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Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Big, The Fat And The Ugly: Logistic Assets That Make America A Superpower

This week we will examine the often forgotten logistical assets that enable combat units to preform effectively. 

Image 1: F-22A Raptor formation. 

The core characteristic that elevates a great power to superpower status is its ability to project hard power (military force) across the entire planet. The term superpower is often synonymous with vast fleets of ships, lethal stealth aircraft, or armies of well trained combat units. Few associate the term with mundane old tanker aircraft, cargo ships, etc. The reality is very different. The United States maintains its superpower status through an extensive network of logistic assets. Without these assets, the ability for the United States to project power abroad would be greatly diminished. Although the quality, training, and level of technological sophistication contribute to America's overall military strength, none of the aforementioned qualities necessarily makes America a superpower. The real strength of America's military lies in its ability to deploy more manpower, more materiel, and more firepower to any combat zone when compared to any potential aggressor. Some of the key logistic assets that enable U.S. forces to project power abroad will be examined: fleet replenishment oilers, aerial refueling aircraft, and strategic airlift assets.   

Fleet Replenishment Oilers 

Image 2: Henery J. Kaiser oiler refueling a Ticonderoga class cruiser. (Image Credit: USN) 

The carrier strike group is a key component of America's ability to project power abroad. With the exception of the Nimitz class supercarrier, the US Navy's surface ships utilize conventional diesel electric engines. Despite the considerable amount of fuel many U.S ships carry on board, the scale and duration of global deployments will inevitably result in fuel shortages for non-nuclear powered vessels. The Henry J. Kaiser class fleet replenishment oilers greatly supplement the range of non-nuclear powered naval assets like destroyers, cruisers, transports, etc. The U.S Navy operates a total of 15 Kaiser class oilers (Source 1). The Kaiser class can deliver 900,000 gallons of diesel to two vessels simultaneously within an hour or 540,000 gallons of jet fuel. The Kaiser class vessels also can store additional food for the fleet if needed. 

A telltale sign of a mature well funded navy is its ratio of oilers (and support ships) to standard combat vessels. The current Chinese Navy owns only handful of oilers to refuel its rapidly growing navy. The new Type 903 class replenishment ships will be more of a game changer for the PLAAN than the Liaoning carrier over the next decade. 

"Prior to the introduction of the new Type 903s, the PLA Navy possessed just a handful of smaller oilers, including refurbished Soviet vessels and two of an earlier version of the Qiandaohu class: just five tankers in total to support a combat fleet numbering no fewer than 75 major warships, including frigates, destroyers, amphibious assault ships and the lone carrier. The U.S., by contrast, possesses more than 30 underway replenishment ships — all of them larger than China’s oilers — to support around 130 large surface warships." - David Axe, 2013

The PLANN is not true blue water navy in many aspects. The current doctrine of the PLAAN revolves around an anti-access strategy with regional power projection rather than global deployment. For example, it would be tremendously difficult for the PLANN to sustain a large force of ships near Hawaii for an extended period of time. The limited scope of PLANN operations is partially due to its deficiency of replenishment and sufficient support vessels. 

By the latter half of the current decade, China will likely be able to project and sustain a modest-sized force, perhaps several battalions of ground forces or a naval flotilla of up to a dozen ships, in low-intensity operations far from China. This evolution will lay the foundation for a force able to accomplish a broader set of regional and global objectives. However, it is unlikely that China will be able to project and sustain large forces in high-intensity combat operations far from China prior to 2020." - Department of Defense 2011

This is not to say the PLAAN is no threat to the United States Navy. The PLAAN is becoming increasingly adept at operating vessels up to the second island chain in the western pacific (Japan, Guam, etc.) However, China is not a superpower due to its inability to project power far beyond its shores. 

Tanker Aircraft 

Image 3: USAF KC-10 tankers

The most recent military campaigns waged by Western forces, Unified Protector (Libya) and Operation Serval (Mali), have both demonstrated the key role of aerial refueling aircraft. Collectively, the NATO participants of Unified Protector were heavily dependent on the U.S tanker fleet. David Cenciotti of the Aviationist noted: "without American tankers, there would not be any NATO air campaign." The Italian, French, UK, Swedish and Canadian Air Forces provided limited tanker support but it was not nearly enough to sustain the rest of the collation aircraft. In ongoing operations over Mali, the French have had to make use of American KC-135 tanker support in order to sustain combat operations. Three U.S. KC-135 tankers based in the UK have provided assistance to the French. (Cenciotti, 2013)

Aerial refueling aircraft greatly expand the range and flexibility of direct combat aircraft. Armed strike aircraft can stay on station above an area and wait for hours with the assistance of tankers as opposed to loitering for only ten minutes before having to returning to base. The total number of aircraft that can be deployed to a distant combat zone is also determined by the number of available tanker aircraft. For example, in the what would an Israeli strike against Iran accomplish article, the effect of the Israeli Air Force's limited tanker fleet is discussed. The IAF would only be able to operate a few dozen aircraft over Iran at a time. The deficiency in tanker aircraft could jeopardize the IAF's ability to destroy Iranian nuclear sites. 

Despite the rapid advancements made by the Chinese Air Force (PLAAF), it still lags behind the United States by 20-30 years in some respects. The PLAAF operates a total of 10 outdated tanker aircraft (modified bombers for refueling missions) with a planned eight tankers on order from Russia (Source 3). In comparison  the United States Air Force operates a total of  508 tankers (USAF, 2012). Once again, the ratio between combat aircraft and tankers is important. 

PLAAF: 1,452 combat aircraft, 18 tankers, 80.6 ratio 
USAF: 2,218 combat aircraft, 508 tankers, 4.36 ratio 

The PLAAF ability to project power is greatly limited with only 18 tanker aircraft. The addition of external fuel tanks will augment the PLAAF's range but at the cost of reduced weapon capacity. 

Strategic Airlift Capability

Image 4: C-17 Globemaster III formation.

Few leaders realize a direct combat platform cannot strike a target if it does not have the required fuel necessary to reach its target. In some cases, the range of direct combat assets cannot be feasibly augmented enough for it to reach an area on its own. In many cases, assets must transported via strategic airlift. Many heavy assets such as main battle tanks must be airlifted to countries thousands of miles away. Without transport, an entire fleet of multi-million dollar tanks is rendered effectively useless unless it can reach the combat zone. Heavy military cargo aircraft like the C-17 Globemaster III and C-5 Galaxy allow the United States to move combat units around the world as needed. The importance of strategic airlift capabilities has been recently demonstrated in Operation Serval. The French were largely unable to deploy their own ground forces to Mali without allied support.

Currently, the United States maintains a dominant lead in strategic airlift capabilities. The Russian Air Force maintains a distant second place while China largely lacks robust strategic airlift capabilities. The graph below examines total airlift capacity in pounds for the USAF, Russian Air Force, and PLAAF by 2020. Specific figures used can be found in the notes section.

China recently unveiled its domestically produced Y-20 transport. By 2020, it is likely that the Y-20 will compliment the PLAAF's IL-76 transports from Russia. The current Y-20 features Russian engines and can likely carry up to 60 tonnes (The Diplomat, 2013). It is unclear how many Y-20 transports China intends to produce or if a heavier transport design will supplement the Y-20. If the Y-20 is produced in significant numbers, it will greatly aid China's power projection abilities provided the transports have a safe landing zone. The United States ability to project power is greatly augmented by its large number of oversea bases capable of receiving cargo aircraft. China lacks a comparable network of oversea bases.

Image 5: Y-20 transport

All too often shiny high tech fighter aircraft are the sole object of a government's attention when it comes to procuring military equipment.  The old and mundane logistic assets enable a force to operate at its full strength. The United States can effectively project power across the globe in part due to its extensive network of logistic assets. China is a long ways away from being able to project power on the level of the United States. A true testament to the logistic capability of the U.S military is the following figure from Flight International: the United States military operates 18% of the world’s combat aircraft but operates a disproportionately large 35% of the world’s tanker and cargo aircraft. No other entity has masted logistics to the degree of the United States Military.




Determining the exact airlift capacity for the following air forces was a daunting task. Each type of aircraft had many variants of the same aircraft each with their own payload specifications. Hence, the figures might not be exact but they should be within reasonable parameters. Medium transport planes were not included (e.g. C-130).

Total USAF Strategic Airlift Capacity 2020: 65,192,700 lb
C-5M: 52 * 285,000 = 14,820,000 
C-5B: 32 * 270,000 lb = 8,640,000 lb
C-5A: 35 * 220,000 lb = 7,040,000
C-17 III: 203 * 170,900 = 34,692,700

Russia 2020 Strategic Airlift Capacity: 30,511,065 lb
IL-76-90MD: 110231.13 * 39 = 4,299,015
IL-76: 88185 * 210 = 18,518,850
AN-22: 99,200* 21 = 2,083,200
AN-124 = 330000 * 17 = 5,610,000

 China 2020 Strategic Airlift Capacity: 12,774,806.5 lb
50 IL-76MD: 5,511,556.5
Y-20: ~50 * 132,277 = 6,613,850

The PLAAF figure will be largely dependent upon how many Y-20 transports China plans to acquire. The plane uses Russian engines as domestic engine production remains challenging. There are no exact figures for the maximum payload of the Y-20 but 60 tonnes seems reasonable given the weight of Chinese MBT's.

Image 6: Two 69 ton Abrams tanks on board a C-5M Super Galaxy 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Canada and the F-35 Part III: Procurement Proposal

The most credible argument against the acquisition of the CF-35 has nothing to do with the performance limitations or the direct cost of the F-35 itself.  Canada's Air Force remains woefully ill-equipped in terms of C4ISR abilities (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) 

Currently Canada's defense spending accounts for 1.4% of its GDP. (Source 77) This figure is considerably less than the mutually agreed upon 2% GDP standard set by NATO. (Source 78) The result's of Canada's hesitation to fulfill its defense obligations has taken a serious toll on its capabilities. The Canadian Air Force maintains no electronic warfare capabilities, no significant intelligence gathering capabilities (only 3 UAV's on lease from Israel), and no command and control aircraft (e.g. AWACS). The results from Operation Unified Protector were clear, Canada and non-American NATO countries are too dependent upon American forces for C4ISR and logistical support. (Source 79) 

It would be naive to believe Canada's defense budget will increase above planned levels in the near future. The Canadian Air Force will have to make due with the funds allocated to it inspite of the Government's failure to meet the 2% GDP target. Canada must coordinate its procurement of equipment with other allies to ensure the future NATO force remains balanced and critical logistical and  C4ISR criteria are fulfilled. The following proposal of equipment will allow Canada to keep planned military spending levels while greatly increasing the overall electronic warfare and C4ISR abilities among non-American NATO allies.  

