Volume 31, Issue 2, Summer  2017

The Comanche and the Albatross:
About Our Neck Was Hung

The Air Force intended eventually to replace much of the post-Vietnam fighter fleet with the F-35A. This stealthy aircraft possesses advanced technology and was intended to be no more expensive than the aircraft it was designed to supplant. The Air Force sought to buy 1,763 F-35As—the number required to replace every F-16, A-10, and F-117 then in service. Rather than an affordable, capable fighter aircraft operational in large numbers by 2015, the F-35 continues to arrive late and cost more than anticipated. Program delays, unmet performance requirements, and spiraling costs have recently run full tilt into an austere budgetary environment. Budgetary realities should serve as an impetus to reexamine the Air Force's participation in the F-35 program and the future of the fighter force. The Army's treatment of the Comanche program offers an example of a bold move in aviation which allowed that service to both modernize and recapitalize. This example shows a potential way forward and should serve to remind Airmen that the Air Force is essential for national security, that the F-35 is not, and that we should be wary of risking the former in our pursuit of the latter.


Leave a Comment
Justin Bronk 5/1/2014 5:01:35 AM

A bold; well-argued piece that deserves open consideration at the highest levels of the USAF. An F-35 program termination would be a blessing in disguise for partner nations as well since the aircraft does not really fit any of their possible mission requirements (except for South Korea). Lack of range, agility, speed and most of all, internal payload are critical flaws in the design; much better to follow the Comanche example. Might I also cheekily suggest that swallowing national pride and buying into Typhoon tranche 3 in a big way would provide a substantial boost over F-15!

Jordan Brown - Former SSgt USAFSS 5/1/2014 8:41:29 AM

The lack of a daylight, easy to maintain fighter makes me think that the Air Force should have looked a little closer at the F-5 fighter when it was being sold to them before. It seems they dismissed that aircraft a bit too soon, and too quickly.

Bob D'Amore, LtC (r). USAF 5/1/2014 9:11:31 AM

great article and absolutely spot on !

Dan Kemp 5/1/2014 3:58:29 PM

As a former customer of air power (Army infantry, 1999-2009), I like the idea of small, slow, responsive CAS platforms even if they cannot all be A-10s. For what we other services want Big Blue to do for us, this plan makes more sense than anything else I have heard. So much so I can guarantee it won''t happen. Sorry, guys, there are good reasons going back past the Key West Agreement that we on the ground don't trust you as an institution.

Bill Campbell  5/4/2014 1:34:10 PM

For years I have been proclaiming the benefits of the OA-X. The benefits of the T-X and AT-X are less clear to me. I’m concerned with the manpower costs. If we have 5 pilots per 2 seater aircraft on active duty, we’d require +3000. (13800 to 16800). If aircraft drive all manpower requirements by +20%(+64k active or +256k reserve) means an across the board 17% decrease in compensation. Could we grow the Air Force by 20% while cutting manpower costs by 17%?

Rob Spalding 5/5/2014 6:58:58 AM

This is seriously lacking. The fact that he is in the pacific and yet does not address bomber force structure is startling. The F-35 while not the most capable is required because of the short-sighted OSD decisions to cancel F-22 and B-2 production prior to their required numbers. While I do agree we need a light tactical fighter, I do not view it in the same way. It should be used as a way to integrate and train those Air Force''s that cannot afford the F-35. By the way, the F-35 will contribute to the economy through foreign sales.

Bill Dries 5/5/2014 1:42:45 PM

Col Pietrucha makes many good points, but his vision is rooted in the past while the security environment has changed forever. If the AF followed his vision, we would have only a symmetrical response to powerful nations like China and Russia but with the same problems (limited basing, short legs) as if we replaced our legacy fighter force with F-35s. So, he wants to trade capability for ... nothing. If all we have to do is face terrorists and adversaries that we overmatch, this is no problem. But in future fights for control of the air, this backward-looking view will leave our nation weak.

