Robbin Laird, a member of the AOL Board of Contributors and vocal F-35 proponent, outlines why Japan’s decision to purchase the Joint Strike Fighter will redefine the U.S. and its allies fly and fight in the Pacific
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be the cornerstone of Japanese defense. The Japanese know something about technology. And as a leader in technology worldwide, the Japanese decision validates the cutting edge role of the F-35.
The F-35 is the first aircraft in history with a 360 degree field of vision out to 800 miles, managed by an integrated combat system. Make no mistake — the F-35 is a full combat system, not just a platform. The beauty of a combat system is the maintenance, upgrades, deployment readiness, development synergies provided by common software for upgrades and development.
The F-35 will revolutionize air combat operations, especially in the Pacific. Fifth generation aircraft like the F-35 are at the heart of a potential new air combat system enterprise. The F-22s may have been the harbinger, but it lacks the essential air combat systems present on the F-35. Deployed as a force, the JSF enables distributed air operations that are crucial to the survival of our pilots in the period ahead. Distributed operations are the cultural shift that fifth generation aircraft, along with investments in new weapons, remotely piloted aircraft and the crafting of simultaneous rather than sequential operations, bring to the fight.
Before the JSF, military leaders would have to tack on additional systems to legacy aircraft to provide new capabilities. The pilot would be forced to manage each new system. The F-35’s five major combat systems are already integrated and interact with each other to provide capabilities. The functional capabilities that emerge from that interaction are done by the machine and are not simply correlated with a single system. For example, jamming can be done by several systems aboard the JSF but the machine decides which one to use. And the entire system rests on a common architecture with broadband capabilities. The F-35 is also perfectly equipped to integrate with other weapon platforms, like the Navy’s Aegis ballistic missile system.
The Japanese understand the significant opportunity which integrating Aegis with F-35 provides. The Japanese are a key Aegis partner and are in a position to work on the integration of Aegis with F-35.
Upcoming Aegis tests will support a launch and engage-on-remote concept linking the Aegis ship to remote sensor data, increasing the coverage area and responsiveness. Once this capability is fully developed, the SM-3 missile used on board Aegis — no longer constrained by the range the system’s radar to detect an incoming missile — can be launched sooner and therefore fly farther to defeat the threat. Imagine this capability linked to an F-35, which can see more than 800 miles throughout a 360-degree approach. Needless to say, U.S. allies are excited about the linkage prospects and the joint evolution of these two highly upgradeable weapon systems.
Combining Aegis with F-35 also means joining their sensors for wide-area coverage. Because of the new generation of weapons onboard the F-35 and the ability to field a broad “wolfpack” of air and sea capabilities, the Joint Strike Fighter can perform as the directing point for combat action. The F-35 can leverage a sea-based missile through Aegis and its new SM-3 missiles to expand its area of strike. Together, the F-35 and Aegis significantly expand the defense of land and sea bases.
The commonality across the combat systems of the F-35’s three variants also provides a notable advantage to the Japanese. Aegis is a JSF pilot’s wingman, whether he or she is flying an F-35A, B, or C. Eighty percent of the F-35s in the Pacific are likely to be A models, many belonging to U.S allies. Therefore, building an F-35 and Aegis global enterprise provides coverage and capability across the Pacific, which is essential for the defense of Japan.
There is a high probability that the strategic quadrangle of South Korea, Singapore, Australia and Japan will all field the F-35 and Aegis missile system. This not only allows significant commonality among the allies, but provides a solid foundation for U.S. forces to work with regional allies and reduce the risks to American forward deployed forces.
South Korean can also benefit from the introduction of F-35As
into U.S. Air Force, followed by acquisition of As and Bs by South Korea itself. As former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne has argued: South Korea is clearly the theater of highest utility for the emerging F-35. With the F-22 to be the guardian of the Pacific Expanse; and perhaps even used in a partnership with the F-35, and South Korean military. This would have the highest probability of training as a ‘1000 Unit Air Fleet’ and the South Korean air force, equipped as they are with terrific fourth generation fighters; would yearn to be protected and supportive of this Air Battle Management System proposed and promoted for the F-35.
One can as well see in the Korean theater that U.S. Army systems connected via a command and control system may be the wingman for the F-35, in lieu of the Aegis system. Singapore is also postured to add F-35Bs to their inventory and Australia is looking to add F-35As and perhaps Bs down the line.
The commonality of a JSF-centric fleet allows hubs to be built in the Pacific to support common operations and shape convergent capabilities. The distributed character of allied forces in the region coupled with the the F-35’s advanced combat systems diversifies capabilities against which a core adversary would have to cope with. Reducing concentration of forces and targets is a significance enhancer of deterrence.
And finally, the F-35 provides a key element of dealing with evolving threats as well. As Ed Timperlake has argued:
US and allied forces will have the perfect aircraft in the F-35 to play both offensive and defense when hypersonic Cruise Missiles become a combat reality. The C4ISR-D “Z-axis” in the cockpit can lead the way in developing a Pacific “honeycomb” ISR Grid to handle the hyper-sonic Cruise Missile threat and also go on the offensive since Chinese President Hu Jintao has just put the PLAN on combat alert. Everything will take time to develop and if PRC goes to war at Sea today they will lose. However, time is precious for US and Allies to get the technology for a 21st Century Air/Sea Battle right.
If the F-35 did not exist with it’s revolutionary “Z-axis” 360 umbrella -it would have to be invented. Northern Edge validated that the US has developed a flying combat system that is world class and unique-a Fighter/Attack aircraft with EW/”tron” warfare capability with both AA and AG kinetic weapons in the bay.
In short, the acquisition of the F-35 by the Japanese is an important step in re-building Pacific defense capabilities. The F-35 will shape a scalable force that will participate in executing an economy of force strategy.
Robbin Laird, a member of the AOL Board of Contributors is an international defense consultant, owner of the Second Line of Defense website and a former National Security Council staffer. Ed Timperlake is a former U.S. Marine who works with Laird.