The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is already considered by many to be among the most capable combat aircraft in service anywhere in the world today, but the United States Navy has called for the aircraft to be potentially even deadlier.
On Monday, the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in Ridgecrest, Calif., announced that it intended to procure from Lockheed Martin's Missiles and Fire Control Division four integrated advanced munitions on the F-35, which could enable the fifth-generation stealth fighter to attack high-value – notably enemy – surface warships.
The ordnance could further allow the Lightning II to strike moving targets in bad weather and even armored combat vehicles on land.
It could greatly enhance what has been proven to be a highly effective platform and the free world's premier fifth-generation fighter.
New Ordnance for the F-35
The four air-to-surface missiles include the AGM-114 Hellfire, as well as the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), a stealthy standoff cruise missile; the AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), a maritime strike version of the JASSM; and the AGM-179 Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM), a precision-guided munition that was developed to replace the Hellfire and the Maverick air-to-ground missiles.
"This contract will provide services for integration of the four aforementioned weapons systems into the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) platform," the government's notice stated.
"Modifications to these systems could include enhancements such as Line of Sight/Non-Line of Sight (LOS/N-LOS) technologies for seekers, multi-mode seekers, tube-launched Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), autonomous weapons employment and precision targeting, aircraft/weapons integration, and similar applications," the notice added. "Tasking will include technology demonstration efforts, product improvement initiatives, technology insertion, and transition activities, integration of various warfare systems, mission analysis, mission architecture, participation in Concept of Operations (CONOPS) development, military utility analysis, and more traditional engineering analysis and studies as they relate to JASSM, LRASM, JAGM and Hellfire weapons systems."
The F-35 has not previously been capable of deploying those weapons – and the U.S. Navy is now seeking to have them modified accordingly to be integrated with the fifth-generation aircraft.
The value of the upcoming contract has yet to be negotiated – and it would appear that the aerospace and defense giant is the sole-source provider as it is the original designer and manufacturer of the four munitions.
The F-35 Could be a Standoff Platform
The four missiles could greatly enhance the F-35's capabilities.
The AGM-158 JASSM, which has been in service since 2009, is a low-detection long-range standoff air-launched cruise missile developed by Lockheed Martin for the United States Armed Forces. It was developed to destroy high-value, well-defended, fixed, and relocatable targets. It has a range of 230 miles, while the extended-range JASSM-ER has a range of 620 miles. Currently, only the U.S. Air Forces B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers, as well as the F-16 jet fighter, can fire the JASSM.
The AGM-158C LRASM was developed for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy to detect and destroy high-priority surface vessel targets within groups of ships from extended ranges in electronic warfare jamming environments. It is a precision-guided, anti-ship standoff missile based on the Lockheed Martin Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER). Currently, the U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet jet fighter bomber and Air Force B-1B Lancer long-range strategic bomber can employ the LRASM.
The JAGM – which was designed to fire from combat helicopters – features a multi-mode guidance section with a semi-active laser (SAL) sensor for a precision strike and a fire-and-forget millimeter wave (MMW) radar for moving targets in all weather conditions. The air-launched JAGM-F has been tested by the Navy's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Due to its smaller size – it is just six feet long and weighs 108 pounds – it could launched from the F-35's internal weapons bay.
The HELLFIRE II family of missiles would also expand the capabilities of the Lightning II and could be suitable for internal carriage in the F-35. The four variations include a high-explosive anti-tank missile (AGM-114K), which defeats all known and projected armored threats; the blast fragmentation missile (AGM-114M), designed to defeat "soft" targets such as buildings, bunkers, light-armored vehicles, and caves; the millimeter-wave (MMW) radar Longbow HELLFIRE (AGM-114L), which provides fire-and-forget and adverse weather capability; and the "thermobaric" HELLFIRE (AGM-114N).
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs.
Image Credit: Lockheed Martin.