The F-35 is already dead, drones and air superiority fighters are to blame

News of the F-35 program being labelled a "failure" has shocked many. But news outlets haven't mentioned the elephant in the room; manned air-to-ground attack aircraft are becoming obsolete, and the F-35 doesn't cut it as an air superiority fighter.

Intended to replace the F-16 as the USA's main multirole fighter, the F-35 has been a long-awaited upgrade for the USAF. However, doubts about its performance have been circulating for years. Skyrocketing costs have also been among the major complaints by critics.

Truth be told, the F-35 is highly advanced. It is packed with the latest sensors, has a small RCS and an intuitive cockpit. However, all the extra equipment has made the F-35 heavy. Being single-engined, this extra weight is problematic. The thrust-to-weight ratio simply isn't good enough for dogfights, even against the decades-old F-16. In response to criticism, F-35 office spokesman Joe DellaVedova, explained: “The F-35’s technology is designed to engage, shoot and kill its enemy from long distances, not necessarily in visual ‘dogfighting’ situations”. What he said is right, and modern air-to-air combat doesn't revolve around dogfighting like in the past. The superior sensors and situational awareness of the F-35 do indeed make it a threat on the battlefield, and its stealth design can make it hard to track by less advanced militaries. But it may struggle against forces that use a network of advanced radars, air defences and older but more agile fighters. It is a huge upgrade for any military which is using 4th gen fighters, but is it worth it in the long run and is it really future proof?

1024px-RNLAF_F-35_F-001_05.jpg

Russia's Su-57 and China's J-20 are purpose-built air superiority fighters that would likely defeat the F-35 in a hypothetical one-on-one encounter. Neither has been mass-produced meanwhile the USA alone was planning to acquire over 2000 F-35s. The issue here is that the US would essentially have far too many aircraft which could prove to be vulnerable to cheaper, yet more capable air-superiority fighters. The USA simply cannot risk purchasing so many. The F-35 is by no means a worthy successor to the F-16. Its lack of maneuverability and speed isn't made up for by its sensors and stealth.

All major nations purchasing the F-35 have long known that it isn't an ideal air superiority fighter. The USA has had the F-22 for well over a decade now. Meanwhile, South Korea, Japan, the UK and former JSF partner Turkey, are all working on their very own 5th or 6th gen air superiority fighters. All these nations planned to use the F-35 mainly for ground-strike missions, meaning they never had too much faith in its air-to-air capabilities.

The real turning point was recent. Until last year, the F-35 was seen as the most capable aircraft for air-to-ground missions, especially where air defences may be active. As the stealthiest purchasable aircraft, it was the foremost choice for any military wishing to have a survivable and capable air-to-ground combat jet. It simply was the best option for tackling ground targets in dangerous airspace. Not anymore.

For the first time in history, drones were deployed by the dozens, wreaking havoc on conventional forces. Two battles and an entire war were won with the use of relatively cheap UCAVs. Fighters were deployed in Idlib where they would knock down several enemy jets. However, all the bombing missions were conducted with drones. The success of all these operations is tied to one major overlooked fact. Losing drones isn't seen as a calamitous setback. In comparison, the loss of a manned combat jet is catastrophic in terms of cost and morale.

Advances in autonomous flight software and jamming protection have made drones more practical than ever before. Though most drones currently use propellers, making them slow and vulnerable, jet-powered drones are gaining traction. Once supersonic drones begin entering service, manned air-to-ground combat aircraft will no longer be a priority. This puts the F-35 in an unfavourable position. Military decision-makers must decide if they'll continue with their F-35 purchase or switch to unmanned systems.

