Home » Aviation » Lockheed Martin: F-35/NIFC-CA Live Fire Test In 2018; LRASM Flight Tests This Year

Lockheed Martin: F-35/NIFC-CA Live Fire Test In 2018; LRASM Flight Tests This Year

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

ARLINGTON, Va. — Lockheed Martin plans to conduct a live-fire test of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter directing an Aegis Combat System engagement next year, as well as the first flight of the Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare missile at the end of this year, both to bolster the Navy’s distributed lethality concept.

The Joint Strike Fighter already paired with the Aegis Combat System – and the weapons and data links that collectively make up the Naval Integrated Fire Control- Counter Air (NIFC-CA) capability – in September 2016. A Marine Corps F-35B observed and tracked a target and sent the track information to the Navy’s USS Desert Ship (LLS-1) test platform running the Baseline 9 Aegis Combat System. Desert Ship then launched a Standard Missile-6 to kill the threat, while relying solely on the targeting data from the F-35.

At Lockheed Martin’s annual media day event today, director of Aegis programs Jim Sheridan said the company was working with the F-35 Joint Program Office and the Navy’s Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) to bring that Joint Strike Fighter/NIFC-CA pairing to sea.

“We’re looking at doing a TRACKEX (tracking exercise) with that capability in 2017, this year, probably in the summer/fall timeframe, with the goal of having a life-fire event at sea in the summer of 2018,” he said.

To get from where the F-35/NIFC-CA integration is today to the maturity needed for a successful at-sea demonstration, Sheridan said the company needed to work on “modeling and simulation and making sure that we close the fire control loop,” as well as understanding how to physically integrate the two. For example, NIFC-CA generally relies on the Link-16 data link to connect the ships, planes and weapons involved in the detect-to-kill process. F-35, however, uses a Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) instead, which would require a new antenna on the destroyers that will launch a missile based on what the F-35B senses. Sheridan said Lockheed Martin has conceptual designs for where to put the MADL antenna on the ship but needs to refine and test those ideas.

USS AMERICA, At Sea – An F-35B Lightning II aircraft completes Envelope Expansion Testing during a Short Take-off Vertical Landing aboard USS America, Oct. 30, 2016. US Marine Corps Photo

“There is work to be done in order to get there, it is an aggressive schedule,” Sheridan said of next year’s live-fire test.
“Frankly, my biggest challenge right now is getting the work on contract to get moving out. But with our recent successes out at [White Sands Missile Range] and some of the other work we’ve done on test ship (guided-missile destroyer USS) John Paul Jones (DDG-53), I’m optimistic that once we get this under contract things will move pretty quickly.”

Despite the work that still remains, Sheridan said pairing the F-35 with NIFC-CA – compared to using the Navy’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye or other aircraft – “is just heads and shoulders above anything else we’ve been seeing.”

On the missile side, Lockheed Martin plans to host two tests of the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) – the company’s name for its submission in the Navy’s Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare program of record – one of them being airplane-launched and the other from an angled launcher on a ship deck.

LRASM began as a fixed-wing-based anti-surface warfare weapon that Lockheed Martin and the Navy poured $1.1 billion into developing, Chris Mang, vice president for strategy and business development at the company’s Tactical Missiles and Combat Maneuver Systems business, explained at the company media day. The Navy and Pentagon wanted additional surface-to-surface weapons, though, and in 2014 the missile was launched from a Mk 41 Vertical Launching System tube at White Sands Missile Range after an additional $100-million investment in the new launching mode. As the distributed lethality concept spread through the Navy fleet – encouraging every ship at sea to be a lethal shooter – an additional $20-million investment was made to put LRASM into an angled Harpoon-like launcher, or a “topside canister,” that could be placed on the deck of a Littoral Combat Ship, amphibious ship or anything else without VLS cells.

A LRASM missile in a hangar with a F/A-18E Super Hornet. Lockheed Martin Photo

Mang said the investments to date have led to the full maturation of the VLS-launched capability, with no additional technology development needed if the Navy decided to buy and certify the system today.

“That capability enables us really to get to the surface fleet in about three years, so if somebody made the decision to go, we are completely prepared to be on surface ships by 2020 or 2021, depending on when the program gets started,” Mang said, noting that the Navy would have to be the ones to conduct certifications and all remaining steps ahead of fielding the weapon. Fielding the topside canister-based missile might take an extra year, he said.

