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kitplane01
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How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 6:08 am

How useful are light fighters like the Korean FA-50, Italian M-346FA, Chinese L-15B?

I understand that's on open ended question!

Basically, are there any missions for which these are the most cost effective military solution?
  • For low-and-slow ground air support, they compete with the Apache, etc (and I think but am not sure they have a higher operating cost than the Apache.)
  • For dropping bombs in support of troops in uncontested airspace, they compete with pick-your-favorite-drone, which almost always costs less.
  • And as a fighter, I'd rather have 1 F-16/Rafale than 3 of these (and that's *about* the equal $$$ ratio).

So what missions are light fighter the best option?

Note:
The JF-17 has the economics, and engine thrust of a light fighter, but a different mission.
The Grippen might be light weight, but it's not a light fighter as intended here.
The Super Tucano is near this area.
 
RJMAZ
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 7:40 am

They are totally useless for any modern air force. The days of a high-low mix is gone. The original F-16's were designed to dogfight, such a tactic today would see them all shot down at beyond visual range.

A dozen light fighters such as the FA-50 could go up against a single Super Hornet and all of them would get shot down. A single F-35 could shoot down multiple Super Hornets in a similar fashion. A small detection advantage usually results in a huge kill ratio advantage.

For this reason I think for air to air and air to ground missions an air force should always buy the highest performance aircraft available. The only factor being that they can afford to operate a minimum number of say a dozen aircraft with their available budget. An example with the Philippines their budget was so low that in order to purchase a dozen fighters the FA-50 was the highest performing option.

This is why light fighters mainly get purchased by small air forces. With the Super Tucano nearly every operator it is their best attack aircraft and the only aircraft that can fire an air to air missile.
 
steman
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 7:56 am

I also believe their usefullness is very limited.
I guess they are also not that cheap compared to used F-16s or MiG29 though probably cheaper to operate and maintain.
I think there will be a very limited market for these light weight fighters, mostly from small Air Forces in Africa.
But probably for Leonardo and KAI it doesn´t cost much to offer a combat capable version of their advanced trainers and they might score some orders because of the full package of trainers and multirole fighters.
However, it´s true that the light weight fighter or fighter-bomber seems to be a thing of the past. Think of the F-5s, A-4s, Mig-21s but also single seat versions of the BAe Hawk and Aermacchi MB-326 and -339. They haven´t been replaced with similar light weight or trainer derivative platforms.
At one point the Portugues Air Force was using T-38s as air defence fighters, till they got used F-16s, which they still have.
Singapore got rid of their A-4S and F-5s, replacing them with heavier and more powerful machines (though in the advanced training role they got Leonardo´s M-346)
Kuwait replaced A-4s with F-18s.
Even the Italian Air Force, which used to be a big user of light weight fighter bombers (think of the G91R and G91Y) is replacing their AMX (and Tornados) with the F-35.
I guess the tendency is towards less machines but more capable.
 
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seahawk
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 8:47 am

First of all you need them for peace time mission as air policing which requires a fighter to identify an unknown plane in or closing in on your airspace. Secondly they make good advanced trainers and are useful as Red Air assets for training as well. Then there is the low price, which either allows more frames to be bought or makes them the only affordable option anyway. And in the end 18 FA-50 can probably keep 3 CAP stations an 24/7 readiness, 6 Rafales can not.

Given a datalink an BVR missiles the limited range of their radar is of limited concern, as they can be simple missile trucks which remain nose cold and use data from ground radars, AWACS and other fighters. With weapons like the KAPD350 they can even attack with a smart missile and from outside the air defence range of most enemies.

Surely if you can meet your needs with better and heavier fighters, they are the way to go, but typical customers of such fighters can not afford the bigger fighters. And that is the reason why they were bought in the past. Nobody bought F-5s because of the performance of the F-5, they bought F-5s because under the given budget (and/or political limitations) they could not get F-4Es or F-15s.
 
petertenthije
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 10:00 am

If you expect to go to war, a light fighter would not be the best choice.

If you only expect to intercept airliners or general aviation that are not talking to ATC, and the occasional drug runner flying a small biz jet or prop, a light jet will be plenty capable enough.
 
bennett123
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 10:58 am

If you are dealing with smuggling or COIN, a light jet may fit the bill.

Not every situation needs an F16.
 
mxaxai
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 12:03 pm

They're faster than an attack helicopter, have more range and can patrol a larger area. They're also less vulnerable to small arms.

They need less infrastructure than UAV. Current (large) UAV require a control center, a stable datalink and good reconaissance prior to the mission. UAV can't be launched as quickly, for example as a QRA force.


If you only need to drop a bunch of bombs to scare rebels and terrorists every once in a while, light fighters / attackers are the easiest and cheapest solution. They are also multirole aircraft in the sense that you can use them for basic intercept* and training duties.
However, any airforce that can afford an F-16 / Gripen will prefer that. In a BVR fight, the light fighter will nearly always lose, even if they have a numerical advantage.

