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Arguing about whether the F-35 can dogfight misses a really big point


An F-35A Lightning II team parks the aircraft for the first time at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, February 8, 2016. | US Air Force photo

WASHINGTON, DC — According to some reports, America's fifth-generation stealth aircraft doesn't excel at dogfighting.

But fortunately, the F-35 Lightning II is not built for dogfighting.

While some analysts have argued that the air-to-air combat capabilities of the F-35A won't match some of its peer aircraft, pilots who spoke to Business Insider pointed out that the US's fifth-generation fighter is designed in such a way that dogfighting may be an afterthought.

Also read: Pentagon advances F-35 vs A-10 Close Air Support testing

"As a pilot, dogfighting is fun, but it doesn't get the job done," US Air Force Maj. Will "D-Rail" Andreotta, commander of the F-35A Lightning II Heritage Flight Team, told Business Insider.

"If I'm dogfighting I'm not bombing my target. I'm not getting my job done, and what I'm probably doing is wasting gas and wasting time."

Andreotta, a pilot in the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base who has flown both the F-16 and F-35, says the F-35A's unprecedented situational awareness and stealth gives him "the utmost confidence that this plane will operate perfectly" in a dogfight with fourth-generation aircraft.

An F-35 and F-16 fly side by side. | US Air Force photo by Jim Hazeltine

"I have stealth, so I've fought against F-16s and I've never gotten into a dogfight yet. You can't fight what you can't see, and if F-16s can't see me then I'm never going to get into a dogfight with them."

What's more, Andreotta says, the US Air Force's F-16s and F-35s work well together.

"The F-16s, F-35s, F-22s, no matter what the aircraft, they all bring something to the fight, they're all different and they all are great compliments to each other. We just all have different capabilities that we can use to get the job done."

"The F-16s and fourth generation are really benefitting from all the information we are able to pull in and send to them," Andreotta said. "I can take information that I'm getting from the F-35 and push it out to other aircraft that don't have the capabilities that I have. That's huge. I would have killed for that when I was flying an F-16."

"I think if you talk to any fourth-generation pilot that has flown with the F-35 they'll rave about the information they're getting from us, and we're not even at the point where we are sending out all the information."