ComNavOps at one time reported on a communications problem associated with the F-35. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to get any details or even a vague understanding of the scope of the problem. Well, finally, I’ve found a bit more information and it’s an eye-opener.
To summarize and simplify, apparently the F-22 and F-35 each have their own unique communications equipment, protocols, and formats. They can talk to other F-22s and F-35s, respectively, but not to other platforms nor to each other, at least not without compromising their stealth. They seem to have the ability to use Link 16 to talk to other platforms but only at the expense of compromising their stealth.
You’ll recall that the F-35 has been advertised as being able to penetrate air defense networks and act as an information node for all other platforms. That’s a nice concept except that apparently they can’t actually communicate without giving away their position.
From an Aviation Week website article come these statements (1). The article was written from an F-22 and Air Force focus but the F-35 issues are common for the Navy’s versions of the F-35.
"... the service has two stealthy fighters—each costing more than $100 million per aircraft—that cannot effectively share data with the fleet (or each other) without compromising the very stealthiness that drove up their cost."
"At issue, however, is a decades-long haphazard approach to data links. By design, the F-22 was developed to communicate only with other F-22s via the in-flight data link (IFDL)."
"The single-engine F-35, by contrast, uses the Multi-function Advanced Data Link (MADL) system, which employs a different waveform and retains its low probability of intercept/low probability of detection (LPI/LPD) by using directional antennas and operating over short distances ..."
Unfortunately, no other platform has MADL and no other platform can receive the communications from it.
"The F-22 can receive on Link 16 and the F-35 can both transmit and receive on the system, but in terms of detection, data delivery via Link 16 is “like turning on a big light bulb in the sky,” an industry source says."
The F-22 apparently can’t even transmit on Link 16!
This next statement is a stunner.
"The F-22 issue has already become a hindrance. It was considered for use in the
campaign in 2011, but planners were stymied by an inability to deliver data collected by the F-22s back to other forces, according to one industry source, forcing the Air Force’s premier asset to sit on the sidelines." Libya
Our most advanced fighter aircraft sidelined because it can’t talk to anyone!
"The Air Force had planned to equip all aircraft with the F-35 MADL to facilitate fleetwide connectivity, but its cost proved prohibitively high."
Presumably, that applies to the Navy as well.
Well, there you have it. The F-35 is intended to be a data node for the rest of the platforms in its region and yet it can’t communicate with them while retaining its stealth.
Do you recall the LCS MCM module that was intended to use the helo to tow the MCM equipment but it turned out that the helo had insufficient power and couldn’t do it? We all wondered why someone didn’t check that on day one of the development program? Well, this is kind of the same thing. We designed a stealthy aircraft that would be a data node for the entire fleet (air and sea) and yet no one thought to ask whether it could actually talk to the fleet and remain stealthy?
Seriously, is it a requirement to be brain dead before you can manage these programs or can you take the job and then have a lobotomy?
(1) http://aviationweek.com/defense/air-force-fifth-fourth-plan-questioned , “Air Force Fifth-to-Fourth Plan Questioned”, Amy Butler,