Weapon Systems

'Quarterback' F-35 aircraft acts as a crucial communication node for joint forces


The aircraft can use its data-sharing technology to support military action with fighter jets, ground-based missile launchers, drones, ships, satellites and more.

Share this article

An F-35 Lightning II performs during an air show in Arkansas on October 21. [US Air Force]
An F-35 Lightning II performs during an air show in Arkansas on October 21. [US Air Force]

As one of the most advanced combat jets in the world, the single-seat, single-engine, all-weather F-35 Lightning II multirole fighter-bomber has been called the "quarterback of the sky."

It combines stealth, supersonic speed, maneuverability and advanced computing to support ground attack, aerial reconnaissance and air defense missions.

Its advanced sensor package can "gather, fuse and distribute more information than any fighter in history," according to the US Air Force, providing pilots with enhanced situational awareness and making the aircraft a crucial communication link between joint forces across air, land, sea, space and cyberspace.

Not only can the F-35 accelerate critical decision-making and win the fight, it serves as an "information and communications gateway."

The aircraft can use its data-sharing technology to support military action from friendly fourth-generation aircraft like the F-16, along with other elements in a military network including ground-based missile launchers, drones, ships and satellites, Fortune reports.

In this way, the F-35 acts as a central "node" of a massive communication network.

The aircraft has been described as being "netted together." What one aircraft sees, other assets can see.

That means the F-35 could identify adversary fifth generation jets from a safe distance while simultaneously coordinating friendly fourth generation jets for interception.

Pilots say it is this "alliance effect" -- which relies on sensors, data and instantaneous communication -- that is changing warfare.

"You look at the potential adversaries out there, or the potential environments where we have to operate this airplane, the attributes that the F-35 brings -- the ability to penetrate defensive airspace, the ability to deliver precision munitions with a sensor suite that fuses data from multiple information sources -- is something our nation needs," Air Combat Command commander Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle said in 2016.

"In the F-35, we're the quarterback of the battlefield -- our job is to make everyone around us better," Maj. Justin "Hasard" Lee, an US Air Force F-35 pilot instructor, told Popular Mechanics in April 2022.

"Fourth-gen fighters like the F-16 and F-15 will be with us until at least the late 2040s. Because there are so many more of them than us, our job is to use our unique assets to shape the battlefield and make it more survivable for them."

Advanced avionics

The F-35A, used by the US Air Force, is the conventional takeoff and landing variant. The US Marine Corps uses F-35Bs, which can land vertically like a helicopter and take off in very short distances. The third variant is the US Navy's F-35Cs, the carrier variant, which can take off from any US aircraft carrier anywhere on earth.

The F-35B first went into service since 2015, followed by the F-35A in 2016 and the F-35C in 2019. As of August, 960 F-35 aircraft have been delivered so far, with about 630 going to the US military.

Completion of the 1,000th F-35 is expected by the end of 2023.

The F-35 operates from 26 bases worldwide. Nine countries -- the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Türkiye, Canada, Denmark and Norway -- were involved in its development, according to the Air Force.

Its systems are world class.

The F-35's Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System, a technology designed to save a pilot from crashing by automatically returning the aircraft to a safe altitude in the event of a loss of consciousness or target fixation, won the 2018 Robert J. Collier Trophy.

Awarded by the National Aeronautic Association, the Collier Trophy annually recognizes "the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year."

Another advanced feature of the F-35 is the pilot's helmet, an "engineering marvel that represents today's fifth-generation warfighter," Arthur De Ruiter of Collins Aerospace told The Modern Battlespace.

Unlike a traditional fourth-generation helmet, the F-35 helmet incorporates key data and presents them to the pilot on a display mounted to the helmet, De Ruiter said.

Connected to six infrared cameras around the aircraft, the helmet display provides a "360-degree view and unprecedented situational awareness."

"If the pilot looks around in certain conditions, they don't see the cockpit or even their legs," De Ruiter said. "All they see are their surroundings like terrain, with the flight crucial and mission data projected inside the helmet."

Do you like this article?

Captcha *