Caravanserai
Science & Technology

Versatility of F-35 stealth fighter offers enhanced security for US, allies

By Caravanserai

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Two F-35s bank after receiving fuel in 2019. [CENTCOM]

The capabilities of the cutting-edge F-35 Lightning II are enabling both the United States and its allies to secure their interests around the globe.

Introduced in 2015, the F-35 has been adopted by 13 countries besides the United States: the United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Belgium and Singapore, according to an undated statement by Lockheed Martin, the defence contracting company that builds the plane.

Switzerland, the latest country set to purchase the aircraft, announced at the end of June it had chosen the F-35A to replace its aging F-5's and F/A-18's. Final approval of the decision is expected in a September referendum and from parliament, according to Military.com.

Switzerland's Federal Council highlighted the F-35's survivability and situational awareness as necessary for the Swiss Air Force's air-policing mission, Defence News reported in June.

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An F-35 prepares to take off from a US base in May 2021. [CENTCOM]

"In terms of effectiveness, the F-35A achieved the best result because ... it includes entirely new, extremely powerful and comprehensively networked systems for protecting and monitoring airspace," said the council.

The Lightning II has three variants.

The F-35A, used by the US Air Force, is the conventional takeoff and landing variant.

The US Marine Corps uses F-35Bs, which "can land vertically like a helicopter and take off in very short distances. This allows it to operate from austere, short-field bases and a range of air-capable ships", according to Lockheed Martin.

The third variant is the US Navy's F-35Cs, the carrier variant, which can take off from any US aircraft carrier anywhere on earth.

Versatility

With those capabilities, F-35 pilots can take off from and land on a variety of terrains and platforms that most other aircraft cannot use, exposing the enemy to attack from a number of directions.

The fifth-generation fighter has a top speed of Mach 1.6 (1.6 times the speed of sound) and a combat range of 1,410km.

The F-35 also has a "beast mode" -- when weapons are carried on the wing-mounted pylons as well as inside the internal bay -- that makes it even deadlier when needed.

In normal stealth mode, the plane can carry 2.6 tonnes of ordnance in the internal bay.

Beast mode, which almost quadruples that to 10 tonnes, especially comes into play as hostile anti-air systems are eliminated and as the F-35 no longer has to rely on its stealth for survivability.

In addition to its own ordnance, the plane augments the capacities of other weapon systems, creating a constellation of firepower.

One partner of the F-35 is the Aegis Combat System, an integrated naval weapons system that uses computer and radar to guide various weapons to strike targets.

The F-35's contribution to the Aegis is to extend the radius of detectable targets by providing stealth missions deep into enemy territory. Alternatively, the F-35, when equipped properly, can conduct bombing missions to support an Aegis-directed onslaught.

The F-35, besides being an invaluable auxiliary to an Aegis system, adds to the power and reach of Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The US military feeds the Tomahawk with data from a variety of sources: aircraft, drones, satellites, troops, tanks and ships. Those aircraft include the F-35, which can identify targets on a stealth mission.

Tested in combat

The F-35 has already proven itself in combat.

In May 2018, Israel became the first country to deploy the F-35A in combat.

This May, eight Israeli F-35s took part in an attack against Hamas targets in the northern Gaza Strip that saw the destruction of 50 to 70 rocket launch pits.

The US Marine Corps, using F-35Bs, in September 2018 carried out the plane's first combat mission in the Middle East, an air strike against an unspecified fixed Taliban target in Afghanistan, according to Military Times.

According to Defence News, the US Air Force used two of its F-35As for the first time in April 2019 in an attack on an "Islamic State" (IS) tunnel network and weapons cache in Iraq.

This April, Lockheed Martin reported in a statement that the US Air Force had deployed the F-35 in the US Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility for 18 consecutive months.

F-35's conducted 1,319 sorties during that period. They "dropped 352 weapons" and fired 3,774 rounds of 25mm ammunition, the statement said.

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Good mowers to mow down Russians.

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