How Stealth F‑35s Could Help the U.S. Army Defeat Any Foe

 In Land, Intelligence, Air, Forces & Capabilities

Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona — An advanc­ing infantry unit breaks through a thick wall of enemy fight­ers when sud­den­ly, while under heavy fire, sol­diers on the ground receive incom­ing tar­get­ing data from an over­head F‑35 show­ing that their unit will soon encounter a mas­sive, mech­a­nized force of enemy armored vehi­cles. 

Moving quick­ly with little heavy fire sup­port, the advanc­ing Infantry Brigade Combat Team real­izes it should await air and ground rein­force­ments before moving to “close with the enemy” at the next phase of the assault.  The ground unit is then able to send intel­li­gence details relat­ed to the enemy force up to the F-35, which then drops pre­ci­sion-guided bombs onto the enemy for­ma­tions. Using its web of inte­grat­ed sen­sors, the F‑35 is able to syn­the­size ground nav­i­ga­tion details with tar­get­ing intel­li­gence received from Army units to per­form Close-Air-Support, firing air-to-ground mis­siles and even its 25mm cannon at oppos­ing forces to clear the way for a con­tin­ued ground assault.  

The kind of poten­tial sce­nario, where­in air-ground intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and weapons-relat­ed specifics of great tac­ti­cal rel­e­vance are shared between ground units and an F‑35, could opti­mize tar­get­ing, data-networking and pre­vi­ous­ly impos­si­ble tac­ti­cal meth­ods of attack.  This inte­gra­tion has long been a goal for Pentagon, Army and Air Force weapons devel­op­ers pur­su­ing Multi-Domain Operations. Now… it is a real­i­ty. 

During a mas­sive Army live-fire event called Project Convergence 2020 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., Marine Corps F-35Bs net­worked with Army ground sol­diers as part of an exper­i­ment to advance Multi-Domain, joint tac­tics on the tac­ti­cal edge, to a new level.

“We were able to pass ground tar­gets to the F‑35 so the F‑35 could “effect” those tar­gets, and we were able to pass target infor­ma­tion from an F‑35 to ground units so we could deliv­er effec­tive fires in sup­port of their efforts,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, Director, Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team, Army Futures Command, told reporters in Yuma, Ariz. during Project Convergence 2020.   

While the F‑35 is a 5th-Gen multi-role fighter armed for air-to-air combat and many key mis­sions intend­ed to ensure air suprema­cy, the mil­i­tary ser­vices con­tin­ue to uncov­er new tac­ti­cal advan­tages poten­tial­ly offered by the F‑35 for a high-tech bat­tle­field. Of course, its drone-like ISR capa­bil­i­ties are known, advancements in areas of AI-enabled tar­get­ing, high-res­o­lu­tion, long-range sen­sors and nav­i­ga­tion­al sys­tems bring new added tac­ti­cal ben­e­fits to the F‑35’s abil­i­ty to sup­port ground forces. For exam­ple, the air­craft is fast-acquir­ing new data link inter­op­er­abil­i­ty to exchange information with oth­er­wise sep­a­rat­ed ele­ments of the joint force, giving it more cross-domain attack func­tion­al­i­ty.  

The infor­ma­tion exchanges are dual-path, mean­ing advanc­ing ground units can uti­lize ground-oper­at­ed radar, sen­sors or recon­nais­sance units to pass cru­cial data up to F-35, such as detail about hidden targets less detectable from the air. Perhaps enemy air defens­es are buried beneath uneven ter­rain or high-value tar­gets are only dis­cov­ered by ground recon units? With air-ground con­nec­tiv­i­ty advanc­ing to new levels, an F‑35 would be much better posi­tioned to attack. 

Finally, the F‑35 is also, by design, increas­ing­ly being devel­oped for Close-Air-Support; the jet does not have an A-10-like tita­ni­um armored hull or thought of as a “flying tank” per say, it can use tar­get­ing, speed, maneuverability and advanced sen­sors to move into posi­tions from which it can pro­vide close-in air fires to maneu­ver­ing units on the ground. 

The exper­i­ment is gen­er­at­ing some enthu­si­asm among Army weapons devel­op­ers who are already plan­ning exten­sive F-35 integration in next-years Project Convergence 2021. 

“It’s a really huge mile­stone. What is even more impor­tant is that what we learned here is going to help the entire joint force and coali­tion force,” Coffman added. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn pre­vi­ous­ly served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army — Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air mil­i­tary spe­cial­ist at nation­al TV net­works. He has appeared as a guest mil­i­tary expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

National Interest source|articles

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