Yesterdays post talked about COL Boyd’s energy maneuverability theory. While the bulk of aircraft lost in Vietnam is around 1,000 less than 10% of that number was due to dogfighting or air to air combat. The remaining 91% (approximate) were lost due to AAA, SAM, weather, malfunctions, and pilot error. When you are mainly facing a ground threat, optimizing the air frame to avoid AAA and SAM RADARs seems like a smart thing to do.

To continue on that line of thinking about energy maneuverability I’d like to present the following:

Following parameters decide aircraft’s maneuvering performance: (8 aircraft)
1) roll onset rate at angle of attack = Rafale > Gripen > F-22 > F-35 > F-16 > Typhoon > F-18 > F-15
2) instantaneous turn rate = Rafale > Gripen (?) > Typhoon > F-22 > F-15 > F-16 > F-18 > F-35
3) pitch onset rate / pitch rate = Rafale > Gripen > F-22 > Typhoon > F-16 > F-18 > F-35 > F-15
4) acceleration = F-22 > Rafale > Typhoon > F-15 > F-16 > Gripen > F-18 > F-35
5) sustained turn rate = F-22 > Typhoon = Rafale > F-15 > F-16 > Gripen > F-18 > F-35

Total score:
Rafale: 40 + 32 + 24 + 14 + 6 = 116
Gripen: 35 + 28 + 21 + 6 + 3 = 93
F-22: 30 + 20 + 18 + 16 + 8 = 92
F-35: 25 + 4 + 6 + 2 + 1 = 38
F-16: 20 + 12 + 12 + 8 + 4 = 56
Typhoon: 15 + 24 + 15 + 12 + 7 = 73
F-18: 10 + 8 + 9 + 4 + 2 = 33
F-15: 5 + 16 + 3 + 10 + 5 = 39

Rating is thus 1. Rafale, 2. Gripen, 3. F-22, 4. Typhoon, 5. F-16, 6. F-15, 7. F-35, 8. F-18.

It is VERY IMPORTANT to note that this is looking ONLY at the maneuverability characteristics of the aircraft. In reality the F-15 can generally best an F-16 in dogfighting by using superior acceleration and sustained turn rate advantage, given two pilots who know they’ll be dogfighting. An F-16 pilot can win the engagement if they play to the strengths of their aircraft and don’t let the F-15 dictate the terms of the engagement.

But, since it is bad form to rely only on one set of data when a trillion dollar defense program is on the line, lets look at something else:

Turn Rates Sustained and Instantaneous

Hat tip to David Archibald:

I’m a bit suspect of the Gripen’s ability to outscore the F-22, Typhoon, and Rafale because those three are twin engined fighters with a lot of thrust, and the current Gripen doesn’t yet have thrust vectoring as an option. Still, other than that little anomaly the data lines up fairly well with the previous rankings on maneuverability. But since the Gripen is such a lightweight craft (and Force = Mass times Acceleration) the lower mass means less force needed to accelerate (which includes turning) so it is within the realm of possibility.

Now it remains to be seen if the F-15 Silent Eagle, with the thrust vectoring tech that the F-15 platform has been used to demonstrate since the late 1980s would fair against the Su-35, or if the Advanced Super Hornet would be up to the challenge. But it becomes quite clear, the legacy fleet of US Fighters is vulnerable to the Flanker threat, both Su-27, Su-30, and Su-35 variants.

Now I don’t write that to scare you, as noted yesterday the skill of the pilot is the biggest indicator of success in combat, which is why Russian Aces did much better in their Mig-15s against the F-86s than novice pilots.

The fact that the high operating cost of the F-22 keeps pilots from getting more flight hours is disturbing. It stands to reason that the F-35 will be much more like the F-22 than it will be like the F-16 when it comes to operating costs. The Gripen is much more F-16 like in operating costs.

When you look at the data like this, it is clear that the F-35 is not ready to go one on one with a Flanker. The “pack” of aircraft sharing data is not a bonus feature, it is a requirement for survival.

Now the F-35 will likely be a much better bomber than the Gripen or Stealth Eagle. But we’ve already got stealth bombers. In fact we’ve retired more stealth bombers (the F-117) than any other nation has ever fielded.

So the question becomes, why is the USAF planning on replacing air to air fighters with air to ground stealth bombers?

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