F-35: The Most Advanced Node in the 21st Century Warfare
July 15, 2021
In the highly-contested 21st century battlespace, success is determined by the ability to securely connect and share information across domains – air, land, sea, space and cyber.
Enter the 5th Generation F-35: the most advanced node in a 21st Century Warfare network-centric architecture.
The F-35 is already redefining the modern battlespace by sensing and fusing data, and in the near future sharing multi-source data seamlessly across networks. This unmatched capability reduces decision timelines for the joint warfighters and enables sensor-to-shooter connectivity with unprecedented situational awareness across the Joint All Domain Operations (JADO) battlespace.
5th Generation Capabilities Enable Joint Battlespace Operations
The F-35 is more than a fighter jet, it’s a powerful force multiplier with advanced sensors and communications suites operating close to the battlefield and from an elevated position significantly enhancing the capabilities of networked airborne, maritime, space, surface and ground-based platforms. This significantly enhances situational awareness and survivability for the pilot – and the entire joint force – and equips the commanders with critical capabilities and information in seconds.
During the recent Flight Test-6 exercise, a Lockheed Martin PAC-3 missile successfully intercepted a surrogate cruise missile threat at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), New Mexico, using F-35 as an elevated sensor. This U.S. Army flight test marks a first in one flight test – F-35 data contributing to the global track used by the U.S. Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) to live fire a PAC-3.
Enhancing Missile Defense Capabilities
Unlike any other fighter before it, the F-35 offers integrated capabilities that can significantly enhance U.S. missile defense capabilities. There are three areas in which the F-35 can potentially support missile defense – today and in the future:
1. Left of Launch: The best way to stop an incoming missile is to ensure it is never launched in the first place. The F-35’s stealth and advanced sensors allow it to enter contested air space, find, track and destroy missile threats before they are even launched, including mobile threats. The F-35’s delivered today are capable of executing high end, strategic attack missions that can be leveraged to stop missile attacks before they launch.
2. Sensor Node: The F-35 is more than a fighter jet, it’s a powerful force multiplier with an advanced sensor and communications suite that is able to significantly enhance the capabilities and range of networked airborne, surface and ground-based platforms. In the missile defense arena, F-35s can detect and track missile threats at a much closer distance – and are able to connect sensor information between aircraft and queue existing missile defense systems to engage an incoming threat. This enables missile defense systems to see, track and destroy threats sooner and safer. This capability has been demonstrated successfully in various exercises and in order to deliver advanced threat detection to the battlefield, additional work is critical to ensuring F-35s and networked missile defense assets are able to communicate securely and seamlessly.
3. Direct Engagement: The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Review (MDR) states that, “the F-35 Lightning II, can track and destroy adversary cruise missiles today and, in the future, can be equipped with a new or modified interceptor capable of shooting down adversary ballistic missiles in their boost phase.” This mission would require F-35s to be within sensor range of a launching missile threat, while equipped with advanced air-launched interceptors capable of tracking, engaging and defeating a ballistic missile. We look forward to working with the Pentagon to identify the technology roadmap and concept of operations to deliver this critical capability.
Outpacing Emerging Threats
While the F-35 offers unmatched capabilities today, the platform is poised to continue to mature and the F-35 Enterprise will continue to integrate new technologies and capabilities into the F-35 to outpace emerging threats.
The F-35 Advanced Capability Insertion program is enabled by rapid, continuous software upgrades that have already delivered the life-saving Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS) to the F-35 fleet – seven years earlier than previously planned. Capability insertion is included in the upgraded sensor fusion capability in F-35 Production Lot 13 and beyond; integrating enhanced voice and data interoperability in Lot 14, and delivering Tech Refresh 3 (TR-3) in Lot 15.