F-35 CAPABILITIES Multi-Mission Capability for Emerging Global Threats
Multi-Mission Capability for Emerging Global Threats
The designation of fighter aircraft by “generations” began with the first subsonic jets toward the end of World War II, with each new generation reflecting a major advance in technology and capability. The F-35 Lightning II is referred to as a 5th Generation fighter, combining advanced stealth capabilities with fighter aircraft speed and agility, fully-fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced logistics and sustainment.
The supersonic, multi-role F-35 represents a quantum leap in air dominance capability with enhanced lethality and survivability in hostile, anti-access airspace environments.
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.
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.
The F-35's very low-observable (VLO) stealth allows it to safely enter defended airspace areas without being seen by radars that 4th Generation and earlier legacy fighters cannot evade. The combination of the stealth features, active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar technology, and the aircraft’s ability to carry its full component of weapons stores and fuel internally allows F-35 pilots to engage ground targets at longer ranges without being detected and tracked, using precision-guided munitions and air-to-air radar-guided missiles to successfully complete air-to-ground missions. In this “clean” configuration, the F-35 will enter the air battlespace first, clearing the way with air dominance for follow-on legacy coalition forces to operate with relative impunity.
The F-35’s integrated sensors, information and weapons systems give pilots an advantage over potential threat front-line fighter aircraft. Compared to 5th Generation fighters like the F-35 and F-22, legacy aircraft have a larger radar cross-section (RCS), which means they can be more easily detected by enemy radar. In aerial 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 decisive, lethal action from a stand-off distance. The ability to see and not be seen is redefining previous generation air-to-air tactics.
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)
Drawing on the advantage of stealth, advanced sensors, and data fusion providing enhanced pilot situational awareness, 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 360-degree access to “real-time” 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 ISR capabilities are made possible by a core processor that can perform more than 400 billion 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 eight sensor Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) providing the pilot 360-degree coverage, recommending which target to attack and whether he or she should use either kinetic or electronic means to counter or negate the threat.
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.
When it comes to having a ‘quarterback’ for the coalition joint strike force, the inter-operable F-35 is clearly the aircraft for the leadership role. The F-35 is designed to share everything it can see with other aircraft and operation centers to expand situational awareness across the entire network of aircraft. F-35s 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.
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 (DAS),Helmet Mounted Display(HMD), and the Communications, Navigation and Identification (CNI) Avionics.
Unprecedented Battlefield Access
The F-35’s advanced stealth and built-in electronic warfare capabilities enable unprecedented battlefield access without the need for dedicated electronic attack aircraft support.
Advanced electronic warfare capabilities enable the F-35 to locate and track enemy forces, jam radio frequencies and disrupt attacks with unparalleled precision. All three variants of the F-35 carry active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radars with sophisticated electronic attack capabilities, including false targets, network attack, advanced jamming and algorithm-packed data streams. This system allows the F-35 to reach well-defended targets and suppress enemy radars that threaten the F-35. In addition, the ASQ-239 system provides fully integrated radar warning, targeting support, and self-protection, to detect and defeat surface and airborne threats.
While F-35 is capable of stand-off jamming for other aircraft — providing 10 times the effective radiated power of any legacy fighter — F-35s can also operate in closer proximity to the threat (‘stand-in’) to provide jamming power many multiples that of any legacy fighter.
The F-35’s survivability, electronic attack, electronic protection, situational awareness, advanced targeting and unprecedented Combat ID will make the entire air wing better. Research indicates that adding more F-35s in a high threat environment is far more effective than adding more single-mission, electronic attack support aircraft. The electronic warfare suite on the F-35 gives improved emitter location capability over legacy aircraft.
Stealth is not invisibility. Rather, stealth gives the F-35 the ability to elude or greatly complicate an enemy’s ability to find and destroy an aircraft using a combination of design, tactics and technology.
The stealth capabilities in the F-35 are unprecedented in military aviation. An integrated airframe design, advanced materials and other features maximize the F-35's stealth features. 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.
