- Senior Airman Devante Williams/US Air Force
WASHINGTON – According to some reports, the F-35 – America’s priciest weapons system – doesn’t excel at dogfighting.
Fortunately, the fifth-generation stealth aircraft, designed to be the crown jewel of the aging US Air Force fleet, was built in such a way that dogfighting may be an afterthought.
“If you were to engage an F-35 in say, a visual dogfight capability,” US Air Force Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus began, “the capabilities of the F-35 are absolutely eye-watering compared to a fourth-generation fighter.”
“The airplane has unbelievable maneuvering characteristics that make it completely undefeatable in an air-to-air environment,” said Pleus, who has 153 flight hours in the F-35A and is the director of the F-35 integration office.
“So if it’s a long-range contact, you’ll never see me and you’ll die, and if it’s within visual-range contact you’ll see me and you’re gonna die and you’re gonna die very quickly.”
Like Pleus, US Air Force Maj. Will “D-Rail” Andreotta, commander of the F-35A Lightning II Heritage Flight Team, has also flown both the F-16 and F-35A.
“As a pilot, dogfighting is fun, but it doesn’t get the job done,” Andreotta 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, says the F-35A’s unprecedented situational awareness gives him “the utmost confidence that this plane will operate perfectly” in a dogfight with fourth-generation aircraft.
“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.”
Pleus, a former command pilot with 24 years in an F-16, has also flown the F-35A against other fourth-generation platforms.
“We killed them and they never ever saw us. So from that standpoint I would tell you that that’s the perspective for engaging an F-35.”
“You literally would never know I’m there,” Pleus added.
- US Air Force
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.
- Jim Hazeltine/US Air Force
“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.”