Tuesday, April 4, 2017

IAF Heron TP-XP: A Strategic Platform, Not Just an Armed Drone

Heron TP-XP at Aero India 2017

IAI (Israel Aircraft Industries) introduced the Heron TP-XP, a special export variant of Heron TP, at Aero India 2017 in Bengaluru, India. (The 'special' probably refers to a customized IAF variant.)

The Indian MSM's  (Main Stream Media's) stress on the Heron TP-XP's attack capability is rather misleading. The acquisition has a strategic dimension that is much more important.

The IAI website states that "Heron TP-XP, the latest derivative of the Heron family, is an advanced long range, long endurance (MALE) UAS, designed to perform a variety of strategic missions with a high level of reliability."

An IAI press release before Aero India 2017 stated that the "Heron TP-XP constitutes a multitasking, multi-payload strategic air superiority aircraft, integrating the most advanced of IAI technologies." 

Notice that the word strategic features in both statements describing the Heron TP-XP.  The word armed features in neither.

The reason isn't difficult to understand. With its 30-hrs plus endurance, 45000-ft operational ceiling, and all weather, day and night surveillance capability the Heron TP-XP is a veritable satellite that can be stationed above a battlefield. 

EO (Electro Optical) / IR (Infra-red) sensors under its fuselage provide real-time vision of the battlefield under all lighting conditions. A LRF (Laser Range Finder) facilitates precise distance measurement to provide real time targeting information using a satellite communication link. 

A LD (Laser Designator) allows a target to be illuminated for stand-off strike by a fighter aircraft using laser guided bombs.

For surveillance, the TP-XP can be fitted with a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) or a MPR (Maritime Patrol Radar).

ELINT / ESM payloads facilitate electronic snooping and spoofing. 

If you don't find the above roles strategic enough, here comes the clincher. The Heron TP is capable of missile defense and may just be the platform to put some sense into tactical nuke brandishing adversary generals! A Heron TP would be able to detect a Nasr TEL (Transporter, Erector, Launcher) much before it comes within striking range of an advancing armor column, allowing the TEL to be targeted using  coordinates beamed by the UAV 

There would be other significant pay-offs from the Heron TP acquisition. The UAV features ATOL (Automatic Taxi-Takeoff and Landing) systems and triple redundancy for maximal safety and reliability, features that DRDO is desperately trying to incorporate in its Rustom-2 MALE UAV.

It's clear that the purchase of 10 Heron TP-XP MALE UAVs from Israel's IAI would be a landmark acquisition, but hardly for the reason that the MSM is highlighting.

The deal is reportedly worth $400 million, which would put the cost of each UAV at $40 million.

It would be possible to lightly arm the Heron TP-XP to strike terrorist targets, but that wouldn't be optimal utilization of a strategic platform valued at $40 million.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Should ADA Push LCA Navy Mk.2 Against IN Wishes, or Focus on the AMCA?

LCA Navy Mk.1 at Aero India 2017

On December 2, 2017, the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba told the press that the Indian Navy is scouting for another carrier operations compatible fighter besides the MiG-29, since LCA Navy lacks the payload required to be effective when operating from a carrier.

“The present LCA Navy does not meet the carrier capability which is required by the Navy. We will continue to support the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in their efforts to develop a carrier-based fighter aircraft. At the same time we will seek aircraft elsewhere which can operate on the aircraft carrier,” said Admiral Lanba.

On January 24, 2017 the Indian Navy went ahead and released a RFI for procurement of approximately 57 Multi role carrier borne fighters (MRCBF) for aircraft carriers of the Indian Navy (IN).

However, speaking to the press in February 2017, ADA Director Commodore C D Balaji (Retd.) said that the Navy Chief's December remark that the LCA Navy lacked adequate payload was restricted to LCA Navy Mark I.

"...We knew (it) was a heavier platform upfront and it was basically a technology demonstrator and that is how it is intended," he said.

Recalling the development testing underway since 2016, Balaji said "....we will convert this project into a product and that will happen once we do an arrested recovery (by mid of this year), the moment we do that we will carry the learning into Mark II which has already been designed."

Clearly, the IN and ADA are not on the same page on the future of LCA Navy. The Navy wants to support LCA Navy as a technology development project, but ADA wants to see LCA Navy Mk.2 operationally embarked on IN aircraft carriers.

