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.

29 thoughts on “REVISIT, F-35 vs. SUPER HORNET

  1. It’s a pendulum at work. Back in 1960’s we were surprised by how our high-tech, BVR F105/F4 were shot to pieces by nimble little MiGs. We opened the ACM/TopGun school, went back to drawing board and out came the F15/F16/F18 that excelled in energy tactics and WVR agility. By 1990’s, electronic caught up [and so did the “stealth” hype after the 1st Gulf War], and the teen series were upgraded to take on BVR and precision-strike missions. They excelled again. All the sudden BVR is deemed more relevant than WVR, again, as evident in F22/F35 that followed.With further advance in electronic, it’s not that hard to outfit WVR jets for better BVR performances; the reverse is NOT true. Adding agility to a jet involves major redesigns, and at times outright costly or impossible.

  2. Yes, but the repair bills after the collision are so high it’s cheaper to simply write them all off and buy three new planes.

  3. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible b/c two major barriers: physical dimensions (of the engine and of the chassis) and airflow requirement (dictated by air intake’s geometry and the turbofan’s intrinsic tolerance).Saab was able to fit a F414 into a JAS39B airframe in Gripen-NG Demo because, luckily, F404 and F414 share roughly the same dimension and airflow requirement [and genealogy].

  4. Note: P&W < HREF="" REL="nofollow">F135<> is the designated turbofan engine for F35 fighter jet.

  5. M88-2, EJ200 and F135 < HREF="" REL="nofollow">compared<>. F414 (of F18EFG) is slightly larger than EJ200. F135/F136, in comparison, is a godzilla.

  6. While the idea of putting F135’s in the Super Hornet is interesting, the Hornets hybrid wing platform will still put it at a disadvantage. The French Rafale M has two engines, is US Carrier compatible and now can be had with AESA. Unfortunately a foreign built aircraft would never be ordered by the US Navy.

  7. hey ELP,as you know, i don’t agree with you about the F-35 but i’ve always respected the “agree to disagree” thing…but why are you using APA documents to support your claims?

  8. You mean as opposed to Lock Mart slides?Oh Noe’ssss APA data was linked at least 3 times in the 2008 Navy League Gathering LM brief on the F-35…. Oh dear….Show me something more detailed and less full of marketing BS.

  9. Solomon,Do you have any compelling technical argument why APA materials shouldn’t be used to back up arguments?Sure, you might disagree with APA’s arguments (and their, ahem, <>somewhat adversarial<> style), but on here, on Ares, and other sites, I’m yet to see a solid technical comment/article arguing the other side (that JSF <>is<> the best aircraft for Australia to purchase) that doesn’t, as ELP notes, rely on LM marketing materials.Instead, I see ad hominem attacks on the people behind APA, and comments such as yours implying that APA’s work has no technical merit.As someone who is largely ignorant of these things (though with a masters in engineering, so I can at least understand most of what they’re saying), I think they make some fairly compelling arguments, and the direction the ADF is headed with the JSF concerns me. I’d love to be reassured, but in two years of reading up on the subject, I’m yet to see any solid refutation, indeed little more than “JSF is the right choice, just trust us”.If you know of some such arguments <>for<> JSF, please point me to them, I’d love to get the other side of the story.And sorry for the rant, but I’m tired of seeing anti-APA sentiment with nothing technically substantial (that I’ve seen, as a newcomer to these circles) to back it up.ELP, feel free to delete this post if you want. 😀

  10. Bern, couldn’t agree more. I can understand the original enthusiasm of the ADF heirachy for the F-35, it promised to be something special, in another 20 years it may well be depending on the type of conflict that we may be involved in. A couple of basic problems have always concerned me about the purchase right from the start regardless of the F-35’s capabilities:-1. it’s stategic application to a country with our geography and in our part of the world is highly questionable even if we had adequate refuelling support.2. we only get 2nd rate stealth which is the F-35’s only strong point because it’s slow, has a small weapons load and has no range, it won’t be survivable by itself in our part of the world.There is one other issue that will either see the F-35 delayed to the point where it becomes irrelevant or bastardised to the point where it becomes a total lemon as opposed to a partial lemon. LM’s innovative and cunning SDD plan for the F-35 which was designed to kill off all other opposition manufacturers in the western world is fataly flawed both in concept and application, the risks surrounding the F-35 program started as challenges, they are now becoming extreme. If LM ever build half of the planes planned, which by the way is the only way they can contain the cost of the thing, the heavens will open and angels will sing the halleluiah chorus.