Lockheed Martin will fire its first topside canister-launched LRASM in the third quarter of this year as a risk-reduction measure as it continues development of that launching capability.


On the original air-launched side, Lockheed Martin will conduct its first full flight test in the Navy’s formal Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare program of record, launching a LRASM from a B-1 bomber in the fourth quarter of this calendar year.

Mang said that, despite the proven capability of LRASM, the Navy hasn’t decided if it will stick with the weapon for more than the original missiles the service will buy, or if it will re-compete the program in its Increment 2, and it hasn’t decided on a path forward for the surface-to-surface mode from VLS cells and topside launchers.

“I personally believe right now they’re waiting to see the missile fly this year in 2017, if we get a couple successful flights under our belt and then I think there’s a good opportunity for more of these (decisions) to show up,” Mang said.
“Especially on the aviation side: aviation has a documented gap, a [capability development document] they’re executing, Increment 2 in how they decide to acquire (more missiles). … So I think naval aviation is going to move out (with procurement and fielding).

Mang said he was less certain what the surface navy would do when it comes to buying and fielding this system.

“Surface navy I think has a lot of bills to pay, and they’re trying to figure out how to get $50 worth of stuff for $40. And it’s a hard question, I wish I knew the answer,” he said.

  • Duane

    Note the intended testing this year of LRASM with an angled deck launcher, as was previously used to test both the Harpoon and the NSM on LCS last year.

    With a 1,000 pound warhead, advanced targeting system, and 350+ nm range, the LCS would have as much ability to take out any surface ship as would any of our much larger destroyers or cruisers … just fewer of them can be mounted. The distributed lethality mods to the LCS will provide a minimum 4-cell deck launcher, but the Navy is working on upping that to two deck launchers with 8 cells – as much offensive firepower as any of the much larger frigates such as the German F-125. Packing much more capable ASMs than any other warship in any navy of the world.

    • PolicyWonk

      the LCS would have as much ability to take out any surface ship as would any of our much larger destroyers or cruisers …
      Except that LCS’s radars aren’t very capable and wouldn’t have anywhere near the same capability as our destroyers and cruisers for targeting. They need their choppers to do (or detect) much of anything OTH, and choppers are easy to shoot down.

      This is partially why the Israeli’s and Saudi’s turned down LCS in its current form.

      The Saudi’s contracted for a larger-than-Freedom-class variant, with considerable upgrades in firepower, protection, and sensors that our LCS’s simply don’t have, and in a number of cases simply lacks the capability to even upgrade to due to its lack of room for growth (and sadly, as if to add insult to injury – at a better price point).

      • Duane

        The ship’s own radars are not critical to targeting ships – the ASMs have their own targeting systems, and the LCS is/will be part of NIFCCA as will every other combatant ship in the Navy … receiving and utilizing targeting data from E2s, P8s, AEGIS cruisers and destroyers, and F-35s from the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

        Besides no surface radar sensor can “see” surface ships many hundreds of miles away – radar is effectively a line of site sensor. The initial targeting data for the ASMs will come from some combination of airborne E-2s, P-8s, JSTARs, F-35s, various ISR drones already in service, even satellites, or possibly land based radars in the littorals When downloaded into the ASM’s targeting system, the ASM’s seeker takes over, using a combination of radar, inertial nav, GPS, IR, and/or laser guidance to find and kill the target.

        That is what is meant by NIFCCA or “Multi-Domain” – it is an all encompassing battle network .. it not only includes warships, but aircraft of all types, and US Army and Marine ground forces who also can target enemy warships with both missiles and even long range artillery in the littorals.

        The Saudi ships are actually much more expensive than the LCS, which provides by far the best bang for the buck of any warship affloat today. The LCS is being delivered today, contract price of $348M for the seaframe, with the average cost of a mission module being $67M, with the most common modules being the SuW and ASW delivered for much less than that. Frigate sized vessels that only equal, at best, the offensive firepower of the LCS are coming in at $800M or higher. The mythological $200M frigate never existed.

