Cost-Effective Air Power - Island of Sanity

Island of Sanity

War & Peace

Cost-Effective Air Power

F-16. $19 million
F-22. $383 million
Cessna Citation. $2.5 million
Bede BD-5. $2,600

Military aircraft today are very expensive. The U.S. Air Force's current workhorse fighter, the F-16C, costs $19 million each. The next generation fighter in the works, the F-22, has a budget of $69 billion for 180 planes, or $383 million each.

By contrast, a luxury private business jet like the Cessna Citation costs a mere $2.5 million. Okay, that's big bucks to me and probably to you, but that's a drop in the bucket compared to an F-22. (Only $2.5 million? I wonder if they come in six-packs ...)

Now, I don't claim to have any expertise on aircraft design nor to have done any serious research on this subject, but looking at those numbers just got me to musing. Suppose some hostile nation bought a bunch of business jets, stuck some missiles and air-to-air cannons on them, and sent them against us. I'm sure such planes would be no match for our sophisticated stealth fighter jets. Obviously business jets aren't built for the kind of performance expected of fighter planes, nor are they built to carry weapons. But ... say the cost of strapping on the weapons runs the cost up to $4 million each. This hypothetical hostile country could afford to buy 95 of these planes for every F-22 that we could buy. No doubt an F-22 could blow these clunkers away in combat. But could it take out 95 of them before getting shot down itself? Would our sophisticated aircraft be able to win against inferior planes even at 95 to 1 odds? An F-22 would surely be better than a jury-rigged business plane. But how much better? 95 times better?

And that's supposing they bought off-the-shelf business jets. If they're going to invest a few hundred million in this, it seems plausible they could do a little R&D and design a minimal fighter plane for the same or less money. All the luxury accommodations would, of course, be unnecessary.

If you really want to get crazy, this hostile country might use aircraft modeled after the Bede BD-5J. It holds the world record for the smallest jet aircraft ever built. These cost $2,600 each. Not 2.6 million, but 2.6 thousand. They could build 14,730 of these for the cost of one F-22. Could an F-22 take on 14,000-to-1 odds? Even unarmed, just used as suicide ramming attacks or throwing bricks as they flew by, one would think that at 14,000-to-1 you would take out the F-22 sooner or later.

An army with primitive weapons defeating a higher-technology but smaller army is certainly not unheard of. A classic example is the Battle of Ishandlwana in 1879, where 20,000 Zulues armed with shields and spears defeated 1,400 British armed with rifles and cannons. Perhaps a more relevant example arose during World War 2. The Nazis introduced the Me-262, the world's first jet fighter. After some dramatic initial successes by the Germans, the Allies developed tactics to successfully fight jets with propeller-driven aircraft. According to Wikipedia the final tally was about 100 jets shot down compared to 500 propeller-driven planes they destroyed. Considering that the Me-262's were mostly used to shoot down bombers, this 5-to-1 kill rate is probably biased on the side of the jets. So even in this extreme case, jets vs propellers, in a straight shoot-out the jets would have lost if outnumbered 5-to-1, or probably less.

Of course a strategy that says that we will accept losses of 5 or 50 or 5,000 of our planes for every enemy plane shot down would be pretty rough on the pilots. But if you're a dictator bent on conquest, what do you care if a few draftees get killed? Surely losses in the infantry would far outweigh losses in the air force. There have been plenty of armies that have been willing to send people on suicide attacks, and plenty of people willing to volunteer for such missions, from the Japanese Kamikazes to Arab suicide bombers.

Maybe these expensive aircraft really are worth every penny, and actually could take out 100 or more of the enemy for every plane lost. No one has tried it, and as I say, I don't claim to have any evidence that such a plan would work. Anybody out there with real expertise who could offer some insight?

Disclaimer: Need I mention that no one at Cessna or Bede had anything to do with this article?

© 2008 by Jay Johansen


Melikhaya Jul 23, 2014

the aerobird is for skill level 2 so its a bit hredar to learn to fly with as its faster than the skill level 1 planes like the famous firebird phantom which has A.C.T anti crash technology which should pull you out if sticky situations, athough that only works if your pretty high up after you master that plane the super cub or the super decathlon bl is a stunning plane and easy to fly athough its not as hardy as the good old firebirds or the bigger brothersgood luck with your new hobby:)

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