The following price figures are taken from the United States Defense Department Budget Proposal YF 2013 (Source 74) and Sources (80-82). With the C$10 billion dollars allocated to the procurement of the CF-35, the author recommends the Canadian Government acquires the following.

2014 Proposal 
  1. CF-35 Lightning II; Quantity: 35  - $5.95 billion USD (Unit Cost 187.5-165 million; $170 million dollar estimate used) 
  2. MQ-9 Reaper UAV's; Quantity: 6 - $393 million USD (Contract would include 5 year support and maintenance contract in addition to ground control stations) 
  3. F/A-18E Super Hornet Block I; Quantity 30 - $2.3829 billion USD (Unit cost $79.43 million, contract should include option to upgrade fleet to Block II status) 
  4. EA-18G Growler; Quantity: 12 - $1.02732 billion USD (Unit cost $85.61 million) 
  5. Spare engines, electronic components and assorted additional systems ~$120 million USD

Projected Total Cost: $9,873,220,000 USD ($9.873 billion); $126.78 million remaining  
NOTE: Purchase is subject to USD - Canadian Dollar exchange rate; cost may comparatively be less to Canada if the appreciation of the Canadian dollar continues. 

The Super Hornet was selected to bolster the CF-35 force out of necessity.  Under ideal budgetary circumstances, Canada should be able to purchase all 65 CF-35 aircraft. Because of the EA-18G and MQ-9 Reaper purchases, the remaining funds would have yielded an insufficient number of CF-35 aircraft to protect Canadian airspace. The F-15SE was a very attractive option but the lower cost of the Super Hornet was the deciding factor. Although the CF-35 is more capable than the F/A-18E in many aspects, the Super Hornet still provides a robust performance against potential adversaries (especially if Block II upgrade is purchased). The author recommends that the Super Hornet should be ordered as an interim gap-filler to hedge against JSF program delays.

There are very real and ongoing development issues for the F-35 Program. However, the author is confident the vast majority of concerns will be fixed or mitigated given time. The author recommends the Canadian government delays its procurement of the CF-35 by a year to two years (authorize purchase in 2015-2016 vs. planned 2014). This would reduce both the cost and number of  in service design modifications the CF-35 fleet would have to undergo. This would be accomplished by the interim purchase of 30 F/A-18E Super Hornets. Modifications to extend the service life of a few dozen the current CF-18 should be considered. Another possible option is to lease a few F-16's from the U.S Government while the transition to the CF-35 is completed.

The CF-35 offers the greatest degree of survivability  most capable avionics, and highest lethality of any export aircraft available to Canada. With the addition of CUDA, Block 4, improved transonic drag performance  and emergency shut off valves, the CF-35 is more than qualified to meet Canada's overall defense needs. This proposals offers a balanced approach to meeting Canada's defense needs. The combination of abilities gained from the inclusion of the JSF, Super Hornet, Reaper, and Growler gives the CAF more strength than the mass purchase of any single aircraft.

Should the funds be available after the initial purchase (can also be included in original package), the author recommends the procurement of the following weapon systems to increase the effectiveness of the purchased aircraft. 

Proposal II: Total Cost $750 million USD 

- 600 SDB: $17.5 million - $24 million
- 100 AGM-88E AARGM – 101.94 million
- 300 AIM-120D – $459 million
- 126 AIM-9X – $67.5 million
- CUDA (?) $97.96 million

These purchases will not address every need of the Canadian Air Force. However, this proposed package will greatly increase the electronic warfare, air supremacy, and ISR capabilities of the Canadian Air Force. With this combination of aircraft, the CAF will be able to enter an enemy's IADS and neutralize key SAM sites and radar arrays. This capability is paramount to securing NATO's ability to defeat IADS systems. Groups of CF-35's working in tandem with missile laden F/A-18E's is a force to be reckoned with. These assets will also provide an excellent defense of Canada's airspace.

Image 2: The small diameter bomb (SDB) is an affordable 250 lb (113.6 kg) precision guided munition. The SDB is a general purpose weapon that can be utilized in a variety of situations. The SDB features a small explosive payload and a high degree of accuracy to reduce collateral damage.  (Image Credit: USAF)

Image 3: The EA-18G Growler is a modified version of the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet. The two aircraft share 90% of their components. Australia recently chose to convert half of its Super Hornet fleet into EA-18G's. The Growler will grant the CAF electronic warfare and enhanced SEAD capabilities. The Growler will also increase the survivability of deployed 4.5 generation assets against SAM systems. (Image from Defense Industry Daily, 2013)

Source Material 



-high wing loading (87.71 lb/ft^2 with 50% fuel) = generally indicates low sustained turn abilities; expect less than legacy F-15C which has a sustained turn ability of 15-16 degrees; Su-30MIK 22-23 degrees, F-22A 28 degrees sustained turn (SOURCE 19)
-F-35A has an average thrust to weight ratio, not exceptional. T/W 1.00 depending on internal fuel levels (50% are more accurate estimations as unless aircraft is dogfighting above its own airbase, fuel levels will be closer to 50%)
-AOA (angle of attack) performance is within expected parameters (Lockheed Martin, 2012); Both 20 degree and 50 degree AOA tests were completed successfully
-Top speed of Mach 1.8 (noted as mach 1.6+ by some sources) is not impressive. Raptor can achieve mach 1.8 without engaging afterburner. Mach 2 is normal for most high performance fighter aircraft. 

   Given the IR reduction methods employed on the CF-35's airframe, the OLS-35 will not detect the F-35 until it is considerably closer e.g. 19 nautical miles or 35 km. The Su-35 will have to resort to using its OLRS-35 IRST system to find the F-35.

"     The existing OLS-35, developed for the Su-35BM, is credited with the ability to detect a ‘fighter type’ target head on from 27 nautical miles, and from behind at around 50 nautical miles, through a 90° sector." - Air Power Australia, 2010

      Su-30MK 667: 39,021, 10692, 460, 3977.6 (10), 101.2, 133.26945 = 54385.06/667 = 81.5 
      Su-35BM 667 ft² (40,570 lb, 11.500 (5750), 460(2), 3977.6 (10), 101.2, 133.26945, = 50992.06/667 = Rafale M: 22,480 , 4070 (8), 260, 130, 391.6 (2)= 32331.6/492 ft² = 65.71463414634146 
      Eurofighter: 24,600, 384.56, 4070 (8), 220, 100, 4950 = 34324.56/551 = 62.29502722323049
      JAS 39 NG: 12600, 3052.5 (6), 384.56, 220, 100, 2494.8 = 18851.86/323 =58.36489164086687 
      F-15E: 31,700, 6561.5, 248 gun, 105.21lb ammo, 752 AIM-9, 2010 = 41376.71/608 ft² = 68.05379934210526 
      RAPTOR 840 sq ft / 43,340, 18,000 lb (9,000), 248 gun, 105.21lb ammo, 752 AIM-9, 2010 = 55455.21/840 sq ft = 66.01810714285714

Monday, January 21, 2013

Canada and the F-35

Image 1: F-35A undergoing flight testing (Image Credit: Lockheed Martin, 2012)


Canada is set to purchase 65 CF-35 fighters to replace its aging fleet of CF-18's. The CF-35 is modified version of the American F-35A. The deal is worth C$10 billion. It is estimated the cost of maintaining the fleet will amount to C$12 billion over 20 years and C$ 45.802 billion if the CF-35 is kept in service for 42 years. (Defense Industry Daily, 2012)

The Canadian F-35 acquisition program has been subject to intense scrutiny by the Canadian public. Many of the concerns raised by Canadians have merit, most do not. This article will seek to address many of the performance based concerns raised by Canadians about the F-35. Ultimately, the F-35 fulfills Canada's defense needs better than any 4.5 generation alternative currently in production. The core objections that will be addressed in this argument are primarily from a paper/article written by Dr. Carlo Kopp and Peter Goon of Air Power Australia. Kopp's argument was chosen as it encapsulates the most credible argument against Canada's purchase of the F-35.  Performance concerns raised by F-35 JSF: Can It Meet Canada's Needs will be addressed in the first part of the article. Other works of Kopp are used intermittently for the purpose of viewing Kopp's full positions on the F-35. The 4.5 generation alternatives will be contrasted to the F-35 following part I. The final proposal including the recommended procurement details is included in Part III.

The most prudent method of determining what piece of military equipment a nation should purchase is to first establish what capabilities a nation needs to ensure its own national security. Kopp argues that Canada's next fighter aircraft must be able to accomplish the following four objectives: be successful against strategic bombers armed with cruise missiles, able to defeat high end 4.5 generation threats such as the Su-35 and even the 5th generation PAK FA, survive high threat environments and destroy an enemy IADS (integrated air defense system), and the ability to partake in counter insurgency (COIN) operations.

The author agrees with Kopp's view that the F-22A would be perfect for these roles. However, it is not constructive to dwell on exports of the Raptor. The likelihood of restarting Raptor production is nearly nonexistent due to current budgetary issues within the DoD. In regards to the aforementioned four objectives, Kopp argues that the F-35 will fail to meet the requirements. 

