The Three Fighters

July 1, 2001
Having gone two decades with-out fielding a new fighter design, the Pentagon is poised to spend about $180 billion over the next 25 years on three new types to replace the bulk of its fighter fleet.

Those who want to find big savings in the Pentagon’s budget have suggested killing one or more of the programs, but the services insist that all three fighters fulfill unique missions, are not interchangeable, and must be bought in planned numbers if the US military is to remain credible in the 21st century.

The three fighters, in order of their planned entry into service, are: the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for the Navy, in 2001; the F-22 Raptor for the Air Force, in 2005; and the Joint Strike Fighter, for the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, beginning in 2008.

The trio of programs is expected to take center stage in a major aircraft review to be completed sometime this year, following the completion of the Bush Administration’s national strategy review but before the F-22 and JSF reach major contract go-ahead milestones this fall. President Bush himself has suggested that the defense budget might not accommodate all three fighters, since DOD now must also finance an expensive new missile defense program.

The services insist the new fighters are needed to solve two kinds of problems. First, current aircraft are becoming obsolete and would be overmatched against a new crop of air and ground threats. Second, these fighters also are physically wearing out, causing maintenance and operating expenses to soar. Buying a new generation of aircraft, the services assert, will restore this nation’s traditional edge in fighter technology and, at the same time, save money by sharply reducing support costs.

The three fighters could scarcely be more different. Each is designed to solve a unique military problem and each in some way assumes the presence of the others, as they all fit together in the Pentagon’s grand scheme of operations.

The F-22 and the Joint Strike fighter are both stealthy and both will use the most advanced avionics and weapons, but there the similarity ends. The F-22 has the highest unit cost of the three because it meets the most stringent requirements of all-stealth, extreme agility, flight at high altitude, and persistent high speed. It will have to take on and win against large numbers of the very toughest enemy fighters and air defenses. It must be able to range the battlefield at will, clearing the air for less-capable, less-stealthy airplanes needed later to fully prosecute a war. The F-22 will have a ground attack capability as well, to deliver bombs against critical point targets deep inside enemy territory.

No one doubts the F-22 will perform as advertised. Even the makers of its toughest overseas competitor, the Eurofighter Typhoon, advertise their airplane as being 80 percent as capable as the F-22.

The JSF was designed as an affordable way to replace thousands of worn-out aircraft, while taking prudent, selective advantage of new technologies. It is the cheapest of the three fighters. It will perform the day and night, constant-pressure wartime missions against dispersed ground targets once the F-22 has already swept the skies of enemy fighters and knocked down the surface-to-air missile threat.

The JSF will be very maneuverable-the Air Force version will be as agile as the F-16-but it was never intended to do the F-22 mission and was not equipped for it. It will carry missiles and can shoot down enemy airplanes, but in small numbers. It is geared mainly toward precision attack of ground targets.

The JSF was made stealthy because the science of low observability has matured to the point where it is only a modest part of the cost of an airplane, if it is designed-in from the beginning. That stealth is necessary to protect the JSF against pop-up ground threats, such as mobile missiles.

The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is quite simply a stopgap airplane, providing the Navy with an imminently needed, carrier-based jack-of-all-trades platform for defense and attack. It is an upgrade of a 1970s design and must carry around the extra weight necessary to endure repeated carrier takeoffs and landings; it lacks the stealth and agility of the F-22 and JSF.

While its unit cost is between that of the JSF and the F-22, the program cost is about the same as that of the F-22, because so many more Super Hornets than F-22s are planned.

The Navy sees the Super Hornet as mainly a “bomb truck,” which, because it has been given only minimal stealth treatments, will depend on standoff weapons and heavy electronic jamming to survive. The Navy itself acknowledges the Super Hornet will have to avoid dogfights, because of its lumbering turning ability vs. contemporary adversaries.

The F/A-18E/F was not the Navy’s first choice for the air war of the 21st century; it originally envisioned an all-stealth force consisting of a navalized F-22 and the A-12 attack airplane. When those projects were canceled, the F/A-18 seemed an economical way to refresh the flight deck with an adequate platform while follow-on aircraft like the JSF took shape.

