Warplanes: September 9, 2001

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: Joint Strike Fighter Decision Looms- With a decision on the Joint Strike Fighter due on 26 October, both Lockheed Martin and Boeing are staking their claims to decisive advantages. Boeing says its simpler power train will result in lower costs over years of operations. Lockheed Martin says its more elaborate power train (with a separate engine and lift fan) has advantages in the flexibility of its operations and in overall lift. Boeing says the Lockheed plane is actually overpowered and that this will make it more expensive to fly and shorten its range. Lockheed notes that military fighters since World War I have tended to get heavier as more equipment is added to them, and that it has more margin for growth since it has more power (due to surplus power and a cooler-running engine that could be run hotter for more power). This power question is particularly important for the vertical-lift version. Boeing's aircraft weighs 26,900 pounds empty and has 33,000 pounds of vertical thrust. Lockheed's aircraft is the heaviest single-engine design in the world (30,750 pounds) but has 37,300 pounds of thrust. Lockheed Martin says that its aircraft will (in the final form which doesn't exist yet) be more stealthy. Boeing insists its aircraft will be stealthy enough. Lockheed's aircraft may have the edge everywhere but from behind; they have no stealth for the engine exhaust because a missile would have to travel up a very narrow cone to hit the aircraft. Boeing has stealth for its exhaust and says that this will be necessary when leaving the target area after a strike. Lockheed says its bigger radar dish can use less power, which makes it harder to detect. Boeing notes that its dish is well within the design requirements and that new technology on active electronically scanned arrays make predictions of performance for both designs very murky. Complicating the decision is that three versions of each design exist: conventional, aircraft carrier, and vertical takeoff. It is probable that in a direct comparison, each design would win at least one category outright. In theory the decision will evaluate all three designs but the Navy and Marines suspect that the Air Force will pick the one it wants and declare this "adequate" for the other two services.--Stephen V Cole

 


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