USAF on F-35 Combat Systems
ROBBIN LAIRD
© 2013 FrontLine Defence (Vol 10, No 5)

In a USAF overview on the F-35 published in late September, some key elements of the combat systems were highlighted by 33rd Fighter Wing personnel. Lt. Col. Matt Renbarger, 58th Fighter Squadron commander, says there is a lot to like about the F-35, from the standpoint of the pilot, the maintainer, the trainer, down to the bottom line of mission success. “It’s something new, and programs like this only come around every 30 years or so.”

Renbarger says that, like anything brand new and right out of the box, there were a lot of things that had to be learned that weren’t known before. He explained that as a training unit, it was more Air Combat Command versus Air Education and Training Command. “It’s not a different mindset, but it’s more of a different mission. Here we create new pilots and maintainers, so we don’t have the downrange focus. Training pilots is our product.”

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Pelkington, the 33rd FW chief of safety and one of the first legacy pilots selected for the F-35 program, noted that for pilots transitioning from legacy systems, the F-35 is a huge deal. “For 10 years in the F-16, I dealt with essentially monochrome cathode ray displays – approximately 6 inch square – and I’ve got two of them. Now I move up to a contiguous 8 x 20 inch color display that is a huge step forward for the pilot’s situational awareness. Plus, there’s a lot more capability in the display itself.

“In the F-16, I had a radar display with a selectable, like turning pages in a book, something that would show my ordnances like I had a stick figure map with monochrome lines on a black background. It would try to give us a semblance of where we were to maybe a weapons system.
“But I had to choose. Every one of those displays was limited to the confines of that small 6-inch to 8-inch screen.

“In the F-35, we now have this massive amount of screen real estate. I can now see multiple sensors at once, which is great because I don’t have to pick and choose. I don’t have to take away my situational awareness with what the radar is telling me in terms of traffic to bring up situational awareness and what the target pod looks like. It’s all there available for me.”

Pelkington added that one of the best aspects of the fifth generation fighter is its ability to communicate with all aspects of the aircraft, as well as customize information to fit each pilot’s needs. “The displays talk to each other, the sensors talk to each other, and a lot of information is displayed in sensible formats with other sensors in one combined picture. Now I can bring up large formats on displays so I can see things easier – I can even bring up many formats if I want, with a different orientation on how the displays will look. Whatever I want to do to aid my situational awareness I can do, and I can customize that setup quite easily to a format that best suits how a pilot understands.”

The wing’s safety chief said that one of the biggest advantages to the F-35 over legacy aircraft is the growth in options.

“Choosing between a pilot’s eye and ‘god’s eye’ [view] are all in the system now, and weren’t in the F-16. I had one particular ­display option for radar format for the F-16 – I couldn’t choose anything else. I had to learn to read it in that manner. Which didn’t necessarily match how somebody looking out on a battlefield could see the picture. So you always had to do that conversion in your mind.

“With the F-35 you can choose the display format that best suits your ability, and there are multiple options to allow you to see things from a ‘god’s eye’ perspective. It allows me to see from a much greater perspective than the F-16 ever allowed.”
 
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For the complete USAF article, with more interviews, see here.
© FrontLine Defence 2013

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