|A lot has been said about the reduced throw weight of the F-35, compared to the Royal Australian Airforce's F-111's that it will replace. Commentators concentrate on the 600nm range(1000nm for the F-111) and the 2 x 2000lb bomb internal load(4 x 2000lb externally for the F-111), in some instances to frame the F-35 as inadequate and that the F-111 should be kept around. I tend to think the argument is simplistic and refute it on the following counts.
1. The SDB means the F-35 can carry at least 12 bombs with the penetration capability of a 2000lb'er internally. This means that for most hard targets, the F-35's can carry at least 3 times as many weapons as a pig typically carries today. Given the primacy of the anti-airfield mission for the RAAF, having a flight of F-35's drop enough bombs to destroy an entire airfield and its complement of aircraft is a pretty impressive capability.
2. It can use stand-off munitions, like the JASSM cruise missiles, prior to entering enemy airspace to engage with SDB's or JDAM. Sure, the JASSM's make the airframe non-stealthy, but once fired the F-35 assumes stealth configuration. The JASSM might be fired at enemy air defences, with the proposed LOCASS submunitions attacking air defence sites. The same flight of F-35's that attacks the enemy airfield might just have taken out 20 or more SAM sites on way in, thus clearing the way.
3. Comparisons in the penetration role of the F-111 to the F-35 are misleading. The F-111 simply will not survive in this role, post-2010, without extensive modification and use of force multipliers. It lacks stealth and nothing can change that in a big way. The F-35 is the only tactical aircraft available to Australia that can carry a 4000lb warload internally with a stealthy profile.
Furthermore, the F-35 has a number of survivability features and sensors that the F-111 doesn't in its present form. The twin AMRAAM bays, and the radar necessary to guide them, are formost amongst these. Now it seems that from around 2015, these will contain dual-use AAM/ARM's as well. This means that the F-35 flight we are talking about can do its own defensive SEAD and contribute to its own self-defence against aircraft, in a way no F-111 can.
4. The shorter range of the F-35 can be addressed by drop tanks, released on entry into a heavily defended environment. With two JASSM, two AMRAAM and 12 JASSM in our theoretical flight occupies just under 10000lb of a 17000lb warload, leaving the remaining 7000lb for fuel.
This adds almost 50% to the F-35's 15000lb fuel load. I know that the weight and drag issues mean that this will not increase the range by the full 50%, but lets say it does by 33%, to 800nm, to be conservative. Its not 1000nm, but it is getting there. Note though that the F-111 is more likely to have to use burners, and use them for longer, than the F-35 as it relys on speed to survive. This will bring the range of the F-35 closer to the F-111.
Also, the F-35 has an in-flight refueling capability that the F-111 never had in Australian service, so in effect the F-35 force will be able to strike even further in many instances.
5. A lot has been made of the "loitering bombardment" capability of the F-111, using 4 PGM's of up to 2000lb to attack time critical tactical and CAS targets. With 2 x internal bombs, 2 x fuel tanks and 2 x 2000lb'ers on the wings, the F-35 can do the same thing in a safer manner. Not only will it have onboard AAM's and SEAD weapons, but if enemy fighters try to engage it can drop its remaining external stores, go stealthy and shoot them down, then continue to engage ground targets with internal bombs. The F-111 would have to drop all of its stores and run, effectively ruling it out of further action against ground targets, which constitutes a "win" to the enemy.
6. Even in the anti-ship role, stealth will help the F-35 win. The F-111 relies on saturating the target with 4 Harpoon missiles, whereas the F-35 can launch a pair of Harpoon, drop tanks, make a stealthy approach then engage with internal weapons like JDAM or JSOW derivatives. It could also fire dual-role missiles to suppress a ships defences so they can't defend against oncoming weapons. Given that the F-35's can keep up with the Harpoon's after launch, this approach could be co-ordinated so that the duel-role missiles arrive just before the anti-ship weapons, for maximum effect.
So, while the F-35's cannot match the F-111 in raw range and warload data, it will be able to carry between the same and 3 times the practical warload(ie, warload the force can get to the target, without getting shot down) of today's F-111 force and will match it when external tanks and in-flight refueling are used.
The F-lll cannot match the F-35 on survivability, even with considerable upgrades and investment in force multipliers, so its bigger raw warload is really irrelevant, even if bomb racks to exploit this exploit this was found. An F-111 with in-f