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Watch Out, Russia: the F-35 Will Be Armed With a Stand-in Attack Weapon

F-35 AF-184 flown by Lt. Cdr. Jonathan 'Dos' Beaton, in Owen's Moa, with Whitney and snowcapped Sierra Nevadas in background

The United States Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is already the world’s most accomplished multirole combat aircraft, but its capabilities continue to be enhanced. This month, the Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded three new contracts to begin work on the Stand-in Attack Weapon (SiAW), one of the Air Force’s next-generation air-to-ground munitions.

Lockheed Martin, L3Harris, and Northrop Grumman received 90-day, $2 million contracts as part of phase one of the SiAW program. Boeing and Raytheon Technologies were also in the five competitor field, but it remains unclear if this work will be competitive or complementary to a contract that was awarded to all of the companies earlier this year.

The United States Air Force has budgeted $1.9 billion for the development of the SiAW, Air Force Magazine reported earlier this week. The work will be completed as part of the future year’s defense plan beginning in fiscal year 2023 (FY23) and continuing through 2027. The FY23 request was for $283.2 million, while development funding is expected to peak with fiscal year 2026 (FY26), with $718.2 million.

SiAW Capabilities

This stand-in weapon would have a shorter range than standoff weapons, which are typically designed to be fired from a distance outside the range of enemy defenses; however, it would enable the F-35 Lightning II to strike enemy targets that provide anti-access, area-denial environment or which could be rapidly moved. That could targets such as integrated air defense systems, ballistic missile launchers, land-attack and anti-ship cruise missile launchers, GPS jammers, and anti-satellite systems.

In addition, stand-in weapons could be faster than other ordnance that the F-35 could carry, which would enable a better chance of hitting a target before an enemy’s defense systems could intercept it.

The SiAW is being developed to be carried within the weapons bay of the F-35, rather than on an external mount so as to avoid compromising the aircraft’s stealth capabilities. However, due to its size, the weapon likely couldn’t be carried by the F-22 Raptor, as its internal bay isn’t large enough.

First Phase

The first phase of this program will reportedly focus on digital engineering and design. Northrop Grumman has announced that it will utilize its experiences from designing and producing the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile-Extended Range, or AARGM-ER, for the U.S. Navy and integrating it on F-35s.

L3Harris also announced that its Agile Development Group would lead its SIAW efforts, while it would take advantage of the group’s digital engineering capabilities. The Agile Development Group includes several thousand engineers, program managers, technicians, and operations professionals focused on quickly developing solutions to deal with a variety of emerging threats, Defense News reported.

“L3Harris is looking forward to working with the Air Force and industry partners to go fast and deliver superior firepower and advanced capabilities to the warfighter,” said Dave Duggan, president of L3Harris’s Agile Development Group.

Lockheed Martin has also noted that its contract is to perform integration work for SiAW, while it will produce hardware over the next five years, which the Air Force will then test and evaluate for possible production.

“Our Stand-in Attack Weapon (SiAW) offering is one example of how we are partnering with the U.S. Air Force to transform our approach to digital acquisitions. SiAW leverages proven design elements and internal investments, while incorporating agile software, model-based digital environments and OSA to keep pace with evolving threats. The digital thread continues as we integrate SiAW onto the F-35, adding more multi-role mission capabilities to further assert the F-35 as the most advanced and survivable aircraft in the world,” Lockheed Martin explained on its website.

Lockheed Martin also shared a video highlighting the capabilities of the SiAW: The Digital Journey Continues

Lockheed Martin’s Missiles and Fire Control division is using advanced digital engineering methods, pioneered by its Skunk Works unit, to design the SiAW.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.