To further add to the F-35s demise, drones are also perfect platforms for taking down aircraft from a distance. For instance, the Akinci UCAV will be fitted with AESA radar and air-to-air missiles. Able to loiter in the air for over 24 hours, these drones can simply wait for the right opportunity to strike. Upcoming stealth drones with air-to-air capabilities will completely tip the balance in favour of unmanned aircraft, only leaving pure air-superiority to manned jets. That is until AI-driven air-superiority jets are introduced. While AI exists that can defeat humans in a dogfight, air-superiority drones will likely only remain in the prototype stage in the 2020s, possibly entering service in the late 2030s. Last year Elon Musk stated "The fighter jet era has passed... The competitor should be a drone fighter plane that's remote-controlled by a human, but with its manoeuvres augmented by autonomy. The F-35 would have no chance against it". He was met with criticism for saying this, however, time will prove him right.

The older F-22 is a much more capable fighter, meanwhile, drones will soon be able to do everything which the F-35 does but at a lower cost. Despite all its advanced features, the F-35 is simply redundant.

The F-35 program has been problematic for a long time. The sudden rebirth of UCAVs may put the final nail in the coffin. Though it has entered service in militaries all around the world, it might prove to be a burden very soon. An expensive, hard to maintain, technology demonstrater which while impressive, will be eclipsed by drones that can operate with impunity.
 

Ulus Göktürk 

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I'd just like to add that the F-35 would be a big upgrade for any military purchasing it right now. I'm not bashing the F-35, but the way I see it, it simply isn't worth it in the long run.

The F-35B is an amazing aircraft for nations like Australia, Turkey or Spain, which have ski-jump LHDs. Despite my criticism of the aircraft, I would most certainly advise Australia and Spain to pursue F35Bs. Turkey unfortunately was kicked out of the program, but was keen to purchase the B variant.
 

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However, all the extra equipment has made the F-35 heavy. Being single-engined, this extra weight is problematic. The thrust-to-weight ratio simply isn't good enough for dogfights, even against the decades-old F-16.
F-35 TW ratio is very similar to F-16.

Russia's Su-57 and China's J-20 are purpose-built air superiority fighters that would likely defeat the F-35 in a hypothetical one-on-one encounter.
No. F-35 has advantage in stealth, sensors and networking . It will win most of air to air fights.

All these nations planned to use the F-35 mainly for ground-strike missions, meaning they never had too much faith in its air-to-air capabilities.

Thats absolutely not true. For example just recently US and Israel carried drills for F-35 in air to air roles. F-35 is excellent in this role.

The real turning point was recent. Until last year, the F-35 was seen as the most capable aircraft for air-to-ground missions, especially where air defences may be active. As the stealthiest purchasable aircraft, it was the foremost choice for any military wishing to have a survivable and capable air-to-ground combat jet. It simply was the best option for tackling ground targets in dangerous airspace. Not anymore.

For the first time in history, drones were deployed by the dozens, wreaking havoc on conventional forces. Two battles and an entire war were won with the use of relatively cheap UCAVs. Fighters were deployed in Idlib where they would knock down several enemy jets. However, all the bombing missions were conducted with drones. The success of all these operations is tied to one major overlooked fact. Losing drones isn't seen as a calamitous setback. In comparison, the loss of a manned combat jet is catastrophic in terms of cost and morale.

Drones cant replace strike planes:

1) They are very vulnerable to air defence. For example Ukraine does not dare to use them in Donbass now, despite renewed fights.
2) They carry very tiny bombs compare to strike planes.

Drones replace rather attack helicopters than strike planes.

To further add to the F-35s demise, drones are also perfect platforms for taking down aircraft from a distance. For instance, the Akinci UCAV will be fitted with AESA radar and air-to-air missiles. Able to loiter in the air for over 24 hours, these drones can simply wait for the right opportunity to strike.
Its very slow, unmaneuverable and unstealthy. So its very far from a perfect air to air platform.

Upcoming stealth drones with air-to-air capabilities will completely tip the balance in favour of unmanned aircraft, only leaving pure air-superiority to manned jets.

They will be extremely expensive on pair with the F-35 if not more and lack of man makes them much much less capable.

The older F-22 is a much more capable fighter,
Not really. F-35 beats the F-22 in most of issues.

meanwhile, drones will soon be able to do everything which the F-35 does but at a lower cost. Despite all its advanced features, the F-35 is simply redundant.

Not soon at all.
 

