Air Force Develops Threat Data Base for F-35

Joint 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.

  • Steve Jenkinson

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

  • 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.

    • Charles James Haas

      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.

  • 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.

      • Charles James Haas

        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.

  • 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!

    • Charles James Haas

      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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • John Fourquet

    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

    • Charles James Haas

      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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