back to article US Air Force in a seriously stealthless state

The US Air Force has been left seriously short of stealth capacity following the grounding of its F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs), while its F-22 Raptor fleet has been stuck on the tarmac since May. The US's entire stealth aircraft capability currently comprises just 20 operational B-2 Spirit bombers. The USAF …


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  1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    Memory loss?

    Now that is what I call stealth!

  2. annodomini2


    "are still being examined for a possible problem with their oxygen generation system. Several pilots complained of "memory loss and disorientation during flight""

    "War crimes memory wiping system"

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Top gun junkies on a bad trip

      "are still being examined for a possible problem with their oxygen generation system. Several pilots complained of "memory loss and disorientation during flight""

      Yeah, that is quite common with methamphetamine abuse.

    2. Mips

      Memory loss?

      Hard wired is better.

      1. Goat Jam
        Thumb Up

        Oblig Bob Calvert reference

        Ground Control: Ready for last minute cockpit check?

        Pilot: OK.

        Ground Control: Largacti1...five milligrammes.

        Pilot: Check.

        Ground Control: Valium...ten milligrammes.

        Pilot: Check.

        Ground Control: Haloperidol...five milligrammes.

        Pilot: Which?

        Ground Control: The little white ones. W-W-W for white.

        Pilot: OK. Check.

        Ground Control: Pheno Barbitone. Five milligrammes.

        Pilot: Check

        Ground Control: Disipel...five milligrammes.

        Pilot: Check

        Ground Control: Glass of water.

        Pilot: Check

        Ground Control and Pilot: Our father...which art in heaven, hallowed be...mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

        Jet take off noise into...

  3. Graham Bartlett

    Memory loss?

    Ah-hah. a new defence in court when you've just bombed civilians or your own people. "I'm sorry, I can't remember, it must have been the oxygen supply..."

  4. Yag

    I don't subscribe to this point of view...

    F-22s and F-35s are even stealthier than usual those days!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    British Navy?

    What's that then? Royal Navy will do nicely thanks

    1. Arctic fox

      Absolutely old chap. However........... least they worked out which service arm they were talking about (ie the wet one) and which country it belonged to. It could have been worse you know. They might have started burbling on about the "British Air Corp" or some such nonsense.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    F35 stealth?

    Ignoring the debate on how stealthy the F35's really is in to say it's *not* stealthy on VTOL, going by these pics - it's halfway to being a transformer!

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Quite the reverse I think

    The F-22's stealth capability has never been better. Now not even the pilots know where they are.

    PS: Where's Lewis? Could you not get him to criticise the Merkins?

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Where's Lewis ?

    An article about significant problems with not one, but two military systems and Lewis isn't here to tell us how crap the programmes are. Oh wait, they're American programmes, of course.

  9. Bumpy Cat
    Black Helicopters

    Complexity and expense

    There's an old (US) joke that the various air services in the US had 250 000 planes in WW2, 150 000 in Korea, 100 000 in Vietnam, 10 000 in the 1980s and 5 000 today. By 2050 the US will have one jet fighter, which is used by the Air Force on even days, the Navy on odd days and the Marines every Feb 29th.

    The serious point I'm trying to make - at this stage it looks like modern fighter aircraft are too complex for reliable use. Which is better to have, 150 brilliant F-22s which are grounded, or 200 cheap F-16s or MiG-29s which just work?

    1. ciaran

      Obviously its better to have Rafales

      Who cares to bet that the F35 will be abandoned and the US will buy the french multi-role fighter, Rafale?

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        RE: Obviously its better to have Rafales

        Yeah, if only Rafale actually met the requirement of either the RN or the USN. Which it doesn't.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          And the main req. is

          for USA: buy American, good or bad

          for UK: do what the USA says, especially if bad for UK.

          for France: do what is right for France (and they seem to be rather successful in that they still have got a working weapons industry, aircraft carriers and rather good kit to equip them). They also seem not to be ashamed of being French and have no worries about saying "Non".

          Still, someone has got to help bail out the USA economy for the Chinese and Arabs - Mother Country obligations and all that. Shame the obligations are not reciprocated.

      2. laird cummings

        I'll take that bet

        At any odds you care to name.

