Thursday, February 13, 2020


Stealth is an ancient strategy, dating to humans’ earliest use of vegetation as camouflage in battle and while hunting prey. However, it took until the early 1960s for stealth technology to accelerate, when Lockheed Martin developed design techniques for radar cross-section (RCS) reduction and radar-absorbent materials for military aircraft.
Since then, stealth technology has expanded exponentially, culminating in the unprecedented capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. With an easily maintainable 5th generation stealth design, advanced situational awareness and highly integrated mission systems, the F-35 Lightning II is highly survivable and lethal as deployed in today’s advanced air defense threat environments.
The F-35 will soon perform ground attack, aerial reconnaissance and air defense missions for U.S. and allied military forces, and officially joined a Marine Corps squadron in July. With advanced stealth and sensors, it can detect enemy craft long before being spotted first. Its external shape, internal carriage of weapons and fuel and embedded sensors are all designed for maximum stealth performance.
This plane is designed for total mission success, with the most survivable yet lethal cockpit environment to date. The F-35 combines unparalleled stealth with 360-degree situational awareness and the ability to conduct attacks electronically, along with sophisticated data capturing and a robust communication suite.
Paul Poitras, director of survivability at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works® division, expects tighter integration with airframe and mission systems designs to balance stealth “with other aircraft systems and performance attributes, making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.”
“The next steps in stealth advancement will include a focus on cost-effective, higher-performing and reduced maintenance technologies,” said Harold Carter, a senior research science manager at Skunk Works. “Early consideration of maintenance into aircraft designs and improved maintenance practices will continue to lower ownership costs.”

Yet, what of that inevitable boom after this supersonic jet breaks the sound barrier? “By the time the enemy can hear you, it’s too late for them to react,” Poitras said. “Sound energy will never arrive sooner than radar energy from the same source, and is not useful to announce the approach of a modern fighter aircraft.”
Indeed, stealth does not provide the jet with full invisibility, but allows it to elude or greatly complicate an enemy’s ability to find and destroy the jet.
“The plane’s shape is designed to deflect radar energy away from the source like a slanted mirror,” Poitras said. “Its surface is also blended and smoothed to enable radar energy to smoothly flow across it—similar to water flowing across a smooth surface.”
Other aircraft features that are difficult to re-shape or treat with radar-absorbing materials, such as the engine compressor face, are hidden from direct view by the threat radars. The plane’s conventional probes and vanes are housed internally to promote stealth.
Media, government and military experts have called this single-engine jet, which weighs as much as 35 tons with a full load of fuel, the future of the American fighter. In U.S. military aviation, stealth technology is continuing to evolve beyond the F-35, and will be integrated at the earliest stages of developing aircraft systems.
“Knowledge gained during the design, manufacture, operation and sustainment of the F-35 has created a foundation for the development of broader stealth performance capabilities that will continue to evolve with the threats,” Carter said.
For generations, policymakers have predicted the demise of the manned fighter jet, surmising technological advances would soon eclipse the need for a human operator. Back in 1957, Britain reorganized its defense ministry and canceled aircraft development—assuming the next war would be fought with missiles alone, making manned military aircraft obsolete.
Yet more than a half-century later, the fighter pilot remains an essential player in the war theater, even in wildly sophisticated aircraft like the F-35 Lightning II. With the jet’s advanced sensor and stealth technologies, today’s pilots can be even more precise, accurate and lethal.
A major difference in the cockpit of the F-35—a 5th generation fighter jet—is its advanced situational awareness, which provides the pilot with comprehensive data, including enemy position and locational information. With more real-time data than ever before, pilots can locate their targets and know which radar blips are the ‘good guys.’ In older aircraft, any gap in situational awareness was deadly.
Billie Flynn, a senior experimental test pilot with Lockheed Martin who has flown 80 different types of aircraft, said previous generation fighter pilots—popularized by Hollywood’s Maverick and Ice Man of “Top Gun”—“spent their dogfighting time trying to evade the adversary. In my world, that doesn’t happen anymore.”
Before pilots had access to a usable data link, which allows ships and aircraft to share sensor and other data, information about the pilot’s surroundings and other aircraft or ships was ‘talked out’ on the radio or in coded shorthand. The pilot had to build a mental picture of what was going on.

