stealth vs swarms of cheap drones

The US has put all its egg’s in one basket as far as having an all stealth air superiority force, both the F-22 and F-35 are stealth and no other fighters are planned at the moment.

The compromises caused on the F35 program by the need to fit the lift fan for the VTOL version are well known. It also has sluggish performance when it comes to dogfighting, bad rare visibility and can only fit a limited amount of armaments in its internal bays when it is in stealth mode. If you need cites see many articles on this blog:

If I was the dictator of a country the US had an issue with, my response to the US all stealth approach would be to buy as many second hand 4th generation fighters as I could, then build drones that looked identical to my manned fighters on radar signature but were unarmed. Put them all in the air when the US attacks, the F35’s wouldn’t be able to tell drone from real fighters and would waste missiles taking out cheap drones. Once one 4th generation fighter gets within visual range and the F35 is out of missiles it’s in big trouble.

There is also the issue that advances in radar almost certainly mean that Russia and China can actually detect our stealth fighters and if they choose to sell that technology to other countries then the US has spent 1.5 trillion on slow fighters that are worse in every-way than the 5th generation rivals from Sukhoi and Dassault.

Has the US military seriously messed up here, or will the F35 program ever prove it’s worth? Keep in mind the F35 is supposed to be in service for the next 30 years… the assumption that stealth would remain impregnable all that time seems mind bogglingly naive to me.

Stealth is like a bulletproof vest. There are plenty of ways to defeat a bulletproof vest. Having one doesn’t guarantee survival. But going into battle without one? No thanks.

You’ve entirely missed the point of my post. Stealth isn’t free, it comes at a hugely increased price per unit. It means the planes have less flyable hours and spend longer in the hangar having their coatings maintained and it means they can carry less armaments because as soon as you use external hard-points you lose stealth.
So if your opponent chooses numerical superiority and supermaneuverability over stealth then you will lose every time, for the reasons I gave in the original post.

Stealth is nice for the individual pilot, but I am talking about whether it a good overall strategy for a nation state to commit to for the next 30 years.

Also, Dassault doesn’t have a fifth gen fighter, and the PAK-FA appears to be a piece of junk. But other than that…

Read my original post and stop spouting jingoistic nonsense, even a 4th generation fighter is a threat to an F35 if it gets within visual range. Considering that the F35 cannot even beat an F16 in a dogfight (cite is above), its in real trouble if an Sukhoi SU35 or Dassault Rafale gets in close.

Address my actual points specifically or don’t bother posting.

Those decoy drones need to be able to fly above the stall speed for the fighters they are trying to replicate. Otherwise they become obvious fakes. Once it becomes apparent you are building them, you need to make sure your control systems aren’t susceptible to jamming/countermeasures. Cheaper than an actual fighter plane sure. I don’t know that you’d be able to call it cheap.

Well the cheapest jets on the market are around $3 million, so lets say $5 million per drone. When you compare that to $100 million plus for each F35 then it IS cheap. Also the drones can just be set to fly in a reandom pattern around the real fighters using visual cues or even laser communication which can’t be jammed. Obviously the strategy would be for the real fighters to fly the same speed as the drones and wait for the F35’s to use up their missiles, then the surviving real 4th generation pilots kick in after burners to max intercept speed. F35’s have no choice but to turn and run… and they’re not very good at that either.

An in case you think my scenario is far fetched, this seems to be exactly the strategy that Iran is using to counter US threats, both in the Air and at Sea, they are relying on the “swarm” strategy:

Although what the difference is between a “suicide drone” and a cruise missile I’m not sure? Is it just that the bad guys have “suicide drones” while we have cruise missiles?

  1. Can you tell us how you understand stealth to work in terms of radar range and probability?

  2. How do the enemy 4th generation fighters know where to go to get within visual range of 5th generation US fighters?

  3. You say that US 5th generation fighters are worse in every way than 5th generation rivals from Sukhoi and Dassault. Can you tell us how the Sukhoi and Dassault AESA, RWR and DRFM ECM are superior to the US ones?

its in the cites I posted above

Again from the cite above: "U.S. fighters — like the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) — are protected by stealth technology optimized for higher frequency targeting radars but not for lower frequency radars.

