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F-35 Offers Multirole Surprises

This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily and Defense Report.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will "redefine the concept of multirole strike" aircraft, Lockheed Martin officials say, but they offer few details to flesh out that claim.

Still, while the future concept of operations, electronic attack (EA) capability and derivative options remain undefined, at least publicly, some capabilities can be picked out of their purposely vague descriptions.

Starting from the notion that new hardware is the least likely addition to the aircraft and that it has an open architecture for avionics, look for the big multirole capability additions to involve electronic attack.

Because of the ability to penetrate while using low-probability-of-intercept radar and passive sensors, the JSF will not operate in proximity to current, so-called fourth-generation aircraft. It will instead roam well-defended enemy airspace while feeding precision targeting data to nonstealthy aircraft with standoff-range weapons.

Tailored for EA

The F-35 aircraft is being designed to deliver electronic attack (jamming, spoofing and pulses of energy) with the same ease that it can deliver explosive weapons. Moreover, Lockheed officials say the F-35 -- first of all a combat aircraft -- will have full 360-degree awareness of what is going on around it.

That presents an interesting dilemma for EA versus kinetic weaponry. The new AIM-9X air-to-air missile can perform high off-boresight shots without turning the aircraft's nose toward the target. However, delivering electronic effects require specialized antennae pointed toward the target. As far as is known, JSF has only its advanced active, electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar antenna in the nose to pump out its electronic firepower. It would then have the weakness of any AESA array in that it is flat with a field of view of less than 180 degrees, perhaps an effective field of regard for effective attack of 60-90 degrees.

Some radar specialists and Air Force planners already say they anticipate flying the F-35s in line, with the first aircraft being passive and the second emitting and passing target information to the first so that it can remain undetected. Therefore, it appears that without an add-on antenna, the JSF's EA capability will be limited to the forward quarter.

However, within that field the electronic effects generator can be routed through the AESA radar, which allows the F-35 to invade, blind or fool enemy sensors and radars at ranges of up to hundreds of miles.

Sensors

Lockheed officials do admit that the F-35's sensor capabilities include advanced electronic surveillance allowing development of an instantaneous electronic order of battle -- what's emitting and from where.

Read the rest of this story, see some hot photos of artillerymen putting warheads on foreheads, take a look at the downside of ditching the UCAS-D and see how India now thinks missile defense is a good idea from our friends at Aviation Week exclusively on Military.com.

-- Christian

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