America’s $400 billion, top-of-the-line aircraft can’t see the battlefield all that well. Which means it’s actually worse than its predecessors at fighting today’s wars.
|The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. (Photo from Wikimeda Commons)|
Newest U.S. Stealth Fighter ‘10 Years Behind’ Older Jets
When the Pentagon’s nearly $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter finally enters service next year after nearly two decades in development, it won’t be able to support troops on the ground the way older planes can today. Its sensors won’t be able to see the battlefield as well; and what video the F-35 does capture, it won’t be able to transmit to infantrymen in real time.
Versions of the new single-engine stealth fighter are set to replace almost every type of fighter in the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps inventory—including aircraft specifically designed to support ground troops like the A-10 Warthog. That will leave troops in a lurch when the F-35 eventually becomes the only game in town.
“The F-35 will, in my opinion, be 10 years behind legacy fighters when it achieves [initial operational capability],” said one Air Force official affiliated with the F-35 program. “When the F-35 achieves [initial operational capability], it will not have the weapons or sensor capability, with respect to the CAS [close air support] mission set, that legacy multi-role fighters had by the mid-2000s.”
The problem stems from the fact that the technology found on one of the stealth fighter’s primary air-to-ground sensors—its nose-mounted Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS)—is more than a decade old and hopelessly obsolete. The EOTS, which is similar in concept to a large high-resolution infrared and television camera, is used to visually identify and monitor ground targets. The system can also mark targets for laser-guided bombs.
Ironically, older jets currently in service with the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps can carry the latest generation of sensor pods, which are far more advanced than the EOTS sensor carried by the F-35.