• An Air Force F-35A Lightning II. (Defence)
    An Air Force F-35A Lightning II. (Defence)

Lockheed Martin has revealed that an RAAF F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter was involved in recent trials undertaken across the Pacific to develop concepts for a joint all-domain combat capability. 

The event is part of a series of trials being conducted by Lockheed Martin in partnership with the US Indo-Pacific Command and is aimed towards improving interoperability between US services and allies.

The recent trial, during Exercise Talisman Sabre 21, involved an RAAF F-35A that was engaged in a pre-delivery acceptance flight in the US, together with a Virtual Aegis Weapons System (VAWS) on the ground at Fort Worth, Texas. During its acceptance flight, the F-35 was utilised as an airborne sensor platform and used its on-board Multi-Function Advanced Data Link (MADL) capability to provide weapons’ quality target data to VAWS. The targeting data was then relayed via the US Government communications network to a Battle Management Centre in Hawaii, and on to RAAF Base Williamtown.

From Williamtown, the data was relayed to units on the ground in the TS21 exercise area to engage the simulated target.

Lockheed Martin says it has been working with US Indo-Pacific Command since 2019 on experimentation work to enhance “kill webs” of multiple sensors that collect, prioritise and share data to provide a fused picture for commanders. 

“The demonstrations, conducted in partnership with the US Government showcased the F-35 as a successful sensor and shooter in the role and most recently in its first live collaboration with the Australian Defence Force, reinforcing the strength of the alliance,” Lockheed Martin F-35 Combat Air Australia Lead Chris Widerstrom said. 

“Indo-PACOM had a requirement as part of Talisman Sabre 21 to collect live weapons quality sensor information from the F-35 and transmit that data via MADL to the greater all-domain operations. Whether to ground-based missile defence systems, or airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft like the E-7A Wedgetail, representing the ability to distribute and share that information to all participants.”

The trial represented the first ever live sharing of MADL data with a non-US participant and the information received from the F-35 was the only data used to provide the targeting solution to forces on the ground across the Pacific, in real time. 

“The VAWS assigned the weapons and then it was passed to a field artillery system through command and control networks and that then enabled the countering of that particular threat by surface to air missile systems,” explained Lockheed Martin Australia Business Development Directory, Rotary Wing Systems Neale Prescott.

“We also had the ability then to direct fire against maritime targets, the purpose was to show that targeting information from an F-35 can be fed into a fire control system that has the necessary weapons to counter complex threats. The weapons assignment is based on who has the greatest chance of conducting the intercept – whether it’s a ship, aircraft or land-based strike asset - and you’re getting that data out in real time.”

Both Australia’s F-35A programme and Defence’s AIR 6500 Joint Air Battle Management System aspirations will be covered in detail in the November issue of ADM.

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