case for the JSF
Air Marshal Angus Houston outlines the best choice for our next
frontline combat aircraft
the JSF and F/A-22
Our involvement in systems analysis
Important set of numbers
Why the JSF is best for us
Key features of the F-35
air combat capability is on the threshold of a new era as the
F-111 and F/A-18 approach the end of their service lives.
In 2002 Defence Minister Robert Hill announced Australia would
become a partner in the System Design and Development phase of
the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) project.
He indicated the government intended to acquire the JSF as Australia’s
new frontline combat aircraft – though a final decision will not
be made until at least 2006. The JSF will be a true fifth-generation,
stealthy, multi-role, single-seat, single-engine fighter.
The strength of our future air combat capability – and our largest
defence project ever – is a matter of strategic importance.
Are we sure the JSF is going to be good enough? Or should we look
at going “top shelf – the F/A-22, which will be the most outstanding
fighter aircraft ever built?
Our advice to government to move to a more modern fifth-generation
aircraft reflected our view that the fourth-generation aircraft
would not meet our needs, nor be good value for money.
For Australia to sustain a decisive combat edge in the air over
coming decades, we need to move to the more advanced capabilities
of a fifth-generation aircraft over the next decade.
The further upgrading of our current platforms for service well
beyond 2020 present high risks and high costs for capabilities
which would not be superior to those we can get from the JSF.
We have plenty of recent experience with aged airframes and with
the high technical risk of Australian-unique systems integrations
on complex aircraft. And we know the logistics costs of operating
multiple aircraft types.
We are sure this is not a viable path. Acquisition of new platforms
alone is unlikely to provide us with the qualitative edge that
we need. in the emerging networked environment.
A qualitative edge will only be achieved through enhancing individual
platform capabilities by integrating them as part of a system
within which the platform will operate.
We will maintain our capability edge by developing a network-centric
air combat system that exploits information and communications
systems to create the desired effects.
Of course, fighters remain the essential core of the network,
and it is important to examine the capabilities of the individual
platform options and their ability to contribute to the system.
the JSF and F/A-22
Joint Strike Fighter is well able to fulfil Australia’s
air combat capability needs.
by Lockheed Martin
by Lockheed Martin
ONE today is making an aircraft that has the same radius of action
on internal fuel as the F- 111 in the strike role. For the future,
therefore, we are going to have to adapt to a lesser range platform
supported by air-to-air refuelling and, in some cases, stand-off
weaponry to provide range extension.
The Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) JSF - retaining stealth
by not carrying external stores or fuel tanks - is specified to
have an unrefuelled radius of action in the strike role of at
There are no public domain figures for radius of action of the
F/A-22 in the strike role. Its radius, though, is likely to be
similar to the JSF because, while the F/A- 22 has only about the
same internal fuel as the JSF for a slightly heavier aircraft
with two engines, it is likely to be an extraordinarily aerodynamically
Both aircraft should have similar reach when air-to-air refuelling
is added to the equation. At present the F/A-22 has no air-to-ground
radar capability but a major systems upgrade has been proposed.
When the F/A-22 has had its radar, computer architecture and avionics
processors updated, it would be expected to have a significant
air-to-ground capability, but one that will be more reliant on
off-board data because it will not have the equivalent of the
JSF’s EOTS system (see panel at right).
JSF will have the advantage in weapon carriage because its internal
weapons bay can carry 2000lb class weapons, including the variants
of the BLU- 109 hard target weapon.
The largest weapons that the F/A-22 weapons bay can accommodate
are the 1000lb class. Recently there has been increased interest
in small weapons.
A combination of greater precision and more effective explosives
mean smaller weapons can do the same job as previous generation
That means more weapons can be carried on a single sortie. Both
aircraft will be able to carry these new generation small-diameter
weapons internally, though with a larger weapons bay it is likely
that the JSF will be developed to carry more of them.
On the other hand, stealth combined with supercruise and its very
high operating altitude would make the F/A-22 less vulnerable
to surface-to-air missiles.
On balance, while both aircraft offer a strike capability of quite
some significance, the JSF strike capability will be more versatile
and comprehensive for our requirements within our region. There
is no question that the F/A-22 will be the world’s best aircraft
for the air superiority task.
Its air combat advantages relate to its ability to supercruise
and its manoeuvrability. Fortunately we only expect to do battle
against F/A-22s in training exercises.
Against fourth-generation adversaries, the JSF has the decisive
advantages of stealth and comprehensive situation awareness, both
from its onboard sensors and through the network. It also has
some additional advantages.
The JSF has a very large internal fuel load and will not suffer
the drag penalties imposed by external stores and weapons. It
will be able to operate supersonically more often than most opponents.
The JSF – with its combination of fused data from onboard and
offboard sensors – will be able to detect and identify threats
before it can be detected and should have a comfortable margin
in its ability to achieve first launch in the beyond-visual-range
(BVR) arena against fourthgeneration opponents.
