The Pentagon is now testing a tank-killing weapon on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, something which will greatly expand the fifth-generation jet’s ability to conduct attacks from the air against enemy armored formations and enlarge its mission envelope providing Close Air Support.
While the F-35 has long been established as an Air Force favorite for future Close Air Support missions, flying alongside the famous A-10 Warthog, the thinking has been primarily centered upon the use of its twenty-five millimeter air-firing cannon and certain course-correcting air-to-ground weapons. The ability to destroy tanks on the move from the air, however, could truly change the paradigm for joint air-ground warfare tactics. Testing of the StormBreaker smart weapon with the F-35 has been underway according to a statement from its maker, Raytheon.
The ability to destroy tanks will come from the advanced StormBreaker weapon, an air-fired bomb able to track and destroy moving targets at ranges longer than forty nautical miles. It is a first-of-its-kind “smart weapon,” built with a two-way datalink, tri-mode seeker enabling infrared, laser, and millimeter wave targeting an advanced warhead configuration that is specifically designed to destroy tanks and heavy armored vehicles on the move.
What might this mean in an air-ground type of combat situation?
It certainly aligns with the Pentagon’s fast-emerging air-ground, multi-domain emphasis as it introduces a new sphere of attack options. Typically, an air-dropped bomb such as a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) would be used to pinpoint parked tanks and armored vehicles should their location be found. However, hitting them on the move is challenging for many JDAMs and standard air-dropped precision weapons. Certain air-to-ground missiles and the F-35s twenty-five-millimeter cannon would primarily enable Close Air Support against maneuvering troops or lighter-armored tactical vehicles.
In the event that dismounted soldiers are unable to get close enough to fire an anti-tank weapon such as a Javelin, and helicopters are unable to approach within striking range due to the range and scope of enemy ground fire, an F-35 could wipe out an entire column of moving enemy tanks from the air. This could be accomplished while using stealth, stand-off targeting range, maneuverability, and sheer speed to avoid being targeted or even “seen” by enemy ground forces.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. 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.
Image: U.S. Air Force