The Buzz

U.S. Air Force Official: F-35 Could Beat Russia's Stealth PAK-FA or China's J-31 in a Fight

The F-35 is also engineered with an Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar, which is able to track a host of electromagnetic signals, including returns from Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. This paints a picture of the contours of the ground or surrounding terrain and, along with Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, locates something on the move on the ground and airborne objects or threats.

Hayden added that the F-35 has been training against other F-35s in simulated combat situations, testing basic fighter maneuvers. Having himself flown other fighter aircraft, he explained that many other F-35 pilots also fly the airplane after having experience flying an F-16, A-10 or other combat aircraft.

“The F-35’s low-observable technology can prevent detection. That is a strength that other airplanes do not have,” he said.

F-35 and F-22:

At the same time, senior Air Force leaders have made the point that F-35 technological superiority is intended to be paired with the pure air-to-air dogfighting ability of the service’s F-22 – a stealth aircraft, with its speed, maneuverability and thrust-to-weight ratio, is believed by many to be the most capable air-to-air platform in the world.

“Every airplane has flaws. When you design an airplane, you design an airplane with tradeoffs - give something else up. If I was flying against an adversary in actual combat, my job would be to exploit the enemy weakness and play to my strength. I can compensate for certain things,” Hayden explained. “There is a certain way to fly and fight in an airplane, using airspeed to maximize the turning performance of the airplane.” 

During a public speech in 2015, the Air Forces Air Combat Commander, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, said the F-22 is engineered such that it can complement the F-35.

“You will use the F-35 for air superiority, but you will need the raptors to do some things in a high-end fight to penetrate denied airspace,” he said. “The airplane is designed for multi-role capability, electronic warfare and sensors. The F-35 will win against any fourth-generation airplane -- in a close-in fight, it will do exceedingly well. There will be a combination of F-22s and F-35s in the future.”

Hayden further elaborated upon these claims, arguing that the F-35 has another set of strategic advantages to include an ability to use internally built sensors. This prevents the need to use external pods on a fighter jet which can add drag, slowing down and restricting maneuverability for an aircraft.

“As an F-35 pilot, I can carry bombs to a target area where I can now take out air-to-ground threats. You have to look at the overall picture of the airplane. The airplane was designed to overwhelm the battlespace in a non-permissive threatening environment where 4th-gen fighters are not going to persist,” he added.

The F-35 is engineered with a 25-mm gun and has the ability to carry and fire a wide range of weapons. The aircraft has already demonstrated an ability to fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile), JDADM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU 12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), and AIM 9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.

So-called "Block 3F" software for the F-35 increases the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb and 500-pound JDAM.

As a multi-role fighter, the F-35 is also engineered to function as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform designed to apprehend and process video, data and information from long distances. Some F-35 developers have gone so far as to say the F-35 has ISR technologies comparable to many drones in service today that are able to beam a “soda straw” video view of tactically relevant combat locations in real time.

Finally, regarding dogfighting, it is pertinent to point out a “War is Boring” report from 2015 which cited an F-35 fighter pilot explaining how an F-16 was able to win a “mock dogfight” against an F-35; the F-35 Joint Program Office disputed this claim, saying the F-35 used in the scenario was in no way representative of today’s operational F-35s. The software, weapons and sensor technologies used in the mock dogfight were not comparable to the most evolved F-35.

Furthermore, F-35 proponents maintained that the aircraft’s advanced computer technology and sensors would enable it to see and destroy enemy fighters from much longer ranges – essentially destroying enemy fighters before they are seen.  

OODA Loop

The idea is to enable F-35 pilots to see and destroy enemies in the air, well in advance of a potential dogfight scenario. This can be explained in terms of a well-known Air Force strategic concept pioneered years ago by air theorist and pilot Col. John Boyd, referred to as the "OODA Loop," --- for observe, orient, decide and act. The concept is to complete this process quickly and make fast decisions while in an air-to-air dogfight -- in order to get inside the enemy's decision cycle, properly anticipate, and destroy an enemy before they can destroy you.

The F-35 is designed with long-range sensors and data fusion technologies such that, as a fifth-generation aircraft, it can complete the OODA Loop much more quickly than potential adversaries, F-35 advocates claim.

Mission Data Files

Described as the brains of the airplane, the mission data files are extensive on-board data systems compiling information on geography, air space and potential threats in known areas of the world where the F-35 might be expected to perform combat operations, Air Force officials explained.

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