Air Force Develops Threat Data Base for F-35

F-35CformationJoint Strike Fighter officials are developing a mission data system that can immediately tell pilots if they are flying against a MiG-29 or Su-27 or any other enemy fighter.

The system will serve as a computer library or data base of known threats and friendly aircraft in specific regions of the world, said Thomas Lawhead, operations lead for the JSF integration office.

The mission data packages, now being developed by the Air Force’s 53rd Wing are designed to accommodate new information as new threat data becomes available. The data base is loaded with a wide range of information to include commercial airliner information and specifics on Russian and Chinese fighter jets.

Without the mission data files and computer-driven sensor fusion of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, fighter pilots would have to simultaneously interpret and organize input from a range of different sensors including their radar warning receiver, Lawhead explained.

“You can think of the mission data as the memory that feeds the fusion engine to identify threats. It is the data which tells the aircraft whether something is a good guy or a bad guy,” said Col. Carl Schaefer, the Air Force’s top JSF integration official.

“A sensor receives input. Then, the aircraft’s fusion engine takes that input and fuses it with other input from other sensors. It then takes that information and balances it against the mission data. Based on that match it can tell you what the threat is,” he explained.

Sensors on the F-35 include the Active Electronically Scanned Array, or AESA, radar as well as a system called Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, which combines input from as many as six different electro-optical cameras on the aircraft.

The aircraft also draws upon a technology called Electro-optical Targeting System, or EOTS, which helps identify and pinpoint targets.  EOTS, which does both air-to-air and air-to-ground targeting, is able to combine forward-looking infrared and infrared search and track technology.

Overall, information from all of the JSF sensors is “fused” through the aircraft’s computer, providing the pilot with clear, integrated information.

The Air Force is developing 12 different mission data files for 12 different geographic areas, Lawhead explained. The first four are slated to be ready by the time the service reaches its planned initial operating capability with the F-35A in August 2016.

“One of the ways we respond to emerging threats is through the mission data files. If we are going to a region of the world, we want to be able to understand what the threats are and make sure that all the data that we have on the bad guys of that area is fed into the mission data file,” Schaefer added.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Guessed

    Great, they’ll know what shot them down.

    • zero-one

      Good luck with that. The F-35 is a VLO, extramly agile and fast aircraft that can see you but you can’t see it.

      • William

        I don’t know about extremely agile, but they likely won’t see it so agility won’t matter too much.

      • oblat6

        F35s performance is so bad it’s more like shooting down an airliner than a fighter aircraft.

        • zero-one


          Can go Mach 1.6 with a full internal weapons?
          Can hold mach 1.2 without Afterburner for 150 miles
          Can hold 50 degrees AOA while most fighters are limited to 25 degrees

          Certified for 9Gs (A model)
          Has better high G handling than an F-16 WHEN BOTH ARMED (F-16 is better when clean (no weapons)

      • Guessed

        It isn’t VLO or highly agile, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

        • William_C1

          That guy is still convinced missiles don’t work and air combat will always boil down to gunfights.

          Might as well go back to open cockpits and scarfs too.

        • Really doubt Sprey has been granted clearance info into any of the specs. Clearly, the designer of the F-16 will never think another plane is better. General Hostage recently remarked that the F-35 will have better VLO than the F-22 also. Now, unless you can show stats that Gen. Hostage is wrong, you might want to back off your claim it isn’t VLO.

          • Atomic Walrus

            I wouldn’t give Sprey too much credit as designer of the F-16. He was a proponent of lightweight fighters, and in fact thought that the F-16 was too big and was equipped with too many avionics. Robert Widmer was the lead engineer on the F-16 design.

    • Albert Paker

      F-35 jockey reading his DAS: “Oh, Sh..”

    • Bernard

      I’m going to have to agree with this. The F35 is no dog fighter and it will be outperformed in the sky by any of the newer 4th and 5th generation fighter jets. It lacks both the speed and the agility necessary for air superiority, and it’s stealth is compromised for costs effectiveness (despite being overly expensive) and external weapons payloads.

      • Actually, the missiles will be doing the dogfighting. When you can shoot a missile over your shoulder, it is better to be stealthy than agile. The Su-35 pilot says, “good on his six, got him now.” Then a missile slides off the F-35 and turns directly at him, abng he’s dead.

  • FACEPALM. Can we focus on getting the damn thing to actually fly and perform it’s most basic tasks first.

    • OriginalK

      Stop posting intelligent responses, buster! Your kind isn’t wanted here.

    • Curt

      You are right, why would the USAF want to develop this info? Better to wait until the aircraft is deployed before thinking about stuff stuff like that. Of course, if you don’t have the info, you could never actually use the capability that you are developing, but who cares about that.

