However the F-35 remains more survivable than other fighters such as the F-16 “by quite a bit.”
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith (D.-Wash) speaking at a virtual event hosted by the Brookings Institution said on Aug. 31, 2021 that upgrades in missile technology over the past several years have made the F-35 less survivable than previously hoped. He pushed for more investment in smaller, unmanned platforms, Air Force Magazine reports.
However, Smith pointed out that the F-35 remains more survivable than other fighters “by quite a bit,” pointing to the F-16 for comparison.
“But it’s also got some environments that it’s not going to be able to get into because of how much missile technology has improved since we started building the thing,” he added.
In the past, the US Air Force (USAF) has said the F-35 has performed “very well in contested environments,” with the goal of progressing to “outstanding.”
However, the USAF also said that achieving broad control of the air in a high-end conflict is no longer possible, aiming instead for “temporary windows of superiority” in “highly-contested threat environments.”
In such highly contested threat environments, Smith advocated for more investment in “smaller, more survivable platforms, in many cases unmanned platforms,” because platforms such as the F-35 are simply too big to go completely undetected.
In particular Smith said that some of the missions originally envisioned for the F-35 could take on by drone swarms.
“We’ve seen this play out in some of the fighting that has happened in Syria and the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict,” Smith added. “You’ve got this undetectable swarm of drones that can still pack a pretty powerful punch—you can’t see it coming, you’ve got a devil of a time shooting it down. That’s why we make investments in that. In many ways, that can accomplish a lot of missions that some of the bigger platforms can’t because they’re easier to see.”
However we must remember that in 2019 Russian S-300 and S-400 air defense systems were unable to detect Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters flying over Damascus.
The Israeli news outlet NZIV, citing a number of military sources, published the flight route of the Israeli stealth fighters, that struck eastern Syria. As it turned out, the IAF F-35s, not only entered the Syrian airspace, but also flew for almost several hundred kilometers over the area covered by Russian S-400 and Syrian S-300 air defense systems.
According to Lockheed Martin, that builds the F-35, the stealthy fifth-generation fighter is the “most lethal, survivable, and connected fighter jet in the world.” The USAF plans to buy 1,763 of the aircraft, which would make it the service’s largest fleet.
Photo credit: MSgt John Nimmo Sr. / U.S. Air Force