The Air Force is now adding new information about enemy aircraft to the F-35's "threat library" database designed to precisely identify enemy aircraft operating in different high-risk areas around the globe - such as a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter or Russian T-50 PAK FA 5th Gen fighter, service leaders said.
Described as the brains of the airplane, the "mission data files" are extensive on-board data systems compiling information on geography, air space and potential threats in areas where the F-35 might be expected to perform combat operations, Air Force officials explained.
"New threat changes are monitored and incorporated into updated mission data files based on the established priorities. Mission Data Files have been fielded to the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force, in support of operations, test, training and exercises," Maj. Emily Grabowski, Air Force spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.
Consisting of hardware and software, the mission data files are essentially a database of known threats and friendly aircraft in specific parts of the world. The files continue to be worked on at a reprogramming laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Air Force officials said.
The mission data files are designed to work with the aircraft's Radar Warning Receiver engineered to find and identify approaching enemy threats and incoming hostile fire. The concept is to use the F-35s long range sensors to detect threats - and then compare the information against the existing library of enemy threats in real time while in flight. If this can happen at a favorable standoff range for the F-35, it will be able to identify and destroy enemy air-to-air targets before being vulnerable itself to enemy fire.
The mission data packages are loaded with a wide range of information to include commercial airliner information and specifics on Russian and Chinese fighter jets. For example, the mission data system would enable a pilot to quickly identify a Russian MiG-29 if it were detected by the F-35’s sensors.
"The Mission Data Files are based on the requirement," Grabowski said
While progress at the Eglin laboratory has been steady, the integration of the mission data files for the F-35 have experienced some delays, prompting the current effort to quicken the pace so that the operational aircraft has the most extensive threat library possible.
Overall, the Air Force is developing 12 different mission data files for 12 different geographic areas, Air Force officials have told Warrior Maven in previous interviews.
While Grabowski said that Mission Data File information on particular enemy platforms and specific global threat areas was naturally not available for security reasons, she did say the technology is now supporting the latest F-35 software configuration - called 3f.
As the most recently implemented software upgrade, Block 3f increases the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb, 500-pound JDAM and AIM 9X short-range air-to-air missile, service officials explained.
"Mission data has been fielded in support of version 2B, 3i, and 3f," Grabowski added.
The Air Force is already working on a 4th drop to be ready by 2020 or 2021. Following this initial drop, the aircraft will incorporate new software drops in two year increments in order to stay ahead of the threat. The service is also working to massively quicken the pace of software upgrades as a way to respond quickly to new threats.
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Block IV will include some unique partner weapons including British weapons, Turkish weapons and some of the other European country weapons that they want to get on their own plane, service officials explained.
Block IV will also increase the weapons envelope for the U.S. variant of the fighter jet. A big part of the developmental calculus for Block 4 is to work on the kinds of enemy air defense systems and weaponry the aircraft may face from the 2020’s through the 2040’s and beyond.
In terms of weapons, Block IV will eventually enable the F-35 to fire cutting edge weapons systems such as the Small Diameter Bomb II and GBU-54 – both air dropped bombs able to destroy targets on the move.
The Small Diameter Bomb II uses a technology called a “tri-mode” seeker, drawing from infrared, millimeter wave and laser-guidance. The combination of these sensors allows the weapon to track and eliminate moving targets in all kinds of weather conditions.
The emerging 4th software drop will build upon prior iterations of the software for the aircraft.
Block 2B builds upon the enhanced simulated weapons, data link capabilities and early fused sensor integration of the earlier Block 2A software drop. Block 2B will enable the JSF to provide basic close air support and fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile), JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU-12 (laser-guided aerial bomb) JSF program officials said.
Following Block 2B, Block 3i increases the combat capability even further and the now operational 3F brings a vastly increased ability to suppress enemy air defenses.
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