After IAF Su30 spanks Typhoons, questions about F-35's ability to fight against Su T-50
Earlier this year a damning report from an F-35 test pilot revealed the troubled $400 billion dollar single-seat stealth fighter was easily outmaneuvered by a two-seat 1980s vintage F-16D combat jet.
As recently as last week, the success of modern Russian designs appear to have won some vindication when Indian Russian-made Su-30 combat jets went toe-to-toe with British Typhoon fighters in a competitive training exercise: It was a 12-0 clean-sweep victory, in favour of the Indians.
The T-50 is the latest incarnation of Russian combat jet doctrine.
It purports to blend stealth with extreme maneuverability, and an extensive suite of sensors and weapons. Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes to have the jets operational by 2020, though an initial order for 50 of the aircraft has since been cut back to just 12.
The Tu-50 is just one of several new fighter types the F-35 Lightning II may eventually face.
Despite its advanced sensors and avionics, the fighter’s single engine simply isn’t powerful enough to push the bulky and overweight airframe through the air all that fast — or accelerate it away from danger.
The F-35’s supporters argued that dogfighting was not what the next-generation stealth fighter was built for:
“The F-35’s technology is designed to engage, shoot and kill its enemy from long distances, not necessarily in visual ‘dogfighting’ situations,” a Lockheed Martin statement reads.
“The challenge, chivalry and thrill of ‘guns-only’ dogfighting is clearly of a bygone era,” a 2007 US Air Force article reads.
Detractors, however, point out we’ve heard that argument before — with near disastrous results.
US Navy jets went into Vietnam without cannons, such was the confidence they had in their ultra-advanced new missiles. Every jet designed and built since then has had them included due to the lessons learnt at the hands of the Russian-build jets the US came up against.
Detractors also argue F-35s long-range, stealth fighting style is also suspect.
To survive against a T-50, the F-35 must be stealthy. To be stealthy, the F-35 cannot carry any weapons or fuel under its wings. This reduces its capabilities and flexibility considerably.
Even if the F-35 is able to evade new visual and heat-seeking sensors developed specifically in the past decade to find it, it is totally reliant upon the success of its two air-to-air missiles. These must find — and then hit — targets which are capable of both hiding through stealth and countermeasures while using extreme maneuverability to dodge.
Once those two missiles are fired, the comparatively slow and sluggish F-35 is entirely dependent on its stealth capability to slink away from the battlefield to refuel and rearm.
And it’s not all that stealthy from behind.
If it’s spotted, the questions remain: Can it run? Can it turn? Can it fight?
Article first published in news.com.au