US Air Force Tests SEAD Missions Using F-35

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has concluded a two-day, $1.4 million exercise that evaluated the F-35 fighter jet’s ability to provide its electronic warfare capabilities to other stealthy reconnaissance and bombing platforms.

The event, which took place Aug. 4-6 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, tested the ability for the F-35 to provide Suppression of Enemy Air Defense, or SEAD, support for other stealthy platforms such as the B-2 and the RQ-170 reconnaissance drone, according to an Aug. 6 news release from the Air Force.

Maj. Theodore Ellis, chief of 53rd Wing Weapons, said the exercise focused on demonstrating stealth platform effectiveness against advanced threats using emerging technology and capitalizing on joint capabilities.

SEAD Platforms

Other platforms that participated included the F-22, the F-15 and the Navy’s E/A-18G aircraft. Some aspects of the scenario tested these fourth- and fifth-generation platforms’ joint and coalition SEAD integration. Other scenarios focused on how the latest fourth-gen electronic capabilities could increase fifth-gen freedom of manoeuvre, and vice versa, in contested environments, the Air Force said.

U.S. adversaries over the past several years have developed advanced radars to detect incoming aircraft, pairing them with long-range missiles that in many cases outgun U.S. military weapons.

The event allowed the Air Force to explore the integration of tactics, techniques and procedures that have never been tested together.

“Through events like these, we continue to improve our joint 4th and 5th generation tactics, which enhances our abilities in an advanced threat environment,” Ellis said.

Events like this are the prime movers to test and evaluate emerging capabilities and technologies — as opposed to training and readiness — with an operationally realistic scenario.

“The investment and trust in our team allowed the 53 Wing to evaluate the interoperability of leading-edge capabilities and develop [tactics, techniques and procedures] that will ultimately strengthen our nation’s air dominance,” said Col. Bill Creeden, commander of the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group.

“We fight as an integrated force which means we need to test and evaluate our latest capabilities as an integrated force. Put simply, our job is to inform, develop, and deliver, from idea to premeditated violence, an integrated tactical advantage to the Combat Air Force for both tonight, and tomorrow’s potential fight. [Large Force Test Events] are a primary enabling effort to make this happen.”

F-35 And MIM Patriot Integration

Northrop recently issued a report about a previous IBCS test demonstration wherein an airborne F-35 used its sensors to acquire, track and share target data with ground-based radar, enabling an integrated air defense system to establish a continuous track of the attacking weapon, and therefore identify the proper defensive weapon or interceptor missile to destroy the threat. High above White Sands Missile Range, N.M., an Air Force F-35 tracked two surrogate missiles in the test and sent the sensor data to Marine Corps TPS-59 radars, an Army Sentinel and Patriot ground-based weapons.

Developed for the U.S. Marine Corps to provide a mobile long-range surveillance radar capability. It is recognized as the world’s most capable long-range ground-based radar for tactical ballistic missile defense with proven performance during live fire tests.

The aircraft’s Distributed Aperture System, for example, combines electro-optical sensor data from 360-degrees surrounding the plane; the data is aggregated and organized for pilots by on-board computer automation performing what’s often referred to as a “sensor fusion” function. The F-35 uses an Electro-Optical Targeting System in conjunction with DAS and a database of known threats called “Mission Data Files” to find targets.

IBCS is a fast-emerging technical system engineered by Northrop Grumman to network radar and sensor nodes throughout wide ranging air, ground and sea operating environments as a new interwoven, or meshed, air defense network.

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