The Japanese F-35 Decision: A Building Block in A New Pacific Strategy

By Robbin Laird

The F-35 will be a cornerstone of Japanese defense.  The Japanese know something about technology.  As a leader in technology worldwide, the Japanese decision validates the cutting edge role of the F-35.

The F-35 is the first aircraft in history which can see 360 degrees around itself more than 800 miles and has integrated combat systems to manage that combat space.  It is about a system not a platform.  The F-35 as a combat system is about the central role of maintenance, upgrading, deployment readiness, development synergies provided by common software for upgrades and development. It is a system.

The F-35 allows re-norming of combat operations, especially appropriate to the Pacific. The fifth generation aircraft are at the heart of a potential new air combat system enterprise.  The F-22s have been the harbinger, but for full participation the F-22 needs to be modernized with some of the essential air combat systems present on the F-35. Deployed as a force, it enables distributed air operations, an approach crucial to the survival of our pilots in the period ahead. Distributed operations are the cultural shift associated with the 5th generation aircraft, and investments in new weapons, remotely piloted aircraft and the crafting of simultaneous rather than sequential operations.

The Japanese understand the opportunity to leverage the F-35 combat systems enterprise and is a key reason why the Japanese down selected the aircraft.

The classic aircraft adds systems to the aircraft to provide new capabilities. The pilot has to manage each additive system.  The F-35 has five major combat systems, which interact with each other to provide capabilities. Functional capabilities emerge from the interaction of the systems done by the machine and are not simply correlated with a single system.  For example, jamming can be done by several systems aboard the aircraft, the machine determine which one through interaction among the systems.  And the entire system rests on a common architecture with broadband capabilities.

The Japanese understand as well the significant opportunity which integrating Aegis with F-35 provides.  The Japanese are a key Aegis partner and as such are in position to work on the integration of Aegis with F-35.

Upcoming Aegis tests will support a launch/engage-on-remote concept that links the Aegis ship to remote sensor data, increasing the coverage area and responsiveness. Once this capability is fully developed, SM-3 missiles––no longer constrained by the range of Aegis radar to detect an incoming missile––can be launched sooner and therefore fly farther to defeat the threat.

Imagine this capability linked to an F-35, which can see more than 800 miles throughout a 360-degree approach. U.S. allies are excited about the linkage prospects and the joint evolution of two highly upgradeable weapon systems.

Combining Aegis with F-35 means joining their sensors for wide-area coverage. Because of a new generation of weapons on the F-35 and the ability to operate a broad wolfpack of air and sea capabilities, the Joint Strike Fighter can perform as the directing point for combat action. With the Aegis and its new SM-3 missiles, the F-35 can leverage a sea-based missile to expand its area of strike. Together, the F-35 and Aegis significantly expand the defense of land and sea bases.

The commonality across the combat systems of the F-35’s three variants provides a notable advantage. Aegis is a pilot’s wingman, whether he or she is flying an F-35A, B, or C. Eighty percent of the F-35s in the Pacific are likely to be As, many of them coalition aircraft. Therefore, building an F-35 and Aegis global enterprise provides coverage and capability across the Pacific, which is essential for the defense of Japan.

There is a high probability that the strategic quadrangle of South Korea, Singapore, Australia and Japan will all be populated by F-35s as well Aegis’s.  This allows not only significant commonality among the allies, but provides a solid foundation for US forces to work with allies in the region and reduce the risks to US forward deployed forces.

South Korean defense can be remade by the introduction of F-35As into US forces, followed by acquisition of As and Bs by South Korea itself.  As Secretary Wynne has argued: South Korea is clearly the theater of highest utility for the emerging F-35.  With the F-22 to be the guardian of the Pacific Expanse; and perhaps even used in a partnership with the F-35, and the ROKAF forces.  This would have the highest probability of training as a ’1000 Unit Air Fleet’ and the ROKAF, equipped as they are with terrific fourth generation fighters; would yearn to be protected and supportive of this Air Battle Management System proposed and promoted for the F-35.

One can as well see in the Korean Theater where in lieu of Aegis; can Army systems connected via a C2 system as well be the wingman for the F-35A’s/B’s or CV Versions.  Service identified targets that will be well within the range of tactical missiles currently fielded and/or well into their design cycle.

Singapore is postured to add F-35Bs to their inventory as well as the Aussies to add As and perhaps Bs down the line.

And the commonality of the fleet allows hubs to be built in the region supporting common operations and shape convergent capabilities. The distributed character of allied forces in the region as well as the connectivity which the F-35 allows as an interdependt flying combat system diversifies capabilities against which a core adversary would have to cope with.  Reducing concentration of forces and targests is a significance enhancer of deterrence.

And finally, the F-35 provides a key element of dealing with evolving threats as well.  As Ed Timperlake has argued:

US and allied forces will have the perfect aircraft in the F-35 to play both offensive and defense when hypersonic Cruise Missiles become a combat reality. The C4ISR-D “Z-axis” in the cockpit can lead the way in developing a Pacific  “honeycomb” ISR Grid to handle the hyper-sonic Cruise Missile threat and also go on the offensive since Chinese President Hu Jintao has just put the PLAN on combat alert.

Everything will take time to develop and if PRC goes to war at Sea today they will lose. However, time is precious for US and Allies to get the technology for a 21st Century Air/Sea Battle right.

If the F-35 did not exist with it’s revolutionary  “Z-axis” 360 umbrella —it would have to be invented. Northern Edge validated that the US has developed a flying combat system that is world class and unique—a Fighter/Attack aircraft with EW/”tron” warfare capability with both AA and AG kinetic weapons in the bay.

In short, the acquisition of the F-35 by the Japanese is an important step in re-building Pacific defense capabilities.  The F-35 is part of shaping a scalable force which can participate in executing an economy of force strategy.

Basing becomes transformed as allied and U.S. capabilities become blended into a scalable presence and engagement capability.  Presence is rooted in basing; scalability is inherently doable because of C4ISR enablement, deployed decision-making and honeycomb robustness.

The reach from Japan to South Korea to Singapore to Australia is about how allies are re-shaping their forces and working towards greater reach and capabilities.  For example, by shaping a defense strategy, which is not simply a modern variant Seitzkreig in South Korea and Japan, more mobile assets such as the F-35 allow states in the region to reach out, back and up to craft coalition capabilities.

Another version of this article was published on AOL Defense







Bookmark this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *