Air Force F-35As Fly SEAD Missions

Air Force F-35A pilots flew last month for the first time in a large scale combat training mission to specifically defeat enemy air defense systems.

Known as SEAD, or suppression of enemy air defenses, military leaders have highlighted the F-35’s ability to defeat air defense systems to allow U.S. and coalition aircraft to penetrate enemy borders. The military has allowed other aircraft such as the EA-6B Prowler to retire and allow the F-35 to take over the SEAD mission.

The F-35A is still a year away from its initial operating capability date but F-35A pilots flew SEAD missions in the recent Air Force Weapons School Integration Phase out of Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., for the first time.

Air Force officials didn’t offer many details on the F-35A’s performance and pointed out that many of the sensors and software is not yet ready for many of the SEAD missions.

However, Air Force leaders highlighted the ability to add the F-35A to mission packages has opened up F-22 pilots to focus more on air-to-air responsibilities. Previously, F-22 pilots were becoming over saturated with tasks, “potentially hampering mission execution,” according to the release.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • lance

    That’s a DUH to have a somewhat stealthy attack plane do Wild Weasel missions. The question is how many HARMs can this little plane can carry?

    • xXTomcatXx

      Four internally for the sake of SEAD missions. Not bad.

    • dragon029

      4 externally for now - the AARGM or AARGM-ER (HARM replacements / upgrades) is intended for internal carriage on the F-35 however, which will let it fly slick with 2 internally along with a pair of AMRAAMs.

    • Chuck Pierce

      Where are the ALQ-99 or what ever is the follow on Carried?

    • James B.

      Even if it can carry HARM internally, can it carry pods like the EA-6B / EA-18G? It might be a good SAM-hunter with stealth, HARM, and ESM, but it won’t be able to provide broad jamming without serious (unstealthy) external pods.

  • Dfens

    “The F-35 is still a year away from its initial operating capability date.” I wonder how many years they will be making that claim? Clearly the only thing to do is cancel the program. It is evil evil evil and Lockheed needs that $10 billion cancellation fee. They’ve got billionaire executives that need those checks to roll in regularly. Have a heart, help a rich guy in need.

  • duker

    Rather starnge to say ” allowed other aircraft such as the EA-6B Prowler to retire and allow the F-35 to take over the SEAD mission.”
    The prowler HAS been retired by the Growler (F18G) . It will be a LONG time till an SEAD capable F35 flies let alone goes into service.
    It wont even be able to fire its gun till software (3F) for that mission is tested fully in 2019 ( hopefully) and thats only for A version , B and C have a different gun location.

    In reality the F35A is going to be replacing F15E as it too is a strike fighter

  • oblatt23

    This is just more pantomime to keep the F-35 alive - glowing reports of pretend SEAD missions cant hide the reality of a what a disaster the F-35 is in real life.

    • Dfens

      Right, so cancel it. Lockheed needs that $10 billion check, and clearly the next program will be better, right?

  • IHTFP

    Let’s see how well an F-16 does here. Last month, when Russia announced its willingness to sell S-300 air defense systems to Iran thanks to the nuclear deal framework, it was reported that fourth-gen fighters wouldn’t stand much of a chance against it. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/04/13/…

    “A complete game changer for all fourth-gen aircraft. That thing is a beast and you don’t want to get near it,” said a senior U.S. Marine Corps aviator.

    “It also essentially makes Iran attack-proof by Israel and almost any country without fifth-gen capabilities,” said a senior Air Force commander.

    “The double-digits SAMs give all of the fourth-gen jets great pause,” said a senior Air Force official.

    • doctordave777

      I read the opposite. The Israeli media had an article saying that the S-300 was already accounted for in their Iran attack plan. I can believe it too. They have their own radar jammers. But I guess that we’ll see, sooner or later.

    • give-me-a-break

      We’ve ever seen any of the russian equipment perform in actual large scale combat. Russian equipment always looks good on paper and ends up killing it operators in large number.

    • King Arthur

      F-35(and F-22) flies right through both S-300 and S-400.

      YES WE CAN!!!

    • blight_

      It’s worth noting that NATO exercises can practice against Greek S-300 systems. While not necessarily the same system as that picked up by Iran (likely a S-300PMU/S-400 due to the delays) it’s better than nothing.

  • Nashingun

    The way I see it F-35 carries various types of jammers from UHF to VHF and L-Band aside from radar absorbing materials. I think F-35 is the most capable to date and the most sophisticated aircraft US is producing. But sadly many gullible Americans fall into bad media reports and are quick to condemn this expensive program but when you finally look at the end product I could say this plane is an impressive piece of equipment.