    • SMSgt Mac

      News Flash. It IS a capability needed for its ‘most basic tasks’. This stuff has always been part of the process since EW, countermeasures and counter-counter measures have been a fact of life. The only thing different now is that the pilot or maintainer can now carry the latest info out to the plane and plug it in, whereas before there was usually a hardware change and/or depot visit needed to make the change. The F-35 can get the latest and greatest threat data, and countermeasure upgrades faster than any opponent. ‘OODA loop’ anyone?

    • What, you just wake up from a 5 year sleep. The planes been in the air, and completed over 16,000 hours already. Not a single one has been lost to an accident so far.

  • hibeam

    Better add the Piper Cherokee to that list. Sorry, this thing is an Edsel with wings. It was a turkey the minute they added the VSTOL requirement.

    • Dr. Horrible

      God, I was hoping someone would make that joke.

    • Well, all the current pilots, the Air Force, Navy and Marine leadership, and the air forces of at least 10 other countries disagree. Now, you must be the fighter expert of the century if you know something everyone else doesn’t kow. But, somehow I doubt it.

  • tom

    A great pilot in an inferior aircraft will always beat an average pilot flying a better aircraft.

    • hibeam

      Paul Yeager. He could make your life miserable flying a kit.

    • ajspades

      Always??? Be careful how you say that. Which matchup do you want to do?
      Chuck Yeager in a Mig-15 vs a qualified pilot in an F-35?
      Rickenbacker in a SPAD vs a line pilot in F-16?

  • Richard

    Is the Tomahawk clone carrying ex-Malaysian Airlines 767 on that list, Mr. Bond?

  • rtsy

    Isn’t this what AWACS is for?

  • 009

    I see a lot of people are still goofing on the F 35’s capability, with more than 100+built that’s nothing to goof at, you guys believe what the neigh saying reviewers comments on rather than the test pilots—make your opinions after this bird’s been in combat, that is if it’ll see combat or any adversaries will ever challenge it in the future.

  • JohnnyRanger

    Hope they add the Fokker DR1 to that threat database ;-)

  • hialpha

    Honestly, I find it annoying that this was even releasable information. First, because it’s yet another way for Lockheed&Co to blow their horn and say “Look! We ARE putting your money to good use!,” Second, this is typical for any 4th gen aircraft let alone countless other weapon systems, and we shouldn’t publicize our ability to correctly ID enemy aircraft ever.

    OPSEC people!

    • This isn’t really anything secret. Threat data bases have existed as long as enemies had weapons. Other planes already do this too, but not in a truly fused information environment. The real secrets are the signatures of the threats involved. Radars are said to be able to identify planes by the radar return coming off the fan blades (a good reason to hide the engine from radar returns. The EOTS should be able to make a laser picture of opposing planes for identification also. MASINT is an entire (little known) intelligence community designed to collect measurements of enemy systems.

    • XYZ

      Agree that we already do this on our other aircraft. Disagree that it’s top secret or deserves OPSEC. Now, if we were telling everyone the exact signatures we’re putting in the threat database, that’d be another matter.

  • hibeam

    The F-35 reminds me a lot of Jerry Browns high speed train. Imagine getting on an airliner and then the pilot taxis all the way to your destination on a BILLION dollar rail line at a two whole hundred miles an hour. WOWEEEEE! Now were cooking with gas. It just doesn’t get any better than that ladies and gentlemen.

  • Derek Howe

    This sounds impressive…but if I was Russia or China, would just make my newest fighter have a radar signature so it would appear to be a far inferior aircraft, and by the time the F-35 pilot knows what aircraft it actually is, you’ve already fired your missile at them.

    • Beno

      Well indeed, you could take your Pak-fa and change its radar and IR signature, by giving it straight wings and a propeller. Bu then of course IT WOULD BE A ME109 !

      There paramiters are PHYSICAL, they matter, you cant just change them, without making a new plane.

      • Ben

        It’d be easy enough to strap detachable/retractable luneberg lenses to just about any aircraft. That would falsify their radar returns, probably enough to screw the ID system up. But that would also make you the biggest target on the battlefield.

    • Any signature acts to give you away, with less capable aircraft having bigger signatures. That would just make you a bigger target. Fighters used to fly in formations like a civilian passenger plane, but radars have been designed to focus on returns to break out individual aircraft in a raid. The jet liner shot down by the Vincennes was using an F-14 IFF device (which cause the USS Vincennes ESM systems to think it was an enemy aircarft). The F-35 would likely use several returns to eliminate the possibility of being fooled. The three typically used, but not limited to are radar, IR/LIR, and ESM. Additional off-board sensors will be added to the mix also. It would be very hard to mimick three different returns, while hiding their actual returns.

      • Big-Dean

        “would likely”
        “Additional off-board sensors will be added to the mix”

        and future variants of the F-35 will whip up a nice Frappuccino ;-P

  • BlackOwl18E

    This seems like another unnecessary add on to the already ridiculously complex software. The F-35’s combat ready software doesn’t even work. Making this even more complex is only adding more time and more delays to the program.

