back to article USMC: We want more F-35s per year than you Limeys will get in half a decade

The head of US Marine Corps aviation wants to buy more F-35Bs per year than the UK will receive in the next five. At a press conference yesterday, Lieutenant General Jon Davis, USMC deputy commandant for aviation, said he wants the service to increase its purchase rate to 37 F-35Bs per year. Under current plans, the USMC …

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  1. Professor Clifton Shallot

    Irrational

    But I feel something like affection for the Harrier so it's sad that anyone wants to replace them.

    They're just cooler and quirkier than anything else around.

    1. CPU

      Re: Irrational

      They are solid and battle hardend, but they are very old now.

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: Irrational

        I'd put £100 on a Harrier being able to take down an F-35 every day of the week.

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: Irrational

          "I'd put £100 on a Harrier being able to take down an F-35 every day of the week."

          They'd have to be able to get up before anyone could take them down.

        2. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Irrational

          Given that (unlike the F35) the Harrier has software to fire it's weapons, that's a pretty safe bet both at the moment and for the foreseeable future.

          If/When the F35 reaches full capability then the F35 would win a long range head to head missile engagement due to being able to see and shoot at the Harrier first.

          The Harrier would still win a close range "dogfight" due to the well practiced freaky antics it can pull with thrust vectoring causing the opposition to overshoot, shortly followed by the overshooting aircraft getting a missile tossed up the ass. Tested and proved to work in combat conditions as well.

          I wouldn't like to take an F35 into close action, which WILL happen when somebody high up wonders "are we sure that's hostile? Obtain visual confirmation it's not an airliner..."

          1. SkippyBing Silver badge

            Re: Irrational

            'The Harrier would still win a close range "dogfight" due to the well practiced freaky antics it can pull with thrust vectoring causing the opposition to overshoot, shortly followed by the overshooting aircraft getting a missile tossed up the ass. Tested and proved to work in combat conditions as well.'

            Have you got a source for that, because despite it being practised I'm unaware of any occasion in actual combat where the Harrier used vectoring to cause another aircraft to overshoot it. Certainly none of the kills in the Falklands Conflict were achieved that way.

            On a related matter the F-35 has just completed its first Red Flag exercise where they managed a 15:1 kill ratio.

            1. Dave 15 Silver badge

              Re: Irrational

              I don't know if the Harrier ever actually vectored to avoid being shot down, I doubt it, from my recollection of Falklands the Harriers were winning far too well to be in danger of being shot down.

              Who ran the red flag exercise? Lockheed for a guess. I watched a report from Australia where 95% of the F35s failed to return from missions against reasonable modern opposition (like the Russian SU planes). Indeed they appear to fail fairly basically against existing American planes as well.

              True the Harrier is old but frankly I would like to see our government doing the reverse of its last move, buy all the Harriers it sent to America and all these usmc ones at a knock down price, put them on the carriers, build a couple more small carriers and go ... at least we have something to sail around in.

              And yes, agree with the comments about missiles and saturation of the ships defences... but more ships is more targets is a slightly better chance for an individual ship to survive....

              1. SkippyBing Silver badge

                Re: Irrational

                'Who ran the red flag exercise? Lockheed for a guess'

                No the USAF, it runs multiple times a year every year.

              2. MrT

                VIFFing and the Falklands conflict...

                @Dave 15

                From a bit of a dig around, this PDF doc from the RAF (particularly around p108) reads like they knew about VIFFing but didn't really use it. All the Harrier kills were by AIM-9 Sidewinder (newer L variant, compared to the older G units used up to the conflict), so there's a chance VIFFing could have been used to help acquire targets, but by and large they didn't engage in dogfighting.

                Sea Harriers shot down:

                9 IAI Daggers (Mirage V equivalent)

                7 A-4 Skyhawks

                1 Mirage III

                ...and 3 other aircraft.

            2. Measurer

              Re: Irrational

              I think it was a USMC pilot who first used it in combat, rather than the RAF (Gulf War 1 maybe). Remember seeing a documentary on it a while back.

            3. Tom 38 Silver badge
              Joke

              Re: Irrational

              'The Harrier would still win a close range "dogfight" due to the well practiced freaky antics it can pull with thrust vectoring causing the opposition to overshoot, shortly followed by the overshooting aircraft getting a missile tossed up the ass. Tested and proved to work in combat conditions as well.'