ADA is reported to have vigorously lobbied with RM Manohar Parrikar to keep the LCA Navy Mk.2 project alive. ADA's desire is well intentioned and widely supported by defense enthusiasts who believe that in order to become a great power India must equip its forces with home made weapon systems.

However ADA's attempt to arm twist the IN through the RM to eventually accept LCA Navy Mk.2 for embarkation makes little sense because despite a more powerful engine (LCA Mk.2's F414 has 10% greater thrust than the Mk.1's F404 engine) and optimized design, LCA Navy Mk.2 will fall woefully short of IN requirements specified in its MRCBF RFI.

Scale model of LCA Navy Mk.2 armed with 4 air-to-air missiles at Aero India 2015

LCA Navy Mk.2 Limitations

ADA's aggressive plugging of LCA Navy Mk.2 suggests that the Mk.2 is as capable as the MRCBF that the navy is seeking. This is far from the truth. The extra thrust of the F414 engine would make the LCA Navy Mk.2 more maneuverable but will not significantly increase its weapon load, which the IN considers inadequate. The extra thrust would come at the cost of higher fuel consumption, particularly close to max power setting, negating some of the benefits accruing from the 700 liter extra fuel that the Mk.2 would carry.

LCA Navy Mk.2 will be a more capable air defense (AD) fighter than the Mk.1 but will continue to lack credibility as a strike aircraft. It's range and weapon load carrying capacity would be limited even when operating from 3000m runways, let alone when conducting STOBAR operations from a 200m carrier deck.

It's worth noting that the ADA itself plugs LCA Navy Mk.2 as an AD fighter that would provide cover to a carrier group against fighter and cruise missile threats, not as a strike fighter. Scale models of LCA Navy Mk.2 displayed at Aero India 2015 and Aero India 2017 were shown carrying just four air to air missiles (two on each wing) with a center-line drop tank.

Ironically, the IN RFI defines operationally clean configuration (OCC) for the MRCBF to imply that it's carrying four Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles and two All Aspect Air-to-Air Missiles (A4M). A total of six missiles, two more than the LCA Navy Mk.2 would carry!

Scale model of LCA Navy Mk.2 at Aero India 2017

Understanding IN Requirement

Carrier groups are primarily strike groups, capable of delivering sustained fire power while operating at considerable distance from home shores. Typically, an aircraft carrier embarks only one fighter type to minimize logistics and maintenance overheads. The primary role of the embarked fighter is strike, so it must features good weapon load and range. Since strike missions often require escort fighters and escort jammers, embarked fighters must also be capable of undertaking these roles.

An embarked multi-role fighter allows mission planners to change the force mix - strike, escorts, jammer - based on how heavily adversary airspace is contested. The single embarked aircraft type is reconfigured for its assigned task.

The US F/A-18E/F, the French Rafale-M, and the Chinese J-11 are examples reconfigurable, multi-role carrier borne fighters with good weapon load and range.

The IN wants a MRCBF - Multi Role Carrier Borne Fighter, and the LCA Navy Mk.2's credentials as a multi-role fighter are weak.

It would not be a good idea to embark LCA Navy Mk.2 aircraft on INS Vikramaditya or INS Vikrant alongside MiG-29Ks, as ADA seems to suggest in its brochures and presentations. Having two fighter types on board, would dramatically push up maintenance and logistics infrastructure requirements. More importantly, it would constraint mission planners, deprive them of the flexibility in selecting force mix. Mission force mix would become dependent on embarked force mix! For example, when operating in uncontested airspace LCA Navy Mk.2s would have little to do.

The USN does not embark two fighter types on its super carriers capable of hosting 60 fighters. IN carriers are much smaller and embark around 20 fighters. Operating constraints will become severe. With 60% serviceability and even split of embarked types - INS Vikramaditya would be able to field just 6 MiG-29Ks and 6 LCA Navy Mk.2s at a time, hardly a credible strike force!

Other RFI Shortfalls

Besides limited range and weapon load, LCA Navy Mk.2 would fall short on many other requirements specified in the Navy RFI.

Radar and EW Suite

The RFI specifies a radar capable of engaging airborne and surface target, preferably in a interleaved mode. The aircraft should be equipped with a Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) capable cuing an on-board Airborne Self Protection Jammer (ASPJ), Counter measures dispensing suite (CMDS), Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) and towed decoy for handling threats?

