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JSF Not Very Stealthy: Air Power Australia Says

Air Power Australia’s Dr. Carlo Kopp has got to be the least favorite person in Lockheed Martin/Joint Strike Fighter circles. The Australian think tank/web site/journal puts out some impressively detailed assessments of modern aircraft, including western, Russian and Chinese models, and air defense systems.

Now, just to be clear on agendas, Kopp is a HUGE fan of the F-22 and thinks Australia is wasting money with its planned buy of some 100 JSF. But his analyses are compelling and certainly more detailed than anything the Air Force or Lockheed Martin put out.

Back in November, Kopp wrote a lengthy assessment of the JSF’s air combat capabilities, rebutting what he called “remarkable claims” by the JSF team. Kopp says claims that the JSF could outperform the Sukhoi Su-35 “Flanker” in air combat were “impossible to reconcile” with what is known about the Russian built aircraft and JSF capabilities. Advances in counter-stealth radar and other technologies have “rendered the concept of the Joint Striker Fighter obsolete before it has even completed Flight Test or entered full rate production.” The JSF would be unable to best future Flanker variants in either beyond visual range or within visual range air combat, he writes. It is seriously outgunned by its payload of only two internally carried missiles, whereas the Flanker carries up to twelve beyond visual range missiles, allowing multiple salvoes.

Kopp’s latest paper, out this week, attacks the idea that the JSF could be used as a penetrating strike aircraft. The JSF is not a true stealth aircraft, like the B-2 and F-22, because its design “departs strongly from key stealth shaping rules,” after design changes altered the lower fuselage of the aircraft during early development. Instead of a smooth, flat bottom, the JSF has “multiple specular reflecting shapes, specifically due to singly and doubly curved lower fuselage surface feature shaping.” Those shapes makes the JSF’s radar cross section appear more like a conventional fighter aircraft, rather than a stealthy one. He writes that the JSF “can provide genuinely good stealth performance only in a fairly narrow ~29° sector about the aircraft’s nose.”

I found the most interesting part of the paper to be its very detailed discussion of current and in development Russian air-defense systems and radar performance. Kopp concludes that the JSF would be unable to stealthily penetrate modern SAM systems, particularly the new generation search and targeting radars and long range missiles included in the S-300 and S-400 series. Rather than fixed in dense SAM belts, such as those that lined the German frontier in Cold War days, the new Russian air defense systems are highly mobile, and staggered in depth, “to ensure that a penetrating aircraft must get past two or three missile batteries to break through these defenses.” He likened the overlapping radar and missile coverage to that of cell phone tower coverage. The JSF would have to shoot its way through such defenses in a version of a pre-stealth era air suppression campaign.

Again, Kopp does not hide his aircraft preferences: “the operational economics of a fighter force using the Joint Strike Fighter will be much inferior to a force using a true all aspect stealth aircraft such as the F-22A Raptor.” Nonetheless, his analysis of the JSF and modern Russian built air defense systems is one of the most detailed found in open sources and is well worth consideration.

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