Can the F-35 Beat the F-16 After all?
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Can the F-35 Beat the F-16 After all?


Yesterday, in an attempt to defend the $400 billion F-35 Lighting II procurement program, the Department of Defense responded to the recent revelations that an F-35A was defeated by a two-seat F-16D in simulated aerial combat (see: “F-35 Loses Dogfight to Fighter Jets From the 1980s”).

As I reported previously, a leaked report by a test pilot noted that the “F-35 was at a distinct energy disadvantage” vis-à-vis the F-16 and—among a host of other issues—could not zero in on its aerial opponent with the plane’s 25mm cannon.

However, the Pentagon’s F-35 Lightning II Joint Program office was quick to jump to the defense of the United States’ most expensive weapons procurement program noting that “[t]he media report on the F-35 and F-16 flight does not tell the entire story.”

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The fast and determined response of the Department of Defense and the plane’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, is not surprising given that both organizations “have well-oiled media response teams,” as the Washington Post sardonically points out.

While, the Pentagon does not challenge the major findings of the leaked report that in pure dogfighting maneuverability the F-35 is inferior to the F-16, the Joint Program Office nevertheless points out that the plane outfought by the F-16 was not “equipped with a number of items that make today’s production F-35s 5th Generation fighters.”

In detail, the press statement elaborated:

Aircraft AF-2 did not have the mission systems software to use the sensors that allow the F-35 to see its enemy long before it knows the F-35 is in the area. Second, AF-2 does not have the special stealth coating that operational F-35s have that make them virtually invisible to radar. And third, it is not equipped with the weapons or software that allow the F-35 pilot to turn, aim a weapon with the helmet, and fire at an enemy without having to point the airplane at its target.

Specifically addressing the January 2015 visual range air-to-air engagement test, the Joint Program Office states:

While the dogfighting scenario was successful in showing the ability of the F-35 to maneuver to the edge of its limits without exceeding them, and handle in a positive and predictable manner, the interpretation of the scenario results could be misleading.

It also notes that there have been tests conducted in the past where F-35s won simulated engagements against F-16s:  

The F-35’s technology is designed to engage, shoot, and kill its enemy from long distances, not necessarily in visual “dogfighting” situations. There have been numerous occasions where a four-ship of F-35s has engaged a four-ship of F-16s in simulated combat scenarios and the F-35s won each of those encounters because of its sensors, weapons, and stealth technology.

As the Washington Post reports, last month the U.S. Marine Corps tested its version of the F-35 and announced that “it performed flawlessly.” The Marine Corps is close to declaring the plane combat ready—a significant milestone for the F-35 program.

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