Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

The F-35 Stealth Fighter Is a ‘Flying Computer’ in the Sky

F-35 computing also brings the jet’s crucial “software drop” updates to fruition, an incremental upgrade process that continuously adds new weapons interfaces, improved sensing, and high-speed AI-enabled information processing. 

An F-35A Lightning II pilot turns his aircraft along the yellow taxi line on the 33rd Fighter Wing flightline at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr./Released)
An F-35A Lightning II pilot turns his aircraft along the yellow taxi line on the 33rd Fighter Wing flightline at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr./Released)

Air Force pilots have a lot to manage in the air, and the aircraft must be up to the task of managing flight as well as oncoming threats.

Identifying a Chinese or Russian 5th-generation jet from safe stand-off ranges; ensuring a smooth and successful “glide slope” landing onto a carrier deck; merging otherwise disparate pools of information into a single organized, integrated picture for pilots; and quickly integrating new, paradigm-changing air-dropped weapons are all capabilities now fundamental to the operation of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Meet the F-35 

These factors help explain why the F-35 is often referred to as a “flying computer,” alongside being more generally known as a high-speed, stealthy, and maneuverable multi-role attack fighter. Much if not most of the jet’s advanced performance is made possible by advanced computing, something easily overlooked or even eclipsed by the jet’s other, more visible and well-known attributes.

While many F-35 missions and operations of course directly pertain to a “kinetic” kill, attack, or combat engagement, they are all largely enabled by computer technology.

The jet’s “sensor fusion,” which relies upon an advanced, AI-like ability to gather, distill, integrate, and present vast amounts of otherwise overwhelming data, is enabled by computing. 

This means infrared and Electro Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) sensor data, navigational and terrain specifics, weapons guidance technology, and even electronic warfare (EW) information are all compiled and analyzed in relation to one another and presented to pilots in an integrated single picture. F-35 computing also enables its sensors to complete rapid threat identification and attack planning at safer, undetected stand-off ranges by bouncing incoming data off of its Mission Data Files database library cataloging known threats.

F-35 computing also brings the jet’s crucial “software drop” updates to fruition, an incremental upgrade process that continuously adds new weapons interfaces, improved sensing, and high-speed AI-enabled information processing. 

The “fourth” software drop, for example, integrates the paradigm-changing Stormbreaker bomb into the jet, introducing unprecedented attack ranges up to 40 nautical miles, course-correcting two-way datalinks, and all-weather targeting technology.

F-35 Weapons Upgrades

Computing also plays a key role when it comes to precision targeting as software upgrades can improve air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons performance. This is particularly true in the case of the F-35’s AIM-120 and AIM-9X weapons, which have received flight path and guidance technology enhancements through the integration of new software.

Much of this evolving process or ongoing iteration of software upgrades to ensure continuous modernization is made possible through the use of common technical standards. Often referred to as “open architecture,” the intent is to engineer a system with interoperable IP Protocol standards such that new technologies can be quickly integrated without needing to essentially “re-construct” the aircraft’s computing infrastructure.

This kind of cyber-reliant modernization trajectory for the F-35, intended to ensure the stealth jet retains its performance edge well into the 2070s and beyond, also needs to ensure that computer systems are sufficiently “hardened” against cyberattacks and intruders. 

While all of the F-35’s advanced computing is bringing unparalleled and potentially breakthrough systems to war in ways that may not have even been anticipated, added computer networking can also introduce new vulnerabilities.

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 Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

From 19FortyFive

5 Worst 9mm Guns on Planet Earth

5 Worst Glock Guns

5 Best Home Defense Rifles on Earth

Written By

Kris Osborn is the Military Editor of 19 FortyFive 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.

Advertisement