Monday, November 19, 2012

F-35's electronic warfare (EW) capability

There's a lot of speculation out there about the electronic warfare (EW) capabilities or, if you listen to critics, lack thereof, on the F-35.  Of course we're talking about a highly classified system, so getting precise information on the EW capabilities of the aircraft is somewhat tough.  But many times you can learn as much by what isn't said as what is said.

Here, Lockheed Martin VP Stephan O'Bryan talks about that EW capability:
Much speculation has swirled around the question of the F-35’s electronic warfare and electronic attack capabilities. The Air Force has resolutely refused to discuss any specifics. Yet experts have pointed out that, in its most recent EW/EA roadmap, USAF has failed to mention any plans for a dedicated jamming aircraft. It is a conspicuous omission.

O’Bryan certainly couldn’t go into the subject of the fighter’s EW/EA suite in any detail, or the way it might coordinate with specialized aircraft such as the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System, RC-135 Rivet Joint, E-8 JSTARS, or EA-18G Growler jammer aircraft.

He did say, however, that F-35 requirements call for it to go into battle with "no support whatever" from these systems.

"I don’t know a pilot alive who wouldn’t want whatever support he can get," O’Bryan acknowledged. "But the requirements that we were given to build the airplane didn’t have any support functions built in. In other words, we had to find the target, ... penetrate the anti-access [defenses], ... ID the target, and ... destroy it by ourselves."

O’Bryan said the power of the F-35’s EW/EA systems can be inferred from the fact that the Marine Corps "is going to replace its EA-6B [a dedicated jamming aircraft] with the baseline F-35B" with no additional pods or internal systems.

Asked about the Air Force’s plans, O’Bryan answered with several rhetorical questions: "Are they investing in a big jammer fleet? Are they buying [EA-18G] Growlers?" Then he said, "There’s a capability here."

O’Bryan went on to say that the electronic warfare capability on the F-35A "is as good as, or better than, [that of the] fourth generation airplanes specifically built for that purpose." The F-35’s "sensitivity" and processing power—a great deal of it automated—coupled with the sensor fusion of internal and offboard systems, give the pilot unprecedented situational awareness as well as the ability to detect, locate, and target specific systems that need to be disrupted.
Obviously O'Bryan is going to present the system in the best possible light for his employer.  That's to be expected and weighed when considering the system.  But he doesn't make those decisions for the USAF or USMC.   One assumes their decisions were made based on mission requirements and capabilities.  And it appears those two services see, in the F-35, an aircraft that fulfills their EW mission requirements with its EW capabilities.

Short and sweet, these two services apparently see what they need in the F-35s EW capability.  They know how important that capability is to success in any air battle and eventually, the ground battle.  The beauty of the F-35, of course, is it is configured not only to do the EW mission, but then upon completion, continue on with a strike mission without having to land and reconfigure the aircraft.

The point, of course, is this fighter is going to mean an entirely new way of thinking about how to employ and deploy multi-role fighters.  And the promise, of course, is a radical improvement in their capability and thus their effectiveness over similar 4th generation aircraft.


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