*Though, the low top speed of ~M1.2 for some of these means that they'll really struggle to catch an airliner heading away from them.
 
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seahawk
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 1:03 pm

petertenthije wrote:
If you expect to go to war, a light fighter would not be the best choice.


But still a lot better than no fighter.
 
mxaxai
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 1:41 pm

seahawk wrote:
petertenthije wrote:
If you expect to go to war, a light fighter would not be the best choice.


But still a lot better than no fighter.

You'd be better off investing the money and manpower in more effective weapons ... or seek other paths to avoid conflict if your military can't compete at all.
 
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seahawk
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 2:25 pm

That depends on with whom you want to compete - does it not?
 
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kitplane01
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 6:24 pm

Would you rather have a light fighter or an Apache?

I'm sure it depends on the mission, so maybe the question is "for what mission is a light fighter better than an Apache"?
 
johns624
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 7:43 pm

To answer the OP's question--nobody wants to buy light fighters, they only buy them because they can't afford anything better.
 
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seahawk
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 8:43 pm

kitplane01 wrote:
Would you rather have a light fighter or an Apache?

I'm sure it depends on the mission, so maybe the question is "for what mission is a light fighter better than an Apache"?


1. air policing
2. any form of air-to-air combat
3. bombing
4. interdiction
 
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N328KF
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Fri Jan 29, 2021 8:54 pm

seahawk wrote:
kitplane01 wrote:
Would you rather have a light fighter or an Apache?

I'm sure it depends on the mission, so maybe the question is "for what mission is a light fighter better than an Apache"?


1. air policing
2. any form of air-to-air combat
3. bombing
4. interdiction


I just want to point out that Apaches were used for the Wild Weasel mission in 1991. Furthermore, with the US FVL project, we might have rotorcraft fast enough for some of the missions you mentioned above. They won't be cheap though. ;)
 
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kitplane01
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sat Jan 30, 2021 6:14 pm

I'd like to push back some agains what I've read here. The strong consensus seems to be that light fighters are not valuable, and have no mission where they are the best solution. But consider the ground support role as done in Afghanistan or Iraq. An M346 costs something like 1/4 that of an F-16, and drops the same bombs.
If you want to do that mission economically, an M346 seems a better solution that the F-16.


If your concern is rapid response, I agree an F-16 is faster. But at 1/4 the cost, you could have 4x M346's in the sky, and get an even better response time.

Why isn't an M346 a better weapon for this situation than an F-16?
 
T54A
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sat Jan 30, 2021 6:17 pm

It depends on who your potential enemy is. Not every one is going to fight NATO or Russia. Horses for courses
 
ThePointblank
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sat Jan 30, 2021 8:25 pm

The problem is that once you run into any sort of opposition that's more capable than a guy with an AK and LMG, much like the arguments about a turboprop COIN aircraft, they are not worth it due to the risks to the aircraft and the crew.
 
mxaxai
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sat Jan 30, 2021 9:26 pm

ThePointblank wrote:
The problem is that once you run into any sort of opposition that's more capable than a guy with an AK and LMG, much like the arguments about a turboprop COIN aircraft, they are not worth it due to the risks to the aircraft and the crew.

Though one might argue that the low cost makes it easier to put them in risky situations compared to regular fighters if you can afford both. See for example Azerbaijan and Armenia, who both preferred to risk their cheap old Su-25 rather than their Mig-29. I think Ukraine also used them like this.
 
tommy1808
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sat Jan 30, 2021 9:58 pm

RJMAZ wrote:
A dozen light fighters such as the FA-50 could go up against a single Super Hornet and all of them would get shot down. A single F-35 could shoot down multiple Super Hornets in a similar fashion. A small detection advantage usually results in a huge kill ratio advantage.


Throw in an AESA AEW asset, modern tactical data links and suddenly the lonely Hornet has more targets than missiles, that also have the detection advantage and bring some 24-48 BVRAAM to the party. And the hornet having the same kind of airborne support wouldn't really change much.

Networking can make a long range missile tossed out of the back of an CN-235 just as lethal as one coming of an F22.

Of course nations buying that type of fighter don't tend to have such capability, or sufficiently advanced avionics on those, but sensors on the actual weapons plattform might lose importance quite quickly. The shooter being a different aircraft than the sensor plattform has become quite common.

Best regards
Thomas
 
johns624
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sat Jan 30, 2021 10:16 pm

mxaxai wrote:
ThePointblank wrote:
The problem is that once you run into any sort of opposition that's more capable than a guy with an AK and LMG, much like the arguments about a turboprop COIN aircraft, they are not worth it due to the risks to the aircraft and the crew.

