So, the good folks over at Air Power Australia have put out maybe the most comprehensive open-source study of the PAK-FA, and whaddya know, it looks to be a hell of a plane. In fact, it’s so good that if it goes into production, it will immediately threaten our air superiority in any theater it’s deployed. Moreover, it’s so good that it’s already made the F-35 obsolete except for ground support (cough vaporware cough skeet cough. Ahem.). You should read the whole thing if you’ve got the time (or just scroll down to the cool pictures and video at the end), but because your Œcumenical Volgi is feeling beneficent, he’ll provide some quotes and the odd comment here and there.
Caveats upfront: One may of course, differ with APA’s assessment in good faith. However, it’s reasonably well-sourced, given the extreme paucity of non-classified reports, and it’s intelligently put-together. It could still be wrong, but it’s credible.
“The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter struggles to survive against the conventional Su-35BM Flanker… Against [a basic-model] PAK-FA, the F-35 falls within the survivability black hole, into which US legacy fighters such as the F-16C/E, F-15C/E and F/A-18A-F have already fallen.”
Wow, that’s grim. Couldn’t get worse, could it?
Once the PAK-FA is deployed within a theatre of operations, especially if it is supported robustly by counter-VLO capable ISR systems, the United States will no longer have the capability to rapidly impose air superiority, or possibly even achieve air superiority. This will not only deny the United States access to an opponent’s defended airspace, it also presents the prospect of United States forces being unable to reliably defend in-theatre basing and lines of resupply. Should this occur, in-theatre basing and surface assets become exposed to air attack by aircraft armed with a wide range of accurate and highly lethal Precision Guided Munitions, with the potential for very high loss of life and equipment deployed in-theatre.
Wait, that sounds like it might have strategic implications.
If the United States does not effect some fundamental changes to its force structure plan, it will lose the strategic option of employing non-nuclear military capabilities in theatres where the PAK-FA and/or significant numbers of the Su-35S are deployed.
What? Can you make that clearer?
In strategic and techno-strategic terms, the PAK-FA is the most prominent “game changer” in the fighter domain since the T-10/Su-27S Flanker B entered operational service during the mid 1980s. If the United States does not fundamentally change its planning for the future of tactical air power, the advantage held for decades will be soon lost.
But what can we do?
In basic grand strategy terms, the arrival of the PAK-FA leaves the United States with only one viable option if it intends to remain viable in the global air power game – build enough F-22 Raptors to replace most of the US legacy fighter fleet, and terminate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as soon as possible, as the F-35 will no longer be a usable combat aircraft for roles other than Counter Insurgency (COIN), though more cost effective and more appropriate solutions already exist for this role.
Update: Forgot to mention this bit from Bill Sweetman at Ares:
Two official sources have now confirmed that initial operational test and evaluation of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will not be completed before November 2015, 13 months later than the previous schedule. That schedule itself was adopted less than two years ago, in early 2008, so the program has now slipped two years in five since 2005, when the previous schedule was set.