Category: News, Analysis and Opinion

Is it time for a low-cost stealth fighter? Why air arms won’t see sense


Bill Sweetman, an aviation reporter renowned for his good sense recently noted that the latest, hideously over-priced generation of fighters typified by the F-35, mean that modern air forces will have to face up to the fact that they won’t be able to do all that they could twenty years ago.

As air forces prepare for the worst and order fighters for World War 3 in numbers too small to win World War I, many are beginning to question the sense of aircraft that cost more than $150 million to buy.

The marketeers of military aircraft love to re-enforce the notion of an unpredictable world that requires the purchase of super hi-tech aircraft. But maybe it’s time to look at what is sensible. The world has always been unpredictable; the post-‘Cold War’ is no more unpredictable than the 1950s, despite claims to the contrary. Considering that the most popular prediction of the Cold War was all out war between the super-powers, the post Cold War, is if anything, more predictable. The oft-cited example of the Falklands War as an example of unpredictably bolstering large military procurements is disingenuous.

These equations also imagine a passive relationship between military capability and foreign policy. They ignore how a nation’s military equipment informs its foreign policy: the US, with its fantastically capable military is more likely to invade a medium-sized nation than is the Principality of Sealand. If Sealand bought 1800 ‘Flanker’s it may be a little more feisty.

With this in mind, what can air arms actually afford?

furtmrf3One of the projects that led directly to the F-35 was the Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter. Though ‘affordable’ is a blatantly meaningless term, this is a good illustration of how the development time of modern fighters makes a mockery of the idea of a ‘low-cost’ fighter. The typical time from conception to operational service is today about 20 years. Maintaining ‘affordability’ over such a long time is probably impossible.

This gives more frugal air arms three options. The first is to upgrade existing airframes. The advantages of this are that if handled well it is relatively easy and cheap. A 1970s-designed airframe is likely to have similar performance to a modern fighter in many respects (top speed, range, low-speed agility, weapons-compatibility), where an old airframe fails is in the fields of safety, maintainability and, if you’re so inclined, stealth. Many air forces are getting excellent service out of vintage designs like the F-16 and ‘Flanker’ series.

The second option is to buy a light fighter. Saab’s Gripen is currently the world’s best light fighter. Other aircraft in its category include the endlessly postponed Tejas from India and the Chinese/Pakistani JF-17. It is easy to criticise the Tejas, an aircraft inferior to Gripen in almost every respect until its origin is looked at. India’s last indigenous fighter was designed by Kurt Tank! The Tejas is an incredible achievement, and a big stepping stone for India’s technological progress. It would be a brave observer that would guess Sweden will retain its technological lead over India in aviation in 2040.

The third option for the tighter-pursed air arms is to look for fighters with a few miles on the clock. Second-hand Typhoons are an appealing option, certainly in terms of ‘bangs for your bucks’, but many looking at this option are wondering how cheap supporting such a fleet, in terms of parts and maintenance would be. ‘Vertical’ cuts in the USAF inventory would see entire fleets of particular types retired. Hints of which types are most vulnerable to these slashing cuts have mentioned that single-purpose aircraft are in the cross-hairs. In terms of fast jets this could mean the killing of the F-15C. Considering USAF’s lack of Air Superiority fighters, thanks to the great price of the F-22, this seems unlikely. If it did happen it would push around 200 F-15C/D airframes onto the market at bargain-basement prices. They would need comprehensive refurbishment in some cases though, so the cost advantage over ‘Flanker’s would come into question.


So what is the best way?

The JF-17 is hardly the most capable fighter in the world, but it may point the way forward. Compared to other fighters in production, it is cheap. Its performance is fine. A ‘silent’ JF-17 is the kind of fighter that air forces want. The first nation to produce an affordable, exportable fighter of this kind could be in a very strong position. The closest aircraft to meeting this need could be the J-10B or perhaps the J-31, if it’s price is kept in check. With rumours of a smaller aircraft based on the aerodynamic configuration of PAK FA, perhaps MiG RAC ( a weak and endangered company) could produce the aircraft air arms actually need.


In keeping a future fighter aircraft cheap and capable, there are lessons to be learned. The first is to avoid multi-national collaboration, which though it may decrease the chance of cancellation invariably increases the project costs by an enormous factor. The second is to cut development time; 20 years is too long. The third, and perhaps hardest lesson is to be realistic.

