F-35 Stealthier Than F-22?


I figured that there would be some kind of PR offensive out of the Joint Strike Fighter program in preparation for the floating of the UK carrier and the international debut of the F-35, and here it is, in the form of a two-part piece in Breaking Defense, here and here.

The first observation to be made is that the Air Force might be able to use an Eng Lit 101 course.

Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Hostage, according to reporter Colin Clark, "labels as 'old think' those critics who point to the F-117 shoot-down and the presumed supremacy of high-powered electronic-magnetic warfare."

“Oldthink”, of course, is a word straight out of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Oldthinkers unbellyfeel FifthGenerationTM, indeed.

That aside, we should remember that Hostage ruffled a few feathers with a quote earlier this year:

If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. It needs the F-22.

That was not exactly a ringing endorsement of the F-35, particularly for customers who had been assured that F-35 was, no kidding, a dominant air-superiority platform (as the Australians were, in sworn testimony to Parliament). So, particularly with Canada's government ready to announce another sole-source decision to buy JSF without a competition that would provide a full view of alternative fighters, it is good news for the program if Hostage talks over his previous statement.

In the new interview, Hostage talks up the F-35’s stealth and expressly takes issue with the Boeing/Navy picture of the F-35 requiring first-day support from the EA-18G Growler or other electronic warfare assets.

“In the first moments of a conflict I’m not sending Growlers or F-16s or F-15Es anywhere close to that environment, so now I’m going to have to put my fifth gen in there and that’s where that radar cross-section and the exchange of the kill chain is so critical. You’re not going to get a Growler close up to help in the first hours and days of the conflict, so I’m going to be relying on that stealth to open the door.”

However, note that Hostage is not saying that F-35s will go in unsupported: they will use numbers for mutual support:

“I’m going to have some F-35s doing air superiority, some doing those early phases of persistent attack, opening the holes, and again, the F-35 is not compelling unless it’s there in numbers,” the general says. “Because it can’t turn and run away, it’s got to have support from other F-35s. So I’m going to need eight F-35s to go after a target that I might only need two (F-22) Raptors to go after. But the F-35s can be equally or more effective against that site than the Raptor can because of the synergistic effects of the platform.”

The words “that site” imply that Hostage is talking about destruction of enemy air defenses (DEAD) rather than air superiority alone – where the F-22’s speed and larger missile load could be expected to yield an advantage over the F-35. But a four-to-one advantage for the F-22 in DEAD, which is one of the JSF’s prime design missions, is unfavourable in terms of cost-effectiveness: according to a 2008 RAND study of continuing production of the F-22 (at 30 or fewer per year) and the most optimistic F-35 numbers from Lockheed Martin (at 150-plus per year), the F-22 at worst costs twice as much as the F-35.

Hostage makes another, very interesting comparison between the F-22 and the F-35.

The F-35′s cross section is much smaller than the F-22′s. “The F-35 doesn’t have the altitude, doesn’t have the speed [of the F-22], but it can beat the F-22 in stealth.”

Now, we all know that a lot of things can go happen between the interviewee’s brain and the interviewer’s keyboard, but the idea that the F-35 is stealthier than the F-22 contradicts pretty much everything that has been said about the program for the past 20 years, including the reporting of my former colleague, the usually well-informed Dave Fulghum.

The statement is curious for other reasons. Nobody ever suggested in the program’s formative years that the goal was to beat the F-22's stealth - and indeed that would be extremely unlikely since the JSF was designed for export. Stealth, along with other requirements, was also subject to trades in the development of the final JSF requirement, and less important than life-cycle cost.

The geometrical basics of stealth -- sweep and cant angles, minimized small-radius curves and nozzle design -- favor the F-22, and everything anyone has said about radar absorbent materials for years has been about life-cycle cost rather than performance.

Hostage is effusive about the value of the F-35’s sensor fusion and datalinks, too:

“Fusion says here’s what’s out there. You told me, this one right here’s a threat. Here’s what it’s doing right now. Here’s what your wingman (knows): he sees he’s got a missile on the right, so I’m not going to waste a missile because I already see that my wingman’s taking care of it.”