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Drones have not gone against any capable air force nor air defense so we can't jump to conclusions on that issue just yet.

Akinci seems promising but it will not be as capable as a fighter jet. It also lacks the speed that A2A missiles require to reach their full potential.
 

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Drones have not gone against any capable air force nor air defense so we can't jump to conclusions on that issue just yet.

Akinci seems promising but it will not be as capable as a fighter jet. It also lacks the speed that A2A missiles require to reach their full potential.

Akinci doesn't claim this anyway. While the fighter jets are fighting, the akinci'll destroy the remaining targets. Normally fighter jets have to handle this task, but akinci'll take on this task.
 

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Akinci doesn't claim this anyway. While the fighter jets are fighting, the akinci'll destroy the remaining targets. Normally fighter jets have to handle this task, but akinci'll take on this task.
You wouldn't necessarily need fighters if you can use ground launch cruise missiles to take out the targets you are talking about for a much cheaper cost to benefit ratio.

Most of the important targets are relatively static and should be easy targets.

Although for moving targets this drone would work well enough as most COIN aircraft but with much higher endurance. I think that was the though process that went into aircraft like the B-250 and Hurkus-C.
 
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You wouldn't necessarily need fighters if you can use ground launch cruise missiles to take out the targets you are talking about for a much cheaper cost to benefit ratio.

Although for moving targets this drone would work well enough as most COIN aircraft but with much higher endurance. I think that was the though process that went into aircraft like the B-250 and Hurkus-C.

The cost of a cruise missile is much more expensive than you think. Once you take control of the airwarfare, you can destroy a group of hided soldiers or a military vehicle with Mam-L for much cheaper. You can also use the UAVs to guide laser for targets.
 

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The cost of a cruise missile is much more expensive than you think. Once you take control of the airwarfare, you can destroy a group of hided soldiers or a military vehicle with Mam-L for much cheaper. You can also use the UAVs to guide laser for targets.
Do you know the cost per hour of Akinci? Wouldnt a COIN aircraft like the B-250 work at these mission? Albeit you gain less endurance, and a likely higher cost per aircraft.

Calidus_B-250_at_Dubai_Air_Show_2019_1.jpg
 

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Do you know the cost per hour of Akinci? Wouldnt a COIN aircraft like the B-250 work at these mission? Albeit you gain less endurance, and a likely higher cost per aircraft.

Calidus_B-250_at_Dubai_Air_Show_2019_1.jpg

Sure but you may lose two pilots. An enormous amount of money and effort goes into the time it takes for a pilot to become a profesyonel fighter. Also with an Akinci, you can fly for 24 hours.
 

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News of the F-35 program being labelled a "failure" has shocked many. But news outlets haven't mentioned the elephant in the room; manned air-to-ground attack aircraft are becoming obsolete, and the F-35 doesn't cut it as an air superiority fighter.

Intended to replace the F-16 as the USA's main multirole fighter, the F-35 has been a long-awaited upgrade for the USAF. However, doubts about its performance have been circulating for years. Skyrocketing costs have also been among the major complaints by critics.

Truth be told, the F-35 is highly advanced. It is packed with the latest sensors, has a small RCS and an intuitive cockpit. However, all the extra equipment has made the F-35 heavy. Being single-engined, this extra weight is problematic. The thrust-to-weight ratio simply isn't good enough for dogfights, even against the decades-old F-16. In response to criticism, F-35 office spokesman Joe DellaVedova, explained: “The F-35’s technology is designed to engage, shoot and kill its enemy from long distances, not necessarily in visual ‘dogfighting’ situations”. What he said is right, and modern air-to-air combat doesn't revolve around dogfighting like in the past. The superior sensors and situational awareness of the F-35 do indeed make it a threat on the battlefield, and its stealth design can make it hard to track by less advanced militaries. But it may struggle against forces that use a network of advanced radars, air defences and older but more agile fighters. It is a huge upgrade for any military which is using 4th gen fighters, but is it worth it in the long run and is it really future proof?