Sadly, none of these lessons will be taken onboard for the next generation of Western combat aircraft. Europe moves slowly and vaguely towards collaborative unmanned stealth aircraft and has given up on fighters and the US is fatalistically looking at the capability hole that the F-35 will bring.


Google reveals F-35 is dangerously over-exposed

As can be seen in this photograph, the F-35 has no reflection. This is because it is a vampire.

As can be seen in this photograph, the F-35 has no reflection. This is because it is a vampire.

Internet giant Google revealed yesterday that the F-35 was dangerously over-exposed in terms of media coverage. A USAF spokesman commented “With over 200 articles a week published on the F-35 program, there is a very real danger that some of this rhetoric will bounce off the airframe rendering it dangerously visible to enemy radars”
The F-35’s airframe, which is shaped to reduce visibility to auditors, is 60 per cent caviar, 15 per cent mink and 25 per cent cocaine. The aircraft is even more vulnerable from detection by obsolete search engines such as, ChaCha and Boogami which operate on a different wavelength. A US Navy think tank has been studying the so-called ‘Swarm’ effect, whereby one reputable website produces a story on the JSF and thousands of reverse-engineered drone stories follow it. The think tank noted that many of these drones were poorly produced with little regard for production quality.

Key to the F-35's survival in combat is its defensive aids suite. This system is operated onboard the aircraft by a lady.

Key to the F-35’s survival in combat is its defensive aids suite. This system is operated onboard the aircraft by a lady.

The Gray Slag

The aircraft is powered by the sunk cost fallacy and with a loaded weight of 50,000 lb it is considered too big to fail. While critics suggest a unit price upwards of $170 million, Lockheed Martin have pointed out that once you deduct the cost of the engine, materials and electronics in the jet this figure goes down. This figure can further be reduced by removing other numbers. Proponents of the F-35 are keen to point out that everything is fine and it is brilliant. Meanwhile, critics of the $500 trillion project are keen to point out that everything is fucked and it’s awful. Arthur Koala, head of Public Affairs for the American taxpayer is quoted in this article as saying “The first priority for any nation is defense, and we remain committed to the defense of Lockheed Martin.”


A graph yesterday.

A graph yesterday., who are in charge of finalising contracts with export nations are confident in future sales. Their head of sales noted “The partner nations and export customers are of course free to walk away from the program, though they may find Hillary Clinton refusing to talk to them again. But if they are comfortable with a bad relationship with the world’s greatest super power they are free to leave…terms and conditions apply.”

The Australian Minister of Defence, Senator the Honourable David Johnston, said he shared Canada’s blind faith in the dumpy fighter and would buy it however expensive, late or ineffective it was. British Secretary of State for Defence Richard ‘The Hamster’ Hammond has fought hard to ensure that Britain has the minimum amount of F-35s at the maximum price. He noted that “By making sure our biggest defence contractor is making tail-planes for a US design we have ensured that Britain will never again be able to make a front-line military aircraft by itself. Following the rather mental Nimrod MRA.4, this is considered a good idea” .

Richard Hammond, providing the fantasy of having fun friends to bored men.

Richard Hammond, providing the fantasy of having fun friends to bored men.

Britain’s force of four F-35Bs will enter service in 2022 and will replace the Typhoon, A400M, Grob Tutor and take over the role of Joey in The Only Way is Essex.

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“If you have any interest in aviation, you’ll be surprised, entertained and fascinated by Hush-Kit – the world’s best aviation blog”. Rowland White, author of the best-selling ‘Vulcan 607’

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From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazine (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.


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Competition to give Sukhoi PAK FA a ‘NATO reporting name’

The Russians cannot be trusted to give their aircraft emotive English language names. Luckily for them, NATO helped them with this throughout the Cold War. The assigned code-names ranged from the cool (‘Foxhound’) to the bizarre (‘Fishbed’) to the slightly unsavoury (‘Fiddler’). Sadly this now seems to be over. Should we let these exciting aircraft be known only by a bland designation? NO!

We’re running a competition to give the PAK FA a HRN (Hush-Kit Reporting Name) . The winning entry will be sent to Sukhoi’s public relations department and hopefully they will read it, like it, and adopt the name.


