Wednesday, 12 March 2014


Canadian Defence Matters has written at length about the F-35 and the fighter replacement program. It sometimes seems as if there is little left to be said on the subject and if there is something relevant it can probably be found at Best Fighter for Canada. But unforeseen events conspire against ones wishes to leave the whole subject alone and echoing Michael Corleone,"Just when I thought I was out...they pulled me back in.” 

In this case it is the remarkable statement by Chief of U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command Gen. Michael Hostage, “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.

It comes as no surprise that the F-35 was not built as an air superiority platform; it was never advertised as such. What does come as a surprise is that it is not ‘self-escorting’ as the F-16, its predecessor in so many Air Forces, has been found to be.

More and more it becomes obvious that the F-35 is essentially a light strike aircraft. The idea of a fighter style bomber, protected by the latest technology, is a weapons system that has been attempted more then once in the past and on occasion found wanting.

The Fairey Battle was a British single-engine light bomber built by the Fairey Aviation Company in the late 1930s for the Royal Air Force. The Battle was powered by the same Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engine as the Spitfire; however the Battle was weighed down with a three-man crew and a bomb load. Despite being a great improvement on the aircraft that preceded it, by the time it saw action it was slow, limited in range and highly vulnerable to both anti-aircraft fire and fighters.

In the early stages of the war the Fairey Battle recorded the first RAF aerial victory of the Second World War but by May 1940 was suffering heavy losses of well over 50% per mission. By the end of 1940 the Battle had been withdrawn from combat service and relegated to training units overseas. For such prewar promise, the Battle was one of the most disappointing of all RAF aircraft.

In one telling example, on 14 May 1940, in a desperate attempt to stop German forces crossing the Meuse, the RAF launched an "all-out" attack by all available bombers against the German bridgehead and pontoon bridges at Sedan. The light bombers were attacked by swarms of opposing fighters and were devastated. Out of a strike force which included 63 Battles, 35 were lost.

After these experiences the Battle was withdrawn from combat and found use in second line duties. Many Battles were stationed in Canada as trainers in the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Most were used for bombing and gunnery training with a small number equipped as target tugs

The Republic F-105 Thunderchief was a supersonic fighter-bomber used by the United States Air Force. The F-105, considered to be at the cutting edge of technology when first manufactured, had been optimized for a short nuclear campaign, which lead to design choices that became evident in a lengthy conventional war, such as a poor hydraulics layout and fuel tanks that were not self-sealing.

The Mach 2 capable F-105 conducted the majority of strike bombing missions during the early years of the Vietnam War; it was the only U.S. aircraft to have been removed from combat due to high loss rates

In one instance, with parallels to the experience of the Fairy Battle, a total of 45 F-105 Thunderchiefs were sent against the Thanh Hoa Bridge. The next day enemy MiGs were encountered during a second run upon the bridge. At least three F-105s were lost to MiG-17s. The U.S. Air Force was chagrined at the loss to Korean War-era subsonic jets. The Thanh Hoa Bridge proved resistant to aerial bombing; in the end multiple missions had to be flown to damage the bridge.

Of the 833 F-105s built nearly 50% were lost in Vietnam.

It is interesting to consider that at one point or another both the Battle and the Thunderchief were on some kind of shortlist, being considered by the RCAF for procurement. Thankfully neither aircraft ever served in the front line with the Canadian Armed Forces. It remains to be seen if contemporary officers of that service will be as able in their decisions as their predecessors.

On a lighter note, Michael Byers, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia and is perhaps better known to readers of this blog as one part of the redoubtable Rideau Institute tag team of Byers and Webb, has recently opined that the government “ could sole source a small number of Super Hornets, which are the latest version of the CF-18s and therefore easily integrated into the Air Force’s existing training, operations and maintenance regimes.

An infusion of Super Hornets would ensure the continuation of Canada’s fighter jet capability until the F-35 either proves itself, or fails definitively. It would also provide time to observe the progress of other technologies such as drones, which at some point will render piloted fighter jets obsolete.

Either way, Stephen Harper has to buy some fully operational fighter jets, and quickly – before the Royal Canadian Air Force loses its teeth”

Although it is true that Professor Byers has the advantage of actually knowing what he is talking about, Canadian Defence Matters has decided that when it finds itself in agreement with his position it may well be time to quit the field and do a lot of serious re-thinking.

On that note, we take the pledge to leave the F-35 and all its entanglements alone, at least until new follies conspire to make the subject irresistible once again.

Showing posts with label F-35.

Best Fighter for Canada

Air Combat Command's challenge: Buy new or modernize older aircraft

Fairey Battle

Republic F-105 Thunderchief

Canada's F-35 purchase is a costly mistake

Decision time: Canada needs new fighter jets – now