Most F-35 technologies will be added to existing fighters
The F-35 is at the forefront of avionics, but its slow gestation will mean others will harvest the research that led to this technology. Other than its claimed ‘stealth’, all of its key technologies will, if they prove effective, be integrated onto other aircraft. The technology race is an odd one, where neither pioneers or the military have an advantage.
Never be the pioneer. The Eurofighter Typhoon pioneered voice control interface for fighter pilots and now, after spending millions achieving it, has a system way less advanced than the Siri on your iPhone. The large touch screen display which has cost a fortune to develop for the F-35 has also taken so long to develop that it is technologically behind the systems used by high-end graphic designers. The idea so beloved of Hollywood films that the military has secret technologies years ahead of consumers like you is not true. Military project contractors (at least in the US and Europe) make more money if their programmes run slowly, and they are also free to escalate the cost as they wish. Producers of high street merchandise still exist in a real state of free market capitalism and must produce things as quickly and economically as possible, and in many ways are light years ahead of the military.
Outside of this, there is also the situation regarding how pioneering technologies, despite what may be stated, are not tied to particular aircraft models. The F-35 is an interesting case in point, despite claims by Lockheed Martin that all rival fighters are obsolete – which of the F-35’s key technologies could not be added to conventional, and higher performance, airframes? Its innovative cockpit display? No, as the Gripen NG which is about to fly will have one as good. The situational awareness derived from its computing power? Moore’s law is seemingly unstoppable, so it seems unlikely that it would be difficult to equal or surpass this in a few years time (the fast jets with the greatest computing power are the latest iterations of the F-15) . Its radar stealth? This is its strongest card, but in most likely situations the carriage of cruise missiles by a conventional aircraft would create a similar level of survivability. The role of stealth in air-to-air combat remains a complete unknown, as no LO or stealth aircraft has ever fought in air-to-air combat. Working through the F-35’s shopping list of unique features reveals that the most of these aspects could be fitted to fourth generation platforms which have superior reliability, and therefore, sortie rates. The F-35’s much-vaunted lead in connectivity via datalinks will also be challenged rather soon by the Gripen NG.
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By the time this gold plated money pit gets in to full service it will be as obsolete as a Sopwith Camel. For a few thousand you could bolt a small bomb or missile and a GPS on to a commercial drone and have a cheap device that will do most things an F35 could do. I dont know how many cheap disposable drones you could build for one F35 but you could fill the skies over IS territory with them and make it impossible for the lunatics to move.
Which is why military contractors need to he held to their bids at gunpoint. Right now their initial bids are ALWAYS unrealistically low, because they know they can get away with raising it indefinitely. Make them live up to their bids and you’ll abruptly see them bid REALISTICALLY and tell us how much they expect their project actually will cost!
There is a key area where the Gripen E is ahead of the F35, the partition of its software into two virtual machines; one which is safety critical software like the FBW, GCAS, Navigation/Landing, ADS-B, etc. This is a slowly evolving software stack as should be, it has to be tested ad infinitum before release. The other virtual machine contains the tactical applications. these can move at a fast pace, you talk about a tactical app environment where customer air forces can develop their own tactical software at a pace which is compatible with tactical doctrine development. To my knowledge, the F35 hasn’t this critical partition of its huge software stack (as has no other fighter besides Gripen E/F alias NG).