Pentagon officials seriously contemplated dropping the Hornet upgrade in favor of waiting for the JSF, since the E/F is considered by many only a marginal improvement over the earlier version, the C/D. However, the Clinton Administration determined the Super Hornet would serve as competition to hold the JSF on track.

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

Without the single-seat F/A-18E and the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet, the Navy would have little justification for the aircraft carrier in the next decade. Unless the sea service can equip its flattops with an aircraft more capable against modern defenses, the striking power of the aircraft carrier will be limited, and the risk of losses in action against any modern adversary will be high.

Today’s carrier aircraft are mostly designs of 1960s and 1970s vintage, updated in the 1980s. The swing-wing F-14 Tomcats, featured in the movie “Top Gun,” are wearing out and becoming prohibitively expensive to maintain. Around 2007, they will have been retired altogether. Though designed as interceptors, the F-14s have been pressed into service as attack airplanes-dubbed “Bombcats”-to fill in behind the A-6E Intruder medium bomber, the last operational version of which left the fleet in 1998. The A-6’s intended replacement, the stealthy A-12, was terminated in 1991 when the Navy botched its development.

To save on logistics costs, the Navy about a decade ago decided to move toward fewer types of aircraft on the flight deck at sea. The Navy chose to focus its carrier striking power in the F/A-18C Hornet because it was the newest fighter in the inventory and promised to be a flexible design. Thus, the plain Hornet became the carrier workhorse of the 1990s.

The F/A-18C, however, has run out of room for improvement. The Hornet has no more unused fuselage space in which the Navy could install new avionics equipment. Moreover, the plain Hornet cannot land safely on a carrier deck while still carrying a bomb load. As a result, pilots have gotten in the habit of dumping good ordnance into the sea before bringing the fighter down. This, said Navy officials, has become too costly to bear.

“It’s reached its maximum growth capability,” Rear Adm. Evan M. Chanik Jr., chief of naval aviation plans and requirements, said of the F/A-18C. “We’ve run out of electrical power, we’ve run out of cooling power, so we really can’t do any more modifications or improvements. We’ve run out of weight, so we can’t add any weight in terms of growing it.”

The plain Hornet has also been infamous for its short range, limited maneuvering capability against contemporary fighters, and relatively small offensive payload.

Despite these shortcomings, the F/A-18 became the centerpiece of naval aviation in 1991 because, at that point, the Navy had been hit, in close succession, with cancellations of an F-14 upgrade, an A-6 upgrade, and the entire A-12 program. The Navy chose to “grow” the F/A-18 design to allow it to replace the F-14 in the interceptor role and to become a respectable bomb truck to carry the kind of heavy load in which the A-6 Intruder specialized.

Heavy Lifting

That enlarged design is what the Navy now calls the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. “We see it as filling that ‘heavy lifting’ mission,” Chanik explained.

The E/F version will also take on the role of carrier-based tanker, substituting for the S-3 Viking. In addition, the Navy is considering the F/A-18E/F as the basis for a replacement of the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare platform; Boeing is developing an EF-18 “Growler” variant.

When compared to the original Hornet, the two versions of the Super Hornet present a somewhat reduced radar cross section in the front aspect, which will improve their survivability against air-to-air and surface-to-air threats. The improvements included coatings on the canopy, a redesigned engine inlet, radar blockers for the larger engines, and radar absorbent material on leading-edge surfaces.

“We didn’t go [for] all-around reduced visibility, i.e., JSF style or F-22 style,” Chanik noted. “That was a cost-benefit tradeoff. … We looked at the aircraft in various configurations and designed accordingly to provide us with what we think are some LO [Low Observable] benefits.”

Chanik acknowledged that hanging external stores on the E/F will increase its observability to radar, but he suggested that the weapons themselves could be treated to make them less detectable.

Other survivability improvements include onboard electronic countermeasures and fiber-optic towed decoys.

