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Friday, June 29, 2012

What Would an Israeli Strike on Iran Accomplish? Part I

(Image 1: Iranian Military Parade)

As tensions continue to rise in the Middle East, many news organizations have frequently discussed the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. The purpose of this article is to determine how, if possible, could Israel attack Iranian nuclear facilities? First and foremost, the number of variables that would be involved in such an operation is staggering. As a matter of practicality, some details must be overlooked for the sake of brevity. The following should be considered
  1. Circumstances leading up to hostilities 
  2. What is the objective? Bombing Iranian nuclear facilities will likely set back Iranian nuclear efforts but risk of not completely eliminate the threat.
  3. In relation to objective, time frame of operation? How to end conflict and what will be the determining criteria for deescalating conflict?
  4. Extend of U.S involvement if any: none or logistical to deploying combat assets
  5. Route in which Israeli aircraft fly into Iran
  6. How will Israeli overcome the Iranian IADS and to a lesser extent, the Iranian Air Force
  7. How many targets and which ones does Israel target? Israel has a limited supply of bunker busting munitions and extent of hardening Iranian facilities archive. U.S involvement critical to this variable.  
  8. Iranian counter attack on Israel with missiles: possibility for missile attack on U.S bases in region, possible launches on Saudi Arabia if country is complicit with Israel. Response to Iranian missile threat and possibility of extended conflict needed by allied forces. Iran knows Israel maintains a nuclear deterrent, this may effect Iran's decision to use its chemical weapon arsenals. 

Note: This analysis will examine a scenario in which Israel launches a surprise aerial attack into Iran to hit critical  nuclear facilities. This analysis will be conducted with current equipment e.g. Israel will not have access to stealth aircraft. Attacking Iran's nuclear facilities would be a measure of last resort and not be undertaken lightly e.g. Iran is weeks away from developing nuclear weapon grade uranium. Initially, the analysis will assume that the United States is not involved for Part I.

Any Israeli operation within Iran must be centered around a clear measurable objective with an abundantly clear exit strategy. For example, the most probable objective would be destroy nuclear facilities and eliminate only critical Iranian assets that would impede such an operation and exit Iran as quickly as possible.  Israel would only want to disable the nuclear facilities as to avoid the risk of a protracted war with Iran. A quick efficient method of determining the success of the airstrikes is needed. It is probable that Israeli satellites and UAV's will be used to determine the level of effectiveness of any bombing attempts. Even if the United States was not militarily involved, it is likely that the United States would share intelligence gathered from its surveillance platforms with Israel. If the nuclear sites are deemed destroyed or put out of service then it is unlikely that Israel would not seek further conflict with Iran and withdraw. Iran knows Israel maintains a nuclear deterrent, and may or may not risk further hostilities. This will be discussed in Part II.

List of Targets

Before any strike is carried out, a list of targets must be compiled. Iran currently maintains several nuclear program related facilities. Determining which facilities are most vital to the Iranian nuclear programs and destroying those facilities is key if the objective is prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Ideally, several individuals with extensive expertise in creating and maintaining nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons would be consulted to determine which facilities are most vital. Because I do not have access to such expertise, the following are priority targets are listed by several respectable sources.

Fordow (Qom)

Route to Iran 

In order to strike targets within Iran, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) must traverse at least one other country to reach their targets. The image below shows possible air routes into Iran. Any attempt to fly over Syria seems highly unlikely. Not only is Syria a staunch ally of Iran, but also Syria has a formidable integrated air defense system (IADS) of its own. Even disabling portions of Syria's IADS would be needlessly complicated if other routes are available. Unfortunately, political relations play a role into which routes are open to Israel. I am not a political or diplomatic expert. From the limited knowledge I do know on the subject, routes through Jordan and eventually Saudi Arabia seem to be the most likely followed by the possibility of traveling through Turkey. Saudi Arabia has no desire for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and has been at odds with Iran for much of the past decade. In this event, Saudi Arabia would have to deactivate its IADS or have capable IFF (identification friend or foe) recognition systems in order to limit friendly fire. Assuming this is a surprise attack, only the most crucial individuals would have knowledge of the operation prior to its initiation. At some point Saudi forces must be alerted of the incoming Israeli aircraft even if it increases the risk of alerting Iran. 

For example, on New Year's Day of 1945, the Luftwaffe launched a surprise all out air campaign against Western Allied forces in conjunction with the Battle of the Bulge. The air campaign was called Operation Bodenplatte and was kept in total secrecy by the German leadership. The German Flak Anti-Aircraft-Artillery forces had not been informed of the upcoming operation and thus fired on their own aircraft. This resulted in the loss of around 200 German aircraft out of the original force of 800 aircraft solely from friendly fire. Operation Bodenplatte broke the back of the Luftwaffe and Nazi Germany was never able to claim air superiority for the rest of the war. In summary, coordination between the Saudi's or Turkish military and the IAF will be paramount. The IAF cannot afford to sustain needless fire casualties in route to Iran.

Another key factor is range. Due to the extensive distance of Iranian targets from Israel, all seven of Israel's tanker aircraft will likely have to be used in this operation (KC-707). The limited number of tankers in the IAF inventory will severely limit the scale of the strike force to a couple dozen Israeli aircraft. This will have a profound impact on the scope and limits of the operation as discussed throughout this article. A journal article published by Middle East Quarterly indicated that two to three full squadrons (48-72 aircraft)

The Israeli Air Force is capable of striking the necessary targets with two to three full squadrons of fighter-bombers with escorts to shoot down enemy aircraft." - Iran's Nukes and Israel's Dilemma, 2012

(Image 2: Potential air routes into Iran)

The Iranian Defense

Before we discuss the methods Israel would likely use to defeat the Iranian IADS, a quick look at Iranian Surface to Air Missiles (SAM) and select aircraft will be given.

The Iranian IADS is largely composed of Cold War relics originally designed and built between the 1950s and late 1960s. Arguably the most formidable of Iran's SAM systems is the Soviet built SA-5 Gammon (NATO designation: S-200) it received shortly before the collapse of the USSR. (Global Security, 2012) The Gammon variant deployed by Iran, the SA-5B (S-200VE) has a range of 200 nautical miles. NATO forces encountered a number of SA-5 missile sites in Operation Odyssey Dawn within Libya and destroyed them with relative ease through the use of cruise missiles in conjunction with electronic warfare. Though the SA-5 was highly capable SAM relative to other SAMs upon its original deployment in the late 1960s, its is now highly vulnerable to modern jamming equipment. Iran heavily relies on the S-200 for its national SAM coverage. (Air Power Australia, 2010)

(Image 3: Iranian SA-5B with launcher, retrieved through Air Power Australia)

The second main SAM operated by Iran is the 30 nautical mile capable HQ-2, a Chinese made copy of the Soviet designed SA-2 SAM system. Iran also operates the U.S supplied Hawk system it received in 1972. The Hawk variant operated by Iran has a much shorter range than the SA-5. Subsequently the Hawk would be used to target aircraft in similar ranges as the HQ-2. Iran also domestically produces a reverse engineered copy of the Hawk known as the Mersad which features moderate improvements.