        Last time the US trusted the French for major weapons systems was in WWI, and that was such a mixed bag that no US military procurement official will ever again risk his career on French systems.

        1. Ainteenbooty

          True enough...

          It's not like they make chained cannon balls any more.

    2. Naughtyhorse

      i guess that depends whos flying it

      you or me :D

      this, of course assumes that the unreliability manifests itself prior to take off!

    3. LuMan


      I think you're right. Better to have working aircraft - even if they're old.

      I reckon we should just fly our last Vulcan over the warzone and when the enemy look up and go, "Ooh, look at THAT!" - which they will - we can sneak in and kick 'em in the shins!

      1. The First Dave

        Better Still...

        Send in Miss Demeanour and we won't even need to kick their shins.

      2. Will Godfrey Silver badge


        This has to be the best comment I've seen on any topic for ages.


        We need a ROTFL icon!

    4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Complexity and expense

      The serious answer to your question is that real life isn't so black and white, so for some values of grounded and some values of just works, you will be better off with the F-22s.

      Oh and I think the price ratio is a little more than 4:3.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Can't resist.

    Shoulda bought British then, innit?

    Oh shoot, not Lewis. Where's the bugger gone off to just now then?

    The olive anorak, thanks.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    What, you don't see them flying?

    See, that's stealth to me. (apply joke icon here)

    But where are the F-117s? Are they parked along side F-14s in 48hrs readiness state (fill it with gas, change the oil, kick the tires and done) just waiting the eruption of the next major war? Yes, the B2 bombers can fly half the planet and back, but smaller bombers had their uses.

    The stealthless part totally forgot the F-117 fleet.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: What, you don't see them flying?

      The F-117 has gone to the great hangar in the sky, I believe.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        F117 rumours and dodgy youtube vids F117's over groomlake of all places. Post official retirement date.

        Might be off frontline duty, but as long as the ariframes are within their designed operational hours, they'll find a use for them.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Better is far better

    "Which is better to have, 150 brilliant F-22s which are grounded, or 200 cheap F-16s or MiG-29s which just work?"

    Just being slightly more capable means you can destroy the enemy every time, no matter what.

    I wish reporters would stop obsessing about stealth as being equivalent to invisible, or magic. The F-35 is visible a few seconds less than say a Typhoon. Nothing really that significant, its other capabilities are more important, such as range and networking ability.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      I don't tink so.

      "Just being slightly more capable means you can destroy the enemy every time, no matter what."

      Only in Hollywood and neocon tech-jock talking circles.

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        RE: I don't tink so.

        "......Only in Hollywood and neocon tech-jock talking circles." No, actually in real shooting wars like the invasion of Iraq. Don't worry, we weren't expecting actual knowledge due to the inclusion of the term "neocon" in your drivel.

        The Septics may have lost the overall war in Vietnam, but it was the proving ground in the air for the tech-vs-numbers debate. As soon as the Yanks went back to superior tactics to take advantage of their superior tech, their F-4s owned the skies over Vietnam. The Israellis did the same over the Arabs in every war they've fought since 1953. The superiority of Western tech over numbers was so proven in aircombat in the first Gulf War the Iraqi airforce became just a force in hiding. The current NATO actions over Libya are simply re-inforcing that simple truth - just having lots of "cheap but reliable" fighters will lose against a force equipped with the better tech and tactics.

        1. CD001

          Superior tech

          Superior tech has always held an edge right back to the early days of aviation... IIRC, later in WWII when the Luftwaffe was running low on pilots, Göring sent an order NOT to attack B17s with P51-Mustang escorts because they couldn't afford the casualties - despite later 109 models being able to hold their own (earlier 109s couldn't). By that time it was too late.

        2. Tom 13

          True, but 20 old jets

          beats 0 new jets every time.

    2. Naughtyhorse

      networking ability!!!!11!

      so that would be wifi then, cos i never saw a mil spec rj45 socket

  13. nichomach

    I was a little puzzled... the balanced and measured coverage on problems with US defence projects until I checked the byline; one assumes that problems with Lewis's oxygen supply have caused him to forget El Reg's office address/email address/fax number...? That's what you get for buying that overpriced American tat... *

    *Note to US-ians; trolling LP, not you, OK?