The Following excerpt is taken from:  F-35 JSF: Can It Meet Canada's Needs? (Source 1 in Reference)

  1.  The F-35 lacks the range, missile payload, radar performance and especially supersonic performance to be effective in the strategic air defence role, and with a single engine puts the lives of Canadian pilots at unnecessary risk in harsh Arctic conditions.
  2. The F-35 lacks the supersonic performance, missile payload, radar performance, agility and stealth performance to be effective in combat against the Su-35S Flanker E+, and has no ability to compete with the Sukhoi PAK-FA. This makes the F-35 ineffective in strategic air defence, if fighter escorts are deployed, and ineffective in expeditionary campaigns where the opponent operates such fighters.
  3.  The F-35 lacks the stealth performance to penetrate modern air defence systems armed with weapons such as the S-400, S-300PMU2, HQ-9 and planned S-500, especially if these SAMs are supported by modern “counter-stealth” radars operating in the lower radar bands.
  4.  In uncontested COIN operations, the F-35 lacks the payload and endurance to perform well, does not have the ballistic survivability for Close Air Support (CAS), and the CTOL variant demands long runways for operations, limiting choices in deployment sites.

Article Layout 

Part I: A Brief Overview of the F-35 
  1. Range Concerns
  2. Radar Concerns
  3. Maneuverability Concerns
  4. Internal Missile Load Concerns
  5. Stealth and Survivability
  6. Avionics and Sensors: DAS, EOTS, HMD 
  7. Lethality (Dogfight ability) vs. 4.5 Generation Opponents 
  8. Lethality (Dogfight ability) vs. 5th Generation Opponents  
  9. Lethality Summary 
  10. Penetration of an Enemy IADS
  11. Survivability & Air to Ground 
    Part II: Canada's Alternatives

    1. JAS 39 Gripen 
    2. Rafale
    3. Eurofighter Typhoon
    4. F-15SE
    5. F/A-18E, F/A-18F, EA-18G
    6. Conclusion 

    Part III: Final Proposal and Recommendations to the Canadian Government  

Range Concerns (1)

The Canadian Air Force is tasked with defending the second largest country in the world; range is important. Comparatively speaking, the F-35A has an above average combat radius. Depending upon the configuration, the combat radius for the F-35A is 584 nautical miles (InsideDefense, 2012). The JAS 39 Gripen has a combat radius of 432 nautical miles and the CF-18 has a combat radius of around 500 nautical miles depending upon the configuration. (FAS, 2011) The F-22A Raptor has a combat radius of around 540 nautical miles. (AFA, 2012) The Canadian CF-35's range will be augmented further with the use of both drop tanks and the considerable American tanker fleet, should the need arise. The CF-35 will be modified to carry a refueling probe that is compatible with current CAF (Canadian Air Force) tankers. 

Radar Concerns (1)

      Kopp's concern of missile load will be discussed in the rebuttal to point two. Kopp's claims against the F-35's radar are baseless. The number of TR modes a radar array has generally indicates its detection power. Top of the line AESA radars feature 1,500 TR modules e.g the APG-77 in the F-22A. Due to the F-35's smaller nose, the APG-81 is a 1,200 TR AESA array. Despite its lower detection power relative to the Raptor, the APG-81 out preforms nearly all of its contemporaries. Currently, there is only one radar mounted on a non-western fighter that is superior to the APG-81 (in terms of detection power), the Su-35's Irbis E radar. The 1,500 TR element array planned for the PAK FA will have greater raw detection power than the APG-81 but will almost certainly lack a comparable performance liquid cooling system (APA, 2010), refined low probability intercept modes (LPI), and excellent jamming resistance of the APG-81.  
Image 2: Detection ranges of fighter aircraft radars. Image Credit: Air Power Australia, 2007 
     The radar cross section of an aircraft is not the only signature that can give away an aircraft's position. The aircraft’s own radar array can compromise its presence to an opponent regardless of how outwardly stealthy the airframe is. 

      "Radar is like long-range eyes in the sky for modern warplanes. Without this sensor, a plane is more or less flying blind. The problem is, radar works by emitting energy -- lots of it. And that can be detected by an enemy's own passive radar receptors in the same way that someone standing in a dark room can track the movements of another person carrying a flashlight." - Axe, 2012

      Raytheon's engineers carefully designed the APG-81 to aid the F-35's achieve all aspect stealth. Like the APG-77 on the F-22A, the APG-81 uses emission control principles to lower the probability of its signals being intercepted. Bill Sweetman describes how emission control principles work for the F-22A: The radar's signals are managed in intensity, duration and space to maintain the pilot's situational awareness while minimizing the chance that its signals will be intercepted.More distant targets get less radar attention; as they get closer to the F-22, they will be identified and prioritized; and when they are close enough to be engaged or avoided, they are continuously tracked.
Russia has yet to attain the same level of proficiency in producing high quality LPI radar systems.  (APA Flanker Radars Article, 2010) 

Kopp's assertion that a single engine puts Canadian pilots at risk is a fallacy. Sweden has deployed the single engine JAS 39 Gripen without incident. Furthermore, many arctic based militaries have operated the single engine F-16 for decades e.g Norway and Alaska based F-16’s.  

Maneuverability Concerns (2) 

Images 3 & 4: F-35A undergoing 50 degree angle of attack (AOA) testing. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin, 2012 

NOTE: In point two, Kopp argues the F-35 has limited lethality (overall dogfight abilities comprised of maneuverability, missile load, survivability and avionics). Each of these elements will be discussed separately before evaluating the aggregate lethality performance of the F-35 for the purpose of organization. 

The vast majority of opponents to the CF-35 program cite the lack of maneuverability as the foremost problem with the F-35 design. Kopp essentially argues the F-35 does not have the high maneuverability required to win visual range engagements. An aircraft's maneuverability is determined by examining its: wing loading, sustained turn ability, g limit tolerance, thrust to weight ratio, rate of climb, angle of attack limitations, acceleration, etc. Kopp's assessment that the F-35's design does not yield high maneuverability is only partially true.  The combat wing loading for the F-35A is high (87.71 lb/ft^2 with full air to air load out with 50% fuel) meaning its sustained radius turn ability is likely lower than its peers. 

Combat wing loading (50% fuel with full air to air load) of high performance 4.5 and 5th generation aircraft : 

Graphic 1: Although wing loading effects turn ability, this graph does not represent overall maneuverability. Furthermore, a contributing factor to turn ability, other factors such as thrust vectoring, could not be shown on this graph.  

It is worth noting the F-35 is not a purpose built air dominance fighter like the Raptor. The F-35 was designed as a strike fighter. An aircraft whose role is to both deliver precise air to ground strikes while being  able to deliver a reasonable air to air level of maneuverabilityTraits specific to a pure bred dogfighter e.g. low wing loading were compromised for added ordinance and fuel capacity to assist in strike missions. Limitations such as high wing loading were intentionally built in. Despite the F-35's intended lower maneuverability, current testing shows the F-35 is unable to meet some of the low promised performance levels. Although the officially released specifications list the F-35A as 9g capable with a 5.3G sustained turn ability, recent tests have brought up troubling G tolerance issues. 

"Sustained turning performance for the F-35B is being reduced from 5G to 4.5G while the F-35A sinks from 5.3G to 4.6G according to the report...'Horizontal tail surfaces are experiencing higher than expected temperatures during sustained high‑speed / high‑altitude flight, resulting in delamination and scorching of the surface coatings and structure'" - Flight Global, 2013

This level of sustained g performance is on par with the F-4 Phantom and other 1960s era aircraft. (Defense Industry Daily, 2013) This level of maneuverability performance is unacceptable.  

Dave Majumdar of Flight Global and Tom Burbage from Lockheed Martin explains:

"'Based on the original spec, all three of the airplanes are challenged by that spec,' said Tom Burbage, Lockheed's program manager for the F-35. 'The cross-sectional area of the airplane with the internal weapons bays is quite a bit bigger than the airplanes we're replacing'...The sharp rise in wave drag at speeds between Mach 0.8 and Mach 1.2 is one of the most challenging areas for engineers to conquer. And the F-35's relatively large cross-sectional area means, that as a simple matter of physics, the jet can't quite match its predecessors...We're dealing with the laws of physics. You have an airplane that's a certain size, you have a wing that's a certain size, you have an engine that's a certain size, and that basically determines your acceleration characteristics,' Burbage said. 'I think the biggest question is: are the acceleration characteristics of the airplane operationally suitable?'"

The Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation report states how Lockheed Martin plans to proceed:

"The program scheduled modification of one fight sciences aircraft of each variant with new skin coatings on the horizontal tail to permit fight testing in the currently restricted part of the high-speed/high-altitude fight envelope. The test team is adding more fight test instrumentation to help quantify the impacts of the tail heating to support necessary design changes. The program scheduled modifications on one aircraft (AF-2) to be completed in early 2013 to allow fight testing of the new skin design on the horizontal tails to proceed"

It is too early to assess if the sustained g performance will improve as Lockheed is still working on resolving the issue. Canada should keep a very close eye on further developments of the F-35's sustained g performance. The author expects the final production version to have comparable to marginally improved transonic performance to the F-16. This issue will be further elaborated on in Part III. 

In other aerodynamic performance criteria, the F-35 preforms adequately to exceptional. The thrust to weight ratio for the F-35A is essentially 1.00 (.9867) depending upon internal fuel levels and configuration. Most high performance fighter's have a combat thrust to weight ratio (50% internal fuel with air to air stores) of greater than or equal to 1.00 e.g. the F-22A has a 1.27 T/W,  Su-30 MK 1.1, JAS 39 Gripen .97 (basically 1.00 depends on internal fuel). Thus, the F-35 has an good T/W ratio. 

Most dogfights occur in the high subsonic range of Mach .06-.09. In this area, the F-35 has exceptional acceleration relative to other fighter aircraft (Defense News, 2013).   

“I can’t even explain the adrenaline rush you get when you light the afterburner on that thing...The acceleration is much better than an F-16.” - Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Smith 

      Maneuverability Performance Summary (+ = good, - = bad, +/- = average)

- high wing loading
- mediocre sustained turn ability 
- problematic transonic acceleration performance (will almost certainly be fixed)
+/- average to mediocre top speed
+/- Angle of attack performance within acceptable parameters
+ good thrust to weight ratio (not exceptional)
+ excellent high subsonic acceleration  performance 
+ (?) rate of climb is classified; with 9 g capability, decent AOA, and thrust to weight ratio, rate of climb is likely decent to good

 When all of the F-35's maneuverability characteristics are combined, it becomes clear the F-35 is nothing like the Raptor. The question is not if the F-35 has lower maneuverability traits than its peers. Rather, the question is does the F-35's overall maneuverability and handling characteristics totally compromise the F-35's ability to dogfight? 