Interchangeability / Modularity

The Navy RFI also stipulates high degree of interchangeability / modularity - all major airframes components / parts / panels, sub-assemblies, including the canopy should be fully interchangeable between aircraft. Hot and cold engine sections should swapable. It should be possible to change the engine of an aircraft on the carrier itself.

These requirements are easily understood considering that an aircraft carrier could be operating hundreds of miles from home shores. Interchangeability allows recourse to cannibalization to keep more aircraft airworthy. To achieve interchangeability, ADA as the design agency and HAL as the production agency would need to achieve better design and production standards.


Clearly, when drafting the RFI the IN was visualizing Chinese carriers and nuclear submarines in the Indian Oceans, perhaps adversary beachheads on several Andaman and Nicobar group islands. The Navy was probably thinking Super Hornet and Rafale-M, both twin engined medium fighters. Competing against the Super Hornet, the LCA Navy Mk.2 with just one of the two engines fitted on the US Navy fighter would be clearly out of league.

LCA Navy equipped IN carriers aren't going to be enough to deter PLAN forays into the Indian Ocean, so should the IN still procure them to help India achieve self sufficiency in arms production?

Rather than pushing the LCA Navy Mk.2 as the right MRCBF for the IN, ADA would better serve the nation's interest by focusing on AMCA development. ADA certainly doesn't have the infrastructure and talent to pursue both projects simultaneously.

But ADA should continue to pursue LCA Navy as a technology demonstrator, something the Navy wants it to do. After ADA masters arrested landing, as it plans to do later this year, the agency should pursue auto-landing on deck and other relevant technologies, so that when the AMCA project gets a green light, ADA has all that it needs to develop the AMCA Naval variant.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

HAL Mk-1A AESA Radar RFQ Details

Tejas LCA Mk-1 at Aero India 2015

On December 14, 2016 HAL (ARDC) released a Request For Quotation (RFQ) for Supply of AESA Radar for Light Combat Aircraft (LCA Mk1A) Program. 

The RFQ was limited to the following vendors

  1. Elta Systems, israel 
  2. Saab, Sweden 
  3. Raytheon, USA 
  4. Thales, France 
  5. Rosoboronexport, Russia 

 ARDC wants an  AESA Radar that can be integrated with other onboard avionics of the LCA, its EW suite comprising Digital RWR and podded jammer, combined interrogator & transponder (CIT), short range air to air missiles and BVR missiles. 

 The AESA must be supplied with a compatible Radome.

The selected vendor is to 

  1. Supply a contemporary AESA Radar along with technical support for integration, ground/flight testing and certification. 
  2. Supply 3 aircraft sets of Radar for Trial Modification and certification phase and subsequently against anticipated orders for 80 aircraft sets for series production. 
  3. Enter into a ToT for Repair/overhaul/servicing of AESA Radar and connected items by HAL at its facilities under a Transfer of Technology (TOT) agreement aat the appropriate stage. 
  4. Provide supplies and services needed for product support to HAL’s customers. 

The supply contract would be implemented in phases as follows
  1. Trial Modification & Certification Phase 
  2. Series Production Phase: 

Trial Modification & Certification Phase 

HAL will release purchase order for 3 aircraft sets of Radar system.  SOF testing should be completed on the three aircraft sets before delivery.  

HAL will arrange for two aircraft to be used for trial modification, Integration, flight testing and certification. 

Series Production Phase

 It is estimated that a total of 80 AESA Radar system sets would be required. Series production is expected to commence from year 2019. The production of Radar systems is planned to be executed in a phased manner as follows. 

Phase-0: Direct purchase of 24 Radar system sets in fully formed condition. 
Phase-1: Manufacture of 08 Radar system sets by HAL based on Semi Knocked Down (SKD) kits to be supplied by the vendor. 
Phase-2: Manufacture of 48 Radar system sets by HAL based on transfer of technology to HAL by the vendor. 

During series production programme, Purchase orders are planned to be placed for annual requirement depending upon the number of aircraft to be produced in each year based on customer orders.  Issue of this RFQ does not create any obligation whatsoever on HAL to place orders for series production.  