              Have you got a source for that, because despite it being practised I'm unaware of any occasion in actual combat where the Harrier used vectoring to cause another aircraft to overshoot it.

              Yeah, there was an engagment with MiGs over the Indian Ocean, the MiG had a lock on Maverick and Goose, Maverick hit the brakes and the MiG flew right by and then Maverick popped him.

              I thought everyone knew this?!

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Maverick and Goose

                The US Squids in "Top Gun" were flying an F-14, you silly goose

                1. JJKing Bronze badge
                  Coat

                  Re: Maverick and Goose

                  The US Squids in "Top Gun" were flying an F-14, you silly goose

                  Yes, an F-14 Harrier. #Fact #Period #Sad #Unfair

                  Mines the one with the ski ramp in the pocket.

            4. IWVC

              Re: Irrational

              Well a bit too old to be relevant now but Sharkey Ward's book Sea Harrier over the Falklands has some interesting accounts of operating in bad North sea conditions when the US carriers couldn't launch (Chapter 1) and some exercises with the US using F5s and F15s where they used the Harrier's characteristics to their advantage (Chapter 6). He reckoned you could pull a 2G "stop" at 400 knot by vectoring and used it against F5s.

              Having said that he isn't exactly reserved and unbiased in describing the performance of the Sea Harrier :-)

            5. MrDamage

              Re: Irrational

              > "On a related matter the F-35 has just completed its first Red Flag exercise where they managed a 15:1 kill ratio."

              Flying through a flock of sparrows and then crashing doesn't exactly count as 15:1 kill ratio.

              /trollface

          2. MJI Silver badge

            Re: Irrational

            Harrier is combat proven and difficult to fight against.

            It is small, can hide its exhaust easily, manouverable, and had excellent RADAR (FRS1/FA2).

            The BVR missiles actually have to be able to see the Harrier to hit them.

            The US is not keen on its best aircraft, Harrier and A10

          3. Mage Silver badge
            Black Helicopters

            Re: Irrational

            Maybe if it's irrational enough, May would buy them?

            Otherwise some evil anti-human rights regime will buy them.

            1. GingerOne

              Re: Irrational

              "Maybe if it's irrational enough, May would buy them?

              Otherwise some OTHER evil anti-human rights regime will buy them."

              FTFY

          4. John Smith 19 Gold badge

            "freaky antics it can pull with thrust vectoring causing the opposition to overshoot, "

            Invented by a couple of USMC pilots IIRC (Vectoring In Forward Flight)

        3. SundogUK

          Re: Irrational

          You'd lose.

          http://uk.businessinsider.com/f-35-slaughters-competition-red-flag-2017-2?r=US&IR=T

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Irrational

            You'd lose.

            Maybe, but the source you quote (and all the way back to the Pentagon and Lockheed) I wouldn't trust an inch. The F35 programme is long on cost, short on delivery. Having some token exercise to generate some impressive "kill" figures is mere marketing by the military-industrial machine, and I don't believe it.

            Against a third rate air force, certainly, and in an environment with no modern air defence weaponry. But against modern air defence assets, I'd expect the F35 to suffer significant losses (and the same for any other state of the art military aircraft from any nation).

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Irrational

              "Maybe, but the source you quote (and all the way back to the Pentagon and Lockheed) I wouldn't trust an inch. The F35 programme is long on cost, short on delivery. Having some token exercise to generate some impressive "kill" figures is mere marketing by the military-industrial machine, and I don't believe it."

              There is a book (and movie) about real life experiences in weapons development programmes, written by an officer who worked in that area of the Pentagon... "The Pentagon Wars"... recommended.

            2. eldakka Silver badge

              Re: Irrational

              I am not a fan of the F-35, however...

              "But against modern air defence assets, I'd expect the F35 to suffer significant losses"

              Considering that is outside the specifications and purpose of the F-35, of course it would not do well.

              The F-35 IS a 2nd-rate fighter, designed to be the workhorse/bomb-truck to the F-22.

              It's use doctrine is:

              Let the F-22s and Intruder-type aircraft take out the enemy air defences - aircraft, AA, etc.

              THEN the F-35 does the high-rate close-air-support and precision strike sorties, with no significant enemy air defences left intact.

              It is not designed to be a front-line dogfighter or a 'penetration'-type strike aircraft, that's the f-22's job.

          2. Bitbeisser

            Re: Irrational

            >You'd lose.

            >

            >http://uk.businessinsider.com/f-35-slaughters-competition-red-flag-2017-2?r=US&IR=T

            Irrelevant for the way the Harriers are being used (and have been intended ever since they were selected): Close Air Support.

            And in that role, a F-35 will just suck, just for the same reason why the A-10 is kept busy over the fast guys in their F-16/F-15/-F18.

            An A-10/Harrier can get in close on a strafing run within a couple hundred feet, the jet-jockeys would shit their G-suits out of fear they hit friendlies when doing so.

            1. Robert Sneddon

              The Bad Guys shoot back

              "An A-10/Harrier can get in close on a strafing run within a couple hundred feet, "

              The Bad Guys, even irregular guerilla forces usually have heavy machine guns that can shoot back if a ground attack aircraft gets within "a couple hundred feet". Pilots that want to go home after work shoot up the Bad Guys from a few kilometres away using Hellfire and Brimstone missiles from well out of range of heavy MGs and shoulder-fired missiles. As a bonus they don't accidentally walk cannonfire through friendly forces when the nose of the aircraft drops in a rough air pocket.

              A sniper wouldn't charge his target to bayonet them, why would it be necessary for ground attack aircraft to knife-fight when they can stand off beyond visual range and turn the opposition into mince without allowing them a glimpse of the weapons platform that is destroying them?

              As for the Harrier, a triumph of 1970s engineering, it is slow and short-ranged with a limited payload compared to regular catapult-launched aircraft such as the F/A-18. Its big advantage for the USMC is its ability to operate from rough airfields and short decks on the Tarawa-class and new America-class Marine assault ships, America's other aircraft carriers. The F35-B can also fly off those short decks as well as being faster, longer-ranged, smarter, stealthier and generally isn't falling apart due to the age of the airframe hence the USMC's keen interest in getting more of them as soon as possible to replace their forty-year-old Harriers.

              1. 22ten

                Re: The Bad Guys shoot back

                Hellfire and Brimstone missiles??? You must love paying tax, since you get a lot of shells and flying time for the cost of just one missile!!!

          3. Potemkine Silver badge

            Re: Irrational

            What was the opposition? F-5?

      2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Irrational

        They are solid and battle hardend, but they are very old now.

        And? They are perfectly fitting the standard job of an aircraft carrier nowdays - sit offshore and pound some locals which are at Iron Age level into the Stone Age. They are perfectly fit for purpose for that. NOTHING else though.

        They are as unsuited for warfare against a major power as an F35 because their carrier with all of its protection will last ~ 3 minutes against a full-on saturation missile attack by any of the top 10 major world powers.

        For example China has ~ 1000+ anti-ship missiles on station in the Chinia Sea fleet. 1000+ more on mainland coastal installations, installations on the new "artificial islands" and god knows how many carried by their air force and single carrier wing. It does not matter are they good or bad. A USA or NATO carrier group will run out of defensive ammo half-way through the attack. After that they are dead meat.

        If we go down the list - India is arming itself to the teeth to the same standard, other top 20 economies are all exploring the same route.

        This equation will not change until we switch to energy weapons for defense - something that requires a power source to run and needs no ammo. That is clearly not on the menu for decades to come.

        1. Potemkine Silver badge

          Re: Irrational

          You're absolutely true, but you can't forget Harriers' mainframes endured a lot of stress: it has mechanical consequences, metal fatigue becomes worrying when a plane gets old.

    2. ToddRundgrensUtopia

      Re: Irrational

      and much slower

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Irrational

        "and much slower"

        Only on the straight - lose the F35s in the corners, like Harleys and AUDIs.

        1. Diginerd

          Re: Irrational

          "much slower".

          Remember my dad reminiscing about El Reg's other favorite "slow" naval aircraft - The Swordfish.

          IIRC it did far better in ACTUAL combat Vs much faster and technically "Better" enemy aircraft in WWII. Something to do with the "bad guys" leading their targets too much as they were trained against "faster and better" aircraft.

          Obsolete tech aside - something to be said for a Crack'ling rush vs far fewer, more capable, but more costly units.*

          *StarCraft reference for those who haven't experienced the damage this kind of assault can deliver.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            > something to be said for a Crack'ling rush vs far fewer, more capable, but more costly units.*

            You're the sort of brood mother who never pauses to think of Mrs Zerg and the little Zerglets at home, waiting for the squick-squick-squick of daddy's pseudopods returning...

            Today there's still one very expensive bit fitted to every cheap unit: the pilot. Expensive to train, and very dear indeed to someone, if only themself. Except in times of heroic sacrifice they get very glum if they think they're just cannon fodder. Give it a few years, then perhaps the sten gun equivalent in drones will take this up: couple of Raspberry Pis bolted to a Maplins quadcopter.

            Of every-zerg-is-sacred-every-zerg-is-great, Max Hastings made the trenchant observation that the relatively slow advance of the Western Armies in WWII after Normandy can be best understood as everyone involved knowing that the war was already effectively won and not wanting to be the last one to die. Seen this way the timidity is a badge of civilisation: our chaps could focus on getting home alive without that being a sure appointment with a Gestapo lyncher or an NKVD machine-gunner.

      2. Bitbeisser

        Re: Irrational

        The slower might rather be an advantage when it comes to the use case for the Harriers (or the V/STOL F-35), close air support. There, slow is better, as it helps to deliver it payload closer to friendly troops with better accuracy.

        The same reason why it will be a sad day for the US military (and a lot of friendly nations on the same missions) if the US Airforce is ever to retired the A-10. The jet-jockey brass all want to play Ricky Bobby and go fast, but that ain't helping the guys on the ground...

  2. CPU

    I seem to remember that F-35B are about as buggy as Windows 10, requiring a great many updates. Ah well, we only need a few to see off the Icelandic gunboats come Brexit.

  3. Dr Scrum Master

    Swap

    Can we have the Harriers that the USMC don't want and put them on HMS QE instead?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Swap

      Didn't we sell ours to the Marines anyway?

      Should have done it through Lend-Lease...

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Swap

        Yup, we sold the yanks all of our Harriers to use for spares.

        At least they're looking after them ok in the boneyard.

        1. RealBigAl

          Re: Swap

          I'm confused. I thought the USMC Harriers were scaled up versions of the original harriers, scratch built under license to a scaled up design and about twice the size of UK Harriers. Surely the parts aren't interchangeable?

          1. not.known@this.address Bronze badge

            Re: Swap

            The original Harrier line was quite extensively reworked but we had the GR5/GR7/GR9 and the Americans the AVB8 - the only real external difference is that ours had additional pylons (weapons mounts) attached to the front of the outrigger fairings.

            But we had them too.

            1. Siberian Hamster

              Re: Swap

              To my knowledge, the last major upgrade to the Harrier was an extended composite wing designed by McDonnell Douglas which gave extended range and carrying capacity, but at reduced speed and turn rate. BAe designed a GR5K "tin wing" Harrier which maintained the turn rate.

              This "tin wing" could have been retrofitted to the existing Harrier (and Sea Harrier) fleet giving a faster, more manoeuvrable aircraft with more lift capacity than the AV-8B, but the US Government would only buy their own AV-8B design, and would only purchase if the RAF also purchased it.

              As a compromise BAe designed metal wing root leading edge extensions which gave improved turn rate. These were eventually fitted to both the RAF and US Marine Corps versions of the AV-8B. The wing root leading edge extensions are metal because McDonnells refused to export the composite materials technology to BAe.

              Note that the eventual AV-8B/GR5/GR7 is actually slower than the GR3/FRS1

              1. ecofeco Silver badge

                Re: Swap

                Very interesting SH. Thanks for that.

  4. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Nice turn of phrase

    Bottom line is we've had a very anaemic ramp

    I must remember that one for the next project meeting where I have to say I've done nothing because no-one has been in a position to send me any data yet.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Nice turn of phrase

      Bottom line is we've had a very anaemic ramp

      And our carriers do too- and an anaemic catapult.

  5. ArrZarr Silver badge

    Am I missing something?

    Our current harriers work, right? The problem is that they're getting old so they're more likely to have issues relating to metal fatigue etc. That means they need replacing.

    Can't we just build new ones?

    1. Van

      Re: Am I missing something?

      That wouldn't enrich enough contractors.

      Scaled down drone Harriers controlled by F35s would be cool.

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Am I missing something?

      The Spitfire works, lets just build more of them.

      1. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: Am I missing something?

        From current reports I guess they even work better than this f35 junk.

      2. ArrZarr Silver badge

        Re: Am I missing something?

        Even the F-35B would probably be able to beat one of the old warbirds within visual range. Would it beat the Harrier within visual range?

      3. Alan Edwards

        Re: Am I missing something?

        A Spitfire with a turbo-prop engine, contra-rotating variable-pitch props, and fly-by-wire. *That* could be interesting...

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