The short answer is no. Although, the F-35A's turn radius is inferior to legacy systems, its thrust to weight ratio is adequate. The extreme positions taken by those against the F-35 do not always reflect the reality of the data.  Like all aircraft, it has its strengths and weaknesses in terms of handling that pilots will have to exploit and adapt to.

"Know and use all the capabilities in your airplane. If you don't, sooner or later, some guy who does use them all will kick your ass." - Lieutenant Dave "Preacher" Pace, USN

Block upgrades will improve certain aspects of the F-35's overall maneuverability over time. Block 6 improvements include propulsion upgrades (SOURCE 20 & 21). Possible upgrades could include thrust vectoring, supercruise and increased total thrust. However, Block 6 will not be operational until past 2017 (Block 3F operational 2017). Certain aspects of the F-35's maneuverability such as wing loading will likely remain high into the future unless aircraft weight can be greatly diminished or the wing area is increased (both are unlikely). Another factor to keep in mind is the F-35's usage of internal weapon bays. Most maneuverability statistics for aircraft are taken in a clean (no weapons) configuration. When weapons, fuel tanks, and targeting pods are added an aircraft, its drag and overall maneuverability characteristics are significantly affected. The F-35 will not suffer from these limitations. Overall, when the F-35's maneuverability characteristics are combined with other aspects of lethality (dogfight ability), it becomes clear the F-35 is deadlier than nearly all of its peers. 

Internal Missile Load Concerns (2)

Image 5: F-35 weapons bay test with inert AIM-120 missile. 

      Currently, the F-35's internal weapons bays can only accommodate a maximum of four air to air missiles.   Most fighter aircraft can carry at least eight air to air missiles. This is a major area of concern given the low probability kill (pk) of even the most advanced air to air missiles. It is highly probable that multiple shots will be required against single targets. Earlier models of the AIM-120 AMRAAM have a demonstrated combat pk of .46 (RAND, 2011) The limited pk of the AIM-120 is not due to engineering incompetence. Electronic counter measures, chaff, and basic fighter maneuvering have a combined effect of greatly reducing missile kill probability. Despite the advancement of missile guidance systems, the power and sophistication of jamming equipment has also increased over time. A reasonable pk estimation for the USAF's premier medium range air to air missile, the AIM-120D, is between 45-55% (my own estimation). The AIM-120D is the world's highest performance medium range air to air missile. The missile features a two way data link, improved pk qualities, greatly expanded kill envelope, supplementary GPS guidance system, and 50% greater range than its predecessor the AIM-120C-7 (Source 63). In particular, the immense range capability of the AIM-120D sets it apart from other high performance medium range air to air missiles like the MBDA Meteor. 
Range of advanced medium range air to air missiles (Sources 63-65)
AIM-120D 180 km; >97 nautical miles 
MBDA Meteor 100 km +; 60 nautical miles
Vympel R-77M-PD RVV-AE-PD (Povyshlenayya Dal'nost'): 148 km; 80 nautical miles (?) estimates vary

The main infrared (IR) guided missile for the USAF, the AIM-9, has a demonstrated combat pk of .23 in Desert Storm (RAND, 2010). Perfecting an IR seeker that can consistently distinguish between countermeasures (such as flares) and a jet engine has eluded U.S engineers for nearly a decade. The newest Sidewinder variant, the AIM-9X Block II, represents a quantum leap forward in capabilities. In addition to featuring a flare rejecting IR seeker, the AIM-9X design features thrust vectoring. (Raytheon, 2010) With these combination of features, the AIM-9X's pk against maneuvering IR counter measure equipped targets is greatly increased over traditional IR missiles. The pk of the AIM-9X against modern targets might be in between the .23 pk of the Gulf War and the demonstrated pk of AIM-9L (73%) during the Falklands War (Argentinians had inadequate IR countermeasures and little anti-missile training)

When utilized in conjunction with the F-35's HMD, the AIM-9X is capable of 90° off boresight shots. Off boresight capability allows the pilot to move his helmet mounted display (HMD) in the direction of the target, automatically gain lock on to the target, and the missile will quickly orient itself up to 90° away from the launch point in an attempt to intercept the target.

Image 6: Off-boresight demonstration of the Israeli Python 4 missile. The AIM-9X would look similar to the graphic above when off boresight capacity is utilized. Image courtesy of Defense Industry Daily. 

The AIM-9X Block II is capable of lock on after launch (LOAL) shots. With LOAL capacity, the pilot can fire a missile prior to acquiring the target. The AIM-9X Block II achieves LOAL through the use of the same data link capacity of the AIM-120D. The AIM-9X Block II also has a much longer maximum range when compared to other comparable IR missiles. As with the AIM-120D, the AIM-9X is the highest preforming missile of its class worldwide. Despite the AIM-9X's lethality, the current F-35 design still has a mediocre missile capacity. 

 To address these concerns, Lockheed Martin has undertaken two initiatives. Block four upgraded F-35's will feature an optimized weapon bay configuration. This will allow the F-35 to carry six medium range AIM-120D air to air missiles as opposed to merely four. (SOURCE 21) Unfortunately for Canada, the Canadian Air Force needs to order its F-35's by 2014 if it wants deliveries by 2019 to replace its CF-18's (Defense Industry Daily, 2013). Aircraft produced during 2014 will be of the low rate initial production (LRIP) 6 cycle and will be of the Block 3F standard. It is highly advisable for Canada to insist upon Block 4 capable CF-

Image 7: The top weapons bay is a rough visual approximation of how the optimized internal AIM-120 configuration of the Block 4 aircraft would likely look like (except no 2,000 lb bomb). Image courtesy of web forums, source 68. 

The second initiative to address the F-35's low missile capacity is a potentially revolutionary missile design nicknamed "CUDA". The Lockheed designed CUDA is a small radar guided missile that lacks a warhead. Instead, CUDA uses its high kinetic energy to kill its target. (Air Force Magazine, 2013) As a result, CUDA is much smaller than the conventional AIM-120D (about the size of a small diameter bomb). If fully laden with CUDA missiles, the F-35's internal missile capacity triples from four to twelve. 

Image 8: F-35 model on display at the Air Force Association Technology Expo in 2012. The CUDA fits in a small diameter bomb rack. Image Credit: Air Force Magazine, 2012.

Image 9: Close up of CUDA concept model provided by Lockheed Martin to the Aviationist 2012.

      Aside from the information discussed above, virtually no information has been released about CUDA due to the classified nature of aspects of its design e.g. use of advanced hit to kill technology. 

    "We are having some challenges getting information on Cuda cleared for public release...Cuda is a Lockheed Martin multi-role Hit-to-Kill (HTK) missile concept. Lockheed Martin has discussed the missile concept with the United States Air Force. The Cuda concept significantly increases the internal carriage capacity for 5th generation fighters (provides 2X to 3X capacity). Combat proven HTK  technology has been in the US Army for over a decade.  Bringing this proven HTK technology to the USAF will provide potentially transformational new capabilities and options for new CONOPS.” - Cheryl Amerine, Cuda POC at the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control

      If CUDA lives up to expectations, the missile could eliminate the F-35's missile deficiency altogether. The Canadian Government should request information regarding CUDA and its possible acquisition for the Canadian Air Force. 

Stealth & Survivability (2)

      Kopp frequently challenges the stealth designation of the F-35. He remains one of the few reputable sources to do so. In particular, Kopp argues that a potential area of concern stems from the curvature on the bottom of the fuselage. According to Kopp, these curves jeopardize the F-35's stealth performance. Upon further inspection, it is clear that the original X-35 prototype, F-22, F-117, and YF-23 feature these curves on the underside of the airframe. 

      Image 10: F-35A undergoing flight testing. Note the curves featured in the lower fuselage near the weapon bay doors. The EOTS sensor is also visible in this illustration. Look on the bottom of the F-35's nose.  

      However, the vast majority of analysts consider the F-35 to be an all aspect stealth aircraft. The F-35 design incorporates radar reduction methods, IR reduction, LPI radar, and stealthy communication systems. Radar reduction methods include: planform alignment designed flight surfaces, diverterless supersonic inlets, radar absorbent materials (RAM), and internal weapons bays.
      F-35 Lightening II rcs figures: front aspect rcs .0015m^2 (Global Security, 2013) , side and rear rcs .01m^2 (Air Power Australia, 2010) 

Kopp argues that export versions of the F-35 will likely not have the same degree of stealthiness as their American counterparts. Officially Lockheed Martin has not indicated publicly if export versions will feature less stealth. (Defense Technology, 2011) If Lockheed wanted to lower the stealth capabilities of export variants, it is likely they would modify the RAM coatings as opposed to the airframe itself. Stealth is already built into the F-35 airframe through various design techniques. It would be much less effort on behalf of Lockheed to apply lower quality RAM to export versions than to modify the airframe itself. The F-35 also employs a number of coatings to reduce its IR signature (David Axe, 2013). These could also be modified by Lockheed if it desires to do so. 

     A quick look review compiled by Defense Department experts listed ongoing concerns that have emerged since testing began. The publicly available version (SOURCE 30) omits a classified survivability issue. Bill Sweetman believes the omitted issue might relate to lower than expected stealth performance. At this point, only those within the Pentagon know for sure if the F-35's stealth has been compromised to any degree. Sweetman's assessment is certainly plausible.However, the report does state Lockheed is undertaking measures to address the classified issue. 

"The QLR team evaluated the classified concerns and determined that while program plans were in place to address those risks the aforementioned concerns with the HMD and aircraft maneuverability still held." -page 5 (SOURCE 30)

Overall, the F-35 still delivers a robust stealth performance. Vindication of the F-35's stealth design can be found in the new Chinese stealth fighters. Several of the same design features (e.g. diverterless supersonic inlets) are incorporated into the both the J-20 and J-31 design. After all, imitation is the sincerest form flattery.

Arguably the most important method of reducing an airframe's rcs, planform alignment, has been demonstrably incorporated into the F-35's design. Planform alignment is a proven technique to reduce an aircraft's radar cross section. The United States first perfected the technique in the Advanced Tactical Fighter competition during the 1990s. The result of the ATF was the YF-22 and YF-23 prototypes. 