With all due respect, what is Swedish for “Hold the front page”? The datalink and tactical display system on the JAS 39A Gripen did exactly that, 15 years ago.

Finally, the second half of the Breaking Defense story talks a lot about cyber (very little of it from Hostage or any named source) and says that export buyers “went in to discussions with the Pentagon with a great deal of skepticism. But once country representatives received the most highly classified briefing — which I hear deals mostly with the plane’s cyber, electronic warfare and stealth capabilities — they all decided to buy.”

Three questions that all those export customers should answer to their voters:  In what Block will those magic cyber capabilities appear? What guarantees have been provided that F-35 cyber weapons developed by the U.S. will be shared with non-U.S. operators? And, failing that, will international partners be enabled to program their own cyber-operations tools into the F-35? 

Discuss this Blog Entry 74

on Jun 9, 2014

What I'd like to see is a comparison of late block Super Hornet with MSI I&II updates, the IRST & ATFLIR sensors, and the latest/future SCSs, and compare it with F-35. Granted they don't have the F-35s nausea inducing HMDS, but the JHMCS works, and new widescreen cockpit displays won't be too much trouble if the Navy springs for them (and accepts a modified training pipeline.)

on Jun 9, 2014

"Nausea inducing"? Are you an F-35 pilot? Thought not. There's a reason Boeing hasn't trotted out RCS numbers and compared them with the F-35. It wouldn't be pretty.

on Jun 9, 2014

Bill...Spot on!

on Jun 9, 2014

Oh look, another BS F-35 hit piece. It must be Thursday.

on Jun 9, 2014

"I figured that there would be some kind of PR offensive out of the Joint Strike Fighter program in preparation for the floating of the UK carrier and the international debut of the F-35..."

Perhaps another reason for the PR push: Reuters is reporting a LM rep saying that the next contract (LRIP8) will not see similar price reductions as the past few lots...


on Jun 10, 2014

Yeah, that is the most perplexing part of the whole issue. The F-35 has had a great many successes over the past couple of years and things are looking good. Yet, you hear nothing except the critics throwing mud every day! Why the JSF Program and the US Government doesn't have a good PR Campaign going is perplexing to say the least!

on Jun 9, 2014

Hey Sweetmen, stop with the crumpy pants.. It was cool for a while, but now instead of looking forward to my fav writer on my fav magazine your now this complaining Ex-wife who hasn't got anything good to say about something that obviously cant be changed and is the future of NAVAIR for the foreseeable future. And yes there is a future, but that's hard to see through all your whining.. This isn't the mag for that. Harp on the J-20.. At least then maybe you'll tell us something we don't know and have some cool pics we dont have, to wash that lame foxnews reporting out of your mouth.

Sincerely, Huge fan.. Just sayin bro..

on Jun 9, 2014

Far more succinctly than I put it later myself, you took the words right out of my mouth (except that I stopped being a "huge fan" a long time ago).

on Jun 9, 2014

I have been following this blog for at least 10 years now, if memory serves, and used to submit comments fairly regularly until I saw it taken over by Sweetman's utterly irrational diatribes against the F-35 program fueled by the major and perhaps understandable ax to grind he has with LM after being suspended due to his negative F-35 coverage. Hard to believe I defended him back then, as I now wish he would have remained permanently suspended. Worse than Sweetman are all his zealous acolytes such that this blog resembles nothing so much now as a gathering of crazed teabaggers, with Sarah Sweetman preaching to the proverbial choir and echo chamber. Meanwhile, over at F-16.net you have the other extreme, where F-35 fanboys swear that the only reason the F-35 is way delayed and over budget is because the government cut its budget or because Obama is a Muslim and a socialist and not because the JSF program was terribly mismanaged since its birth and was only rescued from potential catastrophe by Bill Gates cracking skulls years after its endemic problems should have been noticed and corrected.