1. The name must begin with ‘F’.

2. It must contain two syllables.

3. Names to be submitted by Twitter only.  Address to @Hush_Kit with hashtag


The Stealth Guru: Hush-Kit meets Bill Sweetman


Tenacious journalist Bill Sweetman has always been one step ahead: the man described by Tom Clancy as “a genius” was writing about ‘stealth technology’ when it was sill buried in official secrecy; he broke the story of the Laden raid stealth helicopter; possibly unearthed proof of the Aurora hypersonic spy-plane and remains an outspoken critic of the F-35 programme.

How did you start in aviation journalism? I answered an ad in the back of Flight for a sub-editor. Mark Hewish, who was in that position, had taken a job at New Scientist (although he changed his mind and stayed on as a defence writer). The printers insisted on having an extra sub (so one could always be there on Friday) and IPC balked at the GBP 2,400 salary, which was the lowest NUJ rate. The solution was to hire two trainees at 60 per cent. I arrived thinking that I was on a gap year before Uni and never left.

 What are the biggest pitfalls facing aerospace writers? Making a living! Related to the fact that many outlets pay minimum rates and have little interest in quality. The other problem is that there are lots of people paid to manipulate the story, and most of them earn more than you do, and some of them are depressingly good at it.

Your informed guesswork and predictions regarding US black programme have frequently proved very accurate. Is there an article you are particularly proud of?

I still look back on the 1986 book Stealth Aircraft with affection. Some of my IDR and Interavia stories on stealth in the late 1990s and early 2000s hold up well in retrospect. There’s a lot in there that has never been published or talked about since. Breaking the bin Laden stealth helicopter story – now, that was quick-draw fun.

Some of your journalistic investigations appear to involve long, exhaustive studies of budget documents. If this is the case, what motivates you to persist- does it not seem tedious sometimes? Browning had a mathematician saying “While I triumph o’er a secret wrung from nature’s close reserve”. When it stops being interesting you’re probably not getting anywhere.

What have been the highest and lowest points of your career so far? I’m deeply enjoying the present day, the hunt for black programmess and the epic story of JSF – which started off as the most ambitious project since the ICBM and has been a grievous disappointment.


Which black programmes are you currently most interested in? I could tell you, but then I’d have to use some hackneyed cliché from one of the worst aviation movies ever.

What is the biggest myth regarding stealth? Stealth doesn’t make you invisible, much less immortal.

Who are your writing heroes ? Bill Gunston, above all. Mark Hewish was my mentor in many ways – very efficient and a total professional. LJK Setright was an inspiration in terms of having fun with writing. C.G. Grey – great writer, lousy politics. Outside aviation, Wodehouse and Saki are influences.

Does the inclusion of industry advertisers in aviation magazines have an affect on the impartiality of reporting? Not if I have anything to do with it.

The Typhoon, F-22 and F-35 programmes have all received a great deal of criticism; can you give an example of a well-run military aircraft project? Almost anything from the land of blondes, aquavit and IKEA.

What are the future aerospace technologies to look out for? Additive manufacturing. The application of 3D aerodynamic modelling to blended shapes.


Do you have a favourite aeroplane, and if so why? The ‘Flanker‘ in its many forms. It was a very difficult program and relied on a lot of aerodynamic and propulsion technology that even today is not appreciated. And it looks incomparably bad-ass, as if God designed a pterodactyl to go Mach 2.

Read about stealth in fact and fiction Here

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Will modern fighters, like the Super Hornet, win over potential F-35 operators?


Despite the large sums invested in developing them, nobody seems to want modern Western fighters. By modern, I mean operationally active, in production and with a first flight after 1990. This definition would include the Typhoon, Rafale, Gripen and the Super Hornet (the newer variants of the F-15 and F-16s are either virtually aerodynamically identical to their 1970s forebears or, in the case of Silent Eagle, uncompleted). The Lockheed Martin F-22 is no longer in production, and when it was, export was banned.

With all the hype surrounding these types it’s easy to overlook how poorly they’ve done in the export markets. But let’s look at the figures:

Fighter                              Total numbered delivered to export customers by February 2013

F/A-18 Super Hornet             24

Dassault Rafale                      0

Saab Gripen                          circa 61 (included leases)

Eurofighter Typhoon            circa 39

Though more export orders have been announced, the numbers above reflect what has actually happened so far (I’ve used best available information, I’m happy to adjust numbers if any readers have better,verifiable, data).


