By Bijan Razzaghi
The F-35A made its IOC July31st 2016 This made the US Air force the second US air arm to be equipped with the fifth generation fighter after the Marine’s and will be the air force’s second fully operational fifth generation fighter. The first squadron was stood up at Luke Air force Base in Utah and will ultimately replace the F-16 in US Air Force service as well as the A-10C which remains controversial. The fighters IOC will come with the ability to fire the AMRAAM missile, and drop Paveway, and JDAM 2000Ib bombs internally as well as the 250Ib SDBs. The aircraft will be capable of providing close air support, air interdiction and strike mission’s.
While the US Air Force already has 187 fifth generation F-22 Raptors in service which offer similar capability’s the F-22 is primarily designed as an Air Superiority fighter with a strike capability yet their strike payload is lighter then the F-35A with the F-22 being able to carry only two 1000ib JDAM bombs while the F-35A can carry two 2000ib bombs. The F-35 also has a dedicated visual targeting pod based on the Lockheed Martin Sniper Pod it is built into the aircraft’s nose giving the pilot advanced visual identification of targets making the F-35 better optimized for air to ground missions including those against moving targets and infantry.
Combined with the strong air to ground capability offered by the F-35A the Strike Fighter’s stealth allows their pilots to get closer then ever before to deadly surface to air missile sites such as the S-300V and HQ-9 , this also protects the aircraft from being detected by other enemy fighters during attack missions. The F-35s stealth will allow it to function as an effective SEAD platform being able to visually identify SAM, s with the targeting pod and destroying them using SDB, s and JDAM, s before being detected. Previously strike packages of F-16s supported by ECM and Jamming aircraft would have to fly low and penetrate enemy defenses and use AGM-88 HARM missile’s to take out the SAM sites. Although this was effective in past air wars including 2011s strike on Libya country’s like North Korea possess advanced air defense networks that can threaten existing fourth generation fighters.
The F-35 brings the air force situational awareness through sensor fusion technology and AESA radar. The APG-81 Advanced Electronically scanned array radar gives to the second updated target information along with the aircraft’s RWR the central computer can paint a picture for the pilot identifying all nearby by threats from aircraft to SAMs to surface vessels. This gives the pilot more time to spend on flying the aircraft rather then checking multiple systems at the same time allowing for faster reaction time then in previous 4th generation platforms. The overall capabilities of the F-35A will make for a more capable Air force and complement the successful F-22s already in service.