Nobody is going to be allowed to play around with the software that controls the F-35’s electronic warfare package.
After a long period of obtuse answers about whether foreign customers would be able to put their own systems in F-35 or customize the software themselves, the issue has been clarified.
“No,” says Maj. Gen. Charles Davis, program executive officers of the Joint Strike Fighter program. The super-classified software allows electronic surveillance, detection, identification, self-defense and attack. A software-run techniques generator also will be able to send algorithm data streams carrying false information into enemy sensors and antennas.
The Israeli firms of Elbit and Elta had been disappointed at their lack of participation in the F-35 program and saw the EW system as perhaps their last chance to be involved. Their argument is that Israel has a completely different set of threat priorities than the U.S.
“They are going to buy aircraft that have basically the same capability as all the others,” Davis says. “They are trying to do a requirements analyses for future missions. Those mission [refinements] would be submitted through Lockheed Martin [and other contractors]. That [customization] is doable through software. It is not doable by Israelis sticking boxes in the airplane. [Elbit and Elta being involved] is not an option,” he says.
Israel Defense Forces are looking at an initial buy of 25-50 F-35As. They abandoned the idea of a STOVL force when they saw the price, weight, range and payload penalties associated with the design compared to a conventional takeoff aircraft.
In the U.S., among the various services, there has been an open question – given that the design can be modified to carry an electronic warfare officer – about whether some future variant of the F-35 would be transformed into a specialized electronic warfare/attack specialty aircraft. It is under study but the likelihood seems to be diminishing.
“I think electronic [warfare] will simply be a mission area [each] airplane performs,” says Heinz. “I do not believe I’m [moving toward] special variant type airplanes. Holistically, the requirements guys are looking at how can they can meet the [EW/A] requirement within the number of aircraft that will be available jointly. I will be able to cover some bands in the spectrum [due to electronic techniques amplified through the advanced radar].
“There will be podded additions [like Next Generation Jammer] that can go on the aircraft,” he says. “But, we’re surmising a technical solution without knowing the requirement. Today, we have a pretty good understanding of the bands that need to be recovered. I think NGJ as it grows will have several applications including boxes that go inside an airplane or small pods that can go on the exterior of a number of platforms.
“I’m going to build to the gap that the requirements people believe exists today,” Heinz says. “It may be a multi-platform solution and not one dedicated to an individual platform for a specific mission. We’re still going through that.
Specialists are also still ironing out the threat and target set for F-35s.
By 2014 the F-35 community will begin establishing its relationship with the Air Armament Center at Eglin where the service develops it new kinetic and non-kinetic weapons and studies the introduction of new missions. For example, all the initial F-35 Block 0.5 aircraft, because of their advanced electronically scanned array radars, will arrive capable of training for cruise missile defense.
But, “It’s not just weapons threats,” Davis says. “You have to decide where you’re going to attack that kill chain at with electronic warfare. We’re ready to penetrate and do electronic warfare, we need a program to go do it and people need to tell us their requirements. We’re not there yet.”