Monday, August 12, 2013

The saga continues

The top aircraft is not the answer.
Yes, it's been longer than I wanted from my last post, but it's finally here.  So, time for some actual number crunching!

So, for this segment I also wanted to focus on the Super Hornet, as opposed to the hornet, but I'll likely get to that in another post.  I primarily wanted to compare the Super to the F-14 as well, because the Navy was basically given only two choices of which fighter to buy: an advanced Tomcat or a redesigned Hornet.  the Super Hornet was developed at nearly 22 times the cost of developing a new version of the F-14 Tomcat (the Quickstrike), which is well known to have had longer range, is much faster, has better acceleration, more capable radar, is just as maneuverable (if not more overall), and carries far more ordnance than the Super Hornet, without an upgraded version.  The ST-21 (Super Tomcat 21) in this one and many other's opinion, would have been the far better choice of aircraft to super-size as opposed to the hornet, both economically and operationally.
Planned incremental improvement of the Tomcat family.  This would also allow for a large number of retrofitted aircraft to be converted until new build aircraft were produced.
Suffice to say, the "Super" was developed because the original Hornet never lived up to any of the range, speed and payload requirements given it.  In fact, the Hornet carries considerably less ordinance to less than half the range of most of the aircraft it replaced (other than the A-4).

What's that you say?  The fact files say the Super Hornet can carry over 17,000 lbs while the Tomcat only carries 14,500 lbs?  Well, this is a very misleading statistic.  True, the E/F CAN carry a good amount or ordnance, however, in order to carry it to the same distance that the Tomcat can (500 nmi), you have to add a couple of external fuel tanks to it that subtract it's potential payload by 7,200 lbs.  The tomcat on the other hand, can do that distance on internal fuel, and even with it's two external fuel tanks, it's payload capacity is completely unaffected.

One of the arguing factors for Hornet supporters, is that it's bringback capability is better than aircraft it replaced, which is also an exaggeration.  The E/F Hornet has a bringback payload of roughly 9,000 lbs; while that is an incremental improvement over the A-6 intruder's 8,000 lbs, it's merely matches the old F-14's pound for pound.  Not only that, but the ST-21's bringback would have been a staggering 16,000 lbs.

But, even without upgrading all the way to the ST-21, the Quickstrike variant of the Tomcat would still have the same bringback, even longer range than current tomcats, with a larger payload at those same ranges, all while costing only 2 million more per aircraft (about 70 million per plane) and roughly 670 million dollars to develop, as compared to the nearly 15 billion it took to develop the Super Hornet.  Plus, it would have included massive structural overhauls and refinements to further reduce maintenance hours below the already low hours for the D model Tomcats (reputed to be in the high 20's).

The ST-21, on the other hand, would have incurred much higher development costs, but would have delivered far more capability.  Enhanced maneuverability, even longer range, massive payload enhancements, AESA radar, improved ECM and expendables, helmet mounted sights, and faster acceleration and top speed and altitude. Price per aircraft may have been upwards of 97-107 million per aircraft (estimate based on cost comparisons between the Eagle and Strike Eagle), and development costs would have been around the 8 billion dollar range (est).  Now, despite these costs, it would have allowed an actual replacement for the medium and heavy bombers (the A-7 and A-6 respectively), which the hornet was never designed to replace, nor has been able to match in terms of range and payload.
All this without affecting payload or performance all for a better price.
So fer every strike mission that requires you to go 550nmi one way, and carry 20,000 lbs of ordnance, you can use two ST-21's as opposed to four (or five) Super Hornets for the same job, so the costs have already been recouped operationally.
Note the canted position of the stores on the Super Hornet.  Although solving ordnance separation issues, it  is at the cost of performance an fuel efficiency. 
Meanwhile the Super hornet has not met the weight, range, and fuel efficiency targets set by the Navy since day 1.  Not helped by the fact that all it's pylons are canted outward to prevent improper stores separation, which incurs massive drag and hurts fuel efficiency while forcing a slower cruising speed.  It's to such an extent that Boeing and GE are trying to sell the Navy on developing another variant of the F-414 engine called the EDE (Enhanced Durability Engine) to help with the ridiculous fuel consumption levels of the Super Hornet.  Another option for these engines had been the addition of thrust vectoring nozzles, since the heavier Super Hornet has lost much agility, and doesn't even compare to older generation aircraft let alone to new generation potential threat aircraft.  Also, Boeing has quickly started developing and advertising a pair of conformal fuel tanks to help address the range issue, but the weight these add will also reduce the amount of overall ordnance carried by the aircraft.

My conclusion:  Until the fielding of the F-35, the Navy is stuck with a sub-par, super-sized, light strike aircraft that somehow is supposed to fulfill/replace medium and heavy strike aircraft.  Even as a fighter, the hornet light fighter concept is flawed and much less capable than the aircraft it replaced.
Note the conformal fuel tanks.
So far, the super hornet program has totaled to over 48 and a half billion dollars.  Each airplane costs over 67 million per copy, and nearly 500 have been delivered.  Just think, for that price we could have been operating 550 Quickstrike Tomcats with much lower operational costs, while still having over 9 billion left to spare.  Or, alternatively, We could have gone ahead with the development of the ST-21, and we could have, for the same exact price, gotten roughly 400 much more capable aircraft that could have been augmented by a slightly smaller number of stealth assets (namely the F-35).

Next post will

Okay, not really a resource, but it's a good read:

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