The Iranian Air Force is a shadow of its former self. Prior to the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Iran had one of the best equipped Air Forces in the region. (Global Security, 2012) Despite the current poor state of the Iranian Air Force, they still pose a credible threat to the IAF in this type of scenario. The extent of the threat posed by the Iranian Air Force will be determined by the number of aircraft they can mobilize in the wake of their disabled command and control abilities (due to cyber attacks). The most formidable fighters flown by the Iranian Air Force is the F-14 and Mig 29. Both of these aircraft are outmatched by the modernized upgraded variants of the F-16 and F-15 flown by the Israeli's. Furthermore, Israeli pilots are among the best (if not the best) in the world. However, the two to three squadron Israeli strike force will be very limited in the number of air to air munitions it can carry due to: the limited number of aircraft, the weight of the 5,000 lb GBU-28 bunker busters, external fuel tanks, targeting pods, electronic jammer pods, etc. (Some aircraft will likely provide dedicated escort others will be equipped with bunker busters)

Image 4: As to be expected, Iran's most vital nuclear sites are covered by multiple layers of SAM protection in addition to being in close proximity to Iranian Air Force bases. (Image Credit: CIA)

Defeating the Iranian IADS

The IAF does not currently possess stealth aircraft of any kind. Thus, Israel must rely on other proven technologies to defeat Iran's IADS. Contrary to popular belief, the use of stealth technology is not the only method in use to circumvent an opponent's IADS. Since the Vietnam War, electronic warfare equipment has been fitted to aircraft with the purpose of jamming enemy radar's and missile systems. Since that time, electronic warfare systems have grown in sophistication and effectiveness. During the Gulf War in 1991, the prolific use of radar jamming systems and other electronic warfare equipment aided Coalition forces in defeating the Iraqi IADS. Recent developments in electronic warfare include use of cyber attacks to cripple enemy command and control abilities in addition to feeding early warning radars and sensors false information.

Israel has already demonstrated its firm understanding of electronic warfare principles to bypass an enemy IADS. In 2007 Israel launched Operation Orchard within Syrian airspace. Intelligence sources had indicated Syria was developing a nuclear reactor with North Korean assistance. IAF F-15 Ra'am (modified F-15E) and F-16 Sufa (modified F-16D block 50/52+) penetrated Syrian airspace and conducted strikes against the suspected reactor site. No Israeli aircraft were lost in the operation.

Israel managed this feat through the use of electronic jamming and cyber intrusion attempts. It is likely that the Israeli Defense Forces have comparable software to the United States in this regard. BAE systems developed a system for the United States called Suter. The following is from Aviation Week regarding Suter:

"The technology allows users to invade communications networks, see what enemy sensors see, and even take over as systems administrator so sensors can be manipulated into positions so that approaching aircraft can't be seen...The process involves locating enemy emitters with great precision and then directing data streams into them that can include false targets and misleading message algorithms." - Aviation Week, 2007

A program like Suter would allow Israeli aircraft to fly into hostile airspace and avoid detection by enemy surface to air missile sites. By necessity, Israel has some of the most skilled cyber warriors on earth. The Israeli Unit 8200 is especially renown for its cyber warfare capabilities and jointly developed the Stuxnet computer virus along with the U.S National Security Agency. (New York Times, 2012) However, there are several problems that arise in comparing the success of the Suter like program in Operation Orchard to an airstrike within Iran.

One, it its unclear exactly how long Suter is able to disorient Iranian sensors and communications. Operation Orchard involved striking one target within Syrian airspace before quickly withdrawing back to Israel. Any raid into Iran with the goal of disabling its nuclear program, would have to target multiple hardened nuclear sites to be truly effective. Breaking through the hardened facilities with current Israeli bunker busters would take repeated bombing runs preformed with near flawless airmanship over the course of days. This method would take a great deal of time compared to the relatively unfortified Syrian reactor bombed in Operation Orchard.

Second, although Suter disables ground sensors and radars, it is unclear if it is able to interfere with the senors and avionics of aircraft e.g. Iranian Air Force. Because the IAF would have to cross at least one country (e.g. Saudi Arabia) before striking targets within Iran, the possibility exists that Iranian intelligence might be able to alert its Air Force to fly combat air patrols over its critical nuclear facilities. Even if Iranian ground based radar sites are unreliable, Iranian aircraft could still intercept incoming Israeli aircraft. It is clear that other electronic warfare systems would have to be used in conjunction with Suter to disable the Iranian Defense.  Israeli cyber attacks would likely target Iranian communications to mitigate this risk. However, any open cyber attack could invoke alarm among the Iranian military and likely increase Iranian military readiness. Although a sophisticated cyber attack would greatly weaken Iranian command and control abilities, it is hard to eliminate every method of communication.

Although Israel has the electronic warfare equipment needed to mitigate the threat of the SA-5 missiles, the IAF cannot comfortably destroy the SA-5 missile sites from long stand off ranges. NATO forces in Operation Odyssey Dawn made extensive use of Tomahawk cruise missiles. Israel has no direct equivalent to the Tomahawk. (Possibly for limited use of Popeye turbo cruise missiles launched from Dolphin submarines; The Dolphin is not a dedicated cruise missile submarine, missile load very limited) The longest range air to surface missile available to the Israeli strike force would be the Delilah cruise missile with a range of around 300km (officially 250km but anonymous IDF sources reported to Jane's that the missile had a 300km plus range). Even with the more optimistic range estimates, the Delilah would have a range of around 162 nautical miles, vs the SA-5B's range of 200 nautical miles. Only a limited number of Deliah's and AGM-78 anti-radiation missiles could be carried thus only key SAM sites would likely be targeted.

In summary, the IAF could likely overcome key portions of the Iranian IADS for at least short periods of time with minimal to acceptable combat losses.

Delivering the Blow

(Image 5: Israeli F-15C's (Baz) would provide armed escort for the bunker buster laden F-15E's (Ra'am)

(Image 6 Credit: Washington Post, 2012)

Both Qom and Natanz utilize a form of ultra high performance concrete (UHPC). Iran

"Iran is an earthquake zone, so its engineers have developed some of the toughest building materials in the world. Such materials could also be used to protect hidden nuclear installations from the artificial equivalent of small earthquakes, namely bunker-busting bombs." - The Economist, 2012

Commercially available U.S UHPC have stress ratings in excess of 20,000 psi. (Ahlborn, 2012) Current GBU-28 in use by Israeli's can only penetrate 20 feet of 5,000 psi rated concrete. (Expect much less penetration around 2-3 feet with 20,000 psi rated concrete, explosion would slightly widen actual penetration) Thus, dozens of GBU-28 bombs would be required to completely destroy the facility at Natanz. The GBU-28 would make short work of the 72 foot dirt mound but would experience difficultly penetrating the remaining reinforced concrete slab (reinforced roof) and subsequent barrier (8 foot thick wall). Bombs would have to be dropped at the same point repeatedly to break through one area of the barrier.

