The Buzz

The One Thing That Makes the F-22 the Ultimate Killer in the Sky

Upgraded radar and cybersecurity being engineered into the F-22 is designed to enable the stealth fighter to counter attacks from emerging future enemy threats and fly successfully well into the 2060s.

For example, newer F-22s have a technology called Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR, which uses electromagnetic signals or “pings” to deliver a picture or rendering of the terrain below, allow for better target identification.

The SAR technology sends a ping to the ground and then analyzes the return signal to calculate the contours, distance and characteristics of the ground below. SAR enables pilots to dynamically survey target areas and adjust to new targets in flight. Previously, F-22s would take off with pre-determined target, F-22 pilots told Scout Warrior.

Along with upgraded radar and new software-driven weapons interfaces, the F-22 is also receiving upgraded cyber defenses. 

The Air Force is working closely with industry partners to strengthen cybersecurity for larger service platforms such as an F-22 or F-35 fighters.

“We have to understand that today’s weapons systems are not operating in isolation. They are operating as part of a netted enterprise. Each weapons system will interface with a broader DOD network,” Allan Ballenger, vice president of the Air Force division at Engility Corp, told Scout Warrior. 

Earlier this year, Engility was recently awarded a $31 million task order deal from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center,  at Hanscom AFB, Mass.

The F-22, often referred to by Air Force developers as an “aerial quarterback,” relies upon data link technology connecting to other aircraft and ground stations as more of the F-22’s technologies and avionics--such as radar warning receivers, mission data files, navigation and target mapping systems--are computer based,

The emerging F-35’s “sensor fusion” is entirely contingent upon modernized computer algorithms able to help gather, organize and present combat-relevant information to a pilot by synthesizing otherwise disparate data  such as targeting, mapping and sensor data onto a single screen.

“The real focus is on the cyber vulnerability assessments across many Air Force platforms, such as command-and-control and battle management systems,” Ballenger said.

Engility’s focus is closely aligned with cybersecurity priorities recently articulated by senior Air Force leaders.  

In recent years, Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, Commander of Air Force Material Command, has articulated seven lines of attack that are essential to better securing networks, data and command-and-control systems. One of the key intiatives informing this effort is an attempt to "bake-in" cyber security provisions into the earliest phases of weapons development. 

Part of the focus, Ballenger explained, is to examine trends and current security controls with a mind to the kinds of attacks likely to emerge in the future against IT systems, platforms and networked weapons.

While increased interoperability among networks, weapons and platforms vastly expedites combat efficacy in a wide range of scenarios, Ballenger emphasized that greater connectivity can also increase vulnerability to malicious penetration and server attacks, among other problems.

“We are looking much earlier in the life cycle of these systems with a concern not just about their security but how they interface with other elements of the network. We want to embed cybersecurity earlier in the process,” Ballenger added.

Seeking to emulate threat vectors and anticipate potential methods of attack -- such as how a web-based application could be exploited or the extent to which a trap door may interact with other elements – is an important ingredient in establishing the most effective security protocols.

Also, much of this begins and ends with network IP protocol--codes which can both further enable interoperability between networks and systems while also possibly exposing networks to additional vulnerabilities

“When you have an IP address that is assigned to you, you need to have the appropriate controls in place to reduce that vulnerability,” Ballenger added.

The need for better information security extends from larger systems down to an individual soldier or airmen on a particular combat mission. Tactical Air Controllers use ground targeting technology is used to identify and secure targets for nearby air assets. This kind of air-ground synergy is itself reliant upon computer networking technologies, he explained.“You do not want someone to manipulate data going from airmen on the ground to a shooter in the air,” Ballenger said.

F-22 Technologies

As a fifth-generation stealth fighter, the F-22 is specifically engineered for air supremacy and air dominance missions, meaning its radar-evading technology is designed to elude and destroy enemy air defenses. The aircraft is also configured to function as the world’s premier air-to-air fighter able to “dogfight” and readily destroy enemy aircraft.

The F-22’s command and control sensors and avionics help other coalition aircraft identify and destroy targets. While some of the aircraft’s technologies are not “publically discussable,” F-22 pilots and developers say that the F-22’s active and passive sensors allow it to function as an “aerial quarterback” allowing the mission to unfold.

Drawing upon information from a ground-based command and control center or nearby surveillance plane – such as a Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System – the F-22 can receive information or target coordinates from nearby drones.

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