F-22s versus Russia’s Rusting, Ramshackle Air Force (Updated)

30.03.09

Categorie: Air, Industry, Russia |

Air power is a relative thing. If your enemies’ air forces are all inferior to yours, it doesn’t matter whether your planes represent the absolute cutting edge of technology. More to the point: there is little chance that any world air force, besides the U.S. Air Force, will develop and build significant numbers of stealthy fighters in coming decades. For that reason, we don’t actually need all 2,000 stealth fighters the Air Force wants. A smaller fleet of stealth fighters, plus modernized older designs, will keep the U.S. Air Force on top for many, many years.

So you can ignore the increasingly alarmist rhetoric coming out of the Beltway military-industrial-media complex, demanding we buy all these expensive stealthy fighters, or lose influence in the world. In the latest manufactured panic, Rebecca Grant, a D.C.-based, for-profit aerospace consultant, tells us we must build more F-22s, or the Russians will kick our asses. “In March 2008, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the defense ministry to add more Sukhoi Su-35s and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-35s — an upgrade of the MiG-29 Fulcrum — in the interim before Sukhoi’s ‘fifth-generation’ PAK-FA type is developed,” Grant writes, adding that these fighters represent the “developments most likely to interrupt the ability of the United States to carry out missions.”

But the Russians have built only a dozen Su-35s in a decade. The MiG-35 is still only a prototype, and U.S. ally India is the only likely buyer. The PAK-FA, also sponsored by India, remains a paper airplane. Despite repeated promises over years, the PAK-FA program has not yet produced any hardware or firm production orders. The Russian air force overwhelmingly comprises the very same fighters it inherited from the Soviet air force in the early 1990s, including a few hundred Su-27s and a roughly equal number of MiG-29s. The MiG-29s are so decrepit that Russia recently grounded the entire fleet following a crash.

Even with anticipated deep cuts, the U.S. Air Force will possess more than a thousand new stealth fighters in a decade’s time. The best Russia can hope for in that time-frame is to buy a handful of Su-35s and MiG-35s. Same goes for all other potential challengers to U.S. air power. Most rival nations buy their fighters by the dozen, where we buy them by the hundreds. The only nation that matches us in fighter quantity is China, but China’s fighters remain a full generation behind ours in technology.

With such a huge margin of superiority, likely to last for decades, the U.S. Air Force can afford to relax its long-term requirement for an all-stealth fighter force. A fleet of a thousand F-22s and F-35s will beat all comers. And for missions over North America or in counter-insurgency campaigns, modernized F-15s and F-16s will more than suffice.

Update #1: Another reason why the Russians are not a threat: they’re running out of people.

Update #2: The U.S. Air National Guard agrees that F-15s and F-16s might be adequate for domestic missions.

(Photo: me)

Related:
Analysts: Buy Fighters, or Die
Boeing Unveils New “Stealthy” F-15
Getting the Most from Your New F-22
F-22s to Darfur? Not so Fast …
Advocating a Systemic View of Air Superiority
More fighter-jet hyperventilating
Growler Chomps on Raptor
A U.S. Navy F-22? Don’t Hold Your Breath
Nearly 100,000 Jobs Depend on the F-22? Not Really
Only 60 More Raptors? Everybody Panic!
Russian Super-Fighter Not So Scary
In 2014, the F-35 Might Cost More than the F-22
600 F-22s? Hilarious
F-35 jumps the shark
Raptors in Japan
New Russian fighter to challenge F-35
The amazing shrinking air force

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20 Responses to “F-22s versus Russia’s Rusting, Ramshackle Air Force (Updated)”

  1. Matt says:

    Im not sure im buying that argument. I think the Russian and Chinese Su-27/30/J-11s could give our fighters everything we can handle. There have already been documented cases in training exercises where versions of the Flanker have “defeated” our fighters. Now these were training exercises and there were limitations but still they should be cause for concern.

  2. Heretic says:

    They “defeated” our fighters (F-22/F-35A) because the scenario was a defense of Taiwan and our fighters (due to CTOL dependency) had to be based in Guam or even farther away from the battlezone. That meant that any sort of CAP over Taiwan needed to take place at the end of a very long tanker supply chain that left very little time on station and huge logistical issues with pilot fatigue. The USAF realized (belatedly) that basing flexibility would have allowed them to generate a far better sortie rate for CAP if they were using V/STOL fighters based on Taiwan rather than Guam, which didn’t need much in the way of takeoff roll in order to provide air defense.

    Unfortunately, the USAF is not interested in buying the F-35B (in significant quantities) which, like the JAS 39 (NG) Gripen, is capable of being based inside of contested airspace … when then does all kinds of wonderful things for shortening up your supply lines when you don’t have to make round trips to the nearest base 1000+kms away.

    Not that the USAF would ever admit that of course …

  3. B.Smitty says:

    Heretic,

    I’m skeptical of the “basing inside contested airspace” theory. The F-35B may not need a huge stretch of runway, but it will need a large spares, munitions and support infrastructure, not to mention 6 tons of fuel per sortie. Plus with only four internal AAMs and no gun (without the pod), it’s not going to be shooting down very many bandits without external carriage.

    And China can put a LOT of fighters over Taiwan. We’d be better off sending SLAMRAAM, Stinger and Patriot batteries, IMHO.

  4. TEJ says:

    Matt

    Are you arguing for more F-22s and F-35s or for fewer fighters andmore missiles?

  5. tim says:

    Matt I know a very recent ex tornado f3 crew member he told me that even the F3 can wipe the floor with any thing the russians have , just due to better radar ,missiles ,avionics , tactics and training . He said that Russian avionics are a decade at least behind the F3 never mind the TYPHOON,F22 and F35 .

    He said at Redflag no one can detect the F22 and it just sits at 50000ft picking off targets at will , the russian jets would be no match plus the Russians are at lest two decades behind in terms of training and tactics due to spending so little on their defence since 1990. He also said due to the amramm and asramm the russian jets would be blown out the sky before their radar even picked up a Tornado F3 .

    However I still think the US and UK should use this massive gap with Russia and China widen it and buy as many F22 and F35`s as we can , reduce the F16/f18 fleet slightly and use more reapers and A10`s for ground support .

    Tim

  6. Heretic says:

    re: B.Smitty

    {I’m skeptical of the “basing inside contested airspace” theory.}

    You can be skeptical all you want of the basic premise of doing so (regardless of airframe intended for the purpose), but it’s hard to deny that it has no practical purpose. After all, Sweden has based its entire air defense stance around the prospect that in the event of an attack on their sovereign airspace (by USSR/Russia) that they would be unable to maintain air superiority, and therefore would (by definition) have to base their aircraft in contested airspace. Hence why they have STOL requirements for their fighters and use their national highway system as a network of distributed airstrips from which they can launch and recover their fighters.

    The Harriers were designed and conceived for exactly the same sort of scenario, albeit in the A2G rather than A2A primary role. As far back as the 1950s, it was recognized by NATO that airbases with their 5000+ft long runways were all “known” and easily targetted by hostile forces (with S2S missiles, if not strike packages of aircraft). Take out the runways, and even if the aircraft are safe in their bunkers they aren’t going anywhere. After all, why fight “fair” when you don’t have to? If the *base* (or aerial tanker) is the weak point in the chain, why not simply attack it and “remove the wonder fighters” from the field of play *by default* rather than through confrontation/combat/defeat?

    As a general in Desert Stomping Ground in ’91 said about the Iraqi Air Force, it would have been more dangerous if they’d actually flown it.

    So the short answer to your skepticism is that being able to fly fighter/attack aircraft from bases inside of contested airspace requires (first and foremost) an airframe that is capable of:
    1. VTOL or STOL operations (preferrably both for maximum flexibility)
    2. Ground crews trained in dispersed site operations
    3. Logistical footprint “light enough” to allow sustained operations away from major distribution nodes (ie. airbases) without compromising readiness and/or sortie rates

    Pity that the Gripen can combine all three of those requirements far better than the F-35B, since the Gripen is a Lightweight Fighter and was specifically designed from the outset to be operated under “austere” conditions, rather than pampered at airbases.

  7. NTV says:

    Seems like once again the discussion of Low Observable aircraft neglects any mention of modern IADS. Not much of a discussion then.

  8. David Axe says:

    NTV,

    The ground-based air-defense factor is a separate discussion. This post is a response to Rebecca Grant’s assertion that Russian-made fighters justify continued investment in U.S. stealth fighters, when, in fact, they do not. There are other reasons to build, say, the F-22 — just not because the Russians are building an air force capable of defeating us in the air.

  9. NTV says:

    David,

    If your point was to refute Miss Grants asertion, that is fine, although I must say it was not obvious to me when I read you article. I further reiterate my feelings that when disussing The need for and, numbers needed of F-22′s/F-35′s it is short sighted to look at only the air to air threats.

  10. Matt says:

    I am an advocate to get as many F-22′s, F-35s as possible. Right now its looking like 243 is the upper limit on F-22s barring any major conflict. I would hope that the USAF can get ahold of the stated 1763 F-35′s but i seriously doubt they will get more than 1100.

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  15. Krazy says:

    I wonder if you all still think the same way only a year later. and even more I wonder howyou going to feel in 2015 and then 2018

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  17. lackie says:

    the su-27 kicks the f-15s ass

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