It’s the most expensive weapon in history but America’s F-35 stealth jet has been outperformed by a 40-year-old F-16 jet in a dogfight.
A mock air battle was held over the Pacific Ocean between the cutting-edge F-35 – meant to be the most sophisticated jet ever – and an F-16, which was designed in the 1970s.
But according to the test pilot, the F-35 is still too slow to hit an enemy plane or dodge gunfire. So far it has cost the US military more than $350billion.
Head-to-head: The F-35 (background) and the F-16 (foreground) took to the skies in a dogfight to determine how the highly-anticipated F-35 compares to its predecessor
The dogfight, which was staged in January near Edwards Air Force Base, California, was designed to test the F-35’s ability in close-range combat at 10,000 to 30,000 feet.
Both the F-35 pilot and the F-16 pilot were attempting to ‘shoot down’ the other.
But, according to the F-35 pilot’s report, which has only recently been made public, the jet performed so appallingly that he deemed it completely inappropriate for fighting other aircraft within visual range.
He reported that the F-35 – designed by Lockheed Martin – was at a ‘distinct energy disadvantage for every engagement’ despite the F-16 being weighed down by two drop tanks for extra fuel.
The F-35 pilot reported a number of aerodynamic problems, including ‘insufficient pitch rate’ for the jet’s nose while climbing – resulting in the plane being too cumbersome to dodge enemy fire, according to David Axe at War is Boring.
He said that a half-million-dollar custom-made helmet that gives pilots a 360-degree view outside the plane meant he was unable to comfortably move his head inside the cramped cockpit. This meant the F-16 could approach from behind without him noticing.
‘The helmet was too large for the space inside the canopy to adequately see behind the aircraft,’ he wrote in the five-page brief.
‘Flying computer’: U.S. military leaders have extoled the virtues of the F-35 jets, which are intended to ‘combine advanced stealth capabilities with fighter aircraft speed and agility’
But a series of setbacks has delayed production by up to eight years and put it $263billion over budget so far
The F-35 jet was one of the most highly anticipated advancements in military history.
However a series of setbacks has delayed production by up to eight years and put it $263billion over budget so far.
The spiralling costs are due to a number of factors, including engine problems that caused one jet to burst into flames during take-off last May.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, who is in charge of the F-35 programme, said the planes had been plagued by simple mistakes. These included everything from wingtip lights that did not meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards to tires that could not cope with the landings.
Britain’s baby: This F-35 is intended for use by the RAF, although an official said it won’t be ready for years
But military bosses have been quick to extol the virtues of the stealth multirole fighter, which is predicted to be vastly superior to its fourth-generation predecessors.
Marine Lt Gen. Robert Schmidle said the planes were like flying computers and that they could detect an enemy five to 10 times faster than the enemy could detect it.
And Lt Col David Burke told 60 Minutes last year: ‘I’m telling you, having flown those other airplanes, it’s not even close at how good this airplane is and what this airplane will do for us.’
Fighting fit at forty: F-16 planes first flew in 1974 and are constantly updated with new technology
F-16 fighter planes show off their agility at the Aviation Nation air show near Las Vegas in 2004
Its creators at Lockheed Martin boast that the stealth jet ‘combines advanced stealth capabilities with fighter aircraft speef and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced logistics and sustainment’.
The f35.com website continues: ‘The F-35 is designed with the entire battlespace in mind, bringing new flexibility and capability to the United States and its allies.
‘Reliance on any single capability – electronic attack, stealth, etc – is not sufficient for success and survivability in the future.’