Technical thread on the serious difficulties of F-16 deployment...
Posted by Ken Waldron on May 23, 2023, 9:45 pm, in reply to "MoA: F-16s To Ukraine"
Technical thread on the serious difficulties of F-16 deployment by a pro-Ukrainian commentator: |
May 20 • 54 tweets • 10 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
A long🧵 on the challenges facing the Ukrainian Air Force *if* they receive F-16s anytime soon... Im prepared for the hate.
First, and let me make this very clear, I support F-16s, or similar western aircraft for Ukraine. I have since the beginning of the war. I have twice written my Congressional representative, who also supports such a delivery, the latest being after the news broke from the G7(2/x)
Summit on 5/19 in which I again offered to become a trainer/advisor to the Ukrainian Air Force maintenance crews.
I feel there is a huge disconnect in the current discourse between flying fighter aircraft and what it actually takes for the aircraft to fly.
For my creds: (3/x)
I earned my Associates in Applied Science while on active duty in the US Air Force. That “science”? Aircraft Armament Maintenance. This is fancy speak for everything that makes other stuff blow up. We used to have a saying, “we kill people and break their shit” or (4/x)
“without Weapons, its just U.S. Air.” I served in the USAF from 2002 to 2014 as an aircraft maintenance Craftsman-level technician (Helper, Apprentice, Journeyman, Craftsman, Senior) on the flightline directly involved with gun, launcher, bomb racks, and countermeasures (5/x)
countermeasures maintenance, inspection and fuzing/wiring of munitions, loading of munitions, performing pre-flight, thru-flight, post-flight, & post-firing inspections & maintenance on all of the previous items both conventional and nuclear, performed scheduled maintenance (6/x)
preventative maintenance, and some phased maintenance. My experience spans primarily F-16 C/D/CJ/DJ and F-15C/D/Es, though I do also have some gunship, helo, and UAV experience from my short stint in AFSOC. In addition, I assisted crew chiefs and avionics personnel in their (7/x)
tasks as needed, especially while deployed. I later worked in backshop maintenance on the M61A1 20mm gatling gun, then set maintenance priorities for all maintenance actions as an expeditor-- not just for armament, but also crew chiefs, avionics, and support facilities. (8/x)
I left the USAF during the sequestration budget cuts and reduction in force in 2014. In mid-2015, joined the Dept of State/DoD/Lockheed Martin Iraqi F-16 program during that country’s fight against the Islamic State. During my time in this position, I was the Armament Super (9/x)
dedicated to training and advising Iraqi maintenance officers and Iraqi maintenance technicians as well as performing and supervising maintenance on their new F-16s. Many of the maintainers had no aircraft experience but some had come from Saddam’s Soviet-built air force. (10/x)
Their training was extensive: First, Jordan for beginner English courses & fundamentals, more months at the Defense Language Institute for more English lessons, 16 weeks at Sheppard AFB, TX for maintenance fundamentals and intro to the F-16, all before they even got to us (11/x)
as "Apprentices." The squadron commander had flown MiGs against allied pilots during the first Gulf War. Tragically, the week before we were to ship out to Iraq, the commander died in an accident during night ops when he became disoriented and crashed in the Arizona desert.(12/x)
I served in Iraq in this capacity until the fall of 2016 when the grandmother who raised me had a stroke and I returned home for good.
The first thing Ukraine has to consider in its pursuit of these aircraft, is how to take off and land with them. (13/x)
The Ukrainian Air Force, to my knowledge, has had to use guerilla airfield tactics to keep the Russians guessing as to where they are operating from. This is to prevent Moscow from targeting the aircraft/impromptu airfield from drone attacks and air strikes, destroying (14/x)
stationary aircraft or the rendering the “runway” unusable. Soviet-built aircraft are sublimely suited to this. For ex, the MiG-29 “Fulcrum” uses automatic Foreign Object Debris (FOD) covers that open for initial start up, then close as the engines reach operating RPMs. (15/x)
Meanwhile louvres located at the top of the wing-root open to provide alternate air intake to the jet engines. Upon take off, once the weight on wheels (WoW) switch in the nose gear detects it is off the ground, the louvers cycle closed and the FOD covers on the primary (16/x)
intake retract, allowing max airflow to the engines once the danger of FOD damage has passed. This ingenious design allows the Fulcrum to operate, not only from unimproved runways or even highways, but even from grass fields. The wing itself and the distance to the ground (17/x)
preventing small stones and debris from getting sucked into the delicate engines.
