Military Aviation

“F-35 could detect, track and possibly shoot down ballistic missiles by 2025,” Head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency says

Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves hinted that the F-35 could take down a ballistic missile by having a new “fast missile that’s hung on the bottom of” the fighter

Head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, told the Senate appropriations subcommittee on defense that he expects the F-35 to be capable of detecting, tracking and, possibly, even shooting down ballistic missiles by 2025.

“I’d say six to seven years to essentially work out the Concept of Operations (and) develop the capabilities — (whether) it’s sensor-based or a new fast missile that’s hung on the bottom of an F-35 for the BMDS (Ballistic Missile Defense) mission — integrate those capabilities, test them, and deliver them into a theater of operations,” Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves told the Senate appropriations subcommittee on defense. “We see that deployed capability as, if not a game changer, then a significant contributor to future ballistic missile defense.”

According Breaking Defense this is the first time a senior official says how long it might take to incorporate F-35s into missile defense. Noteworthy the U.S. military has tested out the concept in the past: in 2014, an F-35 infrared sensor installed on a surrogate aircraft successfully tracked a launch and transmitted tracking data over the military’s standard Link-16 network. In 2016, a U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) F-35B detected and tracked a missile, then passed the data over the Navy’s NIFC-CA network to the Aegis missile defense system, which shot the threat down.

Congressman Duncan Hunter boasted last year that the stealth fighter could not only track ICBMs but also shoot them down with its current air-to-air missile. “You can shoot down missiles coming out of North Korea in the boost phase with CAPs (Combat Air Patrols) of F-35s and AMRAAMs, and I’ve got a map to show it,” he declared.

However given that the AIM-120 AMRAAM isn’t designed to chase an ICBM into space, it would have a narrow window to kill an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) before it escaped the atmosphere.

For this reason Greaves hinted that the stealth fighter could take down a ballistic missile by having a new “fast missile.”

“Our job is to look outside of the classic missile defense system” — Patriot, THAAD, GBI — “and look for sensors and shooters that would be able to contribute when integrated into the BMDS, and we see F-35 as one,” Greaves said.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35B Lightning II VMFA-121 Green Knights, VK00, 169164 / 2015

Photo credit: MSgt John Nimmo Sr. / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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