Shaping New Combat Con-Ops: F-35 and F-22 Cross Learning

2017-12-29 As we end 2017, the team at Second Line of Defense would like to note that we have focused for MANY years on the re-norming of airpower associated with the coming of the fifth generation aircraft.

There have been many opponents along the way, and many of these folks still do not get it.

And when Secretary Gates and Senator McCain were in high attack mode on the F-35B we not only defended the aircraft but highlighted how significant the aircraft could become in rethinking combat capabilities and concepts of operations.

Notably, both South Korea and Japan are looking to the possibility of adding F-35Bs to their naval forces, something that would not be happening if Secretary Gates and Senator McCain’s barrage of criticism had led to the F-35 becoming another F-22 in terms of contract termination.

If you are going to do high tempo and high intensity operations, and your are a liberal democracy, you need to operate rapidly in response and with as much joint and coalition combat power as you can.

This is what the fifth generation combat capability enables.

It is a work in progress and affects the entire combat process, including the integration of offensive and defense systems in the kind of integration which Aegis with F-35 allows, or which the integration of Army ADA systems with fifth generation airpower will allow as well.

Four U.S. Air Force fighter jets practice the inauguration flyover at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Jan. 19, 2017. The formation is comprised of two, fourth generation fighters (F-15 and F-16) along with two, fifth generation fighters (F-22 and F-35). (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tristan Biese) (Photo by Airman 1st Class Tristan Biese)

The shaping, crafting and creation of integrated offensive and defensive forces is part of what are calling F-35 2.0.

Acquiring and operating the aircraft are not enough.

It is about working through how to reshape C2 and force integration overall with the F-35 as a key lever for change.

In an interview this Fall while in Copenhagen the new chief of staff of the Royal Danish Air Force put it particularly well:

To be blunt: to leverage every aspect out of the F-35 as a common coalition aircraft will be essential to defense in the Nordic region and the transformation of their forces to deal with the direct Russian threat.

This means leveraging common pilot training, leveraging pilots across the enterprise in case of shortages within a national air force, common logistics stores in the region, common maintenance regimes, common data sharing, and shared combat learning.

This clearly is a work in progress and what one might call F-35 2.0.

F-35 1.0 is getting the plane and operating it in squadrons; F-35 2.0 is leveraging the aircraft as part of an overall transformation process.

In my discussion during a visit to Copenhagen in October 2017, I had a chance to talk again with ERA (his call sign).

And he was clearly focusing on F-35 2.0, probably in part because the new Danish defense agreement in process if clearly focused on countering the Russian A2/AD strategy in the region.

“When I talk with F-35 pilots, the same message is drilled into me – this is not a replacement aircraft; this is not like any aircraft you have flown before.

“The aircraft enables our air combat forces to play a whole new ballgame.

“And from my discussions with Australians, the Norwegians, the Dutch and the Brits, it is clear that the common drive is to shape a fifth generation combat force, not simply fly the current 256 F-35s as cool, new jets.”

He clearly had in mind working on F-35 2.0 to trigger a broader transformation.

And this makes sense, because in large part the F-35 is not simply a fighter which you define but what it does by itself organically, but, rather by what it can trigger in the overall combat fleet, whether lethal or non-lethal payloads.

“We need to focus on the management of big data generated by the F-35 and other assets that will come into the force.

“How do we do the right kind of command and control within a rich information battlespace?

“We need to build self-learning systems as well.

“The F-35 is a revolutionary man-machine system and sets in motion not only the challenge of new approaches to working information and C2, but new approaches to combat learning.

“How do we get there?

“That is what generating a fifth generation combat force is all about.”

It is clear that the F-35 is part of a significant culture change.

“We need to be open to significant culture change.

“Many Danish F-35 pilots will be converted from 16s and will learn the new ways of operating.

“At the same time, s new generation of pilots will have F-35 as their first combat aircraft and have no operational experience on legacy aircraft and are open to radical changes in how the jet can be used and in working with the other combat assets.

“We need to facilitate and channel such open ended learning as well as we build out or force transformation with those pilots with F-16 experience and the new F-35 pilots as well.

“Part of that is captured by the notion of integrating legacy aircraft with the F-35, but that is too narrow of a concept.

“We are really looking at shaping a different kind of force, F-35-enabled but which incorporates the old which remains valuable and adds new systems which can expand the combat effectiveness of the evolving fifth generation force.”

“How do we make sure that we don’t settle with the reality that the F-35 is better than anything out there and it makes the fourth gen better?

“That will not get us to a fifth generation combat force.