Today, “a variety of sensors allow us to see everything around us with great precision,” Flynn said. “The plane’s computer system synthesizes and prioritizes the information and tells me who the good and bad guys are. That makes my workload less than was ever was the case in any generation of fighter before.”
Many of the F-35’s revolutionary capabilities are embodied in its helmet, which has changed the pilot’s job description. All the information pilots need to complete their missions—airspeed, heading, altitude, targeting information and warnings—is projected on the helmet’s visor, rather than on a traditional heads-up display in the cockpit. “I am never overwhelmed by data,” Flynn said.
With multiple sensors embedded in the plane through its Distributed Aperture System (DAS), F-35 pilots have a 360-degree view of the outside on their visors—up, down and all around. “The pilot sees everything that’s of concern to him on the ground and to the horizon, even to the point where he can look between his legs, underneath the airplane, and see all the way to the ground,” Flynn said.
In April, a cybersecurity expert claimed he hacked into a commercial airline’s Internet system, while the Government Accountability Office noted security issues with airline passenger WiFi networks. In February, more than 100 banks in 30 countries had approximately $1 billion stolen as an international hacking syndicate snuck through security systems.
Our digital—and in many cases, our actual—lives are at risk every time we enter our personal information into a system. There’s a very real need for improved network security.
In this environment, U.S. military cybersecurity capabilities hold promise for improving networks in the private sector. For example, the F-35 Lightning II, a fighter jet powered by its own complex supercomputer, has a particularly robust system of cyber-protection to stay ahead of potential attacks—in the air, on the ground and at sea.

Monday, February 10, 2020


Friday, February 7, 2020


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

MIG 29

The MiG-29 Fulcrum was the first Russian fourth-generation jet fighter, marked by its sleek and deadly appearance in contrast to earlier Soviet fighters. The fast and agile Fulcrum could outturn any NATO fighter, and it was armed with cutting-edge missiles. But, alas, it was held back by its old-fashioned electronics, short service life and limited range.

In a sense, the MiG-29 combined fourth generation engineering with third generation hardware. It’s relatively low price meant it initially attracted extensive sales to developing countries, but it would swiftly become overshadowed by the more modern Su-27. The Fulcrum will remain in service for some time, however, as recent upgraded versions partially redress some of its shortcomings.
The MiG-29 began development in 1974, intended to be an advanced lightweight multirole fighter that would operate from primitive airfields at the frontlines of the Cold War, while smaller numbers of heavier Su-27s (also then in development) would handle longer-range missions. This paralleled the light–heavy force structure of F-16s and F-15s being developed for the U.S. Air Force.

The first MiG-29s became operational in 1982 and were codenamed “Fulcrums” by NATO—a name which caught on with some Russian pilots as well. The Fulcrum had a fearsome reputation in the West, and even got its own computer game. By the 1990s, Western pilots had ample opportunity to fly MiG-29s as the German Air Force incorporated the MiG-29s of East Germany. Later, the United States even bought twenty-one from Moldova.
It was discovered that the Fulcrums were very hot rides—but they also had significant downsides.
The MiG-29’s twin RD-33 turbofan engines gave it excellent acceleration and a top speed of Mach 2.25—faster than the F-16 but a bit behind the larger F-15. The MiG-29’s chief claim to fame is its superb maneuverability—it can even outperform the light-footed F-16 in both instantaneous and sustained turns (twenty-eight degree per second versus twenty-six). NATO pilots that practiced against the German Air Force Fulcrums serving in JG 73 found that in short-range dogfights at low speeds the MiG-29 was more agile than anything they threw at it.
Like the Su-27, the MiG-29 is supermaneuverable—it can execute maneuvers impossible with regular aerodynamic controls because of its excellent handling characteristics following a stall. It can also attain very high angles of attack.