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: I was a little puzzled...

      Whilst it is fun to kick Lewis, the truth is the problem is with the oxygen system rather than some other major system like the engines, so shouldn't be too hard to fix, just costly to do so. Problem is if the oxygen system is being contaminated then it will probably need an expensive redesign at just the wrong moment, when the Yanks are looking to cut budgets. If this had been found earlier in the development it would probably have been fixed with little comment.

      But, in the meantime, where is Lewis? <Insert evil grin>

  14. PlacidCasual

    @Bumpy Cat - ain't that the truth

    I know some poeple deride the Super Hornet but if the UK bought some off the shelf F-18's at least they could be confident they worked out of the box. We could order them today and fly them from runways for years until the carriers are ready, we could even install a ground based catapult for training.

    As for our enemies, the stick throwing horde of fuzzy wuzzies will be qually awed by 80's tech fighters bombing them as they will by 90's tech ones stuck in a hangar somewhere. If the Russians or Chinese invade tomorrow we'd be more screwed having no JSF's than we would be flying old tech Hornets.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: @Bumpy Cat - ain't that the truth

      Yes, but it would be almost as easy to navallise the Typhoon. We actually have a number of Typhoons (Tranche 1s) that will probably be sitting idle in hangars anyway, so why not navallise them? The next gen carriers will all have catapults now anyway.

      Or the Hawk 200. The Yanks already use a navallised version of the Hawk (T-45 Goshawk) and it would need little development for BAe to turn the existing supersonic Hawk 200 series airframe into a supersonic carrier fighter with a radar from the same series as the SuperHornet, medium-range AAM capability, and a very cheap pricetag. And it has the advantage of being mainly British tech. You could even sell it to the fighter jocks by telling them it was just to bridge the gap until the F-35s arrive.

      /Yeeaaargh, for obvious reasons!

  15. ih

    Wot no Lewis?

    What happened to Lewis? Couldn't find an angle to attack UK industry so vetoed the story?

  16. relpy

    They should have bought Eurofighter...


  17. Anonymous Coward

    @Bumpy Cat

    "Which is better to have, 150 brilliant F-22s which are grounded, or 200 cheap F-16s or MiG-29s which just work?"

    It's better to have 50,000 drones for the same cost as those planes above to overwhelm the enemy's forces.

    1. Bumpy Cat

      Agree ...

      I joke to my RAF buddies that RAF stands for "Robots Are the Future" ...

    2. LPF

      Until someone shoots down you sat..

      then you have 50,000 expensive airfix kits!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Bumpy Cat

    You can have all the planes you want, I call dibs on the nukes. Your move.

    1. CD001

      I call

      I call non-proliferation treaty - I'll have the planes and no nukes - you nuke me the rest of the non-proliferation treaty states nuke you; and I've still got all my planes (refuelling in the air, airborne as soon as the nuke launch was detected)... and you've got nothing.

      Still, we're both equally nuked and completely fecked so I guess it's somewhat academic at that point in time ;)

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Obsolete Tech

    The F35 and F22 are essentially obsolete anyway. Gulf War 1 was a great example of this. The F117 was out in all its glory, but in my operational studies course at RAF Cranwell in 1995 the lecturers kept making the same point. Only 2 aircraft flew over Baghdad. At night, you had the F117. By day and night you had the Tomahawk. Unmanned aerial vehicles will dominate the next 50 years of airborne warfare, and once someone starts to realise this, things will change rapidly.

    It costs something like $6bn to float a new carrier, pretty much the same again to equip it with aircraft, and something like $1bn a year to drive the thing around the seas and operate it. Someone is going to realise that for considerably less you could build a sparsely manned ship that has the capability to launch a thousand UAVs. I'm predicting that when someone realises this we have the 21st centuries HMS Dreadnought moment. (For those who don't know, the launching of the Dreadnought made all the world's battleships obsolete, and effectively led to Britain losing it's position as the world's premier naval power).

