Q: Are you seeing any concerns about using the F-35 for CAS?Just plain freaking wow. You heard it at Defense News first but they buried the lead.
A. [The F-35] is going to be able to do the CAS mission effectively. We’ve already executed on the ranges at night and at day, able to receive targets from terminal air controllers on the ground and able to attack and prosecute targets within timeframes that are well acceptable in a battlefield situation. So we’ve already seen that. Which means, if we’re already seeing it now, I know it’s going to get better.
The beauty of fusion is — it brings all the data together and it fuses it, but what that really does for you is time. I didn’t have to process it between my ears, but the airplane can now fuse it all together. And much [more quickly], the data fusion is available on a target, it can be targeted, a munition can delivered much, much quicker than in a 4th-gen where you would have to interpret the data, move it to another sensor, move it to a targeting system, then determine a target. The fusion makes it much quicker. So if we’re doing it now, the fusion is going to only make it much quicker.
Q: How much time do you gain from fusion?
A. That’s a harder question… Here’s a better way to describe it: in this airplane, in the F-35, I’ve done some CAS in the daytime with an A-10 weapons school instructor who is an F-35 instructor now. He gets me pointed in the general direction of a target on the ground and I use my helmet. I put my helmet over there, and with one-switch actualization all my sensors now look at that spot. Just like that, instantly.
Now, in a 4th-gen plane, I would have to get a sensor worked over to there. I would have to get information off of that sensor. I would have to move that information somewhere else in the airplane and then I would target it. So when I put my helmet over there and I went one-switch actualization, all of my sensors went to that spot and everything in the airplane said, “OK, we’re ready to go.” So all I had to do was get in a weapons solution and release on that spot I found on the ground. Whereas if I was in an F-16, if I got a sensor on there, whether I got a targeting pod or something else, I would have to take that information and then turn it into a target in the system.
We’re talking about minutes. Which matters a lot. Seconds are going to count in a close air support situation, so it’s much faster.
Q: Is your assumption that most CAS will be done with an external weapons load?
A. We’re not necessarily making assumptions in the CAS on the weapons load. We are developing tactics on how best to prosecute a target on the ground. But clearly when we write those tactics, external payloads, we’ve had the tradeoff discussion here; external payloads come with a tradeoff of LO [low observability], of weight, etc.
It depends on the scenario. If you’re in a scenario, say early in a conflict where you expect air to air threat and surface to air threat, then you are going to use and rely on your internal carriage and your LO capabilities of the airplane. And the fact your weapons load is less because it doesn’t have external, you’re gaining that tin the early parts of a conflict. Then in the scenario I described the surface to air threats or air to air threats are held back and contained, so now an air component commander doesn’t necessarily need the LO capability of the airplane and then may decide to configure it differently in that situation. So I think what the airplane will do will then provide that LO when you need it and when you don’t obviously you can do something different.
We’re not there yet. We’re not developing [tactics] on the external load.
Sensor Fusion as described above will be meaningless in the one fight that Marine Air is supposed to be organized, equipped and required to fight...Close Air Support. Sensor fusion will add very little to what we're already doing.
Considering what the Tactical Air Control Party Association has said, its time to fully work this problem. Perhaps Marine Air should stop lining up to fight the deep battle and work out the problems that fellow Marines will face on the battlefield. The ironic thing? We might one day reach a time when Marine Infantry is begging for Navy Air in F/A-18E's to ride to the rescue instead of fellow Marines in F-35's.