Though one might argue that the low cost makes it easier to put them in risky situations compared to regular fighters if you can afford both. See for example Azerbaijan and Armenia, who both preferred to risk their cheap old Su-25 rather than their Mig-29. I think Ukraine also used them like this.
It also makes it easier to lose an expensively trained pilot.
 
mxaxai
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 12:22 am

johns624 wrote:
It also makes it easier to lose an expensively trained pilot.

Losing a multirole fighter pilot (and their aircraft) means losing the ability to defend your home territory against enemy bombers.

Losing a light attacker only removes your ability to drop bombs on enemy troops.

Also, pilot training costs are easy to cut and aren't that high in the first place. Armenia and Azerbaijan each lost around 3,000 troops last year? Why would you care about a couple of low-ranking pilots?
 
RJMAZ
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 1:31 am

kitplane01 wrote:
If your concern is rapid response, I agree an F-16 is faster. But at 1/4 the cost, you could have 4x M346's in the sky, and get an even better response time.

Why isn't an M346 a better weapon for this situation than an F-16?

You wouldn't even operate 2 M346 for the price of one F-16.

Israel has priced 30 M346 trainers at $2.2 billion over 30 years. That is $73.3 million per aircraft and this does not include targeting pod or AESA or weapons.

This is a third of the cost of a full blown F-35 based on the article below. The F-16 is less than the F-35 or around twice the cost of the M346.

https://defense-update.com/20130103_iaf ... _cost.html

Once you add the cost of weapons, the ownership cost evens out further. The F-16 with 50% greater range means you need 2.25 M346 light fighters to cover the same land area. Some targets might be outside the range of the M346 but within the range of the F-16. The M346 will require more air bases to hit the same targets and they might need to be located closer to the enemy.
 
RJMAZ
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 1:36 am

tommy1808 wrote:
Throw in an AESA AEW asset, modern tactical data links and suddenly the lonely Hornet has more targets than missiles

The Super Hornet carries 12 AMRAAM and two sidewinders. That is enough for a dozen light fighters.
 
johns624
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 2:09 am

kitplane01 wrote:
But at 1/4 the cost, you could have 4x M346's in the sky, and get an even better response time.

That means to replace a 12 plane squadron of F16s, they'd need 48 M346's. As others have said, the price difference isn't that much. Even if it was, if they could afford 48, they'd rather have 12 16's.
 
johns624
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 2:10 am

mxaxai wrote:

Also, pilot training costs are easy to cut and aren't that high in the first place. Armenia and Azerbaijan each lost around 3,000 troops last year? Why would you care about a couple of low-ranking pilots?
Cut training costs and you lose even more pilots. Infantry can be trained in a few weeks, if needed. To train a pilot takes a lot longer and the talent pool is much, much smaller.
 
ThePointblank
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 3:20 am

johns624 wrote:
mxaxai wrote:

Also, pilot training costs are easy to cut and aren't that high in the first place. Armenia and Azerbaijan each lost around 3,000 troops last year? Why would you care about a couple of low-ranking pilots?
Cut training costs and you lose even more pilots. Infantry can be trained in a few weeks, if needed. To train a pilot takes a lot longer and the talent pool is much, much smaller.

Also doesn't help with recruitment and retention, if you view pilots as being disposable.

A lot of money is spent on training pilots for combat; it isn't something that can be done quickly or cheaply unless your intent is to use them as cannon fodder. Notice how pilot quality and performance declined dramatically for both the Germans and the Japanese during World War II due to losses and the inability to train enough pilots at a high enough level to replace lost pilots.
 
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LyleLanley
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 4:24 am

mxaxai wrote:
... See for example Azerbaijan and Armenia...


I'm not trying to turn this into an international spat, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time those countries have ever been used as a positive military example.
 
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kitplane01
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 6:13 am

RJMAZ wrote:
kitplane01 wrote:
If your concern is rapid response, I agree an F-16 is faster. But at 1/4 the cost, you could have 4x M346's in the sky, and get an even better response time.

Why isn't an M346 a better weapon for this situation than an F-16?

You wouldn't even operate 2 M346 for the price of one F-16.

Israel has priced 30 M346 trainers at $2.2 billion over 30 years. That is $73.3 million per aircraft and this does not include targeting pod or AESA or weapons.

This is a third of the cost of a full blown F-35 based on the article below. The F-16 is less than the F-35 or around twice the cost of the M346.

https://defense-update.com/20130103_iaf ... _cost.html

Once you add the cost of weapons, the ownership cost evens out further. The F-16 with 50% greater range means you need 2.25 M346 light fighters to cover the same land area. Some targets might be outside the range of the M346 but within the range of the F-16. The M346 will require more air bases to hit the same targets and they might need to be located closer to the enemy.


I read that an M346 AND 20 YEARS SUPPORT cost $73M per plane. Do you have a similar number for the F-16? I don't think you do.

An M346 costs something like $25M new (see the link below, or lots of others). The rest is support. Flying a full training mission (which is probably lots of hours per year) is what's driving support costs up.

https://www.defensenews.com/breaking-ne ... n-leonardo

As to the F-16 having a longer range ... true. If you want long range strike, don't use an M346. If you want lots of strikes cheaply, the M346 looks better.