    • Beno

      To be honest most SAR does this already. The only new feature is the fusing allowing simultanious IR ID as well as RF ID and doing to automatically.

    • Honestly, presuming you are an F/A-18E pilot you should know better. That APG-79 AESA is still having trouble, would you throw it awy, no, it will get fixed. Without good software, you know the plane could not even fly, so you know it is working. The Block 2B version is virtually written (it has gone through 4 increments of it;s own), has been flying for a long time already. Slow testing is the reason it hasn’t been certified yet. The new Block 3i is also now flying, and will be the subject of the most effort after the Block 2B is completed later this year. In fact, only 2% of the final Block 3F software remains to be written. Software is a progressive system. It will never be complete as long as the F-35s are flying. The fact that they are dropping bombs, and firing live air-to-air missiles indicates it is working. Yes, the Block 2B software needs to be released soon, but to suggest it isn’t working is wrong. If we went to war tomorrow, the current Block 2B would be quickly dropped into the planes, but they could do it now. The pilots might need a little more practice, but I am certain they could be deployed in a week or two if needed.

  • nick987654

    I am under the impression that the EOTS will be crucial to identify a target. At long range and/or when the EOTS cannot be used it would be much harder to identify a target with only the radar, even if the F-35 would know whether it is friend or foe thanks to its datalinks.

    If I were the Russians or Chinese I would use decoys to try and force the F-35s to shoot at long range.

    Also it is my understanding that AESA radars can generate a much wider range of waveforms, so it would be nearly impossible to ID different aircraft types if they have AESAs.

  • tmb2

    We’ve had this technology since the early ’80s. Hasn’t anyone from Lockheed ever watched Airwolf?

  • Arjan

    I hope they add common sense to that database.

  • Sphinx

    The damn thing can’t even fly correctly and we are sinking money elsewhere. How about we get the basic functions first and then focus on more advanced functions. The F-35 could have the most sophisticated threat base and defense system ever, but if it can’t fly, it’s useless.

  • Joe

    Facinating. Would be interesting to know if they could develop a data base for aircraft the same as they did for submarines and ships for sonar purposes. Each sub has a distinctive noise pattern. Wonder if we could use radar detection gear on the RC-135U to sort of find the digital fingerprints of possible opponents?

  • I hope this includes modern Russian and Chinese 5th generation stealth fighters. How much do want to bet is does not, because they never expected anyone else to deploy stealth fighter against the F-35. As it looks right now, the F-35, Chinese and Russian steal fighters will be deploy at the the same time (give or take a year). If each of these have the same ability to detect each other any dog fight will close in and the F-35 will probably lose

  • Fly Boy

    Wouldn’t surprise me if they post all the plane’s details on Google.

  • Riceball

    Hope this system works on the ground too or they develop a system that works on the ground so that the F-35 jocks will be able to tell the difference between an LAV/Stryker and a BMP.

  • Big-Dea

    I get it, so in some future scenario, an F-35 is scrambled to meet a threat, the air force pilot is alerted to a possible threat ahead by the avionics suite but just at the critical moment, he gets a pop up window that says “Error 3X49732990L” “the following threat is not in the data base, please upgrade to version″…..just at the moment the F-35 “runs into” a AA missile

  • Virgil Cuttaway

    Remember that the Chinese stole hundreds of millions on pages of computer codes for the F-35. They may already know many of its “secrets”. They already know about the AESA radar.

  • superraptor

    The F-35 is a major strategic blunder. It will be hacked similar to your laptop making all 2400 F-35s ( if that’s the final build number) non-operational overnight and you then have nothing left.
    The J-20 and PAKFA will eat for a lunch anyway. We need an upgraded F-22.. Read USAF (retired) T. Michael Moseley’s comments from December 2013. Gates was wrong.

  • Max Rob

    I would like to point out a couple of items. The F35 JSF aircraft by lockheed was never meant to be an air superiority fighter, thats the job of the f22, the f-15 silent eagle, the f-18 advanced superhornet. The F35 is meant to be a high take situaional awareness Jammer bomber, plane identifier, and fleet notifier. The electronics warfare suite cannot be hacked. whoever wrote that is not doing research, they are eating a cheesburger and looking at facebook on their phone at two in the morning with their underwear around their ankles. Im tired of teens and unintelligent US space wasting citizens who have never served heir country following and parading around an over powered heap of hype like russian bombers anf fighters. I served in the miloitary with speacial forces and believe it, our contractors and top defense analysts take everything into consideration before threats become available. they dont need advice from people who troll the internet and trash the US.

  • Max ROB

    US. people nowadays are on a trashing the US campaign. It needs to stop. if you dont like us or our country or our planes get citizenship in mexico, china and or russia and when they put you in jail for some ridicculous nonsense then you can make all your comments about inferior planes from a jail cell in a russian toilet cell.

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