  11. ELP, Bern and Chopper…I get it! But you must admit that we’re all operating in shadows and the only thing we have going are slide shows and powerpoints from rivals. The technical points that APA puts out can be refuted by LM and vice versa. It all boils down to belief. The same critics of the F-35 suddenly believe the information from LM regarding the F-22. What makes it different. A detailed “hatchet” job could easily be made against the F-22 (maintenance issues easily come to mind), the spiral upgrades that are coming from the F-35 BACK to the F-22 is another. I just don’t understand how source information on one aircraft from a manufacturer can be considered golden and source information from that same manufacturer on another of their aircraft can seem suspect.

  12. Solomon, It helps to compare Lockheed Martin’s < HREF="" REL="nofollow">2000 claims (pdf)<> on F22’s “Affordable Stealth” to just how affordable F22 is today. Insiders KNEW (since F117’s days) that stealth technology is anything but affordable.F35 program is largely modeled after F22’s program, plus a whole lot of daring risk takings.

  13. It isn’t “just believing LM/F-22” My dear Sol.I have been around the USAF. This includes some test pilots that have indicated to me that the USAF waivers the F-22 without a P suit up to 67,000 ft. As this is about what one get get away with and not suffer damage from the altitude after punching out. Other sources have stated that the jet enters engagements at around up to 65k.These are things we know. The maintenance issue is considerable however IOC was only in 2005. Having talked to real USAF maintainers the jet is a learning curve. This includes the L.O. refurb in phase/ISO. The engines are the least of the worries on the jet and spend a lot of time not being a bother.USAF aircraft maintainers are pretty tough and smart. And now there is a pattern to build on since one unit just did 350 sorties out of 350 scheduled deployment. That kind of sinks anything said by the clueless Johnny Young. That is a 100 percent MC rate. Unheard of even with legacy jets. F-22 was designed as much as possible with the maintainer in mind. This and so much much more are things we <>know<> through a lot of flying.The F-35 has not put in much flying and is very early in the program. And given some of the signals it projected, fancy press releases aside, there is still a lot of work to do. Every time somebody comes up with wild claim press releases on this jet this early in the program, they will have to back it up instead of just thinking they can feed anything to the gullible. Now if the F-35 proves itself, it may well be an insanely good aircraft on maintenance, well at least the CTOL which is away from the CV variants harsh carrier environ or the STOVL which will not only be salty but the very nature of STOVL will mean more work. But the CTOL should have a great opportunity to prove itself on MC rates. I’m just not very interested in wild claims from the clueless claiming in the present tense that the F-35 is the most affordable, lethal and on and on. There is no proof. As for APA, they are wrong on some things. Just like anybody. However at least they are willing to study up. Biased? I guess defence cheerleaders, LM and the gone-native-JPO aren’t biased huh?

