Home » Aviation » Video: Successful F-35, SM-6 Live Fire Test Points to Expansion in Networked Naval Warfare

Video: Successful F-35, SM-6 Live Fire Test Points to Expansion in Networked Naval Warfare

The Navy conducts its first live fire demonstration to successfully test the integration of F-35 with existing Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air architecture, Sept. 12, 2016. US Navy Photo

The Navy conducts its first live fire demonstration to successfully test the integration of F-35 with existing Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air architecture, Sept. 12, 2016. US Navy Photo

A Monday test pairing a Lockheed Martin F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) with an Aegis Combat System armed with a Raytheon Standard Missile-6 is the latest step in expanding how the Navy and Marine Corps will share data on future battlefields.

Using targeting information transmitted from the Marine Corps F-35B, the Navy’s Aegis test site at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico launched an SM-6 anti-air missile and struck a Beechcraft MQM-107 target representing an adversarial fighter.

“The way I’d describe it was a center of mass hit,” said Dana Potts with Lockheed Martin said in a Tuesday conference call with reporters.
“It absolutely disintegrated the target.”

The unmodified F-35 picked up the target with its own sensors and routed the track via the fighter’s Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL pronounced: MAHdel) to the Navy’s USS Desert Ship (LLS-1) test platform running the Baseline 9 Aegis Combat System. Lockheed and the Navy attached a MADL antenna to the combat system to receive the track information that fed the information to the SM-6.

The test is an expansion of the Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air concept (NIFC-CA) – a scheme designed to tie together data from the ships and aircraft in a carrier strike group to create a network of sensors and shooters – a proverbial kill web.

For example, targeting data collected from a Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye can be beamed to a guided missile cruiser or destroyer in the strike group. That ship could then launch an SM-6 at the target only using the E-2s track and not its own radar.

For now, the E-2D remains the key node in the NIFC-CA program-of-record acting as the quarterback for the carrier’s air war but Monday’s test shows the Navy the art of the possible, said Anant Patel, major program manager for future combat systems in the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) said in the conference call.

“This was a demonstration to show that within the NIFC-CA architecture we can add another sensor. As long as it meets the quality of service, we can engage the target,” Patel said.
“We have F-18s, F-35s all of those sensors we have to consider and that’s a future effort we’re going to have to do as part of our NIFC-CA capability growth.”

The addition of the MADL to the mix of the program of record links NIFC-CA now uses – like Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) and Link-16 – the test is a move away from a carrier-centric construct.

F-35 and NIFC-CA

An artist's conception of the F-35 test. Lockheed Martin Image

An artist’s conception of the F-35 test. Lockheed Martin Image

While the F-35 is billed and branded as a strike fighter, it also possesses a little discussed electronic warfare capability that gives it an exceptional awareness of its surroundings.

To that end NIFC-CA has included F-35 as a planned sensor node in carrier strike group model – acting as a stealthy forward arm but that would route targeting information back to the CSG through the E-2, USNI News reported in 2014.

However, using MADL direct to the Aegis ships weren’t part of the plan.

The difficult to detect and intercept MADL was designed for F-35s to talk to F-35s and not intended to share information beyond other JSFs, Bran Clark, a retired Navy officer, the former special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and now a senior fellow at CSBA, told USNI News on Tuesday.

“Originally we didn’t think F-35s would use through datalinks directly to ships… This gives them the ability to talk directly to the ship with a very hard to detect very hard to jam MADL link,” Clark said.

Lockheed began studying routing the MADL data out from the JSF loop in 2013 with $15 million in internal funds before winning approval from the Navy’s chief weapons buyer, Sean Stackley, Potts said.

Last year, a Lockheed Skunk Works, Aegis, F-35 technical team did tests at Lockheed’s JSF plant in Fort Worth, Texas last year to pull MADL data to a ground station that would represent the link to a Baseline 9 cruiser or destroyer, Potts said.

“It was absolutely breathtaking, the Aegis display in our labs as soon as [the test F-35] turned his radar on looking north… He picked up the conga line, if you will of aircraft going into [Dallas Fort Worth Airport],” he said.
“The display just exploded with hundreds of ranged tracks, so we knew it would work.”
However, the fact linking the F-35s powerful EW suite was such is such a late addition to NIFC-CA is an “indictment of the original planning process that lead to the F-35,” Clark said.

New Combinations

An F-35B Lightning II takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) on May 25, 2015. US Navy Photo

An F-35B Lightning II takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) on May 25, 2015. US Navy Photo

The MADL linkage to Aegis and potentially other ground stations opens up the potential for a greater networked battlespace for U.S. forces and potentially U.S. allies.

