Dogfighting in an F-35 is 'like having a knife fight in a telephone booth'

Civilian pilot Adam Alpert of the Vermont Air National Guard wrote an interesting and enjoyable article on his training experience with the vaunted F-35 in a mock mission to take out nuclear facilities in North Korea.

Chief among the interesting points in the article is a quote from Alpert’s instructor pilot, Lt. Col. John Rahill, about the F-35’s dogfighting ability.

Also read: Beyond the F-35: Air Force and Navy already working on 6th generation fighter

Speaking about the nuanced technical and tactical differences between the F-35, the future plane of the VANG, and the F-16, the VANG’s current plane, Rahill said this:

“If you get into a dogfight with the F-35, somebody made a mistake. It’s like having a knife fight in a telephone booth — very unpredictable.”

The F-35 has been criticized for its dogfighting abilities. But as more information comes to light about the F-35’s mission and purpose, it becomes clearer that measuring the F-35 by its ability to dogfight doesn’t make much more sense than measuring a rifle by its capability as a melee weapon.

“The pilot uses onboard long-range sensors and weapons to destroy the enemy aircraft before ever being seen. The combination of stealth and superior electronic warfare systems makes the F-35 both more lethal and safer,” said Rahill, according to Alpert.

Mission planners could risk four airmen in fifth-generation planes or up to 75 in legacy aircraft when embarking on dangerous missions. US Air Force

Mission planners could risk four airmen in fifth-generation planes or up to 75 in legacy aircraft when embarking on dangerous missions. US Air Force

In Alpert’s mock mission to North Korea, planners sent only four planes, two F-35s and two F-22s, instead of the older formation of F-18s for electronic attacks, F-15s for air dominance, and F-16s for bombing and airborne early warning. Altogether, the older formation totals about 75 lives at risk versus four pilots at risk with the F-35 version.

Alpert’s piece highlights many of the ways in which the F-35 outclasses the F-16 with an easier, more intuitive interface that allows pilots to focus more on the mission and less on the machine. In fact, Alpert compares the F-35’s controls to an “elaborate video game” with a variety of apps he can call up seamlessly to access any relevant information — including an indicator that tells him how stealthy he is.

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