Image 11: An example of planform alignment utilized in the F-35's design. Note how the vertical stabilizers and the fuselage slides are curved at the same angle. The resulting effect of planform alignment is the oriented flight surfaces of the aircraft shape and focus radar energy away from the source. In order to achieve all aspect stealth, all of the flight surfaces within the airframe must be utilized to this effect. (Image retrieved from above top secret forums, 2013)  

The secondary method many fighter aircraft use to detect targets is an IRST (Infrared Search and Track) system. The incorporation of this system has become increasingly standard among Russian built fighter aircraft. To mitigate the effectiveness of Russian IRST systems, the F-35 design employs a number of IR reduction design features. 

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

Image 12: F-35B rear. Note the sawtooth engine nozzle design to reduce radar returns. The IR protection on the rear of the aircraft is not as extensive as the Raptor. (David Axe, 2013) However, both the Russian Pak Fa and Chinese stealth fighters lack any IR protection of the engine nozzles. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin, 2011) 

The F-35 also employs a complex system of heat sinks to disperse heat generated from on board avionics and actuators into the fuel. (David Axe, 2013) The combination of these features greatly reduces the F-35's overall IR signature. In a similar manner to radar cross section, the F-35's IR signature is greatly reduced by still exists. Therefore, the detection range of an enemy's IRST system is diminished; it is still possible to track an F-35 with an IRST provided the IRST is close enough. German pilots reported claimed they were able to track the stealthy Raptor with their Eurofighter's IRST system from 50 km or 27 nautical miles away (The Aviationist, 2012). The reported maximum range of the Eurofighter's IRST is 100 km. (Defense Science Journal, 2007) Assuming the figure is accurate, IR reduction methods were clearly effective. The same principles should apply to the F-35. 

A third method for avoiding detection that the F-35 makes use of the multifunction advanced data link (MADL) system. Normal radio emissions would betray the F-35's location to the enemy. Older USAF data links are also vulnerable to enemy detection. MADL grants the F-35 the ability to communicate in high threat environments with one another, fellow F-22 pilots, the B-2 pilots, and to HQ. (USAF, 2010) The MADL is also employed by the B-2 Spirit (Not the F-22). 

Avionics & Sensors (2)


Apart from Stealth, the highly complex integrated avionic suite is the F-35's main selling point. In addition to the capable APG-81 AESA, the F-35 employs the Northrup Grumman built distributed aperture system (DAS). DAS greatly enhances the F-35's survivability and mission capability.  

"[The F-35's AN/AAQ-37 Electro-Optical Distributed Aperture System] comprises six fixed, wide-angle infrared cameras that constantly image the entire sphere around the F-35… and one of its functions is to provide imagery to the VSI helmet-mounted display… one of the DAS’ most interesting capabilities is that it can constantly track every aircraft in the sky, out to its maximum range… covers the within-visual-range envelope… it stares, never looking away from any target, and it has optical accuracy, with megapixel-class resolution…Moreover, DAS is expected to track with enough accuracy and tenacity to permit a safe high-off-boresight, lock-on-after-launch (LOAL) missile shot with any datalink-equipped missile. Indeed, Northrop Grumman’s DAS business development leader, Pete Bartos – who was part of the initial USAF JSF requirements team – says that this was basic to the F-35 design and the reason that it did not need maneuverability similar to the F-22. Rather than entering a turning fight at the merge, the F-35 barrels through and takes an over-the-shoulder defensive shot. As a Northrop Grumman video puts it, 'maneuvering is irrelevant'.” - Bill Sweetman retrieved via Defense Industry Daily, 2013


Another sophisticated sensor the F-35 uses is the electro-optical targeting system (EOTS). The EOTS sensor is the small glass done on the underside of the nose. The EOTS is shaped in such a way as to not compromise the F-35's stealth outline. 

"The Electro-Optical Targeting System is an affordable, high-performance, lightweight, multi-functional system for precision air-to-air and air-to-surface targeting. The low-drag, stealthy EOTS is integrated into the Joint Strike Fighter's fuselage with a durable sapphire window and is linked to the aircraft's integrated central computer through a high-speed fiber-optic interface…The EOTS uses a staring midwave 3rd generation FLIR that provides superior target detection and identification at greatly increased standoff ranges. EOTS also provides high-resolution imagery, automatic tracking, infrared-search-and-track, laser designation and rangefinding, and laser spot tracking. Sharing a Sniper legacy, it provides high reliability and efficient two-level maintenance." - Global Security, 2011


      Image 13: F-35 HMD (Image courtesy of source 85) 

      The F-35's HMD grants the pilot SRAAM (short range air to air missile) off boresight capabilities, night vision, and target tracking abilities. The F-35's HMD will be instrumental in its survival against highly maneuverable adversaries. The lethality of off boresight missile & HMD equipped 4.5 generation aircraft has already been demonstrated in mock dogfights. Unlike the F-35, the current Raptor design does not include an HMD. The importance of an HMD has been best illustrated by engagements between the highly maneuverable but HMD deficient Raptor vs. HMD equipped but less maneuverable adversaries. One Raptor pilot noted: 
      "Without a helmet, that means the missile will need a very tight cue from somewhere...[That's] something that is not always available in a dynamic, turning environment." - Flight Global, 2013

     Defense Industry Daily provided further insight into the thoughts of Raptor pilots:  
      "The pilots like the AIM-9X’s added range, which extends to beyond visual range levels when launched at supercruise speed, and its ability to lock-on after launch. The problem is that without an HMD like the JHMCS I/II on other USAF fighters, or the Thales (Gentex) Scorpion that equips A-10s and some Air National Guard F-16s, the pilots can’t take full advantage of the missile’s full targeting cone. It doesn’t help that AIM-9X Block II’s one cited deficiency is helmetless high off-boresight (HHOBS) performance, but a fix can be expected by 2017. The Raptor may be able to out-turn anyone, but an opponent with 30 degrees more sighting cone to work with doesn’t have to maneuver as hard." - Source 86

      The F-35's HMD, EOTS, and DAS systems ameliorate the F-35's maneuverability performance. As I have continually stressed in previous assessments, emerging technologies such as those listed above must be utilized in conjunction with proven techniques and technologies (e.g. maneuverability) for maximum operational effectiveness. In the event of a problem with the new technology or tactic, which often occurs in a real combat situation, the pilot will have a back-up plan to fall back to (maneuverability). In this sense, the F-35 does not incorporate this design philosophy. More information on this topic (link)

      Inspite of this deficiency, the combined effect of the F-35's sensor suite will provide the F-35 will high survivability and good dogfight performanceThe integration of an IRST will greatly aid F-35's pilots in finding the IR unprotected Russian and Chinese stealth aircraft. The F-35's combined avionic's suite is unmatched by any fighter aircraft in production today. In many respects the F-35's avionics are superior to the F-22's. The original Raptor design featured an electro-optical sensor but was removed as a cost saving measure. (Air Power Australia, 2012)

Lethality (Dogfight ability) vs. 4.5 Generation Opponents 

The combination of sensors, stealth, missile load (provided block 4 and CUDA), top of the line avionics, and tolerable maneuverability make the F-35 significantly more lethal than any 4.5 generation fighter. As discussed by in the previous report, 4th Generation Aircraft in the 21st Century, the majority of aircraft serving most non-western air forces will be 4th and 4.5 generation aircraft for at least two decades (with possible exception of China). Russia will only field 250 PAK FA 5th generation fighters. With delays and price increases, India cut its order of FGFA (Indian PAK FA variant) from 200 to 144 aircraft. Depending upon budgetary constraints, its plausible Russia will also be forced to reduce PAK FA procurement. The principle adversary of the F-35 will likely be the Su-35, Su-30MK, and J-10. Of the three, the Su-35 is arguably the most capable. Fourth generation threats the F-35 is likely to encounter will be discussed prior to probable 5th generation threats.

The Su-35 is an excellent 4.5 generation fighter, but it is simply outclassed by the F-35. Lets assume a pair of CF-35's and a pair of Su-35BM's engage one another around 2020. Both aircraft are armed with their standard air to air load outs and the CF-35 is of the block 3F standard. All figures from Air Power Australia, Global Security, and the RAND corporation (more details in the Notes section). The following is a plausible outcome:

      Two Canadian CF-35 are on a routine CAP (combat air patrol) mission over Northern Canada. American AWACS identifies two incoming hostile aircraft and provides intercept data. The Canadian pilots move to intercept while seamlessly sharing information and coordinating their efforts through MADL. The CF-35's AN/APG-81's radar detects the reduced radar cross section of two Su-35BM's at a range of around 75 nautical miles. The Lightning pilots use their APG-81 radar's to simultaneously jam and track the Su-35's radar while providing targeting data to AIM-120D missiles. With the use of low probability intercept modes, the Russian pilots do not know they are currently being targeted. The lead CF-35 fires both of its AIM-120D missiles at the incoming Su-35's. The Su-35's OLS-35 detects the IR signatures of the AIM-120D missiles at a range of around 27 nautical  miles. The Russian pilots turn into the missile, use their wingtip mounted L005 Sorbstiya ECM (electronic counter measure) pods, and deploying chaff. Both missiles fail. 

      One Russian pilot registers a pair of faint radar contacts 25 nautical miles (46.3km) away and sends the data to his wingman. The Russians move to intercept. Both Su-35's are fully laden with a deadly assortment of medium range radar guided and short range IR guided missiles. Both Russian pilots fire R-77 "Adder" missiles at the incoming unknown radar contacts. Shortly afterward, both Su-35 pilots identify the incoming aircraft as hostile CF-35's with their OLS-35 IRST system. 

      Both Canadian pilots are immediately alerted to the incoming threats by their DAS sensor. The incoming missiles are highlighted and displayed in real time to the helmet mounted display of the Canadian pilots. The Canadians use the APG-81 to jam the incoming missiles while simultaneously deploying chaff and turn into the missiles. Both missiles fail to hit their targets. Two new threats appear on the Canadian HMD's, R-73 IR guided missiles. The Canadians manage to ripple fire four CUDA missiles 15 nautical miles from the merge before deploying countermeasures. Once again, the F-35's stealth, EOTS, DAS, and HMD help the F-35's defeat the oncoming missiles. 

