Pentagon Demonstrates F-35 Ability To Skirt Key Chinese, Russian Air Defense

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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A live-fire test of America’s latest response to growing anti-access threats abroad conducted Monday demonstrates the F-35 can take foreign airspace without firing a shot, reports Business Insider.

During Monday’s test at White Sands Missile Range, an unmodified U.S. Marine Corps F-35B acting as an elevated sensor detected an airborne threat beyond the horizon. Data was sent to a ground station connected to the USS Desert Ship, which eliminated the identified threat with a Raytheon Standard Missile 6 (SM-6), Lockheed Martin revealed in a statement Tuesday.

The test validates the F-35 and the Naval Integrated Fire Control Counter Air (NIFC-CA) battle network. Using this network, the stealth F-35 fighter could slip into contested airspace, identify key threats to American forces, relay the message to a land-based Aegis system or an Aegis destroyer, and allow the enemy targets to be destroyed remotely.

“One of the key defining attributes of a 5th generation fighter is the force multiplier effect it brings to joint operations through its foremost sensor fusion and external communications capabilities. Those attributes were successfully proven at White Sands Missile Range in a very realistic demonstration of distributed lethality leveraging a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B and the U.S. Navy’s Aegis Weapon System,” explained Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

“This only scratches the surface of the potential warfighting capabilities F-35 aircraft will ultimately enable across our military forces,” he added.

The F-35’s involvement in the NIFC-CA network should allay concerns about the F-35’s limited ordnance capacity. As a support fighter, backed by Aegis systems, the F-35 can deliver a hard punch to enemy targets.

“NIFC-CA is a game changer for the U.S. Navy that extends the engagement range we can detect, analyze and intercept targets,” said Dale Bennett, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems.

The SM-6 can knock out enemy aircraft, as well as incoming ballistic missiles. The latter is particularly important considering growing Chinese and Russian anti-access threats in contested areas.

Integrating the F-35 into the NIFC-CA gives the U.S. the ability to counter Russian S-400 and Chinese HQ-9 air defense systems in the Western Pacific, the Baltics, the Eastern Mediterranean, the National Interest introduced.

The SM-6 also has anti-ship capabilities, suggesting that the U.S. Navy could use the NIFC-CA system to target enemy surface units as well.

The NIFC-CA system also has the ability to be expanded beyond the U.S. Navy’s Aegis missile systems. After receiving data from the F-35, a Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, EA-18-G Growler, or submarine could launch a long-range missile to take out an enemy threat.

China’s projectile-based defense strategy, improve air defense systems, and demonstrated willingness to deploy these systems in disputed areas has raised concerns about Chinese anti-access capabilities.

In particular, China’s DF-21 and DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missiles and Type 052D Luyang III-class destroyers, all of which have been designated “carrier killers,” are regarded as serious threats to American operations in Asia, specifically the South China Sea. China’s regional HQ-9 deployments have also raised a few red flags.

The Chinese anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) threat may be much less of a problem with the F-35/NIFC-CA combo. Once the F-35 is introduced into the carrier air wing, the U.S. Navy will be better equipped to fight inside A2/AD zones; however, this is still a work in progress.

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