Point is, tit really is a shame that there is no informed, genuinely unbiased source of information one can turn to for journalistic F-35 coverage. The "regular" press doesn't know enough about aviation or defense issues to write accurately or knowledgeably about them, forcing one to resort to the specialist press like AvWeek on the one hand and fanboys who live in their parents' basement on the other (here's looking at you, all the ELPs and sferrins of this world). So on the one hand, Sweetman and his ilk insist that the F-35 is the worst engineering catastrophe since the Ford Pinto, while the fanboys think nothing short of the Millennium Falcon could possibly defeat it.

And yet - and I can back this up with my posting history - I was among those most critical of the program in its early days when it was becoming increasingly clear that it was far more troubled than either the government of the contractor acknowledged (I was lambasted by the fanboys when AA-1 was nearly lost due to an electrical system failure and I had the temerity to suggest it was far worse than the USAF and LM let on at the time, a contention that was proven correct when Beasely let on some years later than they did, in fact, nearly lose the aircraft). By the same token, I also went on the record many years ago saying that, given enough time and money, they would eventually get the F-35 right and that it would be a very capable machine. And I was right about that, too (whereas some others like ELP and that Goon fellow and I believe BS as well were saying that the JSF program would be lucky to build 100 examples).

What I mean to point out by stating all of this is that an uninterested observer who doesn´t have a dog in the fight and has even somewhat of a clue could have predicted all of the same things I did while refraining from writing asinine hit pieces like that above or fanboy drivel such as that found at F-16.net. So, AvWeek, is it too much to ask from a journalistic periodical to put, you know, actual journalists on the F-35 beat instead of sensationalist commentators such as Sweetman who continuously spew resentful and vengeful venom toward a program that is clearly NOT the worst thing to have happened to the armed forces since Sergeant York (the M247, not the war hero)? Whatever reputation AvWeek once had as a reputable source of aviation-related news is being single-handedly destroyed by this Sweetman fellow who, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away used to be something of a journalist before succumbing to the dark side..

on Jun 10, 2014

I don't know I agree about some of your remarks about f-16.net??? As it has a number of very knowledgeable members from Pilots to Engineers plus yes many so called Arm Chair Generals. Yet, compare to many forum with Teenagers and so called Experts. It's a pretty good source all and all. Nonetheless, I think you are right in my respects on how the F-35 has progressed. Yet, I think what is lost is how complex the F-35 is in respect to a typical fighter program. Remember, the JSF is not one but three fighter jets. Also, remember to make those big leaps in technology. You have to take big risks and big risks cost money and take time. Remember that old adage "NO PAIN NO GAIN".

on Jun 10, 2014

Here are more naysayers that don't know what they are talking about. http://www.dote.osd.mil/pub/reports/FY2013/pdf/dod/2013f35jsf.pdf

Cocidius (not verified)
on Jun 12, 2014

I find it Interesting that you state you've been following Ares for 10 years and yet I can't remember ever seeing you comment here before.

on Jul 10, 2015

I must say I just joined AW and had no idea of the wordy heat in the blogs.
I did enjoy gparrablessing@ love his writing skills
Can someone way more learned than me ( which is easy) tell the poor tax payer why we didn't buy a shed load of the latest F-18s fitted out with the latest avionics and heaps of the latest missiles including supersonic cruise varieties we all keep hearing about?

on Jun 10, 2014

That above brought to you by the association of un-named Internet trolls (TM). Interesting how all those with all the alleged special access keep coming up wrong on F-35 capability and schedule.