Platform Integration

 Vendor shall be responsible for integration of the AESA radar with LCA Mk1A platform and avionics systems.

Vendor shall be responsible for Design and Development of a compatible Radome conforming to the established outer mold line (OML) specifications for the LCA Mk1A and tailored to optimize operational performance of the AESA radar. 

Vendor shall be responsible for integration of the AESA Radar with EW suite consisting of Digital RWR and podded Jammer on LCA Mk1A platform as per LCA Mk1A requirements, in coordination with the Vendor of EW Suite to ensure interoperability of Radar, EW suite and other avionics system.   
Vendor shall be responsible for integration of AESA radar with Indian IFF interrogator/ Transponder (CIT) as per LCA Mk1A requirements. 

Vendor shall be responsible for integration of AESA radar with third party BVR missile as per LCA Mk1A requirements. 


 HAL shall have exclusive worldwide sale and product support rights for the LCA MK1A aircraft or its variants fitted with the Radar system being developed specifically for LCA Mk1A programme through the present RFQ. HAL shall also have the right to use the Radar system or its adapted versions on any other airborne platform designed or produced by HAL for use by Indian defence customers.  

IPR held by the vendor or his suppliers shall not in any way restrict or hamper by way of quantity or otherwise manufacturing of the Radar system by HAL under TOT-MFG or Repair & Overhaul by HAL under ToT-ROH. 

The vendor shall not sell the Radar system being developed through this RFQ to any other customers or transfer the IPR of the system to any third party without prior written consent by HAL. 

This clause shall continue to be in force for an indefinite period even after fulfillment of all activities and obligations covered under this RFQ. 

LCA Mk-1A EW Suite Details

Tejas LCA Mk-1 at Aero India 2015

On December 15, 2016 HAL's Aircraft Research & Design Centre (ARDC) invited Request For Quotation (RFQ) for Supply of EW Suite for Light Combat Aircraft (LCA Mk1A) Program.

The EW Suite would comprise of a digital RWR and podded jammer.

The following vendors were invited to quote.

  1. Elbit systems, Israel 
  2. Elta systems, Israel 
  3. Saab, Sweden 
  4. Thales, France 
  5. Elettronica s.p.a, Italy 
  6. Raytheon, USA
  7. Indra systems, Spain 

Notably, no Russian company has been invited to bid for the project.

ARDC wants an EW Suite that can be integrated with other onboard avionics of LCA, including its AESA Radar and CMDS. 

The RFQ is aimed at selecting a vendor for the supply of contemporary EW Suite  including technical support for integration, ground/flight testing and certification. 

HAL wants the selected vendor to supply 3 EW Suite for Trial Modification and certification phase and subsequently against anticipated orders for 80 aircraft sets for series production. 


The selected vendor would need to enter into a ToT agreement at the appropriate time to enable HAL to undertake repair/and overhaul (ROH) / servicing of EW Suite and connected items at its facilities. 

The selected vendor would need to enter into a ToT agreement to facilitate HAL to undertake phased manufacture of EW Suite systems at the appropriate stage. 

Vendors would need to provide supplies and services needed for product support to HAL’s customers. 

Order Quantity

Currently, there is an anticipated requirement for 80 EW Suite sets. Series production of LCA Mk-1A is expected to commence from year 2019. The production of EW Suite is planned to be executed in a phased manner as follows. 

Phase-0: Direct purchase of 24 EW Suite sets in fully formed condition. 
Phase-1: Manufacture of 08 EW Suite sets by HAL based on Semi Knocked Down (SKD) kits to be supplied by the vendor.  
Phase-2: Manufacture of 48 EW Suite sets by HAL based on transfer of technology to HAL by the vendor. 


HAL shall have exclusive worldwide sale and product support rights for the LCA Mk-1A aircraft or its variants fitted with the EW Suite being developed specifically for LCA Mk-1A program through the present RFQ. HAL shall also have the right to use the EW Suite or its adapted versions on any other airborne platform designed or produced by HAL for use by Indian defense customers.  

IPR held by the vendor or his suppliers shall not in any way restrict or hamper by way of quantity or otherwise manufacturing of the EW Suite by HAL under ToT-MFG or Repair & Overhaul by HAL under ToT-ROH. 