True stealth cannot be retrofitted.
The F-35 achieves low observable (LO) stealth performance through its fundamental design. The F-35’s external shape, internal carriage of weapons and fuel, embedded mission systems sensors, and state of the art manufacturing processes all contribute to the F-35’s unique stealth performance.
Stealth is the foundation for survivability and lethality.
In general, stealth is the ability to evade detection by radar, infrared sensors or emission interception. Stealth provides greater survivability and access, allowing aircraft to operate in contested areas, including anti-access/area denial environments that legacy fighters simply cannot penetrate or evade. U.S. Air Force leadership considers advanced stealth technology “the price of admission” into modern warfare.
“In the near term, the stealth technology on our 5th Generation platforms, the F-22 and F-35, is the price of admission into the fight. The lethal envelope of advanced air-defense systems continues to grow against our 4th Generation aircraft.” —General Mark Welsh, Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force
An Airpower Force Multiplier
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. The F-35 has the ability to 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.
The F-35’s mission systems are critical to its mission success. With the most robust and advanced communications suite of any fighter aircraft built to date, the F-35 provides pilots with an unprecedented advantage. It will also be the first fighter to possess satellite communications capable of integrating beyond line-of-sight communications throughout the spectrum of missions it is tasked to perform.
The integrated and fused sensor suite on the F-35 allows pilots to see a single integrated picture of the battlespace and automatically share that data with other pilots on the network using the most modern datalinks. These datalinks allow the F-35 to share data with other strike aircraft as well as other airborne, surface and ground-based platforms required to perform assigned missions. One of the datalinks core to this capability is the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL):
Multifunction Advanced Data Link
To complete missions in denied airspace, pilots need a way to share information securely, without revealing their location to enemy forces. The F-35 has incorporated Northrop Grumman’s MADL into its missions systems to provide pilots with the ability to connect with other planes and automatically share situational awareness data between fighter aircraft. The MADL is a high-data-rate, directional communications link that allows for the secure transmission of coordinated tactics and engagement for 5th Generation aircraft operating in high-threat environments. The MADL is one of 27 different waveforms in the F-35’s communication, navigation and identification (CNI) suite.
The F-35 is a Force Multiplier
The F-35 will serve as a communications gateway for numerous other platforms, sharing its operational picture with other 5th Generation and legacy aircraft to enable strike and anti-air attacks with stand-off weapons. The F-35 is ideally suited for coalition operations. It has the ability to support allied air fleets to achieve mission success and survivability using a combination of stealth, electronic attack, information sharing, and other measures not part of any other aircraft mission package.
When the first F-35 squadron becomes operational, those aircraft can and will support other aircraft with electronic attack and situational awareness through information sharing. Advanced avionics give the pilot real-time access to battle space information with spherical coverage and an unparalleled ability to dominate the tactical environment. Data collected by F-35 sensors will be immediately 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.
F-35 FULL MISSION SYSTEMS COVERAGE
Mission Systems and Sensor Fusion
The term “mission systems” refers to the F-35's operating software, avionics, integrated electronic sensors, displays and communications systems that collect and share data with the pilot and other friendly aircraft, providing unmatched situational awareness at sea, in the air and on the ground.
The F-35 has the most robust communications suite of any fighter aircraft built to date. It will also be the first fighter to possess a satellite-linked communications capability that integrates beyond line-of-sight communications throughout the spectrum of missions it is tasked to perform.
The F-35’s advanced sensor fusion enables pilots to draw on information from all of their on-board sensors to create a single integrated picture of the battlefield. All of the information gathered is then automatically shared with other pilots and command and control operating centers on their network using the most modern datalinks. These secure datalinks, such as the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL), will enable pilots to share data with other strike aircraft as well as other airborne, surface and ground-based platforms required to perform assigned missions.
Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar
The F-35’s Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar is designed to enable F-35 pilots to effectively engage air and ground targets at long range, while also providing outstanding situational awareness for enhanced survivability. AESA's solid-state technology and elimination of mechanical moving parts will enable the radar to far surpass current standards for systems reliability.
Distributed Aperture System
The F-35’s Distributed Aperture System (DAS), developed by Northrop Grumman, is the only 360-degree, spherical situational awareness system. The DAS sends high resolution real-time imagery to the pilot’s helmet from six infrared cameras mounted around the aircraft, allowing pilots to see the environment around them – day or night – without loss of quality or clarity. With the ability to detect and track approaching aircraft from any angle, the DAS also greatly reduces the potential for mid-air collisions and virtually eliminates surprises.
The DAS is completely integrated with other sensors within the aircraft, so if the F-35′s radar detects something of interest, DAS’s software will closely analyze it and make the pilot aware of potential threats. When there are multiple threats, the DAS is able to identify the highest value targets and recommend the order in which to deal with each threat. This “data fusion” provides F-35 pilots with a significant advantage over other pilots, simplifying and managing a vast array of information for the pilot, who must quickly evaluate a complex range of options in a hostile, tactical air combat environment.
The DAS provides:
Missile detection and tracking
Launch point detection
Situational awareness IRST & cueing
Fire control capability
Precision tracking of wingmen/friendly aircraft for tactical maneuvering.
Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS)
The F-35’s Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) is the world's first and only sensor that combines forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and infrared search and track (IRST) functionality. The high-performance, lightweight, multi-function system enhances F-35 pilots’ situational awareness and provides precision air-to-air and air-to-surface targeting capabilities.
The low-drag, stealthy EOTS is integrated into the F-35’s fuselage with a durable sapphire window and is linked to the aircraft's integrated central computer through a high-speed fiber-optic interface.
“[The F-35] brings an unprecedented sensor fusion with the radar and its optical capabilities, its data link capabilities and its radar warning receiver capabilities. It's going to be our multirole fighter for the Air Force and provide close-air support missions, offensive counter air, defensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defenses and the destruction of enemy air defenses.”—Lt. Col. Carl Schaefer, Joint Strike Fighter Integration Office
Helmet Mounted Display Systems
The F-35’s Helmet Mounted Display Systems provide pilots with unprecedented situational awareness. All the information pilots need to complete their missions – airspeed, heading, altitude, targeting information and warnings – is projected on the helmet’s visor, rather than on a traditional Heads-up Display on the canopy widescreen.
The F-35’s DAS streams real-time imagery to the helmet from six infrared cameras mounted around the aircraft, allowing pilots to “look through” the airplane. Using this technology, pilots can see the entire environment surrounding them. The helmet also provides pilots with infrared night vision through the use of an integrated camera, making images in total darkness look exactly like what they would see in daylight.
Communications, Navigation and Identification (CNI) Avionics System
The Communications, Navigation and Identification (CNI) system is the most advanced integrated avionics system ever engineered. The integrated CNI is developed by Northrop Grumman and provides F-35 pilots with the capability of more than 27 avionics functions. Using software-defined radio technology, the CNI allows for simultaneous operation of multiple critical functions, such as identification friend or foe, precision navigation, and various voice and data communications, while greatly reducing size, weight and power demands.
THE F-35 HELMET
Unprecedented Situational Awareness
The F-35’s Helmet Mounted Display Systems provide pilots with unprecedented situational awareness. All the information pilots need to complete their missions – airspeed, heading, altitude, targeting information and warnings – is projected on the helmet’s visor, rather than on a traditional Heads-up Display. This approach greatly reduces the pilot’s workload and increases responsiveness. Additionally, the F-35’s Distributed Aperture System (DAS) streams real-time imagery from six infrared cameras mounted around the aircraft to the helmet, allowing pilots to “look through” the airframe. The helmet also provides pilots night vision through the use of an integrated camera.
Every F-35 pilot wears the helmet for every test, training and operational mission. Hear one pilot’s perspective: