How the F-35 will become the quarterback for the US Marine Corps and Navy

An F-35B Lightning II takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp on May 25, 2015. | US Navy Photo

An F-35B Lightning II takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp on May 25, 2015. | US Navy Photo

The role of the F-35 in the future of air combat just got a lot clearer, and it’s going to be a star.

The F-35’s integration with Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense platforms, recently proven in a test at White Sands Missile Range, shows that the F-35 can destroy airborne enemies without firing a shot of it’s own by leveraging the US Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control Counterair network (NIFC-CA).

Also read: The F-35 just proved it can take Russian or Chinese airspace without firing a shot

Basically, the NIFC-CA uses a giant network of sensors to create targeting data that can be accessed by several naval platforms, like destroyers and other planes.

But the NIFC-CA is old. Ships first deployed with this capability in March 2015.

In the past, the Navy’s E-2 Hawkeye played the “quarterback” role in this system as an “elevated sensor” that could see airborne threats at altitude, in orbit, or flying low like a cruise missile.

However, the Hawkeye is an unarmed propeller-driven plane that only launches from aircraft carriers.

An E-2C Hawkeye from the Bluetails of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 121 lands aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). US Navy Photo

An E-2C Hawkeye from the Bluetails of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 121 lands aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. | US Navy Photo

Now, the F-35 can do everything the Hawkeye did, and much, much more. For one, the F-35 is armed and can take out targets on its own. Secondly, it is a stealthy, fast jet fighter that can slip in and out of enemy defenses unnoticed.

Third, it has the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL), a system originally devised to communicate between F-35s that has now been expanded to participate in the NIFC-CA.

MADL provides significant advantages over traditional systems of transmission, namely that it’s very difficult to jam. Adversaries have never seen anything like the MADL, and if they ever do figure out how to disrupt it, it will certainly take some time.

When the F-35 program reaches its maturation point about a dozen US allies will be flying the Joint Strike Fighter. They will all have the ability to contribute targeting data to their own fleets as well as that of allied nations. So an Australian F-35 could transmit data to a nearby South Korean Aegis-equipped destroyer and take out a distant target, no problem.

The South Korean Navy's Sejong the Great, their Aegis-equipped ship, during the 2008 Busan International Fleet Review. | US Navy

The South Korean Navy’s Sejong the Great, their Aegis-equipped ship, during the 2008 Busan International Fleet Review. | US Navy

The applications and versatility of the F-35’s MADL has surprised even those close to the program.

“Originally we didn’t think F-35s would use through datalinks directly to ships… This gives them the ability to talk directly to the ship with a very hard to detect very hard to jam MADL link,” retired Navy officer Bran Clark told USNI News.

TOP ARTICLES
SpaceX launching a third top-secret satellite

SpaceX is launching a secretive mission this month. The mission, shrouded in secrecy, has some considering it may be for the CIA or the NSA.

This is how the Air Force will use prop planes on high-tech battlefields

The Air Force is looking toward a light-attack aircraft program, known as OA-X, to produce a plane that meets its needs and gets the job done.

A retired SEAL commander on how to stop thinking and 'get after it' every day

This former Navy commander has some excellent advice on how to jump start your day, and "get some" in order to make it as productive as possible.

Marines return to battle in 'old stomping grounds'

The Marines recall their "old stomping grounds" as they return to Fallujah and the surround areas of Al Anbar Province to battle a new enemy.

How Chinese drones are set to swarm the global market

China has stepped up it's drone game, and even though United States technology can still compete, China's drones are kind of really in demand.

That time two countries' Special Forces squared off in combat

In an area the size of the Falkland Islands, British and Argentine special operators were bound to run into each other at some point – a lot.

5 times pilots got in trouble for having fun in the sky

When pilots decide to do some fancy flying in their high-performance fighters, it can land them in trouble once they're back on the ground.

This is why Nazis dubbed these paratroopers 'devils in baggy pants'

"American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night," wrote one German commander.

9 ISIS weapon fails that you have to see to believe

Many bad guys just want record themselves laying rounds down range for social media purposes — and we're glad they did. Laugh away, America!

US Army recruitment campaigns, ranked from worst to best

Advertising can really impact recruitment for the military. For better or for worse, here are some of the Army's most memorable slogans...