Talk to me, Goose...



I love the movie Top Gun. And the thing is, I really shouldn't. It is, without question, the gayest non-gay movie ever made. The entire plot was stitched together out of used Kleenex and soft-focus shots of Kelly McGillis, back when she was actually hot. About 80% of the film doesn't make the slightest damn bit of sense.

And yet... the nonsense is liberally interspersed with aerial sequences that were, and remain, pure AWESOMESAUCE. The lines from the film might be terrible, but they are ridiculously quotable. And while that horrible song, "Take My Breath Away", makes me go near-homicidal every time I hear it in its saccharine awfulness, the film also boasts single greatest rock song of the 80s in its soundtrack:


(Think about this for a moment. That one movie, as ridiculous as it is, made Kenny freakin' Loggins into a hugely popular masculine badass, even though the music video for it consists of very little other than Mr. Loggins lolling around in bed wearing wonky glasses with a really bad haircut. If that doesn't make it one of the best- admittedly bad- movies ever made, I don't know what will.)

However, Top Gun is generally not a movie that should be considered a blueprint for real life. Even I'm smart enough to figure that out. Especially not the sequence where Maverick's RIO, Goose, dun got kilt when he ejected headfirst into his F-14's canopy.

Evidently nobody told the Pentaloons and their cronies at Lockheed about this simple fact of life:
Pilots who eject from America's most expensive military jet could break their neck. 
It has emerged that the Martin-Baker US16E seats on the $350billion F-35s proved to be flawed during tests. 
While challenging the new Generation 3 helmets, it was discovered that the ejection snapped the necks of light-weight test dummies. 
The US military services have now decided to ban pilots under the [w]eight of 136 pounds from operating the plane. [Didact: You have GOT to be sh*tting me. The UNITED STATES AIR FORCE, the world's most advanced air arm, comes up with THIS as its solution to the problem?!?]
It's the latest in a series of setbacks, which has delayed production by up to eight years and put it hundreds of billions of dollars over budget. 
One Californian Democrat told Defense News: 'We're seeing these flight restrictions because the F-35's ejector seats weren't tested to the level they would be on a normal aircraft, and the Pentagon rushed to field them prematurely. 
'This is yet another example of the kind of procurement malpractice we should be avoiding.' 
Meanwhile, the chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee Rep Jackie Speier said the issue will be discussed at an oversight hearing later this month. 
He said: 'We're having an F-35 hearing scheduled for Oct. 21. I'm certain it will show up then. 
'I am going to have an oversight hearing on this.' 
At least one F-35 pilot is affected by the weight restriction. It does no affect the only female F-35 pilot Lt Col Christina Mau, who is the deputy commander for the 33rd operations group. [Didact: So... is LTC Mau a tad chunky, then?]
Testers found that the seat rotates forward too much and, combined with the force of an ejection, it proved too much for the lighter dummies and snapped their necks. 
The chilling findings are reminiscent to Goose's death in the film Top Gun. 
The three F-35 pilots at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, are not said to be affected by the weight restriction.
Hey, I'll let you in on a really embarrassing little secret.

Back when I were a wee lad, yours truly wanted nothing more than to become an aeronautical engineer and become a plane designer for Lockheed Martin. Like a lot of nerdy kids, I grew up thinking about how cool fighters and bombers looked, and I wanted to design them. I devoured everything I could on aeronautical design and engineering, and spent a lot of time doodling designs for what I thought would be the next-generation fighter plane for the US Air Force.

I even sent one such, er, "design"- such as it was, given that I basically put it together in ClarisWorks on a Mac using a bunch of straight lines and no small amount of overactive imagination- to Lockheed, once. Some chap in the PR department must have had a sense of humour, because he sent me back a very nice letter saying something along the lines of, "hey, nice drawing there, kid, would you mind signing this here form that says that we can use it for our purposes?".

I was, as you can imagine, chuffed to bits.

