F-35s will leverage sensors to maximize surprise, mitigate risks
By RICHARD R, BURGESS, Managing Editor
When the F- 35 Lightning II Joint Strike
Fighter is deployed, it will send target information from its suite of sensors over a
broadband data link and assign radio-silent F-35s to
take on various targets without voice command.
That will enable the aircraft to strike targets with
surprise and minimal risk to itself by leveraging its
low-observable structure, which minimizes detection
by radar, and its mission computer, which fuses data
from its various sensors with that of other platforms
onto a single display, according to Eric Branyan, vice
president of F- 35 mission systems for Lockheed
Martin, prime contractor for the aircraft.
The integrated mission systems designed for the F- 35
display target and threat information overlaid on a moving map display — a 10 x 20-inch flat-panel screen
installed in the pilot’s all-glass instrument panel. The
display of air-defense radars and missiles and moving air
threats enables the pilot to optimally position his aircraft
for an engagement.
The F- 35’s ability to “fuse all of this multispectral information into a single integrated situational awareness display” is a big advance in capability over earlier-generation
fighters, said Air Force Lt. Col. Colin Miller, deputy director for air requirements for the Department of Defense
program executive officer for the Joint Strike Fighter.
“The pilot is no longer trying to
integrate the various sensors in his
head,” Branyan said. “They become
tacticians rather than drivers.”
The F- 35’s mission system “
understands the characteristics of each of
the sensors and presents them in a
unified format to take actions and
make decisions,” he said.
It will fuse information from
other F-35s as well as other airborne
or ground-based targeting solutions
that may be available through the
The plane is fitted with an array of sophisticated
sensors, including the APG-81 airborne electronically
scanned array (AESA) multimode radar, which has no
moving parts and uses multiple electronic beams to
scan the ground and sky near-simultaneously for air
targets, moving and fixed ground and sea targets.
“The AESA can also operate as an electronic warfare
and electronic attack system,” said David Bouchard, director of Joint Strike Fighter Programs at Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, builder of the APG-81 AESA.
The F- 35 has its own indigenous jamming suite
“that is facilitated through the transmit capability of the
AESA radar,” Branyan said. “The array works cooperatively with the electronic warfare suite as another
receiver, extending range and bandwidth of [the F- 35’s]
electronic warfare capabilities.”
The aircraft also will be equipped with an electronic warfare system designed by BAE Systems “with an
excellent ability for geo-location,” the geographic fixing of an electronic emitter that may indicate the location of a target, Miller said.
The AESA features a synthetic aperture radar capability that enables the radar to map the ground with
high resolution, creating an image available for transmission to other platforms. However, because this
mapping capability requires a heavy load of data pro-
The plane’s data fusion will enable pilots to be tacticians rather
■ Information from all sensors is presented to pilots in a unified
■ Target information and strike commands are conveyed silently
from the strike leader to other F-35s.