Australian F-111s

AVM Criss: Does Groupthink Power Australia’s JSF?

Defense Industry Daily hosts an article by retired Australian Air Vice Marshal Peter Criss which includes:

An interim purchase or lease of strike aircraft, when we already own and have spares to support our existing strike aircraft, the F-111, for another decade would make even less sense than the current decision to withdraw that aircraft by 2010.

In his evidence to a Parliamentary committee recently, the Chief of Air Force stated that he was concerned about ‘not knowing what it is that he does not know’. Now I am concerned. Apparently, because CAF says they ‘don’t know what they don’t know about the F-111’, this is sufficient justification to get rid of it prematurely. Yet the Aerospace Adviser to the Minister recently acknowledged that a fully combat-capable JSF will not be available until around 2018.

Even before the recent North Korean action, the F-111 decision was questionable. It makes even less sense now.

The Australian F-111s came up in an MO post by Nicholas (an Australian) on the 2006 Richmond Air Show.


  1. During the air show my friend asked one of the F-111 pilots what he thought of the decision to replace it with the JSF. I didn’t hear exactly what he said in response but my friend indicated that he ‘wasn’t happy’ about the reduction in combat radius that would result. Perhaps he isn’t looking forward to becoming an expert in air-to-air refuelling :)

  2. On the one hand, with countries around them buying Mig-30s, what other airplane can they buy that can either take them down in the defensive role? On the other hand, they can’t afford enough F-35’s to do actually defend their airspace, and they won’t be available for a long time. They are between a rock and a hard place. In my opinion, if 9/11 pointed out anything it pointed out the need for a small, low cost (it’s hard to type with a straight face), reduced signature, no frills, no radar, network ready, US made air defense fighter. It needs to be an airplane that can turn and dogfight with anything out there, but also with enough speed (Mach 2 capable loaded for bear) to actually intercept a jet. It’s not just us that needs this kind of airplane. Our allies need these too. If Australia had some of these, it would make obvious sense for them to keep their F-111s for the long haul.

  3. I think we could do quite well with some F-22s actually. They are available now-ish, they’re very capable and have decent range (although still nothing on the F-111’s). Carrying capacity is poor but we’d probably just have to strap stuff on the outside and live with the worse stealth. The reason we’re getting JSFs, from what I read, is that back when our gov’t was making a decision, the JSF was projected to cost less than half of what the F-22 was going to. Since then, the JSF’s price has inflated to the point where it’s barely any cheaper. If we’d known that was going to happen back then I think we would have made a different decision. (If I were in charge, I would have pushed for F-22s anyway, but that’s just me…) Who would have thought a plane based on similar technology, but smaller and with half as many of the same engines, would end up costing almost as much?

  4. IMO JSF is in deep trouble. When people can claim with a fairly straight face that a JSF will cost about as much as a F-22, while delivering inferior performance – there is a problem. The land down under should really start looking into getting the classic high low mix. I would get a couple of squadrons of F-22’s as the high cost, with several squadrons of F-15I’s or F-15K’s as the low cost. Another equalizer is to get an AWACS rigged with AMRAAM data links – Mate the AMRAAM’s on a X-45C or other stealthy UCAV. The idea is use the UCAV’s a force multipler by enabling the warfighter to flood the sky with air to ar missiles.

  5. I think the JSF will end up working as advertised, and I think it will be worth it since it will be the world’s first operational V/STOL supersonic fighter (with stealth and good maneuverability no less). But the price tag is going to be very steep, and I think that it makes sense for the USAF to buy more F-22s and less F-35s because of it. Likely international orders will be reduced due to the massive cost increases too. I guess it makes sense to replace our F-18s with F-35s since they are similarly capable. But, I think we’ll have to keep our F-111s or lose our long range strike. I really don’t see why we can’t do both. It’ll cost a bit of money, but capabilities don’t come free.

  6. I could have told your government the F-35 wouldn’t be that much cheaper, but they didn’t ask sooo… The F-35 has some advantages over the F-22 other than cost. They don’t eat up as much interior space with intake ducting (relatively speaking) because of a better layout. Both suck on aerodynamics though.

