LM-UCLASS_AlongCoast-12000-thumb-560x288-175585If we are not willing to risk manned assets, even the F-22 and B-2 which are supposedly “survivable,” especially with jamming support, intense ELINT surveillance, and even strikes on fixed radar and select SAM sites, for a strike on Syria, a country with a 2nd rate integrated air defense system that has been degraded through two years of brutal civil war, instead opting to lob standoff weapons only with price tags ranging from $500k-$2M, do you really expect an administration to use F-35’s over China or another peer state with a first-rate IADS??? Laughable!

The reality is that we have better options for deep strike and penetrating surveillance than those that include American souls onboard. In many ways unmanned systems are far, far better for these roles. Range, persistence, cost, expendability, networkability (see swarms) and so on just far eclipse what a manned asset can do when it comes to “kicking down the enemy’s door” or spying on them from inside their own “fence line.” So why on earth are we procuring over 2000 manned stealth fighters at unbelievable acquisition and sustainment costs?

Once again the writing is clearly on the wall for all to see:

1.) Procure upgraded known legacy systems that are mature and cost-effective for bread and butter work.

2.) Build 250 upgraded F-22s for the dynamic and critical counter air role, one that unmanned platforms are less suited for at this time.

3.) Invest heavily in a new heavy long-range strike and surveillance platform. Spiral development into an optionally manned platform makes sense.

4.) Robustly invest immediately in leading edge unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) technology for deep strike, destruction of enemy air defenses and penetrating surveillance. This is a game changing, “leap ahead” technology.

5.) Cancel the F-35. The Air Force an Navy will be far better off and the Marines can fly the Harrier for another 15 years while they develop a STOVL UCAV for the “Gator Navy” flattops.

f-35-jsfA flexible force structure with a dynamic mix of capabilities would not only save billions but it would allow the US to fight wars cheaper, more efficiently, and without the risk to air crews during the volatile opening stages of conflict. Even during the Cold War, a time where US defense spending was at a modern high, and stealth technology existed in the F-117, they were not built in throngs as it was a niche capability and in the end you still have to put an American in harm’s way to leverage that capability. Most of all it was, and still is, very expensive to produce and especially expensive to operate.

In the end I think it is clear, if we will not risk US aircrews over Syria, even with the best manned low observable platforms money can currently buy, why on earth are going to Bankrupt our air arms on this capability and be locked into it for 30+ years to come. Thirty years ago the President was still flying on a 707, the Hornet was just entering service and F-8 Crusader was still in inventory!

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  1. Glen Towler says:

    I said the same thing months ago why does the US and its allies need a stealth fighter/bomber at a huge cost when stand off weapons do the job at a far less cost and the no risk to any aircrew . Even a F18 with stand off missles could do the job

  2. nico says:

    I think it was on DEW line where it was explained how US Navy pretty much downsized requirements for the next UAV which was more deep strike against hard targets for now just something a little better than a Predator. You couldn’t read that article and not come to the conclusion that the top echelon have bought the cool aid and will do everything to save F35 program. A modern UAV will go further, carry the same if not bigger load with better stealth with no pilot being endangered which is quite feasible in the next decade is just too much of a threat to manned fighters.

  3. Mark says:

    You want to dump a program over a drone technology that doesn’t exist in the form you describe, and may never be possible. If we have swarming capabilities please do tell?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for advanced usage of drones but if you’re going to scrap an entire program have something ready to take it’s place today. Not ten or twenty years down the line. As of today countries like Iran can wrestle control of our drones from us, imagine what Russia or China could do?

  4. Tomislav says:

    What about moving targets or developing situation behind the coast line? Im not defending F-35!

  5. aviationintel.com says:

    Glen- Right, but at a large cost. These weapons can do this job, but for any kind of sustained operations they are not a good plan. Reusable UCAVs are.
    Nico- I am still in shock, but my piece posting this weekend may bring much of this into question.
    Mark- The technology does exist, the capabilities are there. More on the upcoming piece. I would read through this blog, maybe search the word drone and get caught up a bit, lots of gray area capabilities are discussed. UCAV’s “hacking” vulnerability could be cut down to the same as a manned fighter for true standoff, first day of war, operations.
    Tomislav- This capability already exists in many advanced air to ground munitions with any sort of AI built into their targeting algorithms. Target recognition is the final step toward autonomy for unmanned aircraft and once again the technology exists.

    Great comments guys keep them coming. My piece should finally post this weekend on the UCAV question, should be a wild ride!

  6. JohnG says:

    I don’t support the F-35, however…

    I’m not sure if citing the reluctance to use the B-2 or F-22 is necessarily fair. There are good reasons to be reluctant about using your top-tier platforms in a non life-or-death crisis. Besides the obvious risk of losing a vehicle and maybe a crew due to a dumb failure or golden bb, every time you fly that platform you give your scary potential adversaries (China and Russia) a chance to get intel on the vehicle – its RCS, EM signature, operational quirks, insights into mission planning, etc. What, you think the era of the electronics-laden “fishing trawler” went out with the Berlin Wall?

    You can bet if we use those assets operationally, Russia and China (and maybe a few of our friends too) will scour the region for every bit of data they can get their hands on to try an find a vulnerability.

    For any operation, pick the least sensitive technology that will get the job done acceptably. One of the reasons I’m disappointed about the F-117’s being retired.

    • aviationintel.com says:

      JohnG- Great thoughts but see my earlier comment, this is a false argument. The USAF made it clear during Libya that the Raptor was not flying due to its one-way data-link and coalition interoperability issues. These aircraft have been in exercises around the globe for a decade. I don’t think flying over Syria in combat, when they are basically emitting minimal emissions is the reason for them not being employed. It has to do with political risk, see the comments from Obama and Kerry since day one of this, no risk to American service people. Its the only way they will take the risk and the only way they can sell it. Technological risk is not even on the list of what ifs here. If technological risk were the issue than we will have 2000+ F-35s that we, or our allies, simply cannot use unless the apocalypse hits. CAS with an F-35 is one expensive proposition so once we have achieved air dominance then you do not need a $150M F-35, you need A-10s, Reapers and non-stealthy fast jets at the very most.

  7. nico says:


    Yeah, sure, the USA doesn’t have anything in inventory to go after terrorists, if you believe that, I have some nice real estate to sell you….

  8. JohnG says:

    The last I remember reading, the lack of F-22 support in Libya was officially blamed on how rapidly the mission was assembled. But there were a host of worries, comm interoperability and ground attack capability being two. As it turns out, there was B-2 support (3 aircraft) as part of Operation Odyssey Dawn. And, as it turns out, it doesn’t seem like the F-22 was terribly missed. I still think that there’s a not unreasonable reluctance to deploy it in combat and subject it to analysis earlier than necessary.

    That still doesn’t negate your central point that the JSF is a bad idea. It is. It’s horribly compromised, insanely expensive, and its unit projections are ridiculous. Nice engine though.

    I do hope that, if we do anything in Syria, it is closer to the scale of Odyssey Dawn rather than the ineffective Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory bombing and that we’re taking all this time that looks like dithering and doing some deep intelligence gathering. Who knows, maybe even a diplomatic solution could emerge rather than the Russians being embarrassed by being pushed aside.

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