‘Game Changer’ – U.S. F-35 Strike Fighters Can Do Lot More Than Fight

U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Michael Ammons via Wikimedia Commons

The term ‘game changer’ is an overused phrase. However, in the case of the stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, this term may not be far off the mark. Another much-used term in the military lexicon is ‘network-centric’ warfare – which can mean a lot of things, but in the case of the F-35, it may mean everything.

The F-35 stealth fighter is proving to be much more than a fighter or attack aircraft, it may be the center of a new form of networked aerial warfare.

The U.S. Air Force has recently been testing the F-35 to perform a myriad of non-traditional missions, including – as noted by Warrior Maven (WM) – tracking ballistic missiles in space, locating “incoming anti-ship missiles, and offering forward video-datalink images of enemies from safe stand-off distances.”

In fact, WM notes:

…the Pentagon has increasingly been developing the F-35 for a wide swath of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. The idea would be to leverage its advanced suite of long-range sensors and targeting technologies. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that the F-35 can function as a long-range drone, aerial relay node, missile tracker or surveillance plane.

During a recent test near Edwards Air Force Base, California, WM adds, “the F-35 was used to provide ‘track data’ to a surrogate US Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS). IBCS is designed “mesh radar nodes to one another across otherwise disparate or tough-to-network combat locations. This naturally expands the protective air-defense network by sharing threat data.”

While connecting with IBCS, WM explains, an F-35 was also able to connect with a U-2 spy plane to form an “airborne relay” using Lockheed’s Airborne Sensor Adaptation Kit. All this will allow “networking threat information from incoming air attacks with maritime, air and ground assets.”

In regular English, this means the F-35 stealth strike fighter that the U.S. military – and allied air forces across the globe – are buying in great numbers, could eventually be interconnected – not only with each other but also with the full range of air, ground and sea military assets deployed in a conflict.

This could provide U.S. and allied forces an unprecedented military capability that even China and Russia may find difficult to match.

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Paul Crespo

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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