The F-35 is often considered a fast, stealthy 5th-gen fighter able to elude and destroy enemy air defenses.
Yet, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter also has a “beast mode” bomb truck capacity for larger attacks.
A Big Statement
Decreasing stealth properties does not render the F-35 ineffective in a variety of respects, given that the F-35 is built for heavy bombing as well as reconnaissance missions.
Thinking of these together, an F-35 could use its electro/optical-infrared (EO-IR) cameras and surrounding sensors to find far-away ground targets autonomously, and then attack them from the air with bombs.
The aircraft does have an internal weapons bay, intended to enable attacks while preserving a stealth configuration, yet a full-force attack will mean using the external pylons to enable what many call the F-35’s “beast mode.”
An interesting report from the Aviation Geek Club describes beast mode as arming an F-35 with “six inert 500-pound GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, four loaded externally on the wings and two internally in the weapons bay, as well as an AIM-9 training air-to-air missile.”
Naturally, this means an F-35 would increase its radar signature and decrease the effectiveness of its stealth properties, however, such a configuration would be possible in combat environments wherein the United States has already achieved air supremacy.
Externally hanging weapons present contours and configurations likely to provide enemy radar with a more detailed radar return, therefore delivering a rendering of the aircraft to adversaries.
Longer Attack Missions for F-35
This kind of attack mode might also be needed, should a combat campaign need to extend mission dwell time, creating the opportunity for F-35s to hit more targets with a larger weapons load.
Laser-guided GBU-12s, a guided bomb unit, can pinpoint ground targets “lit up” by laser designators from the air or ground, enabling precision strikes.
The Air Force’s GBU-54, also a laser-guided bomb, also brings the ability for an aircraft to hit moving targets on the ground.
This would be a massive increase in efficiency, as the aircraft could respond to new intelligence information in real time, thereby greatly reducing latency and sensor-to-shooter time.
By extension, the F-35’s often-discussed “sensor fusion” could play a role here, as it relies upon computer automation and AI to gather otherwise separate sensor information, analyze and organize it to provide pilots with a single integrated picture.
Navigational, targeting, and electronic-related metrics can all be merged by the aircraft itself.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.