Why the F-35 Is Winning Heart and Minds Around the Globe
Pilots “love” this stealth aircraft for many reasons.
Finland and Switzerland plan to join the F-35 fighter jet club. These two international arms sales purchases strongly suggest there are a variety of reasons why a growing number of nations are joining the F-35 consortium. But the key attraction is its performance.
Pilots “love” the F-35 fighter jet for many reasons. The level of computer autonomy makes it easy to fly. This is particularly relevant when it comes to the F-35B variant, which needs to conduct a vertical take-off and landing on amphibious assault ships. Advanced computer algorithms can account for wind, sea-state and altitude descent specifics to essentially assist or help land the jet. Meanwhile, advanced software, known as Delta Flight Path, helps F-35 jets with navigation, flight trajectory and its ability to land.
Prior to landing on an aircraft carrier, F-35 jets take a hard-left “bank” turn to align with the deck of the ship. From that point forward, they are focused upon a steady “glide slope” onto the carrier deck looking at the famous “fresnel lens” or light showing them the accuracy of their slope down onto the carrier. Computers help pilots improve this process to both increase security but also increase landing efficiency and prevent aircraft from needing to make another pass at the deck. While there are night-vision technologies and other factors intended to help nighttime landings, the stabilization of F-35B and F-35C ship landings brings a substantial operational advantage in inclement weather such as snow, fog or heavy rain obscuring vision. Not only that, a steadying ability can help pilots land during heavy winds and turbulent or uneven sea states.
Of course, it would be far too limiting to cite landing and maneuverability alone as a defining attribute of the F-35 jet. Its largest advantage likely pertains to its ability to achieve paradigm-changing “quickness of kill” in combat. F-35 sensors such as its Distributed Aperture System and Electro-Optical Targeting System can find enemy targets at ranges where they are typically undetected. Additionally, they can pinpoint and identify terrain and targeting details with much greater accuracy. These stealth jets have an onboard data library of cataloged threat information enabling near-instant target identification known as Mission Data Files. This accelerates the kill speed and provides the jet with a substantial tactical advantage in combat in terms of reducing latency and expediting an accurate and precise “sensor-to-shooter” cycle.
The largest element of these technical leaps forward lies in its “sensor fusion” capacity. Onboard computing is able to take incoming data from a variety of otherwise disparate information sources such as targeting, navigation, altitude and essential avionics, compare them to one another, integrate them and present a unified, informed picture to pilots on a single screen. This technology allows pilots to focus on complex decisionmaking variables requiring human judgment and unique cognitive faculties without being encumbered by procedural and data analysis functions.
Also, the F-35 jet’s drone-like sensing ability and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance software—which make it quite lethal—are often overlooked. The aircraft is capable of conducting some level of close air support too. The F-35 jet could be equipped to carry new weapons such as hypersonic missiles, lasers or long-range bombs. In fact, the F-35A variant could possibly carry the B61-Mod 12 nuclear bomb. The jet was built to remain relevant into the 2070s and beyond.
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.