Coupled with the ability to simultaneously engage multiple targets,
the JSF, like the F/A-22, offers the potential for real advantages
in exchange ratios in BVR combat against fourth-generation opponents.
Platform agility is not an unimportant consideration even in the
BVR arena (or the strike role for that matter). There is a threshold
level of agility needed to defeat adversary missiles.
There are specific manoeuvres, combined with countermeasure employment,
that need to be conducted when airborne or ground-based missile
launches are detected.
Our analysis supports the view the JSF has adequate agility for
this purpose. The F/A-22 has a clear margin in agility over the
JSF as the F/A-22 has a higher thrust to weight ratio and has
vectored thrust engines.
As for the JSF, the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine is performing
well and meeting performance targets. When we were last buying
a fighter, more than 20 years ago, agility was a central consideration,
particularly in the within-visual-range (WVR) air combat arena.
Since that time there have been two quite radical technological
developments affecting WVR combat. The first is the advent of
highly agile, countermeasure- resistant “dogfight” missiles.
The second is the perfecting of helmet-mounted sighting systems
that allow pilots to acquire and launch "dogfight" missiles at
targets far from the aircraft's line of flight - even behind the
launch fighter's own wing line.
If decisive and superior exchange ratios are to be achieved in
the air combat arena of the future, it will have to be done in
the BVR arena.
Looked at another way, an air force that wishes to leverage its
BVR capability advantages needs first to ensure that its adversary
is unable to gain advantage through orchestrating WVR engagements.
There are a number of prerequisites to being effective in the
helmet-mounted sighting systems;
highly agile “dogfight” missiles;
superior countermeasures; and
a threshold (but not necessarily superior) level of platform agility.
threshold of agility is needed to ensure we can fire well before
an adversary can destroy us.
On current indications, the JSF has this capability with a margin
to spare, though of course our analysts and technology experts
are watching this area very closely as the project progresses
through its development phase.
The JSF will not aim to fight in the WVR arena, but will be capable
of fighting there if necessary. While there is little doubt that
the F/A-22 would do the air combat job outstandingly well, everything
we are seeing to date indicates that the JSF will do the job very
well too, and it is a more versatile strike aircraft.
involvement in systems analysis
HAVE a great deal of absolute information about the JSF capability
that the US intends to release to us.
About 30 Defence Science and Technology Organisation scientists
are working independently on analysing JSF capability to ensure
it will deliver what we need.
This will allow the government to be fully informed when the time
comes to make an acquisition decision. As a partner in the project,
our pilots and scientists have had the opportunity to participate
in the structured systems analysis and evaluation being conducted
in a dedicated simulation facility in the US.
This facility uses a combination of computer modelling and man-in-the-loop
simulations of operational scenarios and is loaded with the latest
JSF performance data as the system development phase proceeds.
The simulations are also loaded with the threat systems of greatest
interest to us.
Our participation means we are able to monitor how the project
is developing in considerable detail, access a great deal of technical
information, and refine our independent assessments of the JSF’s
operational suitability to our concepts for operations.
set of numbers
has been no government decision yet on the number of aircraft
to be acquired under the new air combat capability project.
The 2000 Defence White Paper and subsequent reviews propose the
acquisition of “up to 100 aircraft”, and the Defence Capability
Plan 2004-2014 identifies a notional budget for the project of
$11.5bn to $15.5bn.
But much intensive operational analysis and force balance studies
remain to be done before a final decision on numbers will be made.
issues to be taken into account in determining the number of aircraft
to be acquired include:
the balance between numbers of JSF, AEW&C and air-to-air refuelling
(AAR) aircraft, the aim being to achieve the most cost-effective
force structure overall (noting that AEW&C and AAR aircraft make
significant contributions even when not supporting combat aircraft);
contribution from other force elements such as the new Air Warfare
the number of geographic areas that may need to be supported simultaneously;
potential for concurrent air superiority, strike (maritime and
land) and ground support operations – noting that as a true multi-role
aircraft the JSF can perform all tasks, even on the same mission;
rotation of forces, which recent operational experience has shown
is a major issue;
aircraft required in a maintenance pool, expected to be low given
the JSF’s expected reliability and minimal deeper maintenance
attrition aircraft to cover losses throughout the service life
of the aircraft.
JSF will require the Air Force to rethink the basis of squadron
sizing, taking into account the increased endurance of the JSF
and the expected increased availability of aircraft.
Overseas operators are looking at squadron sizes ranging from
12 through to 24 aircraft. Our current thinking is that a larger
number of smaller squadrons might be preferable, providing greater
flexibility for a relatively small force.
Options of 12 or 16 Fully Mission Capable aircraft are currently
being examined, which would require either about 14 or 18 aircraft
in a squadron, allowing for maintenance requirements.
The recent decisions to acquire five AAR tankers and the additional
two AEW&C aircraft (giving a total of six) are an acknowledgment
of the need for the Air Force to have the capability to conduct
air control operations in two separate areas simultaneously.
