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Joint Strike Fighter an instrument of Power Projection, not just another fighter
by Scott N. Romaniuk and Tobias J. Burgers
Trento, Italy (SPX) Oct 26, 2016

File image.

America's F-35 has earned the unfair sobriquet as the nation's "worst fighter jet ever." However, this singular vision of Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike "Fighter" (JSF) as a fighter jet has failed to give credit to its capabilities when coupled with other forms of advanced technology finding their way into every nook and cranny of military arsenals and operational platforms.

It is precisely this jointness, which sets it apart from 4th generation fighters (still evolving, still relevant today), and which gave the jets its appropriate name of joint strike fighter. In this, the F-35 has advanced beyond the "F" designation and should be judged as a multirole platform - one in a larger framework of multitude of advanced platforms.

F-35 technology combined with the capabilities of highly trained pilots, and the many platforms it works with, opens the way for an advantageous awareness of what's out there and well beyond the immediate periphery of the aircraft. In this, the JSF moves beyond the long-hold dominance and concept that "first sight wins the fight."

Instead it seeks through the use/relationship of other systems to gain this first sight - and can mobilize a range of distant systems to win the fight. The drone component of this relationship, for example, help fighter pilots with reconnaissance, sensing tracking, and targeting, enabling this much desired first sight. They build on the existing technology to create a unique situational awareness (SA) or a combination of technological functions to build contingent knowledge and responsiveness.

Commander, Air Combat Command, US Air Force (USAF), Gen. Mike Hostage, previously stated, "What we've done with the 5th Generation [aircraft] is the computer takes all those sensory inputs, fuses it into information.

The pilot sees a beautiful God's eye view of what's going on." The pilot might not have physical first sight, but surely the first electronic one. As in much of the rest of the military spaces, electronic sensing and warfare are moving to the forefront of defense capabilities and security.

Using electromagnetic and directed energy to harness the potential of the electromagnetic spectrum as part of one's attack profile refers to EW. It involves three sub-components: electronic attack, electronic protection, and electronic warfare support.

Sensor fusion and machines perception combines with the pilot's natural abilities, which can be easily inhibited by physical objects, to allow the pilot to see through the innovative technology inherent within the aircraft and the operator's suit - This is more than innovative, it change the entire experience of war, enhancing the control component in war.

Seeing in all directions and for over 1,000 kilometers affords the F-35 operator a distinctly rare advantage. This takes place within a single jet. Amplify these military capabilities by 3, 5, or 10 given the size of a swarm of F-35s flying together and the group can multiply its combined capabilities many times over - each aircraft is synergy enhanced. This takes the idea of the German Rudeltaktik (or Wolf Packs) to greater and more intensive depths.

Stand-off jamming in each aircraft results in an advanced mutual protection, enabling the machines to operate closer to a known threat - essentially being at the threat itself - than in the case of a legacy fighter jet.

The 5th generation (or what we'd prefer to call the new epochal) aircraft has become far more than a tactical instrument but has become an even stronger tactical instrument given its broad applications and magnification of its existing C-5 ISR/D cockpit.

One of the most impressive features of the F-35, not just because of what it can currently do within the jet itself, but what can come of its application in different tactical scenarios, is the Distributed Aperture System (DAS).

The system includes numerous cameras installed around a machine like the F-35, with each camera focusing in a different direction, sort of like a spider with multiple eyes managing different vision tasks. Numerous imaged are merged to form non-stop video sphere. The technology also operates in complete darkness enabling the aircraft to perform its function at any time and in virtually any conditions.

"DAS, especially when integrated with a variety of other passive and active sensors, offers an extremely elevated form of situational awareness, as well as targeting quality tracking data and automatic contact recognition. With this in mind, the creative folks at Northrop Grumman have adapted DAS for service at sea, in a system ominously named 'Silent Watch,'" writes AviationIntel.com.

Rather than seeing the F-35 as a single jet fighter, it should be taken as a comprehensive mobile combat system and a manifestation of the idea of power projection in ways that will continue to unfold in the coming decades. Much of the culture of military and security thinking is linked to the technology that state's militaries are able to employ.

For many, the view to making the most of a military revolution has been fogged over by costs and equipment problems, not to mention justifications for investing in complex systems that on the surface appear to add an increasingly redundant or negative element to the military asymmetry that exists in the post-9/11 era. JSF technology and how it can be applied sets us up for, at least beginning, to envision how we could occupy specific roles in the distant security environment - how we might operate in 2050, maybe further.

Because the F-35 has stealth tailored directly into it, the addition of other stealth units into the surveillance and combat enterprise can yield even more fruitful outcomes. We have to look beyond the F-35 as a single unit, something operating on its own or as an upgraded version of what we've been using for the past several decades.