In addition to the Navy’s F-35Cs and Marine Corps F-35Bs, the Air Force’s F-35As will be able to share its air tracks with a Baseline 9 ship.

“Eventually when we start linking everything that’s relevant on the airplane off to the ship to a ground base, the commanders are going to be able to see and understand the battle space in a much more robust way,” Potts said.

For example, a direct link to a Baseline 9 cruiser or destroyer from a Marine F-35B operating as part of an amphibious ready group could open up the air defense possibilities for the ARG, allowing SM-6 cueing for air threats.

Additionally, U.S. allies can further share information.

Japan, South Korea and Australia are not only acquiring F-35s but also other key nodes the U.S. uses for NIFC-CA. The South Korean Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force are buying ships with the Baseline 9 backbone for NIFC-CA. Japan is also buying E-2Ds and Australia has purchased EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft that are already part of a U.S. NIFC-CA construct.

The test come as Naval Sea Systems Command and Naval Air Systems Command are in talks to combine their two separate networked weapons efforts.

“From our perspective, they just have the aircraft but we have the entire combat systems, Aegis and SSDS (Ship Self-Defense System), so how do we integrate all that into overall Navy?” Patel told USNI News in June.
“And then you look at what threat sets you’re going after, they have different requirements and we have separate requirements, so basically understanding each other, what are the requirements, what the capabilities are, where are we today, what are our plans for the future, and then how do we consolidate?”
In terms of the future of the NIFC-CA construct, NAVSEA said there are several other opportunities to explore to expand the network.

“The more sensors, the better off we are,” Patel said on Tuesday.

  • CharleyA

    Hmmm, MADL is a shortish-range datalink. So exactly how far away was the Aegis test platform from the F-35B? It couldn’t have been too far. What *might* be better is getting MADL on the E-2Ds and Super Hornet / Growlers (if it’s possible to install diversified antennas on these aircraft.)

    • NAVAIR

      The capability also works through Link-16.

      • CharleyA

        Yes I realize that. It also implies that the existing Super Hornets and Growlers can supply their data to Aegis / network using Link-16 / TTNT. The big thing is the F-35C can (conceivably) operate closer or within the enemy’s WEZ without being detected or prosecuted while sending back targeting data for other platforms to exploit.

    • sferrin

      Why would MADL be able to transmit any further mounted on an E-2 than mounted on an F-35?

      • Horn

        I think he may be talking about piggy-backing the data from the F-35 off of the E-2D, thus extending the range of the signal. Kinda like connecting a router (E-2D) to a modem (missile) and then running a LAN line from the router to the computer (F-35).

        • CharleyA

          Yup. Having MADL on the E-2D (or RAQ-25 or MQ-4) extends the range that the F-35C can operate from the Aegis AD destroyer and provide data to the network.

          • Horn

            Makes the idea of an Arsenal ship actually sound enticing.

          • CharleyA

            Or aircraft that can carry additional kinetic or electronic weps….

          • sferrin

            Only if it’s underwater. A surface ship (barge) would be too vulnerable.

          • Horn

            That kinda depends. I’m talking more about fleet defense/fighter sweep. You can push the boundaries of fleet defense because you can have F-35s supply the data for missile intercepts of aircraft and cruise missiles. Normally friendlies have a minimum distance they are to stay away from the fleet so that the fleet can take the gloves off the firing teams. Now you can fire beyond the range of friendlies while they are in the air because you are getting precise tracking data from your fighters.

          • sferrin

            Makes sense. Thanks.

        • bill tolbert

          In one of the scenarios the F-35 is the forward sensor and the E-2 is he repeater for the target data to the Aegis system.

    • Marauder 2048

      The real question is: at what range to target can the F-35 start to produce a fire control quality track. You get maximum value if the FCQ* track range + MADL range is greater than SM-6 range. You still get value if this combined value is lower than SM-6 range as long as it’s greater than the radar horizon of the destroyer.

      * This requirement can actually be relaxed since the F-35 can provide target updates to the SM-6. So then the bound turns into the range at which the F-35 can warn and classify.

      • bill tolbert

        The F-35 transmits target track information to the Aegis system, it in turn calculates the fire control solution and uplinks the controls to the missile for launch and guidance. The F-35 is acting like an remote antenna, minimizing the exposure of the ship by reducing the electronic emissions from the ship. Not unlike the old NTDS, Naval Tactical Data System, but with the added capability of sending target information to a fire control system. The distance from the ship of the Remote Sensor- the F-35 – is irrelevant, the missile engagement envelope is determined by the target’s parameters – range, range rate, height, and bearing – relative to the launch platform.