(Image 7: Natanz facility. Image Credit: Institute for Science and International Security/GeoEye, retrieved through Wired)

Both underground cascade halls at Natanz would have to be targeted as shown in the image above. Because the halls are separated into into two different buildings, more bombs will be required to completely destroy the facility. It is possible that disabling Natanz alone would require half of the IAF's 100 GBU-28 stockpile.

The GBU-28 is a combat proven and effective bunker buster against less hardened 5,000 psi rated moderately deep bunkers. That said, Fordow (Qom) is nearly invulnerable to the GBU-28. The inner enrichment hall is buried by an estimated 80-120 meters (264-396 feet) of hard rock. The only chance Israeli pilots would have in destroying Qom is to target potential weak points such as tunnel entrances or ventilation shafts. Consistently hitting targets as small as a ventilation shaft, even with the tremendous skill of Israeli pilots coupled with the use precision guided munitions, is no easy or guaranteed task. Furthermore, there are a number of relatively low cost measures to mitigate the damage done by strikes to tunnel entrances or other weak points, e.g. burster slabs, that the Iranians can pursue. Although the Fordow facility contains less operational centrifuges than Natanz, it will be considerably tougher to destroy. Even if Israel was able to succeed in destroying the majority of centrifuges at Natanz, Iran would still have remnants of its nuclear program and by some criteria, the operation would subsequently be a failure.

Israeli forces would be also constrained by the time limit allotted for the operation. The longer the operation takes in duration, the more likely Iran will be able to mount a defense of its nuclear facilities. A former member of Prime Minister Netanyahu's staff, Natan Hendel, estimated it would take Israeli two days to disable Iran's nuclear infrastructure. I do not share Mr. Hendel's optimism.

Over the course of days with relentless around the clock air strikes, Israel could destroy unhardened Iranian nuclear facilities with relative ease. However, arguably the most important facilities, Fordow and Natanz, would be extremely difficult for the IAF to destroy. Of the two facilities, Natanz would likely be given priority as it is not as heavily hardened as Fordow (Qom) and represents a greater share of Iran's operational centrifuges (Natanz has 9,000 centrifuges and Qom operates 3,000 centrifuges). In summary, even if Israel suppresses or destroy's the Iranian IADS, Israel could not extensively disable or destroy, with credible certainty, all five of the facilities listed above in a short period of time. Iran would still retain a sizable remnant of its nuclear program (around 3,000 operational centrifuges) even after the hypothetical extensive bombing campaign. Once again, individuals with expertise in nuclear development programs would be required to fully assess the damage done to the Iranian nuclear program in the wake of these hypothetical results.

Part II will examine the possibility of U.S involvement and other factors e.g. Iranian missile counterattack not discussed in Part I.


Image 8: The GBU-28 is a 19 foot long 5,000 pound dedicated bunker busting munition. The GBU-28 was used to great effect in the Gulf War against hardened Iraqi Command and Control bunkers and hardened aircraft shelters. Amazingly, the entire munition was developed in a period of just two weeks. (Image Credit: USAF) 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters Part II: Sukhoi PAK FA

Image 1: Sukhoi PAK FA T-50 prototype undergoing early flight testing in 2010.

On January 29th 2010, Russia unveiled the fruits of its decade long initiative to end the American 5th generation stealth fighter monopoly. Western intelligence officials were initially stunned with the reality that Russia would possess a stealth fighter this early within the decade. Since its public debut in 2010, more information about the illusive jet has gradually seeped into the public domain. Although more information is publicly available regarding the PAK FA than its Chinese counterpart, the J-20, there are still many lingering unknowns. How did Russia manage to develop a stealth fighter? How Stealthy is the PAK FA?  How does the PAK FA compare to existing 5th generation designs? This article will seek to compile existing information from reputable sources with the goal of assessing the aforementioned questions. Following these questions will be an analysis of the ramifications a mass deployment of the PAK FA for will pose the United States and its allies. Recommendations will be made to address these new security concerns.

Image 2: PAK FA in new paint scheme. Note the thorough use of planform alignment on flight surfaces

How did Russia Manage to Develop a Stealth Fighter?

Much of the initial shock regarding the emergence of a stealth aircraft outside the United States is largely unfounded. The concept of stealth aircraft dates back to the 1960s with the work of Russian mathematician Petr Ufimtsev. It was only a matter of time before another country besides the United States utilized the technology. Ultimately, it was the crack team of aerospace engineers at Lockheed's Skunk Works that first capitalized and improved upon Ufimtsev's stealth concepts and designed the F-117 Nighthawk. After  years of testing over Area 51 throughout the late 1970s, the first Nighthawks entered service in 1983. The lack of any Soviet response to the F-117, e.g. developing its own stealth technology, stemmed from two main reasons. One, it is unlikely that the Soviets knew a great deal about the F-117 prior to its public acknowledgement in 1988. The F-117 program was given the highest level of secrecy attainable within the U.S Government. Secondly, upon having their suspicions confirmed in 1988 or learning about the F-117 for the first time, the Soviet's simply did not take stealth technology as a serious threat until the Gulf War. (Air Power Australia, 2007)  

After the complete vulnerability of Saddam's Russian supplied surface to air missile systems to stealth aircraft was exposed, Russia became more invested in developing both countermeasures to stealth technology and stealth aircraft of its own. These efforts stalled after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and subsequent decade after. The last decade of the 20th century had not been kind to the new Russian Federation. The once mighty super power was now at the mercy of oil prices to increase state revenues while the economic shock waves sent out by Gorbachev's economic reforms were still winding down. If Russia was to develop its mutli-billion dollar stealth fighter program in the face of its ongoing economic misfortune, it needed the financial backing of another country. According to Global Security, Russia and India signed an agreement to co-produce the PAK FA in 2001. India has a 25% share in development and design. (Air Power Australia, 2010) Official work on the PAK FA's development process began in 2002. (Global Security, 2010) After years of work by the Sukhoi design team, blueprints for the initial PAK FA prototype were completed by 2009. The first prototype made its historic first flight in January of 2010. 