I don't think Afghanistan or Iraq was an example of long range strike.
 
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kitplane01
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 6:17 am

ThePointblank wrote:
The problem is that once you run into any sort of opposition that's more capable than a guy with an AK and LMG, much like the arguments about a turboprop COIN aircraft, they are not worth it due to the risks to the aircraft and the crew.



An M346 cannot do every mission. But in a situation like Iraq/Afganistan, they might be a more cost effective solution.

But you an interesting point: Is there a mission set between an F-16 and a Super Tucano? Can a Super Tucano do everything an M346 can do?
 
RJMAZ
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 7:32 am

kitplane01 wrote:
I read that an M346 AND 20 YEARS SUPPORT cost $73M per plane. Do you have a similar number for the F-16? I don't think you do.


Image

The F-16 block 52 costs $8,278 per flight hour in 2016. So $10,000 per hour would be a fair estimate today.

With the Israel M346 deal at $73M total that is $48M left for fuel and sustainment over a 20 year, 8000 hour service life at 400 hour yearly usage. That is $6,000 per flight hour.

The M346 has 60% of the hourly operating cost of a block 52 F-16. The M346 would be lucky to have 30% of the capability.

F-16 ownership cost
Estimated new purchase price $75M. Per hour flight price $10,000 per hour over 8,000 hours is another $80M. Total life cost: $155M

M346 ownership cost
Estimated new purchase price 25M. Per hour flight cost $6,000 per hour over 8,000 hours is another $48M. Total life cost: $73M

This is why refurbished second hand F-16's are so popular. They have a similar initial purchased price to a light fighter but with far more initial capability. They usually have thousands of flight hours left. If they are operated in a similar fashion to a light fighter they will last 20 years.

The Super Hornet makes a great option. At under $70M each and about $13,000 per hour flight cost is excellent. Total life cost $174M.

You can only get 2.38 M346 aircraft for every Super Hornet. I would rather 12 Super Hornets over 28 M346 fighters. Fully loaded the Super Hornets can carry more missiles.

kitplane01 wrote:
As to the F-16 having a longer range ... true. If you want long range strike, don't use an M346. If you want lots of strikes cheaply, the M346 looks better.

I don't think Afghanistan or Iraq was an example of long range strike.

When you've been loitering for a couple hours and the fuel load is down to 50% then the F-16 might now have double the range available to reach a target. The extra range will always be needed.
 
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seahawk
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 9:26 am

The M346 also comes with all the training systems, maintenance infrastructure, spare parts and depot level infrastructure, while the F-16C flying hour omits this.
 
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kitplane01
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 9:54 am

RJMAZ wrote:
kitplane01 wrote:
I read that an M346 AND 20 YEARS SUPPORT cost $73M per plane. Do you have a similar number for the F-16? I don't think you do.


Image

The F-16 block 52 costs $8,278 per flight hour in 2016. So $10,000 per hour would be a fair estimate today.

With the Israel M346 deal at $73M total that is $48M left for fuel and sustainment over a 20 year, 8000 hour service life at 400 hour yearly usage. That is $6,000 per flight hour.

The M346 has 60% of the hourly operating cost of a block 52 F-16. The M346 would be lucky to have 30% of the capability.

F-16 ownership cost
Estimated new purchase price $75M. Per hour flight price $10,000 per hour over 8,000 hours is another $80M. Total life cost: $155M

M346 ownership cost
Estimated new purchase price 25M. Per hour flight cost $6,000 per hour over 8,000 hours is another $48M. Total life cost: $73M

This is why refurbished second hand F-16's are so popular. They have a similar initial purchased price to a light fighter but with far more initial capability. They usually have thousands of flight hours left. If they are operated in a similar fashion to a light fighter they will last 20 years.

The Super Hornet makes a great option. At under $70M each and about $13,000 per hour flight cost is excellent. Total life cost $174M.

You can only get 2.38 M346 aircraft for every Super Hornet. I would rather 12 Super Hornets over 28 M346 fighters. Fully loaded the Super Hornets can carry more missiles.

kitplane01 wrote:
As to the F-16 having a longer range ... true. If you want long range strike, don't use an M346. If you want lots of strikes cheaply, the M346 looks better.

I don't think Afghanistan or Iraq was an example of long range strike.

When you've been loitering for a couple hours and the fuel load is down to 50% then the F-16 might now have double the range available to reach a target. The extra range will always be needed.


I love sourced numbers.

But these seem odd. I'm having a very hard time with an EF-18 costing less per hour than an F-18. And that an F-15 costs almost 3x F-16.

And your conclusion that an M346 costs as much per hour as an A-10 .... that would not be my first guess.

And if an F-35 costs more than 3x an F-16, I'm keeping the F-16s.
 
