Skunk Works Integrates F-35 with U-2 Spy Plane to Provide Early Warning for Ballistic Missile Intercept Test

F-35 used as elevated sensor to enable live fire of PAC-3 Patriot for cruise missile kill in US Army Flight Test

By Dario Leone
Jul 16 2021
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A Lockheed Martin PAC-3 missile successfully intercepted a surrogate cruise missile threat at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, using F-35 as an elevated sensor.

A Lockheed Martin PAC-3 Patriot missile successfully intercepted a surrogate cruise missile threat at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), New Mexico, using F-35 as an elevated sensor. The mid-July US Army flight test marks a first in one flight test – F-35 data contributing to the global track used by the US Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) to live fire a PAC-3.

IBCS, developed by Northrop Grumman, used the F-35 data with other contributing sensor data to initiate the launch of the PAC-3 to neutralize the incoming threat, using combat-proven Hit-to-Kill technology unique to the Lockheed Martin interceptor.

“Threats continue to evolve, and it’s important that we always stay ahead of them. This flight test shows the impact of what we can do in Joint All Domain Operations when we use the U.S. Army’s IBCS and airborne communications gateways to bring together the world’s only combat-proven Hit-to-Kill interceptor with the world’s most advanced fighter jet,” said Brenda Davidson, vice president of PAC-3 Programs, in a Lockheed Martin news release.

Lockheed Martin is evolving technologies that connect, share and learn to empower warfighters with the information needed to quickly make decisions that drive action and enable joint all domain operations (JADO).

F-35 intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) track data was used with IBCS for the first time during OFE 19-2 to enhance situational awareness and provide weapons-quality track data to engage airborne targets with a virtual PAC-3. This capability enables multi-domain operations and the detection of threats that could challenge ground-based sensors.

In December 2019, F-35s were used to provide track data to IBCS to successfully intercept near simultaneous air-breathing threats in a test at WSMR. The December 2019 test marked the first time F-35s were used as sensors during an IBCS live fire test against multiple airborne targets.

Linking F-35s to IBCS via the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) provided enhanced situational awareness and weapons-quality track data to engage airborne targets. The proof of concept demonstration used experimental equipment developed by Lockheed Martin, including the Harvest Lightning Ground Station and IBCS adaptation kit (A-Kit).

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Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

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Dario Leone

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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