Unbeatable partnership: First time the F-35A and Patriot act together for a common objective

It is not only missile defense systems, the F-35A can cooperate with drones and use unmanned vessels as a family of systems

The F-35 stealth fighter is certainly expensive, but when a weapon like this is so dominant, it won’t come cheap. And it seems the F-35 now has a new ace up its sleeve: it can help take out cruise missiles. In a recent training exercise, an F-35A demonstrated its data collection and targeting skills by helping a Patriot air defense system destroy a practice cruise missile. This shows that the US Army and Air Force can work together on missile defense, in an interesting collaboration that showcases two advanced systems. This is the first time that the Patriot and the F-35A are acting together for a common objective.

What happened

The test took place on June 15 in Palau, a nation of Micronesia in the western Pacific Ocean. The air defense system was an older model PAC-2, consisting of two launchers. It was the first time a Patriot and the F-35A demonstrated their capabilities in a live-fire exercise outside the United States. The target was a drone disguised as a cruise missile.

Maj. Nicholas Chopp, a spokesman for the 94th Air and Missile Defense Command in Hawaii, said the target went out into the ocean and turned 180 degrees to head back toward the island.

The F-35A, also based in Palau, used its radar and sensors to locate the target and shared that data with the PAC-2s. Missile interceptors destroyed the drone at least 20 miles from the island at an altitude of 10,000 feet.

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Sometimes US Navy ships using the Aegis combat system feed targeting information to Patriots, but this is the initial practice of PAC-2 interaction with the F-35A.

Background on the Patriot

The concept of the Patriot system goes back to the 1960s, when it was developed to replace the HAWK and Nike Hercules air defense systems. It’s not widely mentioned, but Patriot is an acronym that stands for, Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept On Target. It was originally intended to shoot down planes, but the Army and Raytheon worked to make it capable against ballistic and cruise missiles.

The Army PAC-2 entered service in 2002. It was deployed to Iraq for the second Gulf War. Its interceptors can reach a speed of 3,500 miles per hour with a range of 60 miles. There are four missiles per launcher.

Leading the team from the air

While many observers focus on the F-35A’s stealth features, weapons systems and maneuverability, the plane can also act as a “fourth agent” in the sky. As it improves its own situational awareness from radars and sensors, it shares that information with other systems.

Sensors and processing power of the F-35

If there is an enemy plane in range or an incoming missile, the F-35A has a friend or foe designator to classify the target. According to Nick Zazulia of Aviation Today, the F-35A assesses the situation quickly. “If a target is nearby, the system automatically gives it high priority and focuses its sensors and processing power on accurately determining its nature and location because it knows the pilot will need to make immediate decisions about it.”

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Additional group settings

In the Palau test scenario, this information is shared with Patriot in real time. This is the plane’s ability to help other systems find, fix and destroy. It’s not just missile defense systems, the F-35A can partner with drones and use unmanned vessels as a family of systems.

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