  7. Really? I would have thought good aerodynamics would be required for supercruise… I had no idea the F-35’s price was going to blow out so much, but I never thought it was really appropriate for our needs anyway. Either way would mean it can’t be recommended, I suppose. Yeah, I think the F-35 can store more A-G munition internally. Which is handy, but I’m not sure if that makes up for the other deficiencies. I can’t help but wonder how hard/expensive an FB-22 would have been. Can’t have cost as much as the F-35 program. But the F-35 is still the only modern V/STOL…

  8. The F-35 is made from the same stuff as the F-22 using the same processes. It has about the same avionics, although updated. It has an updated version of the same radar. Really, the only difference is with one you pay for two engines and the other you pay for one. There is just not going to be much of a price break for that. Supercruise? Heck, you can make a barn door supercruise if you put a big enough engine behind it. That ain’t nothin’. Unfortunately there was no good option aerodynamically in the JSF competition. Both sucked. As for the FB-22, forget about it. Take a top view drawing or picture of the F-22, draw the intakes in (roughly ‘S’ them into the engines), and try to stretch it so you can fit some bombs in that pig. There’s no way. You can stretch the forward fuselage, but it is thin and you have to watch the center of gravity to make sure it doesn’t move too far forward when you do. Now if they made an FB version of the YF-23, that would be the thing. With those intakes out on the wing it is fairly easy to stretch that bird. They’d need to get the hired-guns that originally designed the plane involved. Some of the aero tricks they employed don’t stretch too well unless you actually know what you’re doing. I remember a day when companies like Lockheed had people who knew what they were doing. It’s a damn shame.

  9. The biggest problem I see with the JSF is that they are trying to build a ‘Swiss-army-knife’ airplane…and it’s coming off as a mediocre performer. It’s supposed to replace the Air force F-16 family as an air-to-air/light-air-to-ground plane. It doesn’t perform as well in both those categories. It’s supposed to replace the F-18 and Harrier for the marines…and as far as performance goes it beats out the harrier, but I think it loses out in the f-18 envelope. It’s also supposed to be the Navy’s new bomb truck. Again, it’s a mediocre performer in that job too. The only real improvement it has over other aircraft is frontal aspect stealth, and VTOL to Supercruise envelope. supercruise has more to do with engine design and efficiency than aerodynamics. Remember the unofficial motto of the F-4, ‘Given enough thrust, even a brick can fly’. As a light bomb truck, its average. As a dog fighter, its average (that IS a function of aerodynamics and when you add stealth you wind up having to balance the stealth and the aerodynamics because up to this point, you really can’t have a top performer in both). As a VSTOL it’s an improvement. As an inexpensive ‘everyman’ fighter it sucks (too pricy). Only place where I am not sure if its an improvement or not is Close Air Support–and we won’t know that till we can compare the performance record of the ‘Hawg (original and improved). As a side note, next time the AF wants to ditch the ‘Hawg, let them–then navalize the suckers and give them to the Marines–they’ll love them.

  10. Coolhand77: I’ve long wanted a navalized A-10. Seems to me that they’d be able to operate off of LSDs, though you’d maybe want an angled flight deck. Really seems to me that the Marines would love it. But someone is sure to show up here and claim the Marines will never have to amphibiously assault an enemy-held shore ever again, so why bother? (Is ‘amphibiously’ a word?)

  11. Also, part of the article by the Australian notes that they’ve recently completed getting everything they need for a service life extension program for the F-111s. That money is already spent. Everything’s in place. Now, instead of extending the service life of the F-111s, they’re going to ditch them for a plane that isn’t ready yet and won’t match the current capabilities. As for the F-35 being a Swiss Army knife, that’s not really a bad thing. Unless you’re using the Swiss Army knife as your primary in every role. F-18s (also Swiss Army knives) are awesome, as are the F-16s. Navy had F-14s as the primary fighter, A-6s as the primary attack plane, and F-18s as the tweener. That was great. Then they ditch the two primary planes and make the tweener the primary plane in each role. Stupid. I mean, I liked the A-7, but it’s hard to argue that the fleet was worse off overall with F-18s instead of A-7s. Sure, the A-7 was a good plane, but it’s light attack role could be filled nicely by a plane that could also fill a fighter role quite nicely. If the A-7’s better bombing capabilities were really needed one day and the F-18 couldn’t get the job done, you just send in the A-6s. Then they retired the A-6s. Very very peacetime decision making, driven by bean counters and bureaucrats in bed with a shrinking defense industry base. With all the computer design and modelling we have available today, our planes should be light-years ahead of where they are. But between dumb decision-making and designs that are relatively lackluster compared to where they could really be, we don’t seem to be gaining much ground.