      One of the Russian pilots is lucky and manages to dodge both of the incoming CUDA missiles. His wingman only manages to dodge one. Despite the direct impact of the missile, the Su-35's tough titanium construction, foam filled internal fuel tanks, and back up systems allow the hit Su-35BM to stay aloft long enough for it to return to base. The remaining unscathed Su-35BM gets within visual range of the Canadians and proceeds to initiate the dogfight. The enemy aircraft pass one another in the merge and turn to face one another head on. 

      The highly maneuverable Flanker grants the Russian pilot many options. However, with their extensive training at Red Flag, the Canadian's know how to use their aircraft's advantages to their full effect while avoiding particular engagement openings that favor the Flanker (e.g. high speed turning fights). Using MADL, the Canadian's quickly decide upon a course of action. The Flanker's location is continuously tracked by the first Canadian's HMD as he acquires tone for his AIM-9X Sidewinder missile; he fires. Meanwhile, the second Canadian pilot accelerates and gains altitude to position himself for a gun kill.

      The Russian is immediately alerted to the incoming Sidewinder. His IRST tracks both the CF-35's and the incoming missile. He deploys flares and uses his superb maneuverability to try and escape the missile. The Sidewinder's seeker head rejects the IR emissions from the flares and proceeds to gain on the Flanker using its own thrust vectoring engine nozzle. The Sidewinder's explosive rod warhead detonates on the Flanker's number two engine and disables it. The Russian pilot panics and engages afterburner on his remaining engine in an effort to escape. The second Canadian pilot emerges from altitude and proceeds to fire a burst of 25mm PGU-38/U high explosive cannon rounds into the Flanker. The resulting fireball and shrapnel plummets towards the ice below. 

This scenario demonstrated the following key points: 

- limited pk. of missiles; high degree of survivability even 4.5 generation fighters have vs. missiles 
- Flanker design features high degree of durability 
- the high degree of technological superiority the F-35's sensors have over their Russian counterparts
- Fighter aircraft will still engage one another at visual range despite advancements in Stealth  
- importance of IRST
- the often unaddressed importance of pilot training and preparation. Russian fighter pilots have a mandatory requirement of 100 flight hours per year (SOURCE 40). Canadian pilots fly more than two hundred flight hours per year* and partake in extensive live fire training exercises with USAF pilots.  
- importance of not only radar reduction methods but also: IR reduction and stealthy coms
- importance of low probability intercept modes 
- Many accounts of real dogfights indicate inexperienced pilots often panic and try attempt to rtb (return to base) prematurely rather than assessing the situation in a calm manner. 

*Presumably the Canadian Air Force has similar standards to the USAF which has a 250-300 flight hours per year requirement for fighter pilots (SOURCE 41). No specific information regarding CAF flight hour requirements was found despite thorough research.

Lethality (Dogfight ability) vs. 5th Generation Opponents

The future export market for 5th generation aircraft will be dominated by American, Russian, and Chinese designs. A handful of other countries have plans for domestic 5th generation development programs but none (with the possible exception of India's advanced medium combat aircraft) will likely materialize into widely produced export designs. At the time of writing this article, three foreign stealth fighters have conducted flight testing: J-31, J-20 and PAK FA. 

The Chinese aerospace consortium, Avic, announced the J-31 would be available for export during the Zhuhai airshow. (Aviation Week, 2012) The J-31 will likely become the most widely produced 5th generation fighter developed outside of the United States. The primary reason will be cost. Chinese arms manufacturers have been able to routinely produce cheaper weapons than their Russian counterparts (though quality of certain systems is questionable). Ten to Fifteen years from now (2023-2028), the J-31 will be an attractive acquisition for developing nations without the necessary diplomatic or military ties to the United States. Avic has unofficially announced the J-31 will be an export only aircraft and consequently not serve in the People's Liberation Army Air Force. (Aviation Week, 2012) With the limited information available, it is difficult to confirm Aviation Week's claim. Typically, China procures both a heavy and light fighter design for the PLAAF. The J-20 is undoubtedly the heavy fighter design. 

“In traditional PLA thinking, there has always been a necessity for ‘light’ plus ‘heavy’ in terms of equipment.” - Gary Li, 2012

Any production number would be speculative at this point. It is plausible for China produce 300-500 J-31's between 2020-2035 provided domestic production of jet engines and internal systems becomes viable. 

Operational effectiveness will be higher than current or upgraded fourth-generation fighters or almost equivalent to typical fifth-generation” - Avic 

Reliable information about the internal systems and avionics of the Chinese stealth fighter is scarce. The number of unknowns makes a more comprehensive analysis difficult. The sophistication of advanced avionic systems and software is a likely a major impediment to the development of the J-31. China's previous attempts at manufacturing fighter radars have yielded mixed results. The current domestically produced J-10 features a radar that delivers comparable performance to U.S. F-15 radars produced during the early 1990s (Sinodefense, 2010). Constructing a high power and LPI capable AESA is a daunting task. Furthermore,the small space within the J-31's nose will limit the J-31's radar TR module capacity (meaning a reduction in detection power). The U.S. maintains a critical edge in AESA technology over China and to a lesser degree, Russia. Both the J-31 and J-20 will certainly feature AESA radars, but they will not be as capable as the APG-81 or APG-77. 

Similarly, Chinese aerospace firms have been unable to produce reliable high compression ratio turbofan engines. As a result, both the J-31 and J-20 are under powered. The current J-31 prototype uses Russian built RD-93 engines which produce 19,000 lbf of thrust. (Aviation Week, 2012) The J-31's incorporation of two engines will mitigate some of the risks resulting from lower reliability and lower performance engines. Chinese aerospace firms, e.g. Aviation Industry Corp. of China, are projected to invest $24 billion into jet engine development by 2015 (The Diplomat, 2012). Over the next twenty years, some engine development estimates are as high as $49 billion. (Reuters, 2012) It is probable that within a decade to fifteen years China will come close to bridging the gap with the United States in terms of jet engine technology (especially if U.S Government R&D continues to suffer). 

Image 16: The J-31 airframe bears a remarkable degree of similarity to the F-35. Consequently, the J-31 might suffer from the same high wing loading and low sustained radius turn ability. Avic claims the J-31 has a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 and has a combat radius of 675 nautical miles or 1250 km. (Image Credit: Defense 

The degree of stealth featured on Chinese stealth fighters is of a lower quality than the F-35. Unlike the F-35, neither the J-31 nor the J-20 is an all aspect stealth design. The J-31's lack of both rcs reduction and IR protection on the engine nozzles makes it especially vulnerable (likely that final design will feature sawtooth engine nozzles similar to the J-20 for rcs reduction). The United States maintains a considerable edge in the manufacturing of high quality low maintenance RAM coatings (Air Power Australia, 2011). The F-35 will be stealthier, feature more powerful avionics, deliver comparable levels of maneuverability, and carry deadlier weaponry than its Chinese competitors. Overall, the F-35 delivers a robust performance against existing Chinese stealth fighter designs.  

For more information on the J-31, view the J-31 threat report part I article  (link)
For more information on the J-20, refer to the J-20 threat analysis  (link) article 

Unlike its Chinese counterparts, Russian aerospace firms have consistently demonstrated their ability to produce reliable high quality avionic components, jet engines, and weapon systems. 

"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)...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." - Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters Part II, Mangler Muldoon, 2011

The PAK FA is the culmination of the Russian aerospace industry's best systems and components. The PAK FA represents a credible threat against the F-35. The PAK FA is stealthy enough to reach visual range engagements against the F-35. The F-35 will have a very narrow window in which it can detect the PAK FA without being detected in return by the PAK FA. Most estimations put the frontal rcs of the PAK FA at .01m^2 or -20 dBSM. The following is from Air Power Australia. 

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

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

Once the PAK FA is within visual range, it will use its superior maneuverability to defeat the F-35. However, the PAK FA is not invulnerable. The current PAK FA design lacks both rcs and IR protection in the rear as the engine nozzles are completely exposed. American engineers also have more experience in designing sophisticated techniques used to liquid cool AESA radars. Without a reliable liquid cooling system, the on board AESA will generate high levels of heat. These design features will make it easier for the F-35's IRST will to spot the PAK FA from longer ranges. 

"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

Image 17: PAK FA rear. Note the lack of protection on the engine nozzles.

Despite the F-35's lower TR module count, the APG-81 will almost certainly have superior LPI mode capability than the PAK FA's radar. The F-35 will likely detect the emissions originating from the PAK FA radar. In a series of tests, the F-35's APG-81 radar was able to jam and track the F-22's highly capable APG-77 LPI enabled radar. Given these test results, its more than plausible for the F-35 to jam and track the PAK FA as well.

"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

Although the F-35's sensors are superior to the PAK FA, the F-35 is still vulnerable to the PAK FA. However, the 4.5 generation alternatives to the F-35 are (to use the technical term) toast when compared to the PAK FA. The best option for Canada is to train F-35 pilots against friendly F-22's in an effort to boost their 5th gen vs. 5th gen fighting abilities. The PAK FA and Raptor have similar levels of maneuverability performance. With superior pilots, more capable missiles, and more advanced avionics it is certainly possible for a CF-35 force to defeat a force of PAK FA's. But the PAK FA will retain the advantage and CF-35 casualties will be nearly guaranteed if the PAK FA's are flown by capable pilots. The unavoidable reality is the F-35 is the most capable Western fighter available for export. Unless Canada can pressure the U.S Government to allow F-22 exports, the CF-35 will have to do.

For a much more detailed report on the PAK FA, refer to the Pak Fa threat analysis (link) article. 

Lethality Summary

In summary, the lethality of the F-35 ("aggregate dog fighting ability") is superior to that of its 4.5 generation competitors. The F-35 design is inferior in many aspects of maneuverability performance when compared to the premier 4.5 generation designs e.g. Eurofighter Typhoon. However, the maneuverability performance is not so low as to jeopardize the F-35's dog fighting prowess when other factors are included. As with all other fighter aircraft, pilots will learn to capitalize on the relative strengths of their aircraft and employ tactics that mitigate the relative weakness of their aircraft. Dave Majumdar explains how the F-35 will deal with more maneuverable opponents. 

