The media report on the F-35 and F-16 flight does not tell the entire story. The F-35 involved was AF-2, which is an F-35 designed for flight sciences testing, or flying qualities, of the aircraft. It is not equipped with a number of items that make today's production F-35s 5th Generation fighters.
Aircraft AF-2 did not have the mission systems software to use the sensors that allow the F-35 to see its enemy long before it knows the F-35 is in the area. Second, AF-2 does not have the special stealth coating that operational F-35s have that make them virtually invisible to radar. And third, it is not equipped with the weapons or software that allow the F-35 pilot to turn, aim a weapon with the helmet, and fire at an enemy without having to point the airplane at its target.
The tests cited in the article were done earlier this year to test the flying qualities of the F-35 using visual combat maneuvers to stress the system, and the F-16 involved was used as a visual reference to maneuver against. While the dogfighting scenario was successful in showing the ability of the F-35 to maneuver to the edge of its limits without exceeding them, and handle in a positive and predictable manner, the interpretation of the scenario results could be misleading.
The F-35's technology is designed to engage, shoot, and kill its enemy from long distances, not necessarily in visual "dogfighting" situations. There have been numerous occasions where a four-ship of F-35s has engaged a four-ship of F-16s in simulated combat scenarios and the F-35s won each of those encounters because of its sensors, weapons, and stealth technology.
The release of this FOUO (For Official Use Only) report is being investigated. The candid feedback provided by our test community is welcomed because it makes what we do better.
The disclosure of this report should not discourage our warfighters and test community from providing the Program Office and Lockheed Martin with honest assessments of the F-35's capabilities.
(Aviation Week has posted on its website the original pilot’s report (5 PDF pages) on this dogfight test, which was the basis of the July 1 “War Is Boring” report. Click here to download—Ed.)