Many intelligence analysts seemed surprised that the Russian's could design and build a stealth aircraft in the first place. A few of those analysts suspected Russia attempted to reverse engineer U.S stealth fighters and used knowledge gained from programs such as the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition. Consequently, upon its debut the PAK FA was dubbed  the "raptorski" or F-22-ski by many western analysts much to the ire of Russian observers. Though incredibly amusing to use, the term raptoski is not entirely accurate. At the same time, the notion that the PAK FA is merely the result of a gradual evolution in Flanker designs, completed without any outside influence (e.g lessons learned from American stealth programs), is as equally dubious. The Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program yielded significant advancements in engineering highly maneuverable planform alignment based stealth aircraft. Advancements such as shaping techniques learned from the ATF are utilized in the PAK FA's design. Such a claim is irrefutable. The PAK FA owes its stealth to planform alignment. As a senior American aircraft designer told one of the authors of Air Power Australia: 

"we [Americans] always end up doing the really hard work learning how to build these things, making it easy for the Russians to follow with their designs

Given the budget constraints of the PAK FA program, it makes logical sense not to conduct similar extensive research only to rediscover various techniques in designing stealth aircraft since it has already been done through the ATF. 

At the same time, the PAK FA is clearly not a mirror copy of the F-22A or YF-22. One of the most obvious examples can be found in the rears of each aircraft e.g lack of low observable thrust vectoring nozzles. In many ways, the PAK FA bears many similarities to advanced Flanker variants e.g. Su-35S. For example, the PAK FA design incorporates advanced versions of sensors and avionics utilized on Flankers including an IRST (Infrared Search and Track) system. Given what has been released about the PAK FA, it can be safely said that the avionics and internal systems of the Raptor and PAK FA are completely different. Many on-board sensors and systems share similar capabilities to their American counterparts but they are not  copies . Further similarities to the Su-35 include usage of the AL-31F 117S 3D thrust vectoring engine. 

Image 3: The Su-35S and PAK FA employ many of the same systems including an IRST as denoted by 02. Engines are also the same model for the prototype PAK FA and production Su-35S as seen on 06.  Ignore the 01 comparison, the PAK FA and Su-35S utilize very different intake designs. (Image credit: retrieved from a Croatian web forum, creator unknown. Image also appears on Pakistani forums. Link provided in sources)

"Examination of the publicly displayed PAK-FA prototypes show that this design is a continuation of the highly evolved pedigree of Flanker aerodynamic design." - Air Power Australia, 2010

"First of all, for anyone contemplating the use of the word "Raptorski":  don't. While this is an airplane that could have been the answer to the Advanced Tactical Fighter requirement, way back when, it's not an F-22 in many important ways. In a lot of ways, the T-50 reflects the heritage of the T-10 Flanker series - it's much more like them than Sukhoi's last fighter prototype, the forward-swept-wing Su-47 Berkut, ever was. From the Flanker family, the T-50 gets the massive "centroplane" - a wide central body that blends the fuselage and inner wing - three-surface aerodynamic control and true three-dimensional thrust vectoring. The main weapons bay has been seen on a Flanker model, too." - Bill Sweetman, 2010

Image 4: F-22A compared to PAK FA. Although the PAK FA incorporates planform alignment, the PAK FA  maintains distinctly different airframe shape. Differences in the rear of the aircraft and the positing of the jet intakes are particularly apparent in this illustration

For decades Russian aircraft designers have produced some of the world's best combat aircraft. In many cases, Russian engineers have built either comparable or superior air superiority platforms relative to their Western counterparts. The success of countries allied or affiliated with the United States during several of the proxy wars fought throughout the Cold War can largely be attributed to superior pilot training rather than vastly superior equipment in many cases. For example, during Operation Focus of the Six Day War, Israeli pilots flying the French built Mirage III interceptors were able to routinely dominate the formidable Mig 21's of several Arab air forces. When the pilot training advantage is taken away, dogfights between Western and Soviet/Russian aircraft becomes much closer. In several of the Indo-Pakistan conflicts, the Soviet equipped Indian Air Force kept toe to toe with the American supplied Pakistani Air Force. More recently, in joint exercises held by Germany with the United States in the 1990s, it became clear that with capable pilots flying the Mig 29, it could compete on even footing with the F-15C. In fact, with the use of an early HMD system, the German Migs initially had the advantage in visual range combat against the F-15s. (Federation of American Scientists, 2000) With the above in mind, the fact that Russia was the first country outside of the United States to produce a stealth fighter hardly seems surprising. If the advent of a Russian stealth fighter really came as a monumental surprise to Western intelligence agencies, perhaps its time to retool their methods of assessing the capabilities of the Russians (and Chinese). During the Cold War, Western intelligence agencies were incessantly worrying about the next Russian doomsday device. Ideally, it would seem that a point in between today's ignorance and the Cold War's panic attacks would be optimal. 

How Stealthy is the PAK FA?

Image 5: Planform alignment in PAK FA design. Flight surfaces are of the same angle. 

The PAK FA design makes extensive usage of planform alignment in order to heavily reduce its forward radar cross section (rcs) signature. Other features that reduce the PAK FA's rcs include the incorporation of  a canted tail design, chined nose, internal weapon bays, and engine inlet placement.  

"The low observable design shaping employed in the PAK-FA prototype shows an excellent grasp of the design rules employed by American designers in the development of the F-22A and YF-23 Advanced Tactical Fighter..." - Air Power Australia, 2010

Although the PAK FA incorporates a multitude of low observable features, it is clearly not as stealthy as the all aspect stealth design of the F-22A and even F-35 (assuming the F-35 meets its own desired specifications).

"Where the PAK-FA falls well short of the F-22A and YF-23 is the shaping design of the lower fuselage and side fuselage, where the general configuration, wing/fuselage join angles, and inlet/engine nacelle join angles" - Air Power Australia, 2010

"The aircraft that flew today is a prototype - and it does not show visible features like a frameless canopy and panel alignment that you'd expect on a production aircraft. Other not-very-stealthy-looking features include the gaps around the inlet (compare the YF-23) and a spherical infrared search and track housing in front of the windshield. And, of course, the nozzles are round." - Bill Sweetman, 2010

Estimates put forth by both Air Power Australia and Global Security place the PAK FA's frontal rcs at -20 dBSM or .01m^2. Though Sukhoi has not officially released exact figures pertaining to the PAK FA's stealth performance, Sukhoi has claimed that the rcs of the PAK FA will be 1/40 of the Su-35S. Based on estimates of the Su-35S, this would place the PAK FA's frontal signature at around -13 to -19 dBSM. Therefore, an estimate of -20 dBSM seems reasonable. (Air Power Australia, 2010) To provide some context, the F-22A has an rcs around -40 dBSM or .0001m^2 while the F-35 is intended to have an rcs of .0013m^2. (Global Security, 2012) The figures listed above only pertain to frontal radar signatures. From other aspects such as the rear, the PAK FA design is much less stealthy. However, these design features are intentional in nature. The following is Bill Sweetman's assessment from Aviation Week regarding the weak rear aspect stealth performance of both the J-20 and PAK FA. 