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kitplane01
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 9:56 am

To all the people who do not think M346's are useful .. how do you feel about the A-10? It would seem many of the arguments apply to both airplanes.
 
mxaxai
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 11:08 am

kitplane01 wrote:
To all the people who do not think M346's are useful .. how do you feel about the A-10? It would seem many of the arguments apply to both airplanes.

There is only 1 operator of the A-10, and they can afford to diversify their fleet thanks to the F-35, F-16, ... that ensure that the A-10 will never have to face an enemy aircraft or serious surface threats.
 
brindabella
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 11:33 am

kitplane01 wrote:
To all the people who do not think M346's are useful .. how do you feel about the A-10? It would seem many of the arguments apply to both airplanes.


Along the same theme, where would a weaponised T-7A Red Hawk fit.
Same as FA-50/M346?
Better?
Worse?

The F16 surely jumped off the page where cost/Hr is concerned.

However I wonder if it can be right - the threads on the F15EX/F35 etc seem to convey the implicit message the the USAF does
not see the F16 in the future mix. If those F16 costs really are correct, the Fighting Falcon should be assured of a long, long future, rather than the reverse.

cheers
 
LightningZ71
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 5:28 pm

The F-16 certainly enjoys lower sustainment costs than its capabilities should require, largely because it has such a large installation base and thriving ecosystem. Simply put, there are so many of them in service with so many different operators that there is enough demand for spare parts to keep many suppliers in business, often competing with each other for business. Rest assured that if there were only 10% of their number out there, costs would be much higher.

The other thing that keeps it's costs (relatively) lower than expected is that it is a single engine airframe. Yes, that is a VERY expensive engine, but, it's still just sustainment on one engine, and not two, which is common in many light fighters.

We don't know enough about the T-7 yet to say that it would make a great light fighter, but, it seems to meet a lot of the desired characteristics of one, including a design that was focused on reduced upkeep costs. However, we don't know how well it can function in the BVR battles pace. I suspect that it can fit a lot of the modern electronics, and should be able to carry a basic load out of 2 x irSRAAM and 2 x MRAAM for the air to air role, and, it should also be able to carry a reasonable bomb load, but, unlike modern heavy fighters, I doubt that it could conduct a self escort strike mission beyond 500 miles, and, by that, I mean carrying 4xAAM + 2x ATG loads, + external fuel tanks and have even passable performance if such a load could be attached to it.

And, that's the rub, in my opinion. What separates a good heavy fighter from a light fighter is the ability for the heavy fighter to excell in at least one area (A2A or A2G) and still have ability in the other if needed, or to be solid, but not superior in both. With ground direction and data links, most modern light fighters could be equipped to function in the BVR A2A role with ground direction. But that's all they would be good at. They can also carry surprisingly good bomb loads, but can't carry a self protect jamming system powerful enough to protect them against a first world air force. All of that capability takes size, power, thrust, and all of the associated costs. As we move forward into the fifth generation era, it also takes low observability, which is VERY expensive to acquire and maintain. That will be a major differentiator going forward, and I just don't see any light fighters that have anything approaching that in the near future.
 
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kitplane01
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 6:19 pm

LightningZ71 wrote:

We don't know enough about the T-7 yet to say that it would make a great light fighter, but, it seems to meet a lot of the desired characteristics of one, including a design that was focused on reduced upkeep costs. However, we don't know how well it can function in the BVR battles pace. I suspect that it can fit a lot of the modern electronics, and should be able to carry a basic load out of 2 x irSRAAM and 2 x MRAAM for the air to air role, and, it should also be able to carry a reasonable bomb load, but, unlike modern heavy fighters, I doubt that it could conduct a self escort strike mission beyond 500 miles, and, by that, I mean carrying 4xAAM + 2x ATG loads, + external fuel tanks and have even passable performance if such a load could be attached to it.

And, that's the rub, in my opinion. What separates a good heavy fighter from a light fighter is the ability for the heavy fighter to excell in at least one area (A2A or A2G) and still have ability in the other if needed, or to be solid, but not superior in both. With ground direction and data links, most modern light fighters could be equipped to function in the BVR A2A role with ground direction. But that's all they would be good at. They can also carry surprisingly good bomb loads, but can't carry a self protect jamming system powerful enough to protect them against a first world air force. All of that capability takes size, power, thrust, and all of the associated costs. As we move forward into the fifth generation era, it also takes low observability, which is VERY expensive to acquire and maintain. That will be a major differentiator going forward, and I just don't see any light fighters that have anything approaching that in the near future.


My guess is that the T-7 is ... too much.

Something like an M346 or a Super Tucano can carry bombs and pods. A T-7 can do that and go supersonic. But it's not obvious that for this mission supersonic helps.
 
RJMAZ
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Sun Jan 31, 2021 9:09 pm

kitplane01 wrote:
I love sourced numbers.

