It is all but a fact that the US should have cancelled the F-35 and kept the F-22 in production for at least a few more airframes, as I’ve pointed out in the past:
The analysis all but confirms what was already stated by Free Market Shooter as well as many other sources; the F-35 (in particular the “A” model) is overpriced garbage that can’t beat the aircraft it was designed to replace in many of its roles.
While it is not realistic to consider restarting F-22 production, it is worth pointing out that China, in its push to modernize its military to do battle with the US, is developing a fighter that might not only turn out better than the F-35, it could end up capturing the export market by providing a lower-cost alternative to the exorbitant price tag of the F-35.
The reason for this is simple, as I’ve previously explained; by “sharing” components and an airframe between all three branches, all variants of the F-35 feature a single engine and a lift fan “bulge” which both inhibit performance and stealthiness of the aircraft:
All three models were designed around Marines’ requirement of Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL/STOVL), which held back the performance of the other two variants. You can see this in the bulge behind the aircraft’s cockpit where the lift fan in the “B” variant is. The large bulge is what obstructs pilots’ rearward visibility and inhibits performance of the aircraft, and it is merely replaced with fuel tanks in the “A” and “C” models to keep concurrency between platforms, and supposedly “keep costs down”. Bear in mind, the “A” is 70% of the proposed force, with the “B” at 14% and “C” at 16% each.
It is very easy to see this when you look at photos of the F-35:
The “bulges” from both the single engine and lift fan “area” can be clearly seen, limiting the aircraft’s performance, maneuverability, and stealthiness.
Alternatively, take a look at the F-35’s cousin, the F-22:
Two engines and no lift fan “bulge” area result in a much cleaner, flatter shape, particularly in the middle and rear of the aircraft. It is no surprise that the performance metrics of the F-22 exceed those of the F-35 in effectively every single category.
This is a fact that has not been lost on the Chinese as they developed their J-31 prototype, which is a “knock-off” of the F-35 with the exception of the one area they truly could improve upon:
Even the shitty Chinese knock-off of the F-35 has no lift fan bulge and the twin engines the Navy wanted.
In particular, you can see how the J-31’s design has evolved from the older prototypes, adding in even more of the F-22 features while still staying closer in size and budget to the F-35:
While it remains to be seen if the J-31 can actually perform in the same role that the F-35 can, it is worth noting that the J-20, the larger stealth fighter that is closer to the F-22 than the F-35, has recently been deployed and is now “operational”:
China’s Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter has just officially entered active service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF): “China’s latest J-20 stealth fighter has been officially commissioned into military service, Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Wu Qian told global media in a September 28, 2017 press release on the Xinhua.net and the official state defense media website.
Analysts suggest the J-20 is likely a medium-long range interceptor roughly analogous to the interceptor role of legacy aircraft like Russia’s older MiG-25 Foxbat, albeit much more sophisticated, and comparable to a Gen. 5 fighter.
Sooner or later, China will deploy the J-31 as well as the J-20, and both have been constructed using stolen designs from the F-22 and F-35. If the J-31 has performance characteristics which are as good or better than the F-35’s, and can integrate its sensors and avionics like its American counterparts, it could end up being a superior aircraft, and at a much cheaper price, making it attractive for China to export to other nations looking to buy the F-35.
Even if the J-31 cannot accomplish either of those goals, the aircraft will end up improving on the one area that has inhibited the F-35’s design and driven up its price tag since its inception; the “concurrency” between branches that led to the single engine and lift fan “bulge” design that the F-35 features.
The F-35 should have been the perfect aircraft to complement the F-22, if its design was not pigeon-holed by the USMC requirements. Instead, it has turned into just another exercise on how big-budget defense projects end up squandering taxpayer dollars by over-promising and under-delivering.
Americans have been wondering what “shoulda, coulda, and woulda” been the perfect F-35; it just might turn out to be the Chinese knock-off.