U.S. JournalistsSurvey of F35 New Problem: Supersonic Disruption of Invisibility

category:Military
 U.S. JournalistsSurvey of F35 New Problem: Supersonic Disruption of Invisibility


The F-35 stealth fighter, which the US Air Force is proud of, has been found to have a serious problem: in supersonic flight, the F-35B and F-35C stealth coatings will bubble and destroy the stealth performance of the aircraft. This prevents the F-35C from performing supersonic interception missions.

In this regard, Loma said that these problems are class 1 B and are small problems that can be solved before F-35 full-rate production.

The combination of the F-35C and DDG1000, though sci-fi-like, is a source of trouble for two new generation combat systems: social media.

Stealth problem

According to the US Defense News website on June 12, the U.S. Department of Defense has considered the F-35 to be a more successful project in the past few years. Compared with other major U.S. military projects, such as Ford class carriers, the F-35 has few problems, so the Defense Department just complains to Loma about the high maintenance costs and troubles.

But the F-35 has also been in trouble recently: after investigation by American journalists, 13 serious problems have been found in the F-35, the most serious of which is that the F-35C coating will bubble in supersonic conditions, resulting in pilots unable to turn on afterburner for supersonic interception.

Because there are so many problems, defense news has simply created a thematic map source: social media.

The problem first appeared seven years ago: in the flutter test at the end of 2011, F-35B and F-35C were tested at Mach 1.3 and Mach 1.4 respectively to test the supersonic capability of the aircraft. During an inspection in November 2011, testers found that the stealth coating near the horizontal wing and tail of the F-35B continued to bubbles, which seriously affected the stealth structure of the F-35C.

Subsequently, in further tests, the researchers found that thermal damage significantly impaired the structural integrity of horizontal and tail wings. This problem will lead to reduced stealth capability, impaired communication, navigation and identification antennas, and/or significant (horizontal tail damage) of the F-35C.

This makes it impossible for the new ship-borne aircraft to perform the supersonic interception mission, which is vital to fleet air defense. The fault, labeled Category I Defects (CAT1), is the most serious defect classification in the U.S. weapon system.

No additional force is recommended.

Subsequently, the U.S. Department of Defense partially solved the problem by asking the Navy not to intercept at supersonic speed. The Ministry of Defense has limited the time for F-35B/C to start afterburner flights (more than 1.2 times the speed of sound). The Ministry of Defense requires naval pilots to fly at Mach 1.3 only for 50 seconds while driving F-35C, and then to reset afterburner time after maintaining a three-minute non-afterburner state under military thrust.

Maintenance personnel of the 388 Squadron are maintaining the F-35A of the Squadron. During the Red Flag-19 exercise, the 388 Squadron claimed to use the F-35A alone to break through the source of the air defense system of China and Russia: the US Air Force.

However, according to this years report of the Accountability Bureau, this ban has little effect because time-limited timers are difficult to observe under combat conditions by pilots. The report shows that in many cases, pilots are unable to comply with the time-limit due to heavy tasks, which may lead to aircraft damage and affect the completion of tasks.

In addition, the Ministry of Defense has improved the stealth coating to alleviate this problem, but the Ministry of Defense does not intend to solve this problem thoroughly - the reason given by the Ministry of Defense is that Mach 1.3 is already on the edge of the F-35B/C envelope, so it is a minor problem and there is no need to make a big move to push the F-35B/C back.

The reason given by Loma is similar to that given by the Ministry of Defense. The problem of supersonic invisibility encountered by the F-35C belongs to the accidental situation in the limit condition test and is basically impossible to reproduce. Greg Ulmer, head of Lockheed Martins F-35 project, said that this had not happened in a fleet of fighter jets, and that these accidents were limited to the highest limits of flight test conditions and were unlikely to recur in combat scenarios.

Loma said the faulty F-35Cs were pre-eighth batch aircraft. After the eighth batch, Loma launched a new heat-resistant coating, which Ulmer described as capable of withstanding what we call thermal shock waves, but refused to specify how the coating worked or how much protection it provided.

Winter admits that if similar problems occur more widely in F-35C stockpiles, defects may prevent the Navy from completing supersonic interception missions.

F-35C on the Carvinson carrier, F-35C was criticized by the Navy for flying too slowly to reach mission airspace quickly to perform fleet interception mission source: U.S. Navy

Interception Tradition

The Navy is very dissatisfied with the fact that the F-35C can not cruise at supersonic speed. The concept of F-35 series fighters is to shoot down enemy planes before enemy planes detect themselves. However, due to historical and cultural reasons, naval airmen do not believe in the idea of long-range killing. After all, the Vietnam War suffered losses. These naval airmen, who grew up watching the film, are obsessed with some of the basic skills of carrier-based airmen, such as supersonic interception, dog fighting and throwing unguided bombs. This is also the motivation for the TopGun series of exercises 50 years ago, and the F-35C has done poorly in these areas.

