Thursday, March 1, 2012

Exploring another option for Canada's CF-18 replacement

There are options for Canada's air defence even if some do not want to admit it.

If it was possible to ignore the need for a two engine fighter for the requirement, a faulty and unproven F-35 is not the only game.

The exercise of replacing the CF-18 does not have to cost an arm and a leg.

So the question is, after the F-35 program falls on its face, will Canada consider the Gripen?

It is a fair question. The origins of the aircraft are from a cold northern place. The design has enough proof to show they have not been falling out of the sky over the wilderness. It is deployable, good with short runways or suitable roads, and since the F-35 was never able to stand up to high-end extreme threats, it has no other real show-stopping legacy-threat weakness.

Below are some numbers that I have inflated simply because it is the government that will be attempting to procure and sustain the aircraft. I have again assumed that one can put 300 flight hours on the aircraft per year.

Unfortunately, Canada has a problem in that area: pilots. I am still hoping that Canada can someday have twice as many pilots as fighter aircraft. This is needed as a minimum for sustained operations. Unfortunately the DND is having a difficult time with pilot numbers. And, each pilot they have may see about 180-some hours per year.

So my cost per flying hour on the Gripen (or anything else) may be high because there aren't enough pilots to sustain optimum readiness. Add to that, I would prefer 72 Gripens, not 65, but for this exercise, I will go with 65.

Finally, for this requirement, I don't really care if it is the basic Gripen or the NG. Either will do.

Gripen cost per flight hour- $10,000 (double the claims of the maker)
Gripen cost per flight hour for
65 aircraft for 30 years (300 hours
per airframe per year):

$5.85B

Acquisition cost for each Gripen $100M

Total Acquistion cost, 65 Gripens:

$6.5B

--

Total appoximate acuisition and operating cost,
65 Gripens for 30 years:

$12.35B

--


15 comments:

Canuck Fighter said...

The issue I see with the Gripen in Canada's scenario is the short combat radius. But, yes I get where you're going on the good price, easy to operate, low op cost argument.

Anonymous said...

Mike from Toronto Kanada

...the NEW GRIPEN (NG) has a combat radius equal to the F-16 Falcon! Canada should consider the Saab Gripen (NG) model-good quality and a gooder price!

ELP said...

As for combat radius; the legacy Hornet is worse.

Anonymous said...

Since there is no F-16XL type option available (perhaps a would be game-changing, cost-effective, single-engine alternative), I'd completely support either a Gripen NG option plan (with AESA, advanced comms, advanced EW sute and IRST), or even the proposed F-16V (with IRST pod add-on, existing Sniper pod and optional CFT), a jet which would likely cost less to operate than even the Super Hornet.

I feel the legacy Gripen (without IRST, AESA or other next-gen avionics) would only serve as a viable (and cheap) 10 year Stopgap lease option, until Canada could decide on a more legitimate and sound 'future-gen' platform strategy (perhaps jointly-developed or off-the-shelf), with deliveries starting around 2025. IMHO.

geo

Anonymous said...

From a purely utilitarian perspective, the Gripen NG is a good choice, what with its lower all around costs, esp fuel-wise. And if the F-35 is being touted as suitable for Northern patrols, then the highly reliable and PROVEN F404/414 engine family makes the Gripen at least equally suitable.

However, all this is as academic as the talk about RCAF CF-15SEs...if for different, ie; political reasons.

The Eagle is a nonstarter because of inescapably high operating costs (esp as a two-crew a/c), and the Canadian govt is never going to buy a Eurojet. It just ain't gonna happen...

It's stick with the JSFiasco, or the SuperBug.

JRL

Anonymous said...

JRL,

WRT a Plan B F-15CA concept being a non-starter some would disagree with your assessment.

For starters, let's say RCAF could probably afford somewhere around 45 F-35A (spending not a penny more than currently budgeted). They could likely get about 50 F-15CA for the same budget.

Single seat: Canada could request a joint-development (between DARPA, USAF, Boeing and possibly a 3rd partner Nation) to develop a more cost-effective single-seat variant (similar to the Saudi's proposed F-15F single-seat version), which could be as simple as tweaking the software and utilizing the new display proposed for the F-15SE, or simply just adding an add-on display screen. Perhaps omit the entire back seat and displays on some jets, or just leaving the rear-seat empty to be joint-operated by allied crew in rare mission scenarios if required. Either way, an initial single-seat capacity should be doable by the time IOC was established.

inescapably high maintenance costs: early year F-15CA maintenance would of course not be as expensive as current day F-15C/D and E jets (with corrosion, cracks, wiring and old motors) are to sustain. Also, contemplate F110-132 power for increased durability and easier maintainability. They could potentially be manufactured by GE of Canada. A 30 year maintained F-15CA life cycle would also probably not require a significant SLEP on the back-end as would say, a Super Hornet, due to the F-15s built-in long-hour life expectancy. Deep maintenance could be conducted in the US to consolidate costs and minimize MILCON as expected for the F-35. Upgrades would likely not be as expensive as retrofiting a block III F-35 to block IV and the block V (which would entail fairly substantial hardware and software retrofit).

