian, Boeing's F/A-18 and EA-18 program manager, said at an industry conference earlier this month.

    He added that the advanced Super Hornet would be "complementary" to the F-35 with its long-range infrared search-and-track system and deeper magazine that holds more munitions than the Navy's F-35C variant can.

    The F-35 As 'Quarterback'

    Fourth-generation fighters won't be obsolete and should continue playing a key role in combat as part of a one-two punch with their stealthier counterparts.

    Lockheed's website describes the F-35 as the "quarterback" of a joint strike force that can "share what it sees with other aircraft to expand situational awareness across the entire network of aircraft."

    Also, pitting a plane against an air-defense system or other threat in a head-to-head competition is the "wrong way to think," said Gunzinger.

    Instead, the focus should be on how fifth- and fourth-generation fighters — along with jamming aircraft like Boeing's EA-18G Growler, cyber operations and unmanned systems — can work together to take down a threat, he added.

    "It's a family of systems," said the Air Force's Harris. "It's going to be our fifth generation that goes into a threat environment like that and kick down the door. And then maybe after those threats have been suppressed, allow fourth generation back into the fight."

    RELATED:

    As F-35 Raises Its Profile, How Do You Stop Russian Intel Gathering?

    F-35s Are Back From Europe: Here's What The Air Force Said

    Lockheed F-35s Doing 'Exceedingly Well' In South Korea As North Threatens

    Boeing's Super Hornet And Lockheed's F-35: Wingmates Or Rivals?

    What It's Really Like To Fly The F-35: A Marine Pilot Speaks

    by CeeVisK

  • CeeVisK

    Headlines haven't been kind to Lockheed Martin's (LMT) F-35. "America's Most Expensive Fighter Jet is Also Its Worst," Maxim wrote. "Report: The F-35’s Pilot Eject System Could KILL You And Definitely Will Maim You," according to the Daily Caller. "The Pentagon's Official F-35 Bug List is Terrifying," said ExtremeTech.

    Government reports of the $400 billion program have also been scathing. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain is a major critic, and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has said he'd consider dropping the program if he gets elected.

    But a Marine pilot who has been flying the F-35 for nearly four years feels differently, even if some bugs still need to be worked out.

    "I love the airplane, and it's great to be flying something that's newer," Maj. Brendan Walsh told IBD.

    He previously flew F/A-18C Hornets, which debuted in the 1980s, but he's now flying a so-called fifth-generation fighter with stealth technology.

    "Even in today's battlefield and even with what some people call immaturities on the F-35, I would hands down rather be in an F-35 than an F-18 in just about any situation," Walsh said.

    Preparing For Deployment

    The Marine Corps declared the F-35B variant combat ready in July, and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, the "Green Knights," became the first squadron to become operational with an F-35.

    Since then, the Marines have been preparing for the F-35's first deployment to Iwakuni, Japan, next year.

    A short, expeditionary runway comprised of metal sheets was used at a Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms, Calif., to practice short take-offs and vertical landings (STOVL).

    "The STOVL is awesome," said Walsh, who is the operations officer for the Green Knights. "We can deploy fifth-generation platforms in decentralized areas that make it hard for the enemy to target."

    The F-35 has come a long way since Walsh started flying it four years ago. For example, it now takes Walsh eight minutes to hit the runway for take-off, comparable to the F/A-18, and down from two hours when he first started flying the new jet.

    He is also impressed with the F-35's stealth, among other features, and is confident that even more advanced capabilities will come later.

    "The radar has performed well, the surveillance systems and electronic surveillance systems have performed very well, even in this configuration of the airplane, and they are only going to get better," Walsh said.

    The Fight Over Dogfighting

    But while Walsh prefers the F-35 over his old jet, a dogfight in the new aircraft could be problematic.

    Last year, the military blog War Is Boring reported that an older General Dynamics (GD) F-16 outmaneuvered the F-35 in an air-combat test, setting off a firestorm of criticism.

    But the Pentagon has since said the F-35 wasn’t equipped with its full array of avionics, helmet mounted display or compete stealth coatings. It also is trying to downplay dogfighting, saying that's not the F-35's main mission.

    Another fifth-generation stealth fighter, Lockheed's F-22 Raptor, was designated primarily as an air superiority fighter. But it was canceled less than halfway into its production run as costs soared, leaving the Air Force with only 187 operational planes.

    The F-35, which will have three versions for the Air Force, Navy and Marines, is seen as a multirole fighter, with production expected to hit 2,443 for the U.S. services and more than 900 for international customers.

    Meanwhile, China has been developing the J-31 fighter, which is believed to be made from stolen F-35 plans, and a new long-range air-to-air missile. Russia also has been expanding its radar and weapons capabilities.

    But given its advanced features, Walsh doesn't see the F-35 doing much turning and burning against other fighters. “If you’re in a dogfight in this airplane, you did something wrong, because you should have killed everyone way before you got there."

    Still, he said, there have been “better performances recently” in dogfighting match-ups, based on what he's heard from operational testers, and those tests are still ongoing.

    More Work To Be Done

    Other issues continue to hang over the F-35 program. Last month, at a House Appropriations Committee hearing, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said that he has “concerns about where the software was" and wanted Lockheed to hurry up with fixes.

    The Pentagon's chief weapons tester has pointed out glitches in the Autonomic Logistics Information System, which helps manage diagnostics, maintenance and supply-chain issues.

    Walsh's squadron tested the troublesome system, considered the "brains" of the F-35, in December, and it set up the complex server in a remote area in Twentynine Palms.

    "I have full confidence that we can deploy the server and go somewhere if we have to," Walsh said. "I had no issues with it from a pilot's point of view, getting into the system and signing for the aircraft and screening it as appropriate for flight."

    An evaluation of the ejection system also found that it's possible lightweight pilots could break their necks while ejecting. A fix is in the works, and Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work recently said he is confident ejection issues with lightweight pilots will be resolved. Also, until a software upgrade next year, the F-35 can't fire its 25 mm cannon.

    But the evaluation of one warfighter who would fly the F-35 into combat is clear: "I feel way more survivable and way more lethal in the majority of mission sets in this airplane than with anything the Marine Corps has in the air right now," Walsh said.

    by CeeVisK

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