Video Above: F-35
The Air Force is working with the Army to get F-35 data to ground-operating Special Operations Forces, Marines and Infantry at “machine speed,” by virtue of leveraging key emerging technologies able to quickly transmit time sensitive data from point-to-point in real time without having to first go through a command and control center.
“We are going to get F-35 data to a SOF team at machine speed. We are on a road to make sure that the Army is inside of the F-35 and sharing data instantaneously to take advantage of what the aircraft is seeing and sensing,” Lt. Gen. David Nahom, Deputy Air Force Chief of Staff, Plans and Programs, told The Mtichell Institute for Aerospace studies in a recent interview.
F-35 Data to Warfighters
The goal is to send F-35 data “directly” without having to first route it through a centralized command and control structure to “empower warfighters at the edge of combat” with an ability to collect, process and analyze data in order to make fast, war-crucial decisions at the point of attack. This of course reduces latency and massively expedites sensor-to-shooter time but also increases data security as sensitive targeting details will not need to travel as far to as many points as has been the case before.
Much of this is slated for the Army’s upcoming Project Convergence program, a combat assessment and exercise slated to take place in the Arizona desert at Yuma Proving Grounds later this year.
Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2)
Last year, Marine Corps F-35Bs succeeded in sending crucial targeting data to Army ground troops in a demonstration that was regarded as a major breakthrough. There is more of that planned for this year, as each service wants to contribute substantially to the Pentagon’s Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) effort designed to generate an interconnected “meshed” network of information nodes dispersed throughout an area of operations.
The decision-making process can happen close to the edge at the point of attack, given the newly discovered technological ability to analyze, distill, organize and transmit data directly and quickly from the point of collection to a series of “effortors” or weapons prepared to respond.
Given the pace at which conditions on the ground can change in warfare, or the extent to which fast-arriving new intelligence information drives a need for rapid adjustment, operating F-35s able to interoperable seamlessly and in seconds with advancing ground troops is something seen as vital to the future of warfare. Establishing and refining this kind of connectivity is precisely the intent of the Army’s upcoming Project Convergence, an experiment designed to exponentially reduce, truncate, shorten and streamline “sensor-to-shooter” timelines amid fast changing war circumstances.
What used to take as long as 20 mins, can now happen in seconds due to AI-enabled processing and high-speed data networking. With direct F-35 connectivity, immediate ISR transmission, target identification and decisions about an optimal methods of attack can be made at the edge without having to route through an elaborate, ground based command and control center governed by lengthy procedures.
This F-35 connectivity and data processing enables warfighters to make a decisions about whether to “engage and attack” ahead of or inside of an enemies’ decision cycle.
“We don’t want our warfighters held up from making a decision because mission command procedures and inhibiting our forces from taking action because they are held up by a process,” Nahom said.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox