A submission to a Senate inquiry into the feasibility of Government’s planned purchase of at least 72 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets says that the multirole planes will be instantly outmatched in air superiority by the airborne wings of competing countries in the region like China and Indonesia, and will fare even worse against future threats. It suggests — hypothetically — that Australia instead push for the F-22 Raptor, a jet that the United States has never sold to even its closest military allies.
In the submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s Joint Strike Fighter inquiry, Royal Australian Air Force Wing Commander Chris Mills AM, MSc, BSc (Retd) says that lessons from history and statistical modelling suggest that the F-35 is a poor choice for the future of warfare in the region, which centres around air superiority versus countries like Indonesia and China.
A simulation showing six F-35s versus six Sukhoi SU-35S, Indonesia’s intended future air superiority fighter choice for its air force, suggests that 2.36 Joint Strike Fighters would be lost for every SU-35S downed. The simulation was run on H3MilSim software developed by Mills’ RepSim, a company he and a colleague set up after retiring from the RAAF.
A simulation of the aerially superior F-22 Raptor, though, results in an almost precisely opposite outcome — with 2.14 Sukhoi jets destroyed per F-22 loss. While the F-35 is a newer jet, it is a multirole fighter capable of ground attack and reconnaissance, while the F-22 has the sole role of air superiority and supremacy in enemy airspace.
With future fifth-generation aircraft like the Sukhoi PAK FA / T-50, China’s own Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31 on the horizon from Australia’s regional competitors, Mills suggests that production of the F-22 be restarted and the fighter itself exported for Australia’s use in local air superiority roles. Production of the F-22 by Lockheed Martin, its partners and the USAF was discontinued in 2011, but Mills says the tooling to produce several hundred new jets still exists and could be put to work on the very same production line as creates the Joint Strike Fighter in Dallas, Texas.
This is a thought exercise, obviously — the United States has never sold the F-22A to any other country on Earth, and the export itself is currently banned on national security grounds. But the shortcomings of the F-35 — without any next-generation “beyond visual range” over-the-horizon air-to-air missiles like the Meteor BVRAAM planned for Australia, although that missile is being developed for F-35 compatibility by the UK RAF and Ministry of Defence — are made clear by Mills’ submission.
Another submission from retired Wing Commander Anthony Wilkinson says that in its capacity as a multirole aircraft, the F-35’s bomb load is too small and its range is too short to be effective in the South Asia region. Other submissions, like that from Jai Galliott, suggest the Air Force and government should look into drones and pilotless versions of the F-35, which are not currently planned for development. [Australian Senate]