The vendor shall not sell the EW Suite being developed through this RFQ to any other customers or transfer the IPR of the system to any third party without prior written consent by HAL. 

This clause shall continue to be in force for an indefinite period even after fulfillment of all activities and obligations covered under this RFQ. 

Vendors are required to submit price quotations before February 15, 2017 and the final selection will be made before April 2017.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Uri Attacks: India doesn't have a military option! Really?

INS Chakra

Reputed military analysts have asserted that India needs to impose a military cost on Pakistan for its cross border attacks such as in Pathankot and Uri.

In a just published article titled Lessons from the Uri Attack Lt Gen Philip Campose, former Vice Chief of Army Staff, suggests:

"Militarily, the cost of terror attacks for Pakistan should be raised to unacceptable levels by exploiting Indian military strengths to target Pakistan’s weak points. Concurrently, own vulnerabilities should be secured."

The option has been repeatedly put on the table, only to be rejected as being unviable by our political leadership. Most of the arguments against this option are specious. Here are my thoughts on one of them

Some defense analysts point out that India will not be able to leverage it military quantitative and qualitative advantage over Pakistan in a short conflagration limited to the LoC because our forces are evenly matched. As a result, Indian military options are severely limited.

The conclusion is flawed because the supporting logic is presumptive and ignores vital facets of the asymmetry that exists in war
fighting potential. For example, India has military assets unmatched by Pakistan. A nuclear submarine that can wreak havoc in the Arabian sea against the Pakistan Navy. IAF Su-30MKI fighters can dominate vast stretches of the Arabian Ocean along the Pakistani coast. Our Brahmos equipped warships, in coordination with INS Chakra and IAF BVR equipped Su-30MKI and AWACS, would put Pakistani warships at grave risk.

The logic for confining an Indian military response to the LoC is dubious in military terms, as the extent of the military asymmetry varies sharply along the Indo-Pak border and the Arabian sea. The asymmetric is very pronounced in the Arabian sea, quite pronounced along the IB, and marginal along the LoC. Why on earth would we want to confine our military response to the LoC?

Any military action must have a clear and easily achievable aim. In order to ensure success, we should respond in sectors with high asymmetry.

Targeting Pakistani warships or Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft over the Arabian sea under the fig-leaf pretext that they were maneuvering in a hostile fashion is a low hanging fruit. The adversary just does not have the assets to take on the India Navy. He would be forced to either respond over land or run to the UN and International Court of Justice. A military response on land would put Pakistan on step one of the nuclear escalatory ladder, a long climb away from the nuclear threshold, allowing India to punish it some more.

There are other possibilities. The Indian Army has the capability to seize Pakistan territory along the International Border in a cold start sharp military action with the aim of humiliating Pakistan. Those who may question the legality of such an action need to be told that our  military response needs to be effective, not legal, just as Pakistan's provocation at Pathankot and Uri were effective, but not legal.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Uri: It's too late for retribution, but here is what we can do

The Director General Military Operations (DGMO) Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh briefing the media on the terrorist attack at Army Camp, in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir on September 19, 2016.

Yes, it's too late for India to take any overt action against Pakistan for its attack on the Brigade HQs at Uri, which martyred 18 Indian soldiers. The window for a response has long closed. Responding now would be foolhardy and result in casualties disproportionate to any payoff.

A military action, must have a clear achievable aim. What would be the aim of any military action now?

Retribution? The terrorists are quite dead. By calling them terrorists, not ISI trained warfighters which they were, we absolved the Pakistan army of responsibility, so there is no logic in seeking retribution from the Pakistan army!

Hitting terrorists in camps? Terrorists may train in camps, but the Indian Army won't find them sleeping in any of them. They would have merged with the populace at the first news of the Uri attack.

Teaching Pakistan a lesson? It involves escalatory risks and will definitely result in many more coffins and dolorous footage of grieving family members. Most importantly, 'Teaching Pakistan a lesson' is not a clear achievable aim!

A Viable Option

If India still wants retribution, the best approach would be to declare the Uri attack as an act of war by Pakistan, which it indeed was; by no stretch of imagination was it a terrorist strike. Let's face the truth - Successive Indian governments have termed cross border attacks on Indian military installations as terrorist strikes, in order to duck the responsibility to respond to them. 

