Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Weekly Item for 15.May 2012: Such a deal

So, a few years ago...

Japan's Air Self-Defense Force had this plan to replace its then-aging F-4EJ (Phantom II) kai (modified) squadrons with new fighters. Since the mainstay F-15J interceptor force was substantial enough, and there remained the anti-shipping / anti-invasion-force requirement that the purely air combat F-15J's were unsuited for, the decision was made to (1) procure a new generation-four-plus aircraft with both air combat and strike capabilities, and (2) to mostly produce it here, albeit as a co-production agreement. Those choices resulted in the F-2 aircraft, which is a very fine improvement on the American F-16 Fighting Falcon design.

It also resulted in what was, then, the most expensive fighter aircraft in the world.

Production was capped at less than 100 aircraft. The production run is over; no more ever to be built. There simply wasn't enough money with the artificial limit on defense spending here (~1% GDP), all the other things that the Ground and Naval forces needed (and in many cases still need!) and the very expensive costs of manpower in our careerist all-volunteer Defense Force.

Set aside 18 of those shiny new F-2's in a training squadron and what was left barely re-equipped three squadrons. Not exactly fulfilling the "replace the F-4's" goal, that.

Oh, and fast forwarding to last year, so much for that training squadron; in the 2011 earthquake / tsunami, the airbase at Matsushima (the F-2 training base) got wiped. Every single aircraft there wrecked; at least a dozen total writeoffs.

In those intervening years, fighter/attack aircraft technology took another leap forward. Generation five fighters are a vast capacity leap upward. The only such in service now is the American F-22 Raptor, which is a marvelous interceptor, but is expensive to build, difficult and expensive to operate, has had some serious teething problems, isn't intended for most strike missions and... absolutely positively not now not ever for export to allied nations (why being a whole 'nother discussion). The alternative, and the one Japan (and the U.K. and several other U.S. allies) signed up for, is the just-entering-production F-35. It is generation five, with some advantages over the F-22 (electronics improvements) and some serious disadvantages (less... well, a lot of less) and because of its huge planned production run, less expensive.

"Ha ha", said the Princess, and she went to wash her socks.

So much for that less expensive part.

There's a new winner in the "most expensive" class.

We're stuck for 800 billion en (JPY; call that US$10 billion) for a planned total 42 aircraft buy.

That's all.

Two squadrons and a couple spares.

Delivery schedule, repeatedly delayed, starts with a 4 plane purchase currently budgeted...

...yes, I said four...

...slated for a test program.

Not counting the recee birds (RF-4EJ's; being replaced with some retasked F-15J's with synthetic aperture radar pods), there are ~90 F-4EJ kai's in service.

We're going to be flying the F-4EJ kai's until the damn wings fall off.


caveat: Wikipedia links, above, are for reference only. See citations there for sourcing.

site admin note: Yes, I know The Weekly Item is usually Monday; I needed to wait a day this time. Frankly, I'm just glad to be doing a few of these again.


Will said...

Glad to have these weeklies back btw.

The question I have is will those F4Js continue to do the job (as long as the wings stay put), or are they going to be so much chaff if things get hot?

L.Douglas Garrett said...

Thanks; knowing they are appreciated is a good motivation.

re: question ~ In their original role as an interceptor, they have been long outmoded... but that's the F-15J's job now. In the strike/support role, the answer depends entirely on the environment they would be operating in.

Without absolute air supremacy opening the way for them, they are likely incapable of surviving into the battlespace. If, and it would be a big *if* against Russia or the PRChinese in airspace where their numerous AW&C-directed generation four fighters are concerned, the F-15J's could take and hold supremacy, there are still some concerns:

Anti-shipping ~ likely lose a lot of pilots against any naval target with post 1980's air defenses. The stand-off range of Japanese anti-shipping missiles is really insufficient to allow launch-and-escape against a substantial, prepared surface combatant.

Anti-invasion force ~ more plausible survivablity in this role for an F-4EJkai, as they would be using the landform to reduce the possiblity of naval escorts engaging them at range. It would still be very dangerous during the strike if any meaningful short range SAM or AAA was present.

Close Air Support and Interdiction of forces on land ~ again, more plausible survivability *until* the opposing force is able to deploy modern SAM's... once a TOR-1 or equal quality system is covering the strike target, the matter becomes much, much more problematic. If the environment includes S-300 or S-400 type SAMs, then the survivability would be, in my opinion, very low.

Suppression of Air Defenses ~ see item above; pretty much impractical. The only Japanese Air Self-Defense Force aircraft really suitable to attempt such is the F-2.

Hope that helps.