“We need to leverage it to drive continuous transformation to ensure that we have the kind of capabilities which our demanding strategic environment requires.”

The cross learning between the F-22 and the Fp-35 is a key bedrock of such change being able to occur in the next five years among the allies as well as the U.S. joint forces.

A very good article by John Tirpak published in the Air Force Magazine provides a very good overview of how cross learning has unfolded and its significance for the way ahead for the combat force. We have excerpted from the article below but recommend reading the complete article.

A dozen years after the F-22’s operational debut and two years after the F-35 was declared ready for combat, the flow of lessons learned is running both ways. The two fifth generation fighter programs are working together to reduce costs and make both systems more effective.

The F-22 has been a pathfinder for the F-35: Its formations and methods of employment are a model for the junior fighter. In return, the small F-22 fleet is gaining economy-of-scale benefits by getting in on parts buys with the far larger—and growing—F-35 fleet. More advanced and hardier stealth features on the F-35 are working their way back to the F-22, the two aircraft share radar features, and operational and manufacturing experience with the F-35 are helping define upgrades for the Raptor.

“The F-35 and F-22 were always meant to operate alongside one another, so it makes a lot of sense to apply that same logic to the programmatic side of both platforms,” said Lockheed Martin F-35 program manager Jeff A. Babione. “We’re constantly taking advantage of newer, more advanced technologies and processes. If we can apply the same advances to the F-35 and F-22, we drive costs down and pull schedules to the left on both programs.”

The F-22 pioneered fifth generation tactics and those are being applied straight to the F-35, according to Col. Paul “Max” Moga, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla. The 33rd trains new F-35 pilots, but Moga spent years in the F-22, as an instructor and demonstration pilot and later as a squadron commander, after starting out in F-15s.

Regarding employment techniques on the F-22 and F-35, “I would describe them as a direct transfer,” Moga said. In the F-22, the key to employment is “managing signature, sensor, and what we refer to as ‘flow,’ ” which he explained is how the plane and pilot sense the battlespace, steer between threats, and get into the optimum position to engage. That same concept applies to the F-35, he said.

Though fourth generation aircraft pilots have to manage visual and infrared signatures, “it’s not until you get in the fifth gen world that you really concern yourselves with radar signature management. … That is a core competency of any fifth gen platform, and that is a direct transfer over from the F-22 to the F-35.” Pilots of both jets must “manage our signature as we employ the aircraft and optimize our survivability and lethality,” Moga said.

The F-22 was a “generational leap” over fourth gen fighters such as the F-15 and F-16, and it took a conscious shift in culture to shed old tactics that were no longer relevant when the F-22 came online, he noted.

In a fourth generation jet, a wingman must provide “mutual support” within visual range, “welded” to the flight lead just a few miles away. But “pretty early on in Raptor tactics development, we realized that, based on the capabilities of the airplane, we didn’t need visual mutual support. We needed a mutual support by presence, which, for us, can be upward of 10, 15, 20 nautical miles away from one another,” said Moga.

For a former fourth gen pilot who has always depended on someone close by having his back, “it takes a while to get used to that,” Moga said…..

The F-22 has been a success story in Operation Inherent Resolve, Moga asserted. Though its high-end dogfight capabilities have never been tested in combat, “I think the F-22 has performed tactically better than most people thought it was going to in theater.” When not “gainfully employed,” dropping bombs or escorting packages of other aircraft, the F-22 has proved stellar in other ways, putting together “the electronic order of battle, … the airborne order of battle,” and then conveying that information “back to the platforms it may be more applicable to.”

A lesson learned—and one certainly being applied on the F-35—is “the importance of maintaining accurate and up-to-date mission data files,” Moga noted. This is another area where exhaustive information on regional threats is applicable to both airplanes. The software facility that loads both aircrafts’ mission data files is at Eglin. USAF and partner nations collaborate to populate the databases with every threat known to intelligence.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, and it’s a fast-moving ball game, but we’re making a lot of progress,” he said. Still, “we’ve got a little ways to go before we can raise the flag and say we’re where we want to be,” Moga added.

In short, 2018 will see further evolution of the combat capabilities for the combat force driven by the renorming airpower and we will certainly be reporting on those developments throughout the year.

Editor’s Note: For our earlier articles published in 2011, 2012 and 2015 which focused on both Gates and McCain and made the strategic case for the F-35B, see the following:

The F-35B: From ‘Probation’ To Transformation

McCain Misfires on F-35: Rushes Towards the Past

The Impact of the F-35B: Strategic Deterrence with Tactical Flexibility

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

—General George Patton Jr.

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