A new report alleges that an F-35A was defeated by the very aircraft it is meant to replace.
A test pilot report obtained by military blog "War is Boring" detailed the performance of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in a mock air battle against a two-seat F-16D in January.
The iconic F-16D, based on a design developed 40 years ago, and built in the mid-1990s, allegedly bested the F-35 in close-range combat manoeuvres.
The result of the test provides a stark assessment of the fifth-generation aircraft’s manoeuvrability.
The test pilot, who has experience flying the F-15E, F-16 and F/A-18F, says the F-35A’s manoeuvrability is “substantially inferior to the F-15E” because of its smaller wings, similar weight and reduced afterburner thrust.
“Even with the limited F-16 target configuration, the F-35A remained at a distinct energy disadvantage for every engagement.”
"The defeated flier’s five-page report is a damning litany of aerodynamic complaints targeting the cumbersome JSF."
In an interview first televised on American network CBS, the F-16 co-designer Pierre Sprey dismissed the F-35: "Inherently a terrible plane, because it's built based on a dumb idea" - a multirole, multi-service aircraft.
"You've compromised the aircraft horribly for three different missions, and then you've compromised it again for three different services." He said the aircraft was "astonishingly unmaneuverable" because of its ratio of wing surface to weight.
He concluded: "In dogfighting, it's hopeless."
The Pentagon and US Air Force have criticised the report, saying it only tells part of the story and ignores the plane's superior stealth technology.
“[The F-35] 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, it did not have the special stealth coating that operational F-35s have that make them virtually invisible to radar,” the statement said.
The lead company building the jet, Lockheed Martin, also defended the F35’s performance in the test.
“An F-35 with its 5th generation stealth technology, full sensor suite and unsurpassed situational awareness is superior to any 4th generation aircraft flying today,” the company said.