"Pilots will have to make extensive use of the F-35's stealth characteristics and sensors to compensate for performance areas where the jet has weaknesses, sources familiar with the aircraft say. But engagement zones and maneuvering ranges will most likely be driven even further out against the most dangerous surface-to-air threats. In an air-to-air engagement, for example, tactics would have to be developed to emphasize stealth and beyond visual range (BVR) combat. If a visual range engagement is unavoidable, every effort would have to be taken to enter the 'merge' from a position of advantage, which should be possible, given the F-35's stealth characteristics. Once engaged within visual range, given the F-35's limitations and relative strengths, turning should be minimized in favor of using the jet's Northrop Grumman AAQ-37 distributed aperture system of infrared cameras, helmet-mounted display and high off-boresight missiles to engage the enemy aircraft. If a turning fight is unavoidable, the F-35 has good instantaneous turn performance and good high angle of attack (50°AOA limit) performance comparable to a Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, which means a similar strategy could be adopted if one finds him or herself in such a situation."    

The F-35 will be able to engage future Chinese stealth aircraft on favorable terms. The greatest concern to the F-35 will be the PAK FA which can more easily reach visual range combat with the F-35 than other potential adversaries. The F-35 is vulnerable to the PAK FA but not helpless. Pilot training and intelligence information will be needed to effectively combat the PAK FA without higher than acceptable JSF losses.

Penetration of an Enemy IADS (3)

      The future IADS of most non-western nation’s will largely be composed of the S-300 system. Currently, most developing world nations operate the S-200 and HAWK SAM systems. Operating and maintain a SAM system is much cheaper and less technically demanding than assembling an air force. Kopp challenges the F-35's effectiveness against SAM systems (especially the S-400).  

      Kopp's concerns are partially justified. The reason why the S-400 SAM system is a potential risk to the F-35 is due to its use of VHF radars. The physics behind the Raleigh scattering regime is very complicated. For the sake of brevity, the key ability of VHF radars is their improved capability to detect very low observable targets (e.g. stealth aircraft). Only very large stealth aircraft like the B-2 can effectively operate without risk of VHF array detection for sustained periods (Air Power Australia, 2012). 

      "Low band radars are not a panacea for the defeat of VLO (Very Low Observable) aircraft. Their angular accuracy has been until recently poor, and the required antenna size results in ungainly systems which are usually slow to deploy and stow, even if designed from the outset for mobility. The size and high power emissions of these radars, in types with limited mobility, makes them much easier to detect and destroy than typical mobile systems operating in the decimetric and centimetric bands, which can relocate rapidly after a missile shot." - Air Power Australia, 2012

      The consensus among analysts is VHF radar has the potential to detect stealth aircraft but operationally  it is less than practical  On a best case scenario the VHF array's within the S-400 system would provide a type of early warning. In the worst case senario, VHF radars could be used to help the S-400 missiles home in on low observable targets with the use of a mid-course uplink system. However, the mid course uplink could be jammed fairly easily to reduce its effectiveness. If the mid course uplink system is jammed, the missile will have a much more difficult time finding the target or won't be able to find it at all. 
      Furthermore no nation aside from Russia has plans to acquire it (China has indicated it desires the S-400 but a deal is unlikely due to Russian concerns of intellectual property violation). The primary operator, Russia, does not field a large number of S-400 batteries. China might field a comparable system to the S-400 a decade from now. Only the very best equipped militaries (S-400 comparable standard or above) will pose any risk to the F-35. While Kopps argument concerning the risk of VHF radars is legitimate, his arguments concerning the F-35's low stealth performance in other radar bands is largely mistaken. The F-35 design is optimized to provide protection from the X and S bands which are the primary frequencies used by both fighter aircraft and SAM systems.  

     Kopp does not believe the F-35 low observability characteristics are sufficient for it to penetrate the defenses of S-300 guarded airspace. The size of the rear aspect determines how far the stealth aircraft can fly into enemy airspace and leave safely. The rear aspect of a stealth aircraft is almost always larger than its front aspect. A reasonable estimation of the F-35's rear rcs is .01m^2 (Air Power Australia, 2012). Furthermore, in his scenario depicted below, the F-35 utilizes the comparability short range SDB instead of the AGM-154 JSOW (Joint Standoff Weapon). The use of the SDB is inaccurate as one always prefers to minimize the time a SAM radar can track the aircraft (e.g. stay farther away). Furthermore, Canada has yet to acquire the SDB system (unlike the JSOW). 

    Graphic 2: All credit and ownership to Air Power Australia 

      In Kopp's graphic, the F-35 gets destroyed even in the best case scenario while using an SDB II against the S-300 site. Once again, the use of the SDB II is the reason why the F-35 is intercepted. The AGM-154 JSOW has a standoff range of approximately 70 nautical miles (Raytheon, 2013) vs the APA cited 40 nautical mile SDB II range (SDB I has 60 nautical miles range). The image below shows the detection ranges of the various X band based radars in the S-300 system in addition to some PLA array designs. One of the most capable X band arrays used in the S-300 system is the 30N61E1 "Tomb Stone" engagement radar. (Note: The NATO reporting name SA-20 denotes S-300, SA-21 indicates the S-400 system) 

   Graphic 3: X-band radar arrays utilized by Russia and China. All credit and ownership to Air Power Australia 

      Even the high power Tomb stone and the improved 92N61 used in the S-400 system cannot detect the rear aspect of the F-35 at the 70 nautical mile stand off range. Along the X axis, it is clear that at point .01m^2, the F-35 is undetectable. The JSOW allows the F-35 to comfortably destroy the S-300 and S-400 (X band) arrays with a safe zone approximately between 45-70 nautical miles. The F-35 can even use the SDB I to destroy the array provided the cited Boeing figures are accurate

      Image 18: The AGM-154 JSOW is a long range GPS guided glide bomb. The F-35 can accommodate two AGM-154 bombs internally in addition to two air to air missiles. In a mission to disable enemy air defenses, some F-35's would carry the JSOW while others would provide escort with a full load of air to air missiles. 

      The F-35 provides the highest degree of survivability of any export fighter on the market today. Any possible 4.5 generation alternative to the F-35 (e.g. JAS 39 Gripen, F/A-18E, Eurofighter, etc.) would stand a demonstrably lower chance of penetrating an advanced IADS when compared to the F-35. Even with both the following factors: lower stealth characteristics due to export variant and lingering stealth performance concerns considered, the F-35 would have an rcs that is an entire order of magnitude smaller than its 4.5 generation counterparts. Despite the inclusion of a reduced radar cross sections and electronic counter measure pods into many 4.5 generation designs, upgraded derivatives of the S-300 will easily track and intercept a force of non-stealth targets. The inclusion of wing mounted weapons will eliminate much of the advantage gained from a reduced radar cross section. Hence the use of internal bays on true stealth aircraft. For example, if a Eurofighter was sent to destroy a S-400 site (frontal rcs of 1m^2) it would have to: dart from ~130-70 nautical miles, release its payload, and then fly the gauntlet of 70-130+ nautical miles again (rear rcs is larger) to return home. Even with the usage of dedicated SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) aircraft, 4.5 generation fighters will not have a high chance of returning home in a S-300 and S-400 guarded airspace.  

      If an adversary operates a VHF equipped S-400 or comparable system, stealthier American assistance in the form of B-2’s, F-22’s, and the next generation bomber will be provided to destroy the S-400 or S-500 missile sites. Canada can rest assured knowing it will receive American aid in a time of war. In summary,the export F-35 can deal with the S-200, S-300, and elements of the S-400. Usage of an on-board jamming system can potentially deny the usage of a mid-course uplink system. This will further increase the F-35s survivability against the S-400 system. The few S-400 and S-500 sites will likely be targeted by American forces. 

Survivability & Air to Ground 

    Image 19: F-35 number AA-1 undergoing live fire testing at the China lake facility. (Image Credit:Joint Aircraft Survivability Office)

      The F-35's survivability in a close air support role is currently jeopardized. In a stunning display of foresight and wisdom, Lockheed Martin decided “to trim 11 pounds and $1.4 million from each aircraft by removing shutoff valves for engine coolant and hydraulic lines and five of six dry bay fire-suppression systems”. These changes will render the F-35 incredibly vulnerable to fire related damage. Any sensible cost benefit analysis of this measure indicates that keeping the shutoff valves and fire suppression systems is well worth the 1.4 million dollar cost. The the Joint Aircraft Survivability Office conducted a series of tests and concluded fire was the most hazardous risk to the F-35. 

"ballistic testing was conducted on AA-1 from October 2010 to September 2011. A total of 25 ballistic tests were completed. during 16 of these tests the aircraft was in a FUSL configuration: engine on, aircraft operating on internal power. Threats in the test program included surface to air warhead fragments, armor piercing projectiles, high explosive projectiles, and a MANPAd…The FUSL testing conducted on AA-1 was very successful meeting all defined test objectives and success criteria. Addressing synergistic effects, the electrical power and flight control systems successfully isolated failures and protected the redundancies built into these systems, allowing continued safe flight. The VSN architecture is robust, providing multiple paths to transfer data. Testing highlighted that fire is a significant threat to flight critical systems. The test team was able to verify that the actual ballistic damage response correlated very well to previous pilot in the loop simulator testing. Over the course of the test program, the LFT team witnessed firsthand the robustness of the F35 flight critical systems, no cheap system kills." - Joint Aircraft Survivability Office

Aside from fire concerns, the F-35 design preformed well according to the Joint Aircraft Survivability Office. The F-35 design features redundant actuators,back up power modes and the VSN (vehicle system network). If the VSN software detects damaged components it will reconfigure communication with other components on either side of the damaged area to insure continual operation of the aircraft. No further updates on the re installation of the shutoff valves has occurred since the initial announcement last year. It is likely pragmatism will succeed and the shutoff valves will be re-installed. Provided this occurs, the F-35 provides excellent survivability against a wide variety of threats including ground based cannon fire.
 The F-35 should be able to deliver an excellent COIN performance. Accurate delivery of air to ground based munitions is a task the F-35’s excels in. The F-35’s design philosophy puts a slightly greater emphasis on air to ground missions than air to air missions. Due to its planned widespread use, the F-35 is able to accommodate nearly every aircraft mountable munition in the Western arsenal from the stealthy naval strike missile to the small diameter bomb (SDM). The F-35 can carry 12  SDM internally. This grants the F-35 the ability to destroy more targets that nearly any other strike fighter. In COIN operations, stealth is less of a priority. This allows the F-35 to utilize its full 18,000 lb (8,100 kg) payload capacity

Image 20: Full list of F-35 weapons with exception of CUDA and Naval Strike Missile.
Image 21: The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is a high performance low observable anti-ship missile (below). The F-35 can carry two NSM internally.

