F-35 Capabilities

Multi-Mission Capability for Emerging Global Threats

The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th Generation fighter, combining advanced stealth capabilities with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment. The supersonic, multirole F-35 represents a quantum leap in air dominance capability.

The F-35 combines 5th Generation fighter aircraft characteristics — advanced stealth, integrated avionics, sensor fusion and superior logistics support — with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history. The F-35's advanced stealth allows pilots to penetrate areas without being detected by radars that legacy fighters cannot evade.

The F-35 is designed with the entire battlespace in mind, bringing new flexibility and capability to the United States and its allies. Reliance on any single capability — electronic attack, stealth, etc. — is not sufficient for success and survivability in the future. Missions traditionally performed by specialized aircraft — air-to-air combat, air-to-ground strikes, electronic attack, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — can now be executed by a squadron of F-35s.

"People think stealth is what defines 5th Gen[eration aircraft]. It’s not the only thing. 
It’s stealth and then the avionics and the fusion of avionics."
—Gen. Mike Hostage, Commander, Air Combat Command, U.S. Air Force

Electronic Attack

Advanced electronic warfare (EW) capabilities enable F-35 pilots to locate and track enemy forces, jam radars and disrupt attacks with unparalleled effectiveness. Advanced avionics give the pilot real-time access to battle space information with 360-degree coverage and an unparalleled ability to dominate the tactical environment. Data collected by sensors on the F-35 will immediately be shared with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground, providing an instantaneous, high-fidelity view of ongoing operations – making the F-35 a formidable force multiplier while enhancing coalition operations. This system allows F-35 pilots to reach well-defended targets and suppress enemy radars.

Air-to-surface

The F-35's low observable stealth allows it to safely enter areas without being seen by radars that legacy fighters cannot evade. The combination of the stealth features, the F-35’s active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar technology, and the aircraft’s ability to carry weapons internally means that F-35 pilots can engage ground targets at long ranges without detection, using precision weapons to successfully complete air-to-ground missions. In this configuration, the F-35 will enter the battlespace first, clearing the way for legacy coalition forces. 

Air-to-air

The F-35’s integrated sensors, information and weapons systems give pilots an advantage over enemy aircraft. Compared to 5th Generation fighters like the F-35 and F-22, legacy aircraft have a larger radar cross-section, which means they can be more easily detected by enemy radar. In combat, legacy aircraft have relatively equal opportunities to detect and engage one another, while a 5th Generation fighter pilot can see enemy aircraft first and take action. The ability to see and not be seen has redefined air-to-air tactics.

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)

Drawing on the advantage of stealth, advanced sensors, and data fusion, F-35 pilots can fly critical ISR missions with more sophisticated data capture than any previous fighter aircraft. The F-35 has the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history, giving pilots real-time, 360-degree access to battlefield information. The information gathered by F-35 sensors can be securely shared with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground, providing a comprehensive view of ongoing operations.

Much of the F-35’s electronic warfare and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) capabilities are made possible by a core processor that can perform more than one trillion operations per second. This core processor collects data from the classified electronic warfare suite, developed by BAE Systems, to identify enemy radar and electronic warfare emissions and, as happens with the Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS), recommend to the pilot which target to attack and whether he or she should use either kinetic or electronic means to address the threat.

Unparalleled Stealth

The F-35’s stealth capabilities are unprecedented in tactical fighter aviation. An integrated airframe design, advanced materials and other features make the F-35 virtually undetectable to enemy radar. Extensive analysis and flight test of the survivability of the F-35 with its combination of stealth, advanced sensors, data fusion, sophisticated countermeasures, and electronic attack demonstrate conclusively its superior advantages over legacy aircraft.

Interoperability

When it comes to having a ‘quarterback’ for the joint strike force, the F-35 is clearly the aircraft for that role. The F-35 is designed to share what it sees with other aircraft to expand situational awareness across the entire network of aircraft. F-35’s can support legacy aircraft, as well as other F-35s, to achieve mission success and survivability using a combination of stealth, electronic attack, information sharing, and other measures. 

Full Mission Systems Coverage

The term “mission systems” refers to the avionics, integrated electronic sensors, displays and communications systems that collect and share data with the pilot and other friendly aircraft, at sea and on the ground. The F-35 has the most robust communications suite of any fighter aircraft built to date. Components include the AESA radar, EOTS targeting system, Distributed Aperture System, Helmet Mounted Display, and the Communications, Navigation and Identification (CNI) Avionics.