Nellis AFB recently hosted the annual Red Flag exercises. This featured American pilots operating against near peer adversaries with simulated communication jams. The systems that American pilots faced included advanced integrated air-defense systems, an adversary Air Force, cyber-warfare and information operations.
The news in this case is the performance of the F-35. It was being flown by a pilot with limited combat experience, with an airman in a fourth-generation fighter that had thousands of hours of flight experience. The fighter was blind, but was informed of enemy positions by the F-35 which saved him from a a devastating simulated attack.
The F-35 then used its extended-range sensors to fire its weapon systems. The end result was an overwhelming success for the F-35. It operated with GPS sensors jammed, but was still able to fulfill its role as quarterback that uses it’s stealth configuration to “Suppress Enemy Air Defenses” while monitoring air-to-air and air-to-ground threats.
This is a much needed step in its development. The F-35 has faced numerous cost overruns and delays in its 20-year development. It has had numerous technical problems and at one point almost 50 percent of the air fleet was grounded due to lack of spare parts. It famously lost a dog fight to older (much cheaper) planes during its testing phase, though I doubt incredible performances like this will erase that stigma.
Despite those numerous design flaws it has entered its combat ready phase, and as shown from the Red Flag exercises, it promises to offer a significant upgrade in capabilities over the current jets fielded by potential adversaries like China and Russia. While the F-35 has faced teething issues, it still shows tantalizing potential and promise with every successful test like this.