In Depth

Breaking Barriers: Five F-35A Capabilities that Revolutionize Warfare

September 18, 2017

Seventy years ago, a thunderous roar ripped across the skies of the Mojave Desert as the budding U.S. Air Force (USAF) broke the barrier of sound. Since that arid autumn day in 1947, the USAF has been breaking down barriers to provide our nation with the asymmetric advantage that only airpower can bring. Continuing the legacy is the F-35A Lightning II, the world’s most advanced 5th Generation air system.

Breaking Barriers to Build the F-35 Lightning II

It’s been said that barriers are meant to be broken, and the F-35A Lightning II has certainly proven that statement to be true. With its aerodynamic performance, advanced avionics and next-generation stealth, the F-35A’s cutting-edge technology will enable the USAF to continuously adapt, enabling a quick response to the ever-changing battlespace.

Here are five F-35A capabilities that break barriers and continue to help the USAF achieve mission success.

1.Breaking the Stealth Barrier

Virtually undetectable to an enemy that cannot hide, the F-35A gives the USAF and allies the power to dominate the skies. Stealth is not invisibility, rather, low observable stealth gives the F-35A the ability to elude or greatly complicate an enemy’s ability to find and defeat an aircraft. The F-35A’s external shape, internal carriage of weapons and fuel, embedded mission systems sensors, and state of the art manufacturing processes all contribute to the F-35’s unique stealth performance. The aircraft’s stealth provides today’s Airmen with greater survivability and lethality, allowing pilots to operate in contested areas that once denied legacy fighters.

2.Breaking the Communication Barrier

When it comes to having a ‘quarterback’ for the USAF, the F-35A is clearly the aircraft for the job. By design, the F-35A was built to serve as a communications hub. The aircraft’s advanced sensor package is designed to gather and distribute more information than any fighter in history, giving operators a decisive advantage over all adversaries. It also has the ability to process the information a pilot needs and organize it into an easy-to-read display on the two large touch screens in the cockpit. The F-35A’s advanced avionics create a single integrated picture of the battlefield, giving Airmen real-time access with 360 degree coverage. Through secure datalinks, this data is automatically shared with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground, providing an instantaneous, high-fidelity view of ongoing operations — making the F-35A a formidable force multiplier while enhancing coalition operations. These capabilities allow the F-35A to lead the entire defense community in the migration to the net-centric war fighting force of the future.

3.Breaking the Technology Barrier

The F-35A’s advanced sensor technology is intended to recognize enemy threats at much further distances - enabling earlier, longer-range attacks to destroy threats in the air. Its Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar is designed to enable F-35A pilots to effectively engage air and ground targets at long range, while also providing outstanding situational awareness for enhanced survivability. Additionally, the aircraft is equipped with the Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS). The internally mounted EOTS, located on the bottom of the F-35A’s nose, provides extended range detection and precision targeting against ground targets, plus long range detection of air-to-air threats. The F-35A’s advanced technology enables Airmen to enter the air battlespace first, clearing the way with air dominance for follow-on coalition forces to operate with relative impunity.

4.Breaking the Situational Awareness Barrier

The F-35 helmet takes virtual reality to the next level. The Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) 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-35A’s Distributed Aperture System (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. With mission systems integration and outstanding over-the-nose visibility, the helmet is designed to dramatically enhance pilot performance.

5.Breaking the Cost Barrier: A Multi Role Fighter

By design, the conventional takeoff and landing F-35A was built to replace aging fighter inventories. The F-35A was built to conduct multiple missions and fulfill several roles. Additionally, the F-35 is a multi-service fighter with three distinct variants and one common air frame. Component commonality across all three variants significantly reduces manufacturing, supply chain, support and training costs. And the ability to use built-in mission systems technology eliminates the cost of expensive external pods that legacy aircraft must use.

F-35 unit costs have declined by more than 60% since the first production lot, and the price of an F-35A has dropped to $94.6 million – making it a 5th Generation air system at a 4th Generation fighter price. The F-35A’s versatility and adaptability support the USAF’s mission of breaking the cost barrier while also maintaining air combat superiority.