View attachment 16243

Russia's Su-57 and China's J-20 are purpose-built air superiority fighters that would likely defeat the F-35 in a hypothetical one-on-one encounter. Neither has been mass-produced meanwhile the USA alone was planning to acquire over 2000 F-35s. The issue here is that the US would essentially have far too many aircraft which could prove to be vulnerable to cheaper, yet more capable air-superiority fighters. The USA simply cannot risk purchasing so many. The F-35 is by no means a worthy successor to the F-16. Its lack of maneuverability and speed isn't made up for by its sensors and stealth.

All major nations purchasing the F-35 have long known that it isn't an ideal air superiority fighter. The USA has had the F-22 for well over a decade now. Meanwhile, South Korea, Japan, the UK and former JSF partner Turkey, are all working on their very own 5th or 6th gen air superiority fighters. All these nations planned to use the F-35 mainly for ground-strike missions, meaning they never had too much faith in its air-to-air capabilities.

The real turning point was recent. Until last year, the F-35 was seen as the most capable aircraft for air-to-ground missions, especially where air defences may be active. As the stealthiest purchasable aircraft, it was the foremost choice for any military wishing to have a survivable and capable air-to-ground combat jet. It simply was the best option for tackling ground targets in dangerous airspace. Not anymore.

For the first time in history, drones were deployed by the dozens, wreaking havoc on conventional forces. Two battles and an entire war were won with the use of relatively cheap UCAVs. Fighters were deployed in Idlib where they would knock down several enemy jets. However, all the bombing missions were conducted with drones. The success of all these operations is tied to one major overlooked fact. Losing drones isn't seen as a calamitous setback. In comparison, the loss of a manned combat jet is catastrophic in terms of cost and morale.

Advances in autonomous flight software and jamming protection have made drones more practical than ever before. Though most drones currently use propellers, making them slow and vulnerable, jet-powered drones are gaining traction. Once supersonic drones begin entering service, manned air-to-ground combat aircraft will no longer be a priority. This puts the F-35 in an unfavourable position. Military decision-makers must decide if they'll continue with their F-35 purchase or switch to unmanned systems.

To further add to the F-35s demise, drones are also perfect platforms for taking down aircraft from a distance. For instance, the Akinci UCAV will be fitted with AESA radar and air-to-air missiles. Able to loiter in the air for over 24 hours, these drones can simply wait for the right opportunity to strike. Upcoming stealth drones with air-to-air capabilities will completely tip the balance in favour of unmanned aircraft, only leaving pure air-superiority to manned jets. That is until AI-driven air-superiority jets are introduced. While AI exists that can defeat humans in a dogfight, air-superiority drones will likely only remain in the prototype stage in the 2020s, possibly entering service in the late 2030s. Last year Elon Musk stated "The fighter jet era has passed... The competitor should be a drone fighter plane that's remote-controlled by a human, but with its manoeuvres augmented by autonomy. The F-35 would have no chance against it". He was met with criticism for saying this, however, time will prove him right.

The older F-22 is a much more capable fighter, meanwhile, drones will soon be able to do everything which the F-35 does but at a lower cost. Despite all its advanced features, the F-35 is simply redundant.

The F-35 program has been problematic for a long time. The sudden rebirth of UCAVs may put the final nail in the coffin. Though it has entered service in militaries all around the world, it might prove to be a burden very soon. An expensive, hard to maintain, technology demonstrater which while impressive, will be eclipsed by drones that can operate with impunity.


Source?
 

Ardabas34

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Not soon at all.

There is this however: yes you are right that drones are totally incapable on facing fighter jets on dogfights as of now and it stands as a thing of future due to current AI limitations.

But, and here is a big but:

Supersonic drones are on the horizon, Turkey itself has its Tusaş Goksungur project also Bayraktar MIUS. These will be supersonic and yes they wont be able to deal with any jet fighters one on one but since they are supersonic, they will be accompanying our F-16s. So they will be decoys. Imagine, you have an F-35. F-16s approach you with say, three supersonic drones. So you see 4 supersonic aerial vehicles approaching to you in your radar. You dont know which one is the F-16 and which ones are decoys.
I would say that would bring a bigger tactical edge to the side with drones.
 

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There is this however: yes you are right that drones are totally incapable on facing fighter jets on dogfights as of now and it stands as a thing of future due to current AI limitations.

But, and here is a big but:

Supersonic drones are on the horizon, Turkey itself has its Tusaş Goksungur project also Bayraktar MIUS. These will be supersonic and yes they wont be able to deal with any jet fighters one on one but since they are supersonic, they will be accompanying our F-16s. So they will be decoys. Imagine, you have an F-35. F-16s approach you with say, three supersonic drones. So you see 4 supersonic aerial vehicles approaching to you in your radar. You dont know which one is the F-16 and which ones are decoys.
I would say that would bring a bigger tactical edge to the side with drones.
So ike the AGM-141 TALD?
 

Ulus Göktürk 

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F-35 TW ratio is very similar to F-16
Even the smallest difference makes a big change to the performance.


No. F-35 has advantage in stealth, sensors and networking . It will win most of air to air fights.
While I don't trust that Russia has these aspects nailed down, it would be a fatal mistake to think that China isn't very close to being on par with America in terms of stealth tech, sensors and networking for their J-20s. Which by the way, they are refusing to export.


Thats absolutely not true. For example just recently US and Israel carried drills for F-35 in air to air roles. F-35 is excellent in this role.
Look I'm sure that the F-35 can perform perfectly fine for air-to-air engagements against incompetent militaries with bad hardware. In fact it's perfect for any mid-power looking for a 5th gen multirole jet. But, if China or any other major US adversary mass-produces a more purpose-built air-superiority fighter then the US would either need to accelerate it's 6th gen project or revive F-22 production.


Drones cant replace strike planes:

1) They are very vulnerable to air defence. For example Ukraine does not dare to use them in Donbass now, despite renewed fights.
2) They carry very tiny bombs compare to strike planes.

Drones replace rather attack helicopters than strike planes.

1) Yes, current drones are vulnerable. But so is a propeller plane in the modern battlefield. Stealth and supersonic drones are the next logical step.
2) Drones already exist which can carry MK-84s and cruise missiles. As the UCAV race continues we will see more and more powerful aircraft some of which will carry as much as any manned combat aircraft.

I do agree that current drones fill in the role of the attack helicopter more than a strike plane. But it's only a matter of time.
Its very slow, unmaneuverable and unstealthy. So its very far from a perfect air to air platform.

Are you referring to the Akinci? Yes it is. It's more of a testbed for future air-to-air drone tech in this case. Some of the tech for the MIUS will presumably be worked on in its early stages on the Akinci.

Once stealth drones become prevalent then they can use the exact same tactic as the F-35 by keeping a distance and plucking targets from afar while using its stealth to remain undetected. But as for the Akinci, I'd wager that it can do the same but only against terrible air forces such as the Syrian air force.


They will be extremely expensive on pair with the F-35 if not more and lack of man makes them much much less capable.
I disagree, lack of cockpit, pilot safety, advanced helmets and other things will make it significantly cheaper. Developing the software will be expensive initially, but once that's done the cost per aircraft will be significantly less than an F-35.


Not soon at all.
Within 10 years in my opinion.
 

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Even the smallest difference makes a big change to the performance.
There are many versions of F-16 and methods to calculate the T/W ratio. If we take latest versions then F-35A would be slightly better than F-16 block 52+ and slightly worse than F-16 block 60. F-35A also beats both in wing loading.

F-35A also beats both in dry T/W ratio.

While I don't trust that Russia has these aspects nailed down, it would be a fatal mistake to think that China isn't very close to being on par with America in terms of stealth tech, sensors and networking for their J-20s. Which by the way, they are refusing to export.

Chinese are probably better in stealth and avionics than Russians (although front canards are bad for stealth). But Chinese lose in engines.