One other advantage of the MiG-29 was the short-range R-73 (NATO codename AA-11 Arrow) infrared-guided missile that could be aimed and fired through a helmet-mounted sight. Normally, a plane has to be pointed at an enemy fighter to target it—with the R-73, the pilot need only look at a target within sixty degrees of the frontal arc to shoot a missile at it! The U.S. Air Force did not acquire a similar capability until the AIM-9X entered service in 2003.
In addition to the R-73, the Fulcrum’s seven hardpoints can equip R-27 medium-range missiles, and older R-60 missiles. Some have also been upgraded to fire R-77 long-range air-to-air missiles. Up to eight thousand pounds of air-to-ground munitions can be carried—a significantly lighter load than peer fighter aircraft.
Finally, the MiG-29 is designed to function while operating from unprepared airstrips (presumably captured by advancing Russian tank divisions!)—its air intakes are specially protected against debris.
However, intrinsic design limitations of the MiG-29 have prevented it from aging well.
While aerodynamically outstanding, the MiG-29 did not feature modern pilot displays, controls and fly-by-wire avionics. Fulcrum pilots were required to stare down at their cockpit instruments far more than those of Western fighters with modern Head’s Up Displays, and the throttle was not integrated into the stick.
The MiG-29’s sensors were mediocre—its N019 Phazotron pulse-doppler radar had a shorter accurate range (thirty-eight miles) than the missiles the MiG-29 carried. Though equipped with an infrared sensor (IRST), pilots reported it to be of limited effectiveness.
These limitations in part reflected Soviet doctrine in which pilots were intended to be closely directed by ground controllers, so their situation awareness was less of a priority. The lack of modern electronics was what ultimately led the German Air Force to retire its Fulcrums, despite being more agile than their F-4s and Tornados.
Another major limitation is the MiG-29’s limited range of less than nine hundred miles on internal fuel and lack of inflight refueling ability—making it primarily useful as a defensive fighter, or one operating above frontline forces. While the Fulcrum may be a bargain for a less wealthy country worried about conflict on its borders, it has less appeal to air forces looking to project power over distance.
Finally, like most Soviet-era fighters, while the MiG was designed to withstand rugged handling, it wasn’t intended to have a long service life—just two thousand five hundred hours compared to the six thousand that is typical of U.S. fighters. MiG-29 airframes deteriorated rapidly later in life, and have required extensive and expensive maintenance to keep flying. Malaysia once reported it spent $5 million per year per MiG-29 to keep them flyable.
1,600 MiG-29s have been produced in all. Originally, the Fulcrum came in just a few variants: the standard single seat model and a two-seat trainer variant (MiG-29UB) without the radar. A downgraded version, the MiG-29B was exported abroad.
In the 1980s the upgraded MiG-29S appeared, featuring an active jamming system behind the cockpit (giving it a hunched back appearance), improved computers and software and modestly increased fuel and weapons load. Support for new R-27E and R-77 missiles was added.
In 1990, the next-generation MiG-29M  (once known as the MiG-33) debuted, bringing the Fulcrum up to modern standards with fly-by-wire avionics. With a lighter airframe and more powerful smokeless engines (for lower visibility), the MiG-29M nonetheless appears to be slower (Mach 2 at high altitude) and has a lower service ceiling of fifty thousand feet, perhaps because its weighs an extra 1.25 tons. Internal fuel has been expanded for an improved range of over one thousand two hundred miles, a third drop tank can be carried, an inflight refueling probe is included. Two hardpoints are added, and the maximum payload is increased over 50 percent to twelve thousand pounds. Rounding out the package is an improved IRST system and an N010 Zhuk-ME pulse-doppler radar with a range of seventy-five miles against targets with a radar cross-section of five meters.
The MiG-29M was not accepted into Russian service, but it is believed Egypt will receive fifty later this year in a $2 billion contract ($40 million each). Sales to Syria and Serbia are also possible.
The Russian and Indian air forces have instead opted to use older Fulcrum airframes refitted to the MiG-29M’s standards, called the MiG-29SMT or the MiG-29UPG in Indian service. The SMT and UPG Fulcrums have their service life extended to four thousand hours, but weapons loads are not quite equal to the MiG-29M’s specifications. India’s upgrades cost roughly $13 million per airframe, and include foreign avionics.
In 2008, Algeria rejected a batch of thirty-four SMTs as they used old airframes in poor condition rather than newly produced ones stipulated in the contract. The rejected airframes were then put into Russian service and sixteen new ones were ordered. Russia intends to maintain a fleet of sixty MiG-29SMTs.
There are numerous Fulcrum variants tailored to the requirements of various air forces. The most notable is the MiG-29K, a navalized derivative of the MiG-29M operated both by the Russian Navy onboard the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, and the Indian Naval Air Arm. The MiG-29K has folding wings, reinforced landing gear and an arrestor hook for carrier operations. The K also has upgraded pilot displays and radar-absorbent coatings to reduce its radar signature.
The (Painful) Track Record
Few fighter planes have managed to be so beloved and yet boast such an unfavorable combat record as the MiG-29. Of course, this is in large part because the Fulcrum was usually fielded by less developed countries against Western opponents that were more numerous, better trained, and better organized.
Setting the tune of things to come, in the Fulcrum’s first confirmed aerial combat, two Syrian MiG-29 were shot down by Israeli F-15s in 1989. There are reports Israeli fighters shot down another two Syrian MiG-29s in 2001.
During the Gulf War, five Iraqi MiG-29s were shot down by American F-15s. However, a Fulcrum did successfully hit an F-111 and a B-52 bomber with missiles, though both aircraft managed to return to base.
Fulcrums also took a beating in the Ethiopian–Eritrean border conflict of the late 1990s, which featured more evenly matched opponents. Russian mercenaries flew alongside Ethiopian pilots, while Ukrainians supported the Eritrean Air Force. In all, four Eritrean MiG-29s were shot down by Ethiopian Su-27s. In exchange, the Eritrean Fulcrums shot down a Su-25, a MiG-21 and an unidentified fighter (possibly a MiG-23). Over multiple engagements, Flankers and Fulcrums exchanged over two-dozen R-27 missiles at long range for only a single hit. Instead, most of the victories were scored in short-range dogfights using AA-11 missiles.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

F22 VS F35

The answer is that the F-35 cannot match the F-22 as an air superiority fighter—it was never designed as such. The U.S. Air Force’s original plan was for the F-22 to be its high-end air superiority fighter while the F-35 was designed to be primarily an air-to-ground strike aircraft, but one which could defend itself. Thus, while the Raptor was designed with a very high degree of stealth, exceptional kinematic performance and extreme maneuverability, the JSF was designed to be stealthy, networked and have exceptional sensors, but with aerodynamic performance only comparable to a F-16 Fighting Falcon or F/A-18 Hornet. Thus, the aircraft are designed to be complementary to each other.
However, the Air Force did not get its way. Former U.S. Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates—neither of whom foresaw the rise of great power challengers to the United States—discounted the need for air superiority, and as a result, truncated the F-22 buy at 187 aircraft. That is less than half the fleet sized the Air Force’s analysis and stated requirements called for. Indeed, most studies at the time showed that a minimum of 381 Raptors were needed to ensure American air superiority.
With only 187 aircraft produced, the Air Force had to adapt. The service cut down on the number of primary authorized aircraft per squadron and skimped on the backup aircraft inventory, training and test plane fleets. Instead of having 10 squadrons of 24 aircraft plus two backup jets, the Air Force has 21 aircraft plus two backup jets in six operational squadrons while test and training assets have been cut to the bone. In fact, the Air Force’s elite Weapons School and its operational test units at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada have to share about a dozen F-22s between them because there are not enough planes to equip those critical units.
The shortage forced the Air Force to innovate. The service’s operational testers and Weapons School instructors—as well as frontline fighter pilots—devised ways so the F-22 could work together with conventional fourth generation fighters like F-15 so that the two types of jets could work together as an effective team. The combination of the F-22 with fourth generation jets made all the aircraft flying more effective by allowing all of the aircraft involved to best use their strengths. The F-22 brings stealth, situational awareness and sheer performance to the fight while the F-15C brings a massive load out of missiles combined with a incredibly powerful radar.
But with the F-15C likely being retired in the coming years, the F-35 will have to step up. The Air Force expects that the F-35, with its stealth and sensors, will be able to fill the gaps between flights of F-22s during a large-scale engagement. The F-35 does not have the sheer speed and altitude of the Raptor, but it does have excellent sensors and stealth, which does afford its decent capability against non-stealthy aircraft. The Air Force is planning on installing Link-16 onto its Raptor fleet to enable machine-to-machine communications between the F-22 and F-35, though the original plan had been to use the JSF Multifunction Advanced Datalink.
Ultimately, the Air Force does need a new air superiority fighter—particularly for the Pacific theater. The service is currently studying a new extremely long-range Penetrating Counter-Air (PCA) fighter that would replace the F-22 and F-15C as America’s primary air superiority aircraft. However, it is likely that the F-22, F-35 and PCA will all serve together in the coming decades. But at the end of the day, the F-35 is no F-22 substitute.