The F-35 as an Integrated Fighter Aircraft


In a 2018 paper presented by four Lockheed Martin engineers, the nature of the F-35 as an integrated and networked “first generation integrated flying combat system” was presented at the 2018 Aviations Technology, Integration and Operations Conference.

The F-35 comprises a set of highly common aircraft for the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy, as well as the 12current F-35 partner nations. Although the airframes themselves possess slight differences unique to eachvariant’s operating environment requirements, the mission systems’ hardware and software are common. In addition, product-line engineering tags have been integrated into the mission systems’ software requirements baseline. This enables repeatable and affordable country-unique builds for production off of a U.S. baseline.

The F-35 sensor suite includes the:

1)AN/APG-81 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar,

2)AN/ASQ-239 Electronic Warfare (EW)/Countermeasures (CM) system,

3)AN/AAQ-40 Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS),

4)AN/AAQ-37 Electro-Optical (EO) Distributed Aperture System (DAS), and

5)AN/ASQ-242 Communications, Navigation, and Identification (CNI) avionics suite.

These five sensors provide F-35 fusion with object detection and measurements in the radio frequency (RF) and infrared (IR) spectrums. This compilation of data gathering disseminates more information about the environment than what has ever been available on a fighter aircraft.

In addition to receiving information from the onboard sensors, the F-35 receives off-board tracks and measurements from the Link 16 datalink and the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL). Designed for 5th Generation aircraft, MADL provides fusion-quality data on all air and surface tracks to other members of the flight group. These data include the track state, track covariance, identification features, and passive RF data.

The amount and fidelity of the off-board information provided by MADL was one of the largest challenges for the fusion design. The capability of the sensors and information sharing across MADL presented a challenge for sensor fusion. The challenge was to ensure that the tracks displayed were real and not duplicated, which would result in display clutter. The last few software builds in the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the F-35 program were aimed at tackling display clutter problems. The objective was to ensure that the pilot had accurate and timely information to make real-time tactical decisions in the cockpit.

This paper discusses the design, development, and verification of each of these systems, as well as the system of systems integrated into the F-35 aircraft.