The Navy feels that the Super Hornet must have jamming support if it is to survive in future aerial combat. Chanik said that, in addition, the Super Hornet will succeed by relying on long-range weapons, such as the Joint Standoff Weapon glide bomb and the Standoff Land Attack Missile-Extended Range. Such munitions will reduce the need for the E/F to have to get close to its target, as they can be launched dozens of miles from the intended point of impact.

Compared with the C/D model, the Super Hornet has one additional weapon hardpoint, or carrying station, on each wing. It carries more internal and external fuel and has a larger combat radius-about 650 to 700 miles (compared to about 500 miles for the plain Hornet)-depending on the mission. The aircraft overall is about 20 percent larger than the F/A-18C/D model.

The Navy is already well into production of the Super Hornet. It has taken delivery of nearly 50 aircraft and plans to embark its first squadron aboard a carrier later this year. The F/A-18E and F will replace not the C/D model, but the F-14. The F-14 fleet needs to retire before the F/A-18Cs do.

“We’re necking down to an F/A-18-only fleet, for all practical purposes,” Chanik said.

Boeing is under contract to provide 222 Super Hornets under a multiyear contract approved by Congress. That contract winds up in 2004, but officials expect another to come immediately after the first. The Navy’s requirement is for 548 Super Hornets, with deliveries completing around 2012.

The QDR Cut

The Navy initially envisioned buying more than 700 Super Hornets, but the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review determined that the Joint Strike Fighter, which will be stealthier and is an all-new design, should be procured by the Navy as soon as it becomes available. Pentagon officials opted not to cancel the Super Hornet in 1997. Even though they considered it only a modest improvement on the C/D, it answered the Navy’s urgent need for fresh airplanes and could serve as competition or a fallback if the JSF program failed to deliver.

In Fiscal 2001 dollars, the flyaway cost of a single Super Hornet is “just over $50 million … $52, $53 million,” Chanik said. That cost is for a fighter equipped with the APG-73 radar, but in order to make the aircraft “fully capable,” the Navy will be adding a new Advanced Electronically Scanned Array radar starting in 2006. The AESA will add a couple of million dollars to the cost of each Super Hornet once it’s available, but the technology will be shared with the JSF program. An advanced forward-looking infrared system is also in the works for the Super Hornet fleet, and its cost is also considered separate from that of the E/F.

Not counting development and acquisition of the new radar, the F/A-18E/F program is expected to cost a total of $47 billion by the time production ends 11 years from now. Discounting the sunk development costs, the “cost to go” on the F/A-18 is about $30 billion.

Navy plans call for moving, by 2020, to a new 50-aircraft air wing comprising 12 F/A-18Es, 14 F/A-18Fs, and 24 Joint Strike Fighters. The Navy will buy more two-seater than single-seater Super Hornets; it sees a need for two crewmembers in missions with a high workload, such as forward air control, and it needs the two-seat aircraft to fill the Stateside training role.

F-22 Raptor

The Air Force’s top priority program is the F-22. It needs the F-22 because the service does not believe its 30-year-old air superiority champ, the F-15, can soldier on much longer. Designed in the late 1960s to go against the Soviet-built MiG-21 and MiG-23, the F-15 is now matched or surpassed by later generations of foreign aircraft such as Russia’s Su-35 and S-37, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and France’s Rafale.

Gen. John P. Jumper, head of Air Combat Command, said, “We’ve had a chance to look at this latest generation of airplanes,” and when US pilots flying real or simulated threat airplanes go against US pilots in current US fighters, “our guys flying their airplanes beat our guys flying our airplanes. … And that airplane we’re flying is the F-15.”

USAF requires an airplane that is greatly superior to the opposition because of US military strategy of fighting at the enemy’s doorstep. Upon arrival in a crisis, a few squadrons of American airplanes could be facing an enemy’s entire air force, and some “traditional adversary” nations have fleets of hundreds of airplanes, many of them late-model types. Simply to survive, US fighters must be able to shoot down many enemy aircraft for each of their own lost in combat.

The F-15 was also designed before the advent of digital avionics, digital engine controls, stealth, and new engine technology, while competitor aircraft designed in the 1980s and 1990s have, to some degree, incorporated all these advances.

Curse of Old Age

Moreover, USAF’s F-15 fleet is afflicted by all of the problems of old age as they pertain to aircraft: crumbling seals, stress cracks, airframe fatigue, frayed wiring, parts shortages, and obsolescent components. The problems are fixed to the degree possible, but it takes more and more manpower to do so. The airplanes stay out of service longer, cannibalization rates are going up, readiness rates are going down, and more age-related problems crop up all the time.

The expectation was that the F-15 would be replaced by the mid-1990s, so no one is quite sure just how long the hardware can be kept going. The cost of keeping the F-15 flying continues to rise, and the aircraft just don’t stay fixed for long until something else breaks.

More lethal than enemy fighters, however, is the threat posed by ground defenses, which have been improving continuously over the decades. The F-15, having no stealthiness, will routinely have to operate near the “no escape zone” of enemy surface-to-air missiles. Its effectiveness in keeping the skies clear for allied airplanes is eroding rapidly.

The Bush Administration has talked about skipping a generation of weapons programs to remain at least a generation ahead in military technology. However, Jumper said, “We’ve already skipped a generation of technology, and probably … two, if you think about the fact that the F-15 first flew in 1972.” The F-22 Raptor, Jumper insists, fulfills the concept of a “leap ahead” system whose technology will surpass that of the competition for decades to come.

The F-22 features three technologies that give it a wide edge over any competitor. These are stealth, the ability to “supercruise,” and fusion of its sensor input.

The Raptor is the first fighter to combine great agility with all-aspect stealth. Being stealthy will allow the F-22 pilot to see and fire on his enemy before being seen himself–in combat, an enormous advantage. Should rules of engagement or the situation make it necessary to fight at close range, the F-22’s unparalleled agility should allow it to prevail there as well, the key enabler being another US fighter first: thrust-vectoring nozzles.


The F-22 is the also the first fighter to have the capability to cruise at supersonic speed for long periods of the mission. Previous fighters could only achieve supersonic speed in a “dash”-that is, for very brief periods on afterburner, which quickly eats up fuel. The Raptor, though, will be able to leap across swaths of real estate at over 1,000 miles an hour, do it persistently, and without resort to afterburner. Top speed of the F-22 is classified, but it does have an afterburner for high dash speeds as well.

The pilot of the Raptor will have more awareness of the air combat situation than any pilot, ever. The computer processors and communications gear onboard will capture data from a host of sources-satellites, E-3 AWACS airplanes, ground radars, other fighters–and present it in a single display which will tell him exactly what’s airborne in his area, who’s friendly, who’s an enemy, and where all of them are and where they’re headed.

Making possible this unprecedented capability is a new technique called sensor fusion. Unlike the F-15 pilot, the F-22 pilot will not need to interpret the displays given by raster screens in the cockpit. Data will be presented in an integrated view, on a single multifunction display. Fuel consumption, weapon effectiveness, optimum release points–all these things will be calculated for him. The pilot will be free to fly and employ the airplane and not have to focus on making sense of many visual and audio cues about what’s happening.

Jumper recently unveiled a concept of operations called Global Strike Task Force, a plan which highlights capabilities of the F-22 for defeating anti-access threats, such as theater ballistic missiles, weapons of mass destruction, anti-air and anti-ship missiles, and other systems which could hold the US and its forces at bay in a foreign theater.

“Only the F-22,” with its combination of stealth, supercruise, and a significant ground-attack capability, can “kick down the door” into a hostile theater and clear the way for the rest of the force to enter and operate, Jumper said.

The United States fights “as part of alliances and coalitions,” Jumper said. “Our coalition and alliance partners don’t have the strategic assets to stand back a long way and prosecute wars.” The F-22, he said, will help the allies “get in close enough that they can participate with us.”

Morever, said Jumper, the F-22 Raptor can “bring stealth into the daytime; it can protect itself,” which the stealthy B-2 bomber and stealthy F-117 attack airplane cannot do, except passively, by using their stealth. “You can now use stealth 24 hours a day, and it can also protect our other stealth assets.”