But these seem odd. I'm having a very hard time with an EF-18 costing less per hour than an F-18. And that an F-15 costs almost 3x F-16.

And your conclusion that an M346 costs as much per hour as an A-10 .... that would not be my first guess.

Fuel consumption is only a small part of the equation. How much maintenance or inspection is required after each flight plays a big part. The older an aircraft gets the more inspections are required. This is why the F-15E costs less than the F-15C as it is newer. The FA-18D, FA-18F and EA-18G the hourly cost reflects the fleet age with the growlers being the newest. The Hornet family has much lower maintenance due to the design which is why it is so competitive.

The USAF F-16 fleet is young and the aircraft is simple with only one engine to inspect.

The F-35A maintenance cost is high because of the stealth coatings. It will drop significantly below this price of this table as when the data was collected there was only one operational squadron and all the maintenance crew were in training. It is similar to Rafale and Eurofighter.

The A-10 cost is low because it is so rugged and simple.

[quote="kitplane01"And if an F-35 costs more than 3x an F-16, I'm keeping the F-16s.[/quote]

I expect as the F-16 fleet gets older the hourly cost will approach $15,000 per hour and new build F-35 will cost $20,000 per hour. At this point the F-16 fleet will be quickly phased out.
 
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Spacepope
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Mon Feb 01, 2021 2:49 am

RJMAZ wrote:
tommy1808 wrote:
Throw in an AESA AEW asset, modern tactical data links and suddenly the lonely Hornet has more targets than missiles

The Super Hornet carries 12 AMRAAM and two sidewinders. That is enough for a dozen light fighters.


The last Super Hornet Air to air needed an AMRAAM and AIM-9X to down a single SU-22. I’d halve your projection.
 
GDB
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Mon Feb 01, 2021 10:24 am

Personally, I think that the RNZAF made a cardinal error in going for gold, in the shape of F-16's, used or otherwise.
While the Modernised A-4's were retired on both cost and the grounds that the only 'action' they had seen in 30 years was being supportive of the Australians in the aggressor role, after 9/11 there was an air policing justification.
Maybe they should have approached the MoD and BAE, who would have been happy to sell some Hawk 200's (which had the same upgraded APG-66 as fitted to their A-4's as an option), not just the existing RNZAF radars from their A-4's but weapons too.
For the air policing and aggressor role (the latter of which they were paid for), supplemented by some Hawk 100's, already entering service with the RAAF.

The nearly new Macchi MB-339's also grounded, it just so happens at around the same time the MoD were short of Hawk's, pending the new T.2's, so some Alpha Jets were used by the RAE for various testing and support roles. The ex RNZAF MB-339's would have been a cheaper, better fit (experience with Viper engine for one), as well as supplementing the Hawks with support units such as the RAF's 100 Sqn and quasi civil FR organisation which includes their work in providing 'targets' for the RAF and RN. Just subtract the cost of buying most of them from the Hawk buy.
Remaining ones if any to be sold to military service providers in the US for example.

That I know is 'joined up thinking' between two governments, one of which would have to do a political u-turn, hard enough to do 'joined up' within one government.
So just an idea for a missed chance for a useful light fighter procurement.
 
mxaxai
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Mon Feb 01, 2021 1:46 pm

GDB wrote:
While the Modernised A-4's were retired on both cost and the grounds that the only 'action' they had seen in 30 years was being supportive of the Australians in the aggressor role, after 9/11 there was an air policing justification.

Again, light fighters and (especially) attackers perform poorly in the air policing role. The A-4 is a strictly subsonic aircraft so unless the airliner / unknown flying object is heading towards your base, you'll have a hard time intercepting it. Trainers that can only go slightly supersonic aren't much better, for example the M-346 at M1.2, especially since their range at supersonic speeds drops dramatically. Similarly, their climb rate is usually much lower than 'heavy' fighters like the F-16.

I think the only light fighter that could do reasonably well in an interceptor / air patrol role is the T-50, thanks to its powerful F404 engine and F-16 heritage.
 
744SPX
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Mon Feb 01, 2021 2:14 pm

Point defense. What the F-20 was designed for.
 
GDB
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Mon Feb 01, 2021 4:49 pm

mxaxai wrote:
GDB wrote:
While the Modernised A-4's were retired on both cost and the grounds that the only 'action' they had seen in 30 years was being supportive of the Australians in the aggressor role, after 9/11 there was an air policing justification.

Again, light fighters and (especially) attackers perform poorly in the air policing role. The A-4 is a strictly subsonic aircraft so unless the airliner / unknown flying object is heading towards your base, you'll have a hard time intercepting it. Trainers that can only go slightly supersonic aren't much better, for example the M-346 at M1.2, especially since their range at supersonic speeds drops dramatically. Similarly, their climb rate is usually much lower than 'heavy' fighters like the F-16.

I think the only light fighter that could do reasonably well in an interceptor / air patrol role is the T-50, thanks to its powerful F404 engine and F-16 heritage.


