Weapon Systems

Advanced computing enables F-35 Lightning II's global threat deterrence


The F-35's advanced sensor suite, combined with its stealth capabilities and firepower, offers an unparalleled advantage to pilots and their military communications network.

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An F-35A Lightning performs a pass during an airshow over Belgium on September 8. [US Air Force]
An F-35A Lightning performs a pass during an airshow over Belgium on September 8. [US Air Force]

Designed for air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, the single-seat, single-engine, multi-role F-35 Lightning II can be equipped with powerful precision munitions -- but it is both firepower and computing power that makes it stand out as a next-level fifth-generation aircraft.

The F-35's advanced sensor technology, designed to give pilots the upper hand in any threat environment, has also earned it the nickname "a computer that happens to fly," according to ExecutiveGov.

Pilots who fly the F-35 say the all-weather aircraft stands apart from legacy fourth-generation models because of its advanced sensor fusion suite, which collects and analyzes vast amounts of battlefield information and displays it for the pilot, creating unparalleled situational awareness.

"Applying the system of sensor fusion reduces pilot workload and allows the pilots to have a situational 'bubble' so that they're more than just a pilot and they're more than a sensor manager. They're true tacticians," F-35 test pilot Tony "Brick" Wilson told Warrior Maven.

"The fact that the pilot has the spare capacity increases survivability and makes them more lethal."

The Lighting II comes in three models.

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.

F-35s are also flown by allies around the world, and the global fleet of F-35 aircraft grew to more than 990 in 2023, "fueling shared global deterrence through interoperability and cooperation," according to its manufacturer.

Communications 'node'

The F-35 is designed with low-observable technology, rendering it nearly invisible on enemy radar. Because of this trait, the aircraft can play a crucial role in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

In stealth mode, it is able to target or collect data on enemy sites using its advanced sensors, without being detected.

Moreover, the fighter's data-sharing technology allows it to function as a central "node" in a communications network that links friendly forces across air, land, sea and cyberspace.

It can enhance the capabilities of allied fourth-generation aircraft by acting as their "eyes in the sky," sharing data on targets and potential threats and helping coordinate the actions of friendly aircraft, all while remaining undetected by the enemy.

"The F-35 can use its stealthiness and advanced sensors to penetrate hostile air defenses and destroy critical targets, while simultaneously providing critical targeting data to other shooters in multiple domains," reports 19fortyfive.com.

F-35s incorporate some of the same functions as Airborne Warning & Control System (AWACS) aircraft, which detect and track potentially hostile air, sea or surface craft using sensors and radar.

F-35s can locate and track threats with their active electronically scanned array radars, and its advanced electronic warfare capabilities allow it to jam radio frequencies and disrupt attacks, according to its manufacturer.

A sign of US commitment

While Israel remains the only country in the Middle East to fly its own fleet of F-35s, US Central Command (CENTCOM) and US Air Forces Central (AFCENT) have deployed F-35s to the Middle East region in recent years to help with joint threat deterrence.

For example, a dozen US Air Force F-35s were deployed to the Middle East last July to enhance CENTCOM's airpower in the region and deter Iran from seizing oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, reported Air & Space Forces Magazine.

The deployment alongside US allies, which ended in late September, also helped deter Russian warplanes from harassing US aircraft over Syria.

Just days after that deployment ended, US officials said they would deploy F-35, F-15, F-16 and A-10 jets to the region in response to Hamas' terrorist attack on Israel on October 7.

The deployment of the F-35s in response to the specific threats shows the continued commitment of the United States to the Middle East region despite posture reductions there, AFCENT commander Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich told reporters October 4 at a Defense Writers Group event.

"It shows that our American strategy has been, with our posture being less than once was, we've shown a commitment to bring forces in for either major exercises for assurance purposes or when a threat required it," Grynkewich said.

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