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The Military Technology

Boeing Touts Fighter Jet To Rival F-35 — At Half the Price 497

An anonymous reader sends this news from the CBC: "In a dogfight of defense contractors, the hunter can quickly become the hunted. It's happening now to the F-35. The world's largest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, is trying to convince wavering U.S. allies — including Canada — to stick with its high-tech, high-priced and unproven F-35 stealth fighter. But the F-35 is way behind schedule, way over budget and, now, it's grounded by a mysterious crack in a turbine fan. After years of technical problems, it's a tempting target for Lockheed Martin's rivals. It's no surprise, then, that the No. 2 defense contractor, Boeing, smells blood... The Super Hornet, it says, is a proven fighter while the F-35 is just a concept — and an expensive one at that. ... The Super Hornet currently sells for about $55 million U.S. apiece; the Pentagon expects the F-35 to cost twice as much — about $110 million."
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Boeing Touts Fighter Jet To Rival F-35 — At Half the Price

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  • Re:Easy to say (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2013 @11:55AM (#43035057)

    Unintentional irony: "... it suffers from the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none capability profile." The F-35 has this FAR worse. At least the SH doesn't have the grossly-compromised aerodynamics of the F-35.

  • Re:Easy to say (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:02PM (#43035145)

    Um, what? The Super Hornet has been over 500 deliveries and has been flying since the 1990s. It's been in service with the US and Australia for years. It's a known quantity.

    About the only downside is that it isn't as stealthy. For half the price, both purchase *and* operational costs, the reliability of a two-engine aircraft rather than single-engine, and given the fact that the current Canadian front-line jet fighter is the F-18, it's a no-brainer. Ditch the F-35 and pocket the rest either as savings or to buy some drones.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:08PM (#43035207)

    The only thing that is correct about this is the air refueling technology.

    For all that, and 'half the price' (it won't be, two engines require a lot more maintenance than one) you basically deprive the RCAF of huge amounts of capability. The F-35 is a force multiplier. Having F-35's means not needing as much EW support or as much tanker support (because they already have plenty of fuel onboard, AND you don't need as many additional assets).

    The F-35 is better suited to return pilots alive from combat, and the RCAF doesn't have that many.

    Finally, the superhornet, at 'half its price', will be obsoleted in practice at half the time the F-35 will be, especially considering the pace of fighter upgrades that the RCAF has been keeping.

  • Re:Easy to say (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:10PM (#43035241)

    Just like the Flanker and Fulcrum families of Russian jets. And still good enough to give Rafales and Typhoons a run for their money.

  • Re:Easy to say (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scsirob ( 246572 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:19PM (#43035393)

    The F-35 outperforms the superhornet even if the SH is slicked off, lubed up, and going down-hill with another SH pushing it

    Not if it doesn't fly...

  • Re:Easy to say (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:19PM (#43035405)

    Except for the whole, if one engine dies in the Hornet/Super Hornet you can fly home of the spare one. If one engine dies on the F35, your in the drink.

  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:29PM (#43035581)

    I've only looked at a few projects from the 70s to 80s, but aviation contracting is chocked full of bullshit promises and bribes to beat out the other guy. Contractor A uses corporate spies to find out what Contractor B's bid will be, then promises to do it in 75% of the time for 75% of the cost. If that doesn't work, promise the colonel running the evaluation a juicy 7-8 executive job after retirement. Boeing has been busted a couple times doing this.

    After you've got the contract, it doesn't matter how long how much it takes for you to finish since the government is locked in based on how much they've already invested in you. So long as you keep it cheaper for the government to stay with you rather than axe the program and start over with Contractor B. PROFIT!

  • by dryeo ( 100693 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:30PM (#43035593)

    Pressure from the American government?

  • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:34PM (#43035627)

    Not to bitch at you personally, but it's a pet hate of mine seeing the tired old "These things are useless nowadays" arguments.

    People were saying the same thing years ago about the Sea Harrier here in the UK, then the Falklands happened.

    The point is, just because we're fighting low tech opponents hiding in mountains right now, doesn't mean we wont be fighting a completely different type of war tomorrow.

    These sorts of military purposes are made not because of what's going on right at the time of development, but as a piece in the larger military puzzle that'll be expected to have a life of 20 - 30 years. A lot can happen in that time - in the last 30 years cold war style dog fighting was still a very real prospect, and manned jets were essential to missions in The Falklands, Yugoslavia, and Iraq.

    Whilst we're at a point where drones could replace some functionality, the Slashdot mindset that drones can replace every manned air function is false. This wont always be the case, but right now maintaining a manned air to air presence is smart unless you want to risk being caught with your pants down.

