F-35 Full Mission Systems Coverage

Mission Systems and Sensor Fusion

The term “mission systems” refers to the F-35's operating software, avionics, integrated electronic sensors, displays and communications systems that collect and share data with the pilot and other friendly aircraft, providing unmatched situational awareness at sea, in the air and on the ground.

The F-35 has the most robust communications suite of any fighter aircraft built to date. It will also be the first fighter to possess a satellite-linked communications capability that integrates beyond line-of-sight communications throughout the spectrum of missions it is tasked to perform.

Sensor Fusion

The F-35’s advanced sensor fusion enables pilots to draw on information from all of their on-board sensors to create a single integrated picture of the battlefield. All of the information gathered is then automatically shared with other pilots and command and control operating centers on their network using the most modern datalinks. These secure datalinks, such as the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL), will enable pilots to share data with other strike aircraft as well as other airborne, surface and ground-based platforms required to perform assigned missions.

Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar

The F-35’s Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar is designed to enable F-35 pilots to effectively engage air and ground targets at long range, while also providing outstanding situational awareness for enhanced survivability. AESA's solid-state technology and elimination of mechanical moving parts will enable the radar to far surpass current standards for systems reliability. 

Distributed Aperture System

The F-35’s Distributed Aperture System (DAS), developed by Northrop Grumman, is the only 360-degree, spherical situational awareness system. The DAS sends high resolution real-time imagery to the pilot’s helmet from six infrared cameras mounted around the aircraft, allowing pilots to see the environment around them – day or night – without loss of quality or clarity. With the ability to detect and track approaching aircraft from any angle, the DAS also greatly reduces the potential for mid-air collisions and virtually eliminates surprises.

The DAS is completely integrated with other sensors within the aircraft, so if the F-35′s radar detects something of interest, DAS’s software will closely analyze it and make the pilot aware of potential threats. When there are multiple threats, the DAS is able to identify the highest value targets and recommend the order in which to deal with each threat. This “data fusion” provides F-35 pilots with a significant advantage over other pilots, simplifying and managing a vast array of information for the pilot, who must quickly evaluate a complex range of options in a hostile, tactical air combat environment.

The DAS provides:

  • Missile detection and tracking
  • Launch point detection
  • Situational awareness IRST & cueing
  • Weapons support
  • Day/night navigation
  • Fire control capability
  • Precision tracking of wingmen/friendly aircraft for tactical maneuvering.

Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS)

The F-35’s Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) is the world's first and only sensor that combines forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and infrared search and track (IRST) functionality. The high-performance, lightweight, multi-function system enhances F-35 pilots’ situational awareness and provides precision air-to-air and air-to-surface targeting capabilities.

The low-drag, stealthy EOTS is integrated into the F-35’s fuselage with a durable sapphire window and is linked to the aircraft's integrated central computer through a high-speed fiber-optic interface.

“[The F-35] brings an unprecedented sensor fusion with the radar and its optical capabilities, its data link capabilities and its radar warning receiver capabilities. It's going to be our multirole fighter for the Air Force and provide close-air support missions, offensive counter air, defensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defenses and the destruction of enemy air defenses.”
—Lt. Col. Carl Schaefer, Joint Strike Fighter Integration Office

Helmet Mounted Display Systems

The F-35’s Helmet Mounted Display Systems provide pilots with unprecedented situational awareness. All the information pilots need to complete their missions – airspeed, heading, altitude, targeting information and warnings – is projected on the helmet’s visor, rather than on a traditional Heads-up Display on the canopy widescreen.

The F-35’s DAS streams real-time imagery to the helmet from six infrared cameras mounted around the aircraft, allowing pilots to “look through” the airplane. Using this technology, pilots can see the entire environment surrounding them. The helmet also provides pilots with infrared night vision through the use of an integrated camera, making images in total darkness look exactly like what they would see in daylight.

Communications, Navigation and Identification (CNI) Avionics System

The Communications, Navigation and Identification (CNI) system is the most advanced integrated avionics system ever engineered. The integrated CNI is developed by Northrop Grumman and provides F-35 pilots with the capability of more than 27 avionics functions. Using software-defined radio technology, the CNI allows for simultaneous operation of multiple critical functions, such as identification friend or foe, precision navigation, and various voice and data communications, while greatly reducing size, weight and power demands.