The tri-service F-35 fighter program was designed from its inception to evade detection by radar and heat-seeking missiles. Combined with speed, agility and onboard weapons, these “stealth” features make the F-35 a highly survivable aircraft even in heavily contested air space. However, there is another potent contributor to the plane’s survivability that seldom gets discussed much in public: its highly automated electronic-warfare system, which can jam or deceive virtually any enemy sensor while also suppressing other electronic systems such as communications networks.
The F-35’s EW capabilities are so powerful that it has no need for escort aircraft to operate near enemy defenses, and in fact can act as a jammer for other friendly aircraft that are not so well-endowed. F-35 is the first U.S. tactical aircraft that can fuse threat data from across the relevant segments of the electromagnetic spectrum before it is displayed to pilots. If the pilot is distracted by other aspects of a mission, the EW system can automatically generate optimum responses to whatever electronic threats arise, whether that entails jamming signals, releasing chaff, or creating false targets to confuse the adversary. The end result is a very survivable, versatile fighter that leaves enemies nearly defenseless. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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