The three planned versions of the F- 35 will feature 98 percent commonality in mission systems.
During operations, the aircraft’s sensor suite would
enable a strike leader of a group of F-35s to use his sensors, scan for targets while approaching the battle area as
other aircraft remain radio-silent and monitor the same
tactical situation on their displays. Without verbal communication, the strike leader can mark defenses to avoid
and silently assign targets to the other aircraft via the link.
For example, he could assign one F- 35 to strike an air-defense ground site, another to counter an enemy aircraft
and a third to strike the target originally assigned to the
mission. The aircraft would receive their assignments by
digital commands that appear on their displays.
While the strike leader, separated from the other
aircraft, draws attention of the enemy with his radiating radar, the other F-35s are relying on their low-observable stealth characteristics and positioning
themselves to approach their unsuspecting enemies
Branyan said the F- 35’s self-protecting electronic
warfare capability will enable it to fly missions unassisted by dedicated electronic jamming aircraft. Taking
advantage of the aircraft’s very low signature, the aircraft would identify the threat, move closer, jam the
enemy’s sensors and complete their strike mission.
The three planned versions of the F- 35 — the Air
Force’s F-35A, the Marine Corps’ F-35B short
takeoff/vertical landing version and the Navy’s carrier-capable F-35C — will feature 98 percent commonality
in mission systems, fostering cost restraint and simplifying training across the services. Maintaining a common set of spare parts will facilitate maintenance.
The F- 35, which first flew in December, is going
through testing to evaluate flight qualities, as will the
next six aircraft. The mission systems will be installed in
three spirals, or block upgrades, in the subsequent aircraft. Although the F-35A was the first to fly, the F-35B
will be the first to enter service, scheduled for 2012,
with approximately 80 percent of the mission system’s
planned capabilities. The F-35A will follow in 2013 with
the next spiral, and the F-35C will enter service in 2015
with a full set of capabilities.
Seven AESA sets have been delivered for testing —
including flight testing in a modified BAC-111 airliner
— since December 2005, as well as 12 EODAS sensors.
Late this year, a modified Boeing 737 airliner with the
full F- 35 mission system installed will begin a testing
program. An F-35B with mission systems installed is
scheduled to begin flight resting in early 2009.
The F- 35 program is valued at more than $280 billion, with an expected production run of 2,488 aircraft
for the United States and approximately 800 for foreign air forces. ■