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.

        • Bernard

          They thought the same thing with the F4 and were wrong then too. Missiles have improved but they still need a lock and they still need to be fired from a position where they can actually reach their target. Distance, altitude, target heading vs launch angle, and velocity all affect whether or not a missile will be able to catch the target. You need speed and maneuverability to win the race in getting a good missile launch. Range of detection is a factor too, but the F35 cheaped out on its stealth and still has external weapons to meet payload requirements.

          • SMSgt Mac

            Missed the latest revelations about F-35 LO signature being “better” than the F-22s Bernie?

          • Bernard

            That’s just a lie to keep the $400 billion boondoggle alive

            “Hostage makes another, very interesting comparison between the F-22 and the F-35.

            The F-35′s cross section is much smaller than the F-22′s. “The F-35 doesn’t have the altitude, doesn’t have the speed [of the F-22], but it can beat the F-22 in stealth.”

            Now, we all know that a lot of things can go happen between the interviewee’s brain and the interviewer’s keyboard, but the idea that the F-35 is stealthier than the F-22 contradicts pretty much everything that has been said about the program for the past 20 years, including the reporting of my former colleague, the usually well-informed Dave Fulghum.

            The statement is curious for other reasons. Nobody ever suggested in the program’s formative years that the goal was to beat the F-22’s stealth – and indeed that would be extremely unlikely since the JSF was designed for export. Stealth, along with other requirements, was also subject to trades in the development of the final JSF requirement, and less important than life-cycle cost.

            The geometrical basics of stealth — sweep and cant angles, minimized small-radius curves and nozzle design — favor the F-22, and everything anyone has said about radar absorbent materials for years has been about life-cycle cost rather than performance.”

            Also that article points out another keep aspect. The F-35’s ceiling is lower than it’s competitor’s, meaning that an enemy can evade it by simply flying higher and faster.

          • Chimp

            By the time the F-35 is in service, LO will have been countered, to some extent, by higher tech adversaries. Me, I think the sensor fusion thing will be a big advantage for the driver… so why publicise all these capabilities?

            Hello, PRC designers, spies and so on. Your next “innovation” is waiting to be collected.

  • 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.

      • Ben

        Don’t you know? Developing a new microwave oven would take no less than 2 years for the DoD to develop these days. If they ever want the F-35 to see this database, they’d better start now.

      • Yes, the pilot needs a database to recognize threats, besides the info from air control or the fact the plane has a flag painted on it from a country we shooting at.

    • 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.

      • Big-Dean

        there nothing worse then hearing a loudmouth saying the same thing over and over and over and over and over…….

  • 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.

    • Bruce

      Off-topic FYI: i think you wanted “nay” instead of “neigh” there:
      -a “nay sayer” is opposing/denyng/taking a negative/pessimistic view of something
      -a “neigh sayer” is making horsey sounds

      Unless that was a zinger where you were using a play on words to infer that they were also hicks or some such.

      • Mark

        Was he using a play on words to “infer” they were hicks, or to “imply” it?

    • Ben

      1) Bad logic. Just because you build a lot of something doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’re building is any good. Case in point: Just about anything built in China.

      2) Test pilots are hardly objective (at least to the media). Do you think the military brass pushing the F-35 would tolerate a pilot who openly opposes a 1.5 trillion dollar defense program?

      3) I’d rather not “wait and see” if it’s any good after our entire air force is comprised of F-35s and we’re stuck with them for the next 20-30 years.

      • 1 – We aren’t China. This is the most tested aircraft in history. It’s software alone is 4 times more sophisticated than the F-22. Not one of the problems identified has not had a solution developed for it.

        2. Operational pilots are also in love with the plane. Not a single bad comment from any operational pilots. At least two pilots bad mouthed the F-22, with good reason, although it was thier suits, not the plane that was hurting them. Even if they were cowed, they would be neutral about commenting. Instead, they are very impressed with the plane.

        3. We aren’t waiting and seeing. The plane is preforming as advertised, with far greater capability than other current 4th generation planes. It will continue to improveto be sure. We need to ensure it can load out with 6 AIM-120s of course, as we cut the F-22 too early, and we will continue to update it as long as it is flying, but all the pilots say it is already more capable than anything else flying except maybe the F-22.

        • Ben

          Test pilots, operational pilots, my point still stands. Any pilot who sticks his/her neck out to criticize the F-35 would be signing a death wish on their career. There’s just no room for opposition on an acquisition program this grotesquely huge.

          The plane is performing as advertised?? I wish I lived in your dreamworld, buddy, because that’s far from reality. The DoD has had to lower the requirements on the plane twice because of performance deficiencies in turn and acceleration rates and range. That’s right, re-wrote the books just so it could pass the exam. It’s insanely more expensive than originally advertise, much farther behind schedule than advertised, the HMD doesn’t work right… It’s embarrassing.

          • XYZ

            While I generally agree with you that lowering requirements to pass an inferior program is bad, there is something to be said about requirements development being one of the DoD’s worst skills. Has anyone in the public actually asked whether the requirements were too high to begin with?

            Again, not saying it’s necessarily true, but we all know that the DoD can set requirements that wrongly kill programs.

          • ChuckL

            The aerodynamic performance of the F-35 doesn’t match anything that it is to replace. Aircradft used in 1959 exceeded the performance of the F-35, and the F-106 also was capable of supecruise. The 1978 F-4 bearts th F-35 in all areas of peformance.