on Jun 10, 2014

Bill Sweetman and the F-35 Critics are fighting a loosing battle and it's beginning to show.......Just twisting and turning every word to try to put the F-35 in a poor light. Honest, look at a simple quote from the dear general "If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. NOW Mr. Sweetman Reply "That was not exactly a ringing endorsement of the F-35, particularly for customers who had been assured that F-35 was, no kidding, a dominant air-superiority platform (as the Australians were, in sworn testimony to Parliament). So, particularly with Canada's government ready to announce another sole-source decision to buy JSF without a competition that would provide a full view of alternative fighters." My point is many people said the same thing in the case of the F-15 "Air Superiority" vs the F-16 and/or F/A-18. Yet, the truth is both of the latter performed the very same "Air Superiority Roles" as the Eagle and very successfully at that. Plus, in many exercises both the Viper and Hornet have bested the Eagle on many occasion in Air Combat Exercisies. So, Mr. Sweetman didn't understand the context of the statement or it's meaning. This is the whole problem with Mr. Sweetman he is bias and it shows. My biggest complain about the Media. Is not what they tell us but what they don't!. Especially, when you know they know better.......Regardless, the F-35 is doing better by the day and when it turns out to be an successful program. What little of Mr. Sweetmans credibility he has is going to be gone!

on Jul 15, 2015

You need perhaps to lay emotion to one side and look at numbers. Air Superiority machines are noted for T/W ratios > 1 and moderate wing loadings. The folk in the early 'sell' days of the F35 are the ones who touted its 'self defense' mode in air to air. From published data and pilot reports to date, it appears that the F-35 lacks excess power, has restricted visibility from the cockpit and some control response issues. That is not a confidence builder after 15 years of development. While you mention F15, 16, 18, etc., we 'older' guys have been here before back when the DoD/Armchair types laid out the other cost saving airplane for the Air Force/Navy. That would be the F-111.

on Jun 10, 2014
on Jun 10, 2014

It's fascinating to read these well informed and authoritative critics who know so much about reporting and the defense business, but who have somehow reached adulthood without learning the basics of capitalization, the difference between "its" and "it's", "lose" and "loose", "your" and "you're", or that Bill Gates and Bob Gates are two different people.

By the way, it does matter, as this guy puts it very well. http://ow.ly/xPsNZ

I don't want to sound dismissive, but the rants above don't actually contain any verifiable facts, so there's really no way to engage with them.

on Jun 10, 2014

If you cannot attack the arguments, simply attack the grammar and capitalization instead....

on Jun 10, 2014

Sweetman's point -- I guess you missed it -- is that there are no arguments to attack, only content-less ad hominem comments.

on Jun 10, 2014

Of course you "get" his post Don, you and Bill both drink from the same water trough...

on Jun 10, 2014

There you go again, trolling away.

Here's an idea: Say something positive about whatever feature of the F-35 you think best as proven by test. After thirteen years in development there may be many possibilities, but in the interests of space just mention one.

on Jun 10, 2014

What really gets old is the same old complaining about the same garbage over and over. THAT is what people in previous posts are clearly saying and I totally agree with them. THAT is what you are perhaps too dense to grasp. Yeah, the F35 has problems that start all the way to the very beginning of requirements....we all get that. However, it would be nice if there was more analysis by Bill and others than what appears to be a continuous chain of smarmy hit-pieces meant to disparage the program.

Surely someone like Bill Sweetman can do better...

on Jun 10, 2014

I'm waiting for that most outstanding and proven F-35 feature ...tick, tock...

on Jun 10, 2014

I hope you are sitting in a comfy chair because you will be waiting a long time, as this isn't an argument for or against the F35.

on Jan 6, 2017

[Comment removed by staff]

on Nov 12, 2014

Truth is truth, particularly espoused by those 'who have been there and done that', regardless if they can spell or not. Another truth is that stealth is more than just radar cross section, so the good general saying 'he is not sending in the EA-18s' . . . at any time . . . has not reviewed the electronic order of battle.

on Jun 10, 2014

James Hasik takes Hostage to school on the F-117.

