back to article US Air Force declares F-35 'combat-ready'

It's got dodgy radar, relies on an insecure database, boasts a buggy operating system, and a laser targeting system that can't be used for training in the UK, but the United States Air Force is satisfied that the F-35A fighter is ready for combat. So said Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command, on August …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Hawk' Carlisle ?

    Seriously ? They should've bought BAe ! Or Hawker. Well maybe the Navy can still get some Sea Hawks out of mothballs just to piss off the Air Force.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: 'Hawk' Carlisle ?

      Even if the Navy had any planes, what could they fly them off?

      (After a brief search, it looks like they might still own Illustrious, but I doubt she's in working order)

  2. Ian Emery Silver badge
    Joke

    But only against listed countries

    The list of "countries" the F35 is cleared to attack include :-

    Monaco

    Luxembourg

    Easter Island

    Jersey

    Iceland

    etc, you get the joke

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But only against listed countries

      Yeah, the irony there is that people still believe that the Mossack Fonseca leak was independent, whereas the remarkable absence of US entities in the leaked list was a dead giveaway*.

      * It was claimed that this was because of US based "havens" such as Delaware. Anyone who knows US federal laws knows that to be utter BS because they allow agencies access to anything on US soil or in US hands, so it's not hard to spot what is really going on.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But only against listed countries

      Are you sure that is a joke?

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: But only against listed countries

        "Are you sure that is a joke?"

        Must be. None of the countries listed has oil.

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: But only against listed countries

      It can't be used against Monoco or Luxemburg because the laser can't be used within 200km of freindlies.

      Iceland have an awesomely effective anti-aircraft volcano

      Easter island is out of range and the carrier version doesn't work

      And strangely the weapons system crashes with an error message "target contains director's bank account" when pointed at Jersey

  3. TechnicalBen Silver badge

    Perhaps

    This is just a deterrent. Like most other weapons. Never to be used?

    1. Oengus Silver badge

      Re: Perhaps

      The deterrent capability is that if launched against you it will probably hit the target, not with weapons but with F-35A itself, when the on-board systems fail.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Perhaps

        I think the idea behind detterent is supposed to be the other guys don't want to see you using it not your own.

        1. Khaptain Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Perhaps

          When you outsource your development to Iran, be prepared..

          Stuxnet bit back...

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: Perhaps

        "The deterrent capability is that if launched against you it will probably hit the target, not with weapons but with F-35A itself, when the on-board systems fail."

        back in the Vietnam war there was this radar system that this one guy I knew worked on. They liked it when he worked on the radar, because he'd tweek it so that it would last for an entire mission. The radar was built to fly, and as such, it was imperfect. It would drift out of spec during normal operation, lasting maybe an hour or so, and not long enough for the mission. So my friend would tweek it in such a way that it drifted from one end of the spec to the other because he understood the gear.

        When I was in the Navy there was this OTHER piece of gear, an air compressor, that I hated operating because it was 'never in spec'. One day the supervisor watch suggested I do certain things during startup that weren't exactly in the procedure, because he was tired of FIXING the thing because it was "never in spec" (and ran too cold, improperly lubricated, etc.). So whenever I operated it, I used "his procedure" even though it wasn't really *THE* procedure. Result was it went into spec within a short time, and I adjusted the lubricator correctly so it had the right amount of oil, while it was operating. [hopefully the REST of the Navy adopted this idea, too]

        And so I expect that when the techs and pilots start working together, we will see things "made to work anyway". Give it a year or two of normal operation, work out the bugs, etc.. Should be ok.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Perhaps

      This is just a deterrent. Like most other weapons. Never to be used?

      Given the current quality, the only way that plane could act as a deterrent was if you stuck Kamikaze pilots in them. Honestly, this is taking the piss to a whole new level.

      1. Archtech Silver badge

        Re: Perhaps

        I think you meant to write, "Honestly, this is taking taking the piss to a whole new level". - Ed.

      2. Vic

        Re: Perhaps

        Given the current quality, the only way that plane could act as a deterrent was if you stuck Kamikaze pilots in them

        Not so. The F-35 is a very effective deterrent.

        The threat goes along the lines of "do as we say, or we put you on the customer list"

        ::shudder::

        Vic.

    3. Dabooka Silver badge

      Re: Perhaps

      Perhaps it is meant as a deterrent, but surely it's supposed to still offer some kind of credible threat or capability.

      Who in the world woke up this morning and thought 'Wow, the F-35 is strike ready now? Right chaps, the plans are off!'. Maybe they’d be busy figuring out the potential collateral damage caused by all of those white elephants falling out of the sky, but otherwise I see no new capability offered by these over existing hardware.

