The Air Force F-35 uses the "outdoor" ranges and computer simulation to practice combat missions against the best air defense technologies of Chinese and Russian manufacture – as a way to prepare for enemy threats anticipated in the middle of the 2020 and beyond.
The tests are designed to address the latest threats to air defense systems such as Russian-made systems and have also focused on potential next-generation or existing threats, Air Force officials said.
Air Force officials explained that, looking back to 2001, when the JSF threat began, the threats were mainly focused on Europe: the Russians were producing SA-10 or SA-20. Now, future threats are investigating both Russian-made and Chinese-made and Asian-made threats, they said.
"They have developed these digital SAMS (ground-to-air missile systems) that can change frequencies and are very agile in the way they work. Being able to replicate this is not easy," he told Scout Warrior in an interview General Sheriff Jeffrey Harrigian, former director of the F-35 integration office. (Harrigian now leads the Middle East air war)
Surface threats from air defenses are a difficult problem because emerging threats can now see planes hundreds of miles away, officials said.
In addition, emerging and future integrated air defense systems use faster computer processors, are better connected and detect over a wider range of frequencies.
These attributes, combined with the ability to detect aircraft at further distances, make air defenses increasingly able to detect invisible planes, in some cases, with surveillance radar.
The Russian media recently said that invisible technology is useless against their air defenses. The air defenses built by Russia S-300 and S-400 are considered among the best in the world; furthermore, The National Interest reported that Russia is working on an S-500 system capable of destroying stealthy targets at distances of up to 125 miles.
While the Air Force aims to prepare for the unlikely contingency of a potential engagement with rivals close to equals like Russia or China, Harrigian explained that there is much more concern about facing an opponent who has acquired air defense technology by the Russians or Chinese. Harrigian stressed that, although there are no particular conflicts expected with a particular specific country, the service wants to be ready for any eventuality.
Harrigian explained that the F-35 was designed with what the developers call "open architecture", which means that it is designed to quickly integrate new weapons, software and avionics technology when new threats emerge.
While training against the best emerging threats in what Harrigian called the "outdoor" ranges, try to test the F-35 against the best current and future air defenses – there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to to anticipate the high-end, rapidly developing high-tech future threats. It is here that modeling and simulation play an important role in threat preparation, he added.