It did not occur to me then- since, as I said, I was rather younger and dumber than I am now- that some good Samaritan at Lockheed was just being nice to a little kid with more dreams than brains. In reality, if I had been let loose to design an actual fighter plane, I probably would have ended up with a Gundam of some kind. It would look really cool, like all anime Gundams do, but the moment anyone actually had to do anything with it, it would become completely useless, since of course fighter jets that transform on command into giant badass fighting robots don't actually work in the real world.

Based on the track record of the Joint Strike Flopter thus far, though, it sounds like Lockheed actually could have done considerably better by putting 13-year-old Didact in charge of its F-35 design programme.

This is a plane that "can't turn, can't climb, can't run". It is a plane built at enormous expense to replace multiple aircraft types across completely different mission parameters and services. It is built around an engine with truly biblical levels of power, which simply proves that even a piano can fly if you stick a honking great turbofan on it. But it has a very high wing load- in other words, its wings have to carry more weight per square foot than its closest rivals. While this is not the sole determining factor of manoeuvrability, climb rate, turn rate, or a host of other things critically important to dogfighting, it is a major one- and when compared to its major rivals, as well as the planes that it was supposed to replace, the F-35 does quite badly.

This is a plane that was thoroughly trounced in every engagement by the very plane that it was supposed to replace, the venerable F-16 Fighting Falcon (or Viper, depending on which geek you talk to). The excuse that Lockheed and the Pentaloons gave for this, frankly appalling, performance was that the F-35 model being tested didn't have the AAMs, the stealth coatings, and the various gadgets and gizmos strapped into the cockpit that would have allowed it to stay out of dogfighting range with the F-16, a plane that was designed to dogfight back when it was built.

So basically, the argument that the plane's designers and backers are making is that the plane won't need to dogfight, since it will simply engage everything at long range with missiles that will somehow magically always hit their targets and never get bamboozled by simple countermeasures like chaff, powerful radar jamming, or the "diamond formation" that William S. Lind has argued will defeat heatseekers.

That would all be well and good... if it weren't for the fact that the F-35 has a tiny internal ordnance capacity, thanks to its massive engine and heavy body. And if it packs missiles under its wings, it immediately loses whatever stealthy properties it might have had previously.

So it is not a very good stand-off fighter- which makes it useless for the mission for which it was actually designed. And the F-35 is clearly an inferior dogfighter, as demonstrated by its utter walloping at the hands of F-16 pilots flying a jet that is nearly 40 years old. One has to wonder, then, precisely what mission this plane is actually designed for.

To answer that question, one must recognise that the F-16 is a true multi-role fighter-bomber, beautifully designed, highly reliable, brilliant to fly (or so I'm told, anyway), and built to strict design principles that actually make sense.

The F-35, by contrast, appears to have been built for one mission alone: wasting money.

And for that mission, at least, you couldn't have designed a better plane than the F-35. The whole programme is just one colossal boondoggle after another.

This is supposed to be a "stealth" aircraft. Except that, like almost every "stealth" plane ever made by America, it can be easily detected by old-school long-wave radar arrays, of the kind that were used back in the days of the Battle of Britain. The F-35 isn't designed to defeat those kinds of radar- which are precisely the kinds that the Russians and Chinese have spent a considerable sum of money to develop and enhance for at least the past 20 years, and almost certainly longer.

Long-wave radar isn't terribly good at telling you exactly what is coming at you, by its very nature- but it is very good at telling you that something is coming. As anyone who studied the Battle of Britain can tell you, that is usually all one actually needs to ruin some jumped-up Flugzeugfuhrer's day.

Then there's the fact that the plane's cockpit doesn't give full 360-degree visibility. Supposedly that's going to be compensated for by a suite of electronic gizmos that give panoramic vision.

But the computer programs that give that panoramic vision have flaws in them- or at least, they did at the time this investigative report was produced:


And that's before we get to the problems with manufacturing, cost overruns, reliability, incompatibility with existing systems, and so on.

The F-35 is basically a fighter designed for a war that simply won't be fought anytime soon. It's designed to fight conventional mass air battles against opponents like the old Soviet Union and the Chinese PLAAF using modern stand-off, long-range engagement tactics that depend entirely on missiles and not manoeuvring. Yet those are precisely the kinds of wars that are not really likely to be fought in the future.

