The discussion of new fighters is never really understood by the public, media, or politicians. To so many, a fighter jet is a loud, grey, fast, menacing looking piece of metal. All fighter jets fly at supersonic speeds, they shoot missiles and drop bombs when needed. Some look more futuristic than others and some even have fancy paint jobs when we see them fly at airshows. What is not distinguishable to the public, is the capability and survivability when those fighter jets fly to their real jobs, patrolling the borders or defending values in lands far away from home where the enemy is shooting back.
So, when we talk about a 4th Gen fighter (like the CF-18 that Canada has been flying for 40 years) and a 5th Gen fighter like the F-35, and any of the jets that were built in between these generations, what is the difference?
iPhone vs Flip Phone
iPhone 12 is a 5G smart phone and will connect with the 5G networks that are being built all over north America and the world. There are 1 billion iPhone users, and we benefit from the upgrades and enhancements that come with the IOS upgrades every 6 months or so. We get App upgrades all the time to make the Apps more functional and to fix small bugs in their software. The iPhone 12 allows us to connect into the 5g networks and gives the user access to the Internet of Things. We text, use iMessage, FaceTime, WhatsApp chat, read all social media and even make phone calls. We play games, do all our banking, trade stocks, take amazing photos and videos, and stream them live. Our lives are interwoven into the capabilities of our iPhones and the future cannot be imagined without them. And that future remains brighter knowing that there will be enhancements and new Apps and better capability. Our interoperability with a Billion other users gives us access to networks that will further enhance our lives.
What do we know about Flip phones? Flip phones were revolutionary in their day and have been upgraded over the years. You can call and text people and even send emails. Typing is hard because the keyboard is an older design and you must scroll through each button several times to get to the letter or number you want, but with a lot of practice you can make it work. A Flip phone has a camera and can store pictures; and even has games and some Apps on it. It connects with the internet, and you can read the news and surf the internet. But the future is uncertain with the Flip phone because there are not many users left and no one knows when the parts and pieces will stop being produced or for how much longer we will be able to sustain their capability. The limited utility of the Flip Phone means that we cannot use them to accomplish the many other tasks of our daily lives, like banking and shopping on Amazon and buying plane tickets. If we only had a Flip phone, we would be forced to drive to the bank in person to deposit checks into our bank accounts and would need a laptop to transfer funds and complete other banking transactions. Without an iPhone (or other smart phone) we would then need laptops and other devices to accomplish those daily, mandatory tasks. The Flip phone cannot connect with 5G networks that are being built across North America which also means that our connectivity in the future will be limited.
Does all the tasks plus so much more
Growing with iOS upgrades and App improvements frequently
Continuing evolution of iPhone design and capability – beginning of its life
Franchise fleet – 1 billion users
Sustainable for many years to come.
5G compatible – Internet of Things
Can do the minimum tasks required.
Best upgrade of an old design
No growth over the coming years
Orphaned fleet – few users
Hard to find repair parts in coming years.
Only 3G connectivity – cannot upgrade to 5G.
F-35 is a 5th Generation fighter = 5G iPhone 12.
Super Hornet / Gripen are 4.5 Gen fighters = Flip Phones
4th Gen Fighters – Dial-up Internet
4th Gen and the upgraded 4.5 Gen fighters can do air-to-air patrol missions and can also fly air-to-ground attack missions. However, to survive in the modern-day war scenarios, the 4.5 Gen fighters need support aircraft with electronic warfare capability to jam the enemy’s defense systems. The 4.5 Gen fighters also need support aircraft to be able to target, drop bombs or fire missiles at the enemy defenses to permit the 4.5 Gen fighters to slip through the defenses. Instead of sending just 4 F-35s to attack a target area, the 4.5 Gen fighters require as many as 3 or 4 times their numbers to get safely in and out of enemy territory. The 4.5 Gen fighters are multi-role, but they require other mission support aircraft to safely conduct their missions. In contrast, 5th Gen F-35 aircraft can enter and exit enemy territory alone and without the support aircraft.
Connectivity = 3G – open data link to share but very little data passed between fighters and other participants
Growth – limited money to invest in improvements over time.
Orphaned Fleet – few users which will make sparing and finding parts even more difficult as time moves on. In the case of Super Hornet, Canada would be operating an orphaned fleet dependent on the US Navy for upgrades which will end in the near term as the USN focuses on its own 5th Gen fleet as well as the development its 6th Gen platform.
4.5 Gen fighters have individual avionics ‘boxes’ for each individual sensor and capability. If you want to improve capability, then you must upgrade each ‘box’ and then improve and upgrade the processor that takes the information from each box. This means hardware upgrades as well as software upgrades across several systems. A software-defined fighter like the F-35 gets software upgrade without the laborious hardware changes. At select times during its lifetime, an F-35 will warrant a big step in processor capability which means both hardware plus software upgrades; however, these occasions are likely to be no more than once a decade vice on-going hardware upgrades for a 4.5 Gen fighter.