I cannot stress how dangerous and debilitating FOD is to aircraft. A single rock, bolt, nut, or minor road debris can have a cataclysmic effect on a modern high-performance jet engine. (18/x)
It may not even happen immediately, the damage could happen on take off, then progressively get worse during flight as the blades, now potentially bent or unbalanced begin to self-destruct the engine internals. Even if a MiG-29 happens to shell out an engine because of the (19/x)
careless placement of a bolt or tool by a mechanic or the ingestion of a bird during flight or take off, the MiG HAS TWO ENGINES which are isolated in separate bays, preventing the destruction of one engine from FOD-ing out the second.
The F-16, by contrast, is definitely (20/x)
not suited for this style of airfield. The bottom of the intake lip sits approximately 30” from the ground with no provision of alternate intake. In addition, all the suction flow of that air comes from the sides, fore, and ground since no air can be ingested from (21/x)
above the engine (that’s where the fuselage is). With no provision for FOD protection or alternate, high-mounted intakes during the entire time spent on the ground, this calls for rigid and inflexible FOD control measures from the location of engine start, to taxiing routes(22/x)
to the runway. In the USAF, this meant hundreds of maintainers walking at arms-length intervals two to three times a day with eyes on the ground looking for any and every piece of debris that could be ingested by the multi-million dollar vacuum cleaner with only ONE engine (23/x)
we were charged with maintaining. In addition, an almost constant procession of street-cleaners rumbled up and down the flightline, taxiways and runway. Everything had to be spotless lest we risk the aircraft, or worse, the pilots. (24/x)
Imagine the preparation it would take to complete this process on a 10,000 foot long straight highway, in the dark, while trying to be as inconspicuous as possible so as not to draw the attention of collaborators or Russian spies. You couldn’t hop from highway to highway or(25/x)
run from unimproved airfields like the Ukrainian Air Force can do with MiG-29s, you’d be handcuffed or at the very least less mobile. Imagine a disused Soviet airfield that suddenly had all its weeds plucked from the cracks in the concrete, concrete patched, the runway (26/x)
runway spotless. What signal does that send? “F-16s could, will, or are operating from here.”
Soviet aircraft maintenance doctrine focused on intense specialization and replacement of major systems instead of field repair. While the Soviets (of the 1980s anyway) are long (27/x)
gone, the aircraft itself was designed for this style of maintenance. This is a product of short-tenured conscript maintenance personnel which took up 70% of their air force. In other words, it was designed to thrive on conscript maintenance. Anything requiring repair was (28/x)
sent far to the rear to the factory. By contrast, western aircraft are & have been maintained by non-conscript technicians with a lot of formal education lasting months before even being granted the title “apprentice” (cant do anything without direct supervision), (29/x)
years before “journeyman” (can complete tasks alone or with an apprentice group, but final work must be inspected by a “craftsman” or higher), and 5+ years before becoming a “craftsman” or able to perform all tasks without supervision & can supervise other, less experienced(30/x)
technicians) as well as large and wide-encompassing specialties. This leads to the ability to provide field repairs (to an extent) & to be able to branch out &gain knowledge in other specialties. Crew Chiefs will assist Engines in removing the engine for overhaul. Avionics(31/x)
and Weapons personnel will troubleshoot Armament systems & repair wiring. Again, this is not to say that Ukrainians cant learn but the design and functionality of each aircraft was geared toward the ability of the people maintaining it. They can most certainly learn it (32/x)
but it takes time. If your radar malfunctions in a MiG, you play “swap a box”: radar, control module, avionics boxes. You have plenty of all of these items on hand or close, and while inconvenient, is logistically do-able from any of a number of depots scattered across the (33/x)
country. Radar malfunctions on an F-16, sure you can play “swap-a-box” but your logistics chain is much longer & you cant haul an entire squadron of spare aircraft parts from one location to another because its all you have. To spare your ballooning logistics chain, you’re (34/x)
better off having specialists who can trouble shoot the issue to one, certain, spot, & replace just what needs replaced without guessing. We haven’t even delved into the technical data (instructions for how to do LITERALLY EVERYTHING), which is all written in English, even(35/x)