Compare these figures with earlier aircraft: F-16 (well over 2000 exported), F/A-18 Hornet (391, not including secondhand aircraft) and Mirage 2000 (293). Even the Panavia Tornado, an aircraft that was difficult to sell, managed to notch up a total of 120. This is not even taking into account F-15s which have been sold by the hundreds. There is of course another dimension to this, and it should be noted that the F-15 and F-16 ‘exports’ have been propped up and organised under the Foreign Military Sales programme. The aggressive, politically-supported F-35 sales drive is comparable to FMS.


The modern generation of Western fighters are all very capable, but seem to be a victim of bad timing, arriving while fourth generation fighters were still relevant, through to today where many air forces are holding out for the F-35. Modern F-16 variants, exemplified by the Block 50+ and 60, combine a proven airframe and global logistics network, with modern avionics and weapons. Late Block F-16s offer what is seen as a relatively low-cost and low-risk option. As well as lower risk rivals being readily available, Generation 4.5 have spent most of their lives in times when militaries are facing reduced budgets. Some air forces wish to cling onto their existing fighter types, knowing that each fighter procurement is smaller than the last and will involve shedding manpower and force size.

The use of ‘Generation X or Y’ terms are not always useful and tend, like I have here, to be manipulated to show an opinion.

Unlike the 5th Generation F-22 and F-35, all of the West’s Generation 4.5 fighters have seen war, even the Gripen (which was used for reconnaissance missions over Libya) and they are all capable of performing both the fighter and bomber mission. Despite tiny export figures, they are sought after, if not by those who make procurement choices, then certainly by many in air forces around the world.

I spoke to two people this week with interesting views on this subject. The first was a high-ranking member of a european air force:

..what happens in five years time? We’ll be waiting for new platforms..what we’ve got now can do the job today, and the crews are great, but the hours are accumulating and we’re putting everything on a new type (F-35) that we will only be able to afford in limited numbers..already smaller air forces cannot fight alone, but take our numbers down to unsustainable numbers and we effectively lose indigenous air power. I would not want to disagree with the air force’s choice, but it is easy to see that going for one of the types available today would give us greater flexibility and would arrive sooner.

The second person I spoke to, who has been studying US military procurement for more than three decades, commented:

There appears to be a move towards monolithic military procurement, the ideal situation for defense contractors. With only one shop to go to, it effectively moves out of the competition system of the 1970s-80s. This isn’t just the case in the US, it can be seen in the Russia Federation too. Europe’s big mistake was not providing an answer to the F-35, by doing this they have allowed a monopoly where the military will have no leverage to attain good value… many in Europe hopes that it will be able to gain ground on the UCAV market, but it appears that European nations have not adopted the Lockheed Martin model  of how to run an international project- with one hugely dominant leader nation” (editor notes: could this not be France?) “ ..without this the projects will flounder- they will be too slow and too expensive and lack a big enough initial order to give a genuine economy of scalethe last hope for the current European fighters are sales to Islamic countries that the US or Israel does not trust with F-35


The current generation of fighters is important for several reasons. It is the only insurance the West has if the F-35 fails. Accepting the now commonly-used generation terminology, the F-35 will be the only 5th Generation Western fighter available. This is a unique situation, as since 1914 air forces have always had options, now if they wish to buy into the idea of ‘5th Generation’ and keep their allegiances with the West, they have no choice. The success of the current generation of fighters will be in its abilities to thrive in the F-35’s shadow, to supply to nations unable to order F-35s as they are too poor, politically black-listed or needing aircraft sooner. More significantly, they need nations to reject the dogma of stealth.

Generation 4.5’s biggest strength is that it’s ready now, with each delay to the F-35, another sales possibility opens up. Many believe that further delays may see stop-gap procurements (like Australia’s Super Hornets) staying longer and being ordered in bigger numbers than first anticipated. Canada is also a nation, that given the political flexibility, would seem a natural customer to jump ship and order Super Hornet to replace its existing Hornets.

The modern generation’s existence does have ripple effects; nations without a 4.5 Generation fighter (as pointed out by Combat Aircraft’s Thomas Newdick), such as Israel, Japan and Norway are among the most committed to F-35. Though the sale of second-hand aircraft does not increase the total of the type produced, it can hinder the sales of new-built rival aircraft. European air forces have more Typhoons than they can afford to operate and are offering them at attractive prices, it will be interesting what happens regarding this, especially as the F-16 production line is expected to close in the next few years.