        • airider

          Where do you get the information that every ship will have NIFC??? Most of the NIFC capability is tied to CEC. Most of those ships are either BL6 or 7 Aegis ships which are long in the tooth on the Combat System side and the upgrades to BL 9 are taking longer than planned since they are so expensive.

          Putting a lot of new hardware and combat system capability aboard is not going to happen on LCS, nor any L-class or CVN ships since they use an entirely different combat system….it may happen on the FF program but with the costs of FF ramping up, we’ll see if it happens in the face of SSBN costs impacting the shipbuilding budget. I wouldn’t expect to see NIFC on a small surface combatant until after the LCS/FF program wraps up.

          • Duane

            It’s not just ships that are being networked … it’s literally our entire force structure, US Navy, USMC, USAF, and USA. That was always the design objective of the F-35’s MADL structure … which is why LM is now working on new MADL antennas for the AEGIS ships … even grunts on the ground, both Marines and Army, will be linked up, sharing sensor data, target data, and sharing actual weaps fires.

            The difficulty with this kind of networking is that it requires virtually all forces, no matter where they are, what platforms they have, and under whose command they report, to rethink the way they do warfare. They have to effectively relearn their tradecraft. Rather than hierarchial structures of fleets, squadrons, task forces for ships … or forces, squadrons, or flights for aircraft … or combat brigades, battalions, and companies for ground forces – all will become highly interconnected, integrated nodes in a vastly larger network. It is a complete change from how warfare has been conducted since the first bands of humans organized themselves for attack and defense many thousands of years ago.

            However, what the military forces have discovered first hand in joint exercises to date, the F-35 is what makes it all go.

            The F-35 is to warfare as the age of steam was to the age of sail …. or the age of aerial combat was to everything that preceded aerial combat. A complete watershed divide. In a decade or so, everyone will wonder how we ever waged war without it.

          • Henson

            NIFC-CA and F-35 integration are great concepts with a lot of potential for tactical application, but they are fundamentally just concepts. You’re overstating the case a little, even if the baby-step proof of concept tests we’re doing so far pan out.

            The change is incremental, not transformational. Yet.

          • Duane

            The force integration is far beyond a concept … it was proven in action at the last two Red Flag exercises, where every participant came away with literally awe of the integration of forces provided by the F-35 .. at every level, from the fourth gens to the ISR aircraft to the SEAD aircraft, and including our international participants particularly the Australians who went back home and sang the praises of integrated aerial combat made possible only by the F-35. The headlines of the recent Red Flag concentrated on the much celebrated kill ratio of 24:1 by the F-35 against all fourth gens participating … but the real news was the proven force integration.

          • Henson

            I cannot comment further, other than to stand by what I said before. The USN, as stated in the article, is testing these concepts at the proof of concept level. F-35 integration is a new initiative, not a mature capability. That is what the article says, and what almost everyone in this thread is accepting as reality.

            Cool ideas. Great ideas! I’m thrilled to be working with them. Not mature. Not fielded. In testing – that is all. I hope they become what you say, but you are definitely, without question, overstating the case. Significantly.

            Your business card wouldn’t happen to have a stylized blue star on it, would it?

          • Duane

            No. I have no personal financial or professional interest in anything defense related. I just learn and comment as someone who is protected by our forces, a vet from decades ago, and close family members in service now.

  • Duane

    Your problem is in “your day”, a fighter was singular, independent, perhaps fighting in support of other fighters (i.e., as a “wingman” in a multi-ship flight) but otherwise completely disconnected from the big picture. Like a lone rifleman on a battlefield.

    Today, loners get killed.

    To win the battle it requires integration of all forces, in the air, on ship, and on the ground, on many differing platforms. The Navy calls it “NIFCCA” and the Army calls it “multi-domain warfare”, and the Marines and Air Force have their own terms, but it is all the same thing – all the many pieces on the gameboard are networked together, serving as nodes in a large network, sharing sensor data, sharing targeting data, weapons platforms, and munitions to defeat the enemy.

