Air Force chief of staff, Gen. David Goldfein, once called the F-35 “a computer that happens to fly.”
Take for instance, data sharing. Not something you expect a modern day jet fighter to do, but apparently the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can do exactly that — in the heat of battle.
The demonstration occurred at the Orange Flag Evaluation at Palmdale, Calif., and Fort Bliss, Texas in June, Defense News reported.
F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin announced in an Aug. 6 statement that the jet, in a live demonstration, sent tracking data (a target aircraft, drone or missile) to the US Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS).
The Northrop Grumman-developed IBCS was able to receive and develop fire control quality composite tracks during the exercise, “leveraging the F-35 as an elevated sensor,” the statement added.
The capability is seen as important in multi-domain operations because it would be able to detect threats that are tough for ground-based sensors alone to pick up, share the data and thereby improve the accuracy of ground-based weapons.
“This demonstration represents a significant growth in capability for the Army IAMD program and Army for multi-domain operations. The capability creates additional battlespace awareness, and the ability to track incoming targets and take action, if necessary,” Scott Arnold, Lockheed’s deputy of integrated air and missile defense, said in the statement.
“Right now the F-35 has incredible sensors,” said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Jon Davis (ret.), during an interview with USNI News at a Mitchell Institute symposium. “It is the smartest kid in class and will be the smartest kid in class for some time.”
The military needs the F-35 to share the information it gathers, Davis said.
This is an engineering challenge the military is working on solving — how to digest the vast amounts of data collected. The goal is for the F-35 and other aircraft to make each other better shooters, but also make the sea and land forces better shooters he said.
“Allowing our Navy to be better shooters is something we all have a great interest in,” Davis said. “This airplane allows us to do that.”
The demonstration isn’t only about the F-35′s ability to contribute as a sensor and spyplane in the air, but also about the IBCS’ ability to bring in sensor data from a variety of platforms, the Defense News report said.
“This is another example of the power of IBCS’ open architecture design, which enables the integration of any sensor to any effector in any domain. Any sensor, any effector, any domain: This is the future of the U.S. Army’s fight,” Northrop Grumman’s Dan Verwiel, vice president and general manager of missile defense, said in a statement.
The IBCS was originally developed as the brains of the Army’s future air and missile defense system, but its potential mission continues to grow as the service works to tie other sensors to IBCS to create a “layered defense.”
The demonstration comes less than a year after Lockheed selected the Harris Corporation to upgrade the F-35’s integrated core processor (ICP), which will increase the aircraft’s processing power by an estimated 25 times, with upgrades slated to begin in 2023, Aviation Today reported.
The F-35’s ICP acts as the brains of the F-35, processing data for the aircraft’s communications, sensors, electronic warfare, guidance and control, cockpit and helmet displays.
According to Sydney Freedberg at Breaking Defense, what joint commanders increasingly prize is the F-35’s ability to sneak into enemy air space using stealth, spot enemy forces using its advanced radar and infrared sensors, take all the data it gathers, make some sense of it and relay all that data back to other aircraft with larger bombloads, warships and even ground forces using hard-to-detect transmissions.