The Air Force was dealt a setback in the 1997 QDR, when its plan to procure 438 F-22s was reduced to 339 aircraft. The service insists it needs at least one squadron of 24 airplanes for each of its 10 Aerospace Expeditionary Forces, plus about 100 more for training, testing, and maintenance pipeline purposes. To buy fewer than 339 would mean some contingencies might not get covered. It would also prematurely wear out both the machines and their pilots. Regional commanders in chief would demand the F-22 and its ability to guarantee control of the skies in any foreseeable conflict, and the system would never stop deploying. Its pilots would quit in frustration, as has been seen on other systems considered low-density, high-demand weapons.

Actual Requirement

The Air Force would like to have 572 F-22s, which would put two squadrons–48 total fighters–in each AEF, with enough left over for a schoolhouse, tactics development, test, and other functions.

To date, the Air Force’s expenditure on the F-22 comes to about $21 billion. That money has paid for a fly-off competition between the YF-22 and YF-23, eight additional years of design and development work, the initial 400 hours of flight tests, and creation of factories, certification of vendors, and readiness for production.

From this point on, the F-22 program would cost an estimated $36.4 billion, money that would be used to complete all flight tests, establish a logistics train, and procure all 339 aircraft. The Air Force pegs the flyaway unit cost of the F-22 at $83.6 million, in Fiscal 2000 dollars.

Jumper warns that canceling the F-22 now is a loser for the Air Force–financially and operationally.

Without the F-22, the Air Force would have to restart the F-15 production line, he said, and add “as much of the F-22 capability as possible” onto the Eagle. This might include some minimal stealth treatments, new engines, thrust-vectoring nozzles, and electronic upgrades.

“To do that would cost us $10 billion more … than it will to buy out the F-22,” Jumper said.

What the F-22 represents, he added, is an effort to put Air Force pilots into the air with an airplane that represents “the true technological capability of this nation” and to give the US “as much of an advantage over the current generation of aircraft that are out there as we did when we fielded the F-15, and it enjoyed such a big advantage over airplanes like the MiG-23 and MiG-21.”

Joint Strike Fighter

The Joint Strike Fighter is the largest fighter airplane program for the foreseeable future, with nearly 3,000 planned for the US military and a market for 3,000 more anticipated overseas. If it goes forward, the program is likely to be in production well into the 2020s and maybe beyond.

The JSF program seeks to derive-from one basic fighter design-three highly similar, stealthy variants, one each for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.

Plans call for the Air Force model to replace the F-16 as the low end of the service’s high/low mix, complementing the F-22. The service wants 1,763 JSFs to replace F-16s, which were bought in large blocks in the 1980s and will begin retiring by 2005. The Air Force expects to pay about $35 million apiece for the JSF, in 2001 dollars. The Air Force insists that the airplane be stealthy and meet its cost goal; otherwise, the service will not be able to buy it in sufficient quantities.

If the JSF doesn’t appear in time to replace the F-16 within this decade, lengthy and expensive service life updates will be necessary. Because the F-16 is not stealthy, the Air Force’s ability to operate in areas with many mobile surface-to-air missiles roaming the battlefield will be severely hampered.

For the First Day

The Navy wants 480 JSFs to complement the F/A-18E/F. It would serve as a first-day-of-the-war, direct-attack platform, Chanik explained. Stealthier and carrying a bigger payload than the USAF version, the Navy expects to keep the cost of its JSF down to about $45 million.

Low operating cost and carrier suitability are the Navy’s top requirements for the JSF, Chanik said.

The Marine Corps wants 609 JSFs to replace its AV-8B Harrier Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing jets for close air support. The JSF would also supplant the F/A-18s in Marine service. Considered the most technically challenging of the three variants, the STOVL model will also be used by the UK, which has invested $2 billion in the program in exchange for technology sharing and the right to help set requirements for the airplane. The Marine model is supposed to cost about $38 million.

The Marines need the JSF to be a STOVL airplane for two reasons: There are no catapults on the Marine amphibious assault vessels, which have short flight decks. The Marines also want to position JSFs forward, near the battle lines, to be able to provide close air support within a few short minutes of a request. USMC doesn’t want to depend on existing runways to meet this need.

