The Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal Davies, a David Morrison-wannabe, has said that “maybe that big, blokey, fighter pilot attitude is starting to dilute a little”, adding a blokey “So it bloody should” for emphasis. The Air Marshall said that the RAAF’s female pilots would be eligible to fly the F-35. The problem is that the F-35 will kill its female pilots at a higher rate than its male pilots. The recently released report of the US Department of Defense’s Director, Operational Test and Evaluation explains:
“After the latter failure, the program and Services decided to restrict pilots weighing less than 136 pounds from flying any F-35 variant, regardless of helmet type (Gen II or Gen III). Pilots weighing between 136 and 165 pounds are considered at less risk than lighter weight pilots, but at an increased risk (compared to heavier pilots). The level of risk was labelled “serious” risk by the Program Office based on the probability of death being 23 percent and the probability of neck extension (which will result in some level of injury) being 100 percent. Currently, the program and the Services have decided to accept the risk to pilots in this weight range, although the basis for the decision to accept these risks is unknown.
The testing showed that the ejection seat rotates backwards after ejection. This results in the pilot’s neck becoming extended, as the head moves behind the shoulders in a “chin up” position. When the parachute inflates and begins to extract the pilot from the seat (with great force), a “whiplash” action occurs. The rotation of the seat and resulting extension of the neck are greater for lighter weight pilots.”
What this means is that the death rate from ejection is too high for pilots weighing less than 60.4 kg. The death rate falls to 23% between 60.4 kg and 73.3 kg though the incidence of neck injury is 100%. The report did not say what the incidence of neck injury is likely to be for pilots weighing more than 73.3 kg. There will also be a death rate in that weight class.
Ejector seats are far from the F-35’s only fatal deficiency. David Archibald’s full and magisterial demolition of the plane we don’t need and cannot afford is laid out in a voluminous Senate submission.
It can be downloaded here
Australian women are, on average, 15 kg lighter than Australian men. This pushes them down into the higher-chance bracket of death by ejection seat. At a weight of 71.1 kg for the average Australian female, more than half of our female pilots will have a 100% chance of neck injury on ejection. That includes the 23% who will be killed by whiplash.
How many will need to eject? In Operation Allied Force, the NATO attack on Serbia, half of the Serbian pilots shot down were able to eject safely. Our nearest neighbour, Indonesia, is in the process of acquiring 12 of the Russian Su-35 fighter which will be able to shoot down 2.4 F-35s for each Su-35 lost. The Indonesians want to acquire at least another 12 Su-35s. If they do that, they could shoot down 58 F-35s, the bulk of our force. The rest of the Indonesian air force could shoot down what remains of our air force. It would take about three days before our last F-35 was shot down.
So, based on experience from the most recent aerial warfare between comparable aircraft, half of our F-35 pilots will be killed in their aircraft and the other half will be able to eject. Of the female pilots who eject, at least 23% will be killed during ejection taking their total death rate to about 62%. Of those still alive during the parachute descent, more than half will have neck injuries (100% of those under 73.3 kg) which will include quadriplegia. As a high proportion of our aerial combat is likely to be over the Timor Sea, many of the still-living pilots will come down in the open ocean. Those pilots incapacitated by neck injuries won’t last long, especially as we don’t have any aerial or marine craft dedicated to pilot retrieval. So the death rate for our female F-35 pilots could be as high as 80%, all within three days of the war starting.
We should recognise now the bravery of our prospective female F-35 pilots. At an 80%-odd guaranteed death rate, they are up there with the kamikaze pilots of World War 2. Those who we can recover from the Northern Territory scrub will have a high proportion of neck injuries, including quadriplegia. Perhaps the prospect of permanent incapacity, and being confined to an institution for the rest of their lives, makes them just as brave as the pilots of Japan’s divine wind. Talk about closing the gap!
The powers-that-be need to have a deep think about a number of matters.
David Archibald’s most recent book is Australia’s Defence (Connor Court).