    Of course, I don't want to gloat about an ally, but as others point out, where is Lewis to talk about this. He regularly points out how Britain should have bought the F35 (or F16/F18) instead of Eurofighter. But it is worth pointing out that Eurofighter is very nearly as stealthy as the F35, and we have over 60 of them flying in the UK now. Plus problems like this result in cost overruns, so the price of the Eurofighter might not seem as silly in a few years' time.

    1. Desk Jockey

      A Dreadnought moment?

      @ AC "...effectively led to Britain losing its position as the world's premier naval power." What the hell are you going on about? Dreadnoughts WERE British ships! Don't you mean when aircraft carriers and planes started to show how effective they were in WW2 was the point when Britain started to lose its premier naval power status? The U-Boats don't count as they were only effective in a limited way.

      While I will not dispute your financial claims that aircraft carriers are very expensive to run, if you attend that course at RAF Cranwell now (and if they are teaching you properly) you would know that UAVs and UCAVs suffer serious technical limitations, particularly when it comes to independent decision making and having enough bandwidth to control a large number of them over long distances. They may well change airborne warfare, but probably not until between 10-20 years when all the technology (and financial) issues get sorted out. I have also not mentioned the legal issues surrounding allowing an AI to decide when to kill someone!

      I echo the call for Lewis to show himself. We want to mock him! The article was far too balanced and accurate!

      1. Dave Bell

        HMS Dreadnought

        The point about HMS Dreadnought was that it changed the way naval battled were fought. Even with the same guns on both ships, the Dreadnought "system" had the advantage of a greatly increased effective range. The steam turbines also made the ship faster, which meant it could control the range the battle was fought at,

        Only thing is, one ship can't fight a fleet. And other countries had ships being built on the same principles when HMS Dreadnought was launched. So it wouldn't have made much difference if HMS Dreadnought hadn't been built. The rest of the British fleet would have been just as obsolete. And Britain would have to have built new battleships.

      2. Jean-Luc

        @ Desk Jockey

        "particularly when it comes to independent decision making"

        I'm 50/50 agreeing with AC and yourself.

        UAVs are still not totally there. But things may change really rapidly if a nation did deploy combat UAVs successfully against a first-tier opponent.

        As far as the independent decision making goes, a lot of the posters seem to be concerned with a UAV nuking hapless civilians, as opposed to a pilot wisely deciding not to. I think this is motivated by _today's_ wars, and is a bit disingenuous when it comes to Fifth Generation stealth fighters.

        a) In today's wars, a top-end F22/F35 with a pilot onboard is overkill. Too fast, not designed for that role and the opponents are not all radar-savvy anyway. An A10 or Apache would do just as well.

        b) In the kind of war an F-22 is designed for, a China-vs-USA slugfest, the targets aren't going to be insurgents hiding amongst civilians. This would be military-to-military work, with perhaps a carrier or an airfield as a target. Not too many civilians to worry about then and a saturation attack would do just fine. I would be more concerned about relying on remote control channels not being blocked - the UAVs really need to be autonomous fire&forgets.

        If I was a Chinese military think-thank I'd be thinking just along those lines. The USAF is superior anyway, so don't fight it on its own terms...

        c) At the risk of sounding callous, IF we ever get into a full war with China, which I hope not, civilian collateral damage is NOT going to be the overriding concern that it is in today's wars. Our concerns with civilian deaths is TOTALLY JUSTIFIED in our context. But it would, I fear, be secondary in the event of a pair of first-tier opponents slugging it out. Yes, even though I think WW2 civilian bombings were an atrocity.

        1. Anonymous Coward


          But surely the USA patent office has patented the software in their UAVs, the concept, the look and feel and the whole user experience, so all they have to do is send in the patent lawyers and disarm their enemies.

          Then Lewis can write a silly article about how superior and cheap the USA patent system is and we should ditch any European or UK system and just use theirs. So everyone is happy.

  20. Alan Brown Silver badge


    We don't need no steeking stealth.

    For examples why, see Libya, Iraq, etc etc etc.

    Anywhere stealth might be necessary to drop a bomb, a drone or cruise missile is a better option.

    A few stealth transports might be more useful.... (Ah, that's right. Noone's supposed to know about the Black Hercules fleet which has been flying around since the 1970s - they're too busy being distracted by all the stealth fighters.)


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