In unison with existing land, sea, and air systems, the F-35 is a strategic enabler of existing military forces in either combat situations or in those focusing on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), because no single part of any military is engaged in combat or non-combat missions alone.

The pressure to think in force-multiplier terms is continuously growing. This comes as a result of many factors, including financial constraints felt by the US and its friends overseas in addition to the changing nature of lingering threats that require more us to have eyes than ever before.

Embracing the idea of "Tron warfare" is about embracing the need to leverage existing abilities, augmenting strength by investing in budding technology and platforms, working collaboratively with existing systems, and seeking to project power with power that's already there.

The F-35 does exactly this. At the same time though despite its jointness, the JSF excels foremost in such high-tech warfare environment. It is however not a platform that is suited for a multitude of roles and conflict scenarios.

The "joint" in JSF should stand for the fact that the machine enables joint operations, not joint roles conducted by a single machine. Users of the F-35 should keep this thoroughly in mind, and ensure that the jet is used for the right roles.

That means leaving other roles to other planes. The F-35 will never be an A-10 or an F-15, nor should it be since the F-35 can enable the A-10, F-15, or F-22 to operate more effectively in their singular roles.

As national security threats and demands placed on the existing military and military platforms continue to change and gain in strength, the F-35's entire system architecture can be upgraded and follow the pace of system upgrades across other military services as well.

So long as upgrades are being made within the US military and its Allies, the F-35 will continue to upgrade. Mutual upgrades result in valuable feedback cycle. One of those upgrades will likely include the ability to pursue the need to command hypersonic ventures.

As other states such as Russia invests in hypersonic technology development for military purposes, the US has a head start with its current fighter. In 2007, the US military asserted that its future jets will remain subsonic in order to remain cost-effective, though investing in the F-35 signals a step in the opposite direction. Today's jetliners fly at 40,000 feet, the Eurofighter Typhoon as a service ceiling of 65,000 feet, the U-2 spy plane has an operational ceiling of 70,000 feet.

Russia's conceptual Tupolev PAK-DA stealth bomber is projected to sail at 328,000 feet (or 100 kilometers), and carry nuclear warheads. It's likely that Russia's pursuit will continue to inform those of the US and its future administrations. Tracing back about half-a-century, then-US Senator Lyndon B. Johnson cautioned the US and its allies that he who controls space, controls the world.

The pursuits of other states, however, call the attention of the F-35 and its sensor engine technology. As a case in point, F-35s and their integrated or collaborative technology should thrive in the South China Sea (SCS), providing critical imagery of friendly and potentially hostile activity across thousands of kilometers of space. Tensions are continuing to mount in the SCS and with the advent of new drone actors in the region, the F-35's capabilities have much to offer in one of the world's most militarized regions - with territorial claims now made by China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and Taiwan.

No doubt, the US will find it increasingly tough to maintain access in various forms to the SCS. In particular, access is likely to be hindered by China, but indeed other states could also block American access. With fewer ships in place, the US could lose its position in the region. This is where the F-35 comes into play, which would bring together stealth capabilities and advanced avionics, put more eyes into the theater of operations, and let US military leaders know exactly what's coming in, what's moving out, and what's going on at any given moment.

Bypassing anti-access threats could come at a high price for the US in the SCS and other operational environments as in parts of Africa, for instance. Accordingly, the ability to capture and maintain foreign airspace, or even simply access foreign airspace at will, could be a game-changer for the game-changes. F-35 access over the SCS cannot be restricted the way that US warships can be. F-35 presence could likely re-establish any loss of anti-threat capabilities.

Testing that took place during September 2016 confirmed the reliability of the F-35 and Naval Integrated Fire Control Counter Air battle (NIFC-CA) network in place. F-35s can swiftly enter, identify threats, exit, and relay the information back instantly so that it can be used for anti-threat operations. The SCS provides just one of numerous scenarios where the collaborative characteristics of the F-35 will be increasingly critical to maintaining security for the US and its partners by locating and identifying absolutely everything that moves.

Scott N. Romaniuk is a PhD Researcher in the School of International Studies, University of Trento, is the Editor of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Modern War (2015) and The Palgrave Handbook of Global Counterterrorism Policy (forthcoming). He specializes in international relations, security studies, terrorism, and political violence.

Tobias J. Burgers is a Doctoral Researcher at the Otto Suhr Institute, Free University Berlin, from which he holds a Master's in Political Science. His research interests include the impact of cyber and robotic technology on security dynamics, East-Asian security relations, maritime security and the future of conflict.

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