F35 A pilot Lieutenant Colonel Scott Gunn, US Air Force, described the difference between a fourth-generation fighter, such as the F-15 Eagle or F-16 Fighting Falcon, and a fifth-generation fighter as comparable to the difference between a flip phone and an iPhone: “Multiple technologies fused together in a single piece of equipment. The F-35 is a sensor processing machine that just happens to have an aircraft wrapped round it.” Sensor fusion includes the F-35’s passive sensors that, Gunn continued, “suck in the ’tons [electrons from an emitting threat radar], then the radar captures a SAR [synthetic aperture radar] map. I get a map of what this thing [detected by the passive sensor] looks like. If I see a little bright spot, I point the EO/IR [electro optical/infrared] sensor at that and can see [in more detail] what it looks like, from a long stand-off range.”
This enables an F35 to find things that are unallocated, “like SAMs [surface to- air missiles] that are long-range threats. Fourth-generation fighters can’t fly close enough to find them effectively.
With enough [networked] F-35s [in the area], each one provides a piece of the puzzle. That’s the beauty of networks as they evolve.”
Other participants can share the picture. However awesome the speed, manoeuvrability and weapons of fifth generation fighters may be, what matters most is their sensors and the ability to fuse and share the information obtained from them.