Why is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter so popular? Why have so many nations signed on to the program? The pilots who fly the plane seem to have the answer.
The F-35 Alliance
The United States, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Denmark, and Canada have invested in the stealth jets. This group has in recent years been joined by Israel, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Belgium and Singapore.
More recently, Switzerland invested in the F-35 jets to fortify its “armed neutrality” deterrence posture and countries such as Japan are now making large, multibillion-dollar purchases of the jets. This is something likely to reframe the deterrence equation and power balance in the Pacific region, especially since the United States is likely interested in finding more basing opportunities in the Pacific for its growing fleet of F-35 jets.
Pilots Love the F-35
There are likely many reasons for the fast-paced F-35 expansion, a primary one simply being pilot experience. For more than ten years, F-35 pilots training on the jet talk about how it is “easy to fly” and “smooth.” Advanced levels of computer automation enable a software technology called Delta Flight Path, which helps pilots descend into challenging landings on the deck of aircraft carriers and amphibious warfare ships. This technological application is particularly significant when it comes to a vertical landing of an F-35B on an amphibious ship.
The Technological Edge
Networking breakthroughs continue to increase the threat posed by a collective, multinational F-35 force.
After all, the fifth-generation jets can easily share data with one another across dispersed formations using the Multifunction Advanced Data Link.
Beyond this, recent innovations are increasingly enabling F-35 jets to connect in-flight with fourth-generation aircraft and other platforms in a way that reshapes the tactical equation by expanding the area that can be surveilled, the ability of the jets to share target information, and their ability to participate in coordinated attacks across a large geographical region.
An aircraft force consisting of NATO, European or even Pacific F-35 jets brings enormous improvements to the deterrence equation.
The information dominance elements of the F-35 change the paradigm for pilots who used to look at multiple different screens to absorb critical mission information.
Now, all of these otherwise disparate pools of data are gathered, organized, integrated and presented to pilots on a single, clear screen.
This phenomenon is often referred to as “easing the cognitive burden,” which simply means time-consuming procedural function and data analysis can mostly be done autonomously by advanced F-35 computers. This enables pilots to expend their energy elsewhere.
Clearly, the F-35 jet was built to keep pace with the pace of breakthrough technologies.
F-35 Training Is Vital
Experienced F-35 pilots are continuing to train and prepare emerging pilots to fly an F-35 jet. This quickens the pace of the learning curve and expedites international deployments for the jet.
“We engage in collaboration and cooperation to help them bring on their aircraft in a way that takes advantage of the lessons learned we’ve had,” Gen. Kenneth Wilsback, the Commander of Pacific Air Forces, previously told The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. “We have decades of operating fifth-gen aircraft but this is the first time when these nations have had a fifth-gen aircraft.”
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