Astro, what do you think about the Su27/37s? Are they formidable adversaries?
The SU-27/35/37 is a formidable adversary.
It's a big fighter. Big radar. Lots of fuel. Lots of speed. Lots and lots of hard points for a huge missile load out. Excellent low speed handling, particularly with thrust vectoring and/or the canards*. Multi-sensor capability, though crudely instrumented in the cockpit.
This is another case where the airframes (F-15 v. SU-27) are close enough in capability, with each having some advantages, that it comes down to the driver. Remember, the driver chooses the tactics and how the engagement begins and unfolds. It's not just a case of post-merge dogfighting. I'm happy to win by having my adversary blow up at long range, before his missile impacts me. A win is a win.
The AA-10C/D and AA-12 missiles are also formidable.
*Pougachev's "Cobra" wowed the world, including US fighter pilots, in the mid-late 90s when flown at an airshow. Farnborough. Or Paris. Can't remember now... Not really tactically significant, but it demonstrated exceptional low speed maneuverability.
Different category, what's your take on the capabilities of the A-10 and how do you feel about the replacement of the Super/normal hornet and the A-10 with the F35?
I've been a critic of the F-35. Jack of all trades, not sure it's master of any. Some big compromises in the airframe to accommodate three very different service requirements, simply: USAF 9G, USN CTOL, USMC VTOL.
The flight demo video that I've seen is unimpressive. Thrust to weight is good, but not great. Speed is meh. Range is good.
Where the airplane shines is multi sensor integration, made possible by advances in processing since rival fighters were built. Phased array (AESA) Radar, built in IR and EO, all synthesized in the cockpit. Very cool stuff.
Stealth is a critical capability, however, and days one through, say, five of a near peer conflict will absolutely require stealth. It's not as stealthy as the F-22. But it's still hard to see. Staying in full up stealth mode limits range and payload, so on, say, day six, the airplane can be loaded up with more fuel and weapons to maximize each sortie.
Navy needs this airplane to be able to fight in a high threat environment. USAF wants a low end stealth. USMC desperately needs new airplanes, and this allows them a much more formidable air to air capability. Hanging AMRAAM on a Harrier makes it air to air capable, but doesn't make it a fighter.
The Navy may end up with the best version of this: the wing is 25% larger, because of both the USAF requirement for a 9G airframe and the USN requirement for landing speed, so the drag is lower, and the fuel capacity higher. The Navy F-35 will have significantly better range and endurance than the other versions.
At this point, all criticisms of the airplane are moot. It's the biggest weapon program ever and despite enormous cost over runs, it's simply too big, too important to each service, too important to allies, too significant to industry, just too big, to fail.
The A-10 is great at doing just one thing: short range close air support in a permissive environment.
For any other mission, it has little to no value. It's slow. It has modest range. Put the airplane in a high threat environment and it's toast. It's a sitting duck against any modern fighter, and against many integrated air defense systems, it has no chance of survival. It's done great work in Afghanistan and Iraq because we owned the skies and we owned nearby bases.
Taking off and landing in Afghanistan presented big operational challenges for the A-10 because of its anemic performance. Refueling in Afghanistan presented challenges because it could not climb above the mountains when it was loaded with weapons, so it had to be refueled in valleys, which really constrained airspace, and really out the tankers at risk.
When the big brass at USAF is being told to make big budget reductions, a "vertical" cut makes more sense than a "horizontal" one.
Here's why, Each airplane type has a big cost tail: overhaul facilities, training for maintainers and pilots, spare parts production and inventories. That tail isn't really dependent on the size of the fleet of airplanes, it's just a big cost footprint to be able to do those thing, and it scales up and down depending on the number of airplanes, but the marginal cost of scaling up or down is small while the fixed overhead is huge. Cut the fleet in half, and the tail is the same. Total cost of keeping the airplane flying is still way more than half.
So, want to trim the airplane operating budget by 25%? You have to cut every airplane type by something like 40-50% because you're maintaining each of those training/logistics tails.
Same thing is true for ships, by the way. Cut ship maintenance/operating budget by 10% and you end up with a 20% reduction in ship availability because you can't cut the logistics tail by that percentage. It's more of an all-or-nothing deal. A ship type requires a shipyard that can maintain it, spare parts supply and training for crews. So, one shipyard, or two, are going to stay whole numbers, not fractions, and one maintenance overhaul facility is still one facility, but their costs will be amortized over fewer hulls.
So, why cut the A-10? Because if you cut one type, a vertical cut, you eliminated that entire tail and cut ALL the cost from the program while maintaining the rest of the aircraft programs.
And honestly, the A-10 is a one-trick pony. It was built to stop Soviet tanks in the Fulda gap. It's a complete accident of circumstance that we found ourselves in a conflict with ample runways nearby, complete control of the air, and a need for lots of close air support.
Every other USAF airplane is multi-role. Every other USAF airplane has a place, fills a critical need, in every contingency planning scenario. We go into a fight with a high-end adversary, there is one airplane that will sit that one out: the A-10. In fact, in almost every planning scenario, there is no need for the A-10.
F-8 Crusader and then the A-7 - both of which were single engine.
Navy likes twin engine airplanes when there aren't a lot of landing fields nearby...
But this airplane, the F-35, promises the most reliable engine ever made, even as it's the most powerful fighter engine ever made...so...time will tell...