This topic demands a revisit because the comparison is pretty damning. When one looks at the future of the U.S. Navy carrier air wing or what kind of U.S. fighter one wants, the hard choices can pin you into a corner.
The F-35 brings engine press releases that have wild disclaimers, unknown price of the jet, huge risks yet to be discovered in a mountain of flight testing yet to be done and a marketing strategy built on fairy dust. The F-35 is too much to gamble on at this point in time and maybe forever. Governments aren’t going to have any more money to waste on hope and insane blue-sky marketing.
If the advantages push toward a sloth-like weak airframe performance aircraft like the Super Hornet, which by the way has everything else covered to the lowest common denominator, then the F-35 has problems in its claims as a all singing all dancing great white hope. PowerPoint slides, spin and sophistry are not enough.
Lets look at the chart and see what the comparison shows.
Two-engine safety has already proven itself time and again with the Hornet family. However in the blue sky marketing world of the F-35, we are being lead to ignore this and hope no one notices that once you dump a one engine jet because it doesn’t have a backup engine, all your lower-cost-of-operating-a-one engine-jet-fleet goes out the window.
Two-aircrew attack. The U.S. Navy still believes in this and with the Block II Super Hornet, which as a radar system to match that of the F-35, two aircrew can be looking at completely different radar modes and doing different work. Add the crew coordination and you have a system that is superior in events like close air support.
Buddy tanker. This is a big deal and shows that the Super Hornet can do a lot more diverse kinds of work. Ditto with the ability to carry the SHARP recon pod.
The gun. It is possible that if you are flying a F-35B or F-35C that you may have left the deck that day without your gun. Gun pod vibration effect on the F-35 is yet to be seen too.
How a gun pod will affect flight performance for the F-35 is an unknown. This includes carrier approach speed for trap which already looks high for the F-35C.
While on the topic of carrier approach speed, asymmetric drag may be interesting for the F-35C for those times when you had to punch off something and it didn’t go. It stayed hung on one wing.
Known price. This one is like shooting fish in a barrel. Which leads to cost. When you wish upon a star, it shows just how gullible you truly are.
Known performance. The Super Hornet has a real record of aircraft carrier operations to back it up and not computer simulations. This includes the Super’s impressive flight safety record.
Balanced survivability. This is not as hard to figure out as it sounds. One knows what the limits are that the Super Hornet can get into and out of. The Super has the ability to take battle damage, proven when Hornet family jets return to base after a mid air collision with horrific damage. The Block II Super Hornets has stunning avionics. It has a true fused and practical defensive avionics suite with real wide aspect jamming and the ability to hand off that jam emitting to the ALE-55 towed decoy. While not a stealth aircraft, it has an airframe that is tuned to it’s jamming gear. The defensive system has a better known baseline of what is necessary for the jamming gear work to be done.
In the case of the F-35 you have some front aspect stealth, and weak stealth the rest of the way around. Trying to penetrate an air defense system with this aircraft requires a lot of faith because if there is a negative stealth event where the jet is naked, its only jamming ability is the front aspect of the radar and within the bandwidth of that radar. The electronic attack ability of AESA radars runs into some real world problems like sustainment of signals and cooling. If this is your prime jammer, you might be sucking air. After this you have some expendable decoys which means your ass is left hanging on a string if the threat can velocity detect and ignore decelerating expendable decoys.
The F-35 tries to make the clueless believe that stealth is the answer. The huge problem with this is that it doesn’t bring top-drawer stealth, super-cruise and extreme airframe performance. The blue-sky hype marketing of the F-35 doesn’t address any of the reality of facing down extreme threats. While the Super Hornet will have a tough go at stiff enemy air defenses, the F-35 doesn’t bring enough to the table either.
So while the F-35 is a rebel without a clue, the Super Hornet doesn’t try and make unrealistic magic, even if it was also marketed with some pretty misleading claims.
So far, there isn’t anything that justifies throwing truckloads of cash into the Just So Farcical. For the U.S. Navy, the F-35C will start having spades of dirt patted down on its face if the UCAS-N shows it can handle carrier ops. Even without the UCAS-N, the U.S. Navy is better off looking for another solution. Which makes one wonder why the whispers of the F/A-XX are out there in the forest. The F-35C was originally marketed to replace ALL fighters on the carrier deck. As the reality of F-35C affordability and other unknowns come to pass, the original hype of the F-35 being the primary fighter for all services is now a lie that was spun a very long time ago in the 1990’s to make the clueless U.S. Congress take the bait. F/A-XX is pawned off as a Hornet replacement. What isn’t mentioned, is that it is another way besides the Super Hornet for the U.S. Navy to hedge their bets against an uncertain F-35C.