As time moves on, with more than a Billion users of iPhones, the Apple community will fund improvements and paying for replacement screen and repairs will always be reasonable. How will a Flip phone be repaired in 10 years when there are almost no users of the phone? Replacing a screen may be almost impossible and find the small parts needed to fix the simplest of problems may be hard or impossible to accomplish. The cost, if there is no replacement for the Flip phone, of paying to manufacture new spare parts will be astronomical, especially since there will be almost no users and at best, you would be robbing from discarded Flip Phone much like rummaging through a junk yard looking for old car parts. The same logic applies to a fighter in the future. Finding parts and maintaining the 4th Gen planes will get harder and more expensive as time moves on when parts are scarce and more expensive because there are so few of them available.
Future Fighter – Internet of Things or Dial-up Networking?
iPhone like the 5th Gen F-35 is the Internet of Things and is a system capable of conducting all our business tasks on the phone itself plus link the information to iPads and Macs. The Flip phone like the 4.5 Gen fighter can only pass information with its non-stealthy limited bandwidth datalink, the equivalent of old dial-up networking vs 5G connectivity.
The Flip phone can call, text, take pictures, send emails, and play some games. The connectivity is slow and the keyboard difficult to manage. The iPhone 12 was made for humans of almost all ages, intuitive to use, does everything that the Flip Phone does but better plus the Internet of Things all at the speed of 5G. There is a revolutionary leap from the Flip Phone to the iPhone 12 just as there is a revolutionary capability leap from the 4.5 Gen fighter to the 5th Gen F-35.
Does a country invest in connectivity and the ability to operate now and in the decades to come? Or does that nation invest in an orphaned fleet where there will be few users and limited parts and service in the decades of life of that fighter. Most cell phone users around the world have opted for smart phones like an iPhone over a Flip phone. It would seem logical that the consideration for a new fighter would follow the same thinking…
Good analogy. Well done
This is excellent. Thanks for writing. You are a household name here– I’m Sherron Bienvenu’s husband.
I tried to join your blog, but hit a glitch. If you can sign me up from your end, that would be great. I, and a number of my friends would also enjoy these topics.
Paul Hopefully we have sorted out the subscription and you are getting weekly updates, and that they are of value to read. Your wife is a rock star in my world!
Nicely done Billie. It’s tough to get the Canadian politicians to commit to a purchase, let alone complete it. The CF-18 purchase was highly controversial at the time, but has been a great success. After almost 40 years, it’s akin to flying a Spitfire in the eighties, against 4th generation jet fighters.
Agree regarding the new technology. That said Direct Operating Costs need to improve to permit Squadrons the necessary Operational Training to ensure proficiency. A 4.5 gen Fighter May be a great solution in conflict vs 2nd or 3rd world threats. Also can F-35 fly the CAS mission? Of course yes but special tasking like that can be better accomplished with simpler airframes with some good tech added in. Platform diversity is not a bad thing.
The reality in Canada and other ‘small’ air forces is that we get one airframe that needs to last more than a generation. We were at 50 for the Sea King and now 40 for the CF-18. A nation needs a platform that will grow over time, at the beginning of its life cycle and one that can adapt to the many roles that are not even imagined right now. Everyone can do CAS, we did it in the old CF-5 and also in the CF-18 but it was never a core competency of Canada. There are many other roles and mission sets for a future fighter to manage while surviving in a lethal environment with enormously capable surface to air and air to air threats. Hard to justify buying a new fighter that is at the end of its life cycle with little hope that that older generation fighter would remain relevant for much longer.
Hi Billie. This is a great way to compare the capabilities of the 4.5 and 5th Generation fighters in the running for the CF-18 replacement. It certainly helps those of us who are believers in the F-35 to spread the word in terms that are familiar to all. Thanks for reinforcing the argument in such a clear and eloquent way. Well done!
Bravo Zulu, Billie! I sincerely hope your analogy reaches our Canadian decision makers who must approve the Future Fighter Capability Project recommendations – which logically will be to select the F-35.
Great job Billie! Good analogy. I hope this catches the eye’s of the public or and media..Now that an election has been announced, the question of the day is, will fighters be an election issue? Or even Canadian defence? I hope so, Canada is worth protecting!
A very comprehensive and convincing analogy Billie! I really do hope that decision makers in the NFA process read this!! Well written!
A very comprehensive and convincing analogy Billie! Well written!
Great article, Billie. Thank you for writing it in “plain speak”. Yes, yes, yes! We need the F-35 now. More years of study groups and planning are not what we need. Canada has the ability to develop a top-notch support infrastructure for the F-35 for its manufacture, parts, training of flight/ground crew, research’ etc.
This development could be just what the CAF and our aerospace industry need…but starting now, not in the future.
The US has supplied us with reliable jet fighters and interceptors since Canada got out of the “business” of developing its own a/c after the CF-100, Canadair Sabre and, sadly, the Arrow.
I cringe every time I read or hear about the Arrow in articles such as this! It was never a fighter and at best was an interesting demonstration performer of no tasctical value. Never had a weapons system was too big and way to expensive! Spare me!!!
I sincerely hope I meet your criteria!