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Iran unveils Qaher-313 (Conqueror-313) fighter design

Today Iran unveiled what it describes as a ‘super advanced’ fighter design.  President Ahmadinejad described it “as among the most advanced fighter jets in the world ” a statement which is unlikely to be true considering Iran’s technology base. He added that it had been test-flown for “thousands of hours” by pilots who are “very satisfied with its performance.”
q-313-2The aircraft appears to embody a reduced radar cross section design, including unusual dorsal intakes and downward drooping wingtips. It is a canard delta with twin tails and overall  ‘stealth’ faceting. It is likely to be powered by a single engine based on the Russian RD-33. Several years ago Iran publicly displayed a mock-up of a stealth design with some similarities to this design. (see the latest F-35 feature here)
Of the film footage, some doubt that this is a real aircraft and believe it is a remote controlled  model. The construction is certainly primitive in appearance, and this may be more of a mock-up or technology demonstrator than a fighter prototype. So far none of the flying footage is close enough to show a pilot , leading some to speculate that this is a remote-controlled model. The timing of the unveiling is interesting, coming in the same week as Iran’s ‘monkey in space’ and Israel’s bombing of Syria. One British aeronautical engineer commented “Super thick wing, single piece un-reinforced canopy – I could be wrong but its main advantage may be delivering the killer blow whilst the opposing pilot is laughing at it.”
It should also be noted that new aircraft from secretive countries are often met with skepticism, with many doubting both China’s  J-20 and J-31 when images first appeared. Iran’s public display of a US RQ-170 was also suspected of being fake at the time. Statements from Israeli officials are categorical, stating it is a fake, and may even be based on a film prop. (Like to know about the MiG-37 and Russian stealth? Click here)

This follows the Azarakhsh (Lightning) and Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) fighter jets which are modified variants of the US F-5 design.


Fighter Website Review #1: The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

The do-everything F-111..a lesson from history?

The do-everything F-111..a lesson from history?

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II:

Looks: like a building society or bank website. Ohhh, the header is ribbed like Spiderman’s suit

Language: The two films ‘F-35 in action’ were clearly written by a lunatic. They start like budget action films. A montage of audio news reports is played, reminding us what a big, bad world it is. Words appear on the screen: ‘One mission’..‘protecting freedom’…‘one solution’.. what the hell does that mean? The more you think about it, the less it means.

Everything here

is expressed  in

three or four words or short phrases

which are very vague

or meaningless

Then we’re in some kind of mission control centre, where women of all races seem to be watching graphics of F-35s. No idea why, but certainly seems important.


The bizarre, empty series of slogans are high-quality nonsense. My favourite line insists that the F-35 “brings lethality and stealth to the battlefield.” I think it’s fair to say that a battlefield probably has a fair amount of ‘lethality’ before the F-35 turns up. All entrants to a battlefield bring a fair amount of lethality with them. ‘Lethality’ means ‘capable of causing death’, it’s not a very special trait for a military weapon. In fact it’s such a normal trait for a weapon, that when a weapon is non-lethal,  it is specified. I think arms manufacturers just like the term because it sound cool.

Lethality seems to be used as a synonym for invincible.


Lockheed Martin then goes on to describe the F-35 as “A lethal information collector”. I think this one may be a Freudian slip, I Googled it and ‘Lethal Information’ was a hardcore porn film from 2001.


Other words that pop up with regularity in this website are ‘affordable’, ‘survivable’, ‘supportable’ , odd to boast about any of these really, as if a warplane lacked any single one of these characteristics it would be an absolute failure. ‘Affordable’ is the funniest word, as this is an aircraft which has become the second most expensive fighter ever built (based on 2012 prices). The most expensive, the Lockheed Martin F-22 was intended as a no-compromise superfighter, and though its price is quite bananas, it was always considered a top-end fighter. The F-35 on the other hand was conceived as a low-cost option, something it has objectively failed to become. The use of redundant words makes the viewer suspicious. How would Lockheed Martin describe a burger?