A retired U.S. Naval pilot commented: Considering the use and capability of this aircraft, this is a considerable limitation. You know, if we want to use these planes on the first day of the war, it means that we can only use built-in and internal fuel, which means that I have to take off close enough to attack the enemy, which is very dangerous. In addition, if I had to maneuver to avoid a missile or hit another aircraft, the aircraft might have maneuvering problems --- if I swerved around, left these guys and turned on the afterburner, it would start to melt or have problems.

Combining the limitations of afterburner with another drawback of aircraft maneuverability, 20-degree angle-of-attack maneuverability, can be fatal in dog fighting.

In addition, the problem of invisibility also affects F-35Cs most critical capability, overseas deployment. We may have to work at sea for eight months, so if you damage the invisibility of these planes in the first week because of boosting, it will bepermanentlydamaged unless you can spend a few months trying to get the plane where it can be repaired, the old naval pilot said.

For naval airmen, they have been flying very slowly for generations...

But Navigation has become accustomed to the problem of new aircraft, the pilot said, think of the F-14, when the aircraft used variable swept wings and AUG9 radar, they also encountered growing pains. After decades of first-hand experience of the national defense industry, the old pilot was quite open-minded: at least Loma could find the problem early, rather than asking why the aircraft is going to go wrong, knowing that the F-35 is a F-king complex aircraft.

A lot of trouble

In total, the F-35 encountered 13 Category 1 problems. In addition to supersonic cruise problems, other problems of the F-35 include but are not limited to: peak pressure in the cockpit can cause pilots to experience extreme ear and sinus pain; problems with helmet-mounted displays and night vision systems make it difficult for the F-35C to land on an aircraft carrier; and serious control problems may arise when the F-35 is above 20 degrees of attack.

In addition to the June report, the F-35 has had a number of problems in recent years. On April 25 this year, the GAO released a new report, which revealed that in 2018, about 50% of F-35 fighters worldwide could not meet the rigid target of eight months of annual service.

In its report, the Bureau of Accountability said that poor operational readiness was due to poor logistical maintenance capabilities. The Bureau of Accountability pointed out that the ability of the Ministry of Defense to repair damaged parts remained limited, resulting in a backlog of 4300 parts in the F-35 maintenance center. Because many parts are more difficult to repair than expected, it took more than six months between September and November to repair the parts that should have been repaired in two to three months.

The lack of spare parts has made the U.S. Air Force principal air force, and in order to maintain operational readiness, F-35 squadron personnel are removing spare parts from other F-35 units that are no longer flying, rather than waiting for new parts to be delivered to their squadrons through the supply chain.

To make matters worse, because of the long production time of the F-35, there is a big difference between the first F-35 produced from the production line and the recently produced F-35. The Government Accountability Bureau found that, apart from software changes, the fleet has at least 39 different component combinations.

The GAO-18-75 report of the Government Accountability Bureau lists the source of the current problems facing the F-35: the United States Government Accountability Office

Attitudes of Congress

Another point mentioned in the report is that the serious problems encountered by the F-35, including the previous problem of less than 50% combat readiness attendance, have escaped the close attention of Congress and the media. Nor have these issues been notified to F-35 allies, exposing the lack of transparency in the most expensive and compelling F-35 system in the U.S. Department of Defense.

This may be related to Lockheeds immediate full rate production of the F-35. By the end of 2019, the leaders of the Ministry of Defense will make key decisions on whether to end the R&D phase of the F-35 and enter the full-rate production phase. After entering the full rate production stage, Lockheed Martins annual production will soar from 91 in 2018 to 160 in 2023. However, the current 13 category 1 problems may affect the time for Loma to enter full rate production.

U.S. Defense Department F-35 Program Manager and Navy Lieutenant General Mat Winter said the F-35 Joint Project Office seems to have made rapid progress, but not all problems can be resolved before full-speed production decisions. Winter said that the shortcomings belong to the 1B category and will not affect the overall task execution ability.

Despite the problems and the fact that the F-35 is not transparent to Congress when it encounters them, Congress still supports the F-35 program. Defense News also believes that the F-35s current range of technical problems are unlikely to pose a survival threat to the project, as recent advances in solving the problem by Loma and the Air Force have reduced the cost of the fuselage, which has enabled Congress to continue supporting the fighter.

Despite many problems, the F-35 project is still the least problematic project in the United States in the new century.

Winter said that the deployed F-35 fighters have met or exceeded the performance targets, and they are very confident about the F-35 project.

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Source: Responsible Editor of Observer: Yao Wenguang_NN1682