Steven R. Hulland 5/5/2014 11:09:40 PM

Col Michael W. Pietrucha''s exceptionally simple and brilliant case for reviving the USAF''s ability to provide the United States with an affordable premier Air Force is unassailable. Whereas Gen Mark A. Welsh III, Chief of Staff, USAF has never provided such exceptional rational and a compelling argument concerning his support of the F-35 and demise of the A-10. If only every single member of Congress and the current Administration could be made to actually read, think about and support such superior strategy, Col Michael W. Pietrucha would become the USAF Chief of Staff! Thank you Colonel!

Rich Donnelly, Col, USAF 5/7/2014 9:14:01 AM

This article is hugely flawed. The author contends the threat is worse than when we began the F-35, so we should abandon stealth for less survivable aircraft. And since the F-35 has not finished OT, its capability is suspect, yet ppt-deep OA-Xs are a great buy. Then there’s the discredited idea that only the A-10 can do CAS. There''s a reason you don''t focus on the rear sight of the rifle. OA-Xs won''t impress MiG-29s, and CAS acft forced from the sky won''t help ground forces. Airpower remains America''s most cost-effective solution for power projection, and the F-35 will be a vital contributor.

Christiaan Meinen 5/8/2014 6:59:18 AM

How come some USAF people always come up with fake arguments? Colonel Pietrucha is the first I ever heard talking NO-nonsense. Will the F-35 contribute to the economy through foreign sales? The US isn’t the only one who downgrades the numbers? UK from 138>48 IT>131>90 now suggested 45. Netherlands once needed 114> wanted 85 to start now budget for only 35. Just some examples.. Comments of mr. Dries doesn’t make sense. Pietrucha argues a concept change with more Smart LR strike weapons, additional renewed EW measures. So howecome he would trade capability for nothing?

Jamie Sculerati, Col, USAF(ret) 5/8/2014 12:02:24 PM

While not sharing the author''s enthusiasm for the OA-X and AT-X, he has a point that we are crippling ourselves with "too big to fail" programs. Aircraft recapitalization staggers from one program to another, each costing enough development time and money that we must keep it for decades more to recoup the investment. Thus we''re forced to build not for strategies and threats we face, or those forecast, but for the absolute worst we can imagine, because we''re stuck with it for our lifetime. F-35 may be a perfect example - conceived in the 1980s, fielded in the 2010s, replaced in the 2080s?

Mark 5/11/2014 2:09:02 PM

While I expected a USAF-centric analysis of ending further F-35 production, fact is this proposal betrays the Navy, USMC and a dozen allies, forcing them to either pay hundreds of millions per copy or canceling altogether and damaging trust in U.S. leadership. Also, Congress is highly unlikely to make a major break like this, especially considering the Texas delegation's commitment to the F-35s Ft. Worth facility. Lastly, while this proposal questions the remaining promises of the F-35s development, it believes a future X craft will deliver on all promises in time to replace geriatric planes.

Roger Smith 5/17/2014 2:49:56 PM

I am certainly glad to have read this article. It confirms my suspicions about the F-35 and it''s many drawbacks.

Matt Knott 5/18/2014 4:15:02 AM

The F35 will be cancelled, but in the mean time the UK has built 2x65000 tonne aircraft carriers without cats or traps or an angled flight deck to acquire a capability less than the small invincible class ''through deck cruisers''. The damage will be enormous.

Joe Katzman 5/18/2014 3:51:17 PM

Mark identifies the biggest challenge to Pietrucha''s analysis: the Navy and allies. That was a deliberate part of the F-35''s political engineering. Rob Spalding identifies the 2nd weakness: swapping TacAir for TacAir may not be the best option in the Pacific. Having said that Mark needn''t worry about the X-craft. They''re already in service as the KAI/LMCO T-50 supersonic trainer candidate for T-X, TA-50 (Korea, Indonesia), FA-50 (Korea, soon Iraq & Philippines), and Embraer Super Tucano (OA-X). OA-X competition is available from Becchcraft''s lighter AT-6C and Textron''s Scorpion jet.