In the case of Pathankot and Uri, where commandos trained by the ISI crossed the border and directly struck Indian military installations, Pakistan didn't export terror to India, it attacked India! 

Pakistan is exploiting the Indian government's proclivity to weigh loss of soldier lives against loss of economic growth rate to the hilt. Labeling Pakistan a terrorist state and seeking its isolation after the Uri attack is an extension of the narrative that euphemistically labels an act of war as a terrorist strike. 

Declaring the Uri attack as an act of war would give India a viable, non escalatory, military response option. India could respond in a manner that Pakistan is incapable of matching.

For example, India could sink a Pakistan Navy warship or down a Maritime reconnaissance aircraft, taking responsibility only if some evidence were to emerge of Indian involvement. 

Lacking nuclear submarines, or long range fighters like the Su-30MKI, it would be impossible for Pakistan Navy to respond in a similar manner. 

Any Pak mobilization to counter Indian retaliation, would be viewed as escalatory by the world. More importantly it would be tantamount to revving up to nationwide grief.


The Uri attack should not have been allowed to happen.

Here are some grievous mistakes made by India and its Armed Forces that led to the massive loss of life.

  1. There was no response action plan in place, despite Pathankot.
  2. There was no coordinated response to intel of a planned infiltration. ISTAR assets were not deployed to confirm the intel and thwart infiltration using artillery fire.
  3. Security at Brigade HQs was extremely lax despite an alert. The attackers inexplicably breached perimeter defenses without being challenged.
It's likely that many senior army officers' heads will roll on account of the above lapses.


India can prevent future attacks from across the border by adopting the following three simple, non escalatory measures.

  1. The government should allow the Army and the IAF to use armed helicopters over unpopulated areas in close proximity of the LoC. Such use would allow the Army to plug infiltration routes more effectively.
  2. The Army must be given carte blanche to stop infiltration. Intel on planned infiltration should be verified using ISTAR assets. If confirmed, the LoC in the sector must go live with small arm fire, artillery fire and Special Ops to thwart the infiltration. 
  3. The Army must be given carte blanche to revenge infiltration. Following a Pathankot like strike, the Army must be able to retaliate immediately in whatever manner it feels best within the sector used for infiltration. The Army should have clearance to strike targets upto 60-km deep using rockets.
The nation is grieving. While there is solace in retribution, there is also likelihood of more grief. Our endeavor should be to foil Pakistan's low intensity war against us. It can be done through introspection, addressing our shortcomings and forceful leadership.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA)

Image: Courtesy US Navy

Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) is a US Navy battle network based on the concept of Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC).

NIFC-CA network allows any component of a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) to act as a sensor or shooter for another component of the unit. The network uses an elevated sensor, such as Boeing EA-18G Growler airborne Electronic Attack (EA) aircraft or E-2D AEW&CS, to transmit targeting data concerning a threat to a Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet or a missile equipped warship, which could then launches a weapon to destroy the target.

Efforts are ongoing to integrate the US Marin Corp's latest fighter - F-35B Lightening2 - as an elevated, deep penetrating sensor of a NIFC-CA network.

NIFC-CA facilitates combining legacy capabilities (F/A-18E/F, EA-18G) with technological advances, current (F-35) and future (UCLASS, MQ-25A), to provide an integrated common picture to everyone involved.

The NIFC-CA program has been making steady progress for several years,

USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) was the first carrier to deploy with the initial version of NIFC-CA in March 2015.

Another carrier will deploy with the battle network.

NIFC-CA Evolution

In September 2016, at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, a simulated AEGIS Baseline 9 configured ship engaged a low flying cruise missile target with an SM-6 missile, exclusively using targeting data provided to the ship by sensors on board a Marine Corps F-35B.

The test proved the viability of using a F-35 (all variants) as an an Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) platform, relaying its data back to a shooter through the Multi-Function Advanced Data Link (MADL).

In actual operations, the ISTAR F-35 would be supported by USN EA-18Gs and F/A-18E/Fs equipped with powerful standoff jammers and long-range missiles, respectively. The non-stealthy, legacy fighters would use data received from the F-35 to jam and engage enemy targets while staying out of denied airspace.

In the future, MQ-25A Stingray and/or derivative would replace or complement F-35 in the ISTAR role, besides supporting strike fighters with aerial-refueling.