    Put simply, it doesn't really matter what type of wars we're in right now or have been for the last 10 years, the question is, can we absolutely guarantee that there will be no use for manned aircraft in the next 30 years? Is it 100% guaranteed that there wont be say, a small skirmish over disputed islands between China and it's neighbours? Can we absolutely guarantee that Russia wont attack an Eastern European state that is more strategic to the West than Georgia was requiring some intervention? The answer is no, absolutely not, we most certainly cannot guarantee these things, and whilst that remains true, these new planes serve a purpose - getting rid of them, even if they only act as a deterrent and they never actually have to be used, would only make such scenarios more likely.

    The likes of Chinese pilots in their new stealth aircraft would love nothing more than a turkey shoot of pathetic drones with their lack of situational intelligence and awareness, their high latency and so forth in a combat situation in 20 years time.

    Regarding your question about avoiding missiles, shoulder launched SAMs tend to have pretty limited altitude, and even more expensive systems don't necessarily seem particularly effective. Remember that Israel flew some older F15s/F16s right through some brand spanking new Russian bought Syrian SAM batteries to blow up their nuclear program and out again without incident.

    It's about insuring against the unknowns over the next decades until drone technology is genuinely mature enough to completely and utterly replace it. That's what it's about.

  • Re:half price? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dryeo ( 100693 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:34PM (#43035653)

    since when is the government concerned with the price of anything?

    We have a Conservative government, they need to spend money, put us back in debt (we had a balanced budget for 8 years until the right wingers got into power with their cut taxes and increase spending policy) so they can cut the things they don't like such as science.

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:36PM (#43035679) Homepage Journal

    It's welfare for the wealthy. It's yet another overblown, overbudget money pit to keep the Military Industrial Complex employed and well-funded, while Congress tries to cut every social program, including the FDA, because the country is broke.

    Can someone explain to me why we have 50 million hungry in America, including 17 million children, while we lavish billions that will stretch into the trillions, for a fighter plane we don't need.

    If the name of the country I was describing was "Sudan" or "Chad", where they buy weapons while the people starve, there would be outrage, concerts to raise awareness and funds for food, the UN would be making disparaging statements about the banana republic and its dictator, etc.

    But because the name of the country is the USA, it's "Business as Usual". No corruption here, just because the engine for this PoS is built in Ohio, the state of the Speaker of the House (note you'll never hear that mentioned when he talks about wasteful spending).

    We've got plenty of money to make war, and not a cent for caring for the citizens of this nation, nor our own infrastructure.

  • Re:Easy to say (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:38PM (#43035703)

    The F-18 was a complete boondoggle. I'm going from memory, but IIRC it was born out of a competition for a single aircraft to serve both Air Force and Navy (sound familiar so far?). The design that would become the F-16 won, but the Navy wanted a second engine so we ended up building TWO fighters. F-16 development went fairly well, but the F-18 proved to cost far more than initially thought as the specs changed underneath of it. A major design iteration (redesign?) resulted in the Super Hornet, and both configurations currently fly. But the path was not smooth or cheap.

    If anything, the F/A-18 program shows how iterative design is generally smoother and more cost effective than a clean sheet design. Other examples include the gradual changes that keep the 747 and 727 viable, versus the 787 or A-380 programs.

    Not that a clean sheet design is doomed - you have programs like the 777, which went pretty well. And sometimes the technology changes significantly enough that iterative design will no longer result in acceptable performance. I'm not sure what it would have cost to modify the F/A-18 to include stealth and internal weapons, but I'm betting it wouldn't have been cheap. And it almost certainly would not have produced a VTOL version.

  • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @01:02PM (#43035999)

    I have often have doubts whether these fighter planes really have any use nowadays. Especially dogfighting seems to be a bit outdated in times of cheap shoulder launched surface to air missiles.

    Dog fighting outdated? Not so fast!

    Those who don't know history, are bound to repeat it.

    The art of the dog fight has been dismissed as unnecessary before. Military planners who thought they knew, dismissed the need for dog fighting by saying "Hey, we have missiles and radar, nobody is going to dog fight anymore!" Poof! We got the F4 Phantom, which was a great interceptor with a really powerful radar, but a less than ideal platform for dog fighting. You could quickly get your opponent in range, but you had better kill him with the first missile shot because if you got into a turning fight with most of the opposition, you where going to loose in the bulky F4. We adjusted tactics and used the F4 high speed to swoop in, shoot a missile and bug out at Mac 2 before getting shot at. Didn't always work that well, but it helped keep the kill ratio up. We struggled with that oversight for decades until the F-16 came along and fixed the problem and allowed us to dog fight again.

    History teaches that Air superiority requires both advanced missile technology AND superior dog fighting capacity. Stealth is a great feature, but it is only going to really help if you can shoot the opponent before he can see you. Once you are in visual range, you had better have the best sustained turn rate and a gun or you will loose (which is where the F4 failed).

    You may not need flocks of F-35s, but having some is a good idea. Having flocks of F-18's is not a bad idea, as it's a fine dog fighter too. I vote we buy a mix of about 1 F35 to 4-5 F18's myself. But don't.. Please don't dismiss the importance of dog fighting to air power.