            In short, if the “rules of engagement” do not allow shooting at unidentified targets, the F-35 loses.

        • Big-Dean

          I do believe that Charles has come out of the Lockheed closet. He is loud and proud card carrying member of the F-35 Mafia. ;-P

        • rat

          If itweren’t for VSTOL the pig could have matched the 22s cruise speed. We cant dev lope a plane that matches what the rest if the world will be fielding (performance) or match a capability we developed 25 years earlier? 150 miles at 1.2 is nifty if you’re fleeing mig29… else whats the point of fuel burn?

        • ChuckL

          Perhaps rhat software should have been installed in the F-22.

  • 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.

    • Which demonstrates how little you know about the F-35.

      • Big-Dean

        don’t worry hibean, Charles get’s paid by the word, it’s nothing personal-just business ;-P

    • JohnnyRanger

      Minus 15, hibeam! Somebody’s figured out how to spoof the site! I came in at a respectable minus 10… ;-)

  • 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.

      • Atomic Walrus

        Very true. People often don’t realize that the F-15Es used in Desert Storm hadn’t been cleared for more than a few basic weapons when they were deployed, even though it had been declared operationally capable in late 1989 and was based on a mature airframe. The Air Force had to accelerate weapons clearance testing during Desert Shield so that the F-15E could properly participate in the air campaign. The book “Strike Eagle” is very enlightening. I think a lot of reaction to these major programs is the Tom Clancy effect – everybody gets the impression that everything is supposed to work perfectly immediately, every time.

      • Big-Dean

        in real life Charles is a salesman for Microsoft ;-P

      • BlackOwl18E

        Hey, I’m not an F/A-18E pilot. I’m aiming to be one though at the moment and I hope that goal becomes a reality in the future. The Navy specifically said it needed the Block 3 software in order to even use it. Block 2B was not good enough according to the CNO.

  • 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.

    • Beno

      IFF wont be applicable for ground attack. this system ID’s tanks etc too you know.

      Decoy Idea, very sound, but with the level of detail SAR and IR can get now, they are literally SEEING the target to a reasonable detail, getting an IR and Radar “picture” will make it much more difficult to decoy than say an F18

      Its not their radar your ID’ing its literally the radar return of their plane. And with the differing Waveforms from the F35 AESA you can get differing detail at differing frequencies. making a more unique ID picture and much more difficult to decoy.

      Also all the F35’s are chatting to each other sharing data real time, so each will see a target from a different angle, this feature REALLY starts to get you exceptional ID confidence and inability to spoof.

      ( IF this all works, which i think it will, its just when )

      • nick987654

        I am just not sure what you describe would work at max range against a LO PAK-FA or J-20 ( the range at which you would try your first salvoe). The F-35 has advanced sensors but they are not magical either. If ID doesn’t work decoys could be useful. Once the F-35s have launched say half of their missiles against the decoys, the PAK-FAs/J-20s can run them down with their superior speed.

        And the F-22 has no IRST to help for identification.

        • Curt

          And how, pray tell, did the PAK-FA and J-20 know when to launch their decoys in the first place? How big are these decoys that are able to reliably duplicate the multiple aspects of the aircraft? How many can they carry? What do they give up to carry them? Even the MALD, which is not exactly miniature nor does it replicate as many characteristics as would be required, is larger than a SDB. So go ahead, load up with decoys and then plan to “Chase Down” the other guy after he shoots at you at 100 plus miles.

          • nick987654

            Lol well first of all let me say I am a supporter of the F-35. But I try not to become an irrational fanboy.

            Why do you think the USAF is investing in MADL if they are completely useless?

            Regarding the PAK-FA or J-20, they can carry their decoys on external hardpoint. AND THEY KNOW that the F-22s/F-35s are around. Why? Because it’s obvious that the USAF/USN has them flying CAP to intercept them.

            The PAK-FA/J-20 can launch their decoys from their external stations, then they can fly either together with them or stay behind. They’d have to study carefully their tactics.

            Thinking that the enemy force would just enter F-22/F-35 territory knowing that they would get slaughtered at long range without trying anything is dowright stupid.

            The F-35’s sensors may well be able to make the difference between a decoy and a PAK-FA, but the question is AT WHAT RANGE? The first shot would be taken at the maximum detection range of the radar. Is it possible to get a nice SAR image of the target at that range, I doubt it.

            So no, I will not become a irrational fanboy…

  • 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.

    • What basic functions are you talking about? They are dropping bombs, firing AAMs, can fly at 50 degrees AoA, they are cleared to fly at night. They are about the get cleared for higher speeds, and altitudes. What exactly can’t the plane do?

  • 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?

    • Curt

      They have been doing similar type things for a long time with various systems, both active and passive. The F-35 just integrates more stuff together. In many respects, aircraft are far easier to identify than submarines.

  • 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

    • We are collecting data on every plane as soon as we can observe them. We collect their electronic signature anytime the emit. As soon as a plane flys outside its countries air space we can collect radar and infrared returns. Spys inside another country have passed significant data on all sorts of equipment. Even when the J-20 flys during tests, we can collect infrared signatures from spys we can put in nearby buildings. Of course, any time the F-35 goes into combat, it will be collecting data that can be analyszed and disseminated almost imeediately. This is one of the most significant aspects of the design, as it can fuze information with as quick software drop, where other fighters can not fdo this as easily. It is doubtful that the Russian sensor fusion is anywhere nearly as good. The Chinese are likely still behind, but better than the Russians.

  • 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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