Until now a focus on higher frequencies have not been a problem because low frequency radars have traditionally been unable to generate “weapons quality tracks.”

Stealth fighters are not invisible, low frequency radar can tell you that they are coming but are not (yet) good enough to get a lock on for weapons.

supermaneuverability. The F-35 is not supermaneuverabie while the Sukhoi 35 and various other 4th generation fighters are. The F-22 is plenty deadly in a dogfight but the US really doesn’t have many of those.

This part isn’t possible with today’s technology or any foreseeable technology in the next 20 years. Making a drone that looks and flies like a jet fighter isn’t much cheaper than a real jet fighter even if it were possible. The US armed forces already has a very large fleet of drones at great expense, if it were possible the US would already have it.

Anyway if I were planning a spat with the US, I wouldn’t bother with planes at all and invest all my resources into the latest Russian SAMs, as well as other ground based countermeasures, like putting microwaves in pickup trucks to make them look like SAM sites on radar, or whatever. The current US strike fleet of F16s, F15Es and F/A18s are already very vulnerable to any SAM system newer than the S-300, simply having them around will put a serious dent in the US willingness to tangle. If they do, they’ll have to come with F-22s and F-35s, which are limited in number if available at all - both are fairly short ranged and unless you are bordering a major US ally will take a long time just to get to where you are, significantly more trouble in case one gets shot down, and may still be vulnerable to the latest SAMs (we don’t really know). That or a ground invasion.

More importantly for regimes hostile to the US, it is much more difficult to turn a SAM battery around and bomb the presidential palace if your field commander’s paycheque bounces, compared to a jet. This is a vastly more likely occurrence than an air war with the United States.

Coremelt, do not tell others to not bother posting. If you believe someone is breaking the rules please report the post instead.

Well, if you hadn’t have made a factual error, I wouldn’t need to point it out.

I’m not going to say the F-35 is a perfect airplane, because it clearly has problems. But this idea that the F-35 is unable to beat an F-16 in air combat is taking it too far. Yes, the F-35 is almost certainly vulnerable in combat within visual range. But guess what else is also vulnerable in that situation? Every other aircraft in the world, including the best air superiority fighter. But one also has to realize that the whole point of stealth, the advanced LPI/LPD AESA radars, and other features of fifth generation aircraft is that they plan to stay outside of that envelope. The main issue right now, IMHO, is that the US has two very capable platforms that launch missiles that are inferior.

Can I also point out the irony in the essence of your claim? You argue that the F-35 is a piece of junk because it tries to do too many things. And it should be better at dogfighting. This is like the old couple who go to a restaurant and the wife complains, “This food is awful!” And the husband adds, “Yes, and the portions are too small, too!”

But underneath all your hyperbole and questionable arguments, you do have a valid point: U.S. air forces are not well positioned to deal with large numbers of adversaries, particularly if they use advanced missiles on otherwise crappy jets. We can’t carry enough missiles to shoot down everything.

But, from an adversary’s point of view, you’re proposing an exotic solution that even the United States would struggle to develop. The idea of autonomous, or even semi-autonomous, drones that are militarily relevant to air-to-air combat is something that is likely a couple decades away. The difficulty of implementing sensors and networking in an demanding environment like that is really, really hard.

So you suggest buying 3rd or 4th gen fighters at several million a piece, having to pay to maintain them, inventing a lasercom system that doesn’t exist, figuring out how to command and control autonomous aircraft that operate close to manned aircraft, etc… That’s a huge expense for a country like Iran, whose military budget is about $11 billion.

Why would a country like that engage in such a strategy, to essentially overmatch US technology with its own new technologies? They wouldn’t. It’s stupid. It’s a losing proposition because the US will always spend more money than them. The obvious solution is to pursue A2AD strategies that are far lower cost. For example, buy advanced S-400 missiles that are very long range, and very sophisticated, to make it as hard as possible for the US to conduct penetrating strikes. To the extent air combat against the US is viewed as a good proposition (questionable for most countries), instead of buying 20 drones at $5 million (yeahright) a piece, buy a $1 million DRFM that will simulate 20 aircraft on US radars. Finally, invest in cyber and electronic warfare to degrade American net-centric capabilities.

