By Bijan Razzaghi
The F-35A and B have both officially been used in combat operations both having delivered ordinance in Syria and Afghanistan. The first air strike took place in May over Syria when F-35I Adirs conducted airstrikes against Pro Assad Forces. Syrian Air Defense forces attempted to engage the aircraft firing several missiles with zero hits. Than in September 2018 F-35Bs engaged Taliban forces during a close air support operation in Afghanistan. The aircraft took off from the USS Essex a Wasp Class LHC in the Arabian Sea, refueled and engaged their targets stopping over at Kandahar Air base after the sortie. Based on all official reports the mission went smooth ,these two examples have shown the F-35s reliability and survivability in combat environments, taking away previous concerns of software malfunctions and other issues. Both F-35s employed the latest 3F software allowing for a full employment of weapon systems and a full flight envelope. This includes a G load Factor of 9 F-35A and 7.5 F-35B. These operations are likely not to be the last as coalition forces continue air operations over Syria and Afghanistan. Unlike the F-22 Raptor that was withheld from combat operations for nearly 10 years, the F-35 was employed upon delivery. This high lights reliability in the aircraft’s systems and 3F software. This is likely to bring about the interest of more export customers.
An F-35A deploys a GBU-12 Paveway laser guided bomb
The recent combat experience has generated confidence in the Israeli Air Force as well as observers in the F-35s capabilities in a anti access environment with IADs (integrated air defense systems) as well as the applications in an unconventional environment such as Afghanistan. The F-35s integrated systems from the aircrafts sensor fusion allows for a smooth identification, targeting and engagement process for the pilot. This solves the problem of sensory overload that pilots in 4th generation platforms can experience. All the data from RWR, the AN/APG-81 Radar and navigation systems are combined onto one single display in a glass touch screen cockpit. This provides the pilot with an advantage in both conventional and unconventional environments.
Current export customers such as Italy’s Air Force and Navy, South Korea’s Air Force and the Israeli Air Force might seek to place more orders. In addition Canada might seek to pursue the F-35A once again after withdrawing from the program in 2015. The recent combat experience might provide the Spanish Air Force more incentive to purchase the F-35 to replace the EF-18 and EAV-8B Harriers in service since the late 1980s. The UAE would likely seek to purchase the F-35 platform.
Spanish Air Force EF-18s have been in service for over 30 years
The F-35 programs success will likely to continue as the aircraft is increasingly employed in combat environments. In addition to the F-35 the AH-64 Apache and F-15E Strike Eagles combat experience in the 1991 Gulf War resulted in a major increase in exports. Proof of battlefield survivability and reliability is often a deal breaker in a customers confidence in a platform or weapon system.