The types of wars that are truly likely are the grinding, slow, attrition wars of 4th Generation Warfare. And in those kinds of wars, air power is of next to no use, except in close-support missions for ground troops, because the enemy you're fighting is stateless and formless to conventional eyes.

The end result is that the US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, and over a dozen allied air forces around the world, will be buying a hugely expensive, unreliable, buggy, unmanoevrable, not-very-stealthy, cramped, unsafe, and downright non-survivable aircraft in ever-dwindling numbers.

Think about that for a moment. This country's defence establishment basically has no problems with sending its most highly qualified and trained aviators aloft to die in planes that simply aren't designed to keep them safe or alive in combat.

If this country's military establishment had the slightest smidgen of sense and humility, they would immediately cancel this crazy programme, and bring back something like the old "fighter Mafia" to build real aircraft for real conflicts that this country will actually have to fight.

Comments

  1. TOP GUN.

    Spent two years working at Circuit City (electronics store chain, now out of business), 3-4 days a week, and they had it on the TV's 75% of the time.

    That said, the aerial sequences are still awesome sauce, even if the rest of the movie is thoroughly ruined.

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    1. Yeah, I know what you mean. There are large parts of that movie that I simply cannot watch anymore- that godawful bit where Maverick meets Charlie at her house for the first time comes to mind- but the sheer epicness of the dogfighting and aerial training sequences more than makes up for the rest of it.

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  2. I finished reading William S. Lind's "On War" earlier this year and that book was a huge eye-opener. I knew very little about modern warfare before reading that book. Now I can safely say that I know a little bit more than I used to. That book should be mandatory reading for every person in the military leadership. The Pentagon only cares about shiny new toys, regardless of whether they work or not. Nevermind the fact that in order to truly fight 4th generation warfare, you'd have to cut out all that expensive and shiny technology for more practical solutions like you imply. These clowns in the Pentagon should be whacked over the head with Lind's tome. We'll likely be spending more money and losing more fights only to have the Pentagon demand more money because "last time, we lost because we didn't have enough money, so give us more this time"

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  3. That book should be mandatory reading for every person in the military leadership

    That, along with Mr. Lind's FMFM-1 field manual for the Marine Corps, which he referenced extensively within the On War collection.

    BTW, if you liked that, I highly recommend Castalia House's transcription of his lecture, The Four Generations of Modern War. It's a superb summary of the 4GW philosophy and is a very quick read. I'm currently working my way through Mr. Lind's "4GW Canon" (admittedly somewhat out of order), and once you've read that set of books as well, suddenly the patterns of warfare seen in the last century or so will make vastly more sense to you.

    These clowns in the Pentagon should be whacked over the head with Lind's tome. We'll likely be spending more money and losing more fights only to have the Pentagon demand more money because "last time, we lost because we didn't have enough money, so give us more this time"

    Indeed. They never, ever, ever learn.

    To be as fair as possible, part of the problem comes from the fact that not only is a 3rd-Generation military exceedingly hard to create out of a 2nd-Generation one- as the Marine Corps found out in the late 1980s- but keeping such a military is even harder. The Israelis are the perfect example. They used to be one of the most decentralised, flexible, and highly reactive militaries in the world. These days, they're almost as big on bright shiny toys and ossified central-command systems as their American counterparts.

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  4. Hmmm... was that Lind's lecture in Riding the Red Horse? or am I confusing it with something else.

    I too plan on reading through Mr. Lind's "4GW Canon" eventually. Unfortunately I have far too big a reading list, there are just too many books out there. So much knowledge right at our finger tips and people would rather watch stupidity on TV.

    Perhaps I must have missed it.. I'm new to this and my knowledge is extremely limited, but does Lind mention or do you have any thoughts on what the cause of this regressive trend from 3GW to 2GW is? Is it something as simple as human capacity for complacency, greed and all that other stuff? or is it something more complicated?

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  5. the F35 debacle is simply a retread of the M-2 Bradley

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