The F-35 can now help the US Army track and destroy incoming enemy missiles
U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook
- In a key test of the F-35's capabilities, a US Air Force F-35 transmitted live targeting data to US Army ground-based air-and-missile defense systems for the first time during the recent Orange Flag exercise.
- The F-35, serving as an elevated sensor, was able to deliver critical information to Army systems that might otherwise struggle to detect certain types of threats.
- The latest milestone test follows the test three years ago where an F-35 transmitted targeting information to a Navy Aegis Combat System, which then eliminated a mock target simulating an enemy aircraft with an SM-6 anti-air missile.
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A US Air Force fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter successfully transmitted live targeting data to US Army ground-based air-and-missile defense systems for the first time in an important test conducted during the recent Orange Flag exercise, the fighter's developer announced Tuesday.
The Army's Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) Battle Command System (IBCS), a complex system developed by Northrop Grumman to connect sensors, launchers, and command and control stations, was able to "receive and develop fire control quality composite tracks" by "leveraging the F-35 as an elevated sensor" during the recent exercise, Lockheed Martin revealed.
The tracking data was sent to the IBCS through the F-35 ground station and F-35-IBCS adaptation kit, systems developed by Lockheed to let the F-35 talk to the US Army air-and-missile defense network.
The F-35 is capable of detecting threats that ground-based systems might struggle to pick up on until it's too late. The curvature of the Earth can affect the ability of certain ground-based radars to adequately detect threats. The F-35 - which, as Breaking Defense noted, has been described by senior Air Force officers as "a computer that happens to fly" - is able to rapidly maneuver towards new targets and to change altitude, which radar arrays on the ground are unable to do.
"The F-35, with its advanced sensors and connectivity, is able to gather and seamlessly share critical information enabling greater joint force protection and a higher level of lethality of Army IAMD forces," Scott Arnold, the vice president and deputy of Integrated Air and Missile Defense at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, explained in a statement.
With the technology and capabilities tested recently, an Army Patriot battery, for example, could theoretically get a better read on an incoming threat using information provided an airborne F-35.
"Any sensor, any effector, any domain," Dan Verwiel, Northrop Grumman's vice president and general manager of missile defense and protective systems, told Defense News. "This is the future of the US Army's fight."
Three years ago, an F-35 transmitted targeting information to a Navy Aegis Combat System armed with an SM-6 anti-air missile, which was then launched at a mock target simulating an adversarial aircraft. Now, this fighter, one of the most expensive weapons in the US arsenal, is being paired with Army air-and-missile defense networks.
The US military is looking at using the F-35 for multi-domain operations, meaning it wants the jet to do far more than the fighter-bomber missions for which it was initially designed. The fifth-generation jet can also use its high-end sensors to send difficult-to-detect transmissions containing critical data to other air assets, warships, and troops on the ground to increase battlespace awareness.
The capabilities being tested are a top priority as the US military looks to modernize the joint force in the face of great power competition with China and Russia.
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