Murphy's Law: Fatal Flaw Of The F-22

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October 2,2008:  A recent hot media story featured a "secret simulation exercise" alleged to show that the F-35 was inferior to the Russian Su-27 (as used by the Chinese). That turned out to be a matter of misinterpretation, but there was another analysis that showed the F-22 being smoked by the Su-27. Fortunately, all the particulars for this one were promptly released, thus deflating any attempts at headline grabbing.

That scenario postulated that three regiments of Chinese Su-27s (72 aircraft) went up against six F-22s (hastily flown to Taiwan to stem a hypothetical Chinese onslaught.) Even though the Su-27s were carrying about 900 air-to-air missiles (and the F-22s only 48), the American fighters manage to survive the air battle, and take down over twenty Su-27s. But some of the Su-27s get past them and go after the aerial tankers. That's critical because the F-22s burn most of their fuel fighting off the Su-27s, and are lost at sea without the tankers.

It's all about fuel management. As a rule of thumb, a fighter can take its total flying range and divide it into thirds: one third for going out ("operating radius"), one third for coming back and one third for combat. A typical modern fighter can cruise at 900 kilometers per hour. The F-22 can cruise faster than that, and has a theoretical flying time of three hours. However, high-performance fighters obtain their speed by having an engine that can increase its fuel consumption enormously for short periods. For example, at cruise speed, fighters burns .5-.6 percent of its fuel per minute. By kicking in the afterburner, cruise speed can be more than tripled, and fuel consumption increased more than twenty times. At full "war power" an F 22 can burn 30 percent of its fuel in a few minutes. It can also escape from unfavorable situations using a sudden increase in speed. A less experienced pilot will abuse the high performance of his aircraft to get him out of one tight situation after another. Once a fighter reaches BINGO fuel (just enough to get home), combat must cease. Otherwise the aircraft will likely run out of fuel before reaching its base, and be just as useless as if shot down by the enemy. It's a common tactic to try and force the other guy into more high fuel consumption maneuvers. Eventually he will run low on fuel and try to break away. At this point he becomes desperate and vulnerable.

The F-22 uses its speed advantages to avoid getting hit, and to get into a position to knock down opponents. The fuel is like ammo, when it's gone, you are in trouble. And if your aerial tankers are not there, you either find a place to land, or bail out.

 

 


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