F-15's Political requirement: To the contrary. An upgradeable F-15CA would provide the closest US-manufactured equivalent platform to the F-35. If the F-35 requires an equivalent alternative in terms of overall capability, then the F-15+ would provide closer equivalence than the Super Hornet. What is lost in Low Observability, is compensated by superior long range BVR situational awareness via more powerful Radar and more powerful passive IRST. Longer endurance and superior performance when compared to the Super Hornet would also be assessed as a positive advantage (not political).

F-15SE: The 'SE' is probably not going to be ready as originally envisioned, when needed. Focus could instead be invested on modifying a single-seat capacity, modifying displays, integrating the GE-132, integrating the APG-82, perhaps still developing the proposed blockers and perhaps envisioning a more aero-dynamic and tactical-based CFT (possibly including semi-recessed AMRAAM points) and sized about half the fuel capacity of the heavy and draggy 800 gal tanks.

So in conclusion... an F-15CA concept is worth an assessment as it could be a closer alternative to the F-35 than even the Super Hornet for a country as significant and large as Canada arguably requiring more of a multi-role platform and less transonic strike fighter.

Anonymous said...

Your argument is based on both misapprehensions of what i actually said, and of what actually drives Canadian fighter requirements.

First, I said nothing about the F-15 being politically unpalatable - that was in reference to the Gripen's European provenance. Check what i originally said.

And the operating cost objection has more to do with higher fuel costs. Unless of course, you can verify that the twin 30K+ engines of the Eagle will be as economical to operate as the twin 22K engines of the SuperHornet. That fuel costs in general will continue to rise, perhaps to very high levels, is pretty much assured, don't you think?

All the talk about special Canadianized versions of the Eagle leaves out the fact that it would inevitably cost more than buying F-18E/Fs off the shelf (or slightly modified). And the long term life-cycle argument is not going to carry much weight with a government notorious for habitually doing what is politically and financially expedient. The folks in power now don't care about what will be best 15 years in the future, much less 30+. That's someone else's problem.

As for the superior suitability of the F-15 - I agree with you. But that isn't what really matters to our government, or they would have bought Eagles or Tomcats instead of the original Hornets way back when. Just like they bought F-104s, and to a lesser extant the Voodoos (The CF-101 was actually a pretty good plane for the long-range patrol/bomber interceptor mission of the Cold War)before that.

The Canadian govt operates fighters more to play with the big boys in the global coalition circus than to deter foreign aggression. That's what we have the USAF for, laughable allusions to a looming aggressively resurgent Russian Federation-aka the posturing corrupt plutocracy surrounded by hostile former client states, an increasingly assertive China,internal Muslim insurgencies, and of course, NATO- to the contrary...

JRL

Anonymous said...

JRL,

Sorry about misreading the misinterpreted 'Politically unpalatable' reference. I follow your thought there.

To reply to other key arguments, I don't feel I have misapprehensions over them... just merely attempting to refute them and take the claims to bat.

As for Acquisition cost; no question the Super Hornet would be cheaper, however if one is working off a 'total acquisition budget' to work with, then there is no cost savings per se; but it would simply translate into fewer F-15CA units procured vs what could be procured in numbers of Super Hornets. And as argued above, if RCAF is in fact willing to accept fewer than 65 F-35s being afforded, then arguably they could also accept fewer than 65 units of another type aircraft too (for argument sake, 5 more F-15CA afforded than F-35A).

As for the fuel efficiency point; this needs to be explored more deeply and could raise some interesting factors. Firstly, an F-35A would probably burn less gas per 500 nm (in either economic or combat flight) than would a Super Hornet, especially when in clean config. But depending on the configuration flown and the flight envelope flown, I for one would actually be very curious how many gallons of gas would be burned in 500nm, in various flight envelopes (both in economic cruise and needing to go Mach 1.2 for 1 minute, and x minutes in combat burn, etc), between for example an F-15CA (with proposed aero-dynamic tactical CFT) and a centerline tank + Sniper pod + 4 AMRAAM vs an F-18E with 3x fuel tanks + 2 underwing AMRAAM + 2 wingtip AAM + IR pod on the waist? Alternatively, compare with an F-15CA with no CFT and only 2 underwing tanks vs Super Hornet with 2 wing tanks flying similar envelopes, again with so many seconds in Afterburn and transonic/supersonic speed vs economic flight envelope. I'm betting the Super Hornet would have a slight edge, even when dragging 3 bags, but perhaps it's pretty marginal especially when needing to fly transonic.