    4. MrXavia

      Re: Perhaps

      No, its just a cash-cow for defence contractors...

      If only we had installed cats and traps on our carriers, we could have much more cheaply developed a carrier version of the Eurofighter...

      1. TheOtherMatt

        Re: Perhaps

        Actually if they wanted to get most bang for their buck as well as have numerical superiority with better ground attack they could have put eCATs and traps on the boats and got 4~6 squadrons of Gripen NG's and still saved money. And replaced all their tired Tornados with Gripens while they're at it.

        1. Triggerfish

          Re: Perhaps

          Not seen the Grippen NG before. I know it's a form follwoing function thing, but why is it aircraft death tech is often so pretty?

          1. Chris King Silver badge

            Re: Perhaps

            "Not seen the Grippen NG before. I know it's a form follwoing function thing, but why is it aircraft death tech is often so pretty?"

            Something along the lines of the Bell helicopters ad that said “We made it beautiful because it’s the last thing some people will ever see” ?

            1. Triggerfish

              Re: Perhaps @ Chris King

              Not heard that before, thats rather cool in a twisted way.

          2. Captain DaFt

            Re: Perhaps

            "I know it's a form follwoing (sic) function thing, but why is it aircraft death tech is often so pretty?"

            When something is built to do a job, and built well, beauty emerges.

            For a classic example, see Shaker furniture.

            (Yes, I'm comparing a weapon of death and destruction to the handicraft of the most peaceful religion America ever had. Enjoy the juxtaposition.)

            1. Triggerfish

              Re: Perhaps @ Captain Daft

              Oh I totally agree, a friends dad is a mastercraftsman boat builder, (retired), who still builds little sailing dinghys and skiffs in his shed. You look at them and they are rather beautiful pieces of work for the craftmanship alone, and everyone of them you look at you know it will sail well because the lines that make it look sleek are going to translate to its hydrodynamics.

              It's just with aircraft it's often the ones that go whoosh bang (in a flying sense rather than a crashing sense) that are the coolest looking,

              That furniture is rather nice for the same reasons as you say.

        2. uncle sjohie

          Re: Perhaps

          As a Saab driver, I still feel the Dutch government should have opted for the Gripen NG. Suits our airforce better too, built for expeditionary use, eg doesn't need air-conditioned hangars and high speed internet to order spares, and works in hot & sandy conditions.

          1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: uncle sjohie Re: Perhaps

            "As a Saab driver...." As a Saab driver you've most probably been driving a GM car, likely a Vauxhall Vectra in drag. Saab actually went bust because they couldn't build and sell their GM clones as well as the other members of the GM group (even Cadillac!). If it's an older, pre-GM Saab then it actually has a Triumph engine. Oh, and in 1995 Saab had to bring BAe Systems onboard to get the Gripen actually marketable (from 1998 to 2005, BAe was the largest shareholder in Saab AB). Yup, gotta love that Swedish engineering, eh?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: uncle sjohie Perhaps

              SAAB went bust because GM sucked the profit out of them to avoid Swedish taxes. They also sucked the inventions out of SAAB right into their behind their times stagnating US company. SAAB was great for GM. A SAAB was never a badge engineered GM. Only the Saabaru was such a thing -not a real SAAB at all. (And some other obscure US-only massive thing which I can barely recall..)

              Having said that, GM did their best to lower quality to help suck more profit out. Americans know sh*t about quality in cars.

              1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
                FAIL

                Re: uncle sjohie Perhaps

                "SAAB went bust because GM sucked the profit out of them....." Really? Ever stop to wonder how they ended up in GM's grip in the first place if they were so good and profitable?

                "....A SAAB was never a badge engineered GM. Only the Saabaru was such a thing -not a real SAAB at all...." The last real Saab was the 900, and even that had a Triumph-sourced engine. The 1984 Saab 9000 was built on the Type Four platform developed by Fiat. Whilst the Saab 9000 wasn't bad, being at least better assembled than the near-identical Fiat Croma/Thema (you can swap body parts such as the doors and windscreen between the 9000 and the Fiats), it was ugly and clumsy compared to the much more developed Alfa 164 on the same chassis. The 164 rebuilt Alfa's reputation in the UK, whereas the 9000 did nothing for Saab's. The reason Saab had to go with the Type Four platform was because they didn't have the money to go it alone successfully. Saab''s next efforts were the first generation 9-3 and 9-5, again using Fiat parts. This struggled so badly that GM took charge and released the second generation 9-3 and 9-5 using the Global Epsilon platforms as used in the Vauxhall Vectra, Opel Omega, Chevrolet Malibu/Impala and Cadillac BLS/XTS.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: uncle sjohie Perhaps

                  Platform sharing is not the same as badge engineering. Far from it.

                  The 9000 was easily SAAB's best car ever. Its quality far surpassed the Italian sister cars.

                  And the Alfa is just fugly, compared to the 9000 CSE. The platform was co-developed.

                  GM didn't "take charge". They owned SAAB. They succeeded in taking no useful steps forward with the brand -which is typical for US car companies.

                  1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
                    Stop

                    Re: AC Re: uncle sjohie Perhaps

                    "Platform sharing is not the same as badge engineering...." It is when you can swap major bits of the bodywork between different manufacturers' vehicles. Hint - doors are not simple bodypanels, neither are windscreens. Try swapping a door from a BMW to a Mercedes or Audi from the same period, it won't fit.

                    ".....The 9000 was easily SAAB's best car ever. Its quality far surpassed the Italian sister cars....." The 9000 was so boring a friend who previously had a 900 Turbo test drove it and swore he'd never buy a Saab again because "it wasn't a Saab anymore". You can pretend all you like but it was definitely not a Saab in the vein of the classic and all-Saab 96. The 99 and 900 (especially the Turbos) appealed to sporty drivers in the UK because they were sporty and different, they abandoned Saab because the cardboard-cutout 9000 simply didn't enthrall them like the older models.

                    The problem with the 9000 was that Saab abandoned their existing customers in a futile attempt to compete with Audi, Mercedes and BMW in the luxury saloon segment. Top Gear pointed out the futility of the Saab plan right at the start of their review of the later 9-5 as like "turning down Cindy Crawford for a date with a Labrador"! Please note the 9-5's folding cupholder in the video - Saab got trashed in the 9000 because you could have the top-of-the-line stereo package or the cupholder, cigarette lighter and ashtray, which didn't go down well with the exec customers that the car was supposedly aimed at. Not surprisingly, most customers chose an Audi, Mercedes or BMW instead.

                    "....which is typical for US car companies." Strange then that British manufacturer Vauxhall has survived under GM's control whilst Saab didn't. Indeed, German manufacturer Opel's relationship with GM goes back to 1929 (they were a majority shareholder and took full control in 1931). And it also dodges the question I posed earlier - if Saab were so good, why did they end up having to use a Fiat platform for the 9000, and why did they end up being bought by GM? During the same time, a US car company has risen to be the maker of the best-selling car in the World, the Ford Focus. So your whinge about US companies seems to be just anti-Yank prejudice - the problems that killed Saab as a car manufacturer were Swedish Saab's alone.

      2. Cuddles Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Perhaps

        "If only we had installed cats and traps on our carriers, we could have much more cheaply developed a carrier version of the Eurofighter..."

        At the very least they'd have significantly fewer mice on them.

      3. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: Perhaps

        'we could have much more cheaply developed a carrier version of the Eurofighter'

        Because BAe Systems have never been late or over cost on an aircraft modification programme...

      4. not.known@this.address Bronze badge

        Re: Perhaps

        "we could have much more cheaply developed a carrier version of the Eurofighter"

        Got much experience of converting land-based aircraft to fly from carriers, have you? So you know how to shave every ounce possible to get the absolute lightest airframe you possibly can whilst allowing for the much greater landing forces that carrier-based aircraft have to allow for (decks tend to move, and the deck moving up as your WhizzJet moves down can result in an "impact" many times greater than the same airframe landing on a runway). And how you need to protect the entire airframe from saltwater corrosion? And how to make sure the rear of the aircraft stays attached to the front when hitting the arrestor wire? And all the other little problems that make it so damn hard to take your WhizzJet and allow it to fly and fight from a carrier?

        I would have suggested you applied for a job with BAe Systems since you seem to know how they can screw the British taxpayer out of even more money, but I have this strange suspicion that (somehow) you know even less about aviation than their current board of directors...

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Perhaps

          > make sure the rear of the aircraft stays attached to the front when hitting the arrestor wire

          Duck tape. The answer is *always* Duck tape.

      5. thames

        Re: Perhaps

        @MrXavia - "If only we had installed cats and traps on our carriers"

        Those would be the new American cats and traps that have been even later and more over budget than the F-35 and still don't work?

        The UK switched plans to use cats and traps for the new carriers, but then bailed out and switched plans back to ski-jumps and STOVL aircraft when they saw what a fiasco the new American cat and trap system was turning into. The F-35B is the lower risk option in this case.

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    but how about *really* bright LED torches with a strobe mode?

    Actually the real way to deal with such aircraft was demonstrated by the SAS in the Western Desert in WWII.

    Blow them up on the ground.

    Not very sporting.

    But very effective.

    It's a bomber jacket of course.

    1. Dabooka Silver badge

      Re: but how about *really* bright LED torches with a strobe mode?

      Didn't Tom Clancy do that in one of his books? Japanese AWACS destroyed on take off with hight powered torches dazzling the cockpit. Debt of Honor [sic]?

      1. casaloco

        Re: but how about *really* bright LED torches with a strobe mode?

        This concept is based on a WW2 weapon that used a very powerful spotlight and series of triangular mirrors that span in concentric circles creating hundreds of rays of light that dazzled and disoriented pilots, causing they to either call off their attack runs or crash. They were used to protect the Suez Canal and were so effective that the technology is still 100% classified top secret EVEN TODAY. If the details of the tech ever leaked it would cripple air travel world wide as terrorists could place them anywhere within 10 miles of an airport and bring down planes ad lib. Planes worlwide would have to have curtains fitted in the cockpit and approach and land every flight on instruments.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: but how about *really* bright LED torches with a strobe mode?

          "so effective that the technology is still 100% classified top secret EVEN TODAY."

          That, with the obligatory CAPS, reads like something from The Express. And like most of the stories in The Express, there is a grain of truth buried under a mountain of bullshit. http://greg.org/archive/2010/05/29/the_greatest_camo_story_ever_told.html

          On the topic of the great big light - there is a photo of a potential prototype on the above link, which indicates why terrorists have never considered using it to bring down a 747 on Heathrow approach. It is quite one thing having a big complicated searchlight with mirrors arrangement in a military installation, but it is something entirely different roping on to the top of a Clio, never mind figuring out what you're supposed to power it from, never mind more the typical British weather would likely make a beam of light fairly obvious in the sky as to the origin of the beam. And what? Call out the cops to chase the Clio that looks like it has a bit of Skylab stuck to it? Yeah, they won't be passing that off as the Googlemobile.

  5. SkippyBing Silver badge

    IOC not FOC

    Strictly speaking they've declared Initial Operating Capability, not Full Operating Capability. This means a limited subset of weapons, e.g. air-to-air missiles which were proved this week against drones, and certain types of smart bomb, with constraints on operational tempo, radar modes etc. It means you can start using it to develop the front line capability, tactics etc. without waiting for all the bells and whistles to work.

    Before you mock it as a failed programme it's worth remembering the UK regularly introduced fighters, and other aircraft, into service with concrete blocks instead of radars, limitations on flying at night, laser systems that can't be used for training (not the F-35, something produced closer to home) etc. etc. If you waited for the perfect version of the aircraft you'd be there at the end of its service life once it's received all the upgrades based on a few decades of experience.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: IOC not FOC

      So limited combat then? The General said 'ready for combat'. I suppose against somebody's little sister. A billion dollars to steal a lollipop.

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: IOC not FOC

        'So limited combat then? The General said 'ready for combat'.'

        You always state from an initial state and build on it, by limited combat I'd imagine happy dropping JDAM on ISIS not ready for a full spectrum confrontation with China. Or at least not bringing the full range of capabilities on day 1.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: IOC not FOC

          "by limited combat I'd imagine happy dropping JDAM on ISIS"

          I wouldn't even put money on it being sucessfuly able to do that.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: IOC not FOC

            But as an air superiority interceptor it is more than capable of dealing with ISIS's airforce.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: IOC not FOC

              "as an air superiority interceptor"

              It's nothing of the sort. The F22 is the air superiority bird.

              F35s were designed to only go in AFTER the F22 had cleared the way for them.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: IOC not FOC

      I assume the announcement was necessary to forestall one of the presidential hopefuls using the known useless performance as a way of reducing the armed services budget in the future.

      We can't have limitations put on pork barrels now can we.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: IOC not FOC

      I've heard several different versions of what he supposedly said. It was in response to a test against F-16's and F-18's. Those planes never saw the F-35 coming in on their radar (supposedly). Only when the F-35 turned on it's transponder did they know where the F-35 was.

      So... maybe it's ready for something or almost ready for something or maybe there's a deadline tic box on a PowerPoint that needed ticking?

  6. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Alert

    Well defined

    "ready to strike well-d̶e̶f̶e̶n̶d̶e̶d̶ defined targets anywhere on Earth"

    Let's just make sure there aren't any Blue on Blue or Collateral/Civilian casualties

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Well defined

      Again solvable via marketing. Simply define the target post-mission. 100% success rate!

  7. NanoMeter

    A new version of F16 came a few years ago

    Probably a better use of money.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: A new version of F16 came a few years ago

      Not for the defense contractors, for whom the "better use of money" is more taxpayers dollars sent their way.

      The politicians go along with it because, well, you just need to go to Wikipedia and read the bios for former congressmen and see where many of them are working now to understand the why.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Huh?

    So how does this stack with "F-35 targeting system laser will be 'almost impossible' to use in UK" and pretty much anywhere else?

    Sounds like all anyone has to do is wave a laser pointer around to be safe...

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Huh?

      That's impossible to use if you apply the US DoD safety trace to our ranges, to avoid theoretically blinding someone. They may or may not be the same as any UK MoD safety trace (LASER ones are pretty epic die to the nature of err... LASERs) but that's not the same as not being able to use it in actual combat. I don't know if there's a training mode on the LASER but it may be frequency related rather than power in which case you're kind of stuck as the weapon will be looking for that frequency.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Huh?

        It would seem to be more than range safety though, as there's a ban "on any optic devices being within 33km of the aircraft when the designator is switched on...".

        Which could either mean the laser targeting system is so powerful it'll kill any sensors within 33km of the aircraft or, alternatively, any powerful laser/light source within 33km of the aircraft will bugger-up the targeting system.

        1. Gio Ciampa

          Re: Huh?

          I'll wager it's the latter...

        2. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Re: Huh?

          I've seen safety traces for people using binoculars (i.e. they should be more than this distance away to avoid ocular damage) of over 200KM for some similar systems, so I suspect they're worried about damage to the other platform's sensors. It's a bit of a nonsense as you'll be deliberately targeting the LASER before you turn it on so the chances of actually hitting someone with binoculars accidentally must be negligible, although they do also include distances for scatter so non-direct illumination is also a factor, more so over the sea.

          1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

            Re: Huh?

            "It's a bit of a nonsense as you'll be deliberately targeting the LASER before you turn it on so the chances of actually hitting someone with binoculars accidentally must be negligible"

            Perhaps the enemy is looking at you with binoculars?

            You wouldn't want to risk hurting the eyes of him/her.

    2. ZanzibarRastapopulous

      Re: Huh?

      The laser is missing its CE mark cos it's merkin, it's basically the same as the existing laser targeting kit.

  9. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Lesson Learned?

    Program Manager opens his DOORS Requirements database and types:

    "[COST001] Next Aircraft shall not be so damn expensive."

    Clicks 'Save'.

  10. Simon Harris Silver badge

    By 'ready to strike...'

    Do they mean 'ready to fall out of the sky onto...'?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lesson Learned?

    Surely it's not meant to fight? It's meant to channel govt subsidy to high tech manufacturing companies so that we can all buy laser guided microwave home butlers.

    In any serious conflict the winner will be the one who denies the opposition anti aircraft guns/missiles. Once you have done that, as Syria sadly demonstrates, a cheap helicopter and some barrels does the job.

  12. Magani
    FAIL

    Definition creep?

    'Combat-ready[*]'

    [*] for very small values of both 'combat' and 'ready'.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Prendre le Piss

    Pendant ce temps nous Frenchies naviguent autour sur notre belle porte-avions avec notre Rafale de dénigrer les méchants. Fromage à pâte dure beefs rôti.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ejection seat

    Missed the part where if everything goes pear shaped, the ejection seat might be as dangerous as flying it to the ground.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re Perhaps @ not.known@this.address - Pas de Problem

    http://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/rafale/

  16. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Go

    The F-35 is ready to be used against enemies...

    But first we have to build a catapult large enough to fling them.

  17. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    It can easily neutralise any non-hidden illegal bearded combatant with an AK47 within the admittedly not so great operating range. During daytime and visual flight conditions, of course -goes without saying. Some collateral damage is possible.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  18. -tim
    Black Helicopters

    How long it it last in combat?

    I've thought that Australia should loan one of their 3 to ISIS and see if it last more than a week. If it doesn't, ask for a refund and cancel the rest of the order.

  19. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    Combat ready? Maybe in the same sense that MRE rations* are ready to eat.

    * "Three lies for the price of one!"

  20. William Higinbotham

    I heard they installed a bit bucket from the old teletype machines under the instrumenation panel for when they have to reboot in the air to catch the memry dump data. Reboot and Eject

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