This is consistent with White Paper 2000 guidance that identified
the need for land forces to conduct two concurrent but geographically
Each area could need at least one squadron of fighters deployed
to cover air control tasking, possibly more if intensive 24/7
operations were in prospect.
It is quite possible that at the same time direct support of land
operations may be required.
And concurrent strike operations may also be required – either
land or maritime. Four squadrons looks like being the minimum
prudent operational force to meet potential concurrency requirements.
With four deployed squadrons of even 14 aircraft, backed up by
a squadron-sized rotation capability, the total number is already
up to 70 aircraft.
To this must be added aircraft for training – possibly 10 to 18
– plus a pool of aircraft undergoing deeper maintenance or regular
upgrades, and additional aircraft to allow for expected attrition
over the life of the fleet.
The number quickly gets up to 100. So the number mentioned in
the White Paper, and accepted by government to date, is pretty
close to the mark.
A much greater number obviously would be much more expensive and
possibly difficult to sustain, and a much smaller number could
leave us seriously exposed. The latest unit cost forecast for
the CTOL JSF is about US$45m, though this is for aircraft well
down the production run.
Earlier aircraft will be more expensive and there will be additional
costs for any additional equipment or Australian unique modifications.
The JSF nonetheless remains cheaper than most of the original
contenders for the Air 6000 project.
Admittedly, the project is at an early stage, and despite the
heavy management focus on cost control, costs may well rise before
the aircraft goes into full rate production. Indeed, we are budgeting
on this to a certain extent.
Current project office estimates are that 100 CTOL JSF – along
with necessary integration/support/training requirements – can
be accommodated within the original Air 6000 funding provisions.
recent Government Accounting Office report quotes the unit cost
estimate for the F/A-22 at US$153m.
While the F/A-22 program is more mature than JSF, there is still
the potential for cost increases because the F/A-22 has to be
fitted with new avionics processors and architecture in order
to achieve its full air-to-ground capability.
It is reasonable to estimate that the budget currently earmarked
for a 100 aircraft JSF program probably would support an F/A-22
acquisition of only about 30 aircraft.
A force of 30 aircraft is clearly inadequate to provide the capability
for concurrent air control and strike operational tasking and
to support an organic training organisation.
the JSF is best for us
CONCLUSION is clear.
The JSF is the more cost-effective option for us, even though
the F/A- 22 might do important parts of that job better.
Of course, the final performance of the JSF is far from being
proven and there are a number of key risks still to be managed
in the project. But the track record of the US military and the
US aerospace industry in delivering on projects like this is very
all the indications of the moment (and we now have a ringside
seat) the JSF will be able to do the job set for us by government:
It promises the margin of capability we require for the tasks
we intend for it.
It will be the most “network-enabled” capability on offer.
It will be truly multi-role, giving us great operational flexibility
and cost effectiveness.
It can be acquired in operationally meaningful numbers within
the available budget.
It will be able to be supported in service at lower cost than
It will have the best growth potential, at lowest ongoing cost
to us, of anything on offer because of its large production base.
And finally it offers the potential for a significant and long-term
industry program that should exceed in value and benefits the
conventional offset arrangements of any alternative.
Features of the F-35
JSF is intended to set new benchmarks in affordability, availability
and supportability for a high-performance stealth aircraft.
Apart from its stealth design, it does not break a lot of new
ground in its aerodynamic design. But its designers have squeezed
in an extraordinary amount of fuel for a singleengine fighter
of this size.
The JSF’s advanced sensors and communications systems are key
to its ability to integrate into a networked air combat capability.
At the heart of the JSF’s sensor suite is its Active Electronically
Scanned Array radar. It is state-of-the-art, capable of both air-to-air
and air-to-ground target detection, identification and weapon
The radar also acts as a passive, highly precise long-range sensor
for emissions from threat systems, and can actively jam other
air and ground emitters. Importantly, it can conduct most of these
activities simultaneously or near simultaneously.
A radar warning receiver provides information on threat emissions
for those areas outside the scan area or frequency coverage of
The JSF will be fitted with an advanced Electro-Optical Targeting
System that provides long range infra-red search and track of
air targets, long range detection of ground targets, a laser range
finder and a laser target designator.
Unique to the JSF is a Distributed Aperture System comprising
six infra-red sensors that provide a spherical display in the
pilot’s helmet visor of the position of other flight members,
targeting for air-to-air missiles, locating ground targets and
detection of threat aircraft and missiles.
The JSF has an extensive communications and data link suite. The
high capacity inter/ intra flight data link allows a flight of
JSFs to act as a fully fused team. Link 16 allows sharing of data
with other air and surface players.
Satellite communications provide for beyond line-of-sight communications
(JSF is the first fighter aircraft to have satellite transmit
and receive capability).
There is a software driven Joint Tactical Radio System, primarily
for communications with ground forces, and there is a prognostics
and health management data link that provides for integration
with the JSF’s logistics system while still airborne.
article is an edited version of a paper by CAF published in Strategic
Insights, produced by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.