BAE hopes to link the training systems of the F-35 and Eurofighter Typhoon programs. (Copyright Eurofighter-Geoffrey Lee)
Farnborough International Airshow
FARNBOROUGH, ENGLAND — The F-35 joint strike fighter may well come to rule the skies of the future, but for decades to come it will need to work with existing “fourth-generation” fleets. Finding ways to make that work is an early topic being discussed at this year’s Farnborough International Airshow.
BAE, a major partner on both the F-35 and Eurofighter Typhoon programs, is undergoing tests to find ways to link the training systems for the two planes together in order to determine best tactics for operations, according to a company spokesman.
The spokesman said the firm is currently underdoing the third round of trials for the system, which have “done well.”
The firm is also exploring the question of “fourth-to-fifth” and “fifth-to-fourth” communication. Key to the F-35 is the ability to gather and share massive amounts of data automatically through its MADL system, but making sure that data can be received and processed by fourth-gen fighters is a major undertaking and focus by the corporate partners.
One method being eyed by BAE is the Link 16 system, which is used across a number of Pentagon systems. Northrop Grumman, another F-35 corporate partner, recently tested using the Link 16 system to communicate between an F-35 and F-22.
Ensuring information can be passed from the F-35 back to fourth-gen aircraft is the “best investment for us in the future,” said Billie Flynn, a senior experimental test pilot for Lockheed Martin who has flown both the Typhoon and F-35.
Tactically, Flynn said the capabilities of the JSF allow it to move ahead of older aircraft that may be more vulnerable to ground-based defenses.
“We come and go with impunity, and we gather situational awareness no one else can have,” Flynn said of piloting the F-35. “We get to go to places, gather information and bring that information back. So as an attack vehicle we get to go out in front, we get to neutralize the surface to air threats, we get to make it safe for a fourth generation plane to get in.”
Flynn, who commanded a CF-18 wing that took out Serbian defenses during operations in the 1990s, said tactically, fifth-generation planes will not operate in large formations going forward, a contrast to the way fourth-generation systems will work.
“Gone are the days that we will fly in some tactical formation like we remember from every movie that was around in the fourth generation,” Flynn said. “We’re many miles away in elaborate formations that allow us to cover vast amounts of sky. Evolving our tactics to fly as a proper fifth-generation airplane, that’s our future.” ■