US Air Force admits F-35 Lightning II fails to replace the aging F-16 fleet and announces the need for a new fighter jet. The new aircraft would be budget conscious and have less technological prowess as of F-35.
The US Air Force is launching a months-long study of tactical aviation requirements, seeking a force mix that addresses both near and long-term requirements, which will be available in time to inform the FY23 budget request, Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown said.
Air Force Chief suggested they would develop a new ‘fifth-generation-minus’ fighter jet, whose capabilities fall between the aging F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-35 Lightning II. The new aircraft is expected to be 4.5th-generation.
Nearly twenty years ago, the USAF started to develop the F-16’s successor. But the program grew more and more expensive as more cutting-edge technologies were poured into it. When the program grew too expensive, other nations were brought in as partners to offset the runaway costs.
In an ironic fist, the F-35 has become the kind of dilemma it was initially supposed to resolve. Now a new fighter jet is needed to meet the needs of the US Air Force.
In 2012, the Pentagon estimated the lifetime cost of the F-35 program at more than $1.5 trillion over 50 years, making it the most expensive fighter jet program in US history. The per-unit cost of F-35 is slightly less than $100 million. But the cost is only one factor of its concern.
Limitations of the F-35 program and F-16 fleet:
In spite of the advanced technology and cutting-edge capabilities, the stealth F-35 fighter suffers from structural flaws and a slew of challenges.
The most recent of them is an engine shortage problem. According to defense officials, it could take months before the situation begins to improve. The main cause of the engine shortage is expected then a longer repair and maintenance time period.
According to Defense News, as soon as 2022, nearly 5 to 6 percent of the F-35 fleet could be grounded as it waits for engine replacements.
Another challenge is the F-35’s software. It has an average of 8 million lines of code in its software and it’s suffering from a bug problem. To fix the issue, the US Department of Defense seeks help from experts of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute, and the Georgia Tech Research Institute. According to F-35 program spokesperson Laura Seal. Reported by Bloomberg.
The fighter jet also suffers from a touchscreen problem. After making the switch from hard flipped switches to touch screens, pilots report that unlike a physical switch that you are confident has been activated, touch screens in the plane don’t work 20 percent of the time.
In a nutshell, General Brown wants to limit how often the F-35 is being used.
The Air Force Chief Gen. Brown compared the F-35 to a Ferrari. He said, “you don’t drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays. This is our ‘high end’ fighter, we want to make sure we don’t use it all for the low-end fight.”
If we take a look at the F-16 fleet, it is relatively old. Even the newest variants among them were brought in 2001. Ordering more F-16s is not an option either because the fighter jet is falling behind the technological curve and modern-age combat requirements.
On the other hand, Russia and China are already fielding their considerably cheaper 5th generation fighter jets. Russia has Su-57 the most advanced, 5th-generation fighter in its inventory. While there’s considerable doubt that the F-35 could stand up to the Su-57 in a one-on-one dogfight. China is also fielding its twin-seater, 5th-generation J-20 fighter jet, which promises considerable offensive capabilities.
The US Air Force is surely looking for a fighter jet that could replace an old F-16 fleet and have close capabilities to a 5th-generation fighter jet.
Bringing a new fighter to replace its most successful aircraft the F-16 fleet is not an easy task. As it will take decades to develop such aircraft which fulfill all the operational requirements of the Air Force.