Lockheed Martin’s F-35: How the Joint Strike Fighter is Becoming a Key Missile Defense Sensor

    Dan Goure


    The JSF will be able to provide critical formation in support of other air and missile defense systems.

    Airpower enthusiasts have long promised that the introduction of fifth generation combat aircraft, particularly the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) when it is finally fielded in numbers, will change the nature of air warfare. The F-35’s combination of stealth, maneuverability, its Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, passive sensors and battle management software makes it ideal as both a strike platform and a forward operating sensor.

    At last year’s Red Flag exercises, the F-35A racked up an impressive 15:1 kill ratio. It can locate and attack advanced surface-to-air threats with pinpoint accuracy, blowing holes in hostile air defenses through which non-stealthy aircraft can advance. It can also operate in stealth mode, employing its advanced sensors to multiply the effectiveness of older aircraft in air-to-air combat.

    More importantly, the JSF improves the effectiveness of other Air Force capabilities. One Air Force pilot familiar with efforts to develop new concepts of operations for exploiting the unique attributes of fifth-generation fighters, explained their impact on future air warfare this way:

    “Before…we would need to have the entire intelligence, surveillance, & reconnaissance (ISR) constellation of aircraft and satellites all working together to get us some information that’s going to be pretty old by the time they reach the target. Now, instead of waiting for all that stuff to be built in at an Air Operation Center somewhere, that information is now being immediately displayed to people that are in aircraft in the AO (Area of Operations) that can immediately apply some sort of effect, either kinetic (e.g. missiles) or non-kinetic (e.g. jamming).”

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