The rear-aspect view of the aircraft is not as stealthy, a feature also seen on the Sukhoi T-50. This is clearly an intentional trade, eliminating the heavy 2D nozzles of the F-22. In this respect, both the T-50 and J-20 reflect the philosophy behind the pre-1986 Advanced Tactical Fighter studies that preceded the F-22, based on the theory that a fast, high-flying, agile aircraft is relatively immune from rear-quarter attacks. - Bill Sweetman, 2012

Given that most Western countries do not feature extensive SAM (Surface to Air Missile) coverage, deep strike capability was not seen as a high priority in the PAK FA's design. (Sweetman, 2010) Thus, all aspect stealth was not required for the PAK FA design. The extent of stealth featured on the PAK FA coupled with its extreme maneuverability likely means it was intended to get in close to other 5th generation fighters e.g. F-35. Using its stealth to deny its opponents beyond visual range (bvr) missile kills, the PAK FA would close in on enemy jets and subsequently initiate visual range combat where the PAK FA is strongest due to extreme maneuverability.  

Of the two foreign stealth fighter prototypes currently undergoing testing, the PAK FA has the potential to be the stealthier of the two. Because of the incorporation of canards in the J-20 design, the PAK FA might be stealthier. If the canards were removed, the J-20 would certainly be stealthier than the PAK FA. The only way to definitively know is to build ultra accurate to scale models, e.g. 1/4 size of the jets (if enough data is available and budget expenses permit, a full scale model is usually used in such tests but can be done with smaller models if required). These models would have to be coated with RAM (radar absorbent materials). For the PAK FA model, RAM coatings at around 80% to 90% of the effectiveness of the Raptor's RAM coatings should be employed. For the J-20, RAM coatings at 70% to 80% effectiveness would likely be employed. Then the model would be taken to a facility capable of administrating extensive radar tests e.g. the Tejon (Northrop Grumman) or Helendale (Lockheed Martin ) facilities located in California. Building and testing a single ultra accurate model would be costly but the data would be invaluable

Lockheed Martin video on stealth. Model process discussed at 2:12-3:00

Image 6: A full scale F-22 model with RAM coatings mounted on a stand undergoing radar testing. The proposed PAK FA and J-20 models would undergo similar testing to determine the extent of their low observable features. I am not on the "inside" thus do not know if such tests are underway. If not, they should be seriously considered. Though it would be hard to create an exact replica of a J-20 and PAK FA (many official specifications not released), a replica of reasonable accuracy would greatly benefit U.S strategic planers. 

Image 7: The Russian Federation operates radar testing facilities similar to Helendale and Tejon. These images are of the 2nd Central Scientific Research and Test Institute of the Ministry of Defense (2 TzNII MO RF) based in the Migalovo Air Force Base within Tver Russia. What appears to be a mock up of a F-117 Nighthawk is undergoing radar tests. (Image Credit: Institute for Defense Analyses, 2010)

Image 8: Four stealthy internal weapon bays shown in between engines and inlets in lower fuselage. Note the unprotected circular engine nozzles at the rear of the aircraft. The lack of protection on these nozzles will make the PAK FA especially vulnerable to both IR guided missiles such as the AIM-9X and radar guided AIM-120D missiles.

How Does The PAK FA Compare to Other 5th Generation Designs?

Image 9: Two of the current three T-50 prototypes flying in formation. 

Arguably the most important question is how much of a threat does the PAK FA pose to the F-22A and F-35 variants? To answer this question, known and detailed estimated performance specifications of the PAK FA will be compared to the F-22A and F-35. The following will be compared: maneuverability, avionics, and armament. Other factors such as which countries would likely acquire the PAK FA and the quantity of PAK FA's produced will will also be examined. 


As discussed within the Murphy's Law at Work: F-35 Development and Performance Concerns article, there are two principle ways of determining an aircraft's maneuverability. The wing loading and thrust to weight ratio. Wing loading of an aircraft is calculated by taking its weight and dividing by its total wing area. In general, the lower the wing loading, the more maneuverable the aircraft is. The second measurement thrust to weight ratio which is calculated by taking the total thrust produced by an aircraft's engine(s) divided by its weight. Naturally, high thrust to weight ratios are indicative of higher vertical maneuverability and overall agility. The following figures are derived from data provided by: Global Security, Air Power Australia, Pratt & Whitney, and Lockheed Martin. All figures feature aircraft with 50% fuel, full afterburner, and full air combat load out e.g. eight R-77 missiles with GSh-30-1 cannon and 150 rounds of ammunition. 

For more details on discrepancy between these figures and the most recent F-35 article's cited figures, see the NOTES section at the conclusion of this article. (Note 2)

From these figures, it is apparent that the PAK FA is on par with the F-22A in terms of maneuverability. In fact, the PAK FA might be slight more maneuverable in certain situations as it features 3D thrust vectoring engines (pitch and yaw) as opposed to only 2D (pitch) engines featured on the F-22A. The F-22A will likely be more maneuverable in vertical oriented maneuvers due to its higher thrust to weight ratio. After examination of these figures, it also becomes apparent that the F-35 is not nearly as maneuverable as the F-22A or PAK FA. Even with the higher end spectrum of thrust figures for the F 135 engine (thrust to weight ratio at 40,000 lbf is .9867 vs 1.065 with 43,000 lbf), the wing loading for the F-35 is much higher. Additionally, the F 135 engine lacks thrust vectoring. Modern F-15 variants can come close to the PAK FA in terms of wing loading and thrust/weight ratios but lack thrust vectoring. Only the Raptor can compete on even ground with the PAK FA in terms of maneuverability. The J-20 almost certainly does not match the PAK FA in terms of maneuverability due to ongoing engine development issues. Furthermore, if the J-20 has a similar role to the F-111, than it will almost certainly have a high wing loading.

Maneuverability Advantage:

PAK FA > F-35
PAK FA = F-22A


Image 10: The highly advanced integrated avionics suite of the Lockheed F-22A Raptor. (Image Credit: USAF) 

"Perhaps the most foolish of the popular misconceptions of Russian basic technology is that which assumes that the US and EU maintain the technological lead of 1-2 decades held at the end of the Cold War. Alas, nearly two decades later, in a globalised, digitised and networked world, the US retains a decisive lead only in top end stealth technologies, and some aspects of networking and highly integrated systems software. The Russians have closed the gap in most other areas, but importantly, have mastered the difficult embedded software technology so critical for radar and electronic warfare systems, as well as sensor fusion, networking and engine and flight controls. The Russians are working very hard at closing the remaing gap, with the planned PAK-FA fighter to be properly shaped for low observable and very low observable stealth capability." - Air Power Australia, 2008

Russian designers have reduced the gap in many important avionic systems. Of particular importance, Russia is now capable of manufacturing high quality AESA radars. No broad consensus on exactly what type of radar the PAK FA will use has been reached. It is likely that the PAK FA will be equipped with upgraded versions of systems featured in the Su-35S. (Air Power Australia, 2010) At a minimum, it is likely that the publicly undisclosed Irbis E AESA variant planned for the PAK FA will feature low probability intercept (LPI) modes to decrease its probability of being detected by enemy radar warning receiver systems. In this area, the United States maintains an clear edge over its Russian counterparts. (Air Power Australia, 2010) Both the AN/APG-77 featured in the F-22A and the AN/APG-81 featured in the F-35 are equipped with low probability intercept modes. Without low probability intercept modes, the aircraft is incredibly vulnerable to being jammed and tracked by enemy radars. Radars equipped with LPI modes are much more difficult to jam and track but are not invulnerable. During testing, the F-35's AN/APG-81 was able to jam and track a F-22A utilizing LPI modes.