Approximately $14 billion has been spent on JSF over the last seven years, in a 50-50 cost-sharing arrangement between government and industry. To fully develop the airplane and create a manufacturing capability will cost another $25 billion–vs. twice that if three separate programs were pursued–and production will cost about $90 billion. Foreign orders are expected, with six more nations interested in getting in on development and contributing funds toward it.

Two concepts are competing to be the JSF, which is expected to be called the F-24 in operational service. Boeing is offering an airplane based on its X-32 demonstrator, while Lockheed Martin’s entry is based on its X-35.

Boeing’s design is characterized by a large air intake under the nose, a feature which opens even wider on the Marine model when taking off or descending vertically. Though the X-32 is a tailless design, Boeing’s proposed JSF has a more conventional layout. While the engine fan blades seem to be visible on the Boeing concept–a no-no in stealth design–Boeing program manager Frank Statkus said the blades are hidden by a blocker, which is a new approach to stealth. The X-32 meets all the Pentagon’s requirements for stealth, Statkus said.

Lockheed Martin’s X-35 bears a vague family resemblance to Lockheed’s F-22. The conventional layout features inlets on the sides of the airplane; the fan blades are hidden from view, inside the fuselage.

Both aircraft are required to carry two 1,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions internally and have the ability to carry external stores to increase payload when stealth is not required. Both types must have a combat radius in excess of 600 miles.

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Michael Hough, the JSF program manager, says the program is right on track and performing beyond anyone’s expectations.

The Dart Throw

“In 1994, they threw a dart in the wall and decided that there would be a [winner chosen] in April 2001. We will do it in October. Over a seven-year program, we’re five months off.”

Hough said the JSF will in every way match or exceed the performance of the aircraft it is designed to replace. However, “cost of ownership is the legacy of this airplane. Not performance. Relative to cost of ownership, performance is easy.”

He said when the services got serious about setting their true top priorities for the JSF, they found that they were willing to trade away some aspects of performance to get an aircraft that was cheap to own and operate.

“It’s cost of ownership of legacy airplanes that’s … eating us alive,” Hough noted. He also said that when the contractors “saw we were serious” about an almost religious zeal for savings, they too sharpened their pencils and went to work, discarding long-standing traditional ideas about how fighter airplanes are made. For its part, the government did not specify what it wanted. It set the performance and cost requirements and let the contractors offer their own solutions, using their own techniques, technology, and business practices.

In the end, Hough said, the services will get both high performance and an affordable aircraft.

The JSF will save large amounts of money because of high commonality between the three variants. The target parts commonality is 80 percent, and both competitors report they are comfortably above that level. Moreover, the three versions will use nearly identical software, and more savings will derive from common training systems, common depot equipment, and a single, streamlined parts catalog.

The JSF will be able to carry either the Pratt & Whitney F119 or General Electric F120 engine. Both engine companies have to fit the same hole in the airplane, and the software to run the two engines must be identical. To the pilot, it will not matter whether he is flying with one or the other type engine; performance will be the same.

Competition on the engine is expected to save billions and produce continually better value in performance and reliability, Hough said. Achieving the ability to use the engines interchangeably was the hardest challenge of the program, he added. Though there have been engine competitions in the past–particularly on the F-16–the engines were not interchangeable and required unique equipment on the airplane, as well as unique software.

The No-Break Fighter

The assault on cost has been fierce from the beginning, Hough explained. He wanted an airplane as reliable as a TV set, car radio, or refrigerator.

“They don’t break,” he said. “Why can’t you have an airplane like that?”

He gave as an example of cost avoidance the reliability of the JSF engines.

On current fighters, “every 250 to 300 hours, we jerk a motor out of an airplane,” he said. If an airplane is going to an overseas deployment with 100 hours on the engine and will be deployed for more than six months, “you have to take another motor with you [and] that increases footprint.”