    So when a single enemy fighter, or flight of fighters approaches our forces – in the air, on the ship, or on the ground – they are faced with our entire network, not just one fighter or single flight of fighters that they can isolate, overwhelm and potentially defeat. Ditto for enemy ASMs, ground attackers, ASW assets, etc. Our F-35 in the sky can instantaneously feed target data to Patriot batteries, or batteries of Army artillery, or to AEGIS combat system-equipped destroyers working in concert with big deck carriers, or with amphibs, or with marine expeditionary forces on the beach. The F-35 can attack itself, of course … but a single attack aircraft can only carry so much ordinance, and whatever it carries might not be the best ordinance for the job … such as, an Arleigh Burke carrying an SM-3 or SM-6 ABM to protect its CVN, or an Army MLRS rocket launcher to take out an enemy bunker …. or a Growler armed with a HARM to take out a SAM radar.

  • Duane

    What the fourth gen pilots “see” is nothing remotely like what the F-35 pilot “sees” in real time. Link 16 has beenaround a long time – the F-35 actually uses a different system, MADL as described in this post.

    Don’t take my word for it. Read the podcast posted on AW&ST 2 weeks ago of an interview with Lt. Col. David Berke who describes in detail the dramatic differences in fighting in an F-35 vs. any of the other aircraft that exist in the US military today. Berke is a certified USMC Top Gun and chief flight instructor for the F-35B for the Marines, has qualified in as an instructor and has actual combat experience in the F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets, the Harrier, and (a rarity) qualified pilot of the USAF F-22, with over 23 years of fighter experience. Berke says that highly experienced fourth gen pilots are actually harder to train than newbie flight school grads, because the newbies aren’t burdened with fourth gen assumptions and experiences that have to be unlearned to fight a true fifth gen like the F-35.

    More importantly, the F-35 is the only aircraft in the world with “sensor fusion”, that uses a computer system to gather sensor data from all manner of sources, both ship’s own and remote sensors, evaluates the data, prioritizes the data, and presents a single picture of the fused data to the pilot, who is not so much a pilot as a battle systems manager … the equivalent of an entire E-2 or JSTARS or ship’s CIC room full of systems and operators. The 35 was designed from the ground up to provide that capability, along with much improved sensors not found on any other aircraft in the world.

    F-35 pilots are not taught to fly the aircraft so much as they are taught how to serve as the central node in a massive data collection, analysis, prioritization, and target data re-transmitting system. They are taught not just how to be a pilot in an aircraft but how to be the brain of a much larger system. They will directly control flocks of drones, and provide direct comms to launch virtually any munition on any other networked platform in the US military arsenal.

  • CharleyA

    “Despite the work that still remains, Sheridan said pairing the F-35 with NIFC-CA – compared to using the Navy’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye or other aircraft – “is just heads and shoulders above anything else we’ve been seeing.””, says the Lockheed Martin salesman.

    If it is indeed so, the Navy would stop buying E-2Ds, Growlers and Super Hornets, and go all-in on F-35C. Yet in it’s latest supplemental budget request, the Navy wants 24 more Super Hornets and no F-35Cs. The future datalink standard for NIFC-CA is going to be TTNT – a long range / high data rate protocol superior to MADL – a capability not supported by F-35C.

    • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

      The ‘C’ won’t be IOC until the end of the decade, so not much point in ordering units now.
      Especially considering the issues with the outer wing not being strong enough and the bouncy front strut.

      At the same time they are flogging their Shornets into the ground with maintenance cuts and an ops tempo that won’t let up….. so replenishing those squadrons is a must.

      • Duane

        Not quite, Kitten …. the C is expected to go IOC early FY2019 (fourth quarter of calendar year 2018) – next year, in other words. The gear issue is a minor fix at most (the Navy experienced the exact same problem initially on the F/A-18) and will be addressed prior to IOC for the F-35C. The AIM-9X issue on the outermost tilt wing is also an easy fix – it’s just an adjustment to internal bracing, and the AIM-9X won’t be part of the weaps load til next year when Block 3F deploys, so that’s not going to hold up anything. These are typical aircraft development issues, stuff that’s experienced on all new aircraft types, and many have been much more serious, leading to fatal crashes on birds like the first model F-111.

        The Navy needs to continue buying at least a few Super Hornets, because, as you say, the F-35C is not yet IOC … and the production line for the F-35s is still gearing up towards full rate production starting in FY2019. I expect by around 2019 or 2020 after the F-35C is past IOC, the new buys on the Super Hornets will come to an end.

  • E1 Kabong

    So it doesn’t give away it’s position.