"So, the attrition rate was not one airplane in 78 days. It was three in 78 days. That might seem impressive, except that the result of all that bombing was the destruction of only 21 Yugoslav armored vehicles (apart, of course, from the general ransacking of Serbian and Montenegrin economic infrastructure)."

on Jun 10, 2014

What is happening on milblog sites which question the over-budget, behind-schedule poor-performing F-35 program is that the Pentagon is re-energizing its sock-puppet brigade, which are basically uninformed trolls with a disruptive mission.

from the files:
In March 2011 The Guardian reported that the company Ntrepid had won a $2.76 million contract for "online persona management" (commonly known as "sockpuppetry") operations from the U.S. military. The contract is for the creation of "fake online personas to influence net conversations and spread US propaganda."

on Jun 10, 2014

Oh yes, of course this is happening. Anyone who doesn't parrot your (and Bill's) constant disparaging of the program (and all US defense acquisition efforts for that matter) is a paid sock puppet. The conspiracy is plain as day...

on Jun 10, 2014

No, not everyone who disagrees is a sock puppet, only the ones who are sponsored by the Pentagon and who present no facts and so are reduced to attacking the messenger and not the message.

on Jun 10, 2014

What arguments are there to "attack"?

on Jun 10, 2014

Perhaps that you seem to spend so much time and effort disparaging the F35 program and mocking anyone that says or posts anything differing from your viewpoint that it is starting to appear that you lack any objectivity on the subject. I think we have enough of that in the mainstream press.

Believe it or not, some of us look to publications such as this one to read objective and informed opinions on defense matters because most other sources in the media are terrible when it comes to defense coverage.

on Jun 10, 2014

Whether it's "disparagement" or "criticism" is an opinion or a judgment, not an argument, so there really is not a way to engage with you there.

on Jun 10, 2014

Engineering and materials science are constantly evolving. It's certainly possible that 20 years of progress have led to a net improvement in signature reduction for F-35 vs. F-22. Bill often quotes Ben Rich, who said stealth is 90% shaping, 10% materials. Perhaps advances in RAM have changed that equation. Perhaps the F-35 office is referring to specific aspects of the F-35 vs. F-22 rather than comparing all-aspect performance. Maybe the materials used on F-22 are more prone to degradation, and actual signature reduction after 10 years in service is not as effective as newer materials being used on the F-35. My full-time job is developing fuel cells; I check into these forums periodically as a hobby because I like to keep up with aerospace news. It'd be cool if somebody who has a full-time job following the aerospace industry would follow up on the type of questions I'm raising above and figure out what's behind program management claims instead of dismissing them out of hand based on program objectives from 1996. And the JAS-39? They're not the first to have datalinks either. The MiG-31 is a pretty good example of an earlier design. The idea isn't new, but the effectiveness could change a lot depending on the technology being used. My computer had a web browser in 1994, but I wouldn't use that fact to claim that my 486 is just as good as the Core i7 on my desktop today.

on Jun 10, 2014

We can discuss airplane or fuel cell design forever and it's not a substitute for testing the system and then evaluating the test to see if the thing actually worked.

F-35 stealth has not been tested and probably won't be, the way it looks. Classified, you know.

on Jun 10, 2014

So you work at the F35 SPO and have first hand knowledge of its RCS testing? Color me impressed.

on Jun 10, 2014

It wasn't Rich, it was Denys Overholser, and the actual quote was to the effect that the four most important aspects of stealth were shape, shape, shape and materials. I and others have thought about the points you make, in the last couple of days. Maybe the answer will emerge.

on Jun 10, 2014

Thanks - I'm interested in hearing what you come up with. After 18 years in technology development, I've got a lot of sympathy for engineers working with cutting edge technology (Stockholm syndrome, perhaps?)

on Jun 10, 2014

So a budget, built-for-export stealth plane that was originally supposed to cost $80 million a piece has somehow become more stealthy than the top-of-the-line, banned-from-export $400 million a piece F-22 Raptor?

I thought America highly guarded its stealth technology?
Are we really going to export warplanes which are stealthier than the F-22?
Is this a good idea?

I thought the F-22 was supposed to have the RCS of a marble, and the F-35 the RCS of a golfball?
Was it the other way around?

Also, is the current F-35, with its many bumps and warts, more stealthy than the original X-35, which for instance had a perfectly flat belly?