The LM Stealth-burger:  ‘Edible’ ‘Holdable’ ‘More burger-like than any rival pizza’


The F-35 is the only 5th Generation fighter on the market and makes all previous fighters obsolete. I guess this is the claim. There are several problems with this idea. The first being, that the term ‘5th Generation’ has been defined by Lockheed Martin (not a problem in itself, but…). Here’s their definition:

“5th Generation: The most advanced class of fighters, representing a quantum leap in capability that includes unmatched air-to-air and air-to-ground capability, dominant situational awareness, unprecedented Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR), inherent airborne electronic attack and very low observable, all-aspect stealth.”

Nothing contentious there then…I won’t go into detail as this has been well covered by others, I will just note that the term ‘5th Generation’ is wonderfully amorphous and prone to change depending on what LM is trying to sell. When the F-22 was being defended ‘supercruise’ and ‘supermanoeuvrability’ were prerequisites for entry into this elite club. The F-35 is certainly not ‘super manoeuvrable’, but surprisingly, recent reports suggest it can supercruise.. well sort of. It apparently needs to use reheat to get over Mach 1, then can cruise at Mach 1.2 for 150 miles in dry thrust (I seem to remember LM defining supercruise as being over Mach 1.5 when it was trying to defend the F-22). Another good point, the F-35 is not really now on the market.

Best features: Big, slick and confident, it is an impressive marketing tool. Despite vast failings, the project and the company are quite amazing. I found myself momentarily buying into F-35 after a few videos, all this confidence, all this money, surely it will end up working won’t it?

Weirdest feature: ‘Take Action’ show your support for the F-35 by writing an email to congress (this is an automated feature). “Our nation is currently facing both economic and national security challenges, and the F-35 plays a vital role in addressing both.” !?! This isn’t an endangered whale (well not literally), it’s the biggest, most financially out of control, example of military procurement in history. Quite what ‘national security challenges’ the F-35 is vital in addressing is beyond me, maybe militant Texans are building a top notch integrated air defence system?

Is it up to date? Nope. Check out the following, my comments are in brackets:  “The F-35 will replace the F-16, F/A-18 (legacy, not Super), EA-6B (for the large part, this is being replaced by the EA-18G) , F-111 (retired by USAF in 1996 and by RAAF in 2010), A-10, AV-8B, Harrier GR.7 (d’ oh!), Sea Harrier (this refers to Britain’s, which were retired in 2006), AMX and Tornado. ”

 Biggest porkie: “This is America’s newest fighter” No. It is nobody’s fighter now, as it can’t fight yet. The biggest porkie, in a whole bucket-load of tricksy statements, is the way the F-35 is treated as if it’s operational and proven.

ImageIf you enjoyed this,  try  ‘A Pacifist’s guide to military aircraft’ or

have a look at the top ten British, French, Australian,  Soviet and German aeroplanes. Wanting Something a little more exotic? Try the top ten fictional aircraft.

Notes: According to

lethality is defined as:

1[DSMC] The probability that weapon effects will destroy the target or render it neutral. 2[DoD] The ability of a munition (or laser, high power microwave, etc.) to cause damage that will cause the loss or a degradation in the ability of a target system to complete its designated mission(s).”

Meteor launched from Typhoon

Meteor.jpg large

On the 4th December 2012 the first launch of a MBDA Meteor missile from a Eurofighter Typhoon took place. This followed successful launches from Saab Gripen, Panavia Tornado F.Mk 3 (now retired) and Dassault Rafale. The weapon was launched from a rear fuselage missile station.

The flight trials were conducted with support from QinetiQ and MBDA at a firing range in Aberporth, Wales.

Hush-kit is reminding the world of the beauty of flight.

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The Mikoyan MiG-37: A brief history of Russian stealth (in fact and fiction)


On November 10 1988, a heavily airbrushed photo was shown at a press briefing by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, J. Daniel Howard. Until that moment the subject of the photo had been one of the world’s most closely-held secrets.

The photograph was of the Lockheed F-117, the legendary ‘stealth fighter’.

It was a new and weird shape. Slightly preceding this, (in April 1988) the Northrop B-2 had also emerged from the Black world of secret defence projects. The B-2 ‘stealth bomber’ was a charcoal grey flying-wing, clearly designed by the same person who had created the Batmobile.