  • Michael D. Woods

    When the network goes down or is jammed, will the people still know how to fight without it? How will the missile in the drawing be targeted if not linked to the airplane by the network? The idea looks wonderful when it’s working but it seems the weapons will be unable to do anything without it.

    • sferrin

      The same could be said of any radar directed system, GPS, electronics, etc. Maybe they should all still be riding horses and carrying sabers just in case.

    • Tmos

      Keep in mind that jamming creates targets just by the jamming emissions. The same way radars do.

      • sferrin

        The F-22s ALR-94 and the F-35s equivalent system love jammers.

  • Ruserious

    This should “shut-up” all the ‘nay-sayers’!

    • Ctrot

      You’re giving the naysayers too much credit for logical thought.


    More PFM from the MIC.
    No wonder funding is short for training.
    More Coffee…

    • Uncle Mike

      Are you suggesting that creative ways of combining and extending the capabilities of these existing platforms should be discouraged? Not sure how that maximizes the value of these investments. Perhaps it’s just more fun to whine about the MIC…

  • ulises velez


  • publius_maximus_III

    “The MQM-107 Streaker is a reusable, turbojet powered, target towing drone primarily used by the United States Army and the United States Air Force for testing and training.” — Wikipedia

    The Navy did strike the target and not the drone towing it, correct?

  • Curtis Conway

    I hope Canada is reading this article.

  • omegatalon

    While some may think this is insanity, this integration of technology demonstrates how the F-35 could remain hidden while other US assets take out enemy targets and supports the idea that the B-1B could become flying aerial battle wagons armed with dozens of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.

    • El_Sid

      supports the idea that the B-1B could become flying aerial battle wagons
      armed with dozens of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.

      Or in future, an unmanned “MAQ-25B Stingray II” bomb truck.

  • Marauder 2048

    From Raytheon: “During this capability demonstration, the SM-6 received continuous
    updates from the network, including the fighter aircraft, leading to the
    successful intercept of the target.”

  • Refguy

    Sharing information is great; it lets the guy with the best shot take it. I’m having trouble envisioning a situation where the fighter doesn’t have a better shot than a hull-down ship, and an AIM-120 is cheaper than an SM-6. Granted, a ship does carry a lot more missiles than an F-35.

    • Marauder 2048

      Compare the range, warhead and seeker aperture size on the SM-6 to the AIM-120D and your envisioning ability will be enhanced.

      • Refguy

        Takes me back to the days of Silent SAM and our efforts to sell forward pass (mass raid of Backfires launching AS-6’s). If there’s a defined threat axis, the fighter should be between the threat and the SAM shooter, so should be able to engage sooner – but the fighter only has enough missiles to engage one threat. If there aren’t enough fighters to handle all the threats, then providing targeting data to the ship will become the primary role of the fighter(s). If there is no defined threat axis (if we don’t know where the threat is, we shouldn’t send in surface units), I can envision situations where the fighter won’t be in a position to engage, and the ship will have to be the primary shooter. In either of these scenarios, warhead size doesn’t seem that significant; one missile is only going to kill one target. The concept is great and should be pursued, but if the fighter isn’t going to be the primary shooter, why do I need a fighter? It’s nothing but an armed scout (self-defense against other scouts?) and something unmanned and much cheaper than an F-35 could do the job.

        • Marauder 2048

          I do appreciate the history. Has the original “Silent SAM”concept study been declassified?

          IIRC, the forward pass required terminal illumination by the aerial platform, which means, even with ICWI, it’s not so great for platform survivability or scalability.

          I think the central assumption here is that the ASCM carriers will have escorts and that the ASCM launched will be armored or have survivability features such that a larger warhead on an interceptor will increase Pk.

          Sure. You could rehost APG-81/EOTS/EODAS/MADL etc. on an equally survivable platform. But it won’t be much cheaper and would be less flexible.

          • Refguy

            Don’t know if the Silent SAM study is still classified. Our team looked at forward pass with and without terminal illumination and recommended an active terminal seeker. There were a lot of reasons why the Outer Air Battle weapon should be able to go active in the terminal phase (preferred solution from our team was tri-mode: active, semi-active and IR), and an illuminator would either drive the size of the aircraft or require it to chase the missile to the target to be able to put enough RF on target for the seeker to home. Backfire above Mach 1 and AS-6 would have had large IR signatures.

          • Marauder 2048

            With the planned addition of the active seeker to the SM-2 Block IIIb, the Navy is pretty close to catching up to your preferred solution.

  • Bobtail362

    What? No impact footage?