Also, if radar absorbent materials have improved so much, why are they designing new UCAV's that look just like the B-2, as flat as possible to reduce their RCS as much as possible?
Why not make them more aerodynamic like darts?

So, even with the F-35's costly weight reduction measures, software development nightmare, and trying to rein in costs as much as possible, they somehow miraculously developed a wunder-RAM that makes the F-35 more stealthy than the F-22 Raptor??

What's going on here?

on Jun 10, 2014

Even if they were stealthier than the Raptors, they will be detected by L-Band radars, then intercepted by 4 Gen Figters with LO/IR sensors and destroyed with IR long range missiles. That's why they need the Growlers to protect them from those emissions. The advanced Super Hornet is stealthy enough against X-Band radars to be close enough to launch any JSOW or JDAM. If they come with the Growlers they can even launch antiradiation missiles or Jdams. The Low Observable SH can super maneuver and defend by themselve against any agile dogfighter, like those F-16 agressors from Alaska that where wiped out with a kill ratio of 20/1 by the Australian SH in the excericise Lighting-Viper this year in Australia.


on Jun 10, 2014

Any agile 4 Gen fighter with a decent jammer can fool the Amraams launched from long distance, and then get close enough to launch advanced EO/IR missiles against the F-35. The F-35 don't even carries Aim-9X internally to keep it's clean profile, so it won't be able to scape from that goupe of 4 Gen Fighters Hunting it like Sharks hunting baby seals.

on Jun 11, 2014

Bill, "Hold the front page" is "Stoppa pressarna" in Swedish.

Amy Butler (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2014

I think it is funny that there is news with a PR offensive for a major weapons program before an international air show. I'm pretty sure we scribes are busy covering many PR offensives at the moment in preparation for the big show. Sounds like business as usual to me. Wonder what the story would be if F-35 wasn't discussed before the show? Hmm.

Amy Butler (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2014

And, I'd like to commend Colin Clark for getting the interview. Is is the hard work of journalists asking questions and reporting the answers that helps to advise the dialogue about this important program.

on Jun 11, 2014

A note to Bill. First, thank you for the acknowledgement and the publicity for our site. Sadly, I must disabuse you of the basic premise on which your story rests -- that my stories were some sort of "PR offensive" on the part of the Air Force. (Does someone with such vast experience really believe the Air Force public affairs is really that adept?) I spent more than six months pressing the Air Force to get Gen. Hostage (or someone with similar stature and access) to speak on the record about the F-35's capabilities. The interview finally happened 25 April at Langley AFB. It took a while to do the transcript thing and even longer to piece all the bits together for the two stories and then to write them. I wish I could offer substantiation for your theory, Bill. Alas, I cannot.

Cocidius (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2014

On the other hand granting interviews to talk about the F-35 leading up to the first deployment overseas could all be construed as part of a PR blitz to garner critical exposure for the program. :-)

Amy Butler (not verified)
on Jun 12, 2014

Hi Cocidius: I understand how that could seem to be true ... but not when these same reporters, myself included, are covering the program day-to-day. An, uptick in information going out for the show is a PR campaign -- but not any more of a PR blitz than any other program -- F/A-18, Gripen. My point was to counter Bill's dismissive assessment that the Breaking Defense story was part of a coordinated PR blitz related to the show as his opener says he "figured" it is. I "figure" it is more of a response to typical queries that get worked. The PR "blitz" is more related to the F-35B ... and its arrival. Blitz or no blitz ... there was an assumption made about the genesis of the story that is unsupported. And, I think the value of the work is that we now have Hostage on record and can pursue his thoughts to further enhance the dialogue not the program. My interest is simply in the value of journalism here ... without it how could folks have the opportunity to pick apart Hostage's or any other senior official's claims?

Cocidius (not verified)
on Jun 13, 2014

While I'm a devoted fan of Bill I also equally appreciate the determined journalism that got us the interview. My thanks to you for being an independent voice at A&W.

BTW - I've not seen to much from you lately here and I was genuinely relieved to see you wade into this discussion.

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