for Polish aircraft. & to be clear, no, unless you absolutely must, youre not going to pull the wings off an aircraft and ship it on a flatbed to Poland for repair. That is about your worst option. Not only is your follow-on maintenance a nightmare but doing that for every(36/x)
little thing would be… well… just no. Hydro checks, flight control checks, armament checks, 1760 and coaxal cable repair and splicing, operational check flights, functional check flights… I mean youre talking hundreds of hours of repair and inspections. Leave it at that.(37/x)
Poland would be great for scheduled phased maintenance and in-depth repair but not for every little thing and realistically only if the aircraft is capable of flying there, everything else will need done in Ukr, especially if the aircraft is grounded. (38/x)
This isn’t a Patriot battery. This isn’t an armored vehicle. What happens when you screw up the maintenance on a Patriot launcher? It doesn’t work. What happens when you drop a screw in the engine bay of a Leopard? It’ll be there next time you tear it apart. (39/x)
What happens when you flub the maintenance or drop a bolt in an F-16? The pilot may die and the aircraft may turn into a multi-million dollar lawn dart. Maintenance on these things is SERIOUS business. Do you know how much time on airframe your average USAF (40/x)
Staff Sergeant Crew Chief Craftsman has on the F-16? 10-12 years. When moving from one airframe to another, i.e. F-15 to F-16, even as an experienced craftsman, training takes at LEAST 12 months before you’re allowed to perform maintenance by yourself without follow-on (41/x)
inspection because the systems are so different and these aircraft are both western. There are zero parts commonality from legacy UAF aircraft, nor logistics infrastructure for F-16s in Ukraine. The avionics & flight controls are more intricate and complex. The repairs and (42/x)
tolerances more exacting. Again any mistake in any of these systems and you risk the pilot and the aircraft from the moment the chocks are pulled. I had an Iraqi maintenance officer, experienced on Soviet aircraft mis-time the feed chute on the M61A1 gatling gun during (43/x)
an install. “This is okay,” he insisted, “it is one tooth, many gears, all will be fine.” No, there is no “give” in these systems. There is no buffer for mistakes. Its right, or the plane may go down. A mis-timed feed chute on a gun WILL lead to the unplanned (44/x)
and rapid disassembly of the entire 20mm system, all those pieces are now FOD. All these pieces are now rolling around above the single engine bay. Heroic Ukrainian pilots deserve better, so do their resilient maintainers. They deserve to be trained right, to the best of (45/x)
the allies ability. I am not downplaying the awesome ability of Ukrainians, I would be saying these same things regardless of who is taking this project on.
The MiG-29 averages about 11 hrs of maintenance for every ONE hr of flight. The F-16? A whopping increase to 18.5 (46/x)
maintenance hrs for every one hr of flight time. These are per aircraft with experienced crews. These figures also assume decent airframe hours on the aircraft. There are no “cherry” low flight time F-16s for Ukraine. Any they get will be worn and require even more (47/x)
specialized maintenance. You can forget AMARG F-16s from the Boneyard in Tuscon too. While they are older models with less capability, aside from the handful kept in ready storage to replace unexpected losses, the remainder would require MONTHS to regenerate to combat ready(48/x)
status. In reality, the F-16s that Ukraine may get in the short term are high-hour, maintenance intensive Block 20, 30 or 40 models from European allies. (50/x)
I also argue that the announcement may end up disappointing many pro-Ukrainian accounts when they realize there is fine print. This is a “long-term security package”— to me, this screams political double speak. In other words, “Yes, Ukraine is eventually getting F-16s but (51/x)
Maybe this year, maybe next, but most likely after the war is over.” Why? Maintenance training and suitable airfield availability. Unless they are planning on flying from airfields in Poland, which would put the east of Ukraine out of range (52/x)
(no aerial refueling capability, remember?) and risk Russian retaliation to a NATO member, or exposing their new fighters to Russian missile and drone attacks by using established airfields, there is very limited ability to utilize these effectively right now. (53/x)
I hope, I truly hope, they come up with a way to work around this limiting factor because it would be a game changer. But this is the biggest issue.
Maintenance is the easier hurdle. Plenty of mechanics in Europe and the US are happy to lend their services to the UAF as (54/x)
members of the “International Legion” or the modern day iteration of the “Flying Tigers”.
Myself included. /end... finally.