"In a series of tests at Edwards AFB, Calif., in 2009, Lockheed Martin’s CATbird avionics testbed—a Boeing 737 that carries the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s entire avionics system—engaged a mixed force of F-22s and Boeing F-15s and was able to locate and jam F-22 radars, according to researchers." - Aviation Week, 2011

Considering the edge maintained by U.S radars in LPI, the PAK FA will be vulnerable to the Raptor and Lightning radars. Furthermore, Russian designers have experienced difficulties in cooling their AESA systems as to avoid an increased the aircraft's IR signature. U.S designers have more experience designing AESA liquid cooling systems than Russian designers. (Air Power Australia, 2010)

In terms of sheer processing and detection power, the edge varies from system to system. The amount of transmit receiver (TR) modules within an array is generally indicative of its detection power. High end fighter based radars typically feature around 1,500 TR modules. Both the AN/APG-77 and Tikhomirov NIIP designed PAK FA radar will feature 1,500 TR modules. (Air Power Australia, 2009) With its smaller nose cone, the F-35's radar will only feature 1,200 TR modules. (Department of Defense, 2001) The following figures are from Air Power Australia.

Raptor detects PAK FA with .01m^2 at ~40 nautical miles
PAK FA detects Raptor with .0001m^2 at ~15 nautical miles 

Lightning II detects PAK FA with .01m^2 at ~30 nautical miles
PAK FA detects Lightning II with .001m^2 at ~28 nautical miles  

With its extensive all aspect stealth design coupled with its powerful AESA radar, the Raptor will achieve first look and first shoot capability against stealthy opponents including the PAK FA. This will give the Raptor a tremendous advantage against the PAK FA and other future stealthy opponents. The less powerful AN/APG-81 will not be able to detect low observable targets until much closer ranges. Despite its lower TR module count, the stealthier F-35 will barely detect the PAK FA before being seen. However, with its only 2 nautical mile advantage, at high speed this advantage is limited.

Although a powerful radar is the core avionic system in 5th generation aircraft, other systems such as IRST, radar warning receivers, and electronic counter measure systems are also important. It is critical to note that radar is not the only method of detecting enemy aircraft. Aside from radar, IRST systems are the main method of detecting enemy aircraft at shorter ranges. Both the PAK FA and F-35 feature IRST systems. The F-22A was planned to feature an IRST system but it was removed to lower costs. (Air Power Australia, 2010) The F-35 will be able to easily detect the PAK FA using its IRST system due to the lack of IR reduction features in the PAK FA design. Russian sources claim the PAK FA is IR shielded but it is clear that the current design is very exposed to IR detection methods. (Air Power Australia, 2010) Unlike the PAK FA, both the F-35 and F-22A designs incorporate IR reduction methods. (Lockheed Martin, 2012)
As long as the F-35 does not go to afterburner, it should be able to remain undetected in the IR spectrum. The F-22A does not have to worry a great deal about speed constraints in regards to IR detection due to its 1.82 mach super cruise capability. The PAK FA will be vulnerable to IR detection as long as its engine is active.

Image 11: Above, technicians performing testing on an electro-optical sensor developed for the AIRST originally featured in the F-22A design. (Image Credit: USAF)

Image 12: The spherical bulb mounted on the nose of the PAK FA is its electro-optical sensor which grants the PAK FA IRST capabilities. Unlike the proposed electro-optical sensor mounted on the F-22A and the current electro-optical sensor on the F-35, the system employed on the PAK FA is not well shielded from radar signatures. (Image Credit Sukhoi, 2010)

Image 13: F-35C undergoing catapult testing. Note the  electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) mounted underneath the nose of the F-35. The positioning and shaping of the EOTS prevents the F-35's stealth outline from being compromised. The EOTS will be instrumental in aiding the Lightning against 5th generation threats in visual range combat. (Image Credit: Lockheed Martin, 2012)

Avionics Advantage:

PAK FA < F-35
PAK FA < F-22A


All 5th generation aircraft feature internal weapon bays in order to minimize their radar signature. This is the case for the F-22A, PAK FA, and F-35. The differences between these aircraft is the capacity of  their internal weapon bays. Although there is no complete consensus on the exact number of missiles the PAK FA can carry within its four internal bays, eight air to air missiles is the most broadly made estimate. (Global Security, 2010) The Raptor was designed as the premier air dominance weapon of the USAF and subsequently carries eight air to air missiles internally. The multirole F-35 carries a meager four air to air missiles even in its dedicated air to air load out. The planned Block 5 upgrade will grant the F-35 the ability to carry six missiles internally but it is unclear when the entire F-35 fleet will be upgraded to the Block 5 standard (sometime after 2017). As mentioned in previous articles, the probability kill (pk) of advanced radar guided air to air missiles has been around 50% since Desert Storm. Modern electronic countermeasure systems, chaff, and AESA radars capable of jamming missile guidance systems have kept the pk of radar guided missiles relatively low. A similar trend has occurred with IR guided missiles. In the Falklands War, British Harriers used the IR guided AIM-9 Sidewinder to great effect and achieved a pk over 70%. By the time of Desert Storm, new countermeasures reduced the pk of the Sidewinder to 25%. (RAND, 2008) Both Russia and the United States have made modifications to their newest IR guided missiles to increase their resistance to IR countermeasures such as flares. Even with these improved seeker heads, it is unlikely that modern IR guided missiles with achieve pk's much higher than 50%. Essentially, multiple missiles are going to be required to achieve a single kill from either side. Until the Block 5 upgrade is complete, F-35's will be at a severe disadvantage relative to the PAK FA. (See proposed low observable missile pod in Murphy's Law at Work: F-35 Development and Performance Concerns article.)

