Airpower enthusiasts have long promised that the introduction of fifth generation combat aircraft, particularly the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) when it is finally fielded in numbers, will change the nature of air warfare. The F-35’s combination of stealth, maneuverability, AESA radar, passive sensors and battle management software makes it ideal as a strike platform. The same attributes that make the F-35 so powerful in air-to-air and air-to-ground warfare are opening up possibilities for a radical improvement in the way the U.S. military conducts air and missile defenses. The key to effective air and missile defense is the ability to see and track targets as early as possible. A series of exercises and experiments have demonstrated the F-35’s ability to operate as a forward deployed sensor for land and sea-based air and missile defenses. The result is a significant multiplier of the effectiveness of U.S. and allied defensive systems. I have written commentary on this topic for The National Interest here.
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