PART II: Canada's Alternatives  

Although Canada has no plans to purchase 4.5 generation aircraft at this time, many opponents of the CF-35 program have advocated for the purchase of one of the following: JAS 39 Gripen NG, Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, F-15SE, and the F/A-18E Super Hornet. Each of the 4.5 generation alternatives will be briefly described in terms of benefits and disadvantages in relation to the CF-35. These aircraft are among the highest quality 4.5 generation fighter designs available to Western air forces. 

Saab JAS 39 NG Gripen 

The JAS 39 Gripen is a world class single engine 4.5 generation aircraft initially developed to replace Sweden's Saab-35 and Saab-37. The Gripen is one of the earliest examples of a 4.5 generation fighter and is in active service with the South African Air Force, Swedish Air Force, Czech Air Force, Hungarian Air Force, and the Royal Thailand Air Force. A proposed variant of the Gripen, the JAS 39E or next generation Gripen (NG), has been ordered by the Swiss Government. The first deliveries of the JAS 39 NG will occur in 2018 (Flight Global, 2013) 
Advantages : 

Although the JAS 39 is maneuverable and can carry a wide assortment of capable weapons, the main allure the Gripen has over its competitors is its low cost. Most comparable Western 4.5 generation fighters cost between the $60-120+ million. The Gripen costs between 40-60 million depending on the variant. (Defense Industry Daily, 2013) The Gripen also has substantially lower operating costs than its peers. The author estimates Jas 39 NG will cost between 75-80 million dollars.

Disadvantages: The principle disadvantage of the JAS 39 is its lack of stealth. Despite the Gripen's reduced radar cross section and electronic countermeasures, the Gripen would be unable to penetrate an IADS equipped with the S-300 SAM system. This would make Canada dependent on the stealth capabilities of other NATO allies. Furthermore, Canada is set to retire its fleet of CF-18's by 2019. Its not clear if Saab has the manufacturing capacity to deliver a sizable order of JAS 39 NG aircraft by 2019 given the prioritization of the Swiss and Swedish orders. The Swedish Air Force will not receive its first next generation Gripens until 2023. Canada could order an older variant of the Gripen at the cost of much reduced capabilities. The current Gipen features an ESA radar and only 8 weapon pylons.

 Dasualt Rafale F3

Background:  “It all began as a 1985 break-away from the multinational consortium that went to create EADS’ Eurofighter. The French needed a lighter aircraft that was suitable for carrier use, and were reportedly unwilling to cede design authority over the project. As is so often true of French defense procurement policy, the choice cane down to one of paying additional costs for full independence and exact needs, or loosing key industrial capabilities by partnering or buying abroad. France had generally opted for expensive but independent defense choices, and the Rafale was no exception.“(Defense Industry Daily, 2012)

Advantages: Of all the European 4.5 generation designs, the Rafale is arguably the most combat tested. French Rafales participated in both Operation Unified Protector and ongoing operations in Mali. The reduced radar cross section and sophisticated SPECTRA electronic counter measure systems gives the Rafale superior survivability when compared to legacy 4th generation aircraft.

Disadvantages: The Rafale is not substantially cheaper than the F-35. The unit cost of the Rafale is in the $90-120 million range depending on the variant. (Source 73) The Rafale costs slightly less than the Eurofighter but it costs significantly more than cheaper 4.5 generation aircraft like the Gipen or F/A-18E.  Overall, its performance characteristics are arguably slightly lower than the Eurofighter. Thus, the Rafale performance and price effectively puts it in a void. Rich gulf states opt to pick the Eurofighter as they have the necessary funds. Budget tight air forces prefer cheaper 4.5 generation alternatives. Dassault has yet to secure a contract for Rafale exports. The Rafale's victory over the Eurofighter in the MMCRA is questionable. Many observers believe Dassualt low balled its price estimations at the last minute. Ongoing Indian investigations have effectively put the MMRCA on hold.
Another point of concern is avionics. The EU is behind the United States in terms of AESA radar technology. The first Thales built AESA (RBE2-AA AESA) was recently equipped to operation squadrons last year. As with the Gipen, the Rafale will not fare well against the S-300 SAM system. In Libya French forces were dependent upon U.S stealth bombers and cruise missiles to destroy enemy S-200 sites before engaging their own targets.  Another concern is a Canadian Rafale would have to undergo modifications to carry U.S made munitions as it is currently in cable of carrying much of Canada's existing stocks of weapons.

For a more detailed look at the Rafale, refer to the MMRCA article

Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 3A

Background: "The multi-national Eurofighter Typhoon has been described as the aerodynamic apotheosis of lessons learned from the twin engine 'teen series' fighters" - Defense Industry Daily, 2013

 Advantages: The Eurofighter consortium set out to design an indigenous 4.5 generation design to fulfill the needs of European air forces. If dogfighting ability was the sole performance qualifier, the Eurofighter would rank within the top two spots on this list of 4.5 generation aircraft. The Eurofighter delivers superb maneuverability and handling characteristics. The Eurofighter Tranche 3A features a highly capable IRST and HMD system. Although the Metor does not have the range of the AIM-120D, it is cheaper and still delivers high performance.

Disadvantages: The Eurofighter Typhoon is not significantly cheaper than the F-35. The price of the Tranche 3A version is around $130 million. The current Tranche 3A version does not feature an AESA radar. Plans to upgrade the Eurofighter with AESA array's are underway but the retrofit will be costly. As stated previously, the EU does not have the same level of experience in designing AESA arrays. During Operation Unified Protector (Odyssey Dawn) RAF Eurofighters had to wait until American stealth bombers and cruise missiles neutralized the Libyan IADS before executing their strike missions.

Boeing F-15SE

Background: The F-15SE is the latest variant in the evolution of the most successful fighter aircraft since World War II. The F-15 boasts an exceptional 104-0 kill ratio, the highest of any fighter aircraft in history. The F-15 inspired an entire generation of aircraft and became the world standard in maneuverability, lethality and advanced avionics. The proposed F-15SE design is a heavily modified version of the F-15E strike eagle. Boeing has submitted the F-15SE as a contender in the $7.3 billion dollar KX-III competition against the F-35 and Eurofighter.  

Advantages: Of all the 4.5 generation aircraft on the list, the F-15SE arguably delivers the best performance. The Silent Eagle's unique frontal stealth ability will greatly increase its survivability against both other aircraft and to some extent enemy air defense systems. A beneficiary side effect of the usage of internal weapons bays is greatly reduced drag. In a clean configuration, the standard F-15E is described by pilots as a "monster". Another pilot remarked the clean configuration F-15E can even give the Raptor a run for its money (Flight Global, 2011) The F-15SE will carry the most powerful fighter radar in the world (not including the F-22), the 1,500 TR element APG-63 (V)4 (APG-82) AESA radar. The APG-82 will greatly aid the F-15SE in detecting low observable targets like the PAK FA. The United States plans to use the F-15E in conjunction with the Raptor. The APG-82 will spot targets for the Raptors while they remain nearly undetectable and approach their targets with their radars turned off. (Danger Room, 2011) F-15SE will also be equipped with a third generation IRST and helmet mounted cueing system. Arguably the greatest asset of the F-15SE is its immense payload capacity: up to 23,000 lb (10,454.5 kg). F-15E series also has an incredible unrefueled combat radius of 1,000  nautical miles (1,800 km)

Disadvantages: It is important to note the stealth qualities of the F-15SE only pertain to the front aspect of the aircraft. It is more accurate to describe the aircraft as low observable rather than as a stealth aircraft.  From the rear and side aspects the F-15SE is vulnerable to detection. Furthermore, the F-15SE does not feature IR reduction methods in its design. Boeing claims "the F-15SE will offer a degree of stealth in the early days of a conflict through the use of conformal weapons bays. These can be removed after enemy air defenses have been suppressed" - (Flight Global, 2012). An aircraft's ability to enter an airspace protected by SAM's is determined by its rear rcs which is almost always larger than other aspects of the aircraft. The aircraft has to be able to get within weapons range, deliver its payload and leave safely. The unprotected rear of the F-15SE means it would be unable to penetrate deep into an enemy's country equipped with the S-300 without assistance from other assets. Furthermore, In its low observable configuration, the F-15SE can only carry four air to air missiles internally. However, this is off set by the F-15SE's excellent maneuverability. The performance of the F-15SE comes at a cost, upwards of at least $100 million (for standard F-15E variant). The F-15SE is likely in the $125-130+ million dollar range. Aside from a mock up and standard F-15E demonstrator with internal weapon bay doors, no actual physical prototype of the F-15SE exists as of yet. 

Boeing F/A-18E, F/A-18F, EA-18G

F/A-18E Block II shown in India 

Advantages: The F/A-18E offers a high level performance at an affordable unit cost of $79.5 million. Integration of the Super Hornet from the CF-18 would be less challenging than other aircraft on the list. The Super Hornet features a reduced radar cross section, AESA radar, high weapons payload (17,750 lb or 8,668 kg), joint helmet mounted cueing system, and good maneuverability  Block II upgrades will built upon the Super Hornet's already impressive capabilities. Proposed Block II upgrades during the MMRCA included the integration of an internal IRST system, more powerful engines, conformal fuel tanks, and a minimal drag stealth pod. Many regard the F/A-18E as the most formidable challenger to the CF-35 acquisition program. 

Disadvantages: As with the other 4.5 generation designs, the F/A-18E is not stealth. With the inclusion of the stealth pod, the frontal rcs of the Super Hornet is likely around 1m^2. However, its rear rcs remains vulnerable. Furthermore, the stealth pod's internal capacity is low.