  • by r00t ( 33219 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @01:51PM (#43036691) Journal

    We need the F-22 for when we enter World War III. Until then, we need to be paranoid about secrecy. Every time you fly over enemy territory, you risk that the plane will fall into enemy hands. They may get a lucky shot, perhaps the pilot suffers a stroke, perhaps birds get sucked into the engines...

    Life is faster than it was 70 years ago. You can't expect to design and build many thousands of fighters in the middle of the conflict. You also can't rely on drones, because the first thing that happens in World War III is the loss of all satellites. Building 5000 of the F-22 would be a good start; note that the price plunges as production goes up.

    For mundane conflicts, the Super Hornet and the Silent Eagle are excellent choices. They get the job done without risking exposure of the most important secrets.

  • Re:Easy to say (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @02:00PM (#43036805)

    The F-22 hasn't been flown because we haven't been involved in a conflict where air superiority was a requirement of the mission. If/when that happens, like in a conflict with Russia, China, Iran, or...who knows, Germany could go all batshit crazy again and start invading other countries, the F-22 will be used.

    As for the F-35, it's not flying combat sorties yet, because it's still in the testing phase. In another couple years, once it's ready, it will more than fulfill the roles it's intended to fulfill.

    Of course it will -- because it's operating specs keep getting downgraded [] to match the capabilities of the plane. When the specs get reduced to "Must park on runway with its nose pointed in the general direction of the enemy", then it will be in full compliance with its required specs.

    If the current operating specs were put out to bid today, what would the proposals look like?

  • by microbox ( 704317 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @02:00PM (#43036807)

    More specifically, why would anyone want to invade Canada?

    Fresh water & oil.

  • by digitalsolo ( 1175321 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @02:11PM (#43036947) Homepage
    That's a great theory as long as WWIII happens before someone builds something better than the F22, at which point you are stuck with 5000 planes that suck.

    You need to keep pushing technology and keep building enough cutting edge equipment to make it worthwhile for the industry to design/build it, but no more. Then the tech and designs exists in the case you need to spin up production. Otherwise, you're just gambling.
  • by DarthVain ( 724186 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @04:07PM (#43038381)

    Particulary when many of the requirements are mutually exclusive.

    There was a really good news special up here in Canada (Can't remember network, may have been CBC), where they interviewed a now retired avaition engineer who was the lead for most of the successful designs in the last several decades in the US.

    The whole interview could be sumed up that he thought it was a collosal joke, that it was a failure, that it isn't good at anything with the exception of costing a lot of money and funneling tons of money to Lockheed from the government.

    So you want an agile dogfighter, that can also function as a bomber, that has stealth capability, that has an extended range, that (at least in some varients) had vertical take off ability, etc... and so on. Like designing a cargo ship to be small and nimble, you can't have both and really be successful.

    I think part of the problem is divergant purposes of these type of craft. As I understand it most air combat (despite Top Gun) is about stand off capability, which is mostly about radar and stealth and perhaps ordance. That is you see them first from a LONG way off, let your birds fly, return to base to rearm without even really "seeing" your targets, let along get in an actual dog fight. However, that is against a modern air force, which historically hasn't really been a problem for a very long time (maybe some migs in Vietnam perhaps, not including cold war). Who are they arming against, China? Who else has any fighter capability to speak of? If USSR was the "Cold War", is China the "Warm and Fuzzy War" as it isn't exactly stoping buisness or relations. Then you get to the fact that most modern wars seem to be against despotic contries that really have little or no air force to begin with, and what they might have either is too old to be effective, ill maintained for any use, or the defect rather than throwing their lives away. That means that most targets are land targets. None of which are close by, Many of which would require use of various "allied" bases of varing degrees, and carriers should you have them (and Canada does, not).

    Anyway at least for Canada what would make more sense is a more modest jet, or even going with say two different models say for different purposes. I can understand why Canada wanted to get involved in the project from an ally perspective and coordination, and economies of scale and the like, however after a while it is just throwing good money after bad rather than admint a mistake was made. Personally I would rather see our helicopters get upgraded first, they are older, have been slated to be replaced for longer, and our Frigates which make up the core of what we call a navy actally have helicopter pads. They also make a bit more sense for ground support for loiter reaons, swap out with search and rescue when close to home... I would also like more heavy lift capability such as the C-17 would make more sense and be more useful. Not only would this be able to ferry troops and equipment around the world faster, but would be infinatly more useful in peaceful missions like sending disaster aid and the like. []

    Anyway I am not military analyst by any means, I just hope that Canada isn't getting swindled by a scam whos only purpose it to pump money into a specific defence contractor for whatever political reasons, rather than getting the proper equipment for our armed forces.

Lend money to a bad debtor and he will hate you.