    • dragon029

      The F-35 can only perform electronic attack in the X band (using it’s radar); it has UHF, etc transmitters for comms and it’s EW system can detect a wide range of bands, but to properly jam them will require secondary equipment like an ALQ-99 or NGJ.

      There’s already work being done by some company (Terma, the company that makes the stealthy Multi Mission Pod aka gun pod for the F-35 won’t disclose who they’re working with) to create a “cyber pod”.

    • maxxx

      Exactly.

      Was the f117 a boondoggle? $40-50 million

      With basically the same stealth but now also supersonic with modest visual range dogfighting skills this jet has what should be expected from all quantum leaps forward, cost overruns, and the f117 was definitely that!)

      Take two gen 4 fighters of the same cost and take your choice, Since first look is first kill, I take the f35 to save my life.

      I’ve always preferred to fight with the odds on my side, but it’s nice for those with the courage to fight.

  • Robbie

    The key letter in SEAD is S which stands for suppression, not destruction. The F-35’s electronic blinding and deception abilities are going to be far superior to earlier (even dedicated) SEAD aircraft, so it will need to employ a HARM or other kinetic solution far less often. You guys continue to make the fundamental error of expecting a F-35 to tackle its various missions in the same old way as did 4th gen aircraft instead of exploiting its inherent design superiorities. It’s the same stupid perspective that expects a F-35 to turn with a F-16, when no fighter on earth willingly does that, including the godlike F-22.

  • racindavid

    Actually this is a mission the F35 will likely do VERY well.

  • Tad

    20 years since development began to deployment. F-14 Tomcat - 22 months.

  • Anymouse

    Too bad F-35 doesn’t have internal carriage HARM or AARGM capability. Can’t see it doing this mission with SDB II or external carriage of missiles.

    • blight_

      The probable plan is to have the F-35’s triangulate the radar source, identify the target using sensors/human logic, then release an SDB on the target. It offloads a lot of the tracking back to the aircraft instead of outsourcing it to the missile. We pushed it to the missile to reduce the risk threshold for the pilots, but theoretically with low RCS aircraft we should be able to have the aircraft do more and the weapon do less.

    • NathanS

      Future AARGM capability is meant to be internal (at least for the F-35 A and C).

      Missiles are easily detected by IR scanners, so can potentially give away position; which is where the SDBs have the advantage.

  • jamesb101

    As long as the F-18 Growler’s are flying….
    Things will be ok…..

  • Big-D

    The F-35 can do it all air to air, air to ground, CAS, SEAD, PhD, and the bad guy can’t touch it, it can even serve up a wicked cup of espresso. Thank you Lockhead for looking out for us poor stupid little taxpayers. Without you where would our pilots be doing, flying bi-planes no doubt

    • Dfens

      I know, let’s cancel it now because it will make espresso but the foam is a little thin. After all, Big-D, another Lockheed lap dog, really really wants them to get that $10 billion dollar cancellation check and he’ll say anything to make sure that happens.

    • BuzSaw

      What would our pilots be doing? Flying drones from Langley.

  • oblatt23

    Like everything on the F-35 by the time its combat ready it will be two generations out of date.

    In the meantime F-35 SEAD consists of radioing the SAM batteries to tell them to turn off their radars.

  • Dfens

    What would happen if someone thought for themselves instead of being corralled into the “pro-Lockheed” or “cancel the F-35” camps? What would that do to the debate if the defense contractors couldn’t control all sides of the issue? Why, that person who didn’t conform could say anything. All the talking points charts would be completely useless then. Oh the humanity!

  • hialpha

    Mike Hoffman,

    It is a false statement to say the F-35 has allowed the EA-6B to retire. The Air Force has left the AEA game to the Navy, and the Navy has beefed up it’s number of EA-18G’s considerably compared to the Prowler fleet.

    The Prowler retired because it was old and needed a replacement. It’s a Navy decision. Putting that comment in an article focused on Air Force SEAD is misleading.

    Thanks

  • Big-D

    Next thing we hear is that the Air Force has “allowed’ the Navy to keep aircraft carriers

  • virgil cuttaway

    Who are the billionaire execs? Names please.

  • Dan Walsh

    Stop already. Apiece of crap is a piece of crap and always will be a piece of crap no matter how you dress it. Put this turd deep in the closet where it belongs so we don’t have to be reminded of complete failure again and again.

  • Curtis Conway

    Boeing delivered the 100th EA-18G Growler to the U.S. Navy 5MAY14, marking a major milestone in the program that has transformed airborne electronic warfare capability for the U.S. and its allies. The two man EA-18G Growler is the replacement for the four man EA-6B Prowler.