In terms of the quality of American air to air missiles relative to Russian air to air missiles, both are very similar in terms of capabilities. At the moment, the 100 + nautical mile capable AIM-120D has a longer range than the latest R-77 variants missiles employed by Russian equipped forces. However, in a dogfight between stealth aircraft, standoff ranges are heavily reduced. Thus, extreme range isn't much of a concern in these situations. What remains a concern is if current missiles are even capable of acquiring low observable targets. Most literature on the subject automatically assumes that stealthy targets can be engaged despite their faint radar signature. From multiple accounts given by pilots in training exercises against the F-22A, its clear that their instruments are not even capable of detecting the Raptor let alone getting off a missile shot even when pilots can visually detect the Raptor. (Note 3)

"I can’t see the [expletive deleted] thing,” said RAAF Squadron Leader Stephen Chappell, exchange F-15 pilot in the 65th Aggressor Squadron. “It won’t let me put a weapons system on it, even when I can see it visually through the canopy. [Flying against the F-22] annoys the hell out of me."

USAF Colonel describes dogfighting an F-22A from the perspective of an F-15 and F-16 from 7:58-9:10.

Regardless, in terms of IR guided missiles, the American AIM-9X is marginally better than its Russian counterpart the R-73 Archer missile due to its higher off boresight capacity. Both missiles are very similar in capabilities. The major difference is the F-35 and F-22A employ extensive IR reduction methods. The following is from Lockheed Martin regarding IR reduction features in the F-35.

"F-35 Engine Nozzles Employ Specially Designed Shaping, Ceramic Shielding, and Other Coatings To Effectively Reduce IR Emissions" - Lockheed Martin, 2012

Once again,the importance of the lack of IR protection on the PAK FA design cannot be overstated. Although the F-35 will be carrying less missiles than the PAK FA, the few IR guided missiles launched from the F-35 have a higher pk against PAK FA than the PAK FA's missiles against the F-35. The F-22A will not only possess this advantage, but also the Raptor will carry more missiles and further capitalize on the PAK FA's lack of IR reduction.

Image 14: Raptor deploying flares from stealthy internal bays. (Image Credit: USAF)

Lastly, all aircraft in the comparision feature a cannon. It is of great importance not to dismiss the gun as a relic of the past which is no longer relevant in a dogfight. The effectiveness of guns and cannons employed by fighter aircraft is determined by the lethality equation. The equation stipulates the destructive power of an aircraft mounted cannon is determined by the weight of fire (weight of total rounds fired in one minute) times the muzzle velocity squared. (Shaw, 1985) Using the lethality equation, the effectiveness of the cannons can be gauged. The lethality equation is not perfect as it does not factor in the damage done by special types of ammunition (e.g. high explosive rounds) but the equation does provide a fairly accurate comparison.

It should be noted that the T-50 prototype currently undergoing testing is not equipped with a cannon. It is highly probable that the production version of the PAK FA will use a GSh-30-1 30mm cannon. All notable Russian fighters produced in the last three decades are equipped with a GSh-30-1. Although the GSh-30-1 uses 30mm rounds, its slow rate of fire and low muzzle velocity means it falls short of lower caliber high muzzle velocity American Gatling cannons such as the M61A2 and GAU-22/A. Furthermore, the GSh-30-1 uses amuntion developed in the 1970s and the gun itself is prone to overheat because of its use of a single barrel. In fact, the GSh-30-1 must be used in bursts of 40-50 rounds otherwise the gun will overheat so badly it cannot be safety used again. Because Gatling guns utilize multiple barrels to distribute heat, overheating the gun is not generally a concern. Another advantage to the Gatling cannons is its rate of fire which is critical in high speed dogfights. The opportunity for a cannon shot is often measured in fractions of a second. Thus, the more rounds fired, the better chance a pilot has of hitting a maneuvering supersonic target. Despite the fact that the F-35 employs a much more effective cannon than the PAK FA, positioning to get the cannon kill will be problematic due to its lower maneuverability. Effective pilot training and maneuvering coupled with the HMD will help F-35 pilots position for a cannon kill but the F-35 is still at a disadvantage against the PAK FA.

Armament Advantage:

PAK FA > F-35
PAK FA < F-22A

Potential Export Customers of the PAK FA

Image 15: Russian "Premier" Vladimir Putin next to T-50 prototype. 

For the last half century, Russia has been the principle supplier of relatively low cost highly effective weapon systems throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and South America. This trend has continued into the 21st century and shows no signs of weakening. India is scheduled to receive its own version of the PAK FA, the Sukohi/HAL FGFA. In total, India and Russia will possess a total of around 400 planes at around $100 million dollars each. Sukhoi hopes to export between 500-650 PAK FA's over the next few decades. (Global Security, 2010) If past Russian fighter export sales are any indication, it is almost certain that many nations within Africa and east Asia will receive the new jet. A Russian based think tank as determined that Vietnam is also likely to acquire the PAK FA (Jane's Defense Weekly, 2010) China and Vietnam's ongoing territorial disputes will become quite intriguing if Vietnam deploys stealth fighters. China has also managed to aggravate the Philippines with its ludicrous territorial claims in the South China Sea. If the Philippine Government amasses enough funds, its possible they will acquire the jet in the future if tensions with China rise. The Philippine Department of National Defense has already requested 15-18 new fighter aircraft. (Defense Update, 2012) Though it is unlikely that this recent requirement for aircraft will be the PAK FA. 

The Asian nations listed above are on fairly good terms with the United States at the moment and if either Vietnam or the Philippines acquires the PAK FA it shouldn't be of much concern. The caveat being a nation's outlook on the United States can quickly change e.g. Iran during 1979. I am not an expert in geopolitical ties between nations. From the limited knowledge I do have, the only major potential problematic recipient of the PAK FA that comes to mind is Venezuela. The possibly of Iran acquiring the new jet is remote. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made it abundantly clear that no further sales of weaponry to Iran are planned pending the cancellation of the S-300 SAM system. Should Putin reverse this decision, he would face international condemnation and ultimately, the added revenue would not outweigh the costs for Russia. 

Image 16: Artistic rendering of Indian FGFA variant of PAK FA. The Indian Air Force is scheduled to receive 166 single seat and 48 twin seat versions. It is probable that the FGFA will not be deployed until 2019.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Though the J-20 may look the part of a stealth fighter, it lacks the internal sensors, avionics, and systems that  compose a true 5th generation fighter. It will likely be at least another ten years before Chinese engineers are able to close the gap with U.S systems (most pessimistic estimate, other estimates are 20+ years). Make no mistake, the PAK FA is not a third rate design and is not hindered by the same problems as its Chinese counterpart. The systems employed on the PAK FA are upgraded versions of advanced proven systems employed on tested Flanker designs. The PAK FA will pose a serious risk to all fighter aircraft employed by the USAF and its allies. By every dimension, the PAK FA is a 5th generation dedicated dogfighter. Though the F-22A is more capable than the current PAK FA design, by in large the F-35 is not. Public statements made by the USAF do not reflect this reality.