James Tira 5/18/2014 5:10:36 PM

I enjoyed your detailed and informative article on the A/F "problem" with the F-35 not only has it not been tested under the "build first test later" procurement program but it appears to be unaffordable. This brings to mind the former head of Lockheed who said that the A/F could share the single fighter for three days, the Navy for three days and the Marines for one day. Your article did not mention that the F-35B has not been proved capable of flying off of the Assault ships of the Navy [exhaust heat] of being "trapped by the carriers [F-35C]. Again thanks. James Tira, Esq.

Patrick Logan 5/19/2014 11:49:16 AM

While not perfect of course this is the most well reasoned analysis I have read on the F-35 program. The USAF is putting all its eggs in one basket, and when we do hit the big war its made for I do believe we will find out how costly of targets we have built for China/Russia. IADS and missile technology will out strip the LO characteristics easily if they haven''t already. All the other ''cool'' things for the F-35 are so far from working its a sad joke on the nation and on the state of the defense industry in coordination with Acquisitions.

Col Russell Gimmi (ret) 5/19/2014 12:03:51 PM

Captain Michael Byrnes'' article "Nightfall, Machine Autonomy in Air to Air Combat" illuminates the future of tactical air-to-air combat and suggests a broader application of machine autonomy across the full spectrum of Joint effects. Nevertheless, while machine pilotage is poised to replace human airmanship (in the cockpit and on the ground) human thought communicated through data links will remain a critical element in the employment of such a weapon system -especially with regard to Command and Control. All the advantages of automation described by Captain Byrnes can be retained if the human-machine interface is distilled down to only those functions requiring human thought. Captain Byrnes'' ideas also suggest a broader application of machine autonomy across the full spectrum of airpower and ultimately Joint effects. Moreover, machine autonomy may be more readily adaptable to missions other than counter air.

S Tah 5/19/2014 2:41:29 PM

well written, incisive article. Points made were cogently presented with well based justification

Taylor Murphy 5/20/2014 9:34:24 AM

This is a wonderful article. As a graduate student about to enter AFRL I have been following the F-35 closely in the news. The proposed changes to the composition of our air forces comes as a breath of sanity and balanced thinking in a time of increasingly unstable economic trends and budgetary influence from private sources. Thank you for both your service and for being a voice willing to speak out on behalf of America''s best interests.

Jim Smith 5/20/2014 1:55:49 PM

Have we all forgot about the problems many of our current aircraft had as they went through development and testing? The F-16 had significant hurdles to overcome during its development. Forty years and 4,500 aircraft later, no one talks about those problems. The C-17 had major issues, and there were several attempts to kill it as well. But we’re all glad it’s still around. All the services have similar stories. In just about every case, those systems fraught with problems during development have gone on to do great things. We won’t understand how good the F-35 is until we put it into the hands of the operators who will truly exploit the capabilities of the aircraft. In 40 years when the last F-35L Block 82 is built, we’ll wonder why anyone would think we needed to kill this program.

SPC Gonzalez, Matthew T.  5/23/2014 10:23:21 AM

Col Pietrucha''s criticisms of the F35 program are well-reasoned and logical, but more importantly, an alternative budget and plan for the future was provided. It is a courageous publication by itself and I hope the recommendations for flexibility are heeded. Reading this article gave me hope about the future of the USAF in an operational environment more advanced than what the F35 was designed for, in which the USAF is diving head first into. Col Pietrucha''s proposal will save soldiers'' lives.

Detlef Storz 5/24/2014 4:32:22 AM

Some points from my German perspective: First, the article contains a few inaccuracies: The Iraqi air force did shoot down a U.S. F-18 using a Mig-25 high-speed fighter using an air-to-air missile. Also, the American P-51 fighter was probably the best aircraft of its class of world war 2. I admit there is some insight in comparing the F-22 today and the Me-262 then. Finally, air force colonels and young kids share the desire to create massive "wish-lists". Duplicating electronic attack capabilities in two services is simply not affordable. Rather, Marine Corps aviation must be let go, too.

John Carraway 5/26/2014 7:44:25 PM

I totally agree. Upgrading the Falcon, Eagle, and maybe the Tomcat is more efficacious than relying on the unproven platforms of the bloated F-35 and F-22.

Craig Jord 6/11/2014 1:39:53 AM

Re Joe Katzman''s blog 5/18/14. I am from Australia. The 2 Invincible class carriers you refer to were both put in mothballs from memory due to the austerity measures that the British government put in place after their last election.They probably will never finish building the carriers which will mean that they won''t be needing these dud fighter/bomber/can do everything (yeah sure) aircraft that unfortunately the Australian federal government has also signed up to purchasing 58 of!

Bill Siegel  6/17/2014 10:40:00 AM

Congressional efforts to save the A-10 based on the CAS argument and even more so the CPH are easily defeated. The A-10 costs at Depot overhaul are staggering. The ASIP driven fuselgae inspections and repairs, along with the new Boeing EWA are draining resourses much needed to modernize the force.The F-35 has warts and will continue to have them. The arguments against the F-16 v F-4 were many and similar. Think F-16A Block 10 and the number of Mod''s for that airframe. Consider the result over time. We must move forward in Depot workload planning and Fleet progression.

Peter 10/22/2014 4:23:55 AM

The USAF should indeed purchase a limited number of new aircraft, with 60 F-15Gs and 72 two-seat Block 70 F-16Fs as the baseline. I do agree with Col Michael W. Pietrucha that the F-15G Strike Weasels should be added to the force to replace the long-lost F-4G/EF-111A and the critical expertise that came with them. It is certainly economically feasible, existing fourth generation airframes with significant service life remaining should be upgraded to a common standard.

Peter 10/22/2014 5:38:18 AM

Stealth technology is a scam. It is supposed to be invisible for radar which it never was. It just reduces the cross section and visibility, making the plane look smaller on radar than it is. Nothing more or nothing less. Stealth is useful only against short-wavelength radar of the kind that might be carried on an interceptor or used by a radar-guided missile. Physicists say no amount of RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) coating will protect you from 15ft to 20ft wavelength radar of the kind the Russians have had since the 1940s.

Peter 10/22/2014 5:40:07 AM

If you are putting F-35 up against the newer generation of much, much more powerful long-wave length Russian radars, as well as the P-14 Tall King family of Cold-War era radars and some of the newer Chinese radars of a ground-to-air unit that would have no difficulty detecting and tracking an approaching F-35. It will also be detected by the L-Band AESA which will be equipped on the Su-35S and PAK-FA. It is used for targetting which they’ll be able to track LO/VLO stealth aircraft, as well as the F-35.

Peter 11/30/2014 9:49:55 PM

Cancel the F-35 and make the Super F-15 TVC ''Golden'' Eagle from C model airframes rebuilt and upgrade them with supercruising F100-PW-232 or F110-GE-132 with 3D circular thrust vectoring nozzles, Infra-Red Search & Track (IRST), APG-63v3 AESA and the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System (EPAWSS) and redesigned "S" shaped air intakes with air intake blockers to reduce radar detection from head on. The proposal should be called "F-15R Advanced Eagle". The F-15 line is still operational, so it is much more feasible to upgrade/develop F-15s.

Peter 11/30/2014 10:21:35 PM

Col Michael W. Pietrucha, USAF, Fantastic article and you''re absolutely spot on! What you should do is send The Comanche and the Albatross information to the Pentagon and Congress as a way to encourage them to cancel the boondoggle F-35 Joint Super Fail (JSF) programme.

IronMajor 5/7/2015 8:30:02 PM

I think everyone needs to stop badmouthing the F-35 and do a liitle more or a lot more research of what great new capability this weapon system brings to our forces. Constructive critisism is good but lambasting is bad...shows weakness to our foes!

IronMajor 5/7/2015 9:05:48 PM

Thank you Jim Smith for your ''spot on'' comment on 14 May 2014!

Peter 5/13/2015 3:48:31 AM

IronMajor and Jim Smith I think you and the pro-F-35 advocates need to stop goodmouthing the F-35 and do a little more or a lot more research of what how bad this boondoggle aircraft brings to our forces.

ken 6/5/2015 12:08:54 AM

The most rational paper i have seen yet on this subject. It should be required reading for all defence, goverment and contractors alike. If it was, maybe we would see more coherent discussion and informed decision at all levels.