Shaping a 21st Century Approach to Tron Warfare

In this Special Report, Ed Timperlake looks at the intersection of the emergence of the F-35 fleet and rethinking concepts of air combat operations.

21st century warfare technologies concepts of operations and tactics and training are in evolution and revolution.

At the heart of reshaping US and allied approaches to airpower and its evolution is the emergence of the F-35, the significant impact which a global fleet of F-35s will have on US and allied capabilities and the approaches to leveraging other capabilities in the warfighting tool kit.

There is always the reactive enemy, so that the roll out of new approaches shaped by the impact of the F-35 will see reactions from various competitors and responding to these reactions will part of the re-set of evolving US and allied airpower and combat approaches.

The F-35 is at the heart of change for a very simple reason – it is a revolutionary platform, and when considered in terms of its fleet impact even more so.

The F-35, Lightning II, has a revolutionary sensor fusion cockpit that makes it effective in AA, AG and EW.

US and Allied Combat pilots will evolve and share new tactics and training, and over time this will drive changes that leaders must make for effective command and control to fight future battles.

An issue has been that the F-35 has been labeled a “fifth generation” aircraft, a sensible demarcation when the F-22 was being introduced.

But the evolution of the combat systems on the aircraft, the role of the fusion engine, and the impact of a fleet of integrated F-35s operating as a foundational element will make this term obsolete.

The global fleet of F-35s will be the foundation for a fundamental change in the way air power operates and with it overall combats concepts of operations for the US and allied insertion forces.

It is not an in and of itself platform; it is about what an integrated fleet of F-35s can deliver to TRANSFORM operations.

The decade ahead can be very innovative if what the fleet brings to the fight is learned and applied and the combat warriors leverage what they learn and then the application of those lessons to reshaping the force are applied.

As a senior RAF pilot involved with the F-35 program has put it well: “While much of the world still debates the existence of the F-35, we are moving rapidly forward to figure out how to use the aircraft and leverage it.”

At the heart of the transformation is the combination of two powerful trends: the emergence of Tron warfare and the forging of a combat cloud integrating combat capabilities.

The F-35 fleet operates at the cutting edge of both.

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Shaping a 21st Century Approach to Tron Warfare

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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