Take a deep breath, this needs to sink in. According to the information floating around various internet websites, the much maligned F-35 Joint Strike Fighter had a rather difficult time handling a 70’s product, namely the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Earlier this year, the two jets were pitted against each other, all in a potentially fun dogfight. While we wont get into specifics of this test flight and training exercise (since we don’t know all the details), it is worth noting (according to various sources) the F-16 put the F-35 through its paces – and pretty much won it.
This information became public thanks to a test pilot report obtained by defense journalist David Axe of War is Boring. In this report, the pilot detailed the performance of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in this simulated combat scenario. While we’ve heard several potential issues with the F-35 overall (engine power, maneuverability to payload), this comes as rather discerning news for the Strike Fighter platform after all.
“The F-35 was at a distinct energy disadvantage,” the unnamed pilot wrote in a rather worrisome five-page brief that War Is Boring has obtained. According to the website, the brief is unclassified but is labeled “for official use only.”
It is worth noting that the F-35 was in a “clean setup” – meaning nothing slung outside its body, while the F-16 had plenty of terror bringing equipment + two underwing fuel drop-tanks impeding aerodynamics and in theory putting the jet in an unfavorable scenario compared to its rival. These, in theory, would have put the aircraft at an aerodynamic disadvantage. Even with this layout, the F-35 had a notably hard time keeping up with the agile F-16, delivering less than ideal dogfighting performance.
We’ve came across several sources claiming the jets stealth to be the game changer, fully nullifying any potential dogfighting scenarions – but history definitely taught us otherwise.
The same principle was applied to the F-4 back in the ’50s, where many trusted the missile age and fighter’s ability to take out the enemy force by stand-off weaponry such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder. In reality, fighter pilots quickly found out that missiles are never 100% efficient, where the enemy air force used swift maneuvering and proved to be rather deadly in close range as well. Many experienced pilots, airmen and veterans of the skies overall, believe that having a gun on the airplane is mandatory. The F-35A will have the gun, while the B and C versions will come with gun pods as needed – and we all know how well that worked in the Vietnam war, don’t we?
Many have expressed a troubling thought about the F-35 before. The same was stated, when in an interview with the CBC’s The Fifth Estate earlier in November of 2014, F-16 co-designer Pierre Sprey gave a rather unequivocal personal view on the new fighter design. In the video available below he described the F-35 with: “Inherently a terrible plane, because it’s built based on a dumb idea”—a multirole, multi-service aircraft.” He further noted “You’ve compromised the aircraft horribly for three different missions, and then you’ve compromised it again for three different services.” He said the aircraft was “astonishingly unmaneuverable” because of its ratio of wing surface to weight. “In dogfighting, it’s hopeless.”
With several reputable sources delivering this information, we can only hope these issues get resolved. We’ve heard and seen a lot of different data on this design, which means that the rumors floating around the interwebz do provide a healthy dose of potentially untrue info, so everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The same should probably be applied to this issue, as we are all unaware of the nature of the training flight or any other (critically important) facts rising from that. On the other hand, the F-35’s performance has seen its fair share of negativity throughout its design phase, giving the men and women who are slated to fly these in potentially dangerous scenarios a thing to worry.
In other serious questions regarding the jets capability, the simple fact remains: if the F-35 is pitted against let’s say the PAK-FA which also posses stealth technology, wouldn’t the two jets need to engage each other in WVR (within visual range) scenario and use their maneuverability to fend the other party away? Or am I asking too much too soon to be answered? Simply put: missiles get jammed, rockets tend to malfunction and electronic warfare can be overcame – bullets always go where you need them to go.