"I didn’t see anything … that would cause me to rethink plans for the F-22 or F-35,” Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, 2010

Without support from Raptors, the F-35 will be at a disadvantage. Updated versions of legacy fighters such as the F-16C Block 50/52+, F-15C, and even the F/A-18E Super Hornet are simply outclassed. Relying solely on pilot training advantages to carry the F-35 and legacy fighters to victory is not responsible nor practicable. It is very likely that the PAK FA will only be flown by the very best pilots within the respective Air Forces operating the aircraft (NOTE 1). The United States must give its pilots the tools they need to succeed, anything less is simply unacceptable. 

There is only one tool in the American arsenal that will be able to consistently defeat the PAK FA without higher than acceptable losses. This is not a recommendation to end the F-35 program and halt planned production altogether. Such a plan would be impracticable on many levels. The F-35 has a very useful air to ground niche in the USAF and consequently will be instrumental in future USAF operations. However, dogfighting advanced 5th generation jets such as the PAK FA is not the F-35's strength. The F-35 can handle advanced 4.5 generation fighters and even low quality 5th generation designs such as the J-20. But the Lightning cannot comfortably handle the super maneuverable PAK FA. In two out of three of the critical core criteria of this assessment, the F-35 was at a disadvantage relative to the PAK FA. Upgrades to the F-35 could close the gap but in some aspects the F-35 will never be on equal footing with PAK FA due to inherent design features that largely cannot be changed e.g. wing loading. Keep in mind, the PAK FA and J-20 are only the first of many foreign developed 5th generation fighters to come. With this degree of uncertainty, America needs more Raptors, even if it means cutting a few hundred of the F-35A variant for less than half the number of new Raptors would be acceptable.

The groundwork to restart F-22 production has already begun. As always, RAND produced a thorough and comprehensive analysis of how to restart F-22 production and how much the process would cost to the United States Government. Rand concluded that it would cost $513 million dollars to restart F-22 production with an average unit cost of $227 million dollars per aircraft if a total of 75 were produced (reopen and production costs factored in). The cost of producing Raptors would decrease over time if the decision was made to purchase more aircraft. To put this in perspective, before Raptor production halted in 2012, the average flyaway cost was $150 million dollars. (Defense Industry Daily, 2012) The current cost of an F-35A is $197 million dollars. (Department of Defense, 2012) The F-35A will become less expensive as development issues are fixed and production expands but expect a flyway cost in upwards of $120-$150 million dollars.

Pending the deployment of the new emergency on-board oxygen generating system in 2014, the decision to produce more Raptors should be made if the new system is effective (e.g. hypoxia reports drop considerably). The author recommends that the U.S Government grants the USAF its originally requested 300 Raptors at a minimum. This would add 113 new F-22s to the USAF at the cost of sacrificing around 200-250 F-35As. Ideally, these new proposed F-22B Raptors should be built to the increment 3.2 standard with additional upgrades to ensure the F-22's dominance over future 5th generation fighters (e.g. originally planned electro-optical system). Given that the USAF is scheduled to receive in upwards of 1,700 F-35's, such a proposal would not detract much from the USAF's air to ground capabilities. Furthermore, considering that Lockheed Martin produces both aircraft, the powerful aerospace giant should not protest a great deal against this production order reversal.

The United States needs an credible insurance policy against future advanced 5th generation threats such as the PAK FA. The F-35 has a place in future USAF operations and the program must not be terminated. Rather, it is important to realize the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the F-35 design. The decision to end Raptor production was made before the debut of a credible foreign produced 5th generation threat and consequently should be reversed. The arguments against the F-22 are in large part made by politicians and pundits who have no understanding of military systems, doctrines, and the extent of the deteriorating edge currently maintained by U.S forces technologically. Of course it is best to let diplomacy take its course and avoid conflict when possible but, at the end of the day, it is best to have Raptors and not use them rather than to need Raptors and not have them.

More than any other secretary of defense, I have been a strong advocate of ‘soft’ power—of the critical importance of diplomacy and development as fundamental components of our foreign policy and national security... But make no mistake: the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is ‘hard’ power—the size, strength, and global reach of the United States military.” - Venerable former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, 2011

SIMILAR ARTICLES (Links Provided) 

J-20 threat analysis
Canada and the F-35


Note 1: As the price of oil per barrel increases, so has the revenue poured into flight training programs for the Russians. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian pilots could only fly a pitiful 30 hours per year. Now Russian pilots fly in upwards of 100 hours per year (Ref. source 34). It is likely that this trend will emerge in other oil rich nations. With its immense economic gains, China has been able to increase the required flight time for its pilots from 24 hours per year during the Cultural Revolution to 200 hours as of 2010. (RAND, 2011) 

Note 2: Engines used in prototype of PAK FA might change. Current engine in use is an AL-31F 117S (also known as a AL-41F1A for marketing reasons). Production engine may feature 34,000 lbf of thrust vs the current 32,000 lbf hence the difference in thrust to weight ratio indicated on the chart. An astute and frequent reader may note the figures on this chart are different from the specifications cited in the previous article featuring the F-35 specifications. The reason for this discrepancy stems from the fact that Lockheed Martin sources put the max thrust of its engine at 40,000 lbf vs Prat & Whitney cites the F 135 engine at 43,000 lbf capable. I have been unable to find the cause of this difference and elected to use the engine rating directly from the Lockheed.

Further more, wing loading figures are different as in last weeks article I made a slight error. Wing loading figures from the most recent F-35 article did not take into account the 50% fuel and were calculated with the 100% fuel within the aircraft. This can be a large difference in some aircraft e.g. some are 9,000 lb lighter with 50% fuel. Most available sources cite thrust to weight ratio's at 50% fuel but do not do the same for wing loading which is odd. Wing loading will lighten as the aircraft uses more fuel. It is not accurate to change one figure but not the other if a variable changes. If 50% fuel is to be used, than both wing loading and thrust to weight must reflect this reality.  (50% fuel is a better indicator for thrust to weigh ratios and wing loading than 100% as they only situation in which an aircraft will dogfight with 100% fuel is if it is taking off from its base and directly engaging the enemy.) Raptor stats have also changed to reflect the 50% wing loading. Analysis featured in the previous F-35 article is still valid however. Though the figures change slightly, the basic underlying point remains; the F-35 has a high wing loading relative to other fighter aircraft. 

Note 3: I am vehemently opposed to making huge assumptions with so much on the line. However, I was unable to find much information on whether or not modern radar guided air to air missiles could acquire low observable targets. I do know that certain missiles are equipped to target low observable cruise missiles such as the ground launched PAC-3 Patriot, but I was unable to find information on the R-77 and AIM-120D in terms of targeting low observable aircraft. Thus without any alternatives, it will be assumed that current missiles can target low observable aircraft.