  14. Hey Sol, love your loyalty, there’s not enough true passion in the world today, but I think ELP has covered off on most of the fact and the differences.I haven’t posted much and all of it has not been flattering for LM but I’d like to offer the following secenario, not in their defence, more of an observation on human nature.LM discovered the holy grail of military aircraft design, ‘stealth’, they and everyone else instantly knew they were on a winner. No doubt this revelation came at considerable cost and hard work, or maybe just a stroke of genius, but hey genius is 99% perspiration anyway.Stealth appeared to offer them the key to untold riches and world domination in military aircraft design. They developed a plane that was virtually undetectable, leathal and without peer, the Raptor, but it cost a motza.Now the fundamental corporate mission of LM is not to make the best fighter jet in the world, its to make money. So they set themselves the task of maximising the potential profits of their groundbreaking research, enter the F-35 or by its famous misnomer, the JSF. Doesn’t really matter whose brainchild it was but some genius, who was obviously not an engineer, thought that the new magic of ‘stealth’ should be developed in a new and magical way to maximise its mystique and potential profits, tell everyone that ‘stealh’ was affordable and demonstrate it by building a single engine, raptor minature using only smoke and mirrors, big mistake.The outcome is what we now see and the lessons are inescapable, you can’t fool the laws of physics and you can’t load up a dinky toy like you can a Mack truck.Anyway I seriously doubt that anyone really cares a rats about what we think but its a bit of fun doing it and keeps us off the streets.You would have worked out by now that I’m an Oz, if you every make it to our fair shores let me know and I’ll buy you a beer.

  15. ELP said: “Now if the F-35 proves itself, it may well be an insanely good aircraft on maintenance”Going by that post you put up a few weeks back about the design for maintainability, I think it definitely has promise in that respect!Actually, I think the JSF will, ultimately (if it doesn’t get canned first) end up as a very, very good battlefield interdiction aircraft. But, as I understand it, it was never intended for the air-superiority role, or as an interceptor, or first-day penetrating strike. Which is why I (and, I think, the APA guys) think it’s not the right aircraft for Oz. We just might need something that can outfly & outgun anything else out there, and right now the F22 is definitely that bird.We also have issues with range here… when it’s up to 700 miles between “neighbouring” airbases, and you’ve only got a single-engined jet with a 600-mile combat radius, the numbers don’t seem to really stack up. But I guess that’s why the RAAF is buying tankers, right? 😀

  16. It doesn’t really matter to LockMart how much F35 will eventually cost or whether F35 will be able to survive in next battle field. The hype and investment are getting too high and too large to step on the brake.Worse even, by the time F35 starts to get shot out the sky, the multi-billion business end is already done. The best we will get from LockMart is a letter of apology (don’t count on it) and grand proposal for the NEXT “SuperJet”.

  17. Question on your F-35 vs F-18 chart. What is the vertical scale? and what metrics are you using to asign the values to the two aircraft? Also, since you seem to put a lot of faith in the UCAS-N can you put together a chart of it versus the F-18 covering two engine safety, two aircrew, gun, etc.Lastly, wrt to the the F-35’s LO capability, much of its LO weaknesses can be offset by a LO capable mission planing system. NTV

  18. The < HREF="" REL="nofollow">graph/chart<> suggests that F18EFG is more mature, mission-flexible and less expensive than F35. There are few solid numbers from F35, let alone UCAS-N, to give quantitative comparisons.

  19. how can UAVs with a terrible loss rate currently compete with manned aircraft in a strike scenario? and no, the Predator B while a fine aircraft still has a loss rate that would put it into the unacceptable category if it were manned. so the X-47 while having promise will not be able to fully replace the F-35-F/A-18E/F-G…also the chart does not take into proper account the aircraft being replaced. the legacy harrier doesn’t have guns, the legacy harrier is single engined, etc…finally the Navy has operated single engine aircraft before. the Navy has operated LONG RANGE single engine aircraft before. anyone remember the A-7E??? how about the A-4??? both were fine aircraft, both were able to absorb tremendous amounts of battle damage without falling out of the sky and both were EXTREMELY successful designs. your other points at least on the power point are without merit. two man crew is great but instead of sharing information from cockpit to cockpit, you’re sharing information (quietly) from airframe to airframe and across networks. buddy refueling? with the range that is being promised it will have less of a role and even if necessary, mission profiles can be adapted to have the F-35 refuel from non stealthy F/A-18’s. the minus’ of this aircraft when properly compared to the airplane its intended to replace make it a winner. many critics are going after the “B” model versus the F/A-18EF is not intellectually honest. compare it against the Harrier. take the “C” model and HONESTLY stack it up against the Super Hornet and you have a much more honest evaluation criteria. also finally —-missing from you powerpoint is the greatest advantages of the F-35….STEALTH. even if its as you say simply LO instead of VLO you’re still doing better than RCS Super Hornet. you can hit more and do more. so lets be honest fellas and if you dislike it just because its cool then so be it but if you have an open mind and a little ability to honestly rate the airframes, then you will be onboard this program.

