Joint U.S.-UK F-35 Stealth Fighter Sharing Could Be A Game Changer

August 28, 2021 Topic: F-35 Sharing Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: F-35 JetsUnited KingdomNATOStealthWarF-35

Joint U.S.-UK F-35 Stealth Fighter Sharing Could Be A Game Changer

Multiple F-35 jets from different countries could take off from one ship before landing on the other to refuel, re-arm and prepare for additional attacks. 

The British carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth reached a new milestone by exchanging F-35B airplanes with the USS America, a first-in-class high-tech U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship. 

The F-35 Makes More History 

The F-35B stealth fighter jet can launch from amphibious ships because, due to its vertical takeoff and landing abilities, it does not need a runway, which brings new tactical advantages to joint warfare operations. Instead of needing to exchange fifth-generation aircraft from carrier to carrier, the United States and UK can operate F-35 jets in tandem with one another to share target data and, perhaps most of all, massively increase interoperability between the two Naval forces.

A key immediate advantage to having this ability, apart from interoperability, is that it could enable multinational dual-carrier operations and increase the tempo of attack operations. Of possibly even greater importance, it could introduce vastly expanded attack range options, removing the need for as many tankers to extend attacks and dwell time over targets. One ship, such as the British carrier, could be positioned much farther away while a more heavily armed amphibious operated closer to shore or an enemy force. The F-35 jets could take off from one ship before landing on the other to refuel, re-arm and prepare for additional attacks. 

Mass Matters 

Despite the advent of long-range sensors, artificial intelligence and other new technologies, Sun Tzu’s principle of “mass” still matters, according to modern war planners. This means that an amphibious attack could close in on enemy shores with more than twice the amount of fifth-generation F-35 airpower to reinforce landing operations with the Marines Corps and Amphibious Assault Vehicles able to advance onto a beachhead for land attack. Delivering air superiority, particularly across a wider geographical expanse enabled by greater numbers of F-35 jets, can bring an entirely new dimension to amphibious attacks. More specifically, this could greatly support the current Navy strategy to operate in a more dispersed or disaggregated fashion to leverage unmanned systems, long-range sensing and networking and reduce vulnerability to incoming enemy fire. Joint, multinational support, such as F-35 jets in greater numbers, could bring needed air superiority across a greatly dispersed amphibious attack force, thus favoring the prospects for success. 

The Comms Advantage 

There is also a communications advantage, something of crucial importance given how much NATO continues to work on multinational information sharing. The number of allied countries with F-35 jets, particularly the United States and UK in this case, enables stronger, more secure data sharing and networking between otherwise separated forces. The F-35 jets operate with a common data link called Multifunction Advanced Data Link, a technology that seamlessly connects all F-35 jets to one another in real-time. This could enable cross fleet cooperative operations, target sharing, and key communications as new intelligence information arrives during warfare. 

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: Flickr / U.S. Air Force