Stealth was big news. Until then, aeroplanes had been tubes with wings, designed primarily with air particles in mind, now they were shaped for their reaction with radio waves; things had suddenly changed. As an aeroplane-fixated ten-year-old, I was hungry for more information on this new world. With its secrecy, its potency and dramatic unveilings, it was wildly exciting.

So I was very happy when I was bought a copy of Stealth Warplanes, a book by Doug Richardson.  I believed that this book, with its thrilling cover, was my secret pass to the nefarious world of Stealth. I picked up another copy today, as I was curious to see how well this book had stood the test of 23 years.


‘Mikoyan MiG-37’

ImageWard's MiG-2000 featured inward canting fins. Another popular '80s idea for stealth aircraft, possibly stemming from leaked information on Lockheed's 'Have Blue'.

Ward’s MiG-2000 featured inward canting fins. Another popular ’80s idea for stealth aircraft, possibly stemming from leaked information on Lockheed’s ‘Have Blue’.


Soviet developments could not be ignored by the book, despite the fact that at this time, nothing about Soviet stealth projects was known in the press. So the ‘Mikoyan MiG-37’ was pure conjecture, based on the pure ‘conjecture’ (more on this later) of the MiG-2000. The MiG-2000 was a notional threat aircraft devised by General Dynamics’ Richard Ward, of what a follow-up to the MiG-29 might look like. It was intended to give the  international F-16 community an idea of what they may be up against in the year 2000. This was based on Ward’s observations of several technologies the Soviets appeared to be very interested in, most notably thrust vectoring and the canard-delta arrangement. At this time, it was rumoured that the MiG-35 was to be a single-engined aircraft in the F-16-class, though in retrospect it is more likely that this rumour related to the Izdeliye 33 (Izd 33) which would have probably been designated MiG-33 (and may have been a design influence on the JF-17).

The Mikoyan  Izdeliye 33 (Izd 33) LFI light fighter concept.

The Mikoyan Izdeliye 33 (Izd 33) LFI light fighter concept.

Regardless, it looked to many observers that MiG-37 seemed the most likely designation for the first Soviet stealth fighter. As the text points out:

“In the autumn of 1987, the US plastic model manufacturer Testors.. launched its model of the “MiG-37B Ferret E”- a Soviet equivalent to the Lockheed stealth fighter. Its appearance must have caused a few smiles around the Mikoyan design bureau. As its manufacturer admitted.. Its reception in the Pentagon must have been less amusing. Here in widely-distributed form was the first model to widely illustrate the use of RCS reduction technique.” (more on Testor’s MiG-37 can be seen here). It seems that the concepts of a gridded intake and a surface made of flat panels was already there for those looking.  And Testors’ model designer John Andrews certainly seemed to have his ear to the ground.

The 'F-19' was featured in the 1990 computer game 'Operation Stealth '.

The ‘F-19’ was featured in the 1990 computer game ‘Operation Stealth ‘.

One of the fascinating features of this book was its strong belief in ‘round stealth’. Many of the hypothetical aeroplanes in this book feature rounded-off wingtips, noses and fin-tips of the hypothetical aircraft. Radar returns would be scattered from these curves:

“…the rounded planform (of the MiG-37) shown here would ensure that reflected energy was scattered over a range of directions.”


A 1982 Lockheed ATF concept that includes ’round stealth’.

In reality, this design idea was never used (albeit to a small degree on some cruise missiles), and it could be argued that the cultivation of this idea was the result of deliberate disinformation by several companies. Loral, Northrop and Lockheed (in several ATF artworks) may have been actively involved in this attempt to draw attention away from the F-117-facetingand B-2 flying wing approach. This idea can be seen on most ‘F-19s’ and is evident on this MiG-37.


 Of course complex curves are used in modern low observable designs, but this ‘round stealth’ is not like the two US schools of stealth that have emerged, the Lockheed approach (sharp angles and flat surfaces) and the Northrop approach (as flat as possible, and of the flying wing configuration for subsonic designs, as seen on the B-2, Lockheed Martin RQ-170, Dassault NeuroN etc). When Northrop and McDonnell Douglas designed the YF-23, they incorporated the ‘flat as a pancake’ Northrop approach.


Doug Richardson’s Mikoyan MIg-37

The notional MiG-37 is a tactical fighter that weighs around 50,000 lb and is powered by two 30,000 lb (in reheat) thrust class turbofans. It has two-dimensional vectored thrust provided by ‘slotted low-RCS nozzles’. It is a two-seater, with a canard delta planform and two canted out vertical fins. The concept emphasizes performance and reduced radar cross section.