  20. JSF relies almost exclusively on stealth and sensor fusion* (< HREF="" REL="nofollow">one<>, < HREF="" REL="nofollow">two<>) to survive and complete its missions. F35 proponents insist that those two traits alone are the winning formula in future A/A & A/G. F35 is inferior to contemporary 4/5G in almost every other aspects.* which does NOT guarantee information superiority, btw.

  21. no…the F-35 equals F-16 performance or exceeds it in every other iteration. except for custom built (for overseas customers) Block 60’s, the F-35 smokes the F-16. oh and that sensor suite and avionics will allow the F-35 to have the same advantages over 4th gen (even those that are modernized) aircraft that the F-22 enjoys. the ability to kill enemy aircraft before they are even seen.

  22. “F-35 smokes the F-16,” and so have MiG29/JAS39/Rafale/EF2K/Su27&30 on various occasion. You are using a wrong yardstick.The hallmark of F35 is COMPROMISE, fueled by [arbitrary] “good enough” requirement and [idealistic] feel-good battlefield doctrine. First see, first shoot, first kill – ok. What should F35 pilot do if an adversary jumped/jammed him and challenged him in WVR? Vietnam War ACM disaster part II? Nellis better develops damn good tactics to outfox maneuverable adversaries in hopeless scenarios like this.

  23. Don’t mean to shred F35 to threads. Many people pin their hope on it so there must be at least some [unpublished] value to it.What piss many people off is how LuckMart tries to make sure that it gets to bill us in the process and in the end, before telling us what exactly the capability we will AND won’t get by choosing F35. At nearly $100M a piece, “just trust the LuckMart” is not acceptable.

  24. you sound like a Wheeler fan with the …what happens when they get within knife fighting range…well guess what, the F-35 is big but its rated to 9g’s and i’d bet that it might do even better….but inside knife fight range fleeing is really not an option anymore…AIM9X, ASRAAM, Python etc…almost make it a case of mutual destruction. in that scenario only the stealth features make the F-35 survivable in that situation, and other fighters named don’t have stealth.

  25. Even F22 in exercises had been forced to fight in WVR and on rare occasions got bagged by Eurofighter, EA18G and alike. What makes us think that F35 can avoid WVR throughout its career? The winning ingredients of modern WVR are three things: off-boresight IR missile, integrated helmet-mounted cuing system and, still, good maneuverability. F35’s got the < HREF="" REL="nofollow">helmet<>-cuing, alright.

  26. US weapon systems are known to be rushed into service with significant design flaws in them (eg MIM104 Patriot). Often time, the actual combat performance of these weapons were masked (Patriot scored about a dozen successful intercepts during 1st Gulf War) by the manufacturer and Pentagon alike to keep the funding. Problems were then fixed via later upgrades.Given the stake at hand in F35 JSF, it’s not unreasonable to assume that are already performance issues masked by LM and Pentagon. The question then becomes what it will take (an operational failure?) to get F35 to live up to its full potential or have its actual capability tested?

  27. In a very non-quantitative (although supported by graphical comparisons) assessment the F-35 looks to be about as bad a compromise as the F-111 and a less capable aircraft than an avionics upgraded F-18 or F-15SE. Given what I have seen, I would not buy the airplane.

    In a purely foolish note, if it looks good it will fly good and this airplane just doesn’t to me.

    Having just read the history of the F-20 it is sad to recognize that we keep letting politics run everything including the military and the economy and the schools and ….

  28. CBO: US Congress has considered F16E and F18EF as viable F35 alternates (< HREF="" REL="nofollow">article<>).

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