  12. That’s an excellent synopsis of where we are, Murdoc. We could do a lot more, but we aren’t allowed to. As for the backup becoming first string, they always claim it is to save money, and where is that money? We should be rolling in it by now, right? Save money! All these multi-role programs are really about is concentrating lots and lots of political power into one program. That’s spelled MONEY. The defense contractors learned long ago that the political clout of a big program gives them a blank check, and they’re more than happy to write in the amount they want. That’s why we redesigned the F-22 so many times, not because we needed to but because we could. It’s bad enough we do garbage like that in peace time, but we’re still doing it in war time! I hope they don’t seriously consider the F-35 to be a replacement for the A-10. It won’t carry nearly as much ordinance, doesn’t have the loiter time, and won’t take 1/100th the damage. Composites are great in stiffness/weight ratio and fatigue resistance, but don’t ask it to take a bullet.

  13. When the F-15/F-16’s came out. People looked at the specs, tested the birds and about 2 seconds later signed up for them. They were clearly head and shoulders about the Phantoms and the Thuds. The F-22 (cost aside), is clearly superior to the F-15 in most respects. The JSF, however, is not clearly superior to the F-16. Aside from its frontal arc stealth there is not much going for a JSF and in its ‘stealth’ mode it can’t really do all the much. Existing F=15/F-16 have better range, payloads, and manuverablity. Throwing in an internal 25mm cannon with all of 180 rounds is pretty much of a waste and no the JSF cannot supercruise. Virtually all of the enhancements of a JSF, are eletronic in origin and could be intergrated into a current F-15/F-16 design.

  14. James, are you sure the JSF is not better than the F-15/F-16/F-18 in terms of maneuverability? I thought that the engine would allow F-35 to outmanouver any other existing airplane, except the F-22. Also, the F-35 does not have supercruise capability???

  15. James is correct, as far as I know. In fact, the F-22 wouldn’t have any maneuverability advantage over the F-14 or F-15 if they had added the AVEN thrust vectoring nozzles to these airplanes back in the ’80s. Actually, due to the additional swivel axis of these nozzles, they’d have even more maneuverability than the F-22. Like improvements in so many other areas, they shelved these so they’d have a way to justify the high costs of their latest purchases. The F-14 with fly-by-wire, thrust vectoring, and F-119 engines would far outperform the F-22, supercruise farther and faster, and would probably enter supercruise without an afterburner, which made it a threat that had to be scrapped.

  16. Really if you think about it (oops, there’s that word again, think) it makes a lot more sense to add thrust vectoring to a non-stealth airplane than it does to have it on one that is stealthy. After all, when you’re in a dogfight, your position is known and your kenetic energy is low. Hell, that’s about as stupid as developing a super high tech radar for a stealth airplane. Doh!

  17. Yes, the F-15/F-16 are more manuverable. Look at the thrust to weight ratio’s. A F-15 maxes out at 68000 pounds, with it engines producing 58100lbs of thrust, resulting in a ratio of .85. A F-16 maxes out at 37500 pound with thrust totalling 29000 pounds giving you a .77 ratio. A f-35 maxes out at 60000 pounds with a thrust of 40000 giving you a .66 ratio. Now thrust to weight is not the end all be all, but its a fair indicator. For example in a pure dog fight between a F-15 and F-16, chances are the F-16 would win. (Yes, them there is fighting words…) The F-16 turns tighter, has better visability and is better suited for high G’s. A couple of other factoids. Combat radius – per Global Security. F-35A 590 F-16C 740 F-15c 685 Now, if you throw the F-35’s engine in a F-16 and add in some thrust vectoring and cannards, you can get a really wicked beast indeed.

  18. Canards. The F-22 could have had one if the General in charge of the competition wouldn’t have nixed it. That’s what canned the Grumman ATF entry. It never even got off the board because of one stupid Air Force General. If they were really interested in a dogfighter, surely the Grumman entry with the forward swept wing and canard would have been the thing, turning and burning at Mach 1.2. Stupidity. Pure stupidity.