So, why would any country adopt your cumbersome, expensive strategy when they could adopt this common-sense, cheaper and more effective A2AD strategy?

Referring to a cite doesn’t show any understanding of how stealth affects radar range and probability.

Lower frequency and being able to tell if they are coming doesn’t mean you can locate and track them at distances of dozen of km. What tells us that the weapons quality tracks reach out to dozens of km?

You said the Sukhoi and Dassault were superior in every way to US 5th generation fighters. I ask you how they’re superior when it comes to AESA, RWR and DRFM ECM and you reply super maneuverability. That’s not what every way means.

How are Sukhoi and Dassault AESA, RWR, DRFM ECM superior to US AESA, RWR and DRFM ECM?

Why do you think that is? Missiles ought to be faster and cheaper to develop than fighters.

How do you think future missiles will be superior to current ones?

I can only guess that the US hasn’t invested in a better missile because we’ve been engaged in wars that have put a priority on everything that doesn’t involve air combat.

A better missile has longer range and more speed, and possibly a more diverse sensor. Radar is great, but radar plus an IR sensor would be pretty awesome.

Has there been work in using a UV sensor on a missile? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of using that?
On range and speed: One must hit hard limits soon enough before the missile has to be unmanageably heavy and large.

I’d have thought that most of the potential in missile development would lie in ECCM.

I am perfectly willing to admit that advanced SAM is a better strategy than the drone strategy I suggest. I guess the real great debate I am asking is can stealth possibly be a feasible strategy for 30 years given the inevitable advances in radar AND drone swarms that will happen in that time?

I’m not exactly sure what your point is; the F-35 is a fighter/bomber. It’s not a straight-up air superiority fighter like the F-22, and it’s not a pure strike aircraft like say… an A-10 or a F-15E. It’s a jack-of-all-trades, so as a result it won’t be perfect in either role. And it also follows that optimizations like supermaneuverability or tracking radar stealth (like the B-2 or F-117) might be counterproductive and hurt the other roles for the plane.

So they made it stealthy to the point where enemies have a hard time locking and firing missiles at it, and they made it maneuverable, but not to the level of a dedicated dogfighter. In other words, it’s not going to be a top-level strike aircraft, nor a top-level dogfighter, but it’ll be very good at both roles.

And ravenman how exactly are the AIM-9X and the AIM-120D so inferior to the missiles the rest of the world are using? Yes, there are a few friendly nations with close-range weapons (ASRAAM, Meteor) that are arguably better than the AIM-9X, but that’s basically like arguing that one knight is better than the other, because one has a slightly better dirk. The AIM-120 AMRAAM is more like the knight’s sword, and AFAIK, it’s the missile to beat, especially combined with the US radar and avionics primacy.

Well, the number of 120Ds we have is pretty lame. In a big war, we’d go through them quickly. AIM-120Cs are unquestionably the backbone of our inventory. The problem is that our adversaries are investing in missiles that simply have longer legs, and that means that they could conceivably shoot first. The Meteor is a longer range missile, and I don’t know a whole lot about it, but it seems mighty capable. Add to that that in all likelihood that in future wars we would be on the offense and they the defense, and I think it puts us on our heels. ETA: And AIM-9Xs seem to be quite capable, but frankly we shouldn’t be putting US aircraft that close to an adversary if we can help it.

Think about this: we have a carrier a few hundred miles away from some shoreline. Our fighters have to go bomb stuff that’s inland. The adversary can launch aircraft, lob longer-range missiles and turn and flee, to likely land and rearm. Our strike force has to make it through that salvo of air-to-air missiles, then through integrated air defenses on the ground, before they can put lead on foreheads. All the enemy has to do is keep pushing us back, away from the shore, and we lose the initiative. It’s a difficult problem.