Did history provide us with a real MiG-37 to compare it to? The simple answer is yes. The Mikoyan Project 1.44/1.42 was a technology demonstrator that first flew in 2000. It displayed some similarities to Richardson’s MiG-37.


MiG 1.44/1.42

It was a canard delta, it did have out twin canted tails. The thrust class was similar, though the real aircraft was even more powerful, with two Lyulka AL-41F turbofans rated at 176 kN (39,680 lb) in reheat. Weight was between 42-62,000 lb depending on fuel load, test equipment etc, so again- excellent guesswork. It certainly did not have rounded-off wingtips or tail-fins. The nozzles were not flat, despite the stealth advantages these could have conferred. The reason for the inclusion of round exhaust nozzles could have been one or more of the following-

1. 3D vectoring was envisioned, requiring a circular nozzle (perhaps extreme manoeuvrability was considered more important than minimum RCS)
2. Russian metallurgy was not good enough to make square nozzles which could withstand the  high temperatures of a vectoring jet nozzle
3. The actual production version if made, would have featured 2D nozzles
4. They were not required or were not consider a suitable design feature

It was claimed that the aircraft would feature plasma stealth technology, an exotic idea that a General Electric employee had filed patents relating to in 1956. Little has been heard about plasma stealth since, though the fact that the later PAK FA is so carefully shaped suggests it is not a technology that was made to work satisfactorily. Problems in developing working plasma stealth include the generation of sufficient power to create the required plasma layer, and the operation of radar and radio in what amounts to a ‘radio blackout’. Talk of this technology may have been deliberate disinformation.

The MiG 1.44/1.42, a candidate for the Mnogofunksionalni Frontovoy Istrebitel (Multifunctional Frontline Fighter) programme was cancelled (though some contend that research from this effort found its way into the Chengdu J-20 project though there is no direct evidence of this). Sukhoi’s rival S-47 ‘Berkut’ took a radically different approach and adopted canards with forward swept wings, as can be seen from later developments this configuration appears to have been a design dead-end, at least for the time being.


As far as we know MiG’s current stealth efforts are devoted to developing a Northrop-style UCAV with Sukhoi (using experience gained on MiG’s cancelled ‘Skat’ UCAV).


The Russian stealth fighter in development today is the Sukhoi PAK FA. The design features with some smaller similarities with Richardson’s MiG-37. Both the ‘MiG-37’ and the PAK FA feature a IRST/laser ranger finder (à la MiG-29/Su-27)- something the Russians very much appreciate, and there seems relatively little effort to reduce this sensor’s radar cross section.

It appears the PAK FA is built with a more attention to ease of maintenance than the ‘hygienically’ smooth Raptor, which seems to favour absolute minimum radar return (but this is pure speculation). The PAK FA does not have a canards (a difficult feature to make stealthy, nevertheless featuring on the J-20), instead, it has an innovative kind of movable leading edge root extension (described by some as Povorotnaya Chast Naplyva or PChN). The Sukhoi approach to stealth includes elements seen in both the Northrop and LM schools, but seems to have less emphasis on achieving a minute RCS to the detriment of serviceability and aerodynamic efficiency.

The Sukhoi PAK FA is a large advanced stealth fighter now in development.

The Sukhoi PAK FA is a large advanced stealth fighter now in development.

Richardson’s MiG-37 concept was, given the information available to him, an excellent piece of guesswork, and  a pleasantly revealing insight into a ‘crossroads’ period of aviation history. It is also interesting that, on first impressions, the MiG-37 was a more accurate guess than Ward’s MiG-2000. However, there is more to the story than this, as Richard Ward was one of the most experienced figures in the design of stealth aircraft.  General Dynamics had inherited a wealth of stealth research from Convair, from projects including the A-11 and Kingfish. Ward probably worked on the Model 100/Sneaky Pete and other A-12 precursors.  As Bill Sweetman said to Hush-Kit:  “He knew what to avoid with MiG-2000.”

The PAK-DA is a new stealth bomber project at a very early stage of development.

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Special thanks to the great Bill Sweetman for ironing out several of the facts in the original version of this.  There are likely to be further amendments to this piece at a later date.

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