Most F-35 technologies will be added to existing fighters
The F-35 is at the forefront of avionics, but its slow gestation will mean others will harvest the research that led to this technology. Other than its claimed ‘stealth’, all of its key technologies will, if they prove effective, be integrated onto other aircraft. The technology race is an odd one, where neither pioneers or the military have an advantage.
Never be the pioneer. The Eurofighter Typhoon pioneered voice control interface for fighter pilots and now, after spending millions achieving it, has a system way less advanced than the Siri on your iPhone. The large touch screen display which has cost a fortune to develop for the F-35 has also taken so long to develop that it is technologically behind the systems used by high-end graphic designers. The idea so beloved of Hollywood films that the military has secret technologies years ahead of consumers like you is not true. Military project contractors (at least in the US and Europe) make more money if their programmes run slowly, and they are also free to escalate the cost as they wish. Producers of high street merchandise still exist in a real state of free market capitalism and must produce things as quickly and economically as possible, and in many ways are light years ahead of the military.
Outside of this, there is also the situation regarding how pioneering technologies, despite what may be stated, are not tied to particular aircraft models. The F-35 is an interesting case in point, despite claims by Lockheed Martin that all rival fighters are obsolete – which of the F-35’s key technologies could not be added to conventional, and higher performance, airframes? Its innovative cockpit display? No, as the Gripen NG which is about to fly will have one as good. The situational awareness derived from its computing power? Moore’s law is seemingly unstoppable, so it seems unlikely that it would be difficult to equal or surpass this in a few years time. Its radar stealth? This is its strongest card, but in most likely situations the carriage of cruise missiles by a conventional aircraft would create a similar level of survivability. The role of stealth in air-to-air combat remains a complete unknown, as no LO or stealth aircraft has ever fought in air-to-air combat. Working through the F-35’s shopping list of unique features reveals that the most of these aspects could be fitted to fourth generation platforms which have superior reliability, and therefore, sortie rates. The F-35’s much-vaunted lead in connectivity via datalinks will also be challenged rather soon by the Gripen NG.
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