Look I'm sure that the F-35 can perform perfectly fine for air-to-air engagements against incompetent militaries with bad hardware. In fact it's perfect for any mid-power looking for a 5th gen multirole jet. But, if China or any other major US adversary mass-produces a more purpose-built air-superiority fighter then the US would either need to accelerate it's 6th gen project or revive F-22 production.

F-35 beats hands down any 4-4.5 gen fighter. And even if we compare it to F-22 there is not definite winner. F-35 can beat the F-22 in front stealth, IRST, networking...

1) Yes, current drones are vulnerable. But so is a propeller plane in the modern battlefield. Stealth and supersonic drones are the next logical step.
Such drones are only protects (X-47B) they are extremely expensive and still are far from F-35 capabilities.

2) Drones already exist which can carry MK-84s and cruise missiles. As the UCAV race continues we will see more and more powerful aircraft some of which will carry as much as any manned combat aircraft.

Currently biggest armed drones like Reaper carry only 500 lb bombs, but they are very expensive and even more vulnerable.


I do agree that current drones fill in the role of the attack helicopter more than a strike plane. But it's only a matter of time.

Are you referring to the Akinci? Yes it is. It's more of a testbed for future air-to-air drone tech in this case. Some of the tech for the MIUS will presumably be worked on in its early stages on the Akinci.
The article refered to it.

I disagree, lack of cockpit, pilot safety, advanced helmets and other things will make it significantly cheaper. Developing the software will be expensive initially, but once that's done the cost per aircraft will be significantly less than an F-35.
If u remove pilot but retain same capabilities, you would need to install many hi res cameras all around and hi band secure connection. That would be extremely expensive. similarly if you try to make a tank without crew with same capabilities it would be much more expensive than traditional tank.

Within 10 years in my opinion.
Currently we dont have even projects of such UAVs, not talking about prototypes. X-47B first flew 10 years ago and now it is cancelled. And it is just subsonic unmaneuverable bomber, nowhere near to F-35 capabilities.
 
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There are many versions of F-16 and methods to calculate the T/W ratio. If we take latest versions then F-35A would be slightly better than F-16 block 52+ and slightly worse than F-16 block 60. F-35A also beats both in wing loading.

F-35A also beats both in dry T/W ratio.



Chinese are probably better in stealth and avionics than Russians (although front canards are bad for stealth). But Chinese lose in engines.



F-35 beats hands down any 4-4.5 gen fighter. And even if we compare it to F-22 there is not definite winner. F-35 can beat the F-22 in front stealth, IRST, networking...


Such drones are only protects (X-47B) they are extremely expensive and still are far from F-35 capabilities.



Currently biggest armed drones like Reaper carry only 500 lb bombs, but they are very expensive and even more vulnerable.





The article refered to it.


If u remove pilot but retain same capabilities, you would need to install many hi res cameras all around and hi band secure connection. That would be extremely expensive. similarly if you try to make a tank without crew with same capabilities it would be much more expensive than traditional tank.


Currently we dont have even projects of such UAVs, not talking about the to prototypes. X-47B first flew 10 years ago and now it is cancelled.

You've made some very good points, thank you for your response. I'm busy right now but will respond later if I think that anything needs to be answered
 

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News of the F-35 program being labelled a "failure" has shocked many. But news outlets haven't mentioned the elephant in the room; manned air-to-ground attack aircraft are becoming obsolete, and the F-35 doesn't cut it as an air superiority fighter.

Intended to replace the F-16 as the USA's main multirole fighter, the F-35 has been a long-awaited upgrade for the USAF. However, doubts about its performance have been circulating for years. Skyrocketing costs have also been among the major complaints by critics.