But now enter some other factors into the equation to make it interesting. Consider an hypothetical sortie carrying 8x 500lb bombs plus 2 AAM (preferably AMRAAM) for self-defense. We're probably talking 2x Super Hornets being required vs 1 F-15. Next, consider an intercept sortie requiring an ID 350nm from base, plus 5 minute escort. You'll probably need Super Hornet buddy tanker support (add a couple more Super Hornets in air as part of the package), whereby you'd be able to conduct such a sortie un-refueled in an F-15 (with CFT + centerline). Same applies with an extended endurance CAP sortie... the Super Hornet would require more Strategic tanker refuels requiring more Tankers in the air flying longer sorties themselves. (Extra operational costs added to the equation).

As far as the unsuitable F-15 factor goes; again, try to focus not on an F-15 vs legacy hornet comparison here in terms of overkill or unsuitability. Rather, the requirement for an F-15CA option could logically be considered if RCAF was truly requiring an F-35 capability in the first place. If this is the case, that RCAF requires an F-35 capability, then the hypothetical F-15CA would be the most suitable and equivalent alternative - NOT the Super Hornet (a less equivalent capability to the F-35). That's all I'm arguing here, the suitability of the F-15CA option as the most equivalent F-35 alternative. Regards.

Anonymous said...

When is the F-15SE variant going to be ready as originally envisioned, when needed?

For example Korea Aircraft Industries is partnered with Boeing to design the aircraft’s conformal weapons bays, Air Force Association (AFA) pointed out. Brad Jones said the Silent Eagle could be delivered by 2015 and be combat ready by 2016 for the South Korean's F-X fighter competition to replace their remaining F-4 Phantoms.

Peter

Anonymous said...

Also, great assessment about the F-15CA concept for Plan B as a CF-18A/B Hornet replacement.

Australia needs to explore another option to replace our 71 F/A-18A/B models too.

I reckon it will be great idea focusing on developing a new single seat F-15 as an export variant for new and existing customers to purchase the fighter for predictable costs which could instead be invested on modifying, based from the F-15E two-seat capacity.

Also develop a two-seat combat capable trainer variant to replace the F-15D model which the designation for the new two-seat F-15 will have to be suggested.

How about modifying the thrust vectoring nozzles and supercruising mode, as well as integrating the APG-82 AESA radar, advanced cockpit utilising large area 11×19 inch colour displays etc for the single-seat variant?

However, this should be a another great alternative for the USAF to buy the new single-seat (e.g. F-15F) variants to replace the existing C/D models, with the corrosion, cracks, wiring and old motors are are concern with the high maintenance cost. The existing C/D models can be used for spare parts to keep the new variants operational.

You can email Boeing about the idea of developing a new proposed single-seat F-15. See what they can do.

Regards Peter

Canuck Fighter said...

A modern F-15E+ variant indeed has more multipliers than a Super bug variant. Given the recent Boeing proposals (based on Singapore Air show), the DND should really consider some version of the F15. Sixty five eagles would certainly be more capable than 80 legacy hornets, and more effective in the mission profiles in *Anon's post. Given some of the proposed tech on the Silent Eagle, would be the closest to matching the F35 goals, but with some big pluses in range and speed.

Canuck Fighter said...

Also of interest, a webpage detailing Canadian companies involved in the making of parts for the F-15.

http://coat.ncf.ca/ARMX/cansec/F-15.htm

As noted earlier by Anon, those GE-132's could be easily produced by GE Canada.

Anonymous said...

@ Geo (I think, anyway...)

Re: F-15 Suitability

Again, I'm not arguing that a CF-15 variant wouldn't be a good fit for Canada's fighter needs, esp Northern sovereignty patrols, etc.

I'm just saying that I don't believe it has a chance in hell of ever happening.

JRL

Anonymous said...

I wonder why the Rafale is never considered? This twin engines, long radius fighter would be a perfect fit for Canada. But I know ... It's French!

Anonymous said...

http://www.saabgroup.com/Global/Documents%20and%20Images/About%20Saab/Events/Farnborough%202012/Gripen%20presentation%20Farnborough.pdf
2200nm ferry range and 850nm A-G combat range isnt short legs..