    A derivative of the F/A-18F Super Hornet, the Growler is the only aircraft in production that provides tactical jamming and electronic protection for U.S. and allied forces. Growlers provide a unique capability to nearly all U.S. and Allied combat missions and are expected to be in service until at least 2040.

    “Given the threat environment we are moving into, the Growler will play a major role in identifying, tracking, targeting and potentially firing upon the enemy,” said Capt. Frank Morley, U.S. Navy F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager, during the delivery ceremony today in St. Louis. “The EA-18G Growler is a high-demand asset that is equally critical in disrupting our enemies operations as it is enhancing our own.”

    the F-35 Lightening II will have similar capabilities, but is not currently slated for integration of the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ).

  • Keith

    So so funny. F35 flys SEAD mission. Acft is still RESTRICTED to 3G’s and not allowed to us the Gun. How can anybody say we are even close to IOC for this acft, especially after it’s debakle with the F16 a few weeks ago.

  • Andrew

    I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the implacably negative posters here are Russian or Chinese mouthpieces working to spread misinformation and endlessly recycle any unfavorable info to generate public outcry against various US systems in development. It’s been widely reported that Russian posers are doing exactly that on European sites to generate “domestic” support for Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine and other issues.

  • IWEETODDED

    Ya this is wonderful this project now we have these wonderful jets that can do amazing things, but what whats this we don’t have any pilots smart enough to fly them because our schools aren’t funded, and the school buses can’t pick anyone up cause the roads are garbage because our military budget is stupidly inflated…well that don’t matter cause we got shiny planes and executives from lockheed martin need those mansions and Yachts as long as we have billions invested in jets surely were fine

    • Dfens

      Marillyn Hewson did such a good job last year she got a raise from $25 million a year to $34 million.

  • David

    An aircraft that cannot maneuver will be use to defend against enemy air defense system.

  • doctordave777

    If we survive until a new President is in power (18 months), perhaps he/she will have the smarts to reopen the F-22 production line, regardless of costs. It’s the only proven next gen fighter that we have, and 180 aren’t enough.

  • Big Al

    the f-35 is the modern YUGO !! An old f-4 phantom can outrun ,out shoot, carry more weapons, and out climb this piece of junk!!! In a simulated dog fight, the phantom wouls kick it s ass big time !!! One question: how many people got paid off to build this piece of flying crap ??? Tremendous waste of tax payers money.One final point, why would the navy settle for a single engine plane ?? I guess they don t have to worry about getting back if the single engine has a flame out.

  • King Arthur

    ❤F-22 Raptor + F-35 JSF + B-2 Spirit + Predator Avenger C + RQ180 + CIA Aurora Scramjet❤

    USA #1 Always and Forever!

    Enjoy!

  • wingmaster

    and pointed out that many of the sensors and software is not yet ready for many of the SEAD missions………Translation……. Ah crap ! it didn’t work…again

    the F-35A to mission packages has opened up F-22 pilots to focus more on air-to-air responsibilities………..Translation……… Ah Crap ! it didn’t work better give that mission back to the F-22 group

    Read more: http://live-defensetech.sites.thewpvalet.com/2015/07/20/air-force-f-35a…
    Defense.org

    Read more: http://live-defensetech.sites.thewpvalet.com/2015/07/20/air-force-f-35a…
    Defense.org

  • Mike

    “Air Force officials didn’t offer many details on the F-35A’s performance and pointed out that many of the sensors and software is not yet ready for many of the SEAD missions.”
    Let’s see many of the sensors and software not ready, yet it did a SEAD, or maybe it flew along side of other aircraft that were doing the SEAD mission. I don’t classify that as a SEAD mission.
    So the F-35 will do CAS, SEAD, Air Interdiction, and possibly Air-to-Air. I wonder how many will be produced after Congress slashes funding come FOC? The Army and Marines are going to be pissed since this will replace the A-10.
    Forget the F-22, takes to long to get one in the air (maintenance man-hours to flying hours), also the AF doesn’t want the lose any F-22’s in combat (LO, etc). Maybe the AF won’t want to have the F-35 in combat either.
    Oh yeah Lockheed bought Sikorsky - So Lockheed is now a monopoly in defense contracts. So helio’s are going to cost more. LOL

  • arc5radio

    The F-35 is a pig and a disgrace that cannot be fixed. 100% payday and payoff for unions and contractors funnelling “campaign” cash to Senators. That’s the only reason it’s still alive.

  • Roland

    Reopen the YF-23 production line. Employ our mom and dad to produce these planes.

  • spartan

    I wouldn’t use the term “smarts”, and the real question is will he have the money for it.