Truth be told, the F-35 is highly advanced. It is packed with the latest sensors, has a small RCS and an intuitive cockpit. However, all the extra equipment has made the F-35 heavy. Being single-engined, this extra weight is problematic. The thrust-to-weight ratio simply isn't good enough for dogfights, even against the decades-old F-16. In response to criticism, F-35 office spokesman Joe DellaVedova, explained: “The F-35’s technology is designed to engage, shoot and kill its enemy from long distances, not necessarily in visual ‘dogfighting’ situations”. What he said is right, and modern air-to-air combat doesn't revolve around dogfighting like in the past. The superior sensors and situational awareness of the F-35 do indeed make it a threat on the battlefield, and its stealth design can make it hard to track by less advanced militaries. But it may struggle against forces that use a network of advanced radars, air defences and older but more agile fighters. It is a huge upgrade for any military which is using 4th gen fighters, but is it worth it in the long run and is it really future proof?

View attachment 16243

Russia's Su-57 and China's J-20 are purpose-built air superiority fighters that would likely defeat the F-35 in a hypothetical one-on-one encounter. Neither has been mass-produced meanwhile the USA alone was planning to acquire over 2000 F-35s. The issue here is that the US would essentially have far too many aircraft which could prove to be vulnerable to cheaper, yet more capable air-superiority fighters. The USA simply cannot risk purchasing so many. The F-35 is by no means a worthy successor to the F-16. Its lack of maneuverability and speed isn't made up for by its sensors and stealth.

All major nations purchasing the F-35 have long known that it isn't an ideal air superiority fighter. The USA has had the F-22 for well over a decade now. Meanwhile, South Korea, Japan, the UK and former JSF partner Turkey, are all working on their very own 5th or 6th gen air superiority fighters. All these nations planned to use the F-35 mainly for ground-strike missions, meaning they never had too much faith in its air-to-air capabilities.

The real turning point was recent. Until last year, the F-35 was seen as the most capable aircraft for air-to-ground missions, especially where air defences may be active. As the stealthiest purchasable aircraft, it was the foremost choice for any military wishing to have a survivable and capable air-to-ground combat jet. It simply was the best option for tackling ground targets in dangerous airspace. Not anymore.

For the first time in history, drones were deployed by the dozens, wreaking havoc on conventional forces. Two battles and an entire war were won with the use of relatively cheap UCAVs. Fighters were deployed in Idlib where they would knock down several enemy jets. However, all the bombing missions were conducted with drones. The success of all these operations is tied to one major overlooked fact. Losing drones isn't seen as a calamitous setback. In comparison, the loss of a manned combat jet is catastrophic in terms of cost and morale.

Advances in autonomous flight software and jamming protection have made drones more practical than ever before. Though most drones currently use propellers, making them slow and vulnerable, jet-powered drones are gaining traction. Once supersonic drones begin entering service, manned air-to-ground combat aircraft will no longer be a priority. This puts the F-35 in an unfavourable position. Military decision-makers must decide if they'll continue with their F-35 purchase or switch to unmanned systems.

To further add to the F-35s demise, drones are also perfect platforms for taking down aircraft from a distance. For instance, the Akinci UCAV will be fitted with AESA radar and air-to-air missiles. Able to loiter in the air for over 24 hours, these drones can simply wait for the right opportunity to strike. Upcoming stealth drones with air-to-air capabilities will completely tip the balance in favour of unmanned aircraft, only leaving pure air-superiority to manned jets. That is until AI-driven air-superiority jets are introduced. While AI exists that can defeat humans in a dogfight, air-superiority drones will likely only remain in the prototype stage in the 2020s, possibly entering service in the late 2030s. Last year Elon Musk stated "The fighter jet era has passed... The competitor should be a drone fighter plane that's remote-controlled by a human, but with its manoeuvres augmented by autonomy. The F-35 would have no chance against it". He was met with criticism for saying this, however, time will prove him right.

The older F-22 is a much more capable fighter, meanwhile, drones will soon be able to do everything which the F-35 does but at a lower cost. Despite all its advanced features, the F-35 is simply redundant.

The F-35 program has been problematic for a long time. The sudden rebirth of UCAVs may put the final nail in the coffin. Though it has entered service in militaries all around the world, it might prove to be a burden very soon. An expensive, hard to maintain, technology demonstrater which while impressive, will be eclipsed by drones that can operate with impunity.

Why the F-35 Rules

 

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