The JSF engines will require changeout for service only every 800 to 1,000 hours, or every three or four years, instead of at least once a year. They will need fewer maintainers and fewer spares on deployments.

He summed up the cost-saving approach by pointing out that manpower accounts for 65 percent of the cost of ownership.

“We took the man out of the loop” wherever possible, he said. “I’m reducing manpower requirements, … decrease the footprint.”

Similarly, the radar in the JSF has a theoretical mean time between failure that is longer than the life expectancy of the aircraft itself, so that technicians will rarely, if ever, have to open it for maintenance.

The payoff is enormous, Hough said. A 10,000-man Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron can be reduced to 2,000 troops, simply by cutting down the time it takes to fix avionics.

“I can take 8,000 guys out of there and give them back to the Marine Corps and make them into trigger-pullers,” he said.

Even the stealth treatments on the JSF will require less than 30 minutes between sorties for touch up, Hough noted. “That’s two guys for 15 minutes each,” Hough reported.

Overall, he said, the JSF will take advantage of everything learned on the F-22 and F/A-18E/F, in terms of design and manufacturing technology.

When President Bush talked about “skipping a generation” of technology, “I thought he was talking about us,” Hough grinned.

However, the Joint Strike Fighter assumes the F-22, he said. The JSF does not have supercruise ability, he pointed out, nor is it designed to be an air superiority airplane.

“It’s a bomb truck … and a very efficient one,” Hough said.

Statkus said the single biggest thing that made the JSF possible was the ability to accurately model aircraft performance on a computer.

Just Like the Simulator

“It is an extreme excitement for people like myself and other engineers when a pilot who has spent thousands of hours in the simulator flies the airplane … and comes back and says, ‘You know, I couldn’t tell the difference between the airplane and the simulator,’ ” he said.

Boeing’s tailless X-32 does not look much like its proposed JSF, but Hough said he’s confident that Boeing will deliver what it proposes “because of the fidelity of the simulations” between the demonstrator and the models which predicted its performance.

The requirements for the JSF were adjusted frequently during the seven-year concept definition phase, and Statkus said the ability to fine-tune the design at each step in the process led to adjusting the company’s JSF proposal from its initial tailless offering.

Lockheed Martin JSF manager Tom Burbage said his company began with a “good, all-around design … easily tunable to the requirements as they were changing.” Whereas Boeing seemed to be designing to a price point, he said, Lockheed’s airplane was geared toward “offering best value.” Statkus agreed about designing to a price point but also insisted his airplane, too, would be “best value.”

Hough said he believed several years ago that the requirements for JSF would be set too high. He feared that, on a scale of one to 10, the contest would see a six beat a four.

“I wanted two nines. I don’t have that. I have two 10s,” he asserted. “Competition and money drove those guys” to offer airplanes that meet or exceed all requirements, he said.

When the program was sketched out in 1994, it was assumed the concept airplanes would fly like those in the past, plagued with the technical problems of flying virtually one-of-a-kind machines. But the computer-aided design and manufacturing of the demonstrators was so smooth that they have been almost as reliable as the objective aircraft.

Instead of flying two to five times a week, “we’re flying them three to five times a day,” Hough reported. So accurately have they been hitting test points that, instead of the planned 200-hour flight test program, “we’re knocking these things out in 110 to 120 hours.”

Hough said that the contractors have made the concept demonstration flying program “look ridiculously easy.” He’s not taking success for granted. “That was done with a hell of a lot of forethought, planning, superb engineering, and a heavy, heavy dose of leadership,” said Hough.

Jumper said the Air Force is relying on the JSF to deliver an airplane that will fill out its fleet. The F-22 is vital to gaining access to a future theater of war. However, noted Jumper, gaining access by itself “does not win the war.”

The JSF will be vital to keeping up the pressure on the enemy, as the “persistence stealth over the battlefield” that continues to suppress and destroy enemy air defenses, find mobile targets, and hit time-critical targets as they emerge, Jumper said.

The F-22 “gets the low end of the mix in” to the fight, he said. And it is that lower end of the mix that is “the war-winning force, that has to come in behind the kick-down-the-door force,” he said.