The Arrival of the HSCM: The Role of the F-35 in the Kill Web Con-Ops


By Ed Timperlake

It is now time to accept that a war-changing weapon, HSCM is in the late stages of R&D and it must be accounted for in any battle plan.  

Unlike distant “hyper-sonic” R&D efforts such a Global Strategic Strike aircraft, a hypersonic cruise missile is a rapidly evolving technology, which sooner than later will be demonstrating the art of the possible up close and personal.  

Such a revolutionary CM in the US arsenal is a very good thing. In the hands of Russian forces it is a very real “wolf at the door.”

Consequently when, not if, a hypersonic-Cruise Missile is battle ready the Air/Sea Battle staff will have to figure out both offensive and defensive con-ops.

In sufficient numbers a hypersonic cruise missile can be a war-tipping asset. 

Employed by US and Allied forces the capability will greatly enable a deadly combat punch.

If it is in the hands of an enemy a hypersonic cruise missile is a ship killer and now a direct strategic threat to the US. 

The Cold War USN Carrier Battle Group protection mantra against Russian Bombers with anti-ship cruise missiles was to try and first kill the archer not the arrows.

Top Gun in the late eighties briefed “Chainsaw” tactics, and the F-14 was very well designed for long-range interception of threats against the Fleet.

“Chainsaw” was a focus on reaching out as far a possible against any threats.1

Now if Russian and/or PLAAF successfully air launch HSCMs or their missiles are launched from ground batteries or surface ships or subs (USN fast attack subs are of utmost importance in that battle) they will be engaging in their version of the S-3 formula. 

Just like the USN and USAF they first need sensors to make it all work. 

The order of the “S” words in the priority of formula is very important.

If they develop a HSCM to empower their fighting force the F-35 does not have to fight in the stealth mode against HSCMs. 

Even if HSCMs move at Mach 10 an F-35 sensor platform moves “trons” at the speed of light and this can make all the difference.

It is very evident that all fighting forces need both reach and range. 

The F-35 today can play both stealth and non-stealth and is a generation better than any other aircraft in the world. 

One just has to look at Russian and PLAAF attempts to develop a real F-35 capability and their stealth airframe is lacking the sensor systems comparable to F-35. 

It is a pure marketing assertion that they have fusion parity and DAS.

The F-35 “360 Degree Fusion Cockpit” is good for a decade or more as the never ending action/reaction cycle of our enemies attempt to make their technology and training moves to catch up to the United States.

The US and its Allies are the only airpower thinkers and practitioners that can learn TTPs when F-35, F-22 and legacy aircraft mix it all up at a Red Flag. Russian and PLAAF cannot do that training within a decade. 

They might claim that they are building fusion cockpits in stealth jets-but currently just by looking at their airframes with no nose sensors or wing sensors, they are simply fusing linear improvements to radar systems. They do not have the complete 360-active/passive reach that the F-35 brings to AA, AG and EW fight.

There is one other significant factor of HSCMs.

A ship has an advantage in that it can maneuver at sea; it also has a distinct disadvantage if a mortal blow is landed it sinks.

In contrast, an airfield or strategic target like the White House or Camp David has a disadvantage in that it they are a very well-known fixed point on land. 

Training for the Kill Web

Both the US Navy and US Air Force have the vision and resources to develop the most modern training ranges in the world and a dedicated unified approach to collecting operational intelligence against HSCM airborne “signatures.”

During a visit to Nellis AFB Major General Jay Silveria, then the Commander of the USAF Warfare Center, pointed out that one of the missions of his command is to create a mission file for the F-35 fleet.

“The mission file includes all of the data about every threat, aircraft, surface-to-air missile, blue aircraft, and airliner, whatever that airplane may see during its flights.

“That intel mission data will fill the mission data file that will build is what the airplane then goes in and looks to see when it fuses that target.

The mission data file that we’re building right now in the 513th at the 53rd wing which are part of the Warfare Center were initially building are for the Marines.”2

The value is that USAF, USMC, USN and Allis have the possibility of working off that same mission data library.

The very practical application and perhaps battle tipping aspect of a fleet wide mission data file is that if just one F-35 anywhere anytime gets hit on a HSCM, the entire fleet can have the data.

This is unique capability to be able to prevail in modern war.

Concurrently, the Navy at Fallon is also building a significant training complex for practicing current con-ops and looking forward to studying how to defeat future threats.

Rear Admiral Scott Conn was Commander of Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center during our visit in 2014. He is now head of Naval Aviation at N-98.

According to Admiral Conn, “We are working at Fallon at expanding the capability for Naval aviation to operate in an expanded battlespace.” 3

And the Admiral made it clear that this was being done with adding capabilities like the F-35, and leveraging joint and coalition capabilities into what we are calling an attack and defense enterprise.

He and his team are spearheading a broad based effort to expand the envelope of training to combine live and virtual training by building a Live, Virtual, Constructive (LVC) training range as well, an approach well under progress at Fallon.

Rear Admiral Michael Manazir, when he was Director of Naval Air Warfare identified the Navy way ahead that will allow tactical innovation and practices for the best way to attack and destroy incoming HSCMs.

The threat baseline that we’re looking to fight in the mid-2020s and beyond is so much more advanced that we cannot replicate it using live assets.  And those advances are in the aircraft capability, the weapon capability, and in the electronic warfare capability of the threat systems.  

That drives us to thinking about a different way to train.

Live, virtual, constructive (LVC) training is a way to put together a representation of the threat baseline where you can train to the very high end using your fifth generation capability.  

Some of it is live with a kid in the cockpit, some of it is virtual in a simulator, and so “virtual” is actually the simulator environment.  

And then constructive is a way to use computers to generate a scenario displayed on either or both of the live or simulated cockpit.

You can also combine them to be live-constructive, or virtual-constructive, and by that I mean there are systems out there right now that you can install in the airplane that will give you a constructive radar picture air-to-air and surface-to-air along with the electronics effects right onto your scope.

You’re literally flying your airplane, and through a data link, you can share that information between airplanes, you can share it between dissimilar airplanes.4

Thus a key way ahead for R&D and con-ops to deal with the coming HSCM threat is clear.

The F-35 does not have to be in a stealth mode to sense and engage against HSCM racing at a CSG–it can go out and loiter as a 360-sensor picket platform and can empower the kill web with its detection capabilities. 

This is the seventh piece in our series on the response to Putin’s escalatory rhetoric and force structure planning with regard to threatening the US with sub strikes using high speed hypersonic missiles.

The featured photo shows an F-35C Lightning II assigned to the Rough Raiders of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 launching from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72).

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 26, 2018)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeff Sherman/Released)