An Eric Palmer blog entry (at http://elpdefensenews.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/f-35-gun-concerns.html) brought to my attention a very important F-35 issue and paper associated with it.  The blog entry briefly addresses what too many in the modern era think is an unimportant element of the F-35′s armament: its gun.  His blog includes a link to a very informative Air University article, “The Need for a Permanent Gun System on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter,” written by an Air Force Colonel in 2007.  (Find it at http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA476815.)

Many of the people on this e-mail address list do not need to be reminded of the consequences in history of an aviation bureaucracy that thinks fighters don’t need guns in the missile age.  Perhaps one way to address those who question adding the weight and expense of such a seemingly bygone weapon to a modern fighter is to point out that the F-22 has a gun, as does the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Russian Su-35, and there appears to be provision for guns on the Russian T-50 and the Chinese J-20.
Why?  Read Colonel Moore’s paper, mentioned and linked above.
Also, recall the recent message sent out to this list on July 15 (“One of the Pillars of F-35 Support May be Made of Sand”) arguing that Beyond Visual Range missiles have a demonstrated record of failure.  Moreover, the more successful, short range IR missiles have a minimum range, inside which they don’t work, and once a fighter has run out of missiles, it is defenseless if it has no gun.  Also, some experts will argue that a fighter’s gun is its most reliable, most effective weapon, and as Col. Moore points out, guns are essential air to ground weapons that have advantages and uses that even the newest guided weapons cannot match.
Those reasons explain why the Air Force insisted, against pressure, that its F-35A have a gun.  Unfortunately, the F-35′s gun has serious limitations. The 25mm GAU-22 Gatling gun in the F-35A has a very limited ammunition supply, just 180 rounds.  At a firing rate of 3,300 rounds per minute (slow for a modern Gatling gun), that’s good for just 3.2 seconds.  Compare that to the 1,174 rounds that the A-10′s 30mm GAU-8 has or even the 510 rounds the F-16′s 20mm gun carries.  Col. Moore’s paper points out how serious a limitation this is for the F-35A.
He also mentions some potential problems that the Helmet Mounted Display System in the F-35 presents for gun accuracy. While he was optimistic in 2007 that any problems would be solved, think of it this way: if the HMDS cannot accurately present the earth’s horizon (one of its many current flaws) and jitters (another) how on earth is it going to present an accurate firing picture to an F-35 pilot at high, or even low, Gs?  (Yet another reason why the HMDS may be Fool’s Gold.)
Of course, there is also the problem of the Marines’ STOVL B and the Navy’s CV C having no gun, dropped for reasons of space and weight.  They plan to add a pod for when they think they’ll need a gun–situations that Col. Moore points out cannot be accurately predicted before take-off.  (Interestingly, the pod has a slightly larger ammunition supply at 220 rounds, but it is still woefully inadequate.)
However, from amphibious carriers or from other STOVL take-offs, the Marine’s B may not be able to add the gun pod at all–for reasons of weight.  For those situations when they do take off with their gun pod and need it, let’s hope this pod works better than the 30mm gun pod that F-16s tried to use in Operation Desert Storm (the first Gulf war); because of reasons inherent to strapping a cannon onto the exterior of an aircraft, they were not particularly accurate–just like the gun pods that gun-less American F-4s tried to use in the Vietnam War.
DOD officials and even GAO keep on proclaiming that the F-35 has turned a corner; this is one it will not get around.
__________________
Winslow T. Wheeler
Director
Straus Military Reform Project
Center for Defense Information
Project On Government Oversight
301 791-2397 (Home Office)
301 221-3897 (Cell)