Air Policing, especially in an area like New Zealand, would consist of checking airliners/large biz jets who have not been in radio and/or transponder contact, when for example RAF Typhoons go supersonic to intercept one of these, it's to do with the fact that some of the most congested airspace in the world is being protected, time is of the essence and let's face it, a more target rich environment for more hostile intent, not the case in a more remote region, surrounded by water, I agree light fighters would not work in Europe nor the US.
Plus the RAF and NATO have those Russian bombers making themselves busy, transponders off.
(The Hawk 200 also came with an in flight refuelling probe option).
 
mxaxai
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Mon Feb 01, 2021 7:39 pm

GDB wrote:
Air Policing, especially in an area like New Zealand, would consist of checking airliners/large biz jets ... when for example RAF Typhoons go supersonic to intercept one of these, it's to do with the fact that some of the most congested airspace in the world is being protected...


No, they have to go supersonic to be able to intercept at all. If an airliner or biz jet passes you at M.85 or M.9, the Hawk or A-4 with a cruise speed of ~ M.8-M.9 in level flight is not going to catch them. If a Russian bomber approaches you and you have an early warning radar that leaves enough time to put yourself in their path, a Hawk might just be able to meet and accompany it. But that relies on your ability to predict its flight path and letting them come to you. A subsonic fighter can never win a tail-chase.
 
ThePointblank
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Tue Feb 02, 2021 12:42 am

mxaxai wrote:
GDB wrote:
Air Policing, especially in an area like New Zealand, would consist of checking airliners/large biz jets ... when for example RAF Typhoons go supersonic to intercept one of these, it's to do with the fact that some of the most congested airspace in the world is being protected...


No, they have to go supersonic to be able to intercept at all. If an airliner or biz jet passes you at M.85 or M.9, the Hawk or A-4 with a cruise speed of ~ M.8-M.9 in level flight is not going to catch them. If a Russian bomber approaches you and you have an early warning radar that leaves enough time to put yourself in their path, a Hawk might just be able to meet and accompany it. But that relies on your ability to predict its flight path and letting them come to you. A subsonic fighter can never win a tail-chase.

Correct. A Hawk or an A-4 is far too slow to effectively catch an airliner on a tail chase.

With a Hawk, at best you'll go supersonic in a dive, but it is a subsonic aircraft in level flight. At the most generous, your closing speed is at best a dozen knots, and you'll run out of fuel well before you catch up with them in a tail chase. Only chance for an interception would be a head on interception, but it would have to be a near perfect intercept otherwise if you miss the aircraft, you'll be in a tail chase against what is likely going to be a faster aircraft than you.
 
GDB
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Tue Feb 02, 2021 7:05 am

ThePointblank wrote:
mxaxai wrote:
GDB wrote:
Air Policing, especially in an area like New Zealand, would consist of checking airliners/large biz jets ... when for example RAF Typhoons go supersonic to intercept one of these, it's to do with the fact that some of the most congested airspace in the world is being protected...


No, they have to go supersonic to be able to intercept at all. If an airliner or biz jet passes you at M.85 or M.9, the Hawk or A-4 with a cruise speed of ~ M.8-M.9 in level flight is not going to catch them. If a Russian bomber approaches you and you have an early warning radar that leaves enough time to put yourself in their path, a Hawk might just be able to meet and accompany it. But that relies on your ability to predict its flight path and letting them come to you. A subsonic fighter can never win a tail-chase.

Correct. A Hawk or an A-4 is far too slow to effectively catch an airliner on a tail chase.

With a Hawk, at best you'll go supersonic in a dive, but it is a subsonic aircraft in level flight. At the most generous, your closing speed is at best a dozen knots, and you'll run out of fuel well before you catch up with them in a tail chase. Only chance for an interception would be a head on interception, but it would have to be a near perfect intercept otherwise if you miss the aircraft, you'll be in a tail chase against what is likely going to be a faster aircraft than you.


This is true, however my point was that the RNZAF has no jet trainer capability even, while the case for checking aircraft is not strong, given warning, from ATC, in a post 9/11 world they could at least attempt it. In reality they would like the A-4's spend most of their time and get paid for it, mainly by supporting the RAAF/RAN, who IIRC were not pleased at the loss of this loss of capability.
 
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Tue Feb 02, 2021 8:19 am

kitplane01 wrote:
To all the people who do not think M346's are useful .. how do you feel about the A-10? It would seem many of the arguments apply to both airplanes.

I actually think used A-10 aircraft is an amazing option. I was pushing for the RAAF in 2005 to do a rapid procurement of 24 to 36 used A-10 aircraft. This was part of a short term capability gap that was discovered and resulted in the rapid purchase of 24 Super Hornets.

