Friday, November 03, 2006

As Time Goes By

The Strategy Page notes that the USAF is retiring the F-117 Nighthawk, the original Stealth light bomber which featured in Desert Storm. The Airforce also announced it is closing the F-117 flight school. "The F-117 Nighthawk pilot school has closed its canopy. The last class of F-117 pilots graduated from the school on Oct. 13, according to 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. The closure of the formal training unit was the latest sign that the F-117 is being phased out at Holloman and will eventually be replaced by the F-22A Raptor." (Air Force Times)


Commentary

It may not be entirely accurate to regard the F-117 as being "replaced" by the F-22. Perhaps a better way to understand the aircraft's retirement is that the deep strike role it performed can now be better handled by a variety of other and less vulnerable platforms, some of which may be unmanned. And unlike the B-52, the F-117 airframe may not have any inherent virtues other than its radar evasiveness. Obsolescence is often a function of irrelevance rather than chronological age.

15 Comments:

Blogger warhorse said...

I would suspect that the replacement for the F-117 would actually be either the F-35 or a UCAV, given the inability of the F-22 to carry 2,000 pound bombs internally (ie stealthily). A great many high-value targets are simply too tough to be taken out by 1,000 pound bombs.

11/03/2006 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Stealth technology certainly was an incredible development - but I often wonder if the F-117 does not represent the real future rather than the F-22. A specialized aircraft capable of hitting high value and air defense targets - and thereby opening the door for less stealthy and therefore less compromised aircraft makes a lot of sense. And maybe a UAV is better for that job.

The Desert Storm and OIF experiences - or for that matter, WWII - tend to indicate that once the air defenses have been neutralized you can bomb them using a Goodyear Blimp if you want to.

And were the Taliban and Al Queda more impressed with the stealthy airplanes that evaded the radars they did not have - or those white contrails high up in the blue that showed very clearly where the B-52's were? Remember that we are not just trying to kill people and break things but win hearts and minds as well - and step one of that process is scaring the bejesus out of them.

11/03/2006 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

The F22 is much more stealthy than the F-117. And its very, very fast. And very, very smart.

Who says what the F-22 can and cannot carry?

11/03/2006 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

I wonder how long it will take for American defense contractors to lobby the President or Congress to sell the F-117 Nighthawk to other countries. Somehow, I think the Chinese would be interested...

11/03/2006 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

By the way...

Could this replacement of the F-117 have anything to do with how Serbia shot down one of our planes during the Kosovo War?

11/03/2006 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

warhorse and RWE make some very valid points. The F-22 doesn't have the internal capacity to carry 2000lb bombs. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

I've seen one in person, with its weapons bays open. There's no way in hell you're cramming a tonner in there.

I think it's surprising to see it phased out so soon though. I've gotten used to the idea that the Air Force generally doesn't do that. . .unless they already have a replacement operational.

It could well be, that B-2's can handle the task. Advances in ordinance could make them capable of striking multiple precision targets with 2000lb weapons now. Guidance technology advances in air dropped/launched weaponry have taken some truly frightening leaps ahead in the last decade.

It may all come down to the question "How many of these stealth aircraft do we truly NEED to reduce the air defense capability and C^3 of an opponent in an acceptable amount of time?"

It could be that the number of B-2's currently in service is up to the task.

11/03/2006 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

My last post was a grammatical catastrophe. My apologies.

11/03/2006 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

An FB-22 has been proposed to handle the heavy weight strike task.

The Air Force is also claiming that tests have shown the F-22's ability to act as a "stealthy AWACs", using its sensors to collect data and relay it to other aircraft, all while not being observed. This is an interesting idea, but is being taken with a grain of salt by many - as in the Air Force trying to justify the very expensive F-22 in light of the requirements of a war where the enemy does not even have a police radar gun.

On the other hand - was in the local Wal Mart last week and was astonished to see that they were selling a Mattel Hot Wheels 10.25 GHZ dopper radar gun - and for $20! Gotta get me one of those!

11/03/2006 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

By the way, I read where they are adding GPS receivers to AIM-120 air to air missiles.

Supposedly it enables the missile to better optimize its trajectory -but it seems to me that it means you could program it to hit a ground target as well. There may be no such thing as a pure air-to-air fighter in the future.

Back when I launched the last GPS bird that went from the West Coast - who woulda thought!

11/03/2006 04:12:00 PM  
Blogger CWVet449th said...

The old F-117, developed in the early '80's, is difficult and expensive to maintain. It also does not have the advanced avionics of the F-22 and F-35, and it was not designed to self-deploy (fly long distances over oceans). The F-117 shot down in eastern Europe was the result of an operational decision, wherein the pilot was instructed to fly the same course, at the same hour, night after night. A street gang could have shot it down if they were smart enough, and this did not involve an enemy radar. If the pilot had been allowed to fly a mile or so to the left or right of his ground track, the enemy would not have had a chance.

The F-22 is far superior, crosses oceans easily with greater range and the ability to supercruise (sustained supersonic flight without the use of afterburners), and the new avionics are very capable. With the development of the Small Diameter (250 lb) Bomb, it can strike very accurately at non-hardened targets.

And the combination of far superior stealth and advanced sensors give the F-22 and F-35 the ability to seamlessly pass secure target data for the B-2 Spirit's heavy ordnance, greatly increasing the accuracy.

Smaller targets are successfully attacked with Hellfire missiles launched from Predator UCAV's, and networked targeting information from Global Hawk UAV's is very useful, but it will be a long time before unmanned aircraft can match the capabilities of our modern stealth fighters and the B-2.

11/03/2006 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger Db2m said...

Closing F-117 flight school???

Dang, I guess this coupon is no good anymore...

11/03/2006 04:22:00 PM  
Blogger Db2m said...

Such a shame...why not put big turbofans on the airframe and use 'em as Warthogs?

11/03/2006 04:27:00 PM  
Blogger CWVet449th said...

For the F-35, an interesting option for this plane has suffered a disappearing act in outlets like Aviation Week & Space Technology (AvWeek) magazine. This is a syndrome where the early experiments with a military technology are reported on, perhaps once or twice, and then nothing is ever heard about it again.

That means ... it worked.

The Control Configured Vehicle (CCV) manueverability of a test F-16 was once reported on in AvWeek. This allowed the jet to fly in ways that no other airplane can. Try Googling that term. I speculate that one of the features of the F-22 which is still secret is that ... it's a CCV.

For the F-35? There are three versions of the F-35, and the vertical flight version has a huge lift fan installed just behind the cockpit. The fan is driven by the output shaft protruding forward from the engine. This output shaft delivers a whopping 27,000 HP.

A tactical laser can fit in the compartment of the Air Force (non vertical) version of the F-35 which has an empty space where the Marine lift-fan was, and the laser unit only needs 25,000 hp for its own self-contained generator.

It may not be a 2,000 lb bomb, but in this age of small terrorist forces widely distributed, and with leaders who occasionally make public appearances, an unconventional, completely invisible weapon deployed from an invisible plane, might be quite valuable.

There haven't been any articles about this laser in the F-35 since the first and only article quite a while back ...

11/03/2006 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger Brother D-Day said...

Meh. The Serbs sold the wreckage of the F-117 that they shot down to the Chinese.

Then we had that accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy.

The world is really mysterious, dontcha think?

I sure feel old. I still remember when the Stealth fighter was revealed like it was yesterday.

11/03/2006 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger Gudovac April 1941 said...

The F-117 fared poorly against Belgrade - 1 was shot down, 2 damaged enough to stop flying, and 1 damaged enough to require 'remanufacture'

The F-117's poor showing against Belgrade ( between a 12% and 24% casulty rate) may have something to do with the subject

11/07/2006 01:43:00 PM  

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