The A-10 proposal would have used pilots coming from the F-111 retirement. The A-10 would have offloaded the CAS work from the Classic Hornet fleet. The Super Hornet purchase was made because the Classic Hornet could not do all three roles of air defense, close air support and interdiction. Moving close air support to the A-10 fleet would allow enough Classic Hornets to be able to do air defense and interdiction until the F-35 arrived.

Part of the proposal mentioned drones were in their infancy and the rugged twin engines A-10 could operate in a medium threat environments where drones would get shot down. This was at the peak of the war in Afghanistan where the A-10 was performing admirably.

The USAF had an upgrade and refurbishment program for the A-10 that the RAAF could have joined. The single pilot, and low hourly operating cost would have seen the A-10 kept under the F-35 in a low/high mix.

The A-10 with an optical pod is extremely versatile and is much more general purpose than the original tank killing mission. Coast guard, search and rescue and even some missions done by the P-8 could be performed by the A-10. The maverick missile would also be a great anti ship missile against a lightly armed navy. Under the protection of the F-35 the A-10 could clean up quite nicely in most conflicts.
 
ThePointblank
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Tue Feb 02, 2021 9:14 am

GDB wrote:
ThePointblank wrote:
mxaxai wrote:

No, they have to go supersonic to be able to intercept at all. If an airliner or biz jet passes you at M.85 or M.9, the Hawk or A-4 with a cruise speed of ~ M.8-M.9 in level flight is not going to catch them. If a Russian bomber approaches you and you have an early warning radar that leaves enough time to put yourself in their path, a Hawk might just be able to meet and accompany it. But that relies on your ability to predict its flight path and letting them come to you. A subsonic fighter can never win a tail-chase.

Correct. A Hawk or an A-4 is far too slow to effectively catch an airliner on a tail chase.

With a Hawk, at best you'll go supersonic in a dive, but it is a subsonic aircraft in level flight. At the most generous, your closing speed is at best a dozen knots, and you'll run out of fuel well before you catch up with them in a tail chase. Only chance for an interception would be a head on interception, but it would have to be a near perfect intercept otherwise if you miss the aircraft, you'll be in a tail chase against what is likely going to be a faster aircraft than you.


This is true, however my point was that the RNZAF has no jet trainer capability even, while the case for checking aircraft is not strong, given warning, from ATC, in a post 9/11 world they could at least attempt it. In reality they would like the A-4's spend most of their time and get paid for it, mainly by supporting the RAAF/RAN, who IIRC were not pleased at the loss of this loss of capability.

It's a similar story for the A-4; also far too slow to catch an airliner from a tail chase position. It would require a near perfect intercept, and if you missed the target, there's no way you'll be able to chase an airliner down and catch up to it before you run out of fuel.

Remember, the stated performance charts for most fighter aircraft are done with clean aircraft; no armaments, pylons or external fuel tanks. So even if you caught an airliner, you'll only have the internal gun (if you carried one) as a weapon, and you won't be able to stay for long due to fuel considerations.
 
744SPX
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Tue Feb 02, 2021 3:45 pm

That's why the two best aircraft in the world (currently) for the strict interceptor role are the F-22 and the Mig-31. Not just high speed, but excellent acceleration to that speed and the ability to do that with an adequate/useable weapons load (6 AAM and gun). An argument could be made for the F-15 and Typhoon as well. Of course none of these aircraft are "light". The Gripen C might be the best of the light options.
 
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Re: How useful are light fighters?

Wed Feb 03, 2021 12:11 am

RJMAZ wrote:
kitplane01 wrote:
To all the people who do not think M346's are useful .. how do you feel about the A-10? It would seem many of the arguments apply to both airplanes.

I actually think used A-10 aircraft is an amazing option. I was pushing for the RAAF in 2005 to do a rapid procurement of 24 to 36 used A-10 aircraft. This was part of a short term capability gap that was discovered and resulted in the rapid purchase of 24 Super Hornets.

The A-10 proposal would have used pilots coming from the F-111 retirement. The A-10 would have offloaded the CAS work from the Classic Hornet fleet. The Super Hornet purchase was made because the Classic Hornet could not do all three roles of air defense, close air support and interdiction. Moving close air support to the A-10 fleet would allow enough Classic Hornets to be able to do air defense and interdiction until the F-35 arrived.

Part of the proposal mentioned drones were in their infancy and the rugged twin engines A-10 could operate in a medium threat environments where drones would get shot down. This was at the peak of the war in Afghanistan where the A-10 was performing admirably.

The USAF had an upgrade and refurbishment program for the A-10 that the RAAF could have joined. The single pilot, and low hourly operating cost would have seen the A-10 kept under the F-35 in a low/high mix.

The A-10 with an optical pod is extremely versatile and is much more general purpose than the original tank killing mission. Coast guard, search and rescue and even some missions done by the P-8 could be performed by the A-10. The maverick missile would also be a great anti ship missile against a lightly armed navy. Under the protection of the